MMRF Review – Blue Beat; Double Bay – March 28, 2013
OK, folks. Back-story. The Music Maker Relief Foundation was begun by Tim (& Denise) Duffy in slightly-west-of-central North Carolina in the very early nineties of the past century. As I once wrote in RHYTHMS*:
My partner long ago described the USA as the largest third-world country. It deals with its citizens in an essentially anti-social-services fashion so that folks who live near or at the bottom of the socio/economic ladder are lacking in basic needs-fulfillment from the few extant governmental agencies. If you are poor, you’re in trouble, and if you’re poor and old, forget it. So, one of the major problems for aging American roots musicians is the total lack of any sort of meaningful social safety-net – America not only eats its young, it dishonors its elders… the ultimate throw-away society. But this is nothing new. It’s well known that American health-care is a contradiction of terms… you get the kind of care that you can afford, so those near the bottom are SOL (and you know what that means!). Forget NGOs or other charities – they are too busy and stretched to the max with short-term disasters to deal with long-term needs, so folks just have to make do without. That is why such a thing as the Music Maker Relief Foundation (MMRF) has to exist in twenty-first century America – we are fortunate that it does, as are its recipients.
What they have done is to bolster the availability of funds to take care of immediate needs of aging US roots music people of all hues – it might be getting someone’s transmission rebuilt; getting another to their doctor’s appointment; supplying them with a decent instrument; replacing someone’s decrepit trailer home and supplying that home with heating oil. You get the picture. In the early nineties, they even got a massive grant from one of the large tobacco companies – ironic in that such products were greatly responsible for many of the health problems being dealt with! People like B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, and Taj Mahal got on board to assist in spreading the word and supporting the cause. Taj has even recorded with some of their artists for their label.
As alluded to above, besides helping in a direct and meaningful way, Tim had many of the artists located into their “home” recording studio to see what they could still do. Well over a hundred CDs have been released by the organization in the years that have followed, as well as a fine photo book, that all are worthy of your attention. Some are even essential listening: Jerry McCain, Beverly Watkins, Algie Mae Hinton, John Dee Holeman, Etta Baker, Drink Small, a.o. Another more recent off-shoot is the traveling show of still-active musos that go to European and US festivals, and occasionally to Byron Bay. That’s the case this year, but there are also gigs in Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney for this year’s package as well. Playing in a former René Rivkin palazzo of some sort in Double Bay is a bit like playing a club on Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills, though! While the crowd was the sort to “rattle their jewelry” rather than applaud (line pinched from John Lennon) much of the time, the place was quite full of attentive and appreciative folk who loosened up by the end of the evening. Speaking of the venue – it was well laid-out and had great sound; the food seemed quite good from the outside (I had already eaten!), if at Double Bay prices. I’d go back there again – fun to take the 7.00 pm final ferry from Circular Quay; it’s a reasonable walk up Bay St. from the wharf (even for an oldie like me), and left half a block on Cross St. to get there.
First up was Dr. G.B. Burt, a fine singer and adequate strumming guitarist – he covered “It Hurts Me, Too” and “I’m a Man”, finishing off with his own song “What Can an Old Man Do (but sing the blues)?” A good beginning. The band (Albert White – vo/gtr; Nashid Abdul Khaaliq – bass gtr; Ardie Dean – dms) ran through a medley with White singing – “Tore Down”, “Yonder’s Wall”, and “Hoochie Koochie Man”.**
Then Pat Wilder stormed the stage, a guitar-slinging cross between Etta James and Koko Taylor, knocking the folks out with her song “Henhouse” as well as covers of “Come to Mama” and “There is Something on Your Mind”, shaking her bootie as it all transpired. The temperature was raised significantly by her strong voice and shredding guitar-work – a hard act to follow!
Ironing Board Sam (Sammy Moore), a one-time soul recording artists and New Orleans street busker bounced out wearing a fancy gold lamé suit and a leather top hat was the one to do that, though. His moniker comes from his original make-shift electric keyboard clamped onto an actual ironing board to make busking easier with a ready-made foldable stand. It was again all covers (“Walking the Backstreets and Crying”, “What’d I Say”, “Over the Rainbow” (solo), “Go to the Mardi Gras”, and a Jimmy Reed medley) with Sam going through the audience during “What’d I Say’ with a cordless mic! African American show biz shtick hits Double Bay, and the audience ate it up! A versatile and likable performer.
The final artist was zydeco singer/accordionist Major Handy from Lafayette, LA, a new name to me. He got the folks dancing in the limited spaces available with his covers (“Warm & Tender Love”, “Joli Blon’”, “When a Man Loves a Woman”, “Down on the Bayou”, and “My Girl”) that was not limited to the older French styles, but covered a wide swathe of musical stylistic possibilities filtered through a zydeco lens.
I had to leave at the break before the later all-up finale by the whole crew due to bus and train considerations. The overall event was well taken in by the audience, who really got into it all by the end of the evening. While nothing surprised me (I’m a jaded old “American”, don’t forget!), everyone played their part well and professionally. Given that so many of the oldies have fallen off their perch in recent years (I no longer have any survivors remaining from my decade of field recording – George Higgs [also a MMRF musician] who died recently was the last), it’s amazing that there are enough folks available to put such a package together in 2013. The band was solid – Dean knows his blues and R’n’B drumming, and Khaaliq is a superb bassist (Julliard trained, Ardie Dean told me). They’ll go down a bomb in Byron! If such a package comes through town next year, give it a go!
* RHYTHMS (Melbourne): #130; May 2003; pp. 48-50.
** Albert White is a nephew of Willie Perryman (a/k/a Piano Red or Dr. Feelgood & the Interns) and was one of his “interns” in years past!
PETER B. LOWRY
THE BLUES TIMES