Parking in the vicinity of Phil Brady’s Bar and Grill was scarce Aug. 4. The 25th anniversary Phil Brady’s blues jam drew a full, happy house to the longtime Government Street music venue.
On stage, a reunion of original Brady’s blues jam participants included singer-harmonica player Shannon Williford and bassist Joe Hunter, two Nashville residents who flew down for the anniversary.
“So glad to see all my friends,” Williford said. “I’m honored to be here.”
Standing center stage and playing a single snare drum, Jim George, also an original member of the blues jam house band, joined Williford and Hunter.
As friends greeted each other throughout the club, George reached back to the bass-playing Hunter for a one-armed hug. Another familiar face, Jimmy “Hoodoo” Simpson, played keyboards.
Following one of the night’s many infectious swamp-blues tunes, Williford led the band in a second line-driven “When The Saints Go Marching In.” At song’s end, he gleefully tossed the zydeco rub-board vest he’d been playing to the floor.
Williford gladly stepped into a supporting harmonica role, yielding the spotlight to Larry Garner. One of the best known and most traveled members of the Baton Rouge blues community, Garner stepped up front as George slipped behind the full drum set.
“Oh, yeah!” Garner said. “Everything, everything, everything go’ be all right in the morning!”
As the hypnotic riff from “I’m A Man” repeated, the Phil Brady’s dance floor filled to capacity, populated largely by a clutch of women who had no trouble finding their collective blues groove.
The dance floor filled again when Elvin Killerbee, another participant in the early blues jams at Brady’s, led the band in a lively performance of Lil’ Bob and the Lollipops’ zydeco-tinged classic, “I Got Loaded,” and a funky rendition of Albert Collins’ “Ice Man.”
Williford, offstage for a moment, expressed his delight at being back in Baton Rouge for the anniversary jam. “It’s just kicking,” the happy Williford said. “It’s just cool to see all these guys.”
Guitarist Johnny Rossetti, veteran stage manager for the Thursday night jams at Brady’s, looked around and said, “I’m seeing people I’ve haven’t seen in 20 years. Standing in this one spot, I’m seeing five bass players at once.”
Rossetti was back on the Phil Brady’s stage Aug. 6 for a show with the all-instrumental Rondo Hatton Quintet. Featuring seasoned local music pros Rossetti, guitarist Bruce Lamb, bassist Les LeBlanc and drummer Chad Solomon, the band’s faultlessly fun performances of surf-rock standards “Walk Don’t Run,” “Pipeline” and “Apache” and such non-surf classics as “Sukiyaki” and “Tequila” easily qualify it as one the coolest bands in town.
Shaver in town
Texas singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver at the Red Dragon Listening Room is another of last week’s shows worth noting. Shaver, who turns 72 Tuesday, Aug. 16, played a two-night stand, the second of which was a sell-out.
An intimate performance space, the Red Dragon blends living room and juke joint décor, including rows of couches and a wall full of mirrors. It’s a great spot to see singer-songwriters such as Shaver, among the best of his breed.
Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, the Allman Brothers, Elvis Presley, Big & Rich and many others recorded Shaver’s songs. And former Louisiana governor and newlywed Edwin Edwards recently quoted Shaver’s song, “You’re As Young As The Woman You Feel.”
A great storyteller, Shaver’s between-song commentary included lines about being served divorce papers on Valentine’s Day and a wife who ran off with a convict.
“I’m divulging this stuff because it’s fess-up night,” he said. “It’s a good thing I’m a songwriter because it’s the cheapest psychiatrist there is.”
Highlights among the many at Shaver and his high-spirited three-piece’s Aug. 5 show included the inspirational “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day),” the lovely “When Fallen Angels Fly” and jubilant “You Can’t Beat Jesus Christ.”
“I’m telling you I got poetry in me!” Shaver told his appreciative audience.