Everybody has felt the blues a time or two or many, but few of us have felt the call to set our sorrows to song.
You’ve heard the term “blue blood” referring to someone who was born into a noble or socially prominent family, but I’d like to coin a new phrase “blues blood,” because for a short time this week I had the opportunity to sit among a group of musicians who have the blues pulsing through their veins, and I haven’t been able to stop tapping my foot ever since.
On Friday, March 13, this elite group of “blues bloods” will be performing at the eighth annual “An Affair to Remember: Remembering the Blues,” a black tie event at the Rome Civic Center hosted by the AACPA Connection group of Rome.
I had the honor of volunteering for and attending the event a couple of years ago and can tell you that it is well worth the price of admission. It was hard to keep your seat during the show, the energy of the music was just that strong.
Recently, Russell McClanahan texted me and asked if I could come to a band practice at Willie Mae Samuel’s home. Russell and I have known each other for many years, having met while I was in college and dabbling in the music scene. When we met, I was singing with a friend in an acoustic duet and after that I spent a short time as lead singer of a blues/rock & roll band before retiring to move on to other adventures.
Russell has stayed true to his musical blood, performing consistently over all the years we have known each other.
When I got his note, I knew I had to go. Russell knows good music and knew that I would love what was going on. And, boy, was he ever right.
I didn’t have long to hang around, but as soon as I arrived I was glad I’d come. Willie Mae and her husband, Hardy Sams, have a beautiful home out in the country and on this day it was filled with some terribly talented folks.
I met one after the other of the band members as we gathered, and heard a little bit about each of them. On the porch I met Alonzo Taylor, a bass guitarist with a laundry list resume of greats with whom he has played. B.B. King, Otis Redding, Bobby Womack, Wilson Pickett, and Jackie Wilson, just to name a few. Can you imagine?
As the band prepared to practice, Willie Mae went around the living room with a microphone and had each one tell me about their background and why they were there. First was her husband Hardy, nicknamed Blues Man, lead singer of the band. She described how they first met at a ball. He had told her he had a club in New York and she asked him what kind of music he sang, to which he crooned, “If you’re gonna walk on my love baby, least you could do is take off your shoes,” and we all laughed about how he’s been singing the blues ever since.
Around the room she introduced the rest of the band: Alonzo on bass guitar, Russell on harmonica, Richard Wright on guitar, Gene Sams on vocals, Geneva Powers on vocals and a little bit of everything, Willie Be Ware on vocals and guitar, Ted Barnett on vocals, Charles Moses on vocals and drums, and Edward Daniels on keyboard. There are others performing with the group on Friday, but these are the ones I had the pleasure of hanging out with.
Apostle Charles Moses, as he introduced himself, has his own stellar roster of musicians he has shared the stage with and he told me that many people don’t understand how important the blues were back in the day.
“The blues were a blessing,” he said. “The songs were messages to each other about what we went through. They were an escape from the hurt and the beat-down we experienced, a way for us to know that God still loves us no matter who we are.”
When the time came to kick off the practice, Hardy started them off, announcing “Everybody Wants to Know Why I Sing the Blues,” and the room began to rock. You could feel the infectious rhythm in your bones and the lyrics in your soul. It was hard to sit still. After singing through the first verse Hardy passed the microphone off to Ted sitting next to me and he ran with the next verse, adding his own lyrical reason for singing the blues.
Next thing I knew, Hardy pointed the microphone at me and I froze! I was in my listening and learning mode, working hard to absorb all of the delicious experience around me, and I couldn’t begin to imagine jumping in. The band played on and Hardy saved me by picking it back up while I breathed a sigh of relief, but I was so sorry at the same time!
I looked at the time and realized I had to dart on to my next appointment before the song was even over, and the tune faded behind me as I headed to the car. As I walked away, the lyrics I should have sung came to me, and I remembered that we all have a reason to sing the blues. I should have sung:
Everybody wants to know why I sing the blues
Yeah, everybody wants to know why I sing the blues
They handed me this microphone
And I can’t remember what to do
I encourage you to come out on Friday night and feel the blues in your soul. We all have a reason to sing the blues, and I can’t think of anything better to celebrate with some of the best blues musicians around!