Gip’s Place

Last Saturday Delta Moon played at one of the last authentic juke joints in the American South, Gip’s Place in Bessemer, Alabama.

According to Diane, who books the bands there, Henry “Gip” Gipson constructed the original building in his backyard in 1952. “He cleared a space so the neighborhood kids could play ball,” she said, “but they said they’d rather play music. So he built this place. Over the years he added all these rooms with his own hands. There used to be a second floor, but it burned. All that’s left now is a staircase going up from the deck outside.”

When we arrived, Gip (we also heard him called Henry, Mr. Henry and Mr. Gipson) sat onstage, wearing a blue silk New York Yankees jacket and a straw hat. He was singing and playing blues on a Gibson guitar. Even though there was nobody else in the room, he talked with us over the microphone, his voice drenched with reverb in the PA. It was as if we were visiting some kind of oracle.

Diane said, “After you’ve done your sound check, Gip will play guitar until it’s time to start. Then we will have a prayer, everyone will sing “Amazing Grace,” and we will introduce the band. On your break he’ll play his guitar again. At the end of the night I’ll be long gone, but Gip will play some more while you tear down your equipment. After you leave, Miss Bey will make sure he gets to bed.”

“How old is he?” I asked.

“As near as we can figure, he’s 94.”

Diane introduced me to Miss Bey, who sat behind a ticket window in a little building beside the driveway. Instead of stamping customers’ hands, she gave each person a necklace of plastic beads.

The place drew a mixed crowd, black and white, old and young, which is the way we like it. I met a visitor from Russia who spoke no English but absorbed everything with wide-eyed attention. During the first set Gip asked a young woman to dance with him, then convinced a young man to join her. Then he got another woman up, and so on. Soon the dance floor was full.

Over the microphone I thanked Gip for having us. He came to the stage and reached a hand up. He pulled me down and spoke in my ear.

He said, “We don’t use those words here.”

I said, “What words?”

“Thank you for having us.”

“What do we say?

“We say, ‘Thank the Lord for guiding us here.'”

On our break Gip resumed his seat, playing his guitar, singing and talking with the audience, and taking occasional sips of liquor from a plastic cup. The riffs got slower and slower and finally stopped completely. We looked over and couldn’t see Gip’s face, just the top of his straw hat.

Two men gently lifted Gip to his feet and led him from the room. We started our second set. Just as the action on the dance floor reached its peak, here came Gip again, one hand up in the air and a big smile on his face.

Somebody said, “Mr. Henry had his nap.”

Later, after the customers were gone, Gip sat in his chair as we packed up, playing whatever came to his head or fingers. I recognized a piece of “Scratch My Back” and a verse of Jimmy Reed’s “Ain’t That Loving You, Baby”. When all our gear was in the van, we gathered round to say goodnight. Gip felt like talking. He told us about Jesus and David and the Golden Rule. He told us about the time Reverend C. L. Franklin, Aretha Franklin’s father, came to meet him. The minister did not come into the juke joint but waited in the driveway for Gip to come out. “Sometimes people come to you. Sometimes you got to go to them.”

Gip sang a little of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”.

“One day soon I’m going to be 100 years old,” he said. “You reap what you sow, and lately I’ve been doing a lot of reaping. I sit here and look around me. I look at this room. And I like what I see.”

We left him alone on the stage, as we had found him. Pulling out of the driveway, we could hear his electric guitar behind us. A light was on behind the curtained window in the little building where Miss Bey waited to lead Mr. Gipson to bed.

A Dress Code By Any Other Name

On a walk through the crowded streets of Knoxville’s Old City last Saturday night we marveled at this sign in the window of a bar. A crowd slammed the place and formed a line out the door — all young, raucous and white.

I said, “What do you think was that number six they taped over?”

Franher said, “No big cocks.”

Roadside Distractions

If you think of a band’s live show as a painting, then the venue is the frame. Delta Moon has been fortunate to perform in many deluxe frames, but every now and then we find ourselves in one that’s broken or just doesn’t fit. When that happens, there’s no backing out. All you can do is play your show, connect the best you can with the audience, and try to get paid.

Here are a few memorable warning signs:

The poster for the town festival has pig races in the headline spot, with your band’s name in small letters at the bottom. Actually, humility is good for the soul, and this show could be fun. But if it happens too often the band starts getting edgy.

There’s a police station across the street. You could be playing in the nicest room in the world, but if people think they’re going to have a few drinks and wind up in jail, they will seek entertainment elsewhere.

At sound check, the owner says, “Most bands who play here don’t use monitors.” This means the monitors don’t work.

At sound check, the bar staff is too busy yakking with each other to pour you a drink of water. This is a good indication of how they will treat your fans. It means the owner is not around or has quit caring. It’s a good bet this venue will be closing soon. Do not take a check.

The owner starts sentences by saying, “I’m not a racist, but … ” and then follows with the most outrageous statements. As if that weren’t bad enough, it also means he’s dishonest. Do not take a check.

As soon as your show ends, two guys start setting up a wrestling ring for the following night. Now, I’ve enjoyed professional wrestling and believe everything has its place. But if a music venue is resorting to this, unless it’s Madison Square Garden, do not take a check.

Nectar or Poison

Delta Moon was sitting around a beachside table overlooking the clear blue Tyrrhenian Sea, on a day off in Taureana, Italy. In the distance a rock jutted straight up from the water with a windswept olive tree growing on its peak. We had just swum out to that rock, dived off it and swum back to the beach. As we sipped cold beers, our Italian friend Saro explained to us his philosophy of life:

“I can make a bowl of delicious pasta. After eating maybe I can float around on a little boat. Ah, nectar! Or I can think, ‘Here I am eating pasta while my neighbor is eating steak! And I have only this little boat while he has that big yacht.’ Poison! Fill yourself with poison and your life will be miserable and cut short. But choose nectar and you can live forever.”

Road Music

When Delta Moon travels, we’re not just playing music. We’re listening too. We were lucky to hear a lot of great live music over the last few weeks in Europe, both onstage and off.

In Calabria, Italy, we got a great taste of the ancient local music tradition (and an outstanding taste of spaghetti) at our friend Saro’s house, where we met Michele (Mi-KAY-lay), who played the three-stringed Calabrian lira.

Then at a roadside bar on a nearby mountain we heard a tambourine and squeezebox version of the same song.

It’s an ancient tune called the “Tarentella.” There’s a dance that goes with it, a kind of step right and shuffle then step left and shuffle, and apparently once the party gets started it can last for three or four hours at a stretch. “We have a saying in Calabria,” says our friend Enzo, “– that pig has only three hairs, meaning that song has only two chords.”

We saw a lot of Italian bands. The Southern Gentlemen League, a Southern rock band from southern Italy, are good friends who stayed at Mark’s house when they visited America last year. On this trip they lent us their van, opened a few shows, and all came to see us off at the airport. It felt like the end of a movie. Red Light is a fantastic band from Sicily we’ve seen three times now. We also had memorable jams with Blue Cat Blues and Gió Vescovi.

And there were other Americans around, too. Grayson Capps  performed a great set at Buscadero Day on the shore of Lake Como. The last time I’d shared a stage with him was at the Frog Pond in Fairhope, Alabama.  I had a very pleasant lunch at the beach with Gina Sicilia, an excellent singer from Nashville.

But by far our favorite show of the trip was the Nikki Hill Band in Soria, Spain. Nikki opened with “Sweet Little Rock and Roller” and then continued with some original songs, a few Ike Turner gems — “You like to dance? Well, here’s another” — closing her final encore with AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood.” The band kept whipping up the festival audience, and the audience kept sending more and more energy right back. When they came off backstage the band members were walking ten feet high, saying over and over, “I love Spanish audiences!” It was a terrific experience.

(Photo at top by Arianna Ligi.)

Greetings from Calabria

Delta Moon left home one week ago now and for the first 30 hours did nothing but travel. Here is a list of the airports we have visited so far this tour:

  • Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Riga, Latvia
  • Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Bergamo, Italy
  • Lamezia Terme, Italy

We are moving quickly and traveling light. Our luggage consists mainly of guitars. On smaller airlines we’ve had to buy extra seats for them.

Guitar in Airline Seat

The Suwalki Blues Festival in Poland great fun. The rain stopped and the sun came out for our show, then disappeared as soon as we were finished. I liked the Polish people very much. They have been through a lot, but they have a lot of heart. I hope we are able to return there soon.

Italy has been, of course, a blast. Today is our first real day off this tour — no travel, no show. We are in Calabria, deep in the toe of the Italian boot, only a short trip away from the sea in either of two opposite directions. We thought we’d go to the beach today, but instead we have spent the day hanging out, talking with people, eating and sleeping. Maybe we’ll get ourselves together tomorrow. I think that sort of thing goes on a lot here.

Who Played What?

With both Mark and Tom sliding around all over the album Low Down, it may be hard to keep track of who played what. One reviewer may credit Tom for something Mark played, and another vice versa. Who knows the truth? I do. Here’s a quick guide to who played what:

1. “Wrong Side of Town” – Tom plays rhythm. Mark plays lead.

2. “Afterglow” – Tom plays rhythm. Mark plays lead.

3. “Nothing You Can Tell a Fool” – Tom plays rhythm. Mark plays lead.

4. “Mean Streak” – Mark and Tom both play rhythm. Mark takes the first half of the solo and the vamp out. Tom plays the second half of the solo, as well as Hammond organ and a synthesizer through a fuzztone.

5. “Lowdown” – Mark and Tom both play rhythm. Tom plays the fills in the verses, and Mark takes the solo.

6. “Down in the Flood” – Mark plays the opening lick, then Tom comes in with his riff. Mark takes the first solo. Tom takes the second.

7. “Open All Night” – The opening riff is played in unison by Tom on harmonica and Mark on guitar. Mark plays both electric and acoustic rhythm under the verses. Tom throws in a little electric piano on the choruses. Mark plays the first lick of the solo and Tom answers.

8. “Spark in the Dark” – The opening line is played by both, with Mark in the high octave and Tom in the low part. Mark continues the line under the verses, and Tom plays fills in the choruses. The solo is played by both: Mark takes the first lick, and Tom answers.

9. “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” – Mark plays a National resonator guitar. Tom plays lead on  a Moog lap steel.

10. “Mayfly” – Tom plays rhythm guitar in standard tuning — a first for Delta Moon. Mark plays the fills and solo.

11. “Jelly Roll” – Mark plays the intro and rhythm guitar in the verses. Tom takes the solo.

12. “Jacky Ray” – Tom plays the low rhythm part. Mark plays the descending line and the solo.

(Photo by Ian Rawn)

Delta Moon on the Borderline

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Delta Moon had a sellout show last night at Thorndal Guitars in Thiersheim, Germany. I’m impressed and pleased that Dagmar and Gregor seem to be making a success of the place. Since a year and a half ago, when we last played there to a much smaller crowd, they have installed a new PA system and have remodeled several rooms of the old inn. They say most of their audience comes from 30 kilometers around, but last night I met people who had traveled from as far away as Munich and Pilzen.

Thiersheim is a small town near the corner of what was once West Germany, East Germany and Czechoslavakia. Dagmar and Greg are fascinated by the East.

“For my generation,” Dagmar said, “when we were growing up, the East did not exist. The DDR was not a real place to us. The Iron Curtain was only 12 kilometers from here, but we knew nothing of what lay on the other side.”

Greg told us how at the end of World War II his mother’s family was in Czechoslavakia. “The Communists took the concentration camp where the Germans had imprisoned the Jews and put all the Germans in it. Then they said, “Get out of our country,’ and held a death march — many people died — to the German border, where they let everyone go, with nothing. My mother was seven years old when she made this march. But the people in the area held strong Protestant views that they should help their neighbors. They helped my mother’s father find work and a place to live.

“Today there are some people, really,” Greg said, “who say that Germany is for Germans; the Turks should leave; the Lebanese should leave.”

“But Germany is a crossroads,” Dagmar said. “People come and go from everywhere. What is a real German?”

“I am lucky,” Greg said. “I can eat Turkish food. I can go to a Thai restaurant. These people have enriched my life in many ways. I tell them I am the son of immigrants, too.”

Meet Vic Stafford

Delta-Moon-Vic-Staff

Meet  Vic Stafford, the newest member of Delta Moon. As of February 2015 Vic has taken sole possession of the band’s drum throne.

Vic has been part of Delta Moon’s extended family for several years now, filling in with us from time to time at festivals and club shows. He has worked with Donna the Buffalo, Blueground Undergrass and Toubab Krewe. We are delighted to have Vic as a dedicated member of Delta Moon.

I asked Vic his favorite color and he said, “All of them.” His all-time favorite albums are Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs and Steely Dan’s Royal Scam. He keeps pygmy goats in his backyard.

We remain friends with our past drummers, although they are now in other projects: Darren Stanley, with us off and on for seven years, has been working lately with Col. Bruce Hampton. Marlon Patton, who recorded on Delta Moon’s last couple studio albums, is drumming with Larkin Poe. We’ve shared a lot of unforgettable experiences with Darren and Marlon, love them both as brothers and wish them nothing but the best.

Mediterranean Working Vacation – Part 4

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We’re gonna have a crazy time
Playing crazy music for you.
— Buddy Guy

I woke up Friday in Zaragoza, Spain, so hoarse I could hardly speak. How did that happen? The stage monitors the night before had been crystal clear, and by now I’ve learned to sing without blowing out my voice even when I can’t hear it at all. Then I remembered the jam session.

“When you were singing on the same mic with the screaming guy last night, it was crazy,” Mark told me in the van. “It just sounded crazy.”

After Thursday night’s show at La Ley Seca, which was great fun, we piled into two cabs and headed for an after-hours jam session. Delta Moon’s entourage included the owner of the nightclub, our agent Pepe Ferrandez, and a young woman with a beautiful smile who kept insisting in perfect English that she spoke no English, and who from time to time would exclaim out of nowhere, “I love this moment!”

“The rule of this jam session,” Pepe said, “is that you cannot bring any instruments. You must play whatever is there.”

What was there was a room full of writhing bodies and a band blasting so loud that the singer’s first scream went through my skull like an electric shock. A minute later another group took the stage, fronted by a young woman in heels and a white minidress. At first she had a problem with the microphone and looked very serious, but the instant it came on she started jumping around and shouting — no words, just “Eyaah! Eyaahh!” Here’s a few seconds of what that was like:

Then it was our turn. Some African guys in front started clapping and singing “Hey Bo Diddley” along with me. Then the band dropped out and the whole room was clapping and singing. Later we got back up and played “Rolling and Tumbling.” I turned to my right and suddenly we had a horn section, then turned around again and a guy in dreadlocks was playing a solo on an African drum. The screamer from the first band appeared beside me, echoing every line I sang on the same mic. If he was singing in any particular language, I didn’t recognize it.

Later at the bar he told me, “My father was South African. My mother was from Eastern Europe. I’m not from anywhere. I’m just a guy.”

So it continued until after 4:30 in the morning, when our band, minus entourage, rode a taxi through the still not quite deserted streets back to the hotel.

“You told us this was a serious jam session,” Marco, our Italian bass player, said to Pepe. “Instead it was delirium.”