Sometimes in life, we find ourselves at a crossroads and encounter an event that changes us forever. The funny thing is, at the time, we often don’t even come to realize the impact that particular event might have on us. This is my story of one such life event.
In the late 1970’s, having grown up on Country & Western music and believing Hank Williams was just a hair’s breath away from godly status, loving the soothing voice of Patsy Cline and the dulcet tones of Ray Price, and knowing every word of every song Tommy Overstreet ever sang, I had become disgruntled with what was being touted at that time as “Country” music. If I heard one more boot scootin’ boogie I thought I would explode. In my disillusionment with the trash that had become country music, I began listening more and more to my next favorite genre, Blues.
So one night a weary young man from west Texas is on his way to Thibodaux, LA to pick up a load of cattle the next day. I had another 10 or 20 miles to go when out of the darkness of the Louisiana swamp arose an oasis – a marquis sign light the night outside a tiny tavern advertising the words, “Blues Jam Tonight”. Back in those days I still thought drinking was part of daily life and the thought a vodka tonic or twelve and some blues music would be perfect. Little did I know, when I walked through the door of that little bar what the next few hours would be like.
The bar was an open room. From the side door I saw the bar to my immediate left, rows of table directly in front of me, a dance floor to my right and to the far right against the back wall, a stage. I noticed people on the stage getting ready to start the next song, but honestly didn’t pay any attention. I was slightly more preoccupied with the knowledge that I was one of only a small handful of white people in the joint and a total stranger to boot. Actually, this was not an uncommon event for me back in those days, and I was more than willing to throw down if needed, but still a situation I entered into with caution and increased awareness. After a quick mental check to make sure I had my pistol inside my boot, I made my way over to the bar.
As I was ordering the first of many vodka tonics, I heard the band start the lead in to a BB. King song called “Got my Mojo Workin’”. After about 30 seconds of lead in, a voice rang out that sounded remarkably like BB King himself. After paying for my drink, I finally got an opportunity to turn around and see who this was that sounded so much like BB King.
Low and behold, in this little hole in the wall dump on the edge of the Louisiana swamp, there on the stage behind a small smattering of couples on the dance floor and past the tables of people dancing within the confines of their chairs, stood BB King himself. I was shocked. Shocked to the point that I began making my way closer to the stage so my tired eyes could verify who I thought I was seeing. Little did I know, the treat in store for me this night was only just beginning.
After doing a set, BB walked off the stage and was replaced with yet another legend, the magnificent Etta James. Had I died and gone to some sort of blues heaven? My astonishment only continued as the night went on. Before this night was over I would also hear some lesser known blues greats such as Paul Butterfield and Al King, before finally hearing the magnificent John Lee Hooker.
From that night forward, blues music formally took its place as my favorite musical genre. Who would have thought such an amazing night would take place in the middle of nowhere? I didn’t mention at the beginning, the tiny bar wasn’t even charging a cover charge. I got to hear three of my all-time favorite artists for free. But this night wasn’t about the money, for me or for the plethora of legendary entertainers who performed. This night was about old friends and few new ones, coming together to have a good time and play some incredible music, and leave an indelible mark on a kid from west Texas.
Years later, I would see BB on television doing another “jam session”, this time with other greats like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn. It reminded me that for BB, it was never about the fame or the money, but about the love he had for playing great blues music with his friends.
I join the legions of fans saddened by the passing of the last of those 3 blues greats, BB King. For BB, perhaps, the thrill is gone, but for me, it will always live on in my memory of one magical night.