As an artist I feel that it’s extremely important to learn about the past; other people who have come before me and Influenced what I, and many others, do today. History is a big part of the Blues, and I do my best to pay attention to and understand what has brought this art form to the place it has in modern society and culture. I feel that knowing about the past will give me a richer experience and a deeper understanding of the music I play and love. A little over a week ago on Saturday, February 8th, the past and the present came together for me during a very special performance in a VERY unique, historic venue.
The Bradfordville Blues Club (BBC) is located in Tallahassee, Florida. But it’s not part of the mainstream culture that is the University, or it’s surroundings. The BBC is way off the beaten path, tucked away in the hills outside of town. You have to know about it in order to find it. It’s not a place you’d be likely to just stumble upon. It is quite literally an historic venue, as it has a designated marker on the Mississippi Blues trail (Tallahassee was one of the first stops for musicians on tour from Mississippi). The BBC has been a destination for blues lovers for more than 60 years (that we know of!) … And that’s exactly how it’s going to stay.
Owner Gary Anton has kept the place in good working order, but other than necessary maintenance, he hasn’t changed a thing. It’s a cinder block room with about 2,000 square feet of space, total (that’s including the restrooms & office!). You have to drive up a long, winding dirt road lit with tiki torches in order to find it. And when you do, you know you’re somewhere special. You can see and smell the bonfire burning. There are huge oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss just outside the entrance to the club, which is a simple canvas canopy decorated with all kinds of multi-colored lights, stickers, a couple of benches (old church pews, I think), and a little cabinet that serves as the ticket “office”. That’s where Kim, Gary’s wife, makes sure everyone coming in has paid. You have to have either bought a ticket online (one modern convenience!) or are going to pay before you walk inside. There’s no getting past THIS door”man”. And size isn’t a problem, unless you don’t have a ticket to a sold out show. Let me tell ya, they really pack ’em in! The BBC is a popular place, especially since they were awarded the 2010 Keeping The Blues Alive award by the Blues Foundation. And in my estimation, they’re doing a mighty fine job.
After you’ve paid your way, Kim will let you inside and that’s when you know you’re really stepping back in time. Concrete floors. Cinder block walls painted blue … Or red … Depending where you look. Some paneling here and there. Chairs of every shape and size lined up for “concert” seating. A small, 10-12 stool bar in the far corner with 4 long ice chests for beverage refrigeration. A few bottles of wine underneath the bar top, and the “beer/wine list” is whatever is written on the chalkboard behind the cash register. To be honest, I’m not even sure if they take credit cards!
Hanging on the walls are round portraits painted by local artist, blues lover, and BBC regular, Peggy Adair. Images of all the blues giants who have graced the stage … Pinetop Perkins, Mac Arnold, Pat Ramsey, Little Milton, Jimmy Rogers, Son Seals … I could go on and on. The reason these portraits are round? Because they have also served as tabletops! No matter where you sit for the show, you’re looking at blues history. You could be setting your beer on Muddy Waters or Bobby Blue Bland! There are also some great photos of Gary with musicians who have passed through and played at The BBC, along with random funky little signs,other artwork, and old show posters from an era gone by when the place was called Dave’s CC Club.
As a performer, it can be a little overwhelming knowing that you’re about to set foot on a stage that your idols have played on for more than 60 years. Two years ago, when I walked in the BBC for the first time, I knew there was some serious mojo going on inside that place. There is a vibe about the club that’s very hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it. It’s history coming alive, and quite literally feels like magic. This place is a true juke joint. It’s exactly what you picture when you hear those words – juke joint. It’s the real deal and you can feel it. The walls of the BBC have seen more than I can even imagine … And certainly more than I will ever know.
That Saturday evening, I was blessed, yet again to play at The Bradfordville with my band and to be a part of the legacy that is the blues , in more than one way. The LMB is now part of the long, rich history of musicians who continue to keep the blues alive inside the hallowed walls of this club (it really can be a religious experience performing there!). I was also fortunate enough to have a moment on stage where I was able to remind some of the young people in the crowd that night about one of my “teachers”, Miss Koko Taylor, The Queen of The Blues, when I sang one of her most famous songs, “Wang Dang Doodle”. It was a real treat to sing about all those folks Willie Dixon wrote about in that song. Folks with names like “Pistol Pete” & “Kuda Crawlin’ Red” that used to hang out in joints just like the BBC so they could “pitch a Wang Dang Doodle all night long”, as the song goes. It was the past & the present coming together – all for the love of the blues. Pretty humbling to say the least.
And … It was all caught on a recording device to possibly be released as my next album. I think it’s gonna sound great … I know the whole band was really feeling it that night. And so was the crowd. Ya can’t not “get the blues” when you step back in time & inside the BBC.
For more about the Bradfordville Blues Club, please go to: www.bradfordvilleblues.com