The first time I visited the world famous ZOO Bar in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska was on a before noon on a Sunday about three years ago. Needless to say, I wouldn't get in, simply because it was closed! Fortunately, my second visit to the ZOO was better conceived, allowing me to enjoy one of the finest blues clubs in the country. My visit to the ZOO also allowed me to enjoy the music of Texas bluesman Randy McAllister.
The ZOO Bar is very similar to a number of clubs that I have visited in the Chicago area; long, narrow and very intimate. The ZOO is part of a very active downtown scene in Lincoln that is no doubt fuelled by the student body of the University of Nebraska. It also was a perfect location to experience the unique blues offerings of the blues harp and snare drumming of Randy McAllister. McAllister's current CD on JSP Records, Double Rectified Bust Head (1999), is his third on the JSP label. One of the best things about McAllister's recordings, along with his live shows, it the fact that they are almost exclusively comprised of original material.
Along with band mates Texas Slim (guitar), Jimmy Morgan (drums) and Tim Neely (bass), McAllister burned through his repertoire of blues and boogie, infected with a bit of honky tonk, rockabilly, country and even a little polka. McAllister's show was filled with some excellent blues harp, pounding snare drum and excellent guitar by Texas Slim. Neely and Morgan maintained a solid back beat throughout the show, often rhythmically supported by McAllister's snare.
The band's sets included songs from all three of McAllister's recordings and a project currently "in the works." Highlights of the evening included a great version of "Hip Shake Baby," along with originals like "Blues Covered Soul," "He Was Him," "Nasty Little Daydreams" and "A Bat & A Gun & A Whole Lot of Whiskey" from McAllister's most recent CD. During the first set, I was personally graced with a dedicated tune called "Trying Not To Lose It In Minnesota," which was sort of a demented polka- boogie.
At times, McAllister's vocals and harp, along with the rest of the band, reminded me of another great Texas band, The Fabulous Thunderbirds. This was especially true on "A Bat & A Gun & A Whole Lot Of Whiskey." The most notable thing about the band's sound is McAllister's use of the snare drum as an accompanying and solo instrument. McAllister may be the only blues musician who has openly tried to perfect the snare drum solo! His perfection of the snare as a solo instrument was most evident on a song called, "I Hold My False Teeth and I Show You How To Dance." In this song that he dubbed as being of "no real social significance," McAllister played an extended snare solo; extending it by playing his way into the audience, replacing the snare with microphone stands, the stage, tables, chairs, the floor, coffee cups, beer glasses and ash trays. The solo definitely was effective in getting the crowd into quite an uproar!
Despite the fact that the band had driven to Lincoln straight from Fort Worth, Texas, the energy that they displayed on stage gave no indication that they were worn down by the trip, the sign of a bunch of true road warriors. The band's effort was clearly appreciated by the packed house at the ZOO.
Thanks to an exceptional performance by Randy McAllister and company, my trip to Lincoln was well worth the time. With a hot harp, burning guitar and the ever-present snare drum, it was an excellent show and one that I hope to relive on McAllister's next visit to the Twin Cities.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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