The grand opening of the Bam Boo Room in Lake Worth, Florida on March 20 represented the culmination of a twelve year dream for Russell Hibbard and Mary McKinley, the proud owners of the newest blues venue in South Florida. Since their meeting at a Muddy Water's concert, the couple has shared a vision to create a blues club where people could gather to listen to "real" blues music. Part of the vision was to provide a venue for many of the older bluesmen and women who have gone unrecognized for so many years; a place where people could listen to the blues and have "a couple of cocktails," instead of a place where people went to drink with live music in the background.
Following the well-attended private opening party on Friday night, the Bam Boo Room opened to the public for the first time on Saturday evening with music provided by The Pocket Rockets, featuring Blind Mississippi Morris. Morris and The Pocket Rockets had thrilled the crowd at the private opening party the night before and the two shows on Saturday night were much anticipated by everyone lucky enough to have tickets. The Bam Boo Room is best described as a "show lounge," offering two shows each evening and limiting seating to about 150 people for each show. The result is a great atmosphere for the music and not the "human crush" one can experience at other blues clubs.
Blind Mississippi Morris hails from Clarksdale, Mississippi and has the distinction of being a cousin of blues great, Willie Dixon. Morris and The Pocket Rockets are referred to at the "real deal from Beale," since they currently operate out of Memphis, Tennessee.
Morris took the stage on Saturday, dressed in black, with his harp satchel slung over his shoulder. The Pocket Rockets have played with Morris for a number of years and include Brad Webb on guitar; Dan Cochran on bass; Russell Lee Wheeler on keyboards; and relative newcomer, Chad Gamble on drums. All of the band members are seasoned musicians and their skills were obvious throughout the 90+ minute show.
The opening song for the evening, "Second Hand Store," from Blind Mississippi Morris' debut CD on Ice House Records, You Know I Like That, had a sound straight out of the Mississippi Delta and was performed featuring only guitar, drums and Morris' exceptional harp attack. This was followed by the title track from the first CD and included what turned out to be an ongoing dialogue between Morris and the audience throughout the evening. "You Know I Like That" displayed a strong Memphis feel and included solos by Webb on guitar and Morris on harp.
In an evening that mixed original numbers with excellent covers, the band did an excellent job of interpreting Freddie King's classic, "Tore Down," including solos by Morris, Webb and keyboard player, Russell Lee Wheeler. Later covers included tunes penned by Slim Harpo, Muddy Waters and Albert King.
The set also included two songs from the band's latest CD, Bad To Worse. The title track, "Bad To Worse" is a hot number that got the crowd on to its collective dancing feet. Even better was "Singin' The Blues," an excellent tune reminiscent of Delbert McClinton. "Singin' The Blues" was my favorite song of the night and one of the best songs on the new CD which was independently produced by Brad Webb and recorded in the barn at his home in Memphis.
The mutual appreciation between Morris, The Pocket Rockets and the audience was apparent throughout the performance. Blind Mississippi Morris is an exceptional harp player, easily in the class of some of the greats, including Charlie Musselwhite, Carey Bell and James Cotton. Brad Webb demonstrated his guitar skills on several songs, offering some nasty slide guitar on a song called "Killin' Kind."
The final number for the evening was Albert King's, "Crosscut Saw." The band offered a great arrangement of the classic tune which featured Russell Wheeler's keyboards as the primary solo instrument instead of the expected guitar-heavy version you normally hear from other blues bands.
I felt very fortunate to be present at the opening of one of the nicest blues clubs I have ever been in and to have the opportunity to hear the fine musical offerings of The Pocket Rockets, featuring Blind Mississippi Morris. If you are ever in South Florida, take advantage of the opportunity to visit the Bam Boo Room; you won't regret it. And don't miss any chances that you might have to see The Pocket Rockets and Blind Mississippi Morris. They are a fine band and well-worth seeing.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.