Blues On Stage Logo

Mike Henderson & the Bluebloods
and The Big Wu
@ The Cabooze, October 31, 1998
by Ann Wickstrom

Mike Henderson
Photo © 1998 by Ann Wickstrom
All rights reserved
"These guys sing and play the way hundreds of bands can't and don't. I was in my kind of heaven. Here are some men I wanted to play with."
-Mark Knopfler

On Thanksgiving we find ourselves thinking about all the things we're thankful for - family, friends, good health, etc. This year I also had something else to be thankful for: someone turned me on to Mike Henderson & the Bluebloods, and it was just in time for their rare public appearance in Minneapolis. The band was in town for a private party on the 30th and picked up a gig at the Cabooze before heading back to their home base of Nashville. The Big Wu graciously offered to share the bill with them for their Halloween bash.

So who are these guys? Henderson first gained national attention while playing with the Bel Airs and the Snakes. He has written a slew of songs-mostly country- that have been recorded by everyone from Trisha Yearwood to Highway 101 to Randy Travis to the Fabulous Thunderbirds ("Powerful Stuff"). He plays just about everything with strings but his slide guitar playing is what turns heads and bends ears. He also plays a wicked harp, but unfortunately we didn't get to hear it this night (not practical to lug his harp amp up to Mpls). Henderson and his bandmates are all top-drawer session musicians in Nashville, some playing with country star Don Williams as well as many other artists. Keyboardist John Jarvis has played with Rod Stewart, John Mellencamp, Ringo Starr, Diana Ross and Art Garfunkel. Glenn Worf, easily the most incredible bass player I've ever seen, has recorded and toured with Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, Aaron Neville, Bryan Adams, Larry Carlton and Lonnie Mack. Drummer John Gardner has laid down the beat for Johnny Cash and Al Kooper and is currently touring with dobro ace Jerry Douglas.

Glenn Worf
Photo © 1998 by Ann Wickstrom
All rights reserved
Despite their many and varied endeavors, Mike, John, Glenn and John play the blues every Monday night at the Bluebird Café in Nashville. Their first CD, First Blood, was recorded in 1996 and their second, Thicker Than Water, will be released in January, both on Dead Reckoning Records (which Henderson founded with three other artists). Both CDs are INTENSE mixtures of delta blues, barrel-house boogie, rockabilly, honky-tonk and rock and roll. You'll find truly awesome covers of tunes from Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, J.B. Hutto, Otis Spann, and Hound Dog Taylor on First Blood. Thicker Than Water contains a few covers and some pretty twisted originals by Henderson/Worf.

That said, The Big Wu has a strong following so it's no surprise that the Cabooze quickly filled during the Bluebloods set. We were treated to some of the covers from First Blood, including "Mean Mistreater", "So Sad to be Lonesome", "When I Get Drunk", "When the Welfare Turns its Back on You", and my favorite, "Pay Bo Diddley". This song with a "Hand Jive" beat is a plea for justice for Mr. Diddley in regards to the rip-offs he's experienced. You can imagine how great the rest of the lyrics are just by seeing a few: "Bo Diddley had him a rockin' good time, but he never made a solitary dime. Ya'll might laugh but it just ain't funny. What ever happened to Bo Diddley's money?" And then later: "Let's get he FBI. The IRS. BMI. And Leonard Chess."

Henderson uses super-heavy strings on his guitar, adding even more freaky, country-ish twang to his already characteristic sound. That's why it's pretty hard to believe what we were seeing when he broke a string. He just mashes them! He recovered quickly though, changing the string in just minutes while Jarvis played a little boogie-woogie.

Yes, we saw it all from this awesome band. We saw Henderson play with the neck of his guitar under one leg (probably not as much of a feat as the fact that he was balancing on the other). We saw Glenn Worf playing CHORDS on his electric bass, bending strings, using vibrato, and slapping the stuffing out of his upright bass. We even heard about 30 seconds of Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey". I don't recall exactly what brought that on but it was really funny.

Henderson is a monster slide player, wearing the slide always and incorporating it into all songs to varying degrees.

It's hard to explain the appeal of the Bluebloods except to say that they are an over-the-top blues band that sounds like no other and is not for the tame, made up of some of the finest, hardest-hitting musicians you will ever see. When they finish a set you feel like you need a break as much as they do. If you ever find yourself in Nashville on a Monday night, make a bee-line for the Bluebird Café. In the meantime, get yourself a copy First Blood, brace yourself, let it sink in, and then graduate to Thicker Than Water.

The Big Wu
The Cabooze, 10/31/98
Photo © 1998 by Ann Wickstrom
All rights reserved
When The Big Wu started, the heavily-costumed crowd was ready. The band was all in costume, which went well with the carved jack-o-lanterns and webbing on stage. We had Teletubby Po, Animal the Drummer, Gene Simmons, a conehead, and a southern bass fisherman (I think). They started out with Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London", a very appropriate song for Halloween! Other tunes included "The Legend of Dan Toe" and "Two Person Chair" from their second CD, Folktales for the Bloodshot, which is slated for a February 99 release. They also did a song called "Texas Fireball", which will appear on their third CD.

A costume contest brought a lot of laughs as the finalists were brought up onto the stage. "Bong" was the winner (although I thought Mike the Ballerina Girl was better ...)

The Big Wu is a jam/groove band with a very happy sound. They are somewhat similar to Phish and the Grateful Dead but it definitely doesn't stop there. Most of their songs are originals with influences ranging from jazz to blues to country to rock. Among their biggest strengths are the dual guitar leads and vocal harmonies. The players know each other's moves well and it's really pretty hard to believe how tight they are when you consider that their songs feature heavy improvisation, differing from show to show. They play at the Cabooze almost every Wednesday night and have other gigs at various clubs in the metro area. If you've never seen them, check out a show soon and be prepared to smile a lot!

This review is copyright © 1998 by Ann Wickstrom, all rights reserved.

Mailbox E-mail Ray Stiles at:

Blues On Stage Table of Contents:
Home Page | Calendar | Spotlight | Features | Photo Gallery
Live Reviews | New Reviews | CD Reviews | New CD Releases | Blues Profiles
Blues Musicians | Blues Clubs | Blues Jams | Memorial | Blues Links
New Links | Website Updates | Website Description | Blues News | Message Board

Copyright 1998 by Ray M. Stiles. All rights reserved.