There are only a handful of places south of the river that host live blues, but Babe's has been doing it on and off for a few years now, and those of us who live "down that way" are appreciative. The room is comfortable, the dance floor is large, the sound is good, and there's no cover. The challenge seems to be to convince all the patrons over on the sports bar side of the building that they're at the wrong party. Should they have wandered into the room where the band was playing, they would have encountered one of the finest blues bands on the local scene.
The Rough Cuts are: Dan Schwalbe on guitar, Steve Grosshans on harp and vocals, Dave Sanny on bass and Marty Bryduck on drums. The band recently released a CD called "Blues & Tall Tales" on the Blue Loon label. Most of the songs on the CD are originals, and they're so strong that they outweigh most of the covers the band does live. My favorites on this particular night were "Easy Come Easy Go", the jumpin' "Wiggle and Wobble," the medium-tempo shuffle "Yes She Sends Me", and a New Orleans-meets-rhumba groove called "Your Conscience is on My Side." Another cool tune was "Hit the Bottle" from the band's 1993 "Straight Shooter" disc. This one finds Schwalbe sliding up the fretboard to some of the notes (without a slide). "Little Red" started off the first set, a Schwalbe instrumental intended for "Blues & Tall Tales" that was subsequently dropped.
Grosshans is a big Lazy Lester fan and was sure to include Lester's "Sugar Coated Love," although it was ironed out somewhat and played as more of a standard spread. The variety of styles from the Rough Cuts is a big part of their appeal. They played everything from the swingin' "Shake Your Boogie" (featuring a great solo by Grosshans), to Howlin' Wolf's hasty "Squeeze Me", to the mid-tempo "Dreamin' a Dream." This one was written by Milwaukee-based harmonica legend Jim Liban for the Lamont Cranston Band some years ago. The band switched into high gear in the middle of this one and, well, they basically rocked! I know I was watching Dan Schwalbe, but I was half-wondering when Johnny Winter had walked through the door. Bryduck was just SMACKIN' the drums on this one.
Another of my favorites was "No More Alcohol", a rollicking jump blues tune done by Jimmy Liggins that was also recorded by Kid Ramos. But the best song of the night for me was the slow, classic standard "I Smell Trouble." Whether you like Bobby "Blue" Bland's version, Ronnie Earl's, or one of countless others, you'd have to love the way Schwalbe carved this one out. He did a very faint, extended solo on this one that was so hushed you could have heard a rat pissing on cotton. If there is another blues guitar player
in this town who knows more licks and strings them together more gracefully than Dan Schwalbe, I don't know who it is.
To those of you who live south of the river, stop in at Babe's sometime and check out the band. It might be the Rough Cuts or it might be someone else, but either way, don't be shy. As Slim Harpo would say, "Tip On In!"
This review is copyright © 2000 by Ann Wickstrom , 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.