On Friday March 10, I was lucky enough to catch a true multi-sensory show by Bill Wharton and the Ingredients, the ultimate blues playin', gumbo cookin' and food eatin' band from Monticello, Florida (just east of Tallahassee). This was the second night of a two night stand at BrewBaker's on the band's "Frozen Tundra Tour" and the club's belated Mardi Gras celebration. Along with his red hot brand of slide guitar-drenched blues, Wharton whipped up his trademark pot of hot, fresh gumbo to feed the audience at the end of the evening.
For anyone seeing Bill Wharton for the first time, his show was an overwhelming event. Wharton preached his "gospel of gumbo, assembled his culinary creation and continually urged the audience (especially the women) to help him out by stirring the pot until the gumbo was ready to eat. When he added his burning slide guitar to the mix, everyone got a show that they could see, hear, smell, touch and taste.
Wharton and the band attacked the stage with a contagious zeal and commitment to making sure that everyone has a good time. However, the craziness and party atmosphere never hid the fact that Bill Wharton is one amazing slide guitarist! Opening with "Let The Big Dog Eat" and burning through his sets as if he couldn't wait to get to the next song (and into the gumbo), Wharton and his band, including mainstays John Babich on piano/organ, "Magic" John Michael Jones on bass and newcomer Donnie Sanchez on drums, provided a tight, muscular sound that screamed, DANCE! DANCE! DANCE! Wharton's show also included music to cook by; as the band played behind him, he sang, talked and threw ingredients into the bubbling metal pot on the stage (and a piece of okra or two at the audience). Wharton kept the mood going with aptly-titled songs like, "I'm Cookin'" and "Stir The Pot." When Wharton wasn't tearing off amazing slide riffs one after the other, John Babich was pounding out some fine boogie piano to the driving backbeat provided by Donnie Sanchez and "Magic" John Michael Jones.
During the evening, Wharton played tunes from all of his recordings, including his latest multimedia release on Burning Disk Records, ""R-E-C-I-P-E-S" (BD001). In addition to the very cool sound of "Let The Big Dog Eat," Wharton performed some of my favorite early Wharton tunes including "The Love Doctor," "Great Big Fanny" and "Kino Song." The song list also included two of my favorites from "R-E-C-I-P-E-S; the solo slide piece, "Your Maytag Done Broke Down," and the in-your-face, "She's A Monkey." During breaks, old and new fans could purchase Wharton CDs and bottles of his famous Liquid Summer Hot Sauce (in two varieties, datil pepper or habanero).
As promised at the end of the evening, gumbo was served to anyone and everyone who sought a taste of Wharton's personal "food of the gods." When all was said and done, everyone left BrewBaker's satisfied thanks to a great big helping of good music and hot gumbo. It's a good bet that after his shows at BrewBaker's, Wharton will get lots of hits on his webpage (www.sauceboss.com) for CDs, hot sauce and a clue as to when the "Sauce Boss" will be back in the Twin Cities.
Postscript by Ray Stiles
There is really only one word that best describes Bill "The Sauce Boss" Wharton. Passion! He is passionate about his Gumbo. He is passionate about his sauces (Bill said his sauce gave him a path to follow). He is passionate about his slide guitar. He is passionate about playing the blues. He is passionate about paying respect to the originators of the blues.
I caught the first night (Thursday) of Bill’s 2-day stay at Brew Baker’s and was equally impressed with Bill’s sizzling slide guitar playing and exuberant zeal for Gumbo. Even though the Thursday night show was an abbreviated version of his normal 2-set shows, it still was a unique "multi-sensory" experience as Dave mentioned above. The local Jimmy Buffett fan club (Parrot Heads) as well as the informal "Blues Buddies" group were holding court in the center of the room adding a little spice to Wharton’s show. Wharton plays on a regular basis at Buffett’s Florida club and since Buffett mentioned the "Sauce Boss" in one of his songs ("I Will Play for Gumbo"), the Parrot Heads have adopted Bill Wharton and turned out in force to show their support. Because the Thursday night show was just one, 90-minute set (to accommodate the Parrot Heads party) it was almost more about Gumbo than blues…almost. It takes a while to throw all of the ingredients together to make as big a batch of Gumbo as Wharton does, and he doesn’t spare any talk in describing his Gumbo, the blues and some other of his life’s philosophies, so we didn’t get to hear as much music as we normally would.
As well as a bluesman, Wharton is part story teller, part stand-up comedian, part evangelist, and part snake-oil salesman. And among the enticing aroma floating around the room on Thursday we did get to hear some dance-party music underpinned with Wharton’s rousing slide guitar playing. I did go for seconds on my Gumbo at the end of the show too—it "was" very good!
This review is copyright © 2000 by Dave "Doc" Piltz & Ray Stiles, 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.