Tobacco Road in Miami, Florida has been serving drinks and offering live music for 87 years in downtown Miami, Florida, making it one of the most famous (infamous) landmarks in the city as a favorite watering hole for mobster Al Capone, among others, during prohibition. The Road has seen some great blues acts over the years, many of them commemorated by the autographed promotional photos and show flyers plastered on every wall. One weekend nights, Tobacco Road typically has two bands performing, one outside on the patio and one upstairs on the Diamond Tooth Mary Stage.
Friday night at Tobacco Road, Skeeter Brandon and Highway 61 made the trip from North Carolina to South Florida for the first night of a scheduled two night stand. Keyboardist/vocalist Skeeter Brandon is an entertaining and talented performer who
has succeeded despite being blind since the age of four. Supporting Brandon's efforts was his band, Highway 61, including Max Drake on guitar, Chris Grant on bass and newcomer Jay Mahlstede on drums. With the exception of Mahlstede, who had been with the band for about four days, the members of the band have played together for several years. In fact, bassist Chris Grant has played with Brandon for over 10 years.
In a very tight and professional show, Skeeter Brandon and highway 61 burned through a number of excellent original songs mixed with a few select covers, focusing
on songs from the band's most recent CD, "I'm A Man Of my Word." Brandon's talents on piano were especially apparent on "Blues Down In My Bones" and the CD title track, "I'm A Man Of My Word." On several other songs Max Drake's slide guitar work dominated, most notably on "Stop That Grinnin'" and "your Mamas Always On My Mind." Although the crowd was small at the beginning of the first set (I counted 8 people), the club was packed before the set had concluded, with several ladies doing some serious hipshakin' in front of the stage.
In addition to being a fine keyboard player, Brandon possesses an excellent singing voice with a piercing falsetto. The best evidence of Skeeter's vocal talents were not displayed on an original, but on a great cover of Percy Sledge's, "When A Man Loves A Woman." During the song, Brandon not only sang in his natural voice (one verse with no microphone), but he also performed very accurate vocal impersonations of Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding and Luther Vandross.
Despite the fact that I have had several opportunities to see Skeeter Brandon and Highway 61 perform on my numerous trips to South Florida, this was the first time that I decided to actually go and see him. After hearing what I have been missing all this time, I realized that I should have seized the opportunity a long time ago! I definitely won't wait so long before seeing him again.
This review is copyright © 2000 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.