At the east edge of downtown Dallas, Texas, is the legendary part of town known as Deep Ellum. At the end of the Civil War it was known as the "Central Tracks" and was located primarily on Elm Street. However "Elm" was pronounced with two syllables, "El-lum" by the early settlers. This simply evolved to Deep Ellum over the years. It became a place for those who didn't fit in elsewhere. It was in the cafes, nightclubs and street corners of Deep Ellum that Leadbelly, Lightnin' Hopkins and Blind Lemon Jefferson performed. Jefferson even wrote a song called "Deep Ellum Blues".
In modern day Deep Ellum, you will find the Blue Cat Blues club, known for being home to the biggest names in the blues. The club has won many awards and was selected by the writers of Blues Revue as a club where they would take out-of-town visitors to hear the blues. The club lives up to all the media hype. It's a spacious yet cozy room thanks to the concert posters on the walls and the street lamps ala New Orleans. There is a perfect view of the stage from anywhere in the club.
Son Seals was taking the stage for the first time of the evening when I arrived. His blistering and piercing guitar playing was instantly recognizable as he and the band broke into "Everyday I Have The Blues". Almost as recognizable was the 2nd guitarist who turned out to be Dru Lombar. He rose to fame as singer/songwriter/guitarist and leader of the Southern rock group Grinderswitch. Lombar now fronts Dr. Hector & the Groove Injectors, a powerhouse blues quartet and they were Son's support band for this gig.
Son and the Groove Injectors machine gunned their way through a series of blues standards featuring the energy laced "Don't Lie To Me" and laid back "Sun Is Shinin". Seals wasn't shy to show off the talents of the band especially on "The Sky Is Cryin" where young organist Stuart Baer performed like a veteran. Noticeably absent was a horn section. They have been a prominent part of the Seals sound and have come to be expected over the years. They are usually a part of the Dr Hector band too. However their absence allowed the 2 guitar veterans to trade licks that burned deep from the blues soul throughout the set. Bassist Kerry Creasy laid a firm rhythm foundation down for the Bad Axe man. The set climaxed with an extended, scorching version of "Funky Bitch" that just wouldn't quit. Time after time just when you thought the song was going to end, Son kept jamming and challenged the band to keep up with him. It was a version that would have left Phish drowned in a bucket of notes.
Lombar and Company proceeded to warm up the crowd for the 2nd set by doing a few Dr Hector originals. Dru almost shouted out the lyrics of "Bad Connection" with its hard driving beat. The tune temporarily turned the house into a rock concert thanks to a mean drum solo courtesy of Gene Melendraras. The pace shifted dramatically to the ballad "Safe In Your Arms Again". Here Lombar absolutely shined on guitar. The Bad Axe man looked frail with noticeably reduced weight as he slowly made his way to the stage. His cane providing much needed support for the prosthesis he now wears as a result of last year's surgery. Once on stage, he stormed into a burning "Gotta Mind To Travel" and intense "As The Years Go Passin By". With each tune, his razor sharp pickin made you feel like someone just knocked you off your chair.
The band followed Son's every move but true to his good nature, he stuck mainly with covers as the band didn't know a lot of his originals. The occasional Seals penned tune was thrown into the mix like "On Your Knees." Son broke new ground and ventured into uncharted musical waters on his latest release called "Lettin' Go" on Telarc. It was disappointing not to hear any songs from the CD given the fact it is destined for awards. Equally disappointing was the sound. Son's Guild guitar mix was sweet but his vocal mix was muddied and weak. Likewise Dru's guitar mix was weak which was a pity given the fact it could be years before these two gents jam again. After the final number, the house roared to the point where Son returned to the stage for an encore. This mini Texas tour teamed Son and Dr Hector up for additional stops in Austin and Houston in addition to Wichita, KS, Joplin, MO, Fayeteville, AR and New Orleans, LA.
As if this wasn't enough blues, earlier in the tourist laden west end of town, I saw the Robin Banks Blues Band. They are an up and coming band who play 20-25 nights per month throughout the Dallas Ft. Worth area. Robin's smooth and soulful voice is backed by Drew Allain on bass and Mark Wilson on drums. They laid down solid Texas blues on "T Bone Shuffle," "Woman," and "Evil" and through in a few originals. They play with the hottest guitarists in Dallas. On this night it was Holland K Smith who almost stole the show with his mix of Texas blues guitar, rockabilly guitar and a little rock guitar. The blues is alive and well in Dallas!
This review is copyright © 2000 by Tim Holek, 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.