This is one review that I can truly write from the heart (not that any others I've done have not been). I could probably fill this whole page with a personal, a professional and a fan point of view, but I'll be kind and not ramble on forever.
Thackery has been a friend for years. He is one of the greatest guys you'll ever meet. He is also one of the funniest guys you'll ever meet. He can sit for hours telling stories and jokes, but when he kicks into his Walter Brennan impression, you'll split a gut laughing. Jimmy's right hand man, drummer Mark Stutso, is also, shall we say, cut from the same mold. He is also a class act and a good friend.
When I heard The Drivers were coming back to town, I couldn't wait. I called up my buddy Steve, a local musician and long time Thackery fan, and told him; "We're hitting the road!" Nothing sounded better than hitting the road with Thackery for a couple of days. It's a very rare opportunity to get to see the band in a small intimate setting such as Mugzee's in Rochester (120 when packed) and then turn around and witness the band at full throttle the very next night in a huge night club like The Cabooze (800 +). It would be a lesson in the blues that he wouldn't forget. Steve simply said, "Let's go!"
Driver drummer Mark Stutso is still the driving force, he has been Jimmy's right hand man for 14 years. Bass player Ken Faltinson played with Luther Allison for years and also did some touring work with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, before joining the Drivers about a year ago. Around that same time, The Drivers added Jimmy Carpenter on saxophones and vocals. What a line up, very tasty.
Both of these shows were great. What a contrast! Even though a lot of the material was the same on both nights, the difference was incredible. Mugzee's is such a small intimate roadhouse that it was much more up close and personal. Every time the band brought it down with dynamics, it was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. At the Cabooze, the crowd noise would almost drown it all out.
With two full sets at Mugzee's, it gave Jimmy more of an opportunity to open up his bag of tricks and show off a little of each and every style and influence that he's known for. At the Cabooze, the band's one set allowed them to come out and kick ass for ninety straight minutes from start to finish. Without a doubt, my favorite was Thursday at Mugzee's.
We hit the road for Rochester, rolled into town about 5:00, checked in our rooms and headed right out to greet the guys. We went right to Jimmy's room, rapped on the door and wound up sitting there shooting the bull for about an hour and tipping back a couple of what Jimmy called, "Minnesota 3.2."
Next, time to get ready and head over to the club. We were all wondering what to expect when we got there. This rare stop for the Drivers just happened to be on the same night as the only Thursday night Vikings game this year. The club had to announce that even though the band would wait awhile, they would still start before the game would end. No one grumbled or complained. Even though the place was full of Vikings fans, it was clear that they were all there to see Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers. All of the local sports bars could learn a lesson from this night.
It was time. No formal introduction. Jimmy & The Drivers took the stage and ripped into a great instrumental shuffle that got the attention of everyone right from the start. Song after song, they knew just how to work the crowd. They worked through old classics like B. B. King's "You Upset Me Baby" and "It's My Own Fault." Mark handled vocals on both of these with excellence. Then, some standout Thackery tunes; "Dancing On Broken Glass, "Roy's Blues," Crazy 'Bout a Saxophone" and my favorite; "Cool Guitars," where Jimmy sings that "he sold the bitch's car."
Every time the band used dynamics and took it way down, it was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop in the joint. During one such moment in "It's My Own Fault," the phone rang loud and clear. Without missing a beat, Jimmy leaped up to the mic and said, "Damn it, I told her not to call me at work". It was great. Everyone cheered. Later, during another such moment, Jimmy was playing so quiet that you could hardly hear the notes. Somebody yelled out, "Hey, play .............". Once again Jimmy jumped right in and said, "Hey, shut up, you .............., do I come to your job and tell you how to make cole slaw"? Poor guy, but even he laughed along with the crowd knowing it was in jest.
Highlights included a few tunes off of Jimmy's brand new CD "Sinner Street"; the surf tribute title cut "Sinner Street," "Grab The Rafters," "Havin' A Heart" and "Detroit Iron". Most impressive was ending with "Shotgun" by Jr. Walker. Jimmy told me later that this was his answer to every other band "on the planet" doing "Mustang Sally", which he won't do. Way Cool!
Then, after the crowd wouldn't give up or leave, Jimmy came back all by himself and kicked into "The Star Spangled Banner," Jimi Hendrix style. Without missing a beat, the band jumped in to end the song and lead right into "Red House" to sign off.
The club cleared out. We shot the bull a little more, told a few more stories, a few more jokes and got Jimmy going on his Walter Brennan impersonation. It still cracks me up.
Friday, The Cabooze
Check out time comes pretty early after such a late night, but that's typical on the road. We all gathered across the street for breakfast. I'll leave the name of the restaurant out (although it rhymes with "Members"), because we all wound up with gut rot for the rest of the day and well into the night. At breakfast, Jimmy could barely talk. He'd lost his voice almost completely, after straining all night to hear his vocals in the monitors in the small club. What a way to start the first night of a three week tour.
We hit the road and headed for Minneapolis. The Cabooze said they expected to be sold out or close to it and by the time Jimmy took the stage, it looked that way, it was pretty packed.
The Keller Brothers Band opened the show. These guys look like they have a solid future ahead of them. Mike Keller's guitar and vocal work are very good and seem to catch everybody's attention. Mike's brother Cory holds down the beat well and is a very solid drummer and Matt Farrell's keyboards were superb. For this show, the band called on an old friend from Fargo (sorry, didn't get his name) to come down and play bass. He looked a bit nervous, but he did a great job. Based in Minneapolis now, this band is making waves already. The Kellers held the audience well, something that many opening bands don't do.
This was a typical big venue show for the Drivers. Jimmy had his full amp stack for this night using a Line 6 and a Fender Twin (at Mugzee's, he only needed his Line 6). This was the loud, electric, intense show that is normal for these guys.
About 11:00, The Drivers hit the stage, kicking off the show with another killer instrumental. Then, after a formal introduction on this night, Jimmy hit the stage. Jimmy was still a little hoarse, but had revived his voice enough to get through the ninety minutes that he needed tonight. "You Upset Me Baby," "It's My Own Fault," Grab The Rafters," "Detroit Iron," "Crazy 'Bout A Saxophone" and "Havin' A Heart" once again stood out.
Some of the traditionalists (the blues police) think Thackery is a little too far over the edge for them, but when Jimmy pulls out some traditional shuffles and slow blues, as he did this night, it usually reels them right back in. They do realize Thackery is one great guitar player and there's nobody like him. A reporter once called Jimmy the new Stevie Ray Vaughan. "That's crap," Jimmy said, "Everybody's looking for the new Stevie Ray. I got news for you; there ain't one."
Once again they pulled out "Shotgun" and their encore; "The Star Spangled Banner/Red House". This was a great show too, but it made me appreciate the night before even more, because it made me forget how distracting it is to hear the crowd noise and the audience that keeps talking right through the artist's performance. It can easily ruin the intensity of the dynamics on any night.
No cole slaw or phone ringing jokes here - just straight ahead, 'in your face' driving blues/rock. Thanks guys! Hope it's not another year until we see you again.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Rico Anderson, 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.