Henry Townsend's CD Party
by Jeff Seale
St. Louis loves its own. You could tell by the packed house at BBs Jazz, Blues, and Soups on Sat. night. We arrived a little after 7pm and the place was packed to the walls. Leroy Pierson was on stage with his National. We managed to find a spot (and a very small one at that) about 2/3 of the way to the back. Unfortunately, the sound wasn't loud enough to make the music sound like much more than background music from our vantage point. He was soon joined by Ron Edwards (g), Keith Doder (h), and Mark May(b), and they played several numbers. After a short break, they came back and played a few more before being joined by the man of the evening, HENRY TOWNSEND.
Back in our part of the bar, people had been carrying on conversations for most of the show, which made it difficult to hear the music. Well, when Henry took court, the place got pretty quiet. This was the legend that people came to see. Henry sat at his keyboard, said a few things, and then got to the music. Since yesterday was the first day of Mardi Gras, someone went up to Henry and gave him some beads, which he promptly placed around his neck and then gave a wave to the audience. As is usual with Henry, I'm pretty sure that he was making it up as he went along. All of the backing musicians moved into place so that they could watch him to figure out what was going on. It was quite amusing watching these guys apparently in a trance as the pied piper played and they followed. Henry was in fine form last night. I haven't heard him boogie on the keys like that in a long time. His appearance was brief, 3 songs, about 25 minutes. There were several copies of his new cd, The 88 Blues sold as well. Good for him!
As someone said from the stage after Henry had left, we were honored to be in the same room with Henry Townsend.
A small number of the crowd left when Henry's set was over. The stage was cleared and BENNIE SMITH and Urban Blues Express made their way up. Bennie may be the absolute best guitar player on the St. Louis scene, with all apologies to Tommy Bankhead. Bennie and the band had the house jumpin with some tunes from his cd, The Urban Soul of Bennie Smith. They also did the requisite covers (Mustang Sally, Stormy Monday, etc.) but addded some nice segues into not so well known tunes. They played Shook Up Over You from their cd and then went right into Stand By Me. I thought that was pretty cool.
During the break, our very own ARTHUR WILLIAMS wandered in and began greeting his friends at each table. Not only is this guy one of the best harp players around, he's a real treat of a man. He was totally enjoying himself last night. A few minutes later, we were graced with the presence of BIG BAD SMITTY. Smitty has had both his legs amputated since I last saw him, but he was in raucous spirits last night.
The second set began with Bennie's band and after a few songs, Arthur joined them on harp. This is the absolute best in St. Louis blues today. I'll put these guys up against the best that ANY of the rest of you have to offer. After about another hour, we decided that we had to leave. They were making arrangements for Smitty to join them, and had I been alone, I would have stayed. I haven't seen Smitty since 1993 and would have loved to hear him hold court last night.
It was a fabulous night in St. Louis, where the Patriarch of St. Louis
Blues was surrounded by his friends. And those friends were given a
first rate dose of blues from St. Louis' best.