It’s past mid-March, and I just now realized that the clock in the car was behind an hour. Thanks to Daylight Saving Time, we all have been able to count on suffering temporary confusion or, in many instances, long-term “I can’t get used to this!” irritation twice a year. It was reported by Walter Winchell in October of 1957 that a rival Pennsylvania newspaper first offered the mnemonic “spring forward/fall back” to help allay the anxieties that this imposed, one-hour time-travel arouses; but beyond helping us remember how to reset clocks, it does little for the unsettled psyche. This year, just ahead of the change, the Right Reverend J.W. Juke hosted two Court Street Grill favorites: the impudent Gas House Gorillas Thursday evening and country soul man Johnny Rawls with Mudfork BluesFriday evening. After those two shows, I smoothly glided well past the Sunday morning future/present flip-flop feeling just fine.
In 1947, Billboard wrote that jump blues, with its jive talk and humor, was “strictly for hepsters who go for swing and boogie and beats in loud unrelenting style a la Lionel Hampton.” Well, the Grill, then, was overflowing with happy “hepsters” Thursday night; all had come to become part of the Gas House Gorillas’ special brand of frisky freneticism. It was so crowded that lead vocalist Rick Fink had some difficulty finding a spot on the balcony from which to hang. Yes, the Gorillas still feel that “all the (Grill’s) a stage.” Rick was in the usual company of unusual Gorillas. Stroking and plucking the upright was the downright cool, creative Crusher Carmean, blowing out those sweet-talkin’ sax sounds we all love to hear was Jim “Seltzer” Davis, and minding his flams and fills on a first-class Larry Wright Signature Drum kit was Eddie Everett. New Gorilla guitarist Snake Osburn was all the between-set buzz. “He’s AWEsome, man!” Rev raved. “He’s steeped in swing!”
For two sets the Gorillas did…what Gorillas do. Hanging upside down from the spiral staircase while singing “I Want You to Love Me,” wailing on the sax while lying down with legs casually crossed, walking on stepping stone chairs and tables to the top of a back bar while conducting a call and response with the audience, hoisting the bass aloft while wildly snatching strings to “King Kong,” performing “Viva Las Vegas” while leading a snaking conga line around the Grill, and singing part of a Gary U.S. Bonds tune from a “hepster’s” lap were all part of the frenzied evening fare. Eddie Elliot, of course, was well behaved. The new guitarist was also, but we all know what can happen when you hang with ill-mannered Gorillas.
By contrast, Friday night featured some smooth, sensual soul music, which the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame defines as “the transmutation of gospel and rhythm & blues into a form of funky, secular testifying.” And who better to bring that on home than Mr. Mississippi Johnny Rawls. When Johnny’s in town, he looks to some of his (and my) favorite musicians, members of Mudfork Blues, to help him deliver the news. Sharing lead and rhythm guitar with Johnny and contributing his Howlin’-like-the-Wolf style vocals was soul doctor Jared Sheets, and the “hepster” of the harp and keeper of the keys, Adam Sheets, folded in his own rhythms, leads, and vocals. Rocking back and forth on his black high-top Chucks while rolling out the bottom on bass was John Lohse, and cool, calm cadence captain Kevin Neel conducted the down beats, the back beats, and all of the in-between beats.
Like the missing last piece to a jigsaw puzzle, Johnny and the boys smoothly interlocked with everyone’s soul. Johnny’s timeless testimonies of life’s laughs, loves, and losses righteously reaffirm the comforting I’m-not-the-only-one state of mind. Through his songs, he confesses, professes, and assesses, often with a bad boy grin and a humorous funky flourish of flirtations toward the ladies in the audience. Near the end of the evening, Johnny took a side seat to command the keys for several songs, putting Adam out front with Jared. I had never heard him play keyboard before, and listening to his solid backing for Mudfork Blues added another dimension to my enjoyment of these talented artists.
From late ‘40s style bright, bouncing, jitterbugging jump blues to ‘50s style slow-simmered bumping and grinding soul blues, the present and the past were equally graced by each other both evenings. It was, of course, serendipitous that Rev booked the Gas House Gorillas and Johnny Rawls with Mudfork Blues right before the time change. Since then, many of us have noticed a relaxed, residual “swinging forward” rather than the once-and-done “spring forward;” left-over living in a musical time signature, I suppose you could say. Maybe that’s why I’m just now resetting the car clock, the last clock…that is, after I once again figure out how to do it.