Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hamming It Up At The Bugle Boy

I spent an enjoyable evening out with my wife and son (Virginia and John) at a venue over in La Grange, Texas (yes, that La Grange)called The Bugle Boy. I had heard about it previously, and when I saw that Hamilton Loomis was booked to play there, I asked him about it when I saw him at the IBC held at The Big Easy last month. He told me that it was really a unique type of atmosphere that they call a "listening room" and that patrons are not allowed to talk during a performance. Indeed, we found after arriving that the only real rule the club has is "no talking" and that their motto is "Loose lips, sink ships". Lane Gosnay runs the tight ship, along with a host of volunteers who love live music. Click on the link above to get more of a low down on the venue and an idea of the artists they book. Seems that most of the acts are of the acoustic variety--so listening is paramount. Anyway, Hamilton told me that he brings in his full band and that they jump the joint. The place seemed perfect for an outing with the family and a spot where my son could watch a guitar player work without a few drunks in the way. There were way more lattes being served than beer.

I'd seen Hamilton exhibit snippets of his talent a time or two at one of Sonny Boy Terry's harmonica blowoffs or a jam here and there, but never really watched him work with his own band. I've followed his career since he released his first album (Hamilton) as a teenager, on which he played all the instruments. Since then, he's recorded a couple of well received (and reviewed) albums for Blind Pig Records. Even his latest for the label, Ain't Just Temporary, has him laying down tracks on which he plays most of the instruments--so the man has some kind of real musical talent. This gig at The Bugle Boy, though, has him touting the release of Live In England, and this night he showcased quite a few songs from the CD.

--Photo by Christie Goodwin www.photoart.biz

After talking my wife and son into traveling the short distance over to La Grange with me, they both assumed that we'd be seeing a bluesman at work. Matter of fact, Lane Gosnay, in her introduction, told the audience that she hoped that they liked the blues because Hamilton was going to lay it on them. BUT--when John asked me, before we headed out the door, what kind of music did Hamilton Loomis play, I couldn't tell him, in all honesty, that he played the blues. I had to say..."hmm, sorta, kinda, funk blues, soul, R&B, pop, with a little rock." He looked at me rather quizzically, but after the show he pretty much had to agree with my assessment.

Now, those who know me well--or have read through my posts here--know that I prefer my blues straight up with no chaser, but Hamilton Loomis is such an Energizer bunny with enormous talent, and he always keeps one foot planted firmly enough in the blues that he's hard for me not to enjoy. Of course, I'd love for him to just blast out his blues harp licks all night and sling out bluesy notes from his Ernie Ball-Music Man guitar and be the torch bearer for a new generation of blues fans, but that's just not his shtick. When he turned the crowd onto Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's Bow Wow, it reminded me how perturbed I was with Watson moving off over to the funk side of things. I wanted him to stay put in the zone that his classic Three Hours Past Midnight fell into, but he shoved off into a different direction and played it just as well and enjoyed immense success. He just didn't grab me any longer, though. Hamilton's cover at The Bugle Boy had me looking for my Watson cassette and gaining a greater appreciation for the songs on that album. Hamilton just flat tore the tune up and turned it upside down and inside out with his guitar licks.

Hamilton funky stylings grabbed me at The Bugle Boy, though, with his infectious smile, smooth vocals, incendiary guitar playing, well chosen harp riffs, and tight bandmates; Stratton Doyle (sax, keyboards), Kent Beatty (bass), and Josh Duckworth (drums). He turned both Doyle and Beatty loose a time or two, and allowed Beatty to feature his skills on a jazzy original instrumental that he thumped out on his bass. Darned good bassman.

I was hoping that Hamilton would lay his guitar playing on heavy, so John could witness some professionally applied plank spanking, and he didn't disappoint on that account. Few of his tunes ever fall into a twelve bar groove, but most of his guitar licks are gleaned from the genre, unless he's just flat out rocking away--even then he chooses some tasty choices for his note. He had the crowd where he wanted them from the opening chords of Best Worst Day of his life, from his last album, through his Bo Diddley tribute, which he played on Diddley's trademark, red rectangled guitar tuned to open E and on which he lit into the rockinest version of Road Runner that I've ever heard. You might say they turned the listening room upon its ear and had the place jumpin' to their jive. They went rather wild on the tune, which seemed to be a habit of theirs.

What appears to be improvisational flurries off into snippets from classic rock tunes (Deep Purple, Jimi, Cream, etc...), or TV and movie themes, are just well planned, coordinated showmanship (listening to the live release bears this out). His band members hit every cue perfectly as they slide in and out of these snippets. Of course, the hit of the night was when they segued into ZZTop's La Grange...how, how, how, how. He livened up the aforementioned, Bow Wow, with such forays off to some other land also. Of course, I loved it when he put his lips to his customized harmonica holder (a vacuum cleaner attachment from his mom's house)with an embedded Shaker microphone and yanked on some nice blues chops. He broke it out enough to keep the harp player in me satisfied.

Bottom line--my wife and son both had a great time. All I had to do was look his way, while Hamilton's fingers were flying across the fret board, to know that John was appreciating the talent on display. Great night, great venue, and a great band. Be sure and check out Hamilton's website for a better insight into just what he's all about. 'Nuff for now.

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