Monday, March 21, 2011

Double Trouble

No not that 'Double Trouble'. Not SRV's rhythm drivers. No, I'm talking about the tandem of Mark Hummel and Mike Morgan, who literally smoked the blues at The Big Easy in Houston last Saturday night. Now I've been a fan of both of these bluesmen since they began sharing their recordings with us and what a treat it was to see them playing in the same band. Hummel hasn't waded into the Bayou City since 1996 and the last time I saw Morgan was when he backed Gary Primich for a live recording. What a treat it also was to see them playing together at the best blues bar in Texas. I've witnessed some of the finest blues shows at this fine blues club and this show ranks as one of the finest that I seen there.

If I have to explain to you that Mark Hummel is one of the best harmonica blowers in the country, then shame on you, or that Mike Morgan is one of the best blues guitarist that the state of Texas has produced (and that is claiming a mouthful), then double shame. Morgan absolutely knows how to back a blues harp player, after employing a heck of a harp man, Lee McBee, as front man for The Crawl for years. So, Hummel and Morgan stood toe to toe and had the crowd on its toes (literally for some because it was a packed house) all night long.

Hummel pulled out all the stops and songs from most all his albums. Nobody swings the blues as well as he does and then also gets down into the gut bucket back alley . The man tapped an endless variety of grooves from the rumba tinged Ooh La La to driving shuffles like I'm Hooked. He'd pull some of the deepest darned fat toned notes from the low end of his harp and then swoop up and pierce the high end, then put the mic down and channel both Sonny Boy's with superbly played acoustic tones. Speaking of which, Hummel has just released an album of acoustic blues called Back Porch Music and it has garnered some great reviews. And speaking of Double Trouble, he took the Otis Rush tune on its minor keyed ride with masterful chromatic harmonica licks and it put Morgan absolutely in his element when Hummel had him step in and sweeten the pot. Hummel gave him plenty of leash all night to do just that, and Morgan unleashed his skills every time he stepped to the front of the stage. He masterfully aimed his axe where he needed to go--sit back and help drive the rhythm and then step up and smoke the frets. No blues rock in this boy, though, just smokin' blues licks. He ripped it on I'm Hooked and Lowel Fulson's Price of Love and Linda Lu (well, he ripped it all evening, actually). He slid the slide like Muddy on She Moves Me (while Hummel pulled the deep stuff like Little Walter). Bob Margolin is the only guitarist that I've seen who comes as close to getting Muddy Waters' slide as Morgan did that night.

And, since I mentioned driving the rhythm, Double Trouble ain't got nothing on bassist R.W. Grigsby and Wes Starr. These two veterans just might represent the best bottom end of a blues band that I've seen in a long, long time. I don't know how many times I heard, "Damn, those guys are good!" Well, I do know this--that Hummel snagged Mike Morgan for his DFW gig and brought him along to Houston and that R.W. has been a member of Hummel's Blues Survivors for awhile now. Not sure if Wes Starr is playing with him now or was just part of his Texas package, because Starr has been around the horn in the Lone Star state, having once been the house drummer at Antones club, been one of Omar's Howlers, Funderburgh's Rockets, session man for Dial Tone (including backing up Little Joe Washington), and playing with just about everyone else in the state. I'll just agree and say, "Hell, yeah, those guys were good".

I could go on and on and on, I guess. I could keep telling you just how superlative Hummel's deep bent notes were on songs like The Creeper Returns or mention just how far my jaw dropped when he displayed his lick vocabulary on Rockinitis, but I'd run out of adjectives and adverbs and cliches. Let me just mention that Tom McClendon is one fine man for bringing such talent into Houston once again. Even if I've never looked the man in the eyes, I can see his soul reflected in his sun shades--stone solid blues soul. There always some mighty fine folks hanging out there too. IF you're ever in Houston, don't pass up checkin' out The Big Easy.

P.S--For us gear hounds, Hummel blew through his mighty fine Sonny Jr Avenger amplifier.He told me that he had his Sonny Jr Cruncher with him also and loved both, leaning a bit towards the Cruncher, but felt The Avenger fit the club best. Mike Morgan's amp is the well worn Fender Bassman.

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