Sunday, October 26, 2014
Paul Oscher's Deep Blues
The Deep Blues. Now that's my kind of blues. I listen to all the different shades of blues, but the deep blues turns my crank more so that anything else. Robert Palmer in his book titled, natch, Deep Blues, wrote what I'd consider the best analysis of exactly what it is. I'll boil down his 300 pages to say that he puts deep bluesmen in the category of those who plied their trade around the Mississippi Delta and those who took it to Chicago and other urban centers. They basically took the raw, gritty, lowdown, gutbucket blues and amplified it. Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, and John Lee Hooker are a handful of many who took the music of Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Fred McDowell, Son House, etc to the city. In the book, B.B. King throws in his two cents in the book, explaining that he definitely doesn't consider himself as a deep bluesman (although, he can dang sure get down with it), because he plays a more uptown style with a horn section augmenting his stage. He nods his head to those I mentioned and the man he learn from, his cousin Bukka White, as staying truer to the roots of the music. The harmonica was the only horn section in a band laying down the deep blues. And, that brings me to Paul Oscher.
I took my wife on a date night to the exquisite listening room in La Grange called The Bugle Boy (www.thebugleboy.org) in La Grange, Texas. On arriving, I spotted Oscher sitting on the deck with his manager, Nancy Coplin and his road tech, Forrest Arnold. They had just returned from a successful European tour. I mentioned to Nancy that, in my opinion, Paul played the deepest blues of anyone around today. He shrugged it off, saying, "Well, that's all I know how to play".
I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with them prior to show. I knew that he'd moved to Austin recently, or actually Manchaca, and he told me he didn't know that he was moving into a place just a few blocks from James Cotton, which provided a reunion of sorts. He told me a tale about how Cotton ended up living with Sonny Boy Williamson II back in the day. I did know that Paul frequently played at a joint called Railroad Barbecue, just a hop, skip, and a jump from his house, having seen someone mention it on a harp forum I read. It closed down before I could make it over to try and catch him.
"Yeah, the way that gig happened was I walk in and asked them if they had live music," Paul told me. He said that they were agreeable and he soon had a standing gig conveniently located just down the street. Once word got out, fans and other Austin musicians flocked to Manchaca and he had the place rocking. Sadly, he told me, other owners took over and the place ended up demolished. He does hold court on Thursday's at C-Boy's Heart and Soul, 2008 S. Congress Ave in Austin. He's rounding up Mike Keller (The Fabulous T-Birds guitarist) and his brother, Cory on drums to back him up when they are available. Gonna have to head that direction real soon.
Now, on to the show. He's been doing the one man thing for quite some time now. I've got a few of his recordings reflecting as much. He walked out and strapped on his harp rack outfitted with a microphone, set up with a wireless rig. He lit into "Ida Mae" on an old, fat bodied Harmony guitar with some of those down in the alley licks he absorbed from Muddy, Nighthawk, and others. I'm pretty sure that it's one of his original tunes, but don't quote me on that...well, hell, you can go ahead and quote me. Original or not, it comes from deep in the well. From there, he put a spin on Little Walter's "Juke" and shortly after, "Mean Old World", but with licks from a different LW slow blues. He gets one helluva a fat, deep tone out of his rig. Speaking of which, I mentioned that to him after the show and he pointed to his chest and said, "Most of that comes deep down in here." He proved that when he played through the vocal mic a bit later in the show.
He's got that old school, lowdown, gutbucket grit on guitar, especially when he works the slide into the tune. He nailed Muddy's tone down more than once as he ripped through his set list, mixing his originals like "Blues and Trouble" and "Thunder" with blues standards such as Guitar Slim's "Things I Used To Do", Jimmy Rogers' "That's Alright", and Freddy King's "Hideaway". After "Hideaway", he told a story about Freddy King opening for them at a club and singeing the side of Muddy's pompadour with flash powder, with Muddy saying "We gonna cut that out". He regaled the audience with humorous tales from the road he travelled with Muddy, which kept the crowd in stitches. I mean, really, here's a dude who was the first white musician to join the best damn blues band...ever, and as the harmonica player following the best damn harmonica players...ever. He had big shoes to fill. Little Walter, James Cotton, Junior Wells, etc were studs, and here was 17 year old Paul Oscher living in Muddy's basement with Otis Spann. So, yeah, he had tales to to tell.
Before the intermission, Paul pulled out some of his tricks of the trade by spinning the harmonica around in his mouth, which swap the physical position of the high end and the low end and he chugged along without missing a beat...until he dropped it, which upset him, since the performance was being streamed live to a world wide audience. The streaming factor forced him into cleaning up the language that he might normally use in some of his blues stories. He did introduce the band before the break. He took his Harmony and place it on the floor like an upright bass and proceeded to play it as a bass player would. "Let's here it for the bass." He never did introduce the harmonica player, though.
After the break, he proved how well he could multi-task. He sat down at his Yamaha keyboard with his neck rack in place and his guitar on his lap. He proceeded to play all three as he sang out a blues number. He damned well absorbed what hanging with Otis Spann, and later, Pinetop Perkins, provided him, which he demonstrated after putting the Harmony down. Pretty sure he played a rendition of Leroy Carr's "Blues Before Sunrise" as the followup. Trusting my memory here, because I took no notes.
He more or less closed things out with "The Things I Used To Do" and a couple of numbers I'm after trouble recalling. The audience insisted on an encore, so he came back with a great "That's Alright" and then lit into spitting out some nice harp licks. Those who weren't familiar with what the deep blues is all about, got an up close and personal tutorial on this night. The crowd was a lot sparser than I expected, but I can guarantee that if he ever plays The Bugle Boy again, that won't be the case.
Here's the deal. There just ain't too many blues musicians out there that do the real deal, raw, lowdown, gritty, gutbucket stuff any longer. He's got a harp tone that rivals any of the heavy weights that blew before him or after. If you find yourself in Austin, check him out at C-Boys on Thursdays. You might find me there some night. Check out his website-www.pauloscher.com Contact his manager, Nancy Coplin at firstname.lastname@example.org and see if she can get him into a venue near you. Bottom line is, don't miss a chance to hear Paul Oscher's Deep Blues.
P.S--I planned to include a picture, but didn't bring a camera with me. My bad. I took one on my flip phone which is way obsolete and Forrest took one, but neither did Paul or I any justice, so I've just included some of his album covers.. Forrest was nice enough to show me around his stage set-up during intermission and pointed out his pedal board for his Harmony and explained that he played it though a vintage Fender Deluxe. His harp rack had a long, dedicated microphone attached to it with the wireless unit that I mentioned. Paul told me that the only pedal for the harp was the Ibanez delay that I spied and he fed that into a vintage Premier amp, with a black Fender deluxe that he kicked in with an A/B pedal to provide more boost and boom when needed. He had an old as hell extension cab to provide more oomph, also. But, as he said, his tone came from deep inside. Agreed, and as a harp player, I know exactly what he's talking about. You can either produce it, regardless of the rig, or you can't. He can and did. By the way, The Bugle Boy is a fantastic venue. People come to hear and revere the music. Click the website earlier in the post and check out their line-up. Anyway--'Nuff for Now.