The Mighty Blue Kings
with the Retro Rockets
FU-BAR; Ft. Lauderdale • July 16, 1998
South Florida is going back in time. Back to when Benny Goodman was a household name, zoot suits were in fashion, and everything was “money, baby.” (Did anyone really say that?) Clubs are trading in their cage dancers for “Best of Big Band” CDs and free Lindy Hop lessons, and FU-BAR is no exception. Kicking off their weekly Thursday swing night was a visit from the Chicago-based Mighty Blue Kings, who I was rather unfamiliar with. But with three swing lessons under my belt and a definite liking for the revival movement going on in the United States these days, I was very excited to check these guys out.
First to warm up the crowd was the Retro Rockets, a rockabilly band complete with hair piled high and a drummer that stands up. It was rather disheartening to see such a non-existent response from the crowd, save for a few kids (myself included) standing in front of the stage and occasionally breaking out into improvisational dances. The rest of the crowd seemed to just look on from a distance, as the Retro Rockets showcased a strong half-hour of rockabilly that would impress the Stray Cats. The four of them paraded around stage, gave specific clapping instructions for various songs, and seemed to be having a grand ol’ time. After roughly a half-hour, the Retro Rockets wrapped up their set and took off.
During the break, an impressively sized crowd ranging in ages from sixteen to sixty materialized on the dance floor. The six instrumentalists that make up the Mighty Blue Kings soon took to the stage and treated the crowd to an original jazz number. As they finished up, lead vocalist Ross Bon came out, stationed himself in front of the old-time microphone, gave a hearty smile to a group of screaming ladies off to the side (this man is SMOOTH!), and began to work his magic with a swingy audience participation song called “Ragmop.” For the next half an hour, the band pulled out everything from soul, R&B, jazz, swing, blues, and sometimes a mix of them all (they fancy to describe themselves as “jazz-jump-jive,” or as Mr. Bon puts it, “a band that swings. Not a swing band.”). The crowd all thoroughly enjoyed themselves, as both young and old showed their swing-dancing abilities to various circles of impressed onlookers. Sometimes it was difficult to keep an eye on the band while some of these couples were tearing up the dance floor, but the Kings would always call your attention back with a horn solo or sing-alongs like their jazzy “Buzz Buzz Buzz.” And then, all too soon, the band said goodnight and left the stage. The crowd cried for more, and so the Mighty Blue Kings returned and played an encore that just might have been twice the length of their original set. Not that anyone would complain.
Featured in this dazzling encore was a two-minute acid-jazz showcase, a cover of an old Jimi Hendrix tune, and an absolutely brilliant audience-participation version of the old camp/Louis Jordan song, “Green Grass Grows All Around.” (“And in that nest, there was an egg. The cutest little egg that you ever did see.” And so on.)
The Mighty Blue Kings put on one of the best shows I’ve had the pleasure of attending. Each member is incredibly skilled at what they do, and their songs are so catchy and pleasant that you could enjoy yourself even if you didn’t know the first thing about swing dancing. They seem to bring with them an atmosphere that’s so relaxed and enjoyable that it’s really hardly a wonder that a group of 20 year olds would part the dance floor and cheer on a 70-year old couple twirling each other around. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and the Kings turned this eager onlooker into a new big fan. (Their two CDs are currently in heavy rotation in my CD player.) In fact, the only bad thing I can say about their show is that it did, eventually, have to end. But there’s always next time… which leaves time for more swing lessons.