Blind Willie’s, Atlanta, GA • October 4, 2000
Roi J. Tamkin
“Will the band start on time?” a couple asked as they entered the humble dive known as Blind Willie’s. “What’s you definition of ‘on time?'” the cute waitress in the “it’s not easy bein’ sleazy” T-shirt sarcastically replied. Things rarely start on time at this place. But the blues at Blind Willie’s goes on all night. When Chicago bluesman Carey Bell plays, you hope there is no end time.
At twenty after nine, the band took the stage. Guitarist Steve Jacobs, bassist T.A. James, and drummer Mark Tiffault opened the set with a couple of instrumentals meant to warm up the crowd. The arrangements weren’t very fancy, but they got the attention of the audience. The guitarist then announced Carey Bell to the stage. With his collection of harmonicas laid out on a stand, Carey would grab a mouth harp and determine which song to sing. After playing a few songs, Carey announced that he had copies of his new CD, Good Luck Man on Alligator Records, for sale. With the history of Chicago blues behind him, he didn’t limit himself to songs from the new CD, but instead went through songs that spanned the history. From Howling Wolf’s “Poor Boy” to “Five Long Years” off of a recent Buddy Guy album. “You having fun?” he asked the crowd. “I’m tired. The music hasn’t killed me yet.”
Forget the music killing him. When will the feminists get him? Every song was about a woman who studied evil, slept with the devil, kicked him out, threw him out, and left him out. Meanwhile, the men in his songs loved like lightning and could never do any wrong. Almost rivaling Eminem for misogynist content, Carey has been playing the blues professionally since he was thirteen. After fifty-one years of performing, you’d think he’d lighten up.
The music moved with a typical Chicago shuffle that drummer Tiffault sometimes made into a march. Although Carey stepped into the audience blowing on his harp, his presence somehow lacked some of the energy and spark that Junior Wells had when he last passed through Atlanta. I’m not saying a man his age should be jumping and leaping through his music. Carey played a little too relaxed and laid back. But with great bluesmen reaching their golden years, it’s still worth everything to see them play. Even if they don’t start on time.