The Amazing Rhythm Aces
Chip’s Bar and Grill, Winder, GA • January 20, 2001
This was my first trip to Chip’s Bar and Grill • it was my first trip to Winder, GA, for that matter. I can tell you now that it won’t be my last.
Winder is between Atlanta and Athens. It was about an hour’s drive from my house, which puts it far enough away from Atlanta to make for a different crowd. There are basically two Georgias: Atlanta, and then everything else.
When we first drove by Chip’s, I told my wife, •I hope it’s bigger that it looks from the outside.• It wasn’t. I don’t think it was quite as big as my home, which really ain’t all that large. The parking lot of this little VFW-looking place was full, and people were parked in the grass all along both sides of the road for a good 100 yards on either side of the club.
We walked in at about 8:30 to a standing room only crowd. The people who got tables… well, who knows what time they arrived? The couple standing beside us said they arrived at 7:30 with the idea that they could get a table, but they also said that tonight was unusually crowded.
When we walked in the door, the first thing I saw was all five feet of barrel-chested Russell Smith setting up and doing his soundcheck. And although I knew he had played Chips before, he had this sorta tentative look on his face that made me wonder if he was uncomfortable here. He also had only one other member of the original Aces, Jeff Davis, with him. Turns out Billy Earhart (known as Billy E from Tennessee to the loyal followers) was in Washington, DC, doing the inaugural thing with Hank Williams, Jr. Despite what some people may think of Hank Jr. (and I don’t particularly like him myself), the Bama Band has been one of the best bands working in country music for many years, and Billy Earheart is a key member of that band.
My first inclination was to think that this may not be the best of nights. Here I was in a club where I’m gonna have to stand all night, and here’s almost a stage full of Aces faces that I don’t even recognize, and a head Ace who didn’t appear too happy.
The Aces fired up at 9:00. Four hours later, any doubt that I had harbored had totally evaporated, and Russell Smith was a very happy man. The band was tight. They knew all the songs, and they offered up a pretty solid career retrospective. By about 11:00, my throat was getting a bit sore just listening to Russell Smith growling out his gutbucket brand of the blues. Standing by the back door, where people were constantly going in and out, doing whatever it is that people were doing under the back deck, didn’t help much with that, but Russell Smith had asked that people not be fanning the front door too much on this frigid winter night, for fear of throwing the instruments out of tune.
While I was standing by the back door, this one girl bumped into me and didn’t unbump away from me. Being the friendly sort, I’ll talk to anybody, and can overlook a little drunkenness in the spirit of maintaining a good vibe, but this girl was sorta •healthy,• with some substantial protuberances, and it was obvious that she had something to say and wanted to •press the flesh,• as it were. My wife and I are relentless people watchers anyway and we sometimes get entertained about as much through watching the people as we do in watching the show. It’s all part of the experience as far as I’m concerned, but it’s not usually this up-close and personal. We generally pick out the best looking girl who is alone in the crowd and watch the guys moving in for the kill. Sometimes we’ll pick out who we think will make the score. I’m not always right, but I’m pretty good at eliminating the also-rans.
All the time that this girl was talking to me, my wife was standing right beside me but was totally unfazed. My wife is a beautiful and confident woman who knows that I’ll never do better than her and trusts that I wouldn’t even try. Still, I felt a bit uncomfortable, and in turn, a little bit flattered, until I realized that it wasn’t me that she had sights on. It was my wife. She was just trying to get at her through me. Anyway, we all chatted for a while during the break, and she fed me a line of BS about giving up an $800 gig as a background singer just so she could see the Aces. According to her, she sang backup with Francine Reed and Government Mule. I didn’t care what her line was. If she came out to see the Aces, she must’ve had some sort of taste in music, and I’m willing to overlook a line of harmless BS.
The show all in all turned out to be good balance of old and new, with a healthy dose of surprises along the way. The first three hours was mostly the Jukebox friendly-stuff that Aces fans have loved for over 25 years. The familiar country and bluegrass-tinged offerings warmed our hearts, and their rockers heated the dance floor. The floor was getting warmer and warmer as the night rolled on and the alcohol took effect. The dance floor, as it was, wasn’t enough to accommodate more than about 12 people, so there were scattered outbreaks of dancing throughout the little club. It was a sort of •dance where you are• sort of thing.
Somewhere about 12:00, and after a really rocking version of one of the late drummer Butch McDade’s last songwriting offerings, •Get Down,• the band did a poignant cover of •Bring Me Flowers When I’m Living• that served as a tribute to Butch and a reminder to us all. Some teary-eyed patron asked Russell, •how are you gonna follow that?• He just grinned and plowed into the invitation-to-mambo that is •One Love.• They really got the •rhythm-and-roll• thing going with that one. The sentimentality of •Flowers• wasn’t allowed to put a damper on the proceedings. Then, much to my surprise, they just flat tore up a version of •Born Under a Bad Sign,• and went on to do a cover of •Who Will the Next Fool Be?• that out-Jerry Lee’d even Jerry Lee. They then went into •Ella B• and closed with a cover of Al Green’s •Love and Happiness.• The guitarist teased us with the •Crossroads• hook, and it was all over.
Anybody who has the guts to take on Al Green, Albert King, AND Jerry Lee Lewis in one set is more than alright in my book. See these guys whenever you can. You won’t be disappointed. ◼