The Rock School Blues Band
Great blues, for free
by Charmie Gholson
The place is full and there are not one but two people videotaping. I assume the guy at the microphone is Dave Sharp. He plays upright bass in his own bands and is also a member of the Joe Summers Gypsy Jazz Trio, but tonight he's wearing the hat of director of the blues and jazz program at the Ann Arbor Music Center, aka the Rock Band School. I spoke with him by phone earlier. He told me they'd be doing blues standards, and that his students play together for about two years before he brings them out to perform.
There are three guitarists and a drummer on stage with Dave. One guy is wearing sunglasses and a tie, but he's so obviously excited he looks like a combination of a kid at Christmas and a blues god.
"Good evening, Tap Room Annex," shouts Dave into the microphone. He gives a speech about the Ann Arbor Music Center and jokes that he was grading the musicians as they set up. The first song is "Dust My Broom," and it's the blues all right, a song about how sad and betrayed the poor guy feels, yet off in search of another woman. I think there's a drinking reference in there too. I'm not a blues scholar or even familiar with many of the standards Dave listed for me earlier, but I know good old-fashioned blues when I hear 'em.
Dave cues the goateed drummer, who stomps his floor drum and launches into a darn good solo. Next, Dave introduces the bass player as the son of the guy wearing the sunglasses. He's the only minor in the house. The father moves to the keyboards, and the group plays Jimi Hendrix's "Red House." They switch guitarists, and the new guy saunters onstage. He's got a pretty pearl-inlaid guitar, and apparently he isn't intimidated by reproducing a Hendrix solo, because cause he lays out his riffs with utter confidence.
No show, no presentation just slow, sexy Hendrix.
At this point, I realize I can enjoy the music and stop looking for these guys to screw up just because they're students. They're rockin'. The next song is a rendition of "Got My Mojo Working." Mojo essentially means "magic," and it's good to see the blues school mojo working on the waitress. She breaks into a spontaneous dance.
After the show, Dave tells me that the student performers tonight have various day jobs: computer and automotive engineers, boat maker, retired autoworker. They have a lot of experience on stage and playing as an ensemble. The students themselves actually suggested they play gigs. That makes sense: work your whole life at a job that pays the bills; finally say, "Screw it, I'm going to play the blues"; take lessons until you know what you're doing; and then find a great local bar to play in.
The Rock School Blues Band is at the Tap Room Annex for an early evening show on Saturday, July 28.
Photo courtesy Dave Sharp.
[Review published July 2007]