Cure for the mid-week blues
If you wanted to shake loose your sorrows and remember what it feels like to be alive in your own skin, if you wanted to hear a capable band playing party music, if you wanted to laugh and dance with people who were somewhat familiar to you on a Wednesday night, you would hopefully stumble on Boston’s House of Jazz just a couple blocks from the Greensboro Grasshoppers ballpark.
The guitarist and bandleader, David Bolton, plays with flair. The bass player, Rob Luney, would seem to be fused to his instrument judging by the way he coaxes those spine-massaging groans from it. Second guitarist Roc Williams and keyboardist Lonnie Lewis, who also play with Chairmen of the Board, look like they’re having a great time. Jeremy Merritt fills in on drums tonight, but he handles his responsibilities ably. And front-woman Robin Doby-Easter is exultant, a blues shouter in the mold of Koko Taylor who sings from her gut. She channels the pain and anguish and, yes, the sensuality and release of life into these songs.
And the songs are familiar staples, totems of raw emotion in the canon of earthy blues and R&B: “Why I Sing the Blues” by BB King, “Bring It On Home to Me” by Sam Cooke, “Knock On Wood” by Eddie Floyd.
In one sense, they’re feeling their way through the material, with Bolton rehearsing the band before sets and Doby- Easter dragging a stool onstage to prop a songbook when the band reaches the third set and has run through the songs committed to memory. But they’re also consummate professionals: Bolton introduces Doby-Easter with a dynamic sense of showmanship (“Right now we’re gonna bring up the woman… who put the glide back in your stride”) and the singer committing herself to the music ounce for ounce. Between sets, she methodically works through the crowd, greeting and hugging the fans, visiting with them and affirming their worth.
She acknowledges that the group has slackened its performing schedule in the past 12 months as a result of club owners withdrawing guarantees in response to diminished revenues from skittish patrons. It’s a safe bet that virtually all the Stovepipes’ loyal fans can relate. And they help each other along in the same way, near strangers affirming with a pointed finger or a pumped fist each other’s thrusts, shimmies and grooves, the confident coaxing the shy and lonely onto the dance floor. They’re all mixed in together, the old and the young, black and white, lovers, prowlers, smooth operators, consolers, same-sex couples, loners.
One of the bartenders from the Flatiron, a bar where the Stovepipes were once a fixture, enters and Bolton bows. Then, the bandleader spies Scott Adair, a saxophone player, haggling with the doorwoman.
“He’s a musician,” Bolton tells her.
Adair greets all the band members individually, visits the bar and grabs a stool next to Lewis, parking a sweating Budweiser on one of the amplifiers.
“Isn’t it great?” enthuses Billy the Kid, who hosts a blues show on WNAA 90.1 FM. “It’s real multicultural. This is the only place where you get a 50-50 mix of black and white. You’ve got people dressed up and wearing jeans. Jazz and blues are the only kinds of music that you get that.”
He reminisces about Arthur’s Blues & Jazz, a club on High Point Road in the early 1990s where Billy booked bands, a job that catapulted him into the local blues world.
“Doesn’t this remind you of Arthur’s?” Adair asks. “I was just flashing on that.”
Near the end of the band’s second set, a seasoned African-American woman wearing peroxide hair and a torn denim ensemble raises her hand to testify as the band romps through “Bring It On Home to Me.”
Later, club owner Michael Boston commandeers the microphone and asks if the crowd wants to see Robin Doby & the Stovepipes next Wednesday.
Their roar of approval confirms that they do.
wanna go? Robin Doby & the Stovepipes occasionally play “hump-day blues Wednesdays” at Boston’s House of Jazz, at 422 N. Edgeworth St. in Greensboro. Call 336.279.1152 for more information
LEFT AND BELOW: Robin Doby-Easter, David Bolton and Rob Luney (photos by Jordan Green)