With its well-manicured lawns and opulent homes, the bucolic town of Barrington isn’t widely known as a hot bed of blues music. But, on Saturday, November 19th, the Penny Road Pub hosted a bona-fide blues blowout.
For those who came from the city and suburbs, the trek to this collar-county watering hole was well worth it. South Side blues was on the bill with Charlie Love, Jeff Stone and Tomiko Dixon delivering big time. In addition to these talented artists, the show also boasted special appearances by Demetria Taylor and Maurice John Vaughn.
Early birds at Penny Road caught the proverbial earworm in the form of a hard rock/metal power trio named Lyden Moon that came on first. This Kenosha, Wisconsin band backed up their “up to 11” logo by offering patrons unlimited access to a large jar of orange ear plugs!
But, cranked up rock soon made way for some silky smooth blues, which just happens to be the name of Charlie Love’s longtime band. This tight group is comprised of Doug Tramble and Detroit James on guitar with Mark Mack on drums. Bassist Kenny Pickett, who filled in for Andre Howard, joined them. In one of those musical twists of good fortune, Maurice John Vaughn drove Pickett to the gig.
Before Vaughn came on, Love, Stone and Dixon were firmly in the driver’s seat. These powerful performers put on a show that should definitely keep them on the blues map. In fact, there were attendees in the house from musically rich New Orleans who left Penny Road raving about what they’d seen and heard.
Blues lovers will be glad to learn that Love and Stone are no longer separated by geography. After many years living in Texas, Stone is moving back to his native Chicago. This should make harp lovers happy, as Stone is truly one of the best—as evidenced by his electrifying live performances as well as his 2004 WC Handy Award.
During the course of his career, Stone has played with the likes of Reverend KM Williams and Zac Harmon to Jeff Dale and Andrew “Junior Boy” Jones. Whether he’s going the juke joint route or serving up impassioned gospel, Stone is one of those rare harp players who helps raise any collaboration to the next level.
Love has also racked up some impressive stats. A winner of the 2014 Chicago Blues Challenge, he shows no signs of resting on his laurels. This personable performer kept the crowd entertained with everything from fancy footwork to finely honed guitar solos throughout the course of the evening.
Love and Stone have been performing together since the early nineties and their long-term musical rapport was apparent from the get-go. They started the show off with an up-tempo “Hard Times” before segueing into Jimmy Reed’s ”Bright Lights, Big City.”
It’s not a stretch to say that Love is one of those performers who easily connects with his audience, as anecdotes and on-stage banter are hallmarks of his performances. He urged the crowd to “get up and let it go.” One fan even let go of a two-dollar bill following Love’s remark about making a wager with the guitar player. Soon afterwards, she delivered the dough to Doug.
All bets were off when Love broke into his version of B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone,” which saw him ad-libbing the last few verses. Love said it’s not uncommon for him to “perform a song the way it was recorded and then improvise the final few lines.”
Whether it was improvisation or simply divine musical intervention, the dual harp interplay between Love and Stone on his “Boogie Blues in G” was one that was worth the price of admission and then some. Love’s longtime blues background began at an early age, with his harmonica-playing father playing music in the family’s living room.
As the granddaughter of blues legend Willie Dixon, Tomiko Dixon has the style and stage presence to go along with her impressive blues pedigree. Towards the end of the first set, this powerful songstress strutted on stage and quickly wowed the crowd. Just 36 years old, Dixon was recently inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame and became the youngest person on its illustrious roster.
Billing herself as the “Granddaughter of the Blues,” Dixon belted out many of her grandfather’s standards that had the crowd clamoring for more. This blossoming blues diva also had both professional photographers and I-Phone owners jockeying for position to catch the perfect action shot.
Dixon certainly came out firing on all cylinders as she made many of her grandfather’s standards her own. From her fiery opener of “Hoochie Coochie Man” and straight through “I’m Ready” and “Little Red Rooster,” Dixon proved to the Penny Road audience that the genre is in good hands with this new generation of blues artists.
After Dixon stepped off the stage, it was time for special guest stars Demetria Taylor and Maurice John Vaughn to shine. Taylor, the daughter of blues/R & B legend, Eddie Taylor Senior, jumped into a sassy song called “Miss May’s Juke Joint.” Delmark recording artist Vaughn came on with a humorously, off-color version of his 1986 “Garbage Man Blues,” which appeared on the aptly titled, independently produced “Generic Blues Album.”
Following these impromptu performances, it was back to a sizzling second set for Charlie Love and company. One of the night’s finest moments came about whe they subtly accompanied Dixon on her grandfather’s “It Don’t Make Sense (You Can’t Make Peace).”
Although Willie Dixon wrote more than 500 blues classics, he has said that “It Don’t Make Sense” was his favorite composition. His granddaughter delivered each line with feeling and intensity. The powerful lyrics about a divided world seemed to strike a chord with many attendees as Dixon’s words ring just as true today as they did when he penned the tune in 1984.
After digging into this Willie Dixon deep cut, it was back to being a blues party band. For the music lovers in attendance, the night ended much too quickly. But, on a bright note, there are rumblings that Penny Road Pub might be featuring more blues shows in the future. If this performance were any indication, it would behoove all of you to set that GPS in order to catch a show at this landmark bar in Barrington.
Robin Zimmerman for Chicago Blues Guide