It’s easy to take rock and roll for granted. It’s been the dominant musical form in the western world for more than half a century now and there isn’t a genre whose modern form doesn’t owe something to that surprisingly potent blend of country and blues. For anyone who’s forgotten what we owe to our musical forebears, however, Cain’s brought a couple of messengers for rock’s roots to their main stage in the last week: living blues legend Buddy Guy on the night of December 10th, and “psychobilly” veterans The Reverend Horton Heat on the 12th. Both acts played sets that acted as retrospectives of the last 50 years of music history, and both had crowds begging for encores.
Guy, who has been recording since 1956, took the stage with all the energy of a musician thirty years his junior, playing song after song, and rarely even stopping for applause. Indeed, thanks to his extended pentatonic improvisation, each song blended into the next, giving the show the feeling of some of the great psychedelic bands of the 60’s (who, of course, all owed a huge debt to Guy). Guy powered through a long set that included songs he had popularized, in addition to some blues standards like Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man.”
Guy made it clear, however, that he was there to teach the audience a thing or two about music history. “In the 1960’s you all had something called the ‘British Invasion,’” he said, “when some of those boys from England came over and introduced you to the blues. It wasn’t anything new—you just needed the Brits to tell you what you already had! You didn’t know what the f— you had.” Guy then launched into an extensive improvised solo in which he did his best imitations of the guitar styles of John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, and—yes—even Jimi Hendrix. Guy played his (wirless) guitar behind his back and between his legs without missing a beat, and even wandered out into the audience (where he was, of course, swarmed by people with camera phones). His guitar’s screams and his own cathartic moans continued long into the night.
Guy took a break from straight blues, however, for a song or two in order to tell the story of the title song (a country ballad) from his latest album, Skin Deep. “This is a song,” he said, “that I actually began writing when I was nine years old. I grew up in Louisiana, and my best friend was white—then we got a little older, and they told us we couldn’t play together anymore. But I know—you know—that underneath, we’re all the same. Our differences are only skin-deep.” Tom Hambridge, the white trad-rock drummer who had played the opening set, joined him onstage to sing backing vocals for the song. Racial unity may be a trendy topic, but it was clear that Guy meant every word he sang—and that, of course, is the true hallmark of a great bluesman.
Two days later, the Reverend Horton Heat—a three-piece group from Dallas, Texas—took the stage to connect the dots a bit more. The group has been performing “psychobilly”—a raw, sped-up combination of blues and country—since 1985, and are still going strong. They took the crowd on a frenetic tour of their hits from the last couple of decades, including “Callin’ in Twisted,” “Revival” and “Psychobilly Freakout”—much to the delight of the crowd surfers.
“It’s almost Christmas time,” lead singer Jim Heath told the crowd, to scattered applause. After pausing for a moment, he added, “Well, I’m glad nobody booed Christmas. Sometimes I’ll say that and people will actually boo. I mean seriously, it’s not a bad season, right? Well, we’re going to play a couple of Christmas songs for you. This one is probably one that The King himself, Elvis, probably sang on this exact same stage,” he said before playing a thoughtful rendition of “Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me).” The band then played a couple more numbers from their recent Christmas album We Three Kings, including “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (which they paired with the old Batman theme, of course) and Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run” (for which Heath and double bassists Jimbo Wallace traded instruments), before Heath said, dismissively, “Okay, no more Christmas music.”
The band then proceeded with the remainder of the set, which included a more classic cuts and some new ones from their upcoming album (including the insightful “Ain’t No Saguaro in Texas”). Heath’s formidable, eclectic guitar skills were on full display as he shot gunned his lyrics into his old-timey-looking microphone, and when the band left the stage, the crowd was more than happy to demand an encore. Like Guy had two nights ago, The Rev had succeeded in entertaining the crowd while sneaking in a lesson about music history.
About the author:
A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Luke Harrington currently resides in Tulsa and works in the aerospace industry–but, at any given moment, would probably rather be reviewing movies and music. In his spare time, he’s off playing blues piano, pretending to be Assistant Editor for MovieZeal.com, or reviewing the many musical events in Northeastern Oklahoma for Tulsa Today. Photo Credit: Photos by Kevin Pyle