It’s possible to review Live at the Rumboogie Café with one word: WOW! (Some possible two-word reviews never would have made it pass the editor, as they clearly would have involved words from George Carlin’s seven-words-which-can not-be-said-on TV.)
For those yet to travel to Memphis and Beale Street, the Rumboogie Café is as much a must-see destination as the requisite pilgrimage to Graceland or to the Gibson Guitar factory.
Blues harp virtuoso Billy Gibson leads this house band of David Bowen on guitar and background vocals, James Jackson on five-string bass, and Cedric Keel on drums through this fiery live recording. This eight-track recording is pure gold, with the only complaint being it’s just too short.
The band is so tight, and so comfortable in its own surroundings and material that the disc could be a two or three CD set, and not lose any of the quality. Two days after the disc arrived in the mail it was a case of: Eat. Drink. Boogie. Repeat. The disc won’t be leaving my CD player anytime soon.
With the amount of Memphis tourism based around music, it’s clear to any listener why Mr. Gibson was provided the key to the city.
On the first track, the Gibson-penned “What is Love,” there is a brief clip of the crowd shuffling in before the opening of the set. This opening with crowd noise is an effective reminder that unlike live recordings in clubs or concert halls, the Rumboogie Café is a working restaurant-club.
After a few moments of crowd noise, Gibson lays down a blistering harp vamp before the band kicks in. This up-tempo boogie number features Gibson’s solid vocal work in between gratuitous harp solos.
On “Love Everybody,” written by Willie Foster, bassist Jackson provides a funky bass line as in introduction to the song before it kicks in. Gibson briefly acknowledges the crowd, and then it’s back to coaxing a ridiculous amount of notes from his harp.
On “Love Everybody,” the listener is also introduced to Bowen, who in addition to his work on guitar, also provides background vocals. Again there is some song structure around Gibson’s harp shredding, and it provides for some captivating listening.
What is a blues recording without covering a Willie Dixon tune? “Pretty Thing,” made famous by Bo Diddley, is a slow burning tune. Right down to the clubbing and primal beat, everything is slowed down to a steamy swamp-like feel. Incredibly effective, there is only one Bo Diddley, so they pay tribute rather than imitate.
The slow burn finally picks up at the end, ending with the signature Diddley ending.
“Home at Last” (AKA Country Girl) opens again with a bass groove, some live crowd noise, and then the guitar and harp kick back in to open the song. This is another mid tempo piece, driven by Bowen’s tasty wa-wa work.
On another Gibson original, “Darlin’ Please Come back Home,” the tempo is locked into a slow churning, but still danceable pace. This song is the soundtrack for tourists to hit the dance floor and shake their hips with significant others.
Over another funky five-string bass hook, with the crowd urging Billy to ‘give the drummer some,’ Billy reminds the crowd the band is recording a live disk tonight. Noise is appreciated. And after this brief interplay with the crowd, Eddie Taylor’s “Bad Boy” is given a southern funky feel, with Gibson once again showing he is a virtuoso on the harp.
After several lengthy harp solos and a few verses of “Bad Boy,” Gibson has the band hold the one chord as the master showman acknowledges he heard the crowd request some for the drummer. Gibson introduces Keel on the drums, and the listener can only imagine the band leaving the stage area to grab a beer and a smoke. To the enjoyment of the now rowdy crowd, Keel solos around the same tempo and groove. The inclusion of this solo seems unscripted - just a result of the band playing off the crowd.
After several minutes of drum solo, it’s clear that it’s an unscripted solo, as the band does not start up the song again - even though Keel counts off the tune several times. After the third or four time, the band starts the groove for the song again as Billy introduces the whole band. Gibson reminds the crowd there is more music to come, and after one more harp solo, brings the song and the set to a close.
As the seventh offering on Live at The Rumboogie, the band attacks Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Early in The Morning.” Again Gibson shows his skill on the “Mississippi saxophone,” in addition to delivering key vocal lines through his harp mic for a distorted effect. This cover song is another slow burner giving a swampy feel to the Chicago blues classic. “Early in The Morning” throbs and pulses along until the band finally drops out, and we are once again left to Gibson soloing for the crowd.
Showing humor to match his showmanship, Gibson constructs this final solo around “Skip to My Lou.” This one is met to roaring approval by the assembled crowd, as they clap along to ever changing tempos.
Closing out the disk is “Polk Salad Annie,” written by Tony Jo White. In addition to his work on guitar, Bowen takes a turn on lead vocals and is more than up to the challenge and level set by Gibson. “Polk Salad Annie” is another up-tempo boogie tune, and is probably the tightest arrangement on the disk. Gibson’s lead work is still prevalent, but it is kept within the framework of the song as the amount of gratuitous solos is kept to a minimum. In a tune that closed out another set for the night, Bowen handles the band introductions and another reminder to the crowd about a live recording being made this evening. The crowd is encouraged to stay in the seats as there is still more music to come.
Unfortunately those recorded words are nothing more than a tease for those in possession of the In conclusion, for those traveling to Memphis and Beale Street, taking in a live performance by the Billy Gibson Band is a must on the travel itinerary. The band is a part of the contemporary Memphis scene, and it needn’t end up with a hangover from too many Hurricanes or the a need of an angioplasty from too much Memphis BBQ.
In conclusion, for those traveling to Memphis and Beale Street, taking in a live performance by the Billy Gibson Band is a must on the travel itinerary. The band is a part of the contemporary Memphis scene, and it needn’t end up with a hangover from too many Hurricanes or the a need of an angioplasty from too much Memphis BBQ.