Sometimes a room not suited for a traditional blues audience has the ability to swallow a blues band whole. Normally it’s a room that features clientele who prefer, “both styles of music: country and western.”
Then there are other times when a seasoned blues band, in spite of the audience geared for contemporary music, has the ability to convert an audience from curious listeners to a sweaty dancing throng.
July 12 at The Georgetown Grille was one of those special nights in live music.
The restaurant is a small new, up-scale pub in the center of town, which arrives as other bars are shying away from booking live blues. (The Georgetown Grille actively books live blues.) Without the ocean side deck to bring in a summer audience, the Grille has already made a strong local showing dishing out up-scale pub food and pouring real good drinks at a reasonable price.
The Ten Foot Polecats, consisting of Jay Scheffler on vocals and harp, Jim Chilson on guitar, and Dave Darling on drums, have a deep passion for the North Mississippi Hill Country, and Delta blues. The passion for these raw blues styles is easily apparent, as it is contagious to the uninitiated listener. Also, all three are former members of The HooDoo Revelators, a successful local blues act from which they amicably parted ways to put their focus behind this former side project.
Their style of play is infectious.
With sets relying on the John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf catalogs, each cover is given an electrified North Mississippi Hill Country and Delta blues treatment.
The night opened with Hooker’s “Serves You Right to Suffer.” Scheffler’s weathered vocals mixed the qualities of the great John Lee with the contemporary feel of Peter Wolf. As “Serves You Right to Suffer” evolved into “Peaches,” the crowd was quickly won over. By the time The Ten Foot Polecats got to ripping through a rendition of “Little Red Rooster,” Chilson’s fiery work on his five-stringed diddleybow helped convert this up-scale pub into a gut-bucket gin joint.
After rocking versions of Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” and “Spoonful,” made famous by the Wolf, the Polecats finally gave a moment for the sweaty dancing mass to re-hydrate at the bar.
In between sets, I had a chance to speak with band members, who I knew must have been still riding high after a tour which took them to gigs in Oregon, Taos, New Mexico; and Memphis. Chilson was excited to share that Shred, of WBCN fame, has recently begun booking shows for The Polecats and opening new opportunities for this act.
With the style of music they play, The Ten Foot Polecats will not be able to rely on extensive airplay, and a beaming Scheffler proudly acknowledges that this fact is just fine with him. The music is their first and only concern.
When the discussion made the way to the recent tour out west, Scheffler was more interested in talking about being blown away by a Hill Country Troubadour by the name of Richard Johnston. What was refreshing about the discussion about Johnston was rather than trying to steer the conversation back to Ten Foot Polecats- related news, Darling and Chilson stressed that meeting and hearing Johnston was one of their favorite highlights of the tour.
For the second set, the Polecats featured some of the material released on their Sterno Soup EP. “Goin’ Crazy,” “Dead Shrimp,” and “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” came off with a refreshing jam band vibe. Not interested in playing note-for-note renditions of the previously recorded cover tunes as the crowd got more and more raucous, the Polecats were certainly up for the challenge. Thankfully “Dead Shrimp” still featured extended sections of Darling hammering away on a drum groove while Scheffler rapped lyrics over the groove.
“Tears on a Windshield,” an original, had the majority of the crowd who had just purchased Sterno Soup to see if it was included on the EP. After an abbreviated break, a third set featured covers of “Smokestack Lightning,” “Work Me,” which is also featured on Sterno Soup, as well as an extended jam based around the recently passed Bo Diddley’s “Who Do you Love?”
As the night came to a close, and gear was ushered out into waiting cars, Chilson wanted to hip me to the fact that The Ten Foot Polecats had a potential opportunity to open for Bob Margolin on Aug. 9 at the Lucky Dog Music Hall in Worcester.
Certainly an opportunity to open for “Steady Rollin’” means this gamble to pursue a side-project instead of the more commercially viable band was a chance worth taking. The gig with Margolin makes it clear that this is a band on the rise.
Having witnessed another live performance, this is hardly a surprise.
Check the schedules of the local pubs or breweries near you, The Ten Foot Polecats live show is night of live gut-bucket gin joint music which should be experienced.