Saturday Single No. 228

On a Sunday sometime just after Thanksgiving, I was paging through that day’s edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune as a football game played itself out on the television. When I got to the arts section, I was moving pretty quickly, scanning and turning pages in rhythmic progress, when I stopped.

What was it on that last page? What had I seen?

I turned back, and there, in an ad near the bottom right corner of the right-hand page, was the smiling face of Robert Johnson, the image known as the studio portrait. The ad was for a concert some months away at Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall, a gathering celebrating the centennial of the influential bluesman’s birth in 1911. (He was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, most likely on May 8.) Intrigued, I looked closer.

Leading off the list of performers was Big Head Todd & the Monsters. I blinked, not ever having thought of that band as one steeped in blues, and then I read on: Cedric Burnside, Lightnin’ Malcolm, David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Hubert Sumlin.

I didn’t – and still don’t – know much about either Cedric Burnside or Lightnin’ Malcolm. The only information All-Music Guide has about Malcolm is that he’s a guitar player who’s released two albums, one in 2005, the other this year. And I assumed – correctly, as it happens – that Cedric Burnside was related to R.L. Burnside, a north Mississippi blues guitarist who passed on in 2005. It turns out that Cedric is his grandson and has released a couple of albums in the past ten years working as a duo with Malcolm.

I didn’t go dig at that information as soon as I saw the ad. That came later. Because as soon as I saw the names David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Hubert Sumlin, I stopped breathing for just a moment. Sumlin was the long-time guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf, complementing the Wolf’s force-of-nature vocals with sometimes stinging and sometimes supple leads and backing.

As for Honeyboy Edwards, who’s now ninety-five, well, he’s played blues for longer than most of us have been alive. His recorded catalog is slender, but it includes a 2008 album – Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas – that won a Grammy for best traditional blues album. But what made my breath catch as I saw the ad was the knowledge that Edwards traveled and played with Robert Johnson in 1930s Mississippi.

I got up and took the ad into the living room, where the Texas Gal was working on a quilt. I showed it to her. She read it and said something like “It looks like a good one, but, it’s on a Sunday night, and that makes it a long night getting home, what with work and school on Monday. We could look at the budget, but . . .”

And she was right. It was impractical. I nodded, looked once more at the ad, then folded up the paper and went back to the study, where I most likely picked up the metro news section. And I didn’t think any more about the concert.

Until Christmas Day. That’s when I opened a shoe-box size gift from my sister and her family and found inside an envelope from Orchestra Hall containing two tickets to “Blues at the Crossroads,” the very same concert about which I’d asked the Texas Gal a few weeks earlier.

It turns out that a few weeks before I did, my sister had seen an ad for the show, and – to make sure there was no gift duplication and that we kept the date of the concert open – she’d clued in the Texas Gal on Thanksgiving Day that I’d find the tickets under the tree Christmas morning.

Looking at the tickets, I stammered my thanks, and then tucked them safely away. At home that evening, the Texas Gal told me that when I’d shown her the ad for the concert, she’d had a difficult time. “I wanted to discourage you without being too over the top,” she said. “I already knew you were going to get the tickets and that I was going to take Monday off so we don’t have to worry about work and school that day.”

I was impressed. And more than pleased. And tomorrow evening, we’ll be in Orchestra Hall for the musical celebration, one of a series of such concerts around the country this year. I’ll likely report on the concert come Tuesday, but in the meantime, from a performance at the Riley Center in Meridian, Mississippi, here’s a look at Big Head Blues Club featuring Big Head Todd & the Monsters and a performance of  “Come On In My Kitchen.” And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

In addition to the concert series, an album titled 100 Years of Robert Johnson has just been released; credited to the Big Head Blues Club featuring Big Head Todd & the Monsters, it features the same musicians as will be on the Orchestra Hall stage Sunday as well as B.B. King, Charlie Musselwhite and Ruthie Foster.

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2 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 228”

  1. David Lenander Says:

    What a great story about your Christmas gift from your sister! I’m glad you received a gift that you really appreciate.

  2. jb Says:

    That’s awesome. Must pay homage to the old gods while they’re still around.

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