Saturday, September 29, 2012

The 2012 Shake the Shack Rockabilly Ball at The Highhway 99 Blues Club 9-29-12

This was a night to relish, I had been invited to the "before" party at the club. I couldn't miss this, even though I felt like doo-doo. Leon and his radio family invited me to the pre-event; a celebration of the last Ball. Leon has been producing the Rockabilly Ball for 25 years. This event has been drawing the top talent from all over the country. It sells out every year. But he has been producing this all while running a business, fathering a family, coaching pee-wee football and being a DJ every Friday night. He is growing weary. It is a lot of work to arrange for the bands.

Each one comes from a different part of the country, they need to have their transportation arranged, a place to stay and a spot on the bill. This year Marshall Scott Warner arranged the talent for Friday night and Leon took Saturday night's line-up. But if it is billed as a Shake The Shack event, Leon is involved. He showed me the thread of emails and texts from just one band, it went on forever. He is done. I know he will miss the fun and camaraderie, but he is tired and at least for now, there is no more Rockabilly Ball.

At the pre-gig, Tom Mara, the Executive Director of KEXP had a nice dedication and passed out copies of an article from 1986. Our local newspaper ran a story about the 2nd Ball and the pic of Leon was amazing. I made the huge mistake of not keeping my copy but hope to get it to post later.

Tom loves Leon and had some wonderful things to say. It was a marvelous moment as Leon got choked up and was clearly touched. He tried to cover up his tears with a corn-dog, it was a awesome love-fest. I felt privileged to be a part of it.

Leon displayed a partial list of the bands that have played the ball over the last 25 years. It ran 3 pages in small single spaced type and did not include every band as he had run out of time. Leon has created the venue for Rockabilly music here in the Pacific Northwest. Many of these bands would toil in obscurity if not for him. The community, the genre and the lovers of this music owe Leon a huge debt of gratitude.

Leon was inducted to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame a couple of years ago. He is one of the most talented, amazing, and friendliest people I have ever met. I am fortunate to call him my friend.

The event was awesome, some of the bands were warming up, Leon was accessible and glowing and the whole family was there and getting ready for the fun. This event brings out the best dressed folks in the genre; girls in period skirts with tattoos from their head to their toes, boys with pompadours and tight pants. Here is a pic of Johnny Lignite and his fiance Cass smooching.

Johnny brought out a cake, we all got a sugar rush before we indulged in adult beverages, or in my case, a gallon of water.

Slim Sandy and his band treated us all to a little teaser, a sign of good things to come. Nick Streeter was playing lead with Slim tonight, Marshall Scott Warner was playing drums.

Mark and the Lustre Kings also gave us a sneak peak into their set. They had played at the first Rockabilly Ball and here he was making a triumphant return for the last. The stand-up bass player was amazing, sometimes playing the neck overhand, I have never seen that.

The Highway 99 Blues Club turned out to be marvelous venue for the Ball. They took it seriously, clearing out all the tables to make room for the expected crowd. They also had 2 satellite bars, a ton of friendly and helpful servers and bar staff, and even set-up a chicken wire corral to keep the clamoring masses from over whelming the stage. Here is one of the awesome folks working at the club.

 The atmosphere is cool, they had some bitchin' light fixtures over the bar.

I mentioned how this event brings out the cool clothes, it gives the old and young an excuse to get duded up and show your style. Here is a pic of 3 lovely ladies posing for someone else, I always see this as an opportunity.

Every Ball is opened up with a toast. Leon and his iconic coffee mug (full of whiskey) raised a glass to the bands, KEXP, the 99 Blues club and the crowd. Tom and Leon started the gig in classic Ball fashion.

First up was Slim Sandy, they rocked in a country rhythm and blues sound. He sometimes appears alone, sometimes he has a back-up band. Tonight he had vocal assistance from a well dressed cowgirl, Nick on guitar, Marshall on drums and a killer stand up bass player, Tony LaBorie is super entertaining and fun to watch.

He played with a of of energy and great country style. They were having fun rocking to a packed house.

See Slim here: and here:

Nick Streeter is the go-to guy when you need a lead guitarist. He has played with every local western swing and rockabilly group in the city. Marshall Scott Warner is a rockabilly fixture in this town. A marvelous percussionist, he has also sat in with every band in the area. He would play drums twice tonight. As I mentioned he was also the producer of tonight's event.

When you have 4 bands on the bill, they move through fast. Just as you start to enjoy one band it is time for them to move out and make room for the next. Slim had the place rocking and left the kiddies wanting more. Marshall left the drum-set and came up front to introduce the next act.

Smokehouse Dave promised to rock in classic Mississippi country style, with rockabilly licks and a few Cajun whoops thrown in for good measure. He and his doghouse player, Shorty, form the core of the band. Joel Paterson and Alex Hall from The Modern Sounds filled in the rest of the group for the evening.

Super entertaining and totally jumping, Dave and the boys had the place moving and dancing. He had a great stage persona and everybody in the house was grooving. Joel was amazing on lead, picking some of the finest licks of the evening.

One of the best rockabilly/western swing guitarist I have had the pleasure of seeing.

Dave was a great showman with a classic sound. He was hopping and jumping, moving around and showing off for the massive crowd. He was fun to watch and marvelous to hear. I caught Dave and Shorty outside having a smoke. The dark spots on Dave's shirt is sweat, evidence of his awesome show.

See Dave and Shorty here:

Once again it was time for a change and Leon was back up making his toast and introducing Carl Sonny Leland. Cousin Mike (Leon's sidekick and yes, cousin) had posted a video of this guy, he is amazing. Shake The Shack has a great Facebook page, they always post killer videos and fun articles. See their page here:

Carl lived up to the hype, blazing on the electric piano. An phenomenal artist, he had the attention of everybody in the house. His play is energetic and skillful, reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis but in his own amazing fashion. He sang great vocals and had an awesome stage presence.

He was backed up by The Modern Sounds in their entirety, so his set was doubly amazing. At one point Cousin Mike looked over at me from across the room and mouthed wow! It was as good a show as I have ever seen.

Carl is just a rocker of the best variety. You can see him here:

The second half of the two night event is tonight (Saturday Sept. 29th 2012) and The Modern Sounds are headlining; it is going to be a great night if this was any evidence. See them here:

Beau Sample on upright bass, a beautiful instrument with a huge ornate headstock:

Alex Hall on percussion:

And of course Joel:

Here he is with Cousin Mike:

Mike mentioned to me that he could listen to them for the whole night, I agreed but even as good as they were, The Lustre Kings were up next. They had whetted my appetite with their rehearsal, I couldn't wait to see them in full swing.

Here is Leon introducing his friend Mark Gamsjager and his band The Lustre Kings.

Carl was a tough act to follow but Mike and the boys had the place hopping with their marvelous style of rockabilly. I think my favorite artist of the evening was the upright bass player for the The Kings (no name yet, add if you know in the comments below). Besides having a awesome rockabilly style, he worked the Doghouse like no one else.

Even as the crowd thinned Mark and is beautiful Gretsch cranked the killer rockabilly.

The Lustre Kings were a collection of great musicians with a dynamite pedal-steel player and Marshall pulling double duty on drums. Mark has a beautiful set of pipes and it was truly killer set.

The near capacity crowd had a rocking time; many smiling faces and happy peeps. This girl was dancing with a PBR tallboy in each hand.

It was great to see the Rockabilly community come out and show support for Leon, Shake the Shack and KEXP.  That is Cousin Mike in the center top of the pic with tall Johnny making another trip to the bar on the right.

Marc Bristol and his wife Gaby was there to document the event for their great magazine Blue Suede News. If you want the real story of the music tonight be sure to buy the next edition of their magazine. You can see them here:

Gaby is a dynamite photographer and both she and Marc are marvelous writers. Marc is also a great musician in his own right and plays in many bands such as File Gumbo and The Harmatones. Be sure to support this superb resource. That is Gaby and Marc on the left, they had their own fenced in area.

I have the plague. Not the Black Death type, more like the Green Death where one drowns in his own snot; brain-dead and jelly-eyed. I missed work, something that I don't do often as I love my job. But that morning I woke up, showered, walked the dogs, had breakfast and passed out for another 8 hours. I got up at 4:30 in the afternoon, one of those pathetic days when your body dictates your actions. I am writing this post in slow-motion.

By the end of the evening I was a puddle; sicker and more disgusting than I was when I started the evening. It wasn't pretty and as soon as I got to my car I crashed. Yawning and jelly-eyed I drove home in a cloud but with a satisfied soul. I had just heard and seen some of the best Rockabilly and Rhythm and Blues anywhere.

We are so fortunate to have Leon Berman and Shake The Shack to both introduce us to new music and to provide us with the classic best of the genre. Tune in to Shake The Shack 6-9PM Pacific Time, KEXP 90.3 fm or stream on-line at

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