Sunday, September 30, 2012

The 2012 Shake The Shack Rockabilly Ball at The Tractor Tavern 9-29-12

Anticip-p-p-pation. The whole Rockabilly Community was looking forward to this evening. After 25 years Leon was ending the Rockabilly Ball. The Tractor was sold out and packed. We all were one in the love for Leon and The Ball. Here he is with Cousin Mike late in the evening, they both clean-up pretty good don't you think?

He is not giving up the radio program, he will be broadcasting from his death-bed. But the hassle of producing this huge event has proved to be too much work for this family-man/businessman/DJ/marvelous-person. I cannot imagine that he will not miss it. Watching him interact with the crowd, many whom are his friends was awesome. He is a people person for sure.

Tonight promised to be the culmination of a killer weekend, a killer 25 years of rockabilly music presented by Leon and KEXP 90.3 FM. Leon handpicked the bill tonight. He made sure to feed his devoted fans their dose of great rockabilly, but he threw in some incredible western swing, some dynamite blues, and a real surprise, what I can only describe as a musical tornado.

First up was Angelatini and the Treblemakers, a beautiful girl with a phenomenal voice backed-up by some of the best musicians in the area.

The current rotating cast is Greg Roberts on lead guitar, Tony LaBorie on upright bass, Robert Lee Mitchell on piano, Roy Kay on rhythm guitar and vocals, Marshall Scott Warner on drums and Nick Christensen on tenor sax. Now I know I am missing the name of the baritone sax player, really a memorable musician, I hope I can post his name later.

 Robert Lee Mitchell is one of my favorite keyboard players, the default piano player for any band that wants that special Mitchell sound.

If it wasn't so packed there would have been a bunch of dancing as this was Jump Blues, the kind that makes you want to move. But alas, you could barely shake your butt for want of a little room. I was in a sea of music lovers itching to rock and all we could do is bop our collective heads and try to keep our hands to ourselves.

I have seen Angelatini once before, she has a marvelous set of pipes, one of those who really wouldn't need a microphone...she can belt the blues. Backed by this great band she was in her element and provided killer entertainment.

Greg, the lead guitarist was amazing, he played this beautiful but tiny guitar, he delivered the best of the blues licks. The horn section was great too, really added the driving authenticity to this rocking band.

I loved the baritone and so did Angelatini, I think he hit a soft spot deep inside.

This was the second night I got to see the phenomenal Tony Laborie on upright bass. He had laid the bottom for Slim Sandy at the Highway 99 Blues Club on Friday night. Here is another talented musician that is the go-to guy when you need a bass.

And of course Roy Kay is an integral part of this wonderful blues sound. His suave style, great voice and strong rhythm guitar is always a joy to witness.

This was an opening act that could have been the headliner and really the only band to play a night of dancing and fun. But this was just the awesome start of an amazing evening of music. Leon had created a list of world class artists and Angelatini, Roy, Rob, Greg, Marshall and the rest of the band was just the top of the list.
You can see them here:

Leon brought on one of the finest western swing bands in the world; Ray Stuckey and his Rhythm Gang. This is a collection of stellar musicians playing the music of the greats of the genre. His is most well known for his part in the Dave and Deke Combo, a pioneering band that set the standard for many a would-be rockabilly musician. They went their separate ways and in the end they both got even better. Deke going hillbilly/rockabilly, Dave going pure western swing.

Tonight we got to see a band that will live in our memories for a long time. They were absolutely swinging; entertaining and fun, the place was all in and we were collectively jiggling to his beat.

This is group of ringers, they all had their turn to play amazing solos and there wasn't a bummer among them.

I didn't get all the names and am having a little trouble finding the current personnel on-line. But I am going to take a crack at it. Ian was the stellar lead guitarist, blazing swing picking of the highest caliber. Rusty was at the pedal-steel and creating beautiful music out of his lovely instrument. I believe it is Wally at the bass; I stood at his feet and watched him play the killer doghouse. Chris was playing the trumpet, adding a authentic layer to this rich tapestry. Being an ex-trumpet player myself, I was interested as he placed his mouthpiece on one side of his mouth, not in the center as is the norm. It sure worked for Chris.

Mike was hilarious at the drums, making great faces, smiling wildly at all who would meet his gaze and mouthing the words to each song. And Dave was the real thing, the modern Bob Wills, right here in Seattle. What a great band.

Dave and the boys were rocking through some of the best swing I have ever heard. Authentic, toe tapping music that just made you smile and feel good deep down. He played a Talking Blues tune for their last of the night, it was funny and hot.

The crowd was happy and this was just what Leon was counting on when he booked these bands. He was in the corner with a poo-eating grin.

This was going to be tough act to follow, the crowd had loved this marvelous act and they screamed for an encore. See Dave here:

It was about this time when I realized I didn't fully purge my camera memory and the display said I had 3 photos left. I still had my (ugh) phone, but the high(er) quality shots were limited. I tried to save one for each band that was left.

Th next act was billed as a one-man band. I earlier described him as a one-man tornado, this is putting it mildly. He was a tour de force, an earquake, a clear the room, hide the woman-folk kinda guy. Your first clue that Bloodshot Bill was going to be a little different was that he showed up in his jammies.

He played guitar and with his feet played a high-hat cymbal and a bass drum.  Played does not properly describe Bill's style of music. There are few words to describe Bill's act.

Here is the best I can do; he alternately growls, howls, huffs, yodels and moans as he sings vocals in a barely discernible vocabulary. His head shakes back and forth so hard and his hair is flying so fast that you fear for his health. His feet are bare and banging on his sparse percussion set. He regularly spits at a spot just north of his high-hat.

He swallows the mike, sucking on it like a pop sickle, bangs on his guitar like it is a set of pots and pans; he is having a grand mal seizure right in front of us. Notice Leon watching in the center of the picture, he can barley believe what he is seeing.

It turned out that his madman had a method; he had the crowd in his hands, asking them to join him in his crazed style of entertainment. We sang at his behest, becoming his chorus. When he needed a little love, we made sure he had it. This was a total gas.

Bill is from Toronto and was apparently only recently allowed back into our ever so generous country. It is too bad as this is as good an entertainer that you will ever see, and he should be seen more often. If you get a chance, do not miss.

The most telling evidence of his mastery of this Rockabilly Ball; most of the other entertainers lined up to have Bill sign a copy of his disc. See Bill here:

So far the bill had been off the chart, each act a triumph on their own. Leon had done a masterful job for his last Ball and some of the best was yet to come. Leon introduced the friend that turned him onto Rockabilly music. It is wonderful that this man is so humble and appreciative of even the smallest of things.

The Modern Sounds are considered the best Rockabilly band in the world. They are silky-smooth as they glide through the best of classic rockabilly. Leon slobbered all over them during his toast and introduction.

Joel Paterson is one of the best guitarist I have ever seen. He had backed Carl Sonny Leland at the Friday eve Ball and was amazing. Playing a beautiful Gretsch, he is a superb musician and entertainer.

Singing beautiful harmonies, this group is a triple threat; each guy playing a pivotal position in the mix. Alex Hall on drums and vocals and Beau Sample on upright bass and vocals, complete this group.

Playing tunes that evoked Chet Atkins and Les Paul, Joel leads the group through the set with precision and soul. They can melt you with classic blues and make your blood boil with hot jazz. Tonight they made sure to please the rockabilly crowd with their best.

I had just purchased a Deke Dickerson CD (Live at Duff's) with this group of talented musicians backing him up so I knew what to expect. But seeing them live was a real special treat. This is the best of American Music, we are lucky to have had this marvelous band here in Seattle.

See the Modern Sounds here:

Marc and Gaby Bristol from Blue Suede News were here again documenting the event. If you want real writing about this wonderful weekend turn to them. Find them here:
Here they are enjoying the music and friends:

Tom Mara, Executive Director of KEXP helped introduce the last band of the last Ball. I got to speak with him the evening before, a sweet man and the perfect guy to have steering the ship. He is proud of the work that Leon has done and fully supports him in his wacky endeavors.

Leon had saved the best for last, a band that had played many a ball, in fact more than any other; Johnny and The Blades. Here he is buying them a round of whiskey, a special ritual that they repeated for our enjoyment. There was obvious brotherly love here, Johnny and Leon are kin.

Johnny has an awesome voice and stage presence. He and his boys have all the tools, they are one of the best rockabilly party bands in the nation. Raw, but crisp and tight, The Blades rolled trough some great music.

Johnny Kellen plays a screaming rhythm guitar and sings lead vocals. Jimmy Kolodziej plays a mean upright bass, Eli Rinek is keeping the band pumping on the drums and Noah Gietka is genius on his beautiful Gretsch. This group had not played together for 3 years but when Leon called they didn't hesitate.

The photos suck here and it is too bad, these guys were so much fun, deciding after a "sensitive" mellow tune that they had to rock to keep the crowd happy. And rock they did. Noah was melting our faces with his awesome picking. Johnny has a great voice and the vocals sound just like The Blades of old.

Jimmy attacks his bass like it is trying to run away, at times his tongue is hanging out like a dog in heat. Funny and gregarious he was a wonderful entertainer. He was melting all the girls out front with his cool style and banter.

This was about the best of the evening and a memorable way to end an era. Johnny and The Blades were representative of the 25 years that Leon has been promoting rockabilly music.

Leon joined Johnny and his mates for the last 3 songs of the evening. Feeling no pain, Leon was singing his heart out, enjoying the last of an era with his good friends. All this emotion, and in front of an adoring crowd. It was past 2am and everybody was spent. This was easily the best Ball ever (at least the ones I have attended, although I loved last years surf night). What a great way to go out.

This man, this wonderful resource and all of his family should be thanked and revered for their service. Leon didn't invent this genre, but he has helped make it what it is today. 

Here is the 25th Anniversary Logo I designed for the occasion:

You can listen to Leon's radio show, Shake The Shack anytime of the day via the KEXP streaming archive. 

You can also listen to his show live Fridays 6-9pm at 90.3 FM.

Thank you Leon, for all you do.

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