Donnie's WC story (long)
Paul Jarry and Frank Turina's recent posts about local jams reminded
me of a story I've seen posted here (LONG time ago), and more recently
on another list. Please excuse the bandwidth - it's a honey of a tale.
(Donnie, my apology for the edits)
Donnie defines a "Gus" as a guy that get's up to play....and can't.
You know - he talks a good line, but he just can't blow. It's a
nightmare for any bandleader...guy comes up on the break and says
"hey, you sound good - I used to play with so-and-so...d'you mind if I
sit in on one with you?"
What can you do - the guy just bought a round....
Then there are those nights it doesn't go that way. At all.
Donnie Moretone says:
It happened for me in 1981, at a downhome club in LA called JJ's
I had been attending the regular Sunday jams at the club for a few
weeks, hosted by LA legendary blues pianist, JD Nicholson.
I had been the only harp player showing up for the few weeks, and was
getting plenty of prime playing time in with the house band...which
was making me pretty cocky. ;))
Then one particular Sunday afternoon, on a set break, after I played a
full set of blues, R&B, and funky grooves with the band, "HE" came
into the club, carrying an old beat up White Fender Bassman.
He wasted no time setting up his rig right in front of the
bandstand...very confident & sure of himself.
I'm thinkin'..."who the hell is this guy?"
I saw him lay his harps out on top of his amp, and a beat up lookin'
Hammertone grey JT-30....so I knew he was a harp player...but I had
seen his type before...and thought..."he's got the gear...wonder if he
can blow...or is it ALL just show?"
I sure felt threatened!
Most of the band was outside.<SNIP>
HE went outside after setting up his rig, while I stayed seated at the
bar...wondering what was about to unfold, with intense curiosity.
Ya know, the truth be told...I was hoping that he wouldn't be too
good...so I could continue getting the praise and limelight I was
The proof, at that time, as I look back now...in my own insecurities.
I went to use the bathroom, which was out back of the club, and ran
into some regulars who pulled me into their little back-alley ritual,
of keeping an edge on the bars drink prices.
Afterwhile, I heard the band kick into a bouncy harp shuffle, and the
harp was just "Way" out front...Leading the band.
This guy was not just simply following along with whatever the band
was playing...or just filling a bit here or there....(sprinklin' mo'
sugar on the cake?)...He had complete control of this whole groove
from the word "go".
He owned the song.
Something I had never experienced before with a live band.
But I sure could recognize "it" when I heard it.
I immediately was drawn to the sound from inside the club.
Words just won't suffice for a description of the excitement &
adrenaline overtaking me.
I can say, it was very surreal.
( The story of the Pied Piper comes to mind ;))
When I went in and watched, this guy was in the middle of the dance
floor, about 10 ft. in front of the bandstand...and was just
terrorizing the entire club with his sense of balls to the wall Drive,
Groove, and ability to also be relaxed and right in the pocket, with a
strong emphasis on melody.
I found a seat at the bar again...and my jaw just dropped, as the
whole club seemed to respond to his conviction.
It seemed as if Everyone in the club was either dancin' in the
isles...or jumpin' up right from their tables and yellin' out
things... Testifing...is a good word for me to use here.
The description of "upsettin' the club" also comes to mind.
He played & sang a slow blues next...and had the entire
place...including all the musicians, in the palm of his hands.
For me...this is exactly what I wanted from a blues performance, the
audience, including myself, as wrapped up into the music and heavy
emotion...as the player himself was sharing.
(and yes...one can feed the other...in a Big way ;))...
This entire experience marked yet another change in my growing
perception and growth as a budding youngster...already hopelessly
addicted to the blues harmonica sound.
But back to the story...'cause I'm not done just yet ;))
When he was finished playing, I couldn't hear his name they announced
from the bandstand...from the sheer volume of the exited & thirsty
patrons. Myself included.
He threw his gear into the back of his amp, unplugged it, and moved it
over to the side of the bandstand.
Then he made his way over to the bar, after receiving numerous
handshakes, slaps on the back, and healthy signs of great
appreciation...he took the empty stool next to me.
I remember I was pretty nervous about this....kinda funny, considering
we were about the only two Caucasian persuasions in the whole
joint...I should get edgy around this guy, right?
After some of the attention died down around him, I found the nerve to
finally say something to him.
I wanted to tell him how much I dug his playing...but his vibe was
kinda cold towards me...at the time...or so I thought.
<shrug> (more on this later)...
Anyway....I tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "Man, you sound
really # !+%*! Great"....and stuck out my hand to shake his.
As he started to shake my hand I leaned forward in his ear, because of
all the chatter in the club, and said, "You must be Robert
The next thing I know he's got me up against this wall at the end of
the bar with these huge meathook hands... he's screamin', "You
<Bleepin'> With Me Man? That dude can't play #%"$!*!#"....You
Messin' With Me?".....
<gulp!> By the way...this guy was HUGE!!!
So I'm now in total shock and complete surprise by this whole scene.
Imagine two white guys in a black club..and one has got the other
pinned up against the wall....LOL
Anyway....I somehow managed to stammer out at him, "A few weeks ago,
I asked JD who the best young harp player around town was...and <gulp>
he told the hottest cat around was Bob Lucas...so Man...with the way
you were blowin'...I figured that you HAD to be him!"
.....This guy started grinnin', "JD told you that?" I said, "Yeah
Man...that's what he told me..I swear!" <gulp> Then he started slowly
chuckling a deep laugh and shakin' his head, while loosening his grip
on my Adam's apple.
He then put his arm around me, and walked me back to our seats at the
bar, and told the bartender that he was buying.
That guy, was William Clarke.
I had never seen him before that time, nor heard his records, but had
heard of his name around town.
I hadn't met Robert Lucas yet either! (now frontman for Canned
Later that night, Bill told me that JD had told him outside, before he
sat in, that there was a young harp player sitting at the bar, so Bill
had purposely come up to sit next to me after he performed.
I asked him why?...he told me that he was trying to intimidate me a
little...to see what I was made of....but mainly, that he felt
somewhat insecure...yet it Fired him up, that another harp player was
The same way it made me feel when I first saw him setting up I
guess...His total sense of honesty led us to become great
friends...and I became a huge Bill Clarke fan....for life ;))
And that's what I mean by "Blow the House Down"!
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