Versailles Blues Festival, 1972
Excerpt from Said We Could Never Be
By Linda M. Rowland-Buckley
Lush green lawns lay like a carpet before the stage where a banner hung above the open-air platform. Versailles Blues Festival swirled in long strokes on the sign and blew in the wind; the way people swirled on the lawn to hear musicians carve a tune. Cowboy Max peered into the swaying crowd from offstage, he never had the chance to please so many, and he realized he couldn’t count them if he tried. In the beginning playing his horn with Machu was for himself, to prove he could, but then it slowly became about bigger clubs and more of them. He turned and focused his gaze on Blind Cat’s one black eye and said, “This is the motherload.”
As their slot neared, Big Red announced, “You guys are the last act before B.B.”
Cowboy’s gray eyes darted again toward Blind Cat, and he watched as Cat shook on Lightning’s small shoulders, while Cowboy said, “This is our time. This is the gig.”
Big Red swung his long cornrolls across his shoulder with a flick of his fist, “Now B.B. said he’s heard good music from you. His guests have seen your Paris shows. Whatever you do don’t let him down.”
When the Hot House Blues Band echoed throughout the French valley over the ten-foot speakers, Cowboy’s meaty chest inflated. A flash vision of snakes filled his mind because he figured he’d be going to hell and deserved to be there for standing on this stage; it just was that good. Lightning ripped into a cover of Muddy’s Can’t Be Satisfied. Cowboy cut through his chest’s swelling and inch-by-inch smoothed his fingers over his horn so each riff sounded like the beautifully sculpted Venus de Milo. He saw the music curve like a woman’s body through the air and descend over the crowded lawn. The horn came away from his lips for a brief second, a respite for breath, and Blind Cat blew in on his sax with a solo. In that split second Cowboy knew he’d never see Cat in hell because only God could have blessed a man to play with such greatness. Cowboy knew for Cat it was different. There was no work the way he had hot and cold days. Blind Cat was always on fire.
As the set ended, Lightning’s open palm slapped the leather vest on Blind Cat’s shoulder. The clap of the hide captured the excitement as the men walked off stage. Lightning said, “That was outrageous Cat!”
“Some of the best shit I’ve ever heard come out of that pipe,” Cowboy said.
A booming voice interrupted their moment, when Big Red moved his large frame into their circle. “Excuse me, this here is Weave. He’s a friend of B.B.’s.”
Big Red stepped aside so the smaller man, Lightning’s height, could introduce himself. “Hot! So totally impressed,” he said as he shook hands with Lightning, then Cowboy. He noticed the quick nod of his grasp and the pivot toward Blind Cat, the pivot that came with the ridiculous question, “Mr. Blind Cat, wondered if I could borrow you for a few? Mr. King would like to meet you.”
Like he wouldn’t go, Cowboy thought, as Cat seemed to saunter off down the stairs toward Mr. King’s bus like it was a request to visit the library. Cowboy and Lightning signed some autographs on paper plates on the lawn beside the stage as the masses began to chant for B.B. Sweat permeated the air and Cowboy stepped into the crowd, into their rocking and joined in their uproarious glory when Mr. King and Lucille took the stage. The luscious fields of green grass had turned into mud, which were creeping through his pointy boots. He didn’t notice this, even after his feet had been planted stock still for several minutes. After his eyes went beyond the famous bluesman, to his sax man: the Cat.