an excerpt from Said We Can Never Be
by Linda Rowland-Buckley
The small clubs in Paris were warm and cramped, not like Chicago’s sprawling bars. When Big Red proposed a tour to Europe after the album sank on the charts, Cowboy jumped at the chance to see where Louis Armstrong played during the war.
“If Minnie’s dropping out, then Lightning Joe comes back,” Cowboy demanded.
“I don’t know if I can sell it,” Big Red debated.
“Try,” Blind Cat said.
Their first night was at an underground spot, a renovated war cellar with brick and low ceilings. Cowboy thought Big Red had said intimate, but this was just someone’s basement. Deuces ran across the room, and not many of them. Darkness filled the space and a waitress lit candles on the small tables for pencil-tip glows.
“You know, Blind Cat, I’m not feeling French blues the way I thought I would.”
“Cowboy, get over your sissy ass fear of the dark and give it a go. We came all this way.”
Cowboy watched Joe tap his sticks as he shook out the cobwebs from their days off. Lightning always said he liked to let the blood circulate down into his hands until his fingers’ grasp was ahead of his mind. The stroke of the drums was a feeling—an energy surge that captivated him. It rung in his ears down to his toes and out through the tips of his fingers. Roaring, brushing, and rolling.
“And I thought piano was your first child,” Blind Cat said to Joe when he finished his warm up.
“No, Cat. That’s my stepson. I love them both the same though.”
“Well boys, what do you say we light up this place?”
“Lead the way, Cowboy,” said Blind Cat.
With that Cowboy took the stage and introduced each member of the band. “We’ve gone through a lot of name changes, from the Saxinators to the Rocking Chair Blues Band, but the one that just keeps coming back is simple. It’s where we first played together, a small juke joint in Chicago. So we go by The Hot House Blues Band.”
Cowboy didn’t need his microphone to reach the small assemblage that night. The history was more for him than the few patrons that turned up. As a young man he walked from Texas to Chicago, but right now, in this foreign city, blowing his southern sweetness, there was no appreciation for his years in the craft.
The tour swung through several night houses in Paris. It picked up speed as newspapers got wind of Blind Cat’s “exceptional” performances. “A gifted artist from the States…a must see.” Cowboy worked hard at grinding Big Red to get coverage for the whole band. “I can’t help who they like. How about touring the countryside?” Big Red offered. Cowboy agreed a different scene could be good.
“What’s good for me is good for the band,” Blind Cat said.
“I agree Cowboy. Let it ride,” Lightning said.
Cowboy was growing bitter. “Sure, sure, you dudes are right. Let’s move out of the city for a bit.”
Big Red had approached them. “There’s a music festival. I got The Hot House Blues on the bill. It has Gladys Knight.”
A grin split upside Cowboy’s jaw. His black eyes shone straight across at Blind Cat. “Now that’s what I’m saying. You up for this or what?”
“Always up for a good jam. Joe, how about you?” Blind Cat asked.
“You don’t need to ask me. Just write my name in, I’ll be there come hell or high water.”