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Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Hank Mowery w/ Count Bracey & the Pleasuretones at Billy's 5/9
According to their website, Count Bracey & the Pleasuretones "play traditional and jump blues with the authenticity of an uncut diamond and the seriousness of a well timed left-hook." (Maybe it was a Manny Pacquiao sort of well-timed left hook like the one that recently dropped Brit Danny Hatton) But to hear drummer Chris "Count" Bracey tell it all, the American jump blues treasure as we've grown to know and love it may be on the ropes and is the one headed for a KO. How could this be? You mean this valuable slice of cool Americana--sweet like bowling shirts for guys and sweater sets for the gals--could be headed for demise? Ain't that a shame to say goodbye to dark service station Dickie's-style shirts and the flip hairdo. All fashion aside, a good jump blues band can be engagingly visual with the bass player slapping a big acoustic bass, the guitar player playing a vintage hollow-body guitar out of a crusty old amp. Sorry if this seems like we're rehashing nostalgia but this officially timeless music of America most steeped in all the important roots musics: country, rockabilly, Western swing; the spawn of the blues that became rock and roll. There is an art to playing behind a harmonica player, like Hank "The Hawk" Mowery (above right), so it would appear Bracey and company have it going on. See for yourself when harp-meister Mowery plus Bracey & The Pleasuretones play at Billy's Lounge on Saturday May 9. "You have to listen to the harp player, see where he's going and try not to out play him. It helps to find the groove," explains Bracey. For all their demonstrable talent it seems that today's blues crowd would more prefer to hear a Stevie Ray Vaughn cover, "Brown Eyed Girl,"or better yet, another semi-all right version of "Mustang Sally." Could it be that the paying crowd would rather settle for the songs/artists that they've been programmed to like? Programmed, i.e. brainwashed courtesy of Clear Channel & Regent repetitious programming. "People get in a rut with the music they hear. The only music they know is what they hear on mainstream radio and that isn't the stuff we play. If people listened more to jump blues the more they would like it," Bracey suggests. This type of blues has been around for decades ever since people like Texan T-Bone Walker headed west for work opportunities and infused their deep blues and Texas swing with cool California jazz. Bracey is a minimalist, in a sense, with his drumming style: an extra stripped-down kit with just a bass drum, snare, hi-hat, and one ride cymbal. This arrangement forces the particular drummer to be more inventive with fills (most often on the cone of the cymbal or the rim and side of the drum) and more steady with the beat (also using right hand on snare), something not all drummers are capable of nor inclined. But come to find out, Bracey only started this formation when fronting his own group so that the audience may better see him sing and play (plus he couldn't get the rest of his drums in the crowded car on gig night). Bracey's love of this music came by quite honestly, through his jazz studies in the now-defunct music program at Jackson Community College. "I was never a phenomenal jazz drummer. But because other drummers in the program weren't reliable enough to show up for class I got to play at least twice a day, once with the jazz group and once with the big band; that helped my playing immensely. I wish I had that to do all over again," notes Bracey from his home near Grass Lake MI. Even at that location, Bracey can't get a gig at the local Jackson "blues" bar probably because his group isn't loud enough to be heard over the chatter. The Pleasuretones set includes a smattering of more mainstream artists like The Fabulous Thunderbirds and includes tunes from the T-Birds early catalog, which is pure rock and roll, such as "Wait on Time," and "Rock With Me," plus "Baby, Scratch My Back." If Bracey had his way, his group would sound more like Wynonnie Harris, Roy Milton & his Solid Senders, Louis Prima, and Louie Jordan, among other giants of the jump genre. "I've always liked Billy's. They have a good, appreciative crowd. And they like to dance and dance, man," says Bracey with a laugh. "That's cool, more than enough motivation right there."