Deep Blues

The Late Bluesman Zeb Cash-Lane, Playing at Fort Worth's Peppermill Lounge

The Late Bluesman Zeb Cash-Lane, Playing at Fort Worth’s Peppermill Lounge

My Privilege to Share the Stage Alongside Zeb

My Privilege to Share the Stage Alongside Zeb, Playing Blues

The Illinois Central cuts through the heart of the South Side, where most Chicago blacks lived in 1943 and most still do. The passenger’s first look at the city consists of mile after mile of weatherbeaten two-and three-story frame and brick buildings with dilapidated back porches that reach right to the edge of the tracks. They march sullenly past the train’s windows for what seems like an hour, and then the rhythmic clickclack of the pistons slows down and the engine pulls into Central Station.

Robert Palmer, Deep  Blues

It is now Christmas Eve, and what am I doing? I’m seated in a darkened Amtrak lounge car, hurtling through the black night, watching the occasional small southern town sprint past my window with its red flashing crossing guards, and small frame homes. And I am listening to Muddy Waters on my Discman. I am listening to Muddy Waters playing Country Blues on a speeding train across Arkansas past midnight.

David Tripp, Journal, December 24, 2004, 12:22 a.m.

I look up from my work as small-town America rolls by beneath my Amtrak window.  Sleeping America, sprawled beneath a bloody three-quarter moon. The flashing red crossing lights. The white facades of sad buildings. Hope, Arkansas at 12:48 a.m.

David Tripp, Journal, May 27, 2005, 12:48 a.m.

Last night, just before bedtime, I opened Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues and began to read. I purchased this book over ten years ago, but never opened it, to my shame. When I was studying Blues more closely back then, I read over a dozen biographies and histories covering the American Blues music phenomenon. I even played in some bands, though I always considered myself shaky and uptight with my guitar attempts. I love this musical genre, and reading the text I posted above sent me scurrying to my shelves of journals to retrieve some things I had jotted from that earlier era of my own life. How well I remember those sad nights on Amtrak, traveling home to St. Louis to visit my family for Christmas. As the train left Fort Worth and rolled through the grimy unsightly neighborhoods and decaying business districts of Arlington, Grand Prairie, Dallas, Marshall, Longview, Texarkanna, Arkadelphia, Hope, Little Rock, etc., I would look out my windows at the small backyards, sagging porches, chained pit bulls, junked vehicles, washing machines and Christmas lights in these sad little neighborhoods. And I would listen to Blues music on my headphones–Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House–and experience feelings too deep to describe. As Robert Palmer reminds us, the history of the Blues is a “story of a small and deprived group of people who created, against tremendous odds, something that has enriched us all.”

For awhile, I played in a band with Zeb Cash-Lane, about two years before he passed away. We took our act on weekends to the Peppermill Lounge in east Fort Worth, playing before less than a dozen working-class men bellied up to the bar who showed no indication of listening to us. That took the pressure off, as we experimented with our Blues genre and took it to levels we never thought possible. I still hear Zeb’s Stratocaster crying out into the night as he pushed out the most amazing lead improvs that I never heard in our studio rehearsals. The man was possessed with a magnificent genius for electric blues guitar, and I miss him as I write this tonight. Following is something I wrote in my journal on October 13, 2006, the morning after I met Zeb Cash-Lane:

Last night, I had a life-altering encounter at a recording studio in east Arlington. I met for the first time Zeb Cash-Lane, an aged blues musician, specializing in harp and searing electric guitar (Fender Jazzman played through a Fender tube amp).  It was a night to remember always and I now attempt to record the visions . . .

7:00 p.m. Thursday found me pushing my Jeep westward on Abram, with temperatures dropping, a chilly October evening and a sun sinking large, flooding the western sky with color. Looming silhouettes of tire shops and tattoo parlors paraded down the corridors of my peripheral glances.  Finally, the cinder block building came into sight. Jim Farmer waited outside on the parking lot with a slender, rangy man sporting a Rasputin-like full white beard, faded jeans, suspenders and a gray-blue “Charley Guitar Shop” T-shirt. I was introduced and shook hands with Zeb Cash-Lane.

Inside the dim studio room that doubled as Zeb’s dorm room, we heard the searing electric blues that Zeb ripped. It was an authentic Blues environ: whiskey bottles, ashtrays, Zeb rolling his own cigarettes, scattered amps, guitars, a cello and even an upright piano. The room had the clutter of a maintenance shed or electrician’s shop, but it was a music room. A Blues room, a three-dimensional photo gallery of where Zeb was and where Zeb had been. Jim Farmer played his new electric bass, Zeb played his Fender Jazzman and I played my Martin D-35. The Blues seared, screamed and moaned late into that cold October night. Inside, the guitars cried while outside, the winds answered with a chorus of mournful, yet affirming howls. Stormy Monday set the tone for the Blues night in the studio.

After hours of playing, we sat outside on the concrete steps, weary but full of hope about our musical collaboration, and shared stories over cold beers. I drove home, late in the night, numbed by the experience.

My Watercolor of Zeb Cash-Lane

My Watercolor of Zeb Cash-Lane

Though most of the blues musicians with whom I have played in the past are either deceased or no longer in my social circle, I still feel a kinship with anyone who has played a Blues riff on a guitar. I’m grateful for what the Delta and Chicago bluesmen left us, what Zeb handed down to me, and so sorry for the way these musicians suffered to lay such a gift at our feet.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not really alone.

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2 Responses to “Deep Blues”

  1. sedge808 Says:

    superb

    Like

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