Writ for A&E a dozen years back… I’ll rewrite more in my style later … btw always wrote so full paragraphs could be deleted … illustrated with the blues club stuff from my files …
That sliding B 7th always carried traces of Sisyphus slipping back down the hill.
T-bone Walker’s after-hours lament has followed me through life’s dark nights with the stinging clarity of blowing rain falling at 3:00am. One drop at a time. The first notes signal something serious is about to happen. The next says it’s not gonna stop. Ain’t quite certain what it’s going to be — or how serious.
That first line, “They call it Stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad,” is, perhaps, one of the best openings ever written to prompt the universal response, “Amen, brother, you got that right!” Could be time to go home…but, what the hell, it’s cold outside. I’ll head home when these lights go out and the sun comes up. After hours when the turbulence stops Goin’ or comin,’ anyone on the streets at that hour knows about Monday..
Call it Stormy Monday (But Tuesday is Just as Bad) has good company. ‘Round Midnight unfurls like a sweat-drenched white shirt, Miles Davis playing, sleeves rolled up, a forever anthem somewhere unseen, deep inside the big shadow. It’s background Muzak to Hopper’s Nighthawks in the flat light of 3:00am, taking shelter in that all-night diner of the soul. T-Bone’s stuff isn’t background — it’s a balls out acknowledgment of the wrong end of the human condition. It’s not about the alcohol or the caffeine, the nicotine or irritating smoke or overheard stupid conversations. It’s about old blue jeans, a rumpled suit with tie undone, a pack of smokes with three left, a hole in the pocket, two subway tokens and about fifty cents left. Mostly in pennies. It’s where surreal meets “what the hell,” a scratching noise from a bad recording, a dish breaking in the bar’s kitchen at 1:00am as a reminder that someone else’s day wasn’t so great either.
First time Stormy Monday introduced herself — no, himself — I was in a country store, an MG with a dented fender outside lashed to the hitching post. I was absently looking through some old 78 LPs, their dust having some years on me, waiting on the colleges to find out whether I was gonna get educated via the university or army draft.
I liked the title, Stormy Monday. Liked the name T-Bone, too, and saw he was the songwriter. Heard of the guy when he was with a big band. He was one of the first electric guitarists and sometimes played his axe behind his head. I’d heard his stuff played by others. Good musicians. On the country store’s Wurlitzer, at 25 cents a tune, it was like the jukebox was sashaying through time. The MG started. I was careful with the 78s wrapped in newspapers, riding shotgun. They made it this far, but sure as hell were right there on the ledge watching the traffic pass ten stories below. Some days we’re all looking for a soundtrack.
NYU saved me and I took along whatever T-Bone Walker stuff I could find, including versions by John Hammond and Lou Rawls. It was a lot to carry around, walking music for long city blocks. The song kept popping up — maybe it was played so often that it was only on rough days that I heard it. I understood the lyrics “Wednesday’s worse and Thursday’s oh so sad…,” but the “…eagle flying on Friday” spooked me. “Saturday I go out to play” and “Sunday I go to church and I kneel down to pray,” I took to be T-Bone’s prayer that someone who’d been banging on him would come home. Seemed to me that T-Bone just needed something to bridge the guitar riffs — the first line’s all that’s necessary.
About then my friend Ames, an accomplished jazz guitarist, told me he had a gig and asked if he could borrow my D-18 Martin guitar. We’d met in Washington Square maybe a year earlier. Ames lived in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where he always carried a .25 pistol in his pocket and did time in Trenton “in my hoodlum years.” I sanded pipefittings a whole summer for that piece of art, the D-18. Some stormy days simply got better listening to a single E7. I thought a bit and handed it to him without a word. In the whole goddamn city, maybe five folks cared whether I lived or died. Ames was one of them. When he brought the D-18 back the following week, he asked me what he owed. “Say ‘thanks’ if you please and if it’s not too much trouble, play Stormy Monday.” Still remember his smile.
Next time I met up with Stormy Monday it was a couple of years after leaving NYU for a reporting job and getting “replaced” under affirmative action. Left me on the short end of a surveying tape on a pipeline near Binghamton, New York. Sure enough, I heard it on an old jukeox…really old. I called a lady friend in the city after learning that John Hammond was playing at Gerde’s Folk City, which had lost its lease and sort of floated around the Village. This time its location was east of Washington Square, within spitting distance of NYU. And sure enough, Hammond was there with Robby Robertson and his Hawks. And they played Stormy Monday. Sunday, in lieu of church, I drove back to Binghamton to my own “Stormy Monday” on my very own muddy pipeline.
Stormy and I have played tag for years, sometimes it threw itself aside with a sneer, other times with a throaty chuckle from a mouth smeared with lipstick, but seemed more and more ladylike as the years wore on. The big deal began in Paris — well, actually Amsterdam — while sitting in a Café at the Spui chasing a gin with Amstel and leaning into Liberation, the French newspaper, my forehead resting against my right hand and a smoking Gaulois Disc Bleu pinched between the two top fingers. Very noir. For a kid. By then I’d earned enough for my working photography kit, dumped the engineering, and some trusting soul took a chance by giving me a long list of subjects in Europe to shoot and a “little money” to pay for it.
read that T-Bone Walker was performing in Paris with a Parisian Jazz band including Manu Dibango, the sax and keyboardist from Cameroon. The “little money” that my photo shoot paid precluded the high speed and, so, my train meandered slowly like T-Bone’s bent 7th chords. By the time I arrived in Paris, the club was full. A half-pint of Hennesey, some Disc Bleus and I took in the concert sitting on the curb. Paris playing impromptu rhythms. Never saw T-Bone, only an electrified stand-up bass between the opening and closing doorway. I walked the Paris streets all night with that brass section in my head. The same jazz crew recorded the album, which I think is the closest recording to a club set I’ve ever heard. Later, all my European film was printed with T-Bone’s Good Feelin’ playing in the darkroom.
So, a week or so ago, after hours of typing captions for an exhibition, in deference to my back, sometime just before midnight, Minerva Cooper drove me to the Raven’s Nest outside of Quakertown, getting me there at the end of the last set. Figured to drink my single Black &Tan, head home and reorganize the days catastrophe — except some guy shouted “Play Stormy Monday!” The band, , knew bars and promised first thing, second set. So…. With a sliding B-7th at the starting gate, landy played her guitar smooth as a cold beer on an August night. All the T-Bone stuff was there, a little Jimmy Reed, some Billy Boy Arnold with acidy stuff checking if your shave was close enough. The music was the lady’s own and I hope she plays forever. The vocalist, sleeveless, comfortable and mature, rifted “…Tuesday’s just as bad…” while walking through the mostly empty room with a portable mic singing and pausing to sit with the guy who asked for the song.
The room was empty by the middle of the second set — Friday’s a work day, people were tired. Like real pros, Notorious Groove finished the set with maybe four of us left in the bar. Wasn’t about to leave while they were playing. Simple respect. The lady did lead and rhythm, the drummer played his drums like a melody, bass line never wavered, vocalist told secrets. Good stuff. No one at Big John’s in Chicago would have chucked a bottle, even after the doors were locked.
T-Bone Blues (“…gonna change my way of living baby, move across the deep blue sea…”) ended the night and lingered toward the back of my mind like an incantation. And then too much whiskey, too many cigarettes and too long without sleep presents its badge and credentials and states without feeling, “I can’t do this anymore.” Maybe there was no whiskey — no cigarettes either. Maybe just the goddamn taxes. But six will get you ten, when that feeling comes…it’s a dark and stormy night. And right after Sunday, Stormy Monday will begin bright and early. Pretty much, right on time.
copyright H.Scott Heist 07 & later.
All of it.