Happy Martin Luther King day flip-siders. Me and the whole flip-side clan spent the day skiing and returned home to 65 degree temperatures...meaning lots of guitar, cigars and beer in the backyard. You thought I might forget about you today, didn't you? Never. Without further wait, on to our Song of the Week.
A number of years ago, when I was living the BlackBerry life in Washington DC, I found myself waking from a 6-hour sleep I chiseled out for myself on the way home from a 24-hour biz trip that took me to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I landed at National Airport at about 10:30p on a Friday, wide awake and knowing my family would be sound asleep. "So", I say to myself, "let's see what's happening down at Iota", one of DC's best intimate music venues. I dropped $10 for a band I had never heard of before and headed for Iota's well stocked bar. About 90 minutes later I got through some crap-ass gloom and doom Emo bands and was starting to think to myself, "maybe it's time to call it a night and head home." But the equipment on stage had my interest piqued. There were two Supro guitars -- both with Montgomery Wards' Airline badge plates -- and a behemoth of a Silvertone twin twelve amp (I can't remember if Valco or Danelectro made these, but they are crispy-tasty).
About this time the headline band took the stage. They were, that night at least, a 5-piece band from Boston calling themselves the Tarbox Ramblers. The band lined up behind their instruments: a stand-up bass (always a good sign!) a minimal drum kit (again, another good sign), a fiddle player, a guest guitarist who looked like he was impersonating Dana Carvey impersonating Gary Busey impersonating Buddy Holly (you still with me?) and the owner of those Airlines, singer and guitarist, Michael Tarbox. The follicle challenged Tarbox sat down with a glass of whiskey in his hand, adjusted his red tartan flannel hunter's shirt and peered out from underneath his horned rimmed glasses. If ever someone was the living embodiment of a 1950's Truman Capote serial killer from the midwest, Michael Tarbox was it. The floor tom beat and the bassist tapped on a tambourine. The Buddy Holly dude took up the maracas and the band opened with a five-part harmony gut bucket version of Stewball that had me knowing the wait was worth it. Tarbox's deep, gravely voice scraped across the aural sandpaper as the band was already breaking a sweat at two minutes into the show. But it got even better. Once Tarbox took the open-tuned Airline's for a run with deft finger picking and effortless slide play, I knew I was...in love. There. I said it. (please don't hate me for it). There are a number of great slide players out there today -- Kelly Joe Phelps or Alvin Youngblood Hart leap to mind -- but Michael Tarbox plays with a grit that the others seem to lack. He oozes a primal passion for the music that makes every performance feel as fresh as a load of laundry done with two doses of Snuggles Brand fabric softener (and that is some mad, crazy Spring Fresh!).
Since that first spur of the moment night, I have probably seen the Tarbox Ramblers 15 times (though, sadly never here in Boulder, Colorado). I have NEVER been disappointed at one of their shows. Impassioned and well performed, they are a revolving cast of characters centered around Tarbox's ample original work and his bottomless song-well of traditional blues, gospel and hillbilly songs.
Picking just ONE of their songs is tough but today's Song of the Week is the third song on the Tarbox Ramblers second (of 2) album, A Fix Back East. The song is an old Dock Boggs number called Country Blues which the bottom-heavy Ramblers inject with a dose of caffeine and take it to blistering heights. I hope you enjoy. And I hope you get a chance to see The Tarbox Ramblers soon. And if you're real nice, they may even update the website with some new news and tour dates and even a new, ahem, album.