Red eye to hot blues: Charles Baty is off to Mishawaka and the Midwest

by Jun 24, 2016Charles Baty Collection

The Charles Baty Traveling Blues Wisdom collection. HI Travel Tales ran regular travel essays from our friend Charles Baty during his Golden State-Lone Star Revue tours in 2016. They were always a treat for us to read — his writing was as full of life as his music. Sadly, Charles passed away at the age of 66 on March 6, 2020. We will deeply miss seeing him at local gigs, but feel so grateful for the time we were able to share with him. We hope you enjoy his writing and observations of life on the road as much as we do. 

It is heating it up again in the Midwest with our writer taking a red eye to hot blues. Traveling blues guitarist Charles Baty (“Little Charlie and the Nightcats”) and his fellow musicians have rendezvoused again, kicking off the short tour in Mishawaka, Ind., at The Midway Tavern. This jaunt, Baty seems to be focused on food! Pizza, pizza, pizza? With the Golden State-Lone Star Revue blues tour, he and the band started in Indiana this round, and then head across Illinois and Wisconsin with a drop into Nebraska and Minnesota.

“Many of the gigs on this tour will be little, out of the way burgs that might not be all that interesting. Or perhaps incredibly interesting.  You never know,” he told us prior to his departure. Yup, you never know!

June 16, 2016. How do you get ready for a tour? Each one is a little bit different. Obviously you have to pack based on the length of the tour and number of gigs. You have to take care of things at home: pay the bills, have the house watched, the lawn watered and mowed, etc. Then there are the logistics of the tour. If everyone lives in the same town, it might be a matter of all driving in the same van and leaving at the same time. On the Spring 2016 tour of the Golden State-Lone Star Revue, it was decided to leave the van and the equipment in Lincoln, Neb., and fly back out for this June tour to start all over again. To do this required a lot of split-second timing by Mark Hummel. He needed to fly a couple of days early into Lincoln, pick up the van at its top secret location, reload, drive to Chicago and arrive in time to pick up the rest of us – who all had to arrive near to the same time at the same airport. R.W. (Grigsby) and I will fly on a red-eye nonstop out of Sacramento and arrive at 6 a.m., Wes Starr and Anson “Pup” Funderburgh will leave Texas early in the morning and arrive by 9 a.m. or so. Then we need to reload the van to account for the luggage and guitars, get out of the Chicago rush hour traffic, head east towards Indiana and hope that our motel rooms will be ready for a pre-gig snooze. Our first gig will be at The Midway Tavern in Mishawaka, Ind. This club is one of my favorite blues clubs in the world. Just knowing that Al Capone used to hang out there when he was on the lam is enough to make me want to dig down and play deeper.

June 17, 2016. Sometimes luck shows its frivolous face at the most unexpected juncture. R.W. and I were standing at the American Airlines gate in Sacramento, Calif., when we suddenly realized that, for no apparent reason, we had been bumped up to first class on our red eye flight to Chicago. We settled into our sophisticated digs and were served warm mixed nuts, freshly baked cookies, and the stewardess even brought me some Woodford Reserve in a glass. With all of that luxury, I still could not sleep a wink on that plane. Maybe I was wound up over the Warriors game.

red eye to hot blues hits Zorbas for breakfast

Red eye to hot blues arrival morning breakfast. No pizza yet? Photo by Charles Baty.

Upon arrival, we packed the van and decided to eat breakfast on the Illinois state line in Hammond, Ind., at a diner. We noticed an unusual breakfast spot in the ‘hood called Zorba’s. The special was bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast for $2.99 with an upcharge of a buck for pancakes. Depression prices. Food was good, but the neighborhood was shaky.

On to the Indiana Toll Road and to Martha’s Midway Tavern in Mishawaka. Al Capone frequented the place from 1924 to 1926, they have had music there since the 1930s; it has wonderful ambient sound, and the walls are plastered with photos of blues artists, including a younger me (Ed. Note: Thinner without all that pizza?… You be the judge. Photo is the lead for this story.), The owner, Albertina Wassenhove, can recount the stories of Al Capone (whom her mother knew personally) and the musical history of this road house. On Anson’s feature, I listened to his sparkling reverb bounce off the walls like the bubbles in a flute of champagne. An old blues warrior playing his heart out of an aged amp in an ancient tavern, but sounding as fresh as a newborn. That’s a beautiful thing. And Albertina, 85, makes it all possible. I love that woman and always will. We all do.

Meeting Martha's owner Albertina on our red eye to hot blues tour

Albertina Wassenhove, 85, owner of the jumpin’ blues joint Midway Tavern in Mishawaka, Ind. Photo by Charles Baty.

June 19, 2016. After a hearty breakfast in Champaign, Ill., the Golden State-Lone Star Revue team headed north up a string of small country roads and two-lane blacktop and ended on a two-lane highway called Highway 47. We drove through towns like Gibson and Forrest and by millions of corn stalks in an attempt to cut a corner and get on Interstate 55 towards Chicago.

Love those Illinois highway signs on the red eye to hot blues tour

Taking the back roads through a few Podunks trying to avoid traffic on the way to Chicago. Photo by Charles Baty.

It’s odd to drive for a couple of hours and not see any Wal-Marts or Starbucks. Today, we really got a glimpse of rural America in all of its beauty and simplicity. When we finally ran into I-55, it was back to urban madness. People driving 85 mph in the slow lane tailgating others, passing on the right, driving like there is no tomorrow. Today was a double bill at Danny’s Pizza on Douglas in Elgin, Ill., with Nick Moss. Beautiful weather outside meant low turnout inside. A table featuring 10 different extra-large pizzas beckoned our hungry band of gypsies. Enough cheese to give 200 people a heart attack.

red eye to hot blues is not too worried about weight with all that good food to eat.

All that pizza and Charles is wondering why the scale is not showing the “correct weight.” Is it broken?

The band chowed down on pizza for the third day in a row as we watched the Nick Moss Band play a great set of Chicago blues. Moss is a versatile guitarist who plays from his heart and can play old school. Our long set coincided with the first half of the NBA final game. I looked in vain at the TV screens (there were about seven), but they had golf on instead. WT…??? We arrived back in the motel to watch the last 12 minutes and be disappointed. But the music and our friends (and the pizza) were anything but disappointing. Tomorrow we head towards Wisconsin for a few days. More cheese and sausage. More blues. Hopefully no more disappointment.

Don’t miss Little Charlie’s CD, “Little Charlie and the Organ Grinder Swing: Skronky Tonk

new CD for Charles Baty

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