Singing the blues: Charles Baty Lone Star Revue tour winds down
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.
Traveling blues guitarist Charles Baty (“Little Charlie and the Nightcats”) and his fellow musicians with the Golden State-Lone Star Revue are nearing the end of their June tour through a few midwestern burgs (is Chicago a burg?). He and band members Mark Hummel, R.W. Grigsby, Wes Starr and Anson Funderburgh started in Indiana, headed across Illinois and Wisconsin with a drop into Nebraska and Minnesota. Night after night, they turned clubs and theaters into steamy joints with their blues. But when not playing or singing the blues, this seemed to be a food-focused tour! Pizza, Greek food, pizza, steaks, pizza, cognac ice cream….
June 21, 2016. Elgin, Ill., is Nick Moss country. After waking this morning, I headed downstairs at our motel and perused the pitiful pile of slop presented for breakfast and passed. I wasn’t worried, because we had a lunch date with Nick Moss at a highly recommended restaurant in Elgin. One thing that I have learned during my travels down this long dusty road — if Charlie Musselwhite or Nick Moss recommend a restaurant, you take heed. Today’s spot was a modern take on the Greek restaurant called Alexander’s Cafe. After our recent pizza binge, each of us ordered Greek salads with some adding the classic Greek soup Avgolemono (lemon, chicken and rice). It was sumptuous. Nick drove up in style on his hog.
We headed out to Beloit, Wisc, a scant hour away, and settled into our crude but comfortable digs. Boundaries is a little club/restaurant tucked away out in the country and was surprisingly packed on a Monday night. Promoter and musician Dave Potter has set up a great gig for traveling bands, always in search of good Monday plays, and it felt like a Friday night. The band was in high spirits and played a great show. Anson borrowed a Gibson ES335 and kicked up some sand and Mark Hummel was channeling James Cotton on the harp. While I was out on the dance floor, trying to play guitar for the people (i.e., the women), Anson stepped on my guitar cord effectively roping me in. That little juvenile delinquent will pay for his insolence. Nick Moss joined us towards the end of the set. Food was pretty good and cheap at Boundaries, but they cut us no deals — full price for the band. The dance floor was packed, the beer was cold, and the music smoked. Not bad for a Monday sporting a full moon. Tomorrow, we head north toward Elkhart Lake. Should be a blast!
June 22, 2016. Anatomy of an off day: If you could do anything in the world, what would you do? That is the crux of off-day thinking. What do you miss doing and what can you do in your current situation. For me, it was walking and I enjoyed a peaceful 3-mile walk around half of Elkhart Lake and back. Not too many hills, beautiful views, and I was able to walk over some lawns of gorgeous homes without the possibility of upsetting the owners. That is the mindset at Elkhart Lake, Wisc. The right to walk around the lake trumps petty homeowner boundaries (in most cases). Anson opted for golf and played 18 holes by himself. Or rather 16 holes, as I joined him on 17 and 18. Anson crushes the ball out of the tee box and chats like Chi Chi Rodriguez while he lines up his shots. I am totally intimidated by his game, but took the opportunity to take some errant shots under his patient direction…. Anson and I walked back from the golf course and grabbed what might have been the best panini of my life at the Lake Street Cafe in Elkhart Lake.
The cafe is a shrine to Schlitz beer with every imaginable piece of Schlitz memorabilia, Schlitz bottle and Schlitz can. I am writing this in the dark staring through tall pines enjoying this brief respite and a glass of fine Bordeaux. The moon should be rising soon. There is absolutely no reason to watch TV in a place like this. This is the perfect ending to a day off for me — pure relaxation and peaceful reflection. Now I am ready to play music again.
June 23, 2016. Do you know the way to Kankakee? It is an hour or so south of Chicago, conveniently located on Interstate 57, and tonight was only the second time in my career to play this sleepy town. I grabbed lunch at the local Cracker Barrel. The Pup and I sat next to a big display of old cigar box tops and we rated a 3-star server. At the Barrel, as we in-the-know call it, servers have anywhere from 0 to 4 stars on their aprons. The more stars, the more experience. I am bad with people’s names, but I can recite all of the daily lunch specials and vegetables of the day at the Barrel with my eyes closed. Thursday is turkey and dressing plus one side, the Thursday vegetable is sweet potato casserole. I opted for chicken and dumplings, turnip greens, and the sweet potato casserole. It’s not truly Southern, but it beats the pants off of Denny’s.
We played for the local blues society at a Moose Lodge and we had the biggest crowd so far this year for their blues series. Our show had many sponsors, including Mr. Vacuum (the owner of the local vacuum cleaner store), and we had a fascinating discussion about HEPA filters and vacuum cleaner bags. There were two different dance floors: one off to the right of the stage and one at the back of the room, where a group of 5 or 6 women continually line danced. Kankakee is only an hour from Chicago, but it might as well be a million miles. It’s a totally different animal. At the end of the night I was presented with a Pick Jesus guitar pick with a scripture on the reverse. I guarantee that I won’t be given one of those tomorrow night at Buddy Guy’s in Chicago. I am not saying that either place is better – they are different and each is necessary to us for our musical survival. They are all part of our entertainment portfolio and we are lucky to have them. Line dancing or not.
June 25, 2016. Twenty five years ago I played at the Chicago Blues Festival for the only time in my life with Little Charlie and the Nightcats. It was for the 20-year anniversary of Alligator Records and it was a HUGE crowd and a great revue of Alligator acts. Later that same weekend we played Buddy Guy’s Legends for the first time on a Sunday and packed the place. Since then I have played the club dozens of times and have many great memories of great shows and guests. Tonight, I returned to the new Legends, a scant half block away from the old place, with the Golden State-Lone Star Revue. We had a decent crowd, enjoyed a hearty meal, and played two long sets. Earlier, we had checked into an upscale south side hotel and dug the history of the area. We were blocks away from where Sonny Boy Williamson used to live, where Chess Records used to be, and saw the gentrification of this old neighborhood being slowly transformed into Hipster Heaven. Downtown Chicago is a scant 2 miles from my hotel window, there are old abandoned industrial buildings and new renovated lofts all around us. It is a city in repair. Chinatown is only a few blocks away.
Buddy Guy’s family runs his new place. We were treated with respect and kindness. I played Minor Swing and a Charlie Christian number for my features and we ended with Little Walter’s classic Juke. There is something akin to the Crusades about returning to Chicago to play blues. The audience might be tourists, locals, foreign visitors but we hold allegiance to our great muses and we play blues for their memory and not for the audience. I guess we just hope that the audience will appreciate it. For us, Chicago is the holy land of music. No one will ever top Muddy, Walter, Wolf, Sonny Boy, and their compatriots. No one. We simply pay homage and add our touch. And we dream about those magical days in the ‘40s and ‘50s when blues ruled the South Side of Chicago. I would have loved to witness some of those great shows of yesteryear. To be able to see Walter and Sonny Boy duke it out, or Wolf go up against Muddy. It would have been incredible. That’s the South Side magic — if you love blues, you must visit Chicago. End of story.
Don’t miss Little Charlie’s CD, “Little Charlie and the Organ Grinder Swing: Skronky Tonk”
The Charles Baty Traveling Blues Wisdom collection
- April 12: My Traveling Blues: A life on the road
- April 19: My Traveling Blues: Diner tour and driving tips
- April 28: My Traveling Blues: Dirty blues and Italian ice
- June 24: Red Eye to hot blues: Off to Mishawaka and the Midwest
- June 29: Singing the blues: Charles Baty Lone Star Revue tour winds down
- July 5: No polka for Charles Baty and the traveling blues band
- August 10: ‘You don’t go to Tucson to eat pizza’ – Charles Baty blues wisdom
- September 5: Traveling blues on tour: ‘Be the road,’ says Charles Baty
- November 24: Feeling the blues: Thanksgiving tour and Charles Baty’s missing home