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Bromberg's performance riveting; Lightfoot to lead blues jam
by Marty Racine
Houston Chronicle; Houston, Tex.; Mar 20, 1986

MY little black calendar book says I had quite a week, before falling into the Big Sleep last Sunday, lulled into lotus land by the tube. Last I remember, it was a toss-up between the president's speech and ``Mr. Ed''.

A few observations: Rockefeller's had two perfect billings in three nights, replete with great and sad moments. Tuesday, David Bromberg again showed why he is the most riveting entertainer in acoustic music. Despite a severe case of the flu (you'd have never known), he took complete command of the overflow crowd with stories (New Yorkers are at their best when taking aim at California) and tough-talkin' extemporaneous blues.

Unfortunately, he had to open for Arlo Guthrie, who was a shell of his former self, more a '60s nostalgia act than a matured, contemporary songster. Guthrie is like the old hippie who wouldn't die, a noble stance that does nothing for his music. Poor, embittered Guthrie and his three-female backup vocalists looked totally incongruous.

Thursday night, Rockefeller's was graced by Jorma Kaukonen and John Hammond, two folk-blues pals who go back years. Kaukonen, former Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna guitarist, is one of a kind, a throwback to the days when musicians loved to jam. I was told he'd been picking for hours backstage before his show, and his glistening, open-tuned, syncopated and ragalike acoustic playing was gorgeous. Exploratory yet concise.

Hammond was, well, Hammond. He's such a purist, he's sounded the same for decades - great, for first-time listeners, but with diminishing returns thereafter. Wish he'd go electric again. Kaukonen and Hammond finished with a jam, joined by Brit Anderson, guitarist for Coupe de Ville, quickly becoming Rockefeller's house blues band. Oh well, at least the vibes were good.

Headed over to Fitzgerald's and caught ex-New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders, who was outrageous - despite a new health addiction. Other than an insipid solo acoustic interlude, Thunders got to the heart of sloppy, buzzsaw rock 'n' roll (thanks to a great rhythm team keeping this locomotive on track) that had so little meaning you had to consider its historical, sociopolitical blah-blah-blah. The Dolls, after all, ``were'' one of the first punk bands.

Wednesday, Cardi's had the biggest crowd I'd ever seen there, thanks to a 97-cent concert promoting the Del Fuegos and Mason Ruffner. The sound was atrociously loud, but Ruffner, a Fort Worth native touted as a new master of the Stratocaster, tore it up with a big boogie attack. Keep an eye on him; Ruffner's going places.

I hope Boston's Del Fuegos, pushed heavily as another roots-rocker by A&M, aren't in over their heads. They have good, Tom Petty-like anthem-songs and an intense stage presence, but they're still young pups, after all, and shouldn't be expected to carry the banner of American rock. Give 'em two years. If they're still intact, we might be talking about a classic rock 'n' roll band for the '80s.

Following Friday night's James Brown fiasco at the Arena Theater - delayed sets, long intermissions, lackluster performances - I shot to Midtown Live for Design for Living bopping hard to the remnants of a big crowd. Then over to Rockers, where Phantom, Rocker & Slick, two-thirds of which are former Stray Cats, were churning out ``Men Without Shame'', full-blown mainstream rock 'n' roll set afire by Earl Slick's guitar pyrotechnics.

Had time to catch the last of John Mayall at Fitzgerald's. Talk about smart, the main British blues harpist from the '60s, looking trim in his middle age, let his band do the work, resulting in the best Mayall-Fitzgerald's set I've witnessed in three or four tries.

Nashville's White Animals drew a fair crowd to Misty's Saturday night, but a poor sound system and low energy level did this fine young band an injustice. Look for their upcoming album; the Animals are going to be hot. But as soon as we walked into the Ale House, we were caught up in the spirit, provided not only by the Footnotes but by the wild, excitable crowd that always seems to be stomping about this place.

The Ale House is becoming just about the most fun club in town. Consistently. People there party without shame, and the wood-and-stucco informal ambience is a lot warmer than the high-tech cool chrome-and-blue of the newer joints.

St. Pat's Day I caught Mitch Ryder's late set at Rockefeller's. Predictably, his voice was shot, his band ragged, and everybody loved it.

THE CRITIC'S CHOICES: Ready for another weekend? Here's the goods:

Tough Town/Garrett Factory & The Drive, tonight at the Ale House: Two new promising bands, although you've got to be into pop keyboards to enjoy the Garrett Factory.

The Zealots, Friday at the Ale House: A little light and convoluted, but solid Houston dance-rock.

Flex, Saturday at the Ale House: Bold new rockers from Austin making their second Houston appearance. Are they Austin-tatious or ostentatious? We'll see.

Tex & The Horseheads, Saturday at Cafe Mode: Tough rock/punk band from way out West.

Lightfoot & The Essential Blues Band, Saturday at Chelsea's 804 Club: Bring this column or anything printed with ``Lightfoot'' on it and get in free. A birthday tribute to the late, great Juke Boy Bonner. Look for mucho guest appearances, including Peppermint Harris and perhaps Big Walter.

Uncle Walt's Band, Sunday at Chelsea's 804 Club: Texas swingsters are back for the first time since the old Corky's days.

Rollo Smith Band, tonight at Fitzgerald's: Fort Worth bopsters include members from the old Juke Jumpers.

Buckwheat Zydeco, Friday at Fitzgerald's: Former Clifton Chenier sideman is stepping out with a fine new album.

Design for Living, Saturday at Fitzgerald's: Bop till you drop.

Bugs Henderson, Saturday at Gary & Ray's Backstage Club: Veteran Dallas blues guitarist was recently in the area with Ray Wylie Hubbard.

Footnotes/Mortals, Friday at Midtown Live: The Mortals have been using a drum machine since the departure of Paul Rutherford, but everybody's talking, nevertheless.

The Dishes, Saturday at Midtown Live: Egghead rockers cook up a silly evening.

Kris Kristofferson, Friday at Rockefeller's: A star was born, if you can afford it.

Dr. Rockit, Sunday afternoon at Sam's Place: Good action if the weather cooperates.

POP NOTES: Some of our more prominent songwriters will celebrate Mike & Tony's first annual Spring Music Festival Sunday afternoon beginning at 12:30 at Mike & Tony's icehouse/cafe, 1500 Bingle, adjacent to Spring Branch Bayou. Featured will be Shake Russell, Dana Cooper, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Steve Fromholz, Don Sanders, Lisa Morales and Ronnie Zann. Call 827-7520 for more information. . .A Pretenders platinum album ``(Learning to Crawl''), John Bon Jovi's high-top rhinestone stage shoes and Mick Jagger's ``She's the Boss'' tour jacket were the top-selling items at KLOL's third annual Rock 'n' Roll Auction held Saturday at Fizz nightclub to benefit the Ronnie Lane Foundation, the new organization helping to fight multiple sclerosis. The auction raised nearly $15,000. Lane, by the way, is moving to Austin at the end of the month. Aren't there enough musicians there already?



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