May 2006

The Bebop Cowboys | Canadian Dance Hall CD Release
Presented by Gary Topp
May 7, 2006Lula LoungeToronto
Those Swingin’ Honky Tonkin’ Cowboy Blues
by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
The place was packed and crackling with excitement. Apparel varied widely, as it always does at Lula Lounge, but this was the first time I had seen cowboy hats. Animated conversation came from every direction — even, unfortunately, throughout Danny Marks’ opening set. How it is possible to ignore Danny’s smooth, authoritative voice and fine guitar work is a mystery to me. Danny Marks sang a set of blues, rock and country that included tunes from the fifties and sixties like T-Bone Walker’s “Since My Baby’s Gone”, The Crystals “He’s a Rebel” (sung with a gender change to She) and Donna Fargo’s big hit from the sixties “Funny Face I Love You” which he sang beautifully, sounding rather like Johnny Cash in his prime — in spite of which, I still couldn’t quite cross the line to liking the song. I did however, love the witty “You can call me George” (‘cos I’m Jonesin’ for you), constructed mainly of strung-together phrases from various country hits with bits like “if Tammy were here she would tell you to stand by your man” and “he stopped loving her today”. It was a good opening for the ‘boys.
By the time the Bebop Cowboys arrived on stage there were even more people in the room. Maybe it was the "special guests”. The steady stream of them filing on and off the stage to join the band for a number or two and all the meeting, greeting and introducing that went with it made for a real party atmosphere. There was at least as much sparkle in the room from the smiling eyes and the flashing of teeth as there was from the chandeliers.

Musical descendants of Bob Wills and Spade Cooley, the Bebop Cowboys certainly fit firmly into the Western Swing or Country Swing slot, but their style is as elastic as their personnel. Like bandleader Steve Briggs said, in the heyday of the dance hall in Canada (the 1940s and 50s), you had to be versatile. People were hearing many types of music on the radio, much of it coming across the airwaves from the U.S.A. Country, blues, fiddle tunes, rock ‘n roll and hillbilly music hybridized into subgenres like country blues and rock-a-billy and everyone caught swing band fever.

The Bebop Cowboys take this mixed bag called Western Swing with its swing rhythms, fiddles and steel guitar and mix it up further adding harmonica and updating it with the sounds of people like Merle Haggard and the Downchild Blues Band. They play mostly their own material and it definitely has its own character, yet their tunes sound familiar. They are country(ish) but they don’t play a bunch of cryin’ in yer beer songs. They don’t sound like cowpokes settin’ round the campfire either, they play Saturday night dance tunes, or like the title of their new CD, Canadian Dance Hall.

The Bebop Cowboys start the show with the country swing classic “Yearning (Just for You)”, featuring three fiddles. The solos cycled through pedal steel guitar, piano, guitar and fiddle and then back to the three fiddles in unison. Three fiddles with a very Canadian, even old Ontario style sound to these ears. “Dancing on a Saturday Night” (“hurry, in a car, a pick up or a surrey, just forget about your worries, be sure and come to the dance on Saturday night”), adds brass, a jazzy strut and a swinging fiddle solo from Drew Jurecka. As bandleader Steve Briggs says, “the only thing missing is a big dance floor but it’s great to have the place packed”.

Steve Briggs

Howard Willett
Howard Willett’s mellow voice and his harmonica were real sources of pleasure in “Stay all night, stay a little longer” (Dance all night, dance a little longer) as they were throughout the evening. And when Terra Hazelton took the stage with “Brain Cloudy Blues” well, she blew everyone away. The applause was deafening and she deserved every decibel.

The steady stream of guests included Chuck Jackson of Downchild Blues Band and jazz singer Alex Pangman. Chuck Jackson sang a country piece titled “That’s Why I Ain’t Been Home in Years”. written by Steve and Kristin Briggs (who came up to sing “Stardust”). Alex Pangman sang a classic Bob Wills tune “I Laugh When I Think How I Cried Over You” with her usual panache.

Alex Pangman

Terra Hazelton
“Jump for Joy”, the Joe Turner hit, was given a little extra jolt of rock ‘n roll and a harmonica solo in the Bebop Cowboys’ fast and fun version. “Caravan” featured an impressive violin solo from Drew Jurecka, effectively adding a bit of gypsy to the western swing and John Sheard showed off his jazz piano.

Of course, there had to be a slow dance. “Like it Was Just The Other Day” filled the bill. The teary pedal steel guitar of Burke Carroll was beautiful on this tune. Russell deCarle's voice was somewhere between Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. John Sheard reminded me of Floyd Cramer but without all the mushy strings and the Nashville overproduction.

Kevin Phillips joined the band for the final tune, the “Bebop Cowboys Theme (Swingin’ Honky Tonkin’ Cowboy Blues)”. It’s a song that Kevin Phillips co-wrote with Tim Johns and Steve Briggs and it may be the best description of their style.

The Band
Steve Briggs – guitar, bandleader
Howard Willett – vocals, harmonica
Burke Carroll – pedal steel
Dennis Pendrith – stand-up bass
John Adames – drums
Drew Jurecka – violin
John Sheard – piano

We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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