Kickin’ it with Joe McBride

Joe McBrideKickin’ it with Joe McBride
From Mt.Hood Jazz to Jammin’ at Bookies

by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

My phone rang early that Sunday morning. Reeeeealy early. I was tired, just having gotten back in town the previous night. It was my partner Jimi Smoot, and he wanted me to help him hang with pianist Joe McBride who was in town for the Mt. Hood jazz festival. “Waaaay to early for jokes” I said, but he assured me it was on the level. Being an avowed expert at hanging out, and never one to miss a genuine opportunity, I agreed and promptly got another few hours of shuteye.

2:00 pm Jimi shows up in the van and we head off to Gresham, prepping for the day by playing McBride’s new CD “Keepin It Real” in the CD player. We’re supposed to meet Joe at the hotel and travel to the festival with him. When we get to the hotel there’s no sign of McBride or anyone else. After sitting through a beer in the lounge and a couple of calls to his cell phone (getting only the recorder) we decide we had better check the venue in case we missed him.

3:10 pm Standing right outside the gates of Gresham city park, listening to Darrell Grant jamming with one of my own favorite vocalists, Jenna Mammina. No sign of Joe, and the festival folks say he’s not arrived. Another call to his cell and we connect… Joes’s at breakfast, headed back to the hotel. We stand and listen to Jenna and Darrell’s sweet groove for a few more minutes before leaving to go back to the hotel.

4:10 pm Sitting in the lobby of the hotel, I wait with two people from the fest while Jimi goes to Joe’s room to ‘hurry’ him along. In short order Jimi returns with Joe and Saxophonist Wayne DeLano, the sole component of McBride’s “Texas Rhythm Club” to make the trip with him. We all hop into the festival van and head for the show.

4:35 pm The van drives through the gate and around the park toward the crowd. As we cruise around the perimeter of the park you can hear Jenna Mammina scatting to the audience, singing of Joe’s approach. As we pull up behind the stage, Darrell and Jenna are finishing up and the stage hands are moving equipment around. Joe gets out and does the ‘meet and greet’ right quick with the festival management, then he and Wayne go up on stage and put on a show to be remembered.

5:20 pm Short but smoking, the set is over. Joe and Wayne have come in and conquered the crowd. For the next hour or so we all hang around and mingle, listening to Kevin Mahogany while Joe signs autographs. Jimi and I drink free soda and talk music with the festival organizers.

6:30 pm Jumping back in the van Joe, Wayne, Jimi and I ride back to the hotel and say our goodbyes to the festival crew, heading for the lounge where we consult with a couple micro brews and some hot wings about our next move. Wayne and Joe are through working but still itching to play. I make a few calls to some local players to see what’s happening in town that evening, and we wait.

7:30 pm Portland sax man Joe ‘Bean’ Keller returns one of my calls, having just finished a gig at a fashion show. I tell him we’re hangin’ with Joe and Wayne and looking for some action. He knows of a small, new place in town called Bookies that has a jazz-jam every Sunday night starting at 9:00 pm. We get the address and finish up our libations. It’s a ways from the hotel but close to my house, so we hop into Jimi’s van and head for home.

8:20 pm Arriving at my house, we went in and upstairs to the playroom to chill for a while. Sipping beer and downing chip & dip, Joe and Wayne are just regular guys with extraordinary talent. We had a good time watching sports center and talking about music, the world and other ‘guy stuff’. Speaking of watching T.V., did I mention that Joe is blind? No? Well that’s probably because he doesn’t act like someone with a handicap. Within the realm of reality, Joe McBride has to be the least handicapped blind person I ever met. And he has good taste in beer.

9:30 pm Arriving at Bookies, there’s probably 30 people in the joint, with three more on stage in the persons of sax, bass and guitar player. Palatable but semi-professional at best, they play on as we get a table and a round of drinks. Watching the players on stage we suddenly notice… there’s no keyboard in the house! That kills the jam idea until Joe Keller shows up a few minutes later. Fortunately, he lives in the area and within minutes he returns with his own keyboard, setting it up right in front of the stage. Wayne went to the car and got his sax, as did Joe Keller, and it was on!.

Joe McBride and Wayne DeLano were joined by Joe Keller and the three musicians that were there when we arrived, and the audience at Bookies was treated to a show that rivalled the earlier performance at Mt. Hood jazz. Where the fest was grooving, this was gritty. Where the fest was smoking, this was burning. In the manner of a Michael Jordan, McBride and DeLano were there purely for the love of the game and their love for the music oozed out, causing the other musicians to raise the level of their own respective games. The small crowd that happened to venture out to Bookies that night experienced a rare treat, and showed their appreciation at the end with a rousing round of applause.

10:30 pm Done playing and finally having scratched that ‘performance itch’, we settle in for some serious socializing. Folks in the crowd come up to say hello, a few to get autographs but more to simply say thanks. Our little group melds into the crowd, the atmosphere is relaxed and the jazz superstars are able to blend in and have fun just like anyone else.

12:00 am Joe and Wayne have a 5:00 am flight, so we pack up and leave the friendly confines of Bookies. Jimi drops me off and heads back out to the hotel in Gresham to drop the weary but happy musicians off for a brief sleep and early trip to the airport. Poor Jimi, it’s a half-hour trip to the hotel, then another hour to his own home. We’ll all be sleep by the time he gets home. Serves him right for waking me up so early.