Photos by Arnie Goodman
The Bowery Electric is the last place I’d expect to find a blues band, but Carl Gustafson, who has written for Elmore Magazine, toured with Bobby Rush, hosts a blues festival in Wisconsin, garnered two Grammy nominations last year and fronts Blinddog Smokin’, played that intimate club. I’d never actually seen the band’s act, and it was like nothing I could have expected. It was, in a word, phenomenal.
Expecting eight-bar blues, I got funk, funky and more funk from the eight-piece band crammed onto the tiny stage. We got to know the whole band off the top, since the first song, whose lyrics told the crowd in no uncertain terms to “get your dancin’ shoes on,” introduced the band one-by one, in the lyrics and through solos. It was remarkable, like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Blinddog played for over an hour, and logged in six songs; before you bring up your calculator app, that means most songs were over 10 minutes, and Gustafson and his dancer/vocalist wife Linda didn’t stop moving once. One Gustafson tune, “Funky Old Man,” one he often plays with the athletic Bobby Rush (who’s pushing three-quarters of a century), is a half-rap celebrating the dubious joys of angioplasty and hip replacement—all sung while doing the Mashed Potato, Funky Chicken and some Robot dance moves. Gustafson’s “Another Murder in New Orleans,” recorded by Rush and Dr. John, was nominated for a Grammy, and that version had a true blues feel, while the songwriter’s own performance threw it out with a decidedly funky curve which, that night, I enjoyed more. In one notably different departure, the front line brought out the maracas and rapped to a primo Latin-funk groove.
Blinddog Smokin’ plays nearly 300 gigs a year, mostly on the West Coast. If you can catch them, please do. Second best, look for Decisions, the CD with Bobby Rush, see what you missed at Bowery Electric. Then start planning a trip.