Taffy’s is one of the few places in town where you can still go watch someone playing some songs 4 nights a week. Some great acts have played there like John Hammond and Lawrence Juber, and I’ve gotten to see some great stuff from the broken down sofa chair in front of the bar. I’ve worked a lot with this venue since I started playing that stuff people listen to, and I think this post lays it out pretty well. A lot of the steps I’ve taken to get to this musical place seem to be woven together with a show at Taffy’s.
My First Time There (July, 1, 2011)
My path in from Dayton is about 25 minutes on 35-West, and it’s a blinding drive during a sunset. If I’m lucky, the sun will get clouded for a moment and I can unsquint as if I’m catching my breath. Though Saturday shows are worth it, I can turn up Mr. Rhythm Man on WNKU. Driving through those country roads to classic rhythm and blues is a great warmup.
I walked in well before show time and it was silent, except for me fumbling my guitar cases through the cramp entrance way. This silence was quickly erased by the echoed greeting from the owner Manfred. He is quite loud.
The décor is an overpowering presentation of moments captured since the doors opened. Posters of nearly every act that’s played there are pasted up and down the walls. Photographs from performances surround the bar, and beer and wine take the rest of the real estate.
That night I was billed from 8:00 to 11:00, and I figured I had about two hours of material. A couple handfuls of blues songs was all I had back then, but I think I figured out how to make them last (you gotta play ‘em twice…sometimes with different words).
My Debut CD Release (November 12, 2011)
Later that year I had the release show for my first CD “Done Found My Freedom ‘fore My Technique.” This time I added my own poster to the wall for this solo acoustic blues CD. It was another great show with listening room silence during songs, with applause complemented by Manfred’s signature cheer in between tunes.
Earlier that week on Wednesday was the first time I was interviewed on the radio. It was on WYSO with Juliet Fromholt.
The Bob Dellaposta Blues Showcase (Twice a Year since 2012)
Bob (another local blues guy) grabs a bunch of players (mostly solo acts or small groups) and we each do a set and turn the place into a last minute blues fest. These events always pack the place if you can catch them, but I’ve never seen it crammed quite like the very first one. Perhaps that’s because I’ve grown into it a bit since then. Even as I write this, Bob’s gravelly shout “Everyone Take a Big Ol’ BLUES Drink with Me” still makes me laugh.
When I Opened for Danny Kalb (Wednesday, September 4, 2015)
Danny Kalb is an acoustic blues player that was a founding member of the 60s band The Blues Project, and he has some cool albums with Stefan Grossman. Danny was running a little too late to make it by the show time. So Manfred came over to my seat and asked me to play an opening set until the band got there.
For a show like this, I would have put the set together in advance and thought about it a couple times a day, but this worked fine (it’s not like I was gonna say no). So I looked in the window behind the stage and grabbed the first sundried guitar I could find that had all 6 strings. No fingerpicks, no capo, no slide, wearing a t-shirt, old tennis shoes, and glasses.
A little later the band showed up and I got to play my last 3 songs with Danny watching me from the front row. I was doing my best to hold this weathered guitar close enough to the mic. I ended with Blind Willie McTell’s Savanna Mama and was using my phone as a slide (that worked surprisingly well if anyone is ever in a similar situation). He was definitely one of the cooler acts I’ve ever had the chance to open for. Thanks Danny.
First Guitar Workshop (Saturday, November 9, 2013)
I was waking up in Grand Rapids, MI, when I got a call from Manfred about this week’s show. He told me I should hold a guitar workshop in the afternoon. I never really thought about teaching until this moment, but I added it to my things to do. So I put together a little book made up of PowerPoint slides that detailed chord voicings, open tunings, fingerpicking, and turnarounds. I tried to cram in everything I’ve learned from my own guitar teachers (Jim McCutcheon and Ernie Hawkins).
So I talked through everything you can do with a guitar for a few hours, and got enough questions to seem like I was holding everyone’s interest. I know it gave Manfred a headache. Afterward he said, I thought you were just going to show everyone how to play Sweet Home Chicago or something. Haha, first, people can look that up anywhere, and second, I thought I kinda did (with my way you learn all the blues songs). I prefer the headache accompanied by rigorous transcriptions. You get used to it.
Doug McLeod (Tuesday June 3, 2014)
One of my favorite things to do is see a great musician in a small venue, and this was one of those. I got to sit down and see a blues songwriter play and sing by himself with a resonator guitar. There’s not a lot of this kind of stuff around, so I really appreciate the few chances I have to be re-inspired by the type of players that got me interested in first picking up a guitar.
Eatonic Music Festival (September 4, 5, and 6, 2015)
Recently Manfred has expanded from his listening room to a festival setting. The first Eatonic Music Festival will be held over Labor Day weekend. Late Friday night (technically Saturday) I’ll have the chance to share the bill with Buddy Guy. So that’s pretty cool.
Now that I can see this article written, I suppose it’s about the place where I figured out how use a stage. I know there’s been a few of these places, but it looks like Taffy’s was the one that I ended up being the most connected to. I would guess that every successful musician has a place like this in their head. This place they could go to figure out how all of this stuff works, and how to use it to push themselves forward.
So if you’ve got a surplus of what people call luck, you will find yourself someplace watching a performer in this process. It’s exciting. It’s what makes you and your friends shout that you saw a performer first. It’s more than an opportunity to say you were simply first in line for a ticket for a now touring act. You get to say you saw an artist before they even knew what was going to happen next.
Since I first time I’ve pushed my guitars through the door, I’ve watched the posters continue to consume the walls. There’s hardly room for any more now. I can only assume Manfred will try and fight for more space, so he can have another chance to watch a musician figure out how to fill a room with a song.
See y’all later.
Last weekend I was fortunate enough to win the Solo / Duo competition held by the Cleveland Blues Society. As a result, I’ll be heading to Memphis in January for my 3rd International Blues Challenge.
If you’ve never been to the IBC, this event is like a 5 day blues festival. There are always so many great acts playing that it’s a bit of work to see everyone you want to, but it’s worth it.
Hope to see you there.
When I’m playing an afternoon show, I always end up losing track of time. In this case my set was at 12:50, so I already knew I wasn’t going to have time to do everything that I wanted. Between voice workouts, practicing, trying to get comfortable with that last minute song, promotional posts, and forgetting to put on a belt like 6 times, I end up falling a bit behind.
I really pushed this one to the last minute, and left around 12:00, about 10 minutes after it was recommended I get there. But, I still had to print out my set list for the judges. I don’t have a printer, so I decided I had time to make it to the UD campus (which is pretty close by). When I cruised into a loading zone space I figured I had 7 minutes go print the set list and get back to my car.
So I plugged my laptop in and after a few attempts at printing I remembered that I reformatted everything on my computer last week and hadn’t reinstalled the printer. The driver download was taking too long and I couldn’t find the CD for the printer (which I of course found in about 30 seconds on Monday). Had to go without it. Well, that didn’t matter because I didn’t see anyone else with a set list and no ever asked me for it anyway.
I got to Gilly’s with a solid 10 minutes to spare, I guess I’m lucky no one before me dropped out. By the time I tuned my guitars, the act before me was playing his last song.
At this point I just wiped the last hour out of my head. My goal was to have as much fun as possible playing my 15 minute set on one of my favorite stages in Dayton.
I started off with three original tunes, 99 Juke Joints, Sounds of the Highway, and The Next Place I Leave. Even though there’s no penalty for ending a set early, I still like to get at close to the 15 minute limit as possible because I think it makes the performance more exciting. I slammed the strings one last time to close Fred McDowell’s ‘Write Me a Few Lines’ with about 5 seconds to spare.
At this point there were 4 more acts left so it was time to once again forget about everything that just happened see what the other solo and duo blues artists in the Dayton area have been up to. Joe Augustin (Achilles Tenderloin) was one of the performers that followed me, I worked with him earlier this year when I produced his latest CD ‘Stronger Than Wine’.
When it was all over, I ended up in second place, later I was told I was 1 point behind the winner.
Oh well, see you guys at the next one.
I did an interview with the Dayton Daily News about the Big Brews and Blues Fest last week, here’s the link. Also incase you wanted to see the entire uncut interview, I pasted that below.
Chris, please tell us a little about your musical influences; what inspired you to play traditional, Delta-style blues music?
I’ve always liked the sound of an acoustic slide guitar, even before I knew exactly how it was done, and definitely before I knew what traditional blues was. The first time I heard a real trad blues performance that really stitched everything together for me was in Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago. I think I was about 17 or 18, luckily it was a lunchtime set so I could get in (more like wander in because I had no idea what I was going to see or how much I would like it).
It was the first time I really saw someone fingerpick a guitar and use a slide. It was also the first time I heard the terms like Delta and Piedmont blues. After I saw that show I was determined to get my thumb (on the right hand) to work the way his did, playing the bass note or part of a chord where the rest of the fingers are left to play the melody.
Fruteland Jackson participates regularly in the Blues in the Schools (BITS) Program, where musicians travel to schools to teach and inspire young potential blues fans. I think I would call myself one of his wins in that respect, and I’ve always thought it was funny that it came out of his happy hour set, not a BITS presentation.
Without giving away too many surprises, do you have anything special planned for this unique performance?
Honestly, I think I’m going to do what I always do. I’ll take everything I have been able to learn about blues music and turn it into the best show I can, and maybe we can all get to know each other a little better along the way. Once I’m on the stage I’ll decide what particular instrumental decorations and guitar breaks are right for the moment (heh, if you can even call it deciding).
With all of the great craft beers offered during the event, which one are you most excited to try?
I’m more into the calmer tasting beers, so I think it would have to be either the Belgian Wit (Rivertown Brewing Co.) or the Bavarian Hefeweizen (Star City Brewing Co.).
If you could pair your music with one of the beers being offered, which would it be and why?
I would have to go with The Lesser Path India White (Blank Slate). My blues style isn’t the most common or the most popular one, but I’m hoping that I can inspire a few people that wander in that always liked the sound of a fingerpicked slide guitar.
I spent this Easter weekend in the recording studio. Fortunately this blog format allows me to communicate with my fingers, as I don’t think my voice has the energy.
I’ve started working in the Street Sounds recording studio in Dayton, OH. It’s allowed to gain a lot of experience recording myself in addition to several local artists. I’ve been able to act as a recording engineer for artists like Susan Gardstrom and AJ Baker. Additionally, I’ve been producing an album for Kevin Milner.
I have found recording myself to be a very efficient way to practice. Once I’m happy with how I’m sounding on these new tunes, I’ll be recording the official album tracks later (hopefully not much later) where I can have a few recording engineers work with me to further shape the sound.
I have been releasing these demo tracks on a monthly basis to those who have signed up for my email list, so consider getting yourself on board with that if you’d like to hear some of these demos (email list signup is on the home page).
As previously mentioned, one of the larger projects I’m working on at Street Sounds is Kevin Milner’s second full length album. We’ve been doing this for a few months now and tracking is nearly complete. He’s been working with many other musicians to put together a pretty cool project. I’ve heard him perform these songs many times, and I’m having a lot fun helping him put these in a physical format.
Last weekend I went to Pittsburgh for their annual blues competition, it’s been about 8 months since I played in Pittsburgh and I think 3 years since my last competition there. It was great to see some of my early supporters, as well as my some of my buddies in the other acts competing.
I ended up getting second place in both the solo/duo division and the overall guitar player ranking (among solos, duos and bands).
I’m glad I got the chance to play another set in Pittsburgh, hope I’ll be back soon.
Although, I’m still looking for a win in these regional competitions to make it back to the International Competition in Memphis. Next stop is the one in North Eastern Ohio on April 26.
See you later
Recently I started attending some meeting held by the Cincinnati / Dayton chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). I was previously unaware there was a local chapter, and I never expected it to be as active as it is ( here’s their website )
I know my writing has already improved as a result of these meetings, I would really recommend it to anyone that looking for ways to strengthen their songs.
Pic from a recent songwriter round at the BRD House
This week I wanted to let you know about a couple great international blues stations. The first one is from John and the Blues Underground Network.
You can listen to the podcast here.
The second one is in Croatia and is put together by Mladen Loncar.
Here’s his radio page.
Both of these guys do a great job showcasing independent blues music from around the world. I’ve found a couple artist that I really like listening to their stuff.
Heh, besides that…both of them happen to play my songs (thanks guys).
See you later.
So I think the web site is starting to look a little better, I think I got all of the necessary information up there but you can just let me know if I overlooked something you want to see, hear, or know.
I gave my first workshop on acoustic guitar on Saturday at Taffy’s in Eaton, OH. I’ve never done something like this, but I think it ended up going really well. I ended up covering a bunch of different things like different chord voicings that might be found in traditional blues numbers. Then I did a little bit about the constant thumb bass (and thumb independence), and some common blues turnarounds and the chord progressions surrounding them.
So if anyone reading this is interested in learning how to play blues guitar, I would start by listening to your favorite guitarists a bunch of times. You’ll find that there is some little line in there that you really like, then just try and find what it is. Maybe use a program like Transcribe! to slow down the song a bit.
And if you can’t figure it out, send me a link to the song, I like to try and figure out stuff like that. Obviously there’s a little more to playing than this, but I think technique gets you to really listen to the classic blues players and you’re going to pick up things that have possible never been put to paper before.
In preparation for my workshop I came across this great video on lyric writing by Pat Pattison that I thought some musicians may find helpful. This thing is a bit long, but I would recommend watching it to any lyricist, or even vocalist interested in arranging songs (especially blues songs were there is a bit more freedom in the phrasing).
I’m always looking for these kinds of videos that could help me figure out a few things I never considered before, so if you know of a good one, post it in a reply. I’d love to see it.
Don’t forget about the show this Saturday at the BellHOP Café.
See you later.
Hey, I’m making a new website as you are viewing this, it should be done in the next day or two.