Written by James Killen
I joined an old buddy in San Antonio for a guitar-centric performance at the venerable Sam’s Burger Joint last Friday night. It was my first visit to the joint and if you have never been there, it is close to the Pearl brewery complex. The venue shares a small patio with the restaurant and we all queued up there to wait for the doors to open. Once inside, the venue is very intimate with general admission seating right below the ample stage and reserved tables lining the listening area. It also has a full bar in operation.
Jeff Plankenhorn took the stage first playing his own invention, The Plank, which is a lap steel built into a dobro body, so that it can be played like a dobro and still has enough punch to be heard in an electric blues environment. Jeff has a friendly stage presence and a lively banter going all of the time between songs. He played a good mix of stuff from his last CD, “Soulslide” and from his yet to be named upcoming disc as well as some older numbers. My ears perked up at the Louisiana styled “Trouble Find Me” and stayed perked through a soulful “Heaven on Earth” that will be included on his next production.
Plank switched to a Telecaster for a psychedelic version of Stephen Bruton’s “Trip Around the Sun” and a new one that he wrote with Gabe Rhodes with the chorus line of “Fools can always find a little further to fall.” Jeff switched back to the plank for his last three before the intermission, which included “Walking in the Sun” from “Soulslide”.
Carolyn Wonderland was next up with her blues power trio to the applause of a sizable fan representation in the audience. She chose to warm up slowly starting with a song that she co-wrote with Ruthie Foster on short notice, called “Come Together” and followed up with a cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Honey Bee”. She then went into a little scat singing on “To Be Free” off of her latest, “Moon Goes Missing” before kicking off her signature blues boogie, “Two Trains”.
Ms. Wonderland stuck pretty close to “Moon Goes Missing” performing “Open Eyes”, “Swamp” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Can’t Nobody Hide from God”. She took a little break to talk a bit and announced that she had a couple of side gigs that were starting up. First she is going to be hosting a regular radio show starting in March and , oh yeah, she’s hiring on as John Mayall’s lead guitar player for the next tour. She is stepping into shoes once worn by Eric Clapton, playing with the guy that put together Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie who broke off to form the original Fleetwood Mac. Side gig, RIGHT!
After the announcements, Carolyn broke into a cover of the Levon Helm’s “Don’t Do It”, following up with a cover of Little Screaming Kenny’s “She Wants to Know”, and then covering Freddy King’s “Living in the Palace of the King” as well as Janis Joplin’s early effort, “What Good can Drinking Do?”.
The energy was ramping up pretty high by now when Jeff Plankenhorn, the venerable sideman stepped onto the stage and into that old role. He and Carolyn finished up the show with another Blind Willie Johnson tune called “It Ain’t Nobody’s Fault but Mine” and finally Dylan’s “I Shall be Released”.
I failed to mention that both artists had brought first class rhythm musicians for their bands. The setting was very intimate for such a high energy show. There was not a bad seat in the house and the sound was managed very professionally. Carolyn’s little surprise about her opportunity to be a Houstonian stepping into such a blues-history honor role by being asked to join John Mayall on tour was a jaw dropper for the evening. I’m looking forward to catching some more great shows at this sweet little San Antonio venue in the near future.