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Wednesday, 08 September 2010 15:39

Reflections on the blues in Soulard

Reflections on the blues in Soulard Peter Newcomb Photography / stlbluesweek.com
Written by Yaunah Hairston

I first heard the blues when I was a girl. Transported from their Delta homes and left to the big city, my raucous aunts would pay the bills by holding rent parties in their basements, selling fish dinners and taking furtive sips from small flasks of whiskey nestled in their ample bosoms and swaying their hips to blue, wailing notes well past dawn.

Without warning during those nights, the bodies would stop moving and those sassy, brash women would start to cry. I didn’t understand, but even as a child, those basement sessions -- greasy with the smell of frying fish, full of spilling woes and melancholy -- seemed like the happiest places on earth.

As I approached the venerable Great Grizzly Bear in Soulard last Sunday for the KDHX All-Star Blues Brunch to listen to some roots and blues played by the Soulard Blues Band (with special guests) and Lucky Old Sons, my experiences as a child replayed in my mind and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean, I don’t know the blues -- grace notes and 12 bars and flattened notes are well beyond my level of music theory -- but as I settled on the hidden patio of the Grizzly with the yellow sun filtered through the trees and as those first grooves were unleashed, I was transported back to the crossroad of those opening notes I heard as child. I let spill a little tear.

As I sought the faces of others living those moments, it became clear that the blues in all its melodious forms was meant to be shared -- a collective way for us to let life spill out just a little. The adult me still doesn’t fully “get it” and I still don’t know my way around a harmonic seven, all I know is I left that patio feeling good. Johnny Winter once said, “I think the blues will always be around. People need it.” And I couldn’t agree more.

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