Just a quick update from Sweet T. That’s my blues name, you may recall, coined during our road trip down the Mississippi Blues Highway last winter. Turns out we don’t have to drive all the way to Clarksdale to hear gut-bucket blues. Not since Kirk Dempsey came back from the blues clubs of Atlanta to the tomato fields of his childhood in Frogmore, South Carolina.
Kirk isn’t a white-boy, copy-cat kind of blues musician. He grew up picking tomatoes on his dad’s farm just up the road and puts his own Lowcountry growl on artists from Woody Guthrie, to Johnny Cash, to Tom Waits. A little bit washboard, a little bit honky-tonk – when Kirk’s Side Street Walkers get riled up you realize most every song you really love was inspired by the blues.
Tom Davis – the electric banjo player, not the politician – felt the pull all the way from California. Tim Devine brought his Fender Telecaster from a city no stranger to bluesmen – Kansas City. Alan Webb, the group’s transcendent washtub bass player, says anybody who can dance can feel the rhythm of the blues.
With Kirk it goes back further than most. About halfway through the second set, he puts down his harmonica and breaks into gospel with “John the Revelator”. He does it the way he remembers from the pews of St. Helena Island’s Brick Baptist Church – call and response style – only this time he’s playing the role of the preacher.
Not that the crowd Wednesday nights at the Foolish Frog needs much converting. Last night there were two town judges in attendance, a couple of locally renowned artists, a ponytailed landscape gardener and a few bearded carpenters clapping along with folks visiting gated golf course communities. The blues brings all kinds of people together and puts us in our place, like no other music can. You can’t really argue with a deadpan pronouncement by a 60-year-old bass player who made his own instrument from an old boat oar and the plastic cord of a Weed Wacker.
“I would like to add that we are good for the digestion.” – Alan Webb. 10/19/2011
Yeah. What he said. Maybe that’s why the Smithsonian’s music exhibition “New Harmonies” lined up Kirk and his Side Street Walkers for this Monday’s lunchtime concert at the USC-Beaufort Auditorium. For those blues-lovers too down-on-their luck to drive all the way to Frogmore.