for free, once a month
where the eatin' is also good; don't miss him
Growing up in the county of Surrey, England, during the 1960s and '70s I often heard rumors that Eric Clapton had just played a free gig at the village hall in Shamley Green, or at the church hall in Cranleigh. Turns out the rumors were all true. Clapton lived in the area and used to put on free shows for the locals. Imagine that: A world-class blues guitarist putting on a no-cover show at an intimate venue just a few miles from where you live.
Fast forward to the present day and a little town called Campbell in the state of California. Once a month, on a Monday night, you can catch Chris Cain and his band playing at the unassuming Little Lou’s BBQ on Winchester Boulevard in Campbell. No cover, free, gratis and for nothing.
Cain is nothing short of a world-class blues guitarist and in days gone by, would often see the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robben Ford and Larry Carlton in the audience. That’s if they weren’t actually on the stage with him.
I had the pleasure of listening to Cain this past Monday. He’s not a big guy, plays a Gibson ES-335 semi-acoustic, wears his glasses at the end of his nose, but boy, can he tear it up.
This is not snooze-blues, this is rocking, shuffling blues with a beat that will get your head nodding and your fingers tapping. Cain has a unique mastery of the guitar. His fingers run up and down the fretboard in the gaps in his vocals. He bends strings close to their breaking point, and combines notes, fills and runs with jazz licks that you won’t hear anywhere else.
On December 8, He started with the rollicking B.B. King number, "Whole Lot of Loving," and over the evening eventually moved into a gorgeous rendition of the Wesley Wilson song "Do You Call That A Buddy?" recorded by Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan and B.B. King, among others.
Cain’s voice reminds me a bit of John Mayall, perfectly suited to the blues. And like Mayall, Cain also plays the piano, though he doesn’t much need to do so, with the excellent Greg Rahn taking keyboard duty. On bass, I had the privilege of watching Steve Evans do some things on the instrument that may actually be illegal in certain states. The bass is the force that connects the rhythm section with the melody and chordal instruments, and Evans clearly relishes the job, never content with just laying in with the kick drum, but playing his own sounds and making up his own melodies. His solo work was outstanding. On drums was Mick Mestek, sporting a "What is Hip?" T-shirt. He clearly knew the answer and showed his hipness all night.
But not content with just giving us an evening of top-notch guitar and piano blues, Cain also had a couple of other musicians in his pocket for us. Mark Whitney has played sax with Cain off and on for many years, and, between recording sessions, dropped in to lend some horn sounds to the proceedings. But that’s not all. Before long we had a soulful trumpeter in the form of Modesto "Mo" Briseno, and I thought I was in Greenwich Village.
But back to Chris Cain. I really can’t stress enough how enjoyable it is to hear his playing. And the Chris Cain band is a tight outfit that keeps everything interesting in ways you didn’t think an evening of blues could be.
By the way, Little Lou’s BBQ is a great little eatery too, with excellent tri-tip and BBQ sandwiches, and some excellent beers on tap. The Full Boar will put hair on your chest.
The Chris Cain Band plays there one Monday a month, 7 p.m.-10 p.m. Next show is on January 12, 2015. Go get an earful of blues before this guy is whisked off on another tour of Europe or South America.
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org