Shakes off the Blues in Essexville February 18th
Story and Photo
By Scott Baker
In control and on top of his game, Carl Weathersby couldn't have the blues any other way.
For a man who was once Albert King's rhythm guitarist from 1979 to 1982, Weathersby was training in good company since he first picked up a guitar.
A profound showman, the guitarist/songwriter has taken control of a solo career that began in 1996, which saw him immediately launch his debut CD Don't Lay Your Blues On Me to the top, nominating him for a W.C. Handy Blues Album of the Year Award (the highest achievement in blues music).
Trekking from his Chicago based home up to The Palace in Essexville on Saturday, February18, Weathersby's return to the area comes after two successful events over the past year: A sold out show last winter at the Frankenmuth Brewery and a standout performance at Frankenmuth's Blues Bash on the Cass.
With all the accolades, the gigs have still come slow this winter for the blues man.
"Not working - it's like being laid off" he said. "Right now there's not a lot of shows. It's just bad this time of year. I got something in Europe this October, California in August, not a lot after that or before it either."
While he has been thinking about a new album, he's not sure who is most interested in helping him record it.
"I'm not sure about doing an album or anything," stated Weathersby. "It's hard to tell if another recording's coming up. All I hear is talk. A few people were interested in doing something."
Weathersby has released "eight or nine" solo albums since striking out on his own. He toured the world playing in various groups, including Billy Branch's Sons Of Blues group before going solo.
"I was playing with different groups (before that)," he said. "I've been where most blues men don't go. I've been inside Russia. I used to go across the Iron Curtain when it was up. I was in the military, so it really wasn't fun. Nobody believed that I was coming over there just to play music. I got really scrutinized coming across the borders. I used to go out to East Germany when I was with the Sons of Blues. I played in Red China."
Born in 1953, Weathersby likes to pace his tours.
"We'll be in Germany at the end of October. Maybe two weeks. I don't like to go out for real long periods of time. I've been all over Europe. When you're a musician and you don't work, I doubt if you're going to be relaxing. You don't work, you don't get any income, so I'd much rather be working."
For a seasoned veteran, Weathersby prefers regional shows where he can take control of a room and keep a personal feel to the gig and still be close to home.
"It's fun to play, it's just so complicated now to do jobs," he said. "Gas being $2.50 a gallon - a lot of people are not working despite what the government says. People are not working and fear losing what they have. It's just rough now. What they want to pay you won't even cover gas getting long journeys from home. 800, 900 miles are pretty much out of the question now."
"It is rough, but fortunately it isn't very far from here to parts of Michigan, parts of Ohio, parts of Indiana, Illinois, even Iowa. You can do a lot of regional stuff. Sometimes out to Minnesota."
Returning to an area where Weathersby has won over an audience more than appeals to him.
"I like coming up to Michigan. I get good crowds there and they listen. It's different when people ain't all drunk and shout. But people pay attention to what you do up there. It makes it better for the guy that's actually performing."
Weathersby has had his share of rough gigs over the years where a lesson in listening became part of his showcase.
"I know in San Francisco, the club that John Lee Hooker owned up until he died, last time I played in there with my band we just kind of up and stopped playing for a second. There's probably about 20 people in there just trying to actually listen and the rest of them yakking. They thought we might have stopped to do something else. After a couple of seconds it dawned on them that we just quit playing and they're like, 'What's wrong?' I said, 'Well, those that want to hear us can't. You talkers are talking so loud; you're actually interrupting the music on the stage. If you don't want to hear the music, just go to the back of the place and let the ones that are trying to see it, get to hear it. The people that were listening really appreciated that. The ones that talked ended it. I figured that would be the best way to do it without getting into a shouting match with anybody."
"If you don't like what we're playing, that's fine. But there's a few in here that do like what we're doing and just let them hear. Actually if it's just one person that wants to hear, let that one come to the front and somebody change places with them."
Weathersby has been passed down the old school way of taking over a room with his dynamics as a musician as well as his personality.
"That comes from playing with Albert King," said the guitarist. "I learned that kind of stuff from him, Little Milton, Buddy Guy. I've been around those types of guys watching them do shows. If you just go at it one way, that's pretty much like a race car driver - they don't always accelerate, sometimes they have to brake, you know? It makes it more interesting for the people watching it not to have the same old thing for 75-90 minutes. If you switch it up, they're not sure what's going on next and they'll be more willing to see what's coming next."
"Even when you play a festival it's one thing. But when you play a club, there's less distance between you and you can get people into the show and make everybody in there feel like you're doing the show especially for them. It makes it look different."
After all, Weathersby could only give what he would expect in return if he were in the crowd. "At one point I was out in the audience looking at the stage and I always liked the shows more when they were playing to the room, doing stuff that made the room feel good."
Tickets for Carl Weathersby at The Palace in Essexville are $15 and available at The Palace (989) 892-1072.