After a couple of slow weeks for me at my two favorite Monday night haunts in Paris, the Tennessee Bar and Galway Pub open mics fired up my imagination and fed my own musical needs quite well last night. It was uncharacteristically quiet for a while at the Tennessee because of the summer holidays, but it was as busy as usual at the Galway. The Tennessee open mic became very interesting with the music of Kensuke Shoji, a violin player from Tokyo who plays some mean bluegrass as well as other interesting stuff. In fact, the high point there was certainly when Jesse Kincaid of the New Rising Sons invited Kensuke up on the stage to play with him while he did some of his songs.
Prior to that Jesse made my own night there and later at the Galway as well, when he played harmonica and lead guitar with me on some of my songs. But we were all blown away by Tony, the 88-year-old vaudeville-like performer from England who occasionally shows up at the Paris open mics. He did his usual guitar bits, his pianos stuff and his harmonica number. Tony is a consummate showman, old time. But he never fails to get people laughing and enjoying his abilities and dreaming about if we will ourselves be so bold and active as to do the same at his age – if we even make it that far.
This really is what open mics are all about: The scene was set in the “Be There” bar last night on Paris’s Ile St. Louis as I arrived after 9:30 PM, and the only person in the bar was the bartender manager owner guy. Great, I thought. I better drink a half a pint and go on over to the Caveau des Oubliettes for the blues jam. But while I got to drinking the half pint, in walked a middle-aged man with a guitar in his hand, with no case for the guitar. What then worked out was the whole reason one should never take a look at an open mic and say, “No one here? It’s a lost cause.”
The guy, whose name was Jesse, went up and played. So here we were, this guy Jesse, the bartender and me. And as I listened, I thought, hmm, this guy can play. He has the licks. His classical guitar had no pickup, and it was mic’d in. Turned out in the beginning, his voice had no mic, but I didn’t notice the difference because it carried. Anyway, I’m listening to the stuff, filming the stuff, and thinking, this is cool. I like this feel. An old Elvis song or something, and some stuff I don’t recognize, and some nice finger picking.
So Jesse plays four songs, then I go up. I play four songs, two of my own and two cover songs. I noticed that by now this guy Jesse had been joined by two women, and another man had entered the bar. Anyway, I finish my songs and Jesse comes up and asks if we can play together. Absolutely, I said, and thought this is even more cool. So I suggest “Crazy Love” by Van Morrison, and he knows it note for note, plays lead and sings along in the chorus. Then I do “Father and Son” and he plays along. Then I do one of my own, “Since You Left Me,” and he plays along beautifully with the lead. And I’m thinking, the man knows his chops! Who is this guy?
So then he plays more and I go and talk to one of the women he was with, who turns out to be his beautiful daughter. I learn that they are just visiting Paris, they are staying in an apartment on the Ile St. Louis – near the open mic – and that he had seen the sign outside the bar announcing the open mic, and that he had also noticed the guitar in his apartment. No case, no nothing, no great shakes of a guitar. So he took the guitar and did the open mic.
Well, after he plays, I decide to probe a little, because I had said to myself, “This guy has something of the professional musician about him. Something in the ease of what and how he is doing it.” So it turns out when I ask him that, guess what? He IS a professional musician, his band is called the New Rising Sons, and that he was a founding member of the band the Rising Sons, his name being Jesse Kincaid. They were founded in 1964, did an album for Columbia Records that was not immediately released, but was released many years later. That two of the original members of the band were Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal. Holy shit! Now is that not the coolest open mic experience you can imagine? Ok, ONE of the coolest? And I am very seriously pleased that I did not know who he was BEFORE we played together or before I sang my songs….
So anyway, as I said, don’t cut out on those empty open mics – you might find a pearl somewhere during the evening if you hang around and play anyway.
On the way there, by the way, I recorded this cool Kubrick sort of moment as I walked out of the metro: