“I can’t believe that you came all this way to hang out here and hear the band play– you’re likeable.”
“Likeable” by Bo Ramsey
I managed to see one of the rare shows Bo Ramsey performed to promote his new album Stranger Blues. The last night of the mini-tour was in Dubuque, IA which is where my brother and sister-in-law live, so I called them up. Back in the late Eighties and early Nineties we used to go see Bo pretty much wherever he was playing, so it would be like old times. The venue was an art space/gallery that opened in the Warehouse district of Dubuque called “Voices Warehouse Gallery” which is in the Wilmac Warehouse, which will eventually have office space and condos.
Joining Bo on this run was a group assembled appropriately under the name “Stranger Blues.” This group represents two generations of Iowa-bred musicians. On drums was longtime sidemen Steve Hayes and on bass was Rico Cicalo both of whom worked on Stranger Blues. On B3 was Nate “Count” Basinger from the Iowa City R&B band The Diplomats of Solid Sound. Joining Bo on stage as rhythm guitarist was Bo’s son Benson Ramsey who is in the Minneapolis band The Pines.
The Voices Warehouse has only been open since September and it’s already had a couple of notable shows: the Bo Ramsey show and Andrew Bird played there the previous weekend. It’s a big open space with paintings and photos on the walls split up by artist and some sculptures on the floor. There’s a stage on one wall with old-time movie theater seats apparently bolted to the floor in rows as well as randomly spaced groupings of chairs and sofas. There is a bar of sorts off to one side made of polished limestone that was manned by members of the Dubuque Rotary who were serving three kinds of Menage a Trois wine and import beers like Corona, Heineken, and Amstel Light. Sadly the Rotarians forgot to get limes for the Corona and had to run out and get some. My brother called a friend of his who was joining us there and asked him to stop to get limes on the way there. When he showed up, the table we were standing at got pretty popular!
Running sound that night was Dubuque mainstay George Rondinelli. George has been running a music store in Dubuque for a very long time. George rents out sound equipment, but also shows up to run sound in a pinch. I bought my first bass amplifier from George, and spent lots of time in his store back in high school and college. George has the reputation of being of the genuine “good guys” when it comes to the music scene in Eastern Iowa. On more than one occasion, George lent out gear for acts that played the area and some piece of gear blew up. He managed to have the room sound great– which is quite a feat considering the building is a warehouse. I didn’t even need to put my earplugs in.
Bo played two sets and an encore. Most of the music as you might expect was from Stranger Blues. I had heard reports from friends who attended the Waterloo and Iowa City shows that the first set was mostly drawn from the new album and a lot of it was, but pretty early in the first set he played “In The Weeds” and “Sidetrack Lounge” from 1997’s In The Weeds. Unfortunately, I was having too good of a time to keep notes on the sets, so I’m going to have to rely on foggy memory. I really think I prefer seeing Bo in a bar setting. Due to the size of the place, you had people sitting in the theater chairs and people stacked over by the bar. The bar folks were not really paying attention, and the people sitting seemed to be having a good time, however I remember the packed shows at the Silver Dollar in Dubuque and the Corner Tap in Cascade and Bo had the whole place rocking. My sister-in-law got her wish when Bo played “Get Away”– she sang along with the words. It was pretty clear that Bo and his band had their chops worked out. All of the years of touring Bo did with Steve and Rico helped propel this band to a well-oiled machine, too. Towards the end of the first set a collection of brave dancers formed at the right of the stage. The first set seemed to end too soon. Bo announced they’d take a short break.
I spent a good part of the break and part of the second set hanging out Jim Viner from the Diplomats who was along apparently to help Nate carry his B3 Organ. Jim’s a pretty cool guy. He filled me in on what was coming up for his band. They are going to play a number of regional dates and then are going to head to Italy for some shows.
I brought a copy of the CD I made of the Pines radio show from KUNI’s Live From Studio One in February with me. I was supposed to send a copy to David Huckfelt a while ago, so I decided to bring it. I ran into Benson at the bar in line and introduced myself and handed him the CD. We talked for a bit. I asked him about the solo record that he was working on. He said that the solo record project is parked for now and they are working on a new Pines record that will be released on Red House Records! Red House is the folkie label out of Minneapolis that Greg Brown has been on for years. That’s pretty good news! So, we’ll need to keep an eye on that. I also took the opportunity to mention that it’s really great that Bo is playing solo again and that it would be great if there would be more shows. Benson said that Bo is considering it.
The second set was, in my opinion, a more energetic set than the first. The “dance floor” to the right of the stage filled up and people started dancing in front of the stage as well! We were treated to more nuggets in the second set including “Rockinitis” from the Sliders album of the same name– which excited quite a few “Boficianados.” I don’t even remember the last time I heard that song live. He also did “Long Long Time” with its classic opening line, “A bug-covered windshield and a three-day beard/runnin’ down the road away from somethin’ I feared.” It was at this point when I joined in the dancing. I read in an interview online that Bo was wondering whether after all this time as a sideman that he’d be able to do some of the older songs. From my perspective he was playing as well if not better than any other time I’d seen him. Did I want him to play longer? Yes. The show was over after 11PM, which I feel was a bit early. But considering that this is the first time he’s played his songs in a while, I suppose that was as many songs as they could get rehearsed. It still was a great show, and I’m looking foward to any future shows he may do.
Bo is back on the road in support of Greg Brown. Of note is the fact that these upcoming shows are listed on boramsey.com as “Opening For and Appearing With,” so it looks like this run which starts 10/19 in Eugene, Oregon and continuing through a two night stop in Denver on 12/15 and 12/16. Based on previous shows I’ve seen with Pieta and Greg, it will likely be just Bo and Greg, so I’d say it will be Bo solo, which would be interesting. I’m hoping for some bootlegs to show up.