Sleepy Hollow Blues Club, Geelong, November 2019

12 bar blues pattern – four bars of the root chord, two bars of the sub dominant chord, two bars of the root chord, one bar of the dominant chord, one bar of the sub dominant chord and two bars of the root chord. Repeat and repeat and repeat ad infinitum.

I had the head knowledge. I knew that blues music has roots with the United States slavery days – call and response style. I know that there is the traditional blues, such as Robert Johnson and Leadbelly. I know that there is the Chicago Blues and the electric blues. I know that blues music had a huge influence on rock’n’roll.

But an experience I had in November 2019 set me straight with the fact that there is more than the head knowledge in relation to blues music – it’s in the heart and soul as well.

I crossed paths with a former band member at a Geelong AFL match at Kardinia Park. It had been about 20 years since Barry and I met. He wasn’t playing drums in a band anymore but had been attending the Sleepy Hollow Blues Club. They meet on a Sunday arvo once a month and start the proceedings with a jam session where about three bands are formed from the names placed on a list. You get to play for about 40 minutes. I thought that sounded inviting and worked up the guts to give it a try.

Getting to the venue was an adventure. The club met in a large downstairs room beneath the Trades Hall Council rooms in Geelong. Access was from a couple of back streets. Even getting into the place felt a bit subversive: it’s not a secret club, but you had to purposely know where you were going.

I found the people there friendly and inviting. But the place had an interesting demographic. I immediately felt a bit out of place as I wasn’t wearing a black shirt. I got chatting with a few and found that there was a mix of professional people rubbing shoulders with tradies, workers, non-workers, retirees, pensioners – all genuine salt of the earth people about my age, some younger, and many older.

The jam session was fun. Being the only sax player on the day meant that I got to play in three sets. My anxieties were relieved in that, even as a newcomer, I could play in a way that complemented the music and added to the blues songs. People appreciated what I played. However, there was still more to come.

After a break, the guest band set up to play. Rob Paine and the Fulltime Lovers, a Melbourne-based band, were it tonight.

I was taken aback from the first song. Rob’s voice was great, the bass and drum rhythm section were tight and the guitarist, Co Tipping, drove a Stratocaster almost like no one I had ever seen before. Sure, I had seen blues bands play and appreciated their music, but this guitarist was playing solos that were jaw dropping.

As well as the more regular blues numbers Tennessee Whiskey was in their set. I hadn’t heard the song before. I found out later it was made popular* by an American country performer named Chris Stapleton and this band were playing it in his slow, soulful blues style.

Used to spend my nights out in a bar room
Liquor was the only love I’ve known
But you rescued me from reachin’ for the bottom
And brought me back from being too far gone

You’re as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
You’re as sweet as strawberry wine
You’re as warm as a glass of brandy
And honey, I stay stoned on your love all the time

I’ve looked for love in all the same old places
Found the bottom of a bottle’s always dry
But when you poured out your heart I didn’t waste it
‘Cause there’s nothing like your love to get me high ….

 As I looked around the room and watched people slow dancing and just sitting at their tables taking in the music the penny dropped. Here is a collective of people who love the blues music, not just because of its technical make up, but because, maybe, some members and visitors present have lived the essence of the music in their lives. Hardship, relationships, health issues. Real genuine people where some may had done it tough, there alongside people who had not had the same life experiences. Blues touches the heart and soul. People come along to the Sleepy Hollow Blues Club to be themselves, to be with others who have a similar love of the blues, some who may have lived the blues, and are entertained with some music in a consistently familiar style. A safe haven for blues enthusiasts. As a first timer, and somewhat outsider, I actually felt quite honoured to be present and welcomed to be there.  I’ve been a regular ever since.

Stereo Story #619

Sleepy Hollow Blues Club via Facebook

Sleepy Hollow Blues Club website

*YouTube tells us Chris Stapleton’s original clip of the song has had 549,891,688 views since April 2015, and that his YouTube channel has 1.8million subscribers. I guess that makes it popular.

David is a Melbourne musician, music teacher and primary school teacher. His debut Stereo Story was about playing Great Balls of Fire at Sun Studio in Memphis. He has assisted in the organisation, and leading of gospel music workshops and Sunday gospel celebrations at the Anglesea Music Festivals, and is a member of The Seddon Jammers. His son Dan is the creative force of the band Jarrow.