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Blowing the Blues
The trumpet-assisted blues band Slow Blind Hill opens a vein
the Old City
by Jack Neely
Bullfrog's has one of the best looks of any bar in town. It's a battered
brick place with framed photographs of reggae bands on the wall, ceiling
fans and a front door wide open to Central Avenue on hot summer nights.
It looks like a beachside fisherman's bar somewhere in rural Cuba, about
six months after the last hurricane. If that's a phony front, it works anyway.
If you walk near that open door most Thursday nights this summer, you'll
hear some lowdown, dirty, electric blues, and a sly, damp, rolling vocal
that might make you think of Phil Alvin of the Blastersand a jazz trumpet.
More about that later. You walk in the door, which is easy because there's
no cover, to hear where it's coming from. You look up on Bullfrog's tiny
stairwell stageand then you keep looking, because all you see up there
are four middle-aged white guys who could pass for computer jockeys.
They're not. Jaimie Cameron, lead singer and guitarist for the band he calls
Slow Blind Hill, is a kitchen-appliance repairman, and not too proud to
say so in original songs like "Maytag Man." But he's an appliance-repairman
savant. Watching him, you might get the impression he's surprised to hear
those blue riffs rolling out of his guitar, the dark sound coming out of
his throat. But make no mistakeCameron's already paid his dues with interest,
playing guitar with a series of blues and funk bands stretching back into
In the '80s, he led the quasi-rockabilly House Rockers, then the bluesier
Big Kabluey. Then his lead guitar galvanized the late Tomato Head sensation
Jacqui and the Tumble Kings. Cameron's back on the bottom again, starting
from scratch, but you get the feeling he doesn't mind. He's one of the city's
finest blues guitaristsso good that Terry Hill took a back seat to his
lead in the Tumble Kings. But for now Cameron's comfortable playing weeknights
on Central for free.
They heave a mixture of universally familiar standards, like "Stormy
Monday," "Hey, Bartender," and "All Shook Up,"
a few blues songs that might be familiar only to purists, and some original
pieces, like the aforementioned "Maytag Man." Cameron's own "Drinking
Tonight" is a melancholy, hauntingly beautiful piece that can leave
a bluish lump in your throat.
They play in front of a traffic warning sign, which makes you wonder if
there's an unlabeled Blind Hill somewhere, backed by what appears to be
the national flag of Mali. "The name's my fault," says Cameron,
suggesting we start a myth that there was some old Mississippi bluesman
who went by that name. (I wouldn't swear there wasn't.) Back behind Cameron
on that crowded stairwell where you can hardly even see them are Eddy Roberts
on keyboard bass and Big Kabluey veteran John Hawkinson on drums. And, sharing
the front, Tom Payne on trumpet.
If you didn't know, it's no ordinary thing to have a trumpet in a blues
band. But Payne, a versatile talent who even plays for 20th-anniversary
crowds on the Star of Knoxville, makes you believe. Some songs, like "Okey-Dokey
Stomp," are instrumentals, guitar-trumpet interchanges. I hesitate
to compare the sound that results to something like Blood, Sweat & Tears,
because Slow Blind Hill is, mostly, better than thatbut hearing a trumpet
cut out of a rhythm-and-blues number might make you think, just for a moment,
of something like "Lucretia MacEvil." Then Cameron's meaner guitar
and sincerer vocals return and remind you this is Slow Blind Hill, and there
may not be another band much like it anywhere.
When Payne plays on the riverboat, you see couples cuddling closer together.
When he plays at Bullfrog's, you see couples splitting up. Husbands and
wives start arguing on the sidewalk as they reach 131 South Central; he
wants to come in, she doesn't, or vice versa. They found a babysitter and
came down for an evening in the charming Old City. The only thing they hadn't
figured on was encountering The Blues. She's got a neat hairdo and a white
pocketbook, but for a moment she looks inspired, as if something just woke
up inside herthen frustrated. She walks in the door anyway, but before
it's too late, he pulls her back. There's no telling what would happen if
she went inside, if she breathed any more of this wicked blues air. Better
get her home safely as soon as possible. I saw this scene replayed, with
different characters, three times that night.
The main thing Bullfrog's lacks is more authentic riffraff. On the night
I was there, it was a small but diverse crowd, but the only ones dancing
were sorority girls doing that clutched-hands-in-the-air twist, the one
you've seen in all the beer commercials. They were having a good time even
with their dancing-impaired boyfriends, though, and you can't fault them
The no-cover thing can't last, of course but, for the moment, Slow Blind
Hill at Bullfrog's is likely the best deal in town. With a name like Slow
Blind Hill, it has to be.
© Metro Pulse