One for the Girls

A tribute to Uncle John Turner.

It was the long week that grew longer. After Uncle John Turner died six days before his tribute show, there was a faint sense of relief. Not that he was gone – that was terribly difficult in itself – but that the psychic weight of his illness and his pain were lifted from his wife, his loved ones, and his friends.

Antone’s was already buzzing late that Wednesday afternoon. Winter’s RV was parked in front of the club, just like the old days when Albert King would pull his bus up in front of the Sixth Street club. “I Play the Blues For You,” read the banner on the side of King’s bus. Winter’s vehicle had no such proclamation, but he didn’t need it. His presence alone said, “I’m here to play the blues for you, Unc.”

The bands were scurrying around loading equipment as Erin Jaimes began the monumental task of getting the show going. Veteran scenester and gal-about-town Emma Little organized the silent auction in her inimitable way, and I set up tables for the “health and education sector” that Kumi Shannon joked we were in charge of. As it was, the Liver Foundation of Central Texas, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, the Texas Organ Sharing Association, and SIMS were all well-represented, thanks to the LFCT’s Ginger Busboom and Brandi Smith and SIMS’ Sandi Bruce and Catarina Sigerfoos. Club flack Jessica Jarrett buzzed around leaving guest list info for Ilsa Haynes at the door while Susan Antone dropped by to check on things. Things were good.

Erin Jaimes kicked the music off early, soon joined by Carolyn Wonderland and Eve Monsees. It was a girl group begging for a regular gig. Fueled by loss and love, they stood tall as women do in that situation, held back the tears when possible, and played like the men. The show sold out the moment the doors opened and if “feeling the love” sounds like a corny phrase, it was a palpable sensation in a club that’s seen some mighty blues mojo in its day.

There’s plenty to say about the show that would just be a trite combination of the usual superlatives you’ve come to know and love from us rock critics. Yet whenever death is involved, there’s a primal urgency, a reason for going full-bore, smoking six strings like Johnny Winter did, or like James Cotton, doing the black snake moan in his harmonica.

The two of them playing their hearts out beside each other was so stunning, such raw blues magic, right there on the stage, that it seemed obvious the show was attended by illustrious unseen spirits.

Alan Haynes and Appa Perry likewise played fine sets of pain-in-my-heart blues, but between tag-teaming as emcee with Jody Denberg and Mark Murray and working behind the tables, the music was more solace for me than show. I salute all the bluesmen who played that night, but to me, the evening was made by the blueswomen. Not just Erin, Eve, and Carolyn, but some of the coolest babes I've ever had the pleasure of leaning on bars with over the years: Songwriter Kim Banks Dallesandro in from L.A., Val from the badass but short-lived Lamplite Saloon circa 1975, W.C. Clark’s manager Vicki Moerbe, and the aforementioned Emma Little. They were there to pay homage to the blues and to their friend. But they were also there for Turner’s widow Morgan, the one who returns to a now-empty bed.

Thanks, girls! Y’all were the women behind the scenes that made that show rock.

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Johnny Winter, Uncle John Turner, Antone's

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