"Nonconformist Blues to chase the devil away"

Date published: 06/10/2010
Publication: Troy Record

By Don Wilcock
Joe Abbey is a white, self-proclaimed agnostic who also happens to be the lead guitarist in an otherwise all African American regional gospel group, The Heavenly Echoes.

Far from being the infidel in a field of holy men, Abbey fits right in with his band of proselytizers who struggle like all of us to keep their act together in a world gone mad. Joe also is a middle-aged RPI graduate who loves the Rolling Stones and fronts a blues band called JV and The Cutters.

It is Joe’s blues band that will share the stage with Thomasina Winslow and Mother Judge on Friday as part of Troy’s Sanctuary for Independent Media’s Live From Lock One concert series.

One of the reasons Joe never rose to the top in the music business is his own attitude. “If everybody else is a great cook, at least let me bring the plates,” he says, explaining that he lacks the technical expertise — and the patience — to learn other people’s songs to perform in a jam situation. Instead, while others would try to trace the Allman Brothers’ guitar prints through “Whipping Post” endlessly week after week, Joe kept coming up with originals. “It was easier for me to make something up than it was to copy or learn something,” he says.

When I remind Joe that Bono of U2 wrote original songs at first because he felt he lacked the skill to copy others’ music, he thanked me for mentioning him in the same breath but insists “there’s worlds of technique that separate me from any number of guys that play guitar around here.” Perhaps, but there are also worlds of difference between those copycats and someone who creates their own music the way Joe does. Plus no one has ever become a pop hit covering Clapton covering Robert Johnson on “Crossroads.”

Not only does Joe write music that strikes a common chord in all people, but he does it with simple lyrics that share a certain starkness that Hemmingway had as a fiction writer and Kerouac had as a chronicle of a generation of “nonconformists and contrarians” which is how Joe  characterizes himself. At the Sanctuary which Joe defines as “an alternative form of media and media presentation,” he should find a discerning and appreciative audience.

Talk about nonconformists, Thomasina Winslow has booked a gig later this year to play blues in  Bach’s hometown in Germany. She’s a 15-year teaching veteran whose final recital at SUNY had her playing a Bach cello suite transcribed for guitar.

She obviously enjoys the irony of blues for Bach, recalling a recent confrontation with a Brit who told her, “You players from the states don’t realize we have a classical background. So, you’re asking us to play with just the thumb, index and middle finger, and we have a classical background.” She looked him straight in the eye and said, “Well, my degree is in classical music performance which I didn’t tell you before.” Zing!

The daughter of Tom Winslow of Clearwater Folk Festival fame, Thomasina has just released First Things First, an album of mostly classic folk blues songs by such early 20th century blues progenitors as Charlie Patton, Willie Brown and Tampa Red. Her partner on the album is Nick Katzman, one of her childhood finger picking heroes.

She tracked him down on her second tour of Germany and has become his business partner in the release of the CD on their won Blue Lizard Records. She calls the relationship surreal.

Thomasina is the ying to Joe Abbey’s yang. She’s an African American with a highly polished sense of style who interprets traditional blues songs with finesse, but nevertheless gets deep meaning from the lyrics. For instance, she sings about “some low down scoundrels fishin’ in my pond” on the Bo Carter number “Get Back Ol’ Devil.” She enjoys the “turnaround” where the singer tells the devil he’s bothering her and to get back. “Who thinks about telling the devil what to do,” she says.

Actually, that’s one of the strengths of both blues and gospel. Both are as effective on the devil as are the garlic and the cross against vampires.

What: Thomasina Winslow, Mother Judge and J.V. and The Cutters in a “Live From Lock One” concert

When: Friday, June 11, 7:00 p.m.

Where: The Sanctuary for Independent Media, 3361 6th Avenue, Troy

Tickets: $10 donation, $5 student/low income, 518-272-2390, infor@mediaSanctuary.org

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