Onstage: The Rick Wagner and Friends Show

By Darrell Ray Elmore

THE CHEROKEE – You know you're in trouble when you walk into a club to review a show, and two of the names on the bill just happen to be editors you work for and with. Many people would see this as a "blessing in disguise," the chance to slam the hell out of people with no thought to repercussions ....

Not me.

Sure enough, Paul Moffett and Paul Curry were both scheduled to appear at the new and improved and revamped Rick Wagner showcase, late of the Bluebird, and even later of Uncle P's.

Yep, Rick has moved his show all over Louisville, but it remains basically the same - a direct extension of the original artist night at Uncle P's. Dirk Gaskey still shows up and tries to cadge beers ... Wes Bigway still stumbles around and spouts the funniest one-liners you've ever heard ... Rick still does the "TAP" song.

Which is comforting, in a way. I've missed Wednesday nights (artist night) at Uncle P's since that place changed hands and went belly up, changed hands again, and now caters to older hippies (The Flashback).

Of course, there were old hippies to deal with at Uncle P's, but the variety of acts more than made up for the smaller atrocities (grin).

Not that Rick Wagner is so small. He is rather short, but his gravelly voice would make you think he is eight feet tall. He is especially fun to talk to on the phone. Terri, the manager of The Cherokee, had this to say about Rick: "The man is not human. He's a hobbit, and if you print that, chances are he'll get some wizard to put a spell on me ... maybe turn all my beer sour ...."

Whatever. We can only hope. Not. What was I talking about?

Rick Wagner. Just a snippet of his raw-edged voice crooning "Take a load off, Annie" can snap me back in time to the sights and smells of artists nights long ago ... like a brief whiff of a woman's perfume can transfer you back to ... well ... maybe we better not discuss that.

Locally, Rick is the King of the three-chord wonders, and his song lyrics lean toward the comic side ... indeed, if Roseanne had a favorite acoustic musician, it would be Rick. He started his variety-act hosting duties three years ago onstage at Uncle Pleasant's, when the notorious Dallas Embry (not the dead guy, the other one), took a month's leave of absence and bar-owner Mark Smalley needed a replacement, fast.

Rick's first big success was coordinating a benefit for The Gospel Showcase Diner, after which Mark asked him to stay on as MC of the most diverse artist showcase in town.

Rick slams a Washburn acoustic ("I'll be buried with that guitar, if I have my way," Rick says), and sees himself as more a country, Arlo Guthrie / John Prine type than a straight-out rock 'n' roll dude. He has a catalog of 25-30 original songs and does his job well, entertains ᄂ and never forgets that he is the Master of Ceremonies (unlike some hosts I could mention).

As far as the artists that played on the night I was there ... well, I was fortunate enough to miss Paul Moffett's set – not that he's a bad musician, it's just that in missing his music I saved myself the obvious conflict-of-interest problem that was sure to crop up (he does something for Louisville Music News, although he's always very vague when I ask him about it. All I know is he outranks me, and his signature appears on my checks). But even though I did miss his music, I'm prepared to say that he is one of the finest guitar players in the state of Kentucky, and a real nice fellow to boot.

As for Dirk Gaskey, well, he did some righteous covers, then came offstage and was his usual, annoying self.

Bryan Hurst did a set of really nice songs, perhaps a bit long some of them, but just nice as can be otherwise.

And as for Paul Curry's band, chigger, well ....

Paul Curry, who writes music criticism for The Courier-Journal and is senior editor over at Hard Times, claims my own taste in music blows doughnuts, so I know he won't mind when I say that his band needs work. Actually, I was surprised and impressed with how well the chigger boys pulled off their four-song set, and joined in with the rest of the crowd as they hooted and hollered for an encore.

But then again, I was drunk.