Now that you have survived the first month of the big 2000, I'd like to take you back again to February 25, 1987, to the interview between Scott Mullins, rocky Adcock, Foree Wells and Smoketown Red. Smoketown, a.k.a. Junie Downs, was born in 1935 in Bloomfield, Ky. and moved to the Smoketown neighborhood when he was three. He has a lifetime of experiences with the blues and received the Sylvester Weaver Award in 1997. Here are more of Smoketown's recollections from that interview.
"I went out of town once. I was playing with the Detroit Sounds and Friction, Man, those dudes were doing too much drugs for me. They scared me to death. I prayed every day that I'd get back home, and when I got back home, I wouldn't leave no more. Man, look, we'd be hangin' over a cliff about two or three times. Man,. I say, 'Let me drive,' and they, 'No, you can't see.' I didn't drink or drop no beans. It wasn't no shootin' 'em back in those days, more just droppin' them beans. It was around about '69 - '70. I quit that group, man. About two months after I quit that group, Little Mitch got killed in a wreck comin' back from Chicago. That was the good luck part: I quit and wasn't in any wreck, but the bad luck part was, they ended up bein' Al Green's band."
"The first time I started playin' out in front of people, I was down there lookin' in the window of Earl's and they had this band up there – remember Little Richard, left-handed player, I think he's from LaGrange – he was up there playin'. He didn't know "Hideaway." I went up there tryin' to play "Hideaway," got stage fright. I looked out there and seen all those people and I was paralyzed, I couldn't do nothin' and I done played this song in my front room 50,000 times. James Stewart was playin' bass. He knew where I was goin'. He said, 'Look, you doin' OK, just play it like you play it in your house. Just close your eyes, play it like you play it in your house,' kept on tellin' me that. Then I started all over again, he said 'We are going to start from the beginning and go on into it' and I played it. I was shakin' like this, man. That was first I ever had to do it."
"I notice something about Henry (Woodruff). What I think is real unique about Henry, he trys to do the blues in the same vein and same feeling that the record was. He tries to recreate that tune. When you get up there and the man's singing, you know, it's his show. You do everything you can to compliment what he's doin' and try to hear what he's doin' so if you have any knowledge you know where he is supposed to be and what line he is supposed to be on. But like Henry be over there really singing serious. He done set home and got all his show together by hisself. But he sounds a lot better if he got a bass and drums. If you got a bass and drums, they got to be playin' what you playin'."
"I tell you another thing, I talk to people around town. About five or six people told me that they go down to 26th Street (Tavern) to see how long Fred Townsend can keep the ashes on his cigarette without droppin' off. Fred Townsend plays keyboard and he holds his cigarette in his mouth, man, and he just plays and these ashes come out and they start turnin' down and they stay a long time there."
"I talk to Winston (Hardy). Winston breaks all that stuff down to me man. Winston's my teacher. About that John the Conquer Root, he says that's money. The one who got the most money, is got the power. You understand. He say he do some kind of tribal stuff out at his house. He got this big farm place and he got this concrete floor and he says 'You know I gets down there, man, and I smoke this pipe and I be doin' this Indian ritual.' He told me he had a kidney problem and there's some old Indian chief that cured him."
"Another thing, when I play the blues, although it's the old blues,. I always try to play something to what the peoples moving to on the floor, so that might be where my music varies. Other people they just play blues and try to make the people feel what they playin' but I try to play the blues to what the peoples is doin'. See, they be lots of new dances out, like the wave and the worm, and you can make your blues make people dance to the modern way. I think that's the difference. Down at 26th St. (Tavern), see, I play the blues and we be havin' so much rhythm going down there, man. They be up there throwin' down. Hey, when we playin' the blues down at the Center for the Arts, they had some kids break dancin'. They was spinnin' down. I just keep that music on what's happenin', see, keep that music on what's going on out there. You can have one beat goin'. The best that the music was on, but you always have your little funky back beat in there, doin' what the peoples doin' on the floor."
"I remember one time Steve (Ferguson) came out to Red Devil, man, him and the fat boy that plays bass, Bob Well. They came out there, man, and there were some deep dudes out there, like Johnny Grant, James Watkins, Lee Haycraft, all the baddest musicians in the world was out there, man. And here come these two white dudes. They say 'Can we sit in?' I said, 'You don't want to sit in.' They said 'Red, is that your name? Hey, we know about this place." I say 'If you want to sit in, come on, it's your funeral.' I was my job.
"Man, that white boy got up there on that guitar, man, and just made everybody look. Bob Well wasn't playin' too much bass but he had a little thing around is neck and he had his harmonica he was playing. He had 'round about a $150 pair of shoes, an $80 suit and some old faded out bib overalls. He always had an outfit on and his hair pulled back with a rubber band and hung way down his back. Boy, that mother got up there on that guitar. Lee came over and say, 'Where did that dude come from?' That dude could play and he got a lot more tricks. That little stuff he be doin', I be practicin' on it."
So Long Winston
Winston Hardy came up several times during this interview. Unfortunately, Winston is no longer with us. He passed away on Monday, January 10, 2000 and was buried the following Friday in Cave Hill Cemetery. He led many bands over the years, including the Pharaohs, The CIA, The Original 26th Street Tavern Blues Band, the Winston Hardy Original Blues Band and Winston Hardy and the Roadmasters. He was an inspiration and mentor to many musicians.
He was laid out in proper attire for a blues musician, wearing his shades and a three-piece gray suit with his Shriners fez next to him. His guitar was on one side of the casket, his sax on the other and blues were playing over the speakers.
I will miss those long, rambling messages on my answering machine. He was (and now is really) a free spirit.