Country music, under normal circumstances, is not my thing. I love Johnny Cash’s music. I like Willie Nelson, but I think that may be as much about who he is than the music itself. My father loved the old time country music singers, and he and my mother used to listen to Patsy Cline fairly often.
But that’s roughly where my knowledge of country music ends. In fact, when I was asking my friend David Holt a couple of weeks ago if Papa Top’s West Coast Turnaround was good, he looked at me and said “Do you like Whiskey River?” I said “Well, it sounds like a hell of a vacation spot.”
From talking to him and talking to Chris Davis, the lead singer of the band, I eventually figured out that the show was old time country, the kind my parents used to listen to. The kind before country became pop with bad hair and bad clothes. No Marty Stuart mullets, and no Shania Twain shaking her rack while singing something that would be considered rather mediocre were it correctly categorized as pop (Not that I mind seeing her shake her rack, mind you) at a Papa Top show.
I arrived at the show last night to find Chris standing at the door. Their regular door guy couldn’t make it, and they forgot to line someone else up. Many years ago, I was a musician myself--- No way could I let one of the musicians stay off the stage because he had to work the door, and that’s the choice they were facing. So my knowledge of their first set is a bit shaky. I know they started it off with a good rendition of “Ring of Fire”, which I consider to be all the payment for my services that is required (And “Folsom River Blues” was like getting a huge tip).
Toward the end of the first set, Chris got on the microphone, thanked me for working the door, and told me to get out there and have a good time. And that’s precisely what I did.
I went over and joined my friend Autoegocrat at the front of the stage for the remainder of the first set and the entire second.
We were treated to a show that is country music the way it’s supposed to sound. No synthesizers. No cheesy choruses that sound like Def Leppard singing with a twang. Gritty, not always pretty music played by aficionados of what is unfortunately a dying genre.
The fiddle player (I’m just country-uncouth enough to have real problems with calling that instrument anything other than “violin”) had never even seen the band, much less played with them before sitting in on last night’s show, yet fit in extraordinarily well.
Here is what is easily the finest thing I can say about Papa Top’s West Coast Turnaround: My Dad would have loved them. So much so that it almost felt wrong watching them without him.
Thanks Chris, for an excellent show and an excellent evening. I’ll definitely be looking forward to your next show.