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The band had just finished making up a song out of nothing, out of thin air. Where there had been total silence suddenly there was music, good music, a tune than engaged you, had you feeling the beat and moving your body. It sounded like a song that had been crafted and perfected over time, and yet it had been created on the spot in one take, even though when it began no one had any idea where it would go or how it would end.
Bill Maxwell the drummer said to Abraham Laboriel the bass player, who had shown up only minutes earlier in time for this last song of the session, “Let’s do a slow blues number. Abe you start us off.” With those words as his only guide Abe began a little improv riff on the base. A few bars later, Greg Mathieson added some organ, then Bill started laying down the rhythm and Hadley Hockensmith began layering in a very soulful guitar. Finally, right on cue, Phil Driscoll began to sing, mashing up lyrics from two or three songs and making up a few of his own. Later in the song Phil would add more texture to the music with his trumpet.
I call this number, “Case of the Blues”, based on some of the lyrics, but as Greg said when they finished, “It’s called the blues, but when you play like this it leaves you smiling and happy and feeling great. Case of the Blues does all that and more; it also left me feeling amazed at the talent of my friends and what they can instantly create from nothing.
Individually the members of the band Open Hands have enjoyed great success playing and recording with some of the biggest names in music, but together as Open Hands they are at their creative best.
Good musicians who can look at notes and lines on a sheet of paper and transform those hieroglyphics into beautiful music always impress me, in part because that ability eludes me. Even more impressive to me are the musicians who can hear a tune in their head and then reproduce that melody on an instrument. But there is another skill that a very few musicians possess that to me takes playing to a whole different level, to a realm only the most talented inhabit. These are the musicians who start with notes on a page and them begin to improvise as a group and somehow make it all work together, or sometimes they don’t even have the notes as a jumping off point, they just call out a key and go to work. That’s the kind of musicianship that describes Open Hands.
In this video the members of Open Hands demonstrate their technical skills, show their improve ability and talk about how they do what they do. This is an introduction to Open Hands: Greg Mathieson, Justo Almario, Abraham Laboriel, and Bill Maxwell.
I think this is a first, Andrae Crouch playing the blues. Recently when Andrae and the original Disciples got together for an informal reunion, I was there with cameras to capture this reuniting of one of the most influential groups in contemporary gosel music. Two of the band members from the heyday of the disciples were also there, Bill Maxwell on drums and Hadley Hockensmith on guitar. I first heard Bill & Hadley when we were all still teenagers. I was in college in Oklahoma City, and considered going to hear the guys in “The Third Avenue Blues Band,” an essential component of my course work.
As a favor to me, they agreed to do a couple of impromptu blues numbers after we finished recording the Disciples songs. Great bass player and friend Abraham Laboriel was there to add his magic to the mix. Bili Thetford did the singing and Andrae, as best as we can remember, played keyboards on a blues jam for the first time ever. Without a rehearsal here are the guys doing their version of, “Going to Chicago”
Apparently it’s Andrae Crouch week on my web page. I just can’t help myself, every night this week I’ve been editing video I shot with Andrae last month. Hearing the group together again for the first time in more than 35 years was filled with so many great moments that I just keep wanting to hear more. Which means I just keep putting together more videos and then posting them for everyone to hear.
Not only did original Disciples members Sandra Crouch, Perry Morgan, and Bili Thedford show up for the afternoon jam session, but two members of Andrae’s old backup band were also present, Bill Maxwell on drums and Hadley Hockensmith on guitar. And as an added bonus the legendary bass play Abraham Laboriel dropped by to play on a couple of numbers. This video of, “I Don’t Know Why” near the end of the song has a couple of awesome solos from Hadley and Abe. Another reminder of why Andrae & the Disciples were so far ahead of everyone else in Gospel music at the time.
Also on this video Andrae had Sue, one of the singers from his church, join in on the vocals. Enjoy.
When I was getting ready to workout earlier today, the first thing I did was look for the right music to get me through the session. I not only wanted something with enough energy to get me working hard, but also something played with both emotion and skill, something so good I would get caught up in the music and forget about the the clock and how hard I was breathing. I finally settled on two concert videos, Leon Russell and Buddy Guy. No surprise there. These days I seem to be going back to the music I started with, Blues based Rock and straight up Blues.
There’s a touch of gospel flavor in that music as well. Years ago I was talking to the old blues artist Sippy Wallace about the difference between the blues and gospel. We had just filmed her singing in a Detroit nightclub on Saturday night and then filmed her playing the organ and leading the choir on Sunday morning in her church, and she said, “Blues and Gospel are the same music, the only difference is on Saturday night I’m singing ‘Oh Baby’, and on Sunday I’m singing ‘Oh Jesus’.”
Well the music worked for my exercise session, because it took my mind off how out of shape I am and got me to thinking about all the great musicians I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and see in concert over the years. I’m still friends with three of the first musicians I met when we were all teenagers. They were part of a band called “The Third Avenue Blues Band” and I think two of the guys weren’t even old enough to legally be in the bar were they were playing. I know for sure it was against the rules of my school for me to be there.
Those three guys later became part of a jazz group called Koinonia. I used to go hear them all the time at the Baked Potato in LA. Their music especially appealed to me because it was often a blues based jazz. I found this old clip of Koinonia playing at Montreux in 1984. They were doing a cover of the Albert Collins song, “Sno-Cone.” Enjoy