Grant Green Jr. and Ike Stubblefield
A gun sticks out from the top of the pants of a short, pale, bald man. He looks about age 35. He is standing on the corner of a secluded street in front of a blues bar I’ve never been to but am about to enter in Midtown West Atlanta. If he makes a quick move for that gun, or pumps one more rep at the gym, he just might burst out of that tight, yellow polo shirt he’s wearing.
As I walk closer I see emblazoned on the shirt a logo with the word “Police.” That makes me feel safer, and I exhale a sigh of relief as I walk inside a dark, cloudy club filled with people smoking, drinking and playing pool. I don’t go to bars, and my head begs me to go outside to escape the smoke that surrounds the room.
But Grant Green Jr., the son of one of my all-time favorite jazz guitarists–next to Charlie Christian–is playing inside. I have to hear him.
I sit on a stool at a tall table, next to a pool table with a few people in their 20s talking loudly and smacking balls around as the band plays. Within minutes a couple drinking beer decides to stand just feet in front of me, partially blocking my view.
On stage, Green is playing guitar while a cigarette dangles from his mouth. He is playing in a trio with a drummer and an organ player, like his daddy often did. But this trio is playing the blues. There is Vic Stafford on drums and headliner Ike Stubblefield on a Hammond B-3 organ, which looks like a big, wooden clunky piece of furniture from the 1930s.
I don’t listen to the blues much, but I like what I hear. The band’s got soul and rhythm, and I sway and groove to the music on my stool. It’s blues, blues-rock, blues-funk, and blues-jazz. The band plays one standard jazz tune where Green plays and sings just like George Benson. He swings on guitar.
Stubblefield is headlining, but I have never heard of him. I remember listening to Mike Bloomfield in the ’70s. I don’t remember listening to Ike Stubblefield. But I bet I did. Aside from working with Quincy Jones and Phil Spector, Stubblefield has played with some of the biggest names in the music business, including B.B. King, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and Rod Stewart.
For the band’s first set, the trio’s set includes some standards: B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone,” The Temptation’s “Just My Imagination” and the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man.” These three are solid–tight!–and the crowd is moving to the music.
It’s the second set, a jam session, that pulls dancers, drunk and sober alike, to the floor and makes the night.
First up: Sasha Swetlowski (harmonica), Justin Powell (bass) and Scott Freeman (slide guitar and vocals) wailing the blues.
Impressive on harmonica and still in his 20s, Swetlowski blares soulful sounds reminiscent of the Delta blues and blues-rock bands like J. Geils. Swetlowski is a member of an Atlanta blues-funk band, Soulhound, where he also plays keyboards.
Freeman, a former writer and editor for Atlanta Magazine and Creative Loafing, literally wrote the book on the blues. He has written books on the Allman Brothers and on Otis Redding, as well as two other books. He is working on a new book about his own life as a musician.
Since being laid off from his newspaper job, he, along with Powell, now plays full-time with his step-brother’s country-rock band, Bill Gentry & The 35 Cent Rodeo. Playing in bands since his high school days, Freeman wrings out as much emotion from the guitar he plays as he does from the stories he writes. He plays slide guitar and sings with the band, but what really knocked me off my feet was the passionate phrases he typed up and down the fret board while just warming up.
After Freeman, a young talented singer-songwriter, Zaib Khan, joins the band for a couple of tunes. Khan, who cites Elvis Presley as a big influence, has the king’s star good looks and plays guitar and sings in his own original style. Khan plays clubs regularly throughout metro Atlanta and North Georgia.
Green moved to Atlanta from New York City three years ago. I look forward to hearing him again in a jazz setting!