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Lightning Strikes Twice - Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat – Live

The Alamo, 5th Ave, Springfield - Blue Monday, January 28, 2008

By Judy Burgess and James Walker

The audience witnessed something enjoyably unique on Monday night, January 28, 2008.  Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat from Texas returned to the Blues Stage at The Alamo in Springfield IL. After their last amazing performance here on January 22, 2007, we expected a lot! And, we got it! We felt like the music completely took over and was in charge.

The night began promptly at 8:30 with an acoustic set by Suhler and bassist Carlton Powell on a flat-top six string. A literal hush fell over the crowd as the music began to take control. The acoustic set ended after two songs due to a technical glitch. But, when Sean Phares took his place at the keyboard, and Jimmy Morgan took his seat at the drums, the music grabbed the audience and didn't let go until almost 11:30 pm.  What a set!! 

The band played two and a half hours with no break. That might be a record.  James Walker said that once he witnessed Tab Benoit play for 100 minutes straight, although his bassist and drummer took a mid set break. Well, move over Tab!

There were times when it seemed the musicians meant for a song to end, and it simply refused, taking on a life of its own. One song melded into the next, without a pause between, and carried the audience on a ride that we wouldn't have wanted to miss. Often when Suhler was changing guitars or adjusting tunings, there could have been a natural pause between two numbers, but he would signal the others to keep a beat going. So, Carlton Powell on bass, Sean Phares on keyboard and accordion, and drummer Jimmy Morgan would play a shuffle or rumbling rhythm until Suhler took command. When there was a rare pause between songs, the musicians would grab a serious gulp of ice water.

Suhler was amazing!  With tons of sonic effects, this was serious power and sound being manipulated and broadcast through our bodies, minds, and souls. Suhler joined the guitar: he did not just pick it and play it – he was the surfer and it was his surfboard. A song takes you on a journey, and we were all just hanging on, mesmerized.

Sean Phares traded his keyboard for an accordion on several occasions as the music took on a Louisiana-Texas border flavor. Jimmy Morgan's rhythm set the beat, subtly changing and leading the band from one song to the next. Suhlar had six guitars racked beside him including a National steel bodied guitar, a Telecaster Thinline with a capo, and several Stratocasters.  The ever-changing guitars of Jim Suhler, the bass line of Carlton Powell, and the keyboard prowess of Sean Phares completed the magic that kept the audience under a spell. Standing ovations and spontaneous applause punctuated the night. The musicians were having as much fun as we were, and that was contagious. The communication between them was obvious. A glance between two would bring on something new, and off we'd go. 

One highlight of the evening was when Jim Suhler moved out into the appreciative audience. At one point, after he had stood on a chair for a few licks, he grabbed a full beer bottle to use as a slide - until it began to splash. Then he chugged what was left and threw the empty bottle behind him!

Suhler wowed with flat-picking, finger picking, and lots of Texas-Blues style slide guitar. Song highlights included Louisiana Red’s “Too Poor To Die” on a National resonator guitar and Monkey Beat’s own feedback laden, heady version of Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” Again, we were treated to a very special night where the audience became part of the music - standing, clapping, whistling and shouting. Don't miss a Blue Monday unless you have to; we were privileged to be at this one!!!

Judy Burgess is the newsletter editor for Springfield’s Illinois Central Blues Club’s News and Reviews.

James Skyy Dobro Walker is a noted Blues writer and Blues Blast contributor. He is also the newsletter editor for Bloomington-Normal’s Blues Blowtorch Society’s newsletter Blues News.  

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