by Eric J. Wallace
American Reporter Correspondent
Kill Devil Hills, N.C.
February 12, 2010
A NIGHT WITH BLUES LEGEND MOJO COLLINS
KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. -- Last night, legendary blues guitarist Mojo Collins graced the stage of the Outer Banks Brewing Station. The word "grace" cannot be overemphasized.
Perhaps the words of another blues legend, Albert King, are more appropriate: "That man's a right good git-fiddler." Indeed.
Before the show, a small crowd of locals mingle about the polished wood bar. In the on-season, on a night like this, the place would be packed. But for now it is late January, and everyone knows everyone.
The few tourists there are quickly absorbed into the closeness of the group. The people all smile and laugh, shouting hellos and slapping shoulders, they drink from tall glasses, eat from delicately arranged platters.
On the bar, small menus dangle from ringlets attached to copper tubing, describing the seven varieties of house-brewed beers available on tap. Categories are diverse, ranging from blonde-light to double-stout-heavy.
On a night like tonight, the bartenders call everyone by their first names. Just beyond the counters, bustling cooks steam and fry and sear, the smells wafting into the room like thin mist.
Anyone who has seen their fair share of live-music can testify that it takes more than stellar musicians alone to make magic. There is a form of synergistic web that exists between the musicians and the environment, the environment and the listeners, the listeners and the musicians.
Some nights, certain ingredients are more forthcoming than others, sometimes less. Those occasions can work out fine. But they're just that: fine - good, rather than great. But when the web suddenly falls into a perfect equilibrium, when the place is just right, the crowd aching to listen, the musicians aching to blow, that's when it's magic. And everybody knows they feel it.
A high nasal voice sounds through the mic. All eyes turn to the stage and the place goes quiet. A wiry older man with snakeskin boots, a bushy white mustache and a mane of white curls falling out from beneath a felt Stetson grins out into the room. "How yall doin' tonight?" It is like an electric catechism. His eyes sparkle and gleam over the black Stratocaster, "Glad to hear it."
Something unspoken has occurred, there is something extra behind that prankster grin, something mischievous. But just as it seems about to materialize, the band kicks into a slow grinding dirge, "Stormy Monday." The sound is just right: full, clear, pristine, big. The lighting is just right: low and dark, shifting in variegated shades of misty blue, red and white like colored moods.
The audience is captivated. Once a true master of the stage has them, he never lets them go. They watch, grinning wildly as he throws his hips into a raunchy bend; he closes their eyes and has them shaking their heads, feeling the strong blues as he bends down at the waist towards the floor, his body shaking like the quivering notes.
Up, down, up, down, high, low: The audience is his.
Eventually, they all migrate from the bar to the dance floor. Then there is the unmistakable feeling of being in church. It is as though he plays the audience's pain, pulls it right out of their hearts and sets it loose into the air like invisible smoke. Amid the swaying bodies, all that dancing joy, the pain seems like nothing. It seems far away. For now, there is only the churning rhythms, the enveloping pulse of the low bass, the soaring wail of the guitar.
Now and then, between songs or when he hits a sweet note, there is that grin, full of benign mischief. Maybe that's the Mojo.
When the show is over and people slowly pass through the swinging doors, he sits alone on the stage, gazing at nothing in particular. A young man wanders up, thanks him for the evening, and asks for a bit of advice about playing the guitar.
Mojo chuckles, nodding his head and raising up a little, stiffening his back before he turns those intense grey eyes on the young man. After a while, he says, "Well, it's like Muddy Waters once told me: I get more outta' one note than most guys get out of a thousand."
Staring intently, a knowing smirk slowly develops beneath the big mustache. "You know, I repeat those words to myself just about every day. There's a lot in 'em, more than I'd a ever imagined a man could fit into some words. And I'll tell you somethin', those words got more ta' do with life than they do with music. And that's a fact. You figure that one out, you got everything you ever need ta' know."
Outside, the wind gusts and the night is cold. The band packs hurriedly loads equipment into a van as a few straggling cabs creep across the empty lot. The night feels strange, almost foreign. Maybe the air is a little clearer, the moon a little brighter, or there are somehow more stars. It's hard to say. Good music will do that.
Grace. Yeah, that's the word.
For more information on Mojo Collins, check out his Website.