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T-Model Ford and Gravel Road, Tom Walbank

Plush, Friday, March 20

He headed straight for me. T-Model Ford, assisted by his cane and donning a white cap with embroidery reading "I'm the BOSS," confidently shuffled his way toward the folks who made it early enough to catch opening act Tom Walbank.

"Nice to see you," he smiled as he grabbed my hand. I'm sure I responded, but I'm not sure what I said to this Mississippi Delta blues legend, whose age ranges from 84 to 88, depending on who you ask. He shook hands all the way to his seat at the bar, as if we were old friends.

Tom Walbank's version of the blues is, in a word, nonpareil. He performs spirited covers of artists such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and The Clash, and I can't imagine the original artists capturing those songs any better. He is a master of slide guitar; his vocals are impassioned and unbelievably nuanced; and his harmonica prowess catches everyone in the crowd off guard, regardless of how many times people have seen him perform. Behind me, my friend Bernie was yelping and stomping during Tom's set; when I asked if he'd seen him play before, he replied, "Mel, he's the only reason I leave the house." Tom shared the stage with Mike Bagesse, who was solid on rhythm guitar. By the end of the set, Plush was packed.

T-Model Ford was joined by guitarist Stefan Zillioux and drummer Marty Reinsel of Gravel Road, who hail from Seattle and happen to be old enough to be T-Model's grandchildren. As T-Model settled into his seat and made all the necessary adjustments, every bit of space surrounding the stage filled with people ranging in age from 21 to their late 60s; it speaks to the timelessness and importance of blues music.

T-Model's energy and joy were intoxicating. This gentleman, at an age far beyond what many of us will live to see, showed what it meant to overcome life's trials, one glorious riff at a time.

The crowd thinned significantly after two hours of him performing--due to exhaustion, not lack of interest. After a whopping 2 1/2-hour set, T-Model's backing band had to convince him that the house music indicated they were supposed to get off the stage. He simply wasn't ready to go.

More by Mel Mason

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