March 25, 2011
Last week I was happy to read in the Colorado Blues Society weekly update that Jack Hadley was going to be playing at a club close to where I live. Being in the foothills between Evergreen and Conifer means that there are just a handful of live music clubs that are an easy drive from home. I had heard about Jack, and later met him at a CBS board meeting, but I’d never had a chance to hear him play. So on Friday night I made the 10 minute drive from home to the Route 285 Sports Grill. I know the building because I’ve been there a few times over the years. But it has a new name now, chosen by new owner, Jim Caselnova. He has transformed the place over the last six months and it has a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere. There are a few juke joint touches – like year round white Christmas lights on the beams and posts, and a pool table near the busy wraparound bar.
I found a vacant booth with a good view of the stage area, ordered a Guinness from a friendly waitress, and settled in to wait for the music to start. Jack, drummer Mike Ray, and bassist John Grigsby set up quickly and went right into the first tune - a rhythmically innovative take on “Every Day I Have the Blues.” Jack was playing a bright blue Telecaster through a vintage Blues Deluxe amp. The tone was classic Tele with its trademark sting in the upper ranges. Jack did all the singing. He’s a tenor with a silky smooth delivery that’s reminiscent of Smokey Robinson seasoned with vibrato similar to Robert Cray’s. He uses his thumb and fingers to pick the guitar strings with graceful dexterity. His solo started with growling low string rumbles, moved up to quick silvery chord clusters in the mid-range and ended with brilliant sustained single tones up high on the fret board. The bass and drums were solid underneath and the trio reunited post solo to take the song out with easy teamwork.
Next up was a “Crossroads.” It was a rock and roll flavored version more in the spirit of Cream than Robert Johnson. The band stretched out on this one. Jack’s energetic right hand rhythms created interesting tension against the straight-ahead groove of the bass and drums. It was a fresh take on an old favorite. Later in the set they covered “There’s a Light” by Storyville and captured the sweet gospel spirit and passion of the original. Next was “You and Me” one of Jack’s originals from his “Deeper” CD. The band was remarkably tight on this one. All the players were able to express their own ideas on this tune without ever losing touch with one another. The overall result was dynamic and intriguing. As a listener I had a sense of where they were heading – but each player found unique ways to get there. They closed out the set with Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.” Grigsby’s bass playing had the fire of the classic original, and Ray’s drumming was relentless and driving. Jack rode on top of it all with soulful vocals and Wolf inspired guitar rhythms.
Set 2 covered an even more varied selection of rock inspired blues. There was a psychedelic hue to “Born Under a Bad Sign” and there was an accomplished nod to Jimi Hendrix in a lively and tasteful version of “You Got Me Floatin’.” Jack played that one to satisfy a request from an appreciative and vocal fan. They followed with a soulful ballad that showcased Grigsby’s artistry. He crafted a haunting and melodic bass solo using fluent octave runs. The tone and feel echoed the Jaco Pastorius days of Weather Report. They closed this set with another gospel based R&B favorite “People Get Ready.” It was an enjoyable version that held true to the blueprints of early recordings by the Impressions, Aretha Franklin and Jeff Beck. Jack took good advantage of the sonic space afforded by the song to create a guitar solo that was lyrical and held both the fervor and reverence of inspired gospel music. I know to true gospel fans – that the blues are considered to be the wayward brother - but they do share the same musical blood when all is said and done.
I called it a night after two sets – but I know the band played a third. I’ll look forward to seeing them again to learn what else they have in their songbook. And I’m curious about what other stylistic ground they’ve made their own. It was a great night of music and relaxing fun at an easy-to-get-to club. Even if you’re in Denver you can be in Conifer in just over 30 minutes. And it’s a convenient stop on your way to and from the mountains. So consider putting the Route 285 Sports Grill on your list of fun places to see and hear good live blues. And definitely put the Jack Hadley Band on your list of must see Colorado blues bands.