Blues Jam/Line 6/Carlos Guitarlos, by Bruce Clement, December 9, 2002

I went to a blues jam yesterday and Club 93 in San Francisco. I was really expecting to embarrass myself, fumble about, be used to mop up the floor, you know. But I surprised myself. I did alright! I had been listening to Muddy Waters all week, and I think it helped me not sound too much like a rocker.

I picked the right night to go because Carlos Guitarlos, the legendary Bay Area bluesman, showed up at the jam. If you saw this guy on the street, you would think he was a homeless person. He’s gotta be sixty-something, wrinkled face, messy gray beard, wearing an old hat and shoes that look like they haven’t seen a shine since the height of the cold war. But man, the dude can play the guitar!

At the jam, they have this Line 6 amp that they use every week, and I brought my ’59 Ampeg 1×12 combo, which I’ve rebuilt as a tweed Deluxe clone. As the guys were setting up the PA, Carlos Guitarlos saw my little amp sitting there next to the piano, and he was like, “What’s this? Who’s is this?” so I introduced myself, and he asked me if he could check it out. I told him I would be honored. So he plugged in and played a few licks. Then he went over to the Line 6 and plugged in there. While I was thinking, “A legend just played through my amp,” Carlos proceeded to fiddle with the dials on the Line 6, plucking, dialing, plucking, dialing, all the while the tone was swtiching between metal and heavy metal and too-thin clean and awful-sounding kinda-dirty. I heard him mutter to the drummer, “It’s amazing how many sh*tty sounds they put in this thing.” He settled on “small tweed,” but after a few more licks and a little more knob-fiddling, he abruptly unplugged and went back to my amp, saying something to the effect of, “I’m gonna play thru this one. It sounds like an amp.”

Carlos sat in with the house band for the first set. That old dude rocked the house! He would spank that Strat and bend those heavy *ss strings (he told me later his strings are 12-56) and sing in his gravelly voice, and you could not take your eyes off of him. The guys in the house band would just look at him and smile.

Carlos and everyone liked the sound of my amp. I must have heard “that’s a great sounding amp” at least ten times, which of course made me feel great.

I had been the first to put my name on the sign-up sheet, and I was a bit nervous about being the first jammer up – not to mention following such a good set – but I’m glad I got up when I did. I got to play with mostly the house band. After my set they switched up everything and had jammers in every spot – drums, bass, vocals, etc.

I don’t even know what tunes we played, but they were basically two fast blues (one of which had a wierd turnaround) and one slow. I took a short solo on the first one, and the leader gave me another later in the song. On the second and third tunes I went ahead and took a couple of choruses. I was digging the groove, my tone was good, and I was inspired by how Carlos had played – not too many notes, but just the right ones with just the right feeling behind them. I’m happy to say the Les Paul spoke with authority, if you know what I mean. ;)

After my set I hung out for most of the rest of the jam. I was drinking a beer and Carlos came over and sat down. We talked (more like yelled over the noise) about amps and strings and blues and what not. He again asked me, “If they let me up again, can I play thru your amp?” “Of course!” After a set of jammers, the house band and Carlos did another set. He killed it even more.

After that set, I bought a CD from Mr. Guitarlos. “Only fifty cents a song, butcha gotta buy all twenty” were his words. Before he split, he asked me if I knew about the blues jam at Skip’s Tavern. “I wanted to make sure you knew about it” he said. I guess I didn’t suck too bad, eh? :p

That was the best Sunday afternoon I’ve had in as long as I can remember. I gotta go to jams more often. It’s only been about ten years…

Thanks for listening. Thankyouandgoodnight!