Blinddog Smokin’ at Zoo Bar

Fatback funk, blistering blues, uptown horns and low-down grooves: Blinddog Smokin’ renders millions of miles and thousands of gigs into a deep American repertoire of profound authenticity.

The music emanates from the rotating community of players and echoes across the legions of folks who have communed with the band at 200 – 320 gigs per year for well over two decades. Blinddog Smokin’ has played every conceivable venue, from Mississippi juke joints to high mountain roadhouses; across Europe and the Mediterranean all the way to the main stage at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, an event that attracts upwards of 100,000 attendees. Traveling by bus to 42 of the continental United States – plus international tours – they have been rightfully crowned “Ultimate Road Warriors,” by Southland Blues Magazine.

The lead dog in this hard traveling show band is the band’s founder and charismatic front man Carl Gustafson; an adventurer, world traveler and philosopher whose gravel road of a voice is paved with the power of his convictions and the revelations in his songs. First chronicling the band’s adventures in an online column, “Tales Well Told,” he authored the book Ain’t Just The Blues, It’s Showtime: Hard Times, Heartache and Glory Along Blue Highway, an enthralling diary of the band’s journeys. Whether in song, performance or prose, he is a masterful raconteur.

New from the studio for 2013 is the CD Decisions, pairing Blinddog Smokin’ with the band’s longtime soul mate Bobby Rush, a Grammy-nominated veteran featured in the “Road to Memphis” segment in the Martin Scorcese documentary The Blues. Joining the band on “Another Murder in New Orleans” is the great Dr. John, the legendary six-time Grammy-winning Crescent City kingpin. The song has already been licensed by the national non-profit organization Crimestoppers for their New Orleans chapter. Donny Markowitz, a roots auteur extraordinaire and the songwriter of the Oscar-winning “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” is behind the board for the recordings, as he was for the band’s recent CD/DVD Up From the Tracks.

Blinddog Smokin’ is flexible. They might showcase illustrious guest members like Bobby Rush, Chicago guitar master Carl Weathersby or the brilliant blues harpist Billy Branch. Regular compadres include the original drummer “Chicago” Chuck Gullens, and 13-year bassist Roland Pritzker a.k.a., Junior Bacon, whose respective pistol hot snare shots and subsonic timbres anchor the rhythm section.

The cast is expandable: as the house band at the Snowy Range Music Festival in Wyoming, they brought a 30-piece orchestra to join them for their feature set. Highlighted performers could include regulars like Mo Beeks (keys and vocals), Chris White and Linda Gustafson (backing vocals), Chalo Ortiz (guitar), and Rex Amend (sax).

The songs of Blinddog Smokin’ animate a vivid cast of motley characters. They sport “Pimp Shoes,” see visions of “Angels at the Crossroads,” chase young girls like a “Funky Old Man,” ruminate on “Skinny Little Ladies” arrive on “Bobby Rush’s Bus,” and accompany the ancient bluesman who has “Just Come Home to Die.” We meet a disillusioned preacher in a old West saloon on “Church of Fools,” and Miss Peggy, proprietress of the Pic-a-Rib Café, where a teenage runaway Gustafson was first entranced by the rhythm and blues helped shape his destiny.

Rejuvenation, reinvention and forward motion: With Decisions – plus an additional collection of new tracks with Bobby Rush ready for release in 2014 and beyond –at their home base in Southern California, Blinddog Smokin’ is loading up the bus. “Why don’t you help us make the right decision,” implores Bobby Rush on the Decisions title track. As they bear witness to their legacy of rocking roadhouse revelations, the band’s decisions are manifest. While there may be millions of miles in their bus’s rear view mirror, loyal fans and new converts alike will witness Blinddog Smokin’ burning up stages at destinations further on up the road.

— Dan Kimpel