Some days the ADD kicks in and I just want to try a random joint with a random band I’ve never heard or heard of — something out of my element. So Saturday I headed out to John Jay Myers’ Free Man Cafe in Deep Ellum for some Cajun food and jazz.
When I got there, Jack Allday’s Swing Shift Band was playing the T-Bone Walker classic, Stormy Monday. Big Jim Lawrence was sitting in with the band (literally — he was singing from a stool at the bar). He switched around a couple of the verses, but even at 75, the man can still sing. The band proper has Jack Allday, 72, drums; Donnie Gililland, 74, guitar; and 50-somethings Dale McFarland, piano, and Mark Wilson, bass. Jack played in the 1950s R&B band the Nightcaps, who were a big inspiration for local heroes like ZZ Top and the Vaughan Brothers. All these guys still play around town, but as a band, they don’t get out so much anymore.
“We used to do weddings,” Allday said. “Nobody hires us for weddings anymore. We’re too old.”
Well, they certainly aren’t too old to play. They tore through a number of standards such as Take the A Train, by Billy Strayhorn; Basin Street Blues, by Spencer Williams; Tequila, by the Champs; It Had To Be You, by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn; and the Tin Pan Alley hits Just a Gigolo and The Sheik of Araby.
While the band took a break, I headed out front where I ran into Funkytown’s own Scott Vernon of newly re-formed Sally Majestic and Mr. Freak of Mr. Freak and the Freak Show Band. Mr. Freak gave me a copy of his new CD, which is kind of a bizarre Libertarian thing set to metal. I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around it, but I applaud him for at least doing something political. Tim Platt does a guest vocal on the first track.
Speaking of Libertarians, back inside, John Jay Myers (the owner of the club and a well-known musician and political candidate in the Dallas scene) sat in on vocals for a couple of songs. He has a gravelly voice reminiscent of Louis Armstrong.
The Swing Shift Band puts on an amazing show. Instrumentals are tight (as would be expected from musicians of this pedigree) and Gililland is a phenomenal guitar player for any age. The old standards and the standup-bass-vintage-jazz-club-vibe was just what I was looking for Saturday.
As for the Free Man, it has that perfect Deep Ellum dive thing going on, and someone in the kitchen has figured out how to deep-fry boudin, which makes them a hero in my book.