Howlin' at the moon, like a dog in heat . . .
- Willie K,
"Howlin' at the Moon"
It might have been the recent full moon, or perhaps the onset of 2013 (13 is my lucky number, you know), but I've been doing my share of howlin' lately. Even indulged myself in a spur-of-the-moment trip to Honolulu and danced my tail off at Rumours. Yes, Rumours at the Ala Moana Hotel. I was surprised to find the old 1970s/'80s nightspot was still open. And from what I saw, some of the original patrons are still getting their groove on there. A couple of them haven't even changed their clothes.
I danced my way into the New Year, literally, and I haven't stopped yet. Well, except for those pesky interruptions like work and sleep, minor distractions from a steady diet of booty shakes. And this Saturday, I'm going on a binge. Gonna binge on the blues.
While I love gettin' down and funky, and I would never turn down a gentleman's offer to waltz, there's a little button somewhere between my heart and my gut that can only be touched by a blues guitar. Push that button and I'm off and running. Or shuffling. Or struttin', stompin', or slow draggin'. Doesn't matter if it came from Mississippi or Memphis, St. Louis or Chicago, the blues always gets me moving. Whether swinging joyously to the jump blues or swaying slowly to a sultry torch song, my body can't resist the beat.
Music has played a large role in my life, from long before my radio career, thanks to my parents. My father bought my mom a guitar when I was in grade school, and I remember watching her practice in front of the TV, following the instructor on the PBS channel. After dinner each night, Daddy would get out his 'ukulele and Mom would sing along with him. They didn't really sing the blues, but the repertoire included lots of "blue" songs: Blue Moon, My Blue Heaven, Blueberry Hill . . .
Ten - make that nearly 11 - years ago, when my late husband and I put Mana'o Radio on the air, we each did a daily air shift. I quickly dubbed my first show of the week "Blues Monday" and devoted three hours every week to nothin' but the blues. In every shade.
Now, what could a middle-class Asian-American Maui girl know about the blues? I've wondered that for most of my adult life. After all, I've never come close to suffering the kind of pain and hardship that spawned songs like "Stormy Monday" or "Born Under a Bad Sign." I'm the first to admit that I've been blessed with a charmed, comfortable life. So why does the blues touch me so deeply?
Interviewing Willie K the other day on Mana'o Radio, I asked him about his own love for the genre. He said, "The blues is for everyone. It gets you right in the heart because it's real life, real feelings, real stories. . . . How many times you been married, girl?"
"Well, I guarantee you've got the blues inside you. You could write a big fat book, and I could write hundreds of songs from your stories."
Come to think of it, I could probably have written that book of blues after just one of those marriages. Oops, that was a cheap shot at my ex-husbands, both of whom might be reading this column online. Sorry, guys, I didn't really mean it. Hey, that sounds like a blues song.
OK, maybe I ain't gotta right to sing the blues, but I know I can dance to it. We all can; like Willie said, it's for everyone. After the first time his "St. Louis Blues" was played in public, W.C. Handy wrote, "When 'St. Louis Blues' was written, the tango was in vogue. I tricked the dancers by arranging a tango introduction, breaking abruptly into a low-down blues. My eyes swept the floor anxiously, then suddenly I saw lightning strike. The dancers seemed electrified. Something within them came suddenly to life. An instinct that wanted so much to live, to fling its arms to spread joy, took them by the heels."
That was in 1914. Nearly 100 years later, the blues continues to grab at our heels and our hearts. Saturday evening I'll be pushing both to the limit, at Willie K's Blues on the Blue BBQ, a six-hour bluesfest at Mulligans on the Blue in Wailea. Nothin' but the blues from 4 to 10 p.m. Willie has assembled a powerhouse lineup featuring Elvin Bishop, Angela Strehli, Mick Fleetwood and more. Much, much more, including Willie and his band, of course. Andy Bumatai will be there and so will I, handling emcee duties in between dancing. And howling.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.