By Mike McLoughlin
If you haven’t heard already, Skinny’s Grille is closed for good. But they’re not out.
More than any other business in a quarter-century in Hope, they continuously promoted the live music scene both in and out of their establishment. Marlene ran the restaurant while Adriaan Abeling was the heart and soul of the music. The forum is gone, the stage dismantled, but in the authentic spirit of the blues neither of them have given up.
A decade ago a bunch of friends, different musicians with different angles met, and with Abeling applying the glue, created the “Skinny’s Blues Crew”. The chief function of ‘The Crew’ was to back up the various visiting artists, of which there were literally hundreds.
Abeling was quick to note that Hope could rarely afford a big name band like the “Powder Blues”. However they could afford to get the heart and soul, Willie MacCaulder, if Skinny’s provided the backup band. In other words Abeling made it easy for them to perform in Hope. The formula worked synergistically for mutual benefit artistically. Who can forget The Madison Blues Band, Harp Dog Brown and others like Tim Williams, Rachel Paige, Jarrod Brothers, Robert Campbell, slide-blue-guitarist Rock Moran, and the Lava Lights? At Skinny’s peak the core of far-away bands like Manitoba Hal (from Nova Scotia), Fire Tree (Boundary Bay, Queensland, Australia) would solicit play dates with The Crew. At the other end of the spectrum were the locals performing there every year since 2000. Dave Matkin, the Jazz Banditz, the Hoodlums, and my brother and I are examples.
On how he got started…as a child Abeling had to listen to his parent’s choice of Heintje, a Dutch pop-folk singer, whom he could not stand. Then there was the unforgettable street corner pipe-organ music, on wheels no less, and run on a hand crank. He didn’t like it then, but it’s grown on him since. The school band program brought Gershwin, Hammerstein, 60’s progressive “pop”. That led to jazz band as a drummer. In those days as a student Abeling started on a wooden drum with rubber pads. After a year he “graduated” to real drums.
Some songs you can expect to hear Saturday include “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Wonderful Tonight”, “Shall be released”, “Me and Bobby Magee” all done their own way along with some of their originals. Their ‘own way’ means you cannot stray too far away from the original song though. It must remain ‘familiar’. It should retain either the motif or the tag line to center on and then add the fluff to make it your own. That in itself is an art form years in the making.
Other influences you will hear Saturday include Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Hank Williams and his son Jr., Jim Reeves, BB King, Sam Cooke, etc. You will also hear an early 1858 piece called “She Caught the Katy” …left me a mule to ride. The katy was the train for ore cars, the mules were used for the side bars.
Abeling relates “Blues is the root of all the great music here in North America and under examination a full circle emerges. Charlie Pride, the first African American country artist, was influenced by Hank Williams, a bigger country star, who in turn was influenced by a ‘black gentleman in Mississippi playing the blues’. Blues, along with gospel music, is the basis for country, big band, jazz and modern rock and roll.”
In the true blues tradition the music lives on.
Come listen to The Crew this Saturday, 6 p.m., for dinner and show, at the Hope Station House. Advance tickets at the Station House, or Backstage Pass Emporium.