Backwoods Blues

What's a nice Jewish girl doing in the middle of Antrim, New Hampshire on a Sunday night? Why taking service with "The Reverend" Jerry Paquette at the holy house of the Blues -- The Rynborn Restaurant and Blues Club.


Jerry aka "The Reverend" is the leader of the infamous Kan-Tu Blues band and has been packing joints throughout the US and Canada since he was old enough to break a guitar string (which he'll do at least once in an evening, sometimes two or three times, depending on how possessed his spirit gets in a set). He picked up his wicked licks from hanging out with the great disciples: Jerry Lee Lewis, George Thoroughgood, and even Muddy Waters and it's a huge treat to watch him hold court over this jam, set in a mini-mall, in the heart of New England's Backwoods Blues Country.


Instead of the recent trend to make upscale blues clubs like "The House of Blues" look and feel like a backwoods barn, the Rynborn's pretty much the real thing. The raised stage, with it's wood paneling and wrap around balcony, really is nothing more than a barn with a bar, some tables and chairs down below with a pool table in the back. However don't be fooled by it's modest appearance, these simple walls are lined with the real Saints of the blues. From John Lee Hooker and Bonnie Raitt to Jerry Portnoy and Charley Musselwhite, it seems everyone who's anyone has played on the Rynborn's Stage at one time or another, and while you can drop serious bucks to see the heavy hitters on Saturday Nights here, you can often get a glimpse at them, along with some of the finest local talent at the Sunday Night Jams for FREE.


Be warned, however, the Reverend Paquette's Sunday jams at the Rynborn are not for the casual listener who's expecting to hear some rock or country mixed in with some tired old standards (in fact, you'll have to tip these boys BIG bucks to get them to play "Mustang Sally," and even then, I wouldn't count on it). This is the place to hear "Nothing but the blues," so be prepared for some genuine fire and brimstone from the musicians if that's not your style..


Not that you have to be a blues aficionado to attend the jams, but you do have to be a believer, or at least be willing to learn. For instance, if you happen to be wondering just who those musicians are comprising the elaborate mural along the back wall, you can always ask the Reverend to name them off for you -- though you will have to buy him a Bacardi and Coke for the privilege. I managed to pick out a few on my own, especially since a couple of the performers were sitting there in the audience that night. I found it particularly disturbing when I was told it was Cocoa Taylor's face that was plastered over on her now headless body (apparently poor Cocoa became headless when some pool hustler was butted into the wall after trying to skip out on his bar bill). Hopefully her image will be redrawn soon, so her and Robert Johnson can Wang Dang Doodle all night long.


The Reverend Jerry Paquette, looking more like a devilish Deniro than a holeyman, cloaked in his traditional garb of black leather, Harley boots and Stevie Ray Vaughn musical note guitar strap, sets the tone of the jam, feeding his followers a steady diet of blues originals mixed in with spirited versions of the classics. He's been holding these services at the Rynborn for over a year now and he never seems to tire of playing... in fact, the man probably would play all night long if given the opportunity to.


While Sundays at the Rynborn are billed as an "opened jam," meaning anyone can step up at the plate, I wouldn't go bringing your guitar or sticks or harp unless you're ready to play with the big boys. Along with the talented Paquette, you've got much of the Kan Tu playing on Sundays along with him. Like Ephram Lowell, the 22 year old wonderkid that plays the drums with pure, simple talent that is so often hard to find in a blues drummer. This kid can not only keep the beat, he's damned good without being a showoff... and he's got a smile like Ringo Starr.


You'll also often find Bob Tagen thumping

his bass with a spirited energy that'll make

your heart want to follow along without

skipping a beat. Bob, who sports a bass as

beautiful and bold as his sound, is a Sunday

regular, when he's not writing a column on rare

musical instruments for the web or running his shop

"Things We Like" in nearby Peterborough.



Then there's musicians like Paul Spera, whose Stevie Ray guitar

licks have the sky crying, sporadic visits from Otis, from Otis

and the Elevators and Stretch, the tallest bluesman to ever set his lips

on a harmonica... all round out the band at any given time.




But it's guest appearances, like the ones from the great Luther Guitar Junior Johnson, that make this jam stand out above all the rest. Often I've seen Luther hanging out, getting his Sunday dose of the blues and checking out the local talent. I was in for a big surprise one night, when one of the world's greatest blues performers took the stage and belted out his own special sermon, that would make even a rock and roller a blues believer. If you think Luther gives a good concert, you should see the man get up and do an impromptu jam. He's the real thing, alright, and he doesn't need a 10,000 seat arena to prove it.





If you're lucky, every so often you might catch Kevin Crowe, one of the scenes foremost up and coming bluesmen, take the stage with some steamy, salacious swing and jump blues that will have you swooning in your seat. Mr. Crowe's a crooner who's been showing off his soaring vocals and stomping harmonica technique to crowds in Boston and NYC. It's a pleasure to hear his spiritual voice paired with the hellacious guitarwork of the Reverend for a special treat you won't soon forget.





Another time at the Sunday Rynborn jam, I caught a rare appearance by Mississippi Skippy on guitar with Paquette playing rhythm on some of the most soulful standards. Though it was an original tune written by Skippy about his friend's car from hell, that had me all misty eyed, thinking about my '77 Caddie aka "The Boat" (the best car I ever had, right up until it plowed into an abandoned Subaru on the Santa Monica Freeway and blew up, somewhere near Mullholland Drive). Thanks to Skippy's song, I was reminded to hurry and get my present car an oil change, probably in the nick of time... which just goes to show, the blues could save your life (or at least the life or your car).


If you're in the "Everyday I have the Blues" mode and you happen to be anywhere near Anterum, NH on Sundays, stop in to the Blues Temple of the Rynborn and see the Reverend for a cure. He may not have all the answers for you, but he and his friends sure as hell have soul.


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