I remember when Benny Maygarden was gigging with a grinding blues combo called the Backsliders. That was back when Stevie Ray Vaughn was still alive, the Fabulous Thunderbirds were on the charts and Ronald Reagan's address was Pennsylvania Avenue.
Benny worked the harp like a happy child knawing on a cob of corn. It was often hard to tell what part was face, or hands, or harmonica. When he broke to sing into the vocal microphone, it was almost as if he was coming up for air from the ocean of blues.
For his 2009 CD "Come On, If You’re Coming," Benny assembles a powerhouse studio band of blues and swamp rock artists, creating a gutsy and fun set of electric blues in the finest tradition of New Orleans music. Tracks range from the cautionary "Too many Tarzans," to the broken-hearted "Don't Knock," to the easy dance beat of "Let me rock you".
The standout track, not surprisingly, speaks to the hollowness that filled so many houses after the flood-soaked interiors had been stripped down to the studs. "Gutted" tells the story too many of us had to live in concise snapshots: tiny FEMA Travel Trailers, difficulties with the Road Home program, fear of formaldehyde, stressed-out personal relationships, and the struggle to rebuild our homes.
It includes the refrain, "Now I'm gutted. I'm just gutted. Well I ain't moved back in, I'm still just hanging on." It was not just our homes that were violated and left hollow.
Blues done properly is a celebration of life--an acknowledgment of the struggle, yes, but also a declaration of undaunted spirit. In the Post-Katrina world of New Orleans, the struggle is real and ongoing. But the spirit continues to climb.
Benny Maygarden gives us the strength to climb.