“My parents were … bizarre,” Baby Gramps mutters at Hank’s Saloon on Sunday night, from somewhere behind his bushy moustache. Genes never bred truer.
The Seattle singer, on a solo trip through New York (he also already played at Terra Blues, Crash Mansion, the Living Room, and will be tonight, Monday, at the Rodeo Bar) is quite a character, and he knows it. His full gray beard sports a braid that starts a good 5 inches from his chin and reaches down to the center of his guitar when he sits down. His moustache makes me doubt whether he could ever enjoy the chunks in a chunky soup…
Baby Gramps (a self-styled oxymoron, like “marijuana initiative”) plays a vintage nickeled-brass National resonator guitar and sings in a raspy, lived-dangerously voice to which he often adds some throat singing –either by itself, in a rich fog-horn hoot, or together with the ordinary voice, as a deep bass counterpoint. The delivery is spirited to frantic, the foot tapping lively to almost goose-stepping in place, and the songs –covers and originals alike– mine the tradition that gave birth to the National, the 1920′s and 1930′s and the beginnings of recorded popular blues, such as Stuff Smith’s If You’re a Viper, replete with the deep sucking sounds from the later Fats Waller version.
For the grand finale, the audience joins in and sings with abandon “Scrotum, scrotum, it’s a hairy scary voodoo bag!” His parents were … bizarre?