“What’s going on London? It’s time to boogie woogie.” And we’re off and running. Charley Crockett and his band The Blue Drifters are currently undertaking their first headline tour of the UK, and very much surfing on the wave of a live TV performance on the Andrew Marr show the previous Sunday. A native of South Texas, Charley Crockett performs music which has its roots in the lone star state and Louisiana – what he describes as “Gulf Coast Boogie Woogie.” Without wanting to further confuse the issue, he promises us, tongue in cheek, to deliver two other kinds of music tonight: “the honk and the tonk.”
On conclusion of his set an hour and a half later it’s fair to say he delivered on the brief by the bucketload. Crockett’s latest album was sure to form a hefty part of tonight’s set, kicking things off with ‘I Wanna Cry,’ written after the passing of his sister who sadly died of a meth overdose. But while plenty of material from the latest record such as the title track, ‘Lonesome As A Shadow’ features, he proves equally up to the task of updating country standards such as ‘Honky Tonk Man’ (a renaming of Loretta Lynn’s ‘Honky Tonk Woman), Tom T. Hall’s ‘That’s How I Got To Memphis,’ and an Ernest Tubb classic, ‘A Dime At A Time.’
That’s not to suggest the material is overwhelmingly country in nature. In fact, Crockett reserves some of his best songs for when he’s in the pocket of a soulful groove, such as ‘If Not The Fool,’ the Bill Withers influenced ‘Sad and Blue’ and ‘Oh So Shaky.’ The latter is very much his signature tune, capturing the spirit of his attempts at trying to get out from under. It’s on ‘Help Me Georgia’ that Crockett’s secret weapon is revealed. Founder member Charlie Mills’s trumpet provides great accompaniment on the song and he’s also a more than capable multi-tasker, playing the trumpet and keys simultaneously on some numbers, while also throwing a Tejano element into the mix on occasion with his infectious accordion playing.
With barely a song above the three minute mark, Crockett comes across as a man in a hurry, positively rattling through the numbers like the trains on which he used to hop on his journeys across the United States. He also has a hilarious line in between song banter, encouraging the audience at one point to visit the merch stall after the gig exclaiming, “You can buy a copy of the album and if you don’t like it you can give me the money and I’ll take lessons,” before adding – almost in the same breath – “But I won’t take any lessons.”
Or how about the following: “People ask me what are your songs about?” “They’re about two or three minutes.” Or “Careful with that jacket. I ain’t paid for it yet.”
When he received a shouted out song request from the audience: “You give me £20 and I’ll play it for you afterwards in the back alley.”
“We accept credit cards at the merch table. We just don’t give ‘em back.”
“I used to drink. I still do.”
By the time the rockabilly-infused guitar of ‘Lil Girl’s Name’ rings out, Crockett is dancing and twisting across the entire breadth of the Borderline stage. ‘Going Back To Texas’ is an equally joyous sounding upbeat affair, its twangy guitar, accordion and trumpet making it almost impossible to resist the temptation to get up and dance.
Charley Crockett is able to draw a direct line of descendants between himself and the famous American folk hero, Davy. His ancestor once said: “Fame is like a shaved pig with a greased tail, and it is only after it has slipped through the hands of some thousands, that some fellow, by mere chance, holds on it.” On the song ‘How Long Will It Last,’ his descendent demonstrates as equally keen an understanding as his forebear of the transient nature of fame. If there’s a particular explanation for Charley Crockett’s recently heightened profile other than the capricious nature of whom the music gods decide to bestow success upon, it’s clearly down to the huge amount of hard work he’s put in over the previous ten years, allied to the rare ability to intuitively blend a number of roots-based genres from 50s style rock ‘n’ roll, to Zydeco and swing, from Tejano and Cajun, through to soul and blues.
Amid all the continuing debate about what constitutes “authenticity” in music, surely what’s counts is the fact that sincerity is at the heart of all good songwriting – and Charley Crockett has sincerity in abundance.
With thanks to David Handley for the use of his great pictures.