Robin BANK$ & + Christian DOZZLER and occasional band at the Banana Peel Ruiselede on Monday, April 19, 2010.
Seven years after we had seen her at work into ‘De Blauwe Wolk’ in Zottegem (April 4th, 2003), she landed on Belgian soil again for a number of concerts. We didn’t learn about this until we noticed that she was going to perform at the Banana Peel in Ruiselede, but that seemed an excellent environment to go and listen to her again anyway. Robin Banks is her name (she prefers to write it as Robin Bank$), and she comes from Chatham, Ontario, Canada. Driven by the holy fire of Chicago and Texas blues and fascinated by the greats from the fifties and sixties ("Most of my heroes are dead” she said in 2003), she moved to Dallas, TX, where she developed into the jazz and especially blues singer she is today.
Already at that time, she was in the (musical) ban of the Austrian multi-instrumental wonder boy Christian Dozzler (formerly with the legendary Mojo Blues Band, once a household name at the Banana Peel, but Dozzler hadn’t been here since 1999): "He excels in everything" she said, "and I’m going to try to ‘keep’ him.“ At ‘De Blauwe Wolk’, she was assisted by a bunch of local musicians, namely harp player Big Dave Reniers, Dutch guitarist Mischa den Haring and super drummer Wilfried ‘Willy Maze’ Maes (once member of the famed Electric Kings, but since they disbanded he was to be found wherever a ‘blues metronome’ was needed), alongside with her former bass player. This collaboration pleased her so well that if she returned (and that would be soon, you could rest assured) she definitely would use their services again, so she said at that time.
Alas, life decided otherwise: in two years time she lost her parents and she went to Kingston, Jamaica, where she confronted her style of singing to the local reggae scene, apparently with remarkable results, but from that period obviously nothing was to be heard at the BP. Finally, after five years, she returned to Toronto and took Christian Dozzler, the giant with curly hair who still lives in TX, under the arm again. End of 2009 they released their duo album ‘Livin ‘Life’ and they came over to Belgium to promote it. Little has changed since 2003. She looks a little more ‘in the flesh’, but that is certainly not an obstacle for her being a handsome, even sexy appearance. Bank$ and Dozzler were flanked by the man born in this village and still living nearby, guitarist Willy De Vleesschouwer, who specialized in accompanying various artists and plays the finest solos on his creamy sounding guitars. On the electric bass Carlo Van Belleghem, originally a rock artist, but he developed into a passionate all rounder, and finally Wilfried Maes, the one who stood by her in Zottegem seven years earlier. Tonight she gave him a new nickname: ‘Woof’ or ‘Wuff’ (Wilfried had some problem understanding why)
But of course the concert revolved around the foreign guests. Dozzler started off both parts of the show, with three, respectively one song, of which two stemmed from the duo CD (‘Roxanne’ and ‘Story Of The Blues’) but further on, he modestly did his accompanying thing, playing many solo’s, often alternating with Willy. Striking is the ease and economy with which he plays his parts, not one superfluous note, everything in the right place. "I’ve never seen myself as a boogie woogie piano player, I am a Blues man”, he stated afterwards, and we only can agree. For instance the way he added that New Orleans touch into ‘Roxanne’ (The Meters, Dr. Prof. Longhair, Dr. John) was simply masterful. In the second part he also played some blues harp and that was no less than a revelation. No wonder Robin exhorted him with a well meant "Come on, Little Walter." during the LW song "He’s So Fine". That says it all.
Bank$ herself brought the expected cocktail of classics and her own work. She was well aware of the venerable status of the Banana Peel, but that did not prevent her to invite us to just let the good times roll. We admit we were slightly worried at the beginning of the gig, because Robin seemed to have cultivated showbiz mannerisms in the meantime, but we soon found out that this was only the consequence of a certain unfamiliarity with the BP environment… Soon she found out that she quite simply could be who she is, and then the true nature of the beast fully surfaced again: a Robin Bank$ who frankly speaks her mind and teases the (male) audience with her slightly daring humor ("Since he takes his Viagra, his pistol’s always ready’), a Robin Bank$ who’s doing her thing with unmistakable poise and loads of vitality. And she does that ‘thing’ damn good: as a singer she is well aware of her possibilities. She gets the most out of what she’s really able to do, and that’s quite a bit. You don’t know what to admire most: her honesty or her professionalism. The playful interaction with her audience is seldom seen. "They compare women with cars or boats. I compare men with alcohol … Are you a cocktail … Or are you a beer?", she asks, and then she’s into the opener of the new CD, ‘Cocktail Or Beer’.
Robin is well aware that she’s just a link in a long chain, and that she owes much to the previous generations. Hence the many familiar tunes she brings. But even having heard ‘Everyday I’ve Got The Blues’, ‘Reconsider Baby’ (with one of the best interventions we’ve ever heard from Willy) and ‘Got My Mojo Working’ so many times before, they sound fresh and new, for her enthusiasm really keeps alive those fine evergreens. About her good friend, the late Sam Myers, she ponders, genuinely moved: "He still inspires me, he was my hero and my friend," after which she bursts into ‘Gotta Move’. From Jimmy Rogers she delivers ‘Rock This House’ and during that song she even shouts at Willy “Come on, Jimmy Rogers”. So for one single moment Willy was in Muddy Waters’ band! The first part ends with her own ‘The Whiskey Song’ (from ‘Honestly’, 2001), a song she is quite proud of (though she didn’t show it at this instance) This tune is definitely a classic in the making.
The supreme moment proved to be the last song before the unavoidable giveaways, a long drawn-out version of ‘Bluebird’ (as it appeared on ‘Live After Dark’, 2002) She jumped from the BP ‘stage’ and sang on and on amongst the audience, of course without mike, which she clearly didn’t need. Dozzler added one of those smashing solos he’s got the secret of. A concert of Robin Bank$ will never blow you away nor will it change the world, but we know a bunch of worse ways to spend an evening. After the concert, she has a kind word for anyone who cares to talk to her. Such a personality blues fans all over like to close into their hearts and we mean this in the proper way. We hope that it will not take another seven years before we can enjoy her presence again. We’re already wondering which name she will then give to Wuff!
Antoine Légat (Dutch original for the site of blues mag Back To The Roots April 22nd, 2010) – This translation Freddy Slock & Antoine Légat (April 28th, 2010)