Sunday, March 30, 2003

Everyday


White guy from the 'burbs plays some red-hot blues

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You have to have chops to be a white guy playing the blues.

You have to handle more skepticism than Castro at an ACLU meeting, alter more moods than Happy Hour. White men can't jump. Or play like Muddy Waters. Everyone knows that.

So what's a man from white-bread Montgomery (Sycamore High '77) doing in a place like this, a cozy hole-in-the-wall in downtown Nashville, with a balcony and down-home beers like Abita Turbo Dog, singing shake-that-thang like he has lived it?

Maybe he has.

A good thing about writing sports for a living is the chance it presents to see something you might never see again. I might see another Stacy Mitchhart, dressed in a cherry-red suit and matching beret, worn backward, playing a Gibson electric guitar as if his fingers are on fire, burning up a tune he wrote called "I Wanna UMMM With You'' as every booty in the place is swinging in time.

But probably not.

He has been in Nashville eight years, leading man for Stacy and The Blues You Can Use, the house band at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar.

Every time I'm in Nashville, I watch him play, because listening to the blues takes them away.

Stacy Mitchhart puts a stupid grin on my face I wear until the house lights come up.

"It's intended to pull the bad outta you and make it better'' is how Mitchhart describes the music.

Sounds like therapy.

But if you grow up in Montgomery, eating Skyline and Graeter's and going to birthday parties, and Kings Island is right up the road, how blue can you be? Dr. Dre didn't go nationwide covering the Monkees.

"The biggest challenge is to be taken seriously,'' Mitchhart says. He has had black club owners and promoters tell him they won't book him because he's white: "I don't fit the stereotype.''

Many years ago, Mitchhart played to an all-black audience in a gut-bucket joint in Louisville.

"I showed up, their eyes rolled up in their head, arms crossed, (they said), `OK, white boy, what have you got?' '' He showed them. "It's never a problem after I perform.''

Mitchhart will tell you the blues isn't a lifestyle, but a feeling. He grew up with it.

He hung out with the Hedges brothers, Eddie and Billy, both black, both members of Blessid Union of Souls.

They formed a band when Stacy was 13 and stayed together several years, covering Marvin Gaye, B.B. King and popular R&B.

The Hedgeses' father was a preacher at a storefront church on Gilbert Avenue. On Sundays, the band played for the small congregation, all day, because all day was how long the service lasted. "Preach, eat, talk, preach, go home,'' is how Stacy puts it.

All the while, the white kid from Montgomery was honing a love for the blues.

"I liked the Beatles OK,'' he says. "But I was never into the (Rolling) Stones or Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. I liked Sly and the Family Stone, and Stevie Wonder.''

If you've listened to live music here anytime since the late 1970s, you've probably heard Stacy Mitchhart. He has played every restaurant in Mount Adams. He has played the 1207 Club, fronted a house band at the Hyatt, even spent time at the Precinct.

He moved to Nashville in 1996, and hasn't left. "I'm just doing the music I love, the music I feel, the music I do best,'' Mitchhart says. He listens to the masters three or four times a week: B.B. King, Albert King, Big John Hurt, Bobby Blue Bland. Mitchhart wears a suit onstage to honor them.

"Every picture I've seen of them, Bobby Bland, B.B., Howlin' Wolf, they all had on suits. If people pay money to see me, I owe them a good presentation.''

Mitchhart likes to quote his friend Rufus Thomas, creator of the legendary Funky Chicken: "The blues is nothing but a misunderstanding between two fools.''

What a lovely misunderstanding. Now pass me that Turbo Dog, and get up and dance.

E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com

Stacy Mitchhart will perform at the Blue Note, West Eighth Street and Overlook Avenue, Price Hill, 9:30 p.m. Friday. Tickets: $7. Information: (513) 921-8898.




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