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Bloodkin Sails with Lynyrd Skynyrd

By Daniel Hutchens

Back on January 14, Bloodkin opened for Drive By Truckers at the 40 Watt Club in Athens GA. My buddy James Calemine asked me to submit a piece to Swampland about that show, but I never got it together––I got busy preparing for a cruise to Cozumel, “Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man Cruise”, which featured several legendary old-school Southern Rock bands bands playing onboard the ship, as well as quite a few more obscure, grassroots type bands...of which Bloodkin was one. It was the 4th year Skynyrd has hosted a cruise of this sort, and it turned out to be a lot of fun.

As for the Bloodkin/Truckers show at the 40 Watt, let me just say for the record, it was one of the best rock n roll nights I’ve experienced in quite some time...both as a performer and as a spectator. The Bloodkin set that night was, in my mind at least, right on the money; particularly cool was our cover of Vic Chesnutt’s “Isadora Duncan” featuring Todd McBride on lead vocal. Before our set, “Camp Amped” took the stage––they’re a collection of young musicians who participate in the Camp Amped program run by Nuci’s Space in Athens. Camp Amped is a summer day camp for youth that focuses on the kids’ interest in music; the show at the 40 Watt was like the All Star kids from that program, putting on their first show in public. They rocked hard. It was a joy to behold.

Then of course after the Bloodkin set, the Truckers blew the roof off the joint, as usual. I had a wonderful time sidestage with my wife, Kristy, just taking in a show by a great band, I treat I don’t get to indulge in too often––it’s like the old saying about working in a restaurant; when you get off work you usually don’t want to go out to dinner, and the same holds true for musicians––I don’t get to see as many great shows as I’d like, ‘cause when I get home from the road, I’m ready for time with the wife and kids...

So that’s the brief recap for the show I didn’t write about. Following is my journal for the cruise I did write about––here we go––as they said on the boat, “Can we get a big HELL YEAH!”

 January 21, 2010
3:00 PM
onboard the cruise ship Inspiration,
docked in Tampa FL

Kristy and I just got settled into our cabin here, and the rest of the Bloodkin guys have found their rooms elsewhere...we’re playing the “Lynyrd Skynyrd Simple Man Cruise,” five days onboard, to Cozumel, Mexico and back...which will mark the first time I’ve ever been to Mexico. Eric Carter and I used to talk about beating it to Mexico and having crazed adventures in the tradition of Kerouac and Burroughs. (Well...I didn’t exactly plan to shoot my wife in the head like Burroughs did down there, but maybe just write some “Mexico City Blues” or something.) But those trips never materialized.

Also back when I was touring with Moe Tucker, and Sterling Morrison was also playing in that band and at the time he lived in Texas, he and I were making vague plans that “sometime” I’d come down and visit, and he’d take me into Mexico to see some ancient Mayan ruins––but then Sterling got sick and died, and so that trip never happened either.

Now, when this cruise docks in Cozumel, they’re offering a ferry to mainland Mexico, and a hiking trip to see some Mayan ruins. So. Kristy and I are planning to go...for me, I guess it’s better late than never...

 January 22, 2010
10:15 AM
en route to Cozumel

This morning we’re just about smack dab in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico; tomorrow morning we’ll be docking in Cozumel. Last night was foggy and wind-whipped––this morning is bright and clear and the sea a shimmering royal blue––out our cabin window the view is half that royal blue, then the sky above the far horizon is more a pale milky bluewhite–-the sea and the sky, simple and gorgeous.

Earlier Kristy and I walked to the extreme forward observation deck and faced front, watching the nose of the vessel slicing through the waves, extreme wind making us lean to maintain balance...

Last night Bloodkin played our first set of the cruise, on the Lido Deck––but no, we didn’t play “Lido Shuffle”, though the thought did cross my mind. It was a fair set to a fair crowd, picking up steam as we rolled along––the first time all six of us (with both Tonks and Martino at the same time) have played together in several months. Cool to get all the spices a-bubbling in the same pot together again...but I look forward to tonight’s latenight set in the Candlelight Lounge...I think last night we tuned the engine, tonight we’ll rev ‘er up.

Last night we all wandered around separately after our show, and took in various courses of the Southern Rock Orgy––Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special, Molly Hatchet––whew. The Molly Hatchet guys seemed to be having a genuinely great time, stepping over the line into Spinal Tap territory, but they damn sure were having fun, and eventually so did I. All their fist-pumping jumping-jack histrionics, preaching support for “the troops” then waving their Confederate flag, with much pride and (seemingly) liquor-addled zeal––but their giddiness was kind of contagious.

January 24, 2010
6:35 AM
en route back from Cozumel to Tampa

.Just waking up, and just watched the sun rising from the sea out our cabin window...Kristy and I will head up for breakfast in a few minutes.

Last night our whole entourage took in The Outlaws out on the Lido Deck... “Green Grass And High Tides”, “Ghost Riders In The Sky”, and a bunch of songs I’ve never heard, but, man, they were excellent...I’ve certainly never “studied” them before, but they have more of a pop songwriting bent than most of the old-school Southern Rock outfits, mixed in with an absolutely top-shelf dual-lead-guitar attack and precise vocal harmonies...I was duly impressed and have decided to quit Bloodkin and follow The Outlaws around on tour. (But seriously, I was regaling my bandmates last night with a tangent about how “The Outlaws are the Bloodkin of old-school Southern Rock”:

They never made it quite as big as some of their brethren bands; they have a tendency toward minor-key songs with relatively “heavier” and more “artistic” lyrics, and these songs build from a simmering, brooding beginning to a thunderous and wicked lead guitar climax (compare “Green Grass And High Tides” with, say, “Quarter Tank Of Gasoline”, for example)...their current lead singer also plays rhythm guitar, like I do, and of course Skynyrd and Hatchet and .38 Special have the frontman vocalist who usually doesn’t play an instrument...

Of course I was being somewhat tongue-in-cheek about all this, but there’s a grain of truth...and Eric Martinez confirmed my enthusiasm for The Outlaws, telling me “They smoked Skynyrd”...but I’m not sure the other guys in our band were convinced.

The only band I’ve seen on the cruise so far who outgunned The Outlaws were Hill Country Revue, who I caught the previous night in the Candlelight Lounge. They played right before the Bloodkin set, which turned out to be sparsely attended; we indeed revved ‘er up a notch, but were thwarted by competing performances, mainly a “Skynard and Friends” type jam session at the other end of the boat...such is life.

But Hill Country Revue features Cody Dickinson on guitar, and any music I’ve ever heard him or his brother Luther play, has always been righteous and rockin’...no surprise, as Cody and Luther are the sons of the late Jim Dickinson, a monumental icon of American Music, who was a brilliant producer and bad-ass keyboard player...he also happened to be a personal hero of mine, but that’s a whole other song and dance. The point is, the Revue killed it that night, they were no-nonsense downhome boogie n swagger, catch ‘em anytime you have a chance and I guarantee they won’t disappoint. They’ll make you feel like you just knocked back a swaller of pristine Mississippi moonshine then got kicked in the head by a supernatural muse of a mule.

I haven’t yet caught my old Athens acquaintance Kevn Kinney and the rest of the Drivin N Cryin boys, but I’ve received rave reviews, heard tell they’re in top form and rockin’ harder than ever, which I’m certain is true. Hope to catch them later tonight.

9:40 AM
So yesterday Kristy and I ventured onto the island of Cozumel. (Our guided tour to the Mayan ruins was canceled “due to not meeting the minimum number of participants.”) So Kristy and I were left to our own devices.

We quickly made our way through the tourist-trap giftshop strip mall that’s built right around the dock, and got out into the streets proper. We talked to a few folks at guided tour stands, and before long we secured the services of a very helpful taxi driver named Elias. He gave us a personalized tour of the island...we saw picture-perfect stretches of beaches, I was fairly stunned at the raw beauty of the undeveloped sand n surf, amazing scenery, and if I can use the term “vibe”, it just won me over, and I really want to return to Cozumel someday and bring the kids along. We saw great “kiddie pool” areas on the beaches, little wading pools naturally barricaded from the surf by rock formations, little Mexican kids happily frolicking in the crystal clear blue water...one such “kiddie pool” was about half a mile from a thatched-roof establishment called “Hotel Ventanas Al Mar”, a ridiculously scenic spot...Elias told us the hotel was used frequently for location shoots for Mexican films and TV, and I could see why. I’m fantasizing already about staying there a week or so, long enough to really absorb some of the spirit of the place, a big family vacation by the sea with the wife and kids...

On a beach called “Punta Sur” Kristy and I came across a huge iguana, sunning himself atop a 6-foot stack of stones, and he was so still and poised and perfect, that at first I thought he was some sort of stone sculpture...but he was real, alive, seemed ancient and mystically wise and the undisputed steward of that shoreline. He reminded me of the great Tennessee Williams short story/play/movie, Night Of The Iguana––the Reverend Shannon guiding his tour group through Mexico to the End Of The Line––and now in Cozumel and I was seeing the scenery of that story come to life.

Then later we came across a cool, no-frills little beachside bar called “Senor Iguana’s”, so of course I had to check it out. It was one of several joints we saw that struck me as beautiful places to get lost––slow, even timeless, little Mexican cantinas––where the barflies just appear like driftwood, suck down a few Sols and just gaze down the shore dreaming, hypnotized by the waves rolling in and out forever...

We also noticed tiny concrete dollhouse-sized shrines along the road, turned out to be the Mexican equivalent of “crosses by the highway” in America, little memorials to people who have died along that particular stretch of road. These little shrines are variously painted, inscribed with the name of the departed and facts about their life on Earth––I stopped and photographed one such shrine to a man named Hector Arredondo.

So the bottom line is, Cozumel struck me as incredibly scenic and “fun in the sun” gorgeous, but also somehow a little sad at moments, but genuine, and possessing some kind of secret I’d someday love to come back and investigate.

But for the time being we’re back on the boat, with one more full day and night of heavy-duty Southern Rock awaiting us. And do I love Southern Rock? Well, officer...you got me dead to rights. Rock n roll sure did save my life at a pretty young age, transformed me into a better person than I otherwise would have been...and to quote Duane Allman, “The term ‘Southern Rock’ is redundant.”

It all traces back to the South musically...jazz, blues, and rock n roll are fruits of a weird hybrid of cultures slammed together in an unholy stew of slavery, flight from religious persecution, desperation and fear and courage, and all manner of extreme circumstances...and those cultures sifted together and became One, more than the sum of its parts, and that’s when the music was born.

January 28, 2010
3:00 AM
Athens GA

Back home now, and man it’s great to get back to our babies and beagles. The trip was pure rollicking good times, but I’m so grateful that at this point in my life I have so much to come home to. I’m a lucky man.

So the last day of the cruise turned out to be the coolest day of all. We did a Bloodkin meet and greet in the afternoon, which was kind of interesting. One woman who came through the line for autographs and photos told me she lives in Ripley, West Virginia, which is where my mom lives, and where I grew up. Small world.

Also that afternoon I finally caught a set by Lynyrd Skynyrd. First time I’ve ever seen them play. They were smooth and fine, layin’ down those classic sounds...halfway through the set Johnny Van Zant went off on a tangent about supporting our American troops overseas, kind of a gung-ho patriotic speech, and also he explained why every American needs to keep a loaded pistol in a drawer by their bedside...I don’t exactly agree with Skynard’s politics, but I sure do agree with the classic music they’ve been making all these years. It was cool watching them...they have a presence, powerful, just walking out onstage they put a charge in the atmosphere. Toward the end of their set they played “The Ballad Of Curtis Lowe”, which is my alltime favorite Skynard song. Then they concluded with “Sweet Home Alabama”, and it was something to behold...I was maybe 15 feet from the stage, out on the Lido Deck, a beautiful clear day as we floated back ‘crost the Gulf Of Mexico...memorable.

At 10:00 that evening we played our third and final Bloodkin set of the cruise, in the Candlelight Lounge again...and the third time was our charm; it was easily our best performance and best crowd. It felt good, and I was kind of sorry we didn’t have more shows stretching out in front of us, just when we were hitting our stride.

After we played our set in the Lounge, Drivin N Cryin played the latenight show...first time I’ve seen them in about a year, and they were on it, inspiring. Kevn Kinney’s new song “(Whatever Happened To The) Great American Bubble Factory” speaks what I feel in my heart about the condition of America today––as opposed to Skynyrd’s “God & Guns” viewpoint––(but hey, music’s more powerful and more important than politics anyway)––but “Bubble Factory” is a brilliant song, another in a long line of brilliant songs Kevn has written over the years (his little introduction to the song summed it up: “I bought a little bottle of soap bubbles for my granddaughter and noticed it was made in China. I thought, What the fuck is wrong with America? Can’t we even make bubbles here anymore?”) I’ve been listening to him, solo and with Drivin N Cryin and with other bands he’s worked with, since about 1987, right after I first moved to Athens––he’s been one of the mainstays on my musical landscape, right up there with Athenians like Vic Chesnutt and Widespread Panic––so hearing Drivin N Cryin play again that night was like catching up with an old friend.

(All photos courtesy of Daniel Hutchens & Family)

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