Downstairs at the Maj22 – 25 June, 2011
Boogie Woogie, the strong left hand of the blues, drives this fabulous journey by venerable jazzman Dick Hughes and his darling daughter Christa back to the boozy, sexy world of dives and speakeasies, shotgun shacks and sugar mamas.
The younger Hughes, she of Machine Gun Fellatio and Circus Oz fame, is every bit a 21st Century girl, but she’s steeped in the music of Bessie Smith, Memphis Slim and Jelly Roll Morton and the other legends of early 20th Century blues.
She sings the songs her daddy taught her with steamy authenticity and an outrageous inventiveness that dusts them off and drops them right back in the present.
Christa would be the star of any show she was in, and her old man is no slouch, either on the keys or when he fronts up to a vocal. Despite one of the autobiographies of his long, fecund life being titled Don’t You Sing!, he does a gruffly winning number on Morton’s Winin’ Boy and a lovely, affectionate duet with his daughter on Spencer William’s Everybody Loves My Baby.
Maybe his playing is a tad shaky on occasions – as he’d be the first to tell you, he’s no spring chicken these days – but it’s shot through with the spirit of the music, and that left hand of his is still good and strong when it counts.
Dick’s musicality and knowledge gives the show a depth that complements Christa’s showgalship perfectly; the world knows Why Don’t You Do Right, the Benny Goodman/ Peggy Lee 1942 standard, but the Hugheses give us the original version, Weed Smoker’s Dream, by the Harlem Hamfats, a tale of dope and sex for sale that would send the guardians of our censorious times into paroxysms.
Another legendary tune, St James Infirmary, has been worked by greats from Louis Armstrong to the White Stripes, and here it has a dark, brooding treatment very reminiscent of former Cold Chisel songwriter Don Walker’s contemporary adaptation of the song, the heartbreaking Danielle.
But don’t get me wrong; this is no academic exercise. Christa does some amazing things with megaphones, microphones and, especially, beer, while she sashays and smoulders her way through some very horny material like the hard drinking hell-cat she’s made her persona.
An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 24.6.11