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Dave Toussaint (Harmonica), John Adda (bass), Warren Simpson (Guitar& vocals)
Salsa Kitchen, Soy 2, Thanon Ratchawithi, Chiang Mai, Thailand - 24th April 2005




Our man in Thailand Dave Toussant gives us the lowdown on the state of the blues in Chang Mai in the North...

Hi Blues in London

The Thai's love all sorts of music, although sorry to say blues isn't massive here though. They have their own music's like "Lam Tad", "Bong Lang" & "Mor Lam". These styles have a heavy bass like dub reggae but with more of a cha-cha-cha beat. I think most blues fans would like it! They are often blasting out of their small motorbike taxis or "Tuk-Tuks". The other day I was pleasantly surprised to hear Muddy Waters "Hoochie Coochie Man" booming out of a Tuk-Tuk at full volume as I walked down LoiKroh Street (a long street full of bars etc. on the way from the tourist landmark "Tha Pae Gate" to the famous Night Bazaar here in Chiang Mai).

OK- "Blues in Thailand"- There aint much! Chiang Mai I know well so here's the lowdown. There is a bar called "The Blues Bar". It has NO live bands. However the owner is a Thai man who loves blues. He has a great collection of blues music, mostly on tape. He plays nothing else and is a good place to chill out in the evening. It's not far from Tha Pae Gate in Moon Muang road and near The Top North Hotel, on eastern side and inside the moat which surrounds the old city. It is a tiny bar and there is only room for about 8 people inside and another 20 outside. A few doors away is the Sax Music Bar. Until recently this was a good jam place every Wednesday and Saturday. Mostly Jazz but it depended who turned up. It was often a blues jam when I was there. They also have a great CD collection but it is not all blues. Unfortunately Rudi, the artist/drummer/keyboards player who was the owner has split with his missus and she is still there but no jams going on. The police have come down a bit heavy lately on "farangs" earning money by playing in bars! I have to be careful. I hope they don't read this!

Continuing past the Sax Bar and Top North Hotel you come to Rachadamnoen, also known as Sunday Walking street as on that day the street is closed to traffic and becomes a night market from about 6-12pm. There are lots of small bars and restaurants there. About 2/3rds of the way down past two temples and after the cross-roads there is a row of bar/restaurants. The first one of interest is the Writers' Bar. This is mainly a restaurant and meeting place for the Farang literary community. Songwriters are welcome too. There is a resident duo of two girls who sing and play fiddle and guitar respectively. They tend to do folk-jazz and old show tunes but have got a bit of a blues repertoire too. There are all sorts of other musicians who turn up from time to time. I have heard blues music played there and they have some blues CDs which you might persuade them to put on between live acts. A few doors along from there is a favourite dive of mine-"The Hug Bar". The owner, a well-respected Thai musician named "Ae" plays both Thai and western music. He is a great singer and excellent guitarist. He can also play percussion, keyboards and bass and is a fantastic spoons player. I believe he learnt this from an itinerant Irish musician who stopped there a while. Although he doesn't do much blues as such he can and just needs a bit more encouragement in that direction. Regulars include Scott Jones, an American keyboards wizard and singer-songwriter who has some bluesy numbers, Graham, an English Jazz keyboard player who can do some jazz-blues and Warren who I usually play with. He also plays with Scott and Ae and anyone else who wants to do acoustic blues stuff.

Across the street there is a clothes shop run by "Bird". She has a big collection of Blues, Jazz, African and Reggae music for sale. I picked up some unusual stuff there and some rare Blind Blake etc.

Chiang Mai University recently put on a show-"Chiang Mai Blues". Headlining was an Aussie apparently calling himself "Mojo". He is based in the nearby town of Pai, but gets around a bit, so I'm told. He was a very talented all-rounder with a fine, powerful and sincere blues voice. He has great stage presence and electrified the audience with his performance. He played acoustic and 12 string before switching to slide. This was followed by some blistering rocking blues on electric guitar. Some of the numbers I had never heard before.They sounded like the real thing although they may have been originals. He then introduced a Thai guitarist while he switched to blues harp and bullet mic which he played in a straightforward but authoritative way with the familiar chicago/west coast type of sound.

Before we were fully recovered from this he finally blew us away with some great jazzy tenor sax playing before going on to more electric guitar. I hope to go to Pai before I leave Thailand. It is only four hours from Chiang Mai. I understand that Mojo is a regular of the Bebop Bar there and I will certainly look him up.

However,staying with Chiang Mai for the moment I must mention Took again. He must be the best blues guitarist in Thailand. I have played with him a few times now and he is one of the most sensitive and expressive players I have heard anywhere. Oh,yes-and he can really rock! Great singer too. More information on him here: http://www.geocities.com/~johni32/page27.html

The Guitar Man Bar in Loi Kroh had some good acts. Some of them don't want me to mention their names though as there have been a few police and immigration raids lately and some got busted while others are lying low.

So, Thailand and blues. Well yes, there is some... there is a need for more.

Bangkok reportedly has a small but thriving blues scene. Patumtannee and Koh Samui also have a few venues. I didn't see any in Nong Kai or Udon Thani but they may well exist.

That's it for now.

Breaking the news on the blues,
Dave


More about Dave Toussant on his website: www.harmonicaboom.com