Event review: Bourbon and Blues welcomes Debbie Bond and the Tru Dats


By - Tuesday 11th August, 2015

Trouble looks inviting to Katie Rose at a special Ambition Festival edition of Bourbon and Blues


Photo by Debbie Bond, used with permission.

‘You’re the kind of trouble I could get into’ – the first track on Debbie Bond’s new album ‘That Thing Called Love’ – is her opener at the special Bourbon and Blues event for Ambition Festival in the newly launched Air Balloon space at Matthews Yard. Trouble does indeed look inviting as Debbie’s warm husky vocals float above her shimmering mother-of-pearl guitar riffs, enticing us to listen up.

Debbie is expertly backed by the Tru Dats: her ‘Steady Rolling Man’ partner-in-blues Rick Asheron flourishes on keys and harp whilst mellow saxophonist Ray Carless and renowned drummer Sam Kelly join the band for this UK tour. From tight drops to closing kicks, every moment is slick yet relaxed between this veteran line-up. Languorous deep blues solos linger in reflective moments, counterbalanced by playful musical repartee in lively numbers.

Debbie puts women back in the main frame of the blues

Debbie describes her music as eclectic and her set comprises soulful original songs alongside blues classics such as a truly fantastic feline rendering of the irresistible Slim Harpo hit ‘Baby scratch my back.’ Reminding us that the song ‘Got my mojo working’ was first sung by Ann Coles before Muddy Waters, she puts women back in the main frame of the blues, saying of the Junior Well’s number, ‘Help me,’ that the lyrics suit a woman better – “I might have to wash/I might have to sew/I might have to cook/I’ll even mop that floor/But you gonna help me baby/I can’t do it all by myself/If you don’t help me baby/I better find somebody else”.

The creeks of the backwoods of Alabama flow through the lyrics of these songs, bringing us back through toe-tapping melodies and straight-talking lyrics to the most raw aspects of humanity. Born in California, Debbie returned to the US after living in Europe, settling in Alabama in 1979. She played with many blues masters including Willie King and his band The Liberators – so called because he aimed to liberate people through the blues. Debbie pays tribute to King’s integrity, his lack of interest in fame and his commitment to his community, calling him The Bob Marley of the Blues.

Image by Debbie Bond, used with permission.

Having been active in the Civil Rights movement, King founded the Rural Members’ Association to provide training for the community and later set up the renowned Freedom Creek Blues Festival. Declining many requests to perform internationally, he preferred to play at his favourite local spot, saying that ‘if you could make it happen in Bettie’s Juke Joint, you could do it anywhere.’ Debbie quotes him describing the many jams there as a ‘gumbo soup’ of all the flavours, life experiences and feelings that the musicians put into each song, and her performance is certainly infused with all those special ingredients.

Through the blues, Debbie delivers home truths, from the personal way love can get ‘messed up’ in ‘Lovers will’ to the political Alabama Women In Blues song, ‘Nothin but the blues’: “You claim you’re killin’ for peace, to set people free/But people are dying is all we can see/Oil and guns and lies to confuse/It’s a fool’s game/Nothin’ but the blues”. Her song ‘Tarragona blues’ fuses the political tension of the eve of Barack Obama’s re-election with the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage: “we’ve still got a long, long way, a long way to go”.

Music is a form of social activism – a way to liberate

Debbie says she draws hope from playing music and the people she meets. Inspired by playing with Johnny Shines from 1981-1992, she founded the Alabama Blues Project in 1995, a non-profit organisation providing blues music tuition for children aged 8-18, including those in challenging circumstances. Alabama played a crucial role in the civil rights movement – Martin Luther King was arrested for taking part in protests and wrote his famous ‘Letter’ whilst in jail there in 1963.

This background, Debbie says, is sometimes overlooked – the recently released film Muscle Shoals focussed only on ‘one slice of the story’ of Alabama’s rich musical history, that of Rick Hall’s Fame Studios where the likes of The Rolling Stones recorded hits. Debbie is clearly continuing the legacy of musicians like Willie King who saw music as a form of social activism, a way to liberate and bring peace to communities.

I float out into the streets of Croydon

She engages the audience with easy humour, saying that she has been warned about the house Sangria – ‘it tastes like fruit juice’ – and calling on us to be her gospel choir and add backup vocals following the lead of Rick Asheron. Noticing that ‘there’s a little bit of shaking going on in here’ she finally insists that the lights come down and we all get on our feet to dance out the last number.

As I float out into the streets of Croydon, which are still humming with the sounds of Ambition Festival, Debbie’s lyrics, “Love is a power you just can’t explain, It’s a mystery, a magic, a separate plane”, are left ringing in my ears. It does feel as if I’ve been transported, through the songs and stories of the Alabama blues, up, up and away in the magical Air Balloon at Matthews Yard, into the realm of ‘That Thing Called Love’.


Debbie’s album, ‘That Thing Called Love,’ and details of her current UK tour dates are available at www.debbiebond.com

Katie Rose

Katie Rose

Katie Rose - Singer, Composer, Conductor, Writer - Katie loves singing and helping people sing. Described by the Guardian as a 'fine singer' and by fRoots magazine as an 'eye (and ear) opener,' she has released three albums. Committed to creating uplifting, inclusive experiences of singing, Katie has led singing sessions in hospitals, hospices, festivals and community choirs across London. Convinced of the power of music to make waves in the world she has conducted mass choral events for Sing for Water and is directing Croydon's first Festival of Peace 2018. For more information visit www.therosewindow.org

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  • Stephen Giles

    Excellent article.