It was a cool September morning, when the truck pulled into the driveway. After a brief greeting, a handshake and a hug we loaded up the truck and were on our way. It was a three-hour drive to our destination and we were anxious to get there. It had been several years since the last onstage performance of the original members of the locally relevant band Code Blue and though we were very familiar and comfortable with each other’s ability there was still a feeling of uncertainty in the air. The plan was to perform as a quartet, but just a day before the performance, the keyboardist, my brother Isaac “Little Top” Littsey, had taken ill and would not be up to taking the trip. Such is the life of a working musician; you know the old saying…“The Show Must Go On!”
The time spent on the road was filled with reminiscing and not-so-tall-tales about people we hadn’t seen in awhile and performances from way back when. Tom Mayer, our drummer who had returned from a long sojourn in Paris, France, regaled me with some of his experiences as an American working overseas. His French was better than some peoples English and though he had a wonderful time you could tell he was glad to be back home. So glad, that we compared his return to that of a returning war veteran. There were so many friends and acquaintances to see, it was a bit of a challenge to spend time with his parents, Carl and Margaret and his sister Amy. Soon the tour would be over and he would be able to settle into a normal routine once again.
When we finally arrived at the home of our bass player John Adams, we are all smiles. John, who is a great cook, had the grill going and our pre-gig meal was almost finished. I had to take a quick look at his garden, it’s twice the size of mine, and received a quick dose of “pepper envy”. His peppers, as with most of what he was growing, were big and fat…just ripe for picking! Row upon row of vegetables…beans, tomatoes, squash, beets, lettuces, herbs…you name it, growing quite impressively in his garden. Tom thought it was pretty funny that we could go from businessmen to musicians to gardeners in a matter of seconds. Maybe it is because of our shared backgrounds…we all work in advertising, we love to perform and we have a real appreciation for the beauty of nature. We are able to move back and forth from one mutual interest to another with relative ease.
After dinner, which was simple yet tasty, we create the set list for the night’s performance. I was going to use the guitar of our recently departed friend and John’s brother-in-law Rob Finney, a mahogany Fender Telecaster, as a simple tribute/dedication. Plus, this style or model of guitar was the instrument of preference of one of my heroes, the late and great Muddy Waters! Knowing that we were going to be onstage for approximately two hours we had a lot of songs to choose from and settled on doing a classic blues set with the typical Code Blue-style twists. The songs were:
- Help Me
- Boom Boom
- Highway 49
- Tin Pan Alley
- Louisiana Blues
- Rock Me Baby
- The Same Thing
- Wee Wee Baby
- How Many More Years
- Wang Dang Doodle
- Mannish Boy
We were doing material by all of the greats…Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King. We hoped to entertain and we did!
When we got into the beautiful town of Niles, Michigan we were greeted by the promoter of the concert and were given several copies of that day’s newspaper. There we were on the front page of the town’s paper (just below the fold) with a nice story about the band. Here it is in its entirety…
“Blues band wraps up Thursday night concerts!”
“The last Thursday night free concert of the season, blues band Code Blue, will play from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Niles Riverfront Amphitheater.
Originally a five-piece blues band that was launched in the late 1980’s, Code Blue virtually from the very start has been a featured performing act and has played most of the major blues rooms and festivals in southeast Michigan.
Featuring the voice and guitar work (lead guitar and slide) of “Little Brother Arthur David” Littsey, the band is known for its hard driving “Chicago-influenced” style of blues. Arthur’s growl will remind listeners of either Louis Armstrong or the Howlin’ Wolf, and his guitar will either take concert-goers along the banks of the Mississippi, the cotton fields of the delta or the smoke filled barrooms of Bourbon Street.
But this band is not “Little Brother Arthur David” by himself. Much has been said and written about the dynamic rhythm section of Johnny “Ace” Adams on bass guitar and Tommy “Tomcat” Mayer on the drums. Very reminiscent of the tight sound of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s sidemen “Double Trouble” (Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton), these two provide the foundation that propels the sound of Code Blue like a train dieseling down the track.
An added treat for at any performance is Isaac “Little Top” Littsey on keyboards. Isaac is the older brother of “Little Brother” and is more or less responsible for giving Arthur his stage name. “Little Top” follows in the tradition of another great keyboardist, namely Booker T. Jones (of the MGs). His rich Hammond organ sound clearly adds another ingredient to the mix turning it all into a rich “blues stew” that is not only tasty, but very funky too.”
When we were introduced we received a few humorous comments about being a Detroit-based blues band with a “Chicago” style or sound and continued to confused the audience by playing the songs in a way that showed tremendous understanding and respect for the genre but not a note-by-note reproduction of the material. Each song was given a warm applause, hopefully not just because of the audience’s familiarity with the material but for our interpretations. Since we had practiced as a quartet, playing as a three piece made us think and perform each song differently than what was planned. But at the end of the night we were as happy about our performance as the audience was. In fact, we were even asked to do an encore…“I’ve Got My Mojo Working”. Code Blue had it’s mojo workin’ and we can’t wait to crank it up again soon!