A Musical Feast

With the holidays on the horizon, there's no better time to sing the praises of food. Bill Towber understands that, and so he's offering a third helping of his Blue Plate Special this Saturday on R&B Jukebox, his weekly show on KUVO. The two-hour musical smorgasbord promises to be a hip-shaking pre-Thanksgiving celebration.

It's a tasteful fit for Towber, who, despite his "Easy Bill" handle, is arguably the baddest blues man in town. His band, Easy Bill & the Big Beat, plays made-from-scratch rhythm and blues, the kind made famous by cats such as Ike Turner, T-Bone Walker, Johnny "Guitar" Watson and their bluesy, swinging peers. These artists were keen on full-flavored music and meals. "Both make you feel good," Towber points out.

Towber started serving up the Blue Plate Special early in his days of hosting R&B Jukebox. While searching for themes, he found that thrilling foods were as much a staple of old-school songs as dancing, drinking and finding true love. This year's incarnation will include such satisfying stompers as Louis Jordan's "Saturday Night Fish Fry," Cab Calloway's "Everybody Eats When They Come to My House" and Slim Gaillard's "Potato Chips," as well as Rosco Gordon's "Cheese & Crackers," voted "Weirdest Record of the Week" by Billboard in 1956.

"There are all of these old songs about food," Towber says, "and some of them are actually about food." Many are not, however. "One of the big double entendres is food," he adds. "Wynonie Harris has a lot of them. 'Keep On Churnin'' is a great one, and then there's 'I Like My Baby's Pudding.'" In their day, these bawdy blues tunes weren't played on the radio -- if the subject matter of the songs wasn't enough to get them banned, there was also the skin color of the artists themselves -- but found homes on jukeboxes and basement turntables. "You listen to these songs and it's hysterical," Towber says. "Because you could argue that Œkeep on churnin' 'til the butter comes,' that's not about sex at all. But we all know that that's exactly what it's about."

Still, some R&B songs used culinary images to convey downright wholesome messages. "Louis Jordan's 'Beans and Cornbread' is all about getting along," Towber notes.

R&B Jukebox usually features about 35 tunes, retro masterpieces from the '40s through the '60s that Towber treats as living art, not items for the curio cabinet. He peppers his songlist with inside music dope. "I try and give it some historical weight, but it's not like an oldies show," he says. "This music is as much fun to listen to now as it was fifty years ago."

Towber and his band create their own fun, too. Easy Bill & the Big Beat's current platter, Midnight Creep, features a dozen meaty slabs of R&B, the real-deal stuff. Recorded in the KUVO studios, the disc features a clean but vintage sound with cornmeal in its grooves, a feel that helped the disc reach number eighteen on Living Blues magazine's chart in April; the band plans to record a followup in February. And for our live listening pleasure, Easy Bill & the Big Beat will play an all-ages, no-smoking show at the Mercury Cafe on Sunday, November 21.

With a successful band and radio show, Towber's plate is already full; the Blue Plate Special is just so much gravy. "I play songs I only get to play one night a year. It's kind of a wacky program," says Towber, who spends his music-free time making his own barbecue sauce -- and then using it on the grill.

"Food is a lot like music," he says. "If it's good, it brings people together. And it's a communal thing. Where do people usually wind up at a party? The kitchen. And there's no better music to play at a party than rhythm-and-blues music."

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Marty Jones

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