A Picture Tells A Story – ‘Blues Alley’ Washington DC, 12th December 2009.
“As you know, Gil has a long relationship with DC and so I was really pleased to see him booked into Blues Alley for a 5 night residency. Blues Alley is a legendary old school supper club jazz spot. They are really strict on the no camera rule, so I wasn’t expecting to capture anything. I managed to get great seats, front and centre, and squeezed off two shots with my pocket camera. I got busted straight away.
Gil was on great form, even looking sort of healthy. He was hilarious and radical.
Blues Alley is a tiny place and the dressing rooms are next to the loos upstairs. I once almost tripped over a reclining Pharaoh Sanders in between sets there.
So I head up the stairs after the Gil set and he is there with his mean looking guys, selling his $10 poetry book for $15 and nasty looking CDR copies of old albums. I bought a book from one of the shifty looking guys and gave him a fresh $20.
I managed a couple of words with Gil, thanking him and getting a signature – something I pretty much never do. I asked for the OK to squeeze off a couple of shots and nailed a decent one. There was not a lot of love for a white guy with a camera so I just hung for a minute, took a couple more shots and headed home.
Then I realized – no change from the $20.
So I had to turn around and ask Mr Shifty himself for my money. I got the’ fuck you’ glare and silence but the hand went into a trouser pocket and a crisp $5 was passed to me. Then some more attitude – so I left.
Of course, the $5 was a fake. I admit I shared the love of the night and used it for the taxi. Wished I’d kept it as a bookmark for Gil’s book (The Last Holiday).
It was B Movie on an NME cassette that got me started. Through that I bought Reflections. He has been with me ever since.”
– James Finch, photographer, November 4th 2012.
I was living in a ‘folly’ outside Bristol in 1985 – a huge domed monstrosity. Myself and my girlfriend shared the house with some older jazz musicians. I used to play simple piano chords for hours while they practised congas and guitar. There was a lot of hash around and it was always cold.
Most of the records they played didn’t appeal to me. It was mostlly Carla Bley and Fela Kuti. They thought I was a dumb little hippy kid because I liked Dylan and Cohen. Tom Waits was tolerated but Neil Young wasn’t. They were kind of offish towards me and took the piss a fair bit.
Then my mate, James Finch, sent me a tape with ‘Reflections’ on it. His letter said “Listen to this – fucking awesome”. He was right. It was funky, wordy, jazzy and bluesy. I really liked ‘Gun’ and ‘Grandma’s Hands’. The writing was ace – ‘every channel that I stop on got a different kinda cop on’ and pretty much every line of B Movie.
When the jazz guys heard me playing it, they started putting his records on and were nicer to me – sharing their hash and inviting me to gigs and stuff. It broke the ice and helped me get a little more acceptance, which was important at the time.
Through Reflections, I went back and listened to Pieces Of Man and his back catalogue, reading about his influence and life. He was ahead of his time and a rule-breaker.
In 2010, I bought I’m New Here on the day it came out and played it in my record store. I was blown away by Me & The Devil and played it all the time. One of the young guys who worked for me started asking who he was, intrigued, so I gave him an original vinyl copy of Reflections and told him it was fucking awesome.
He’s been a fan ever since.
Photos is © James Finch. Used with Permission. All rights reserved. Please contact the owner for use.