The words “2020 has been a year of losses” are a painful understatement. One such human loss was the sudden death of the joyously energetic guitarist Little Charlie Baty, whom I met for the first and only time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, in early May 2019.
Here is one set of facts, as presented by the Sacramento Bee on March 15, 2020:
CHARLES ERIC BATY 1953-2020
Charles passed away suddenly on March 6, 2020 at age 66. He developed pneumonia and died of a heart attack while hospitalized in Vacaville. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he moved to California in 1961. He was preceded in death by his wife Sylvia, sister Paige, and mother Patricia. Charles, a well-known Blues guitarist, taught himself to play the harmonica and guitar at the age of twelve. After graduating from U. C. Berkeley with a degree in mathematics in 1975, he worked for many years at U. C. Davis while performing music at night. In 1976 Charles and Rick Estrin formed the group Little Charlie & the Nightcats. The group signed with Alligator Records in 1987. Charles retired from the group in 2008 but continued to perform in numerous venues. Services will be held Monday, March 16, 11 am at Klumpp’s Funeral Home, 2691 Riverside Blvd. Sacramento CA 95818, followed by interment at St. Mary’s Cemetery.
Those facts are useful — coordinates for us to locate ourselves in relation to Little Charlie’s sudden absence — but they are just facts.
Charlie (I find it hard to think of his gently imposing presence as “Little” in any way) was a precise, powerful player, but his appeal to me and to others was emotional. He created melodies that, even when phrased with delicacy, felt strong; his rhythms caught us; we swayed to his pulse and his lines.
So here is the story behind the performance and the performance videos I present now. I had an extraordinarily gratifying time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, listening to bands that might otherwise have been fantasies I’d dreamed of — now in the flesh, playing and singing. Most of the music I heard was in small venues (the Morris Graves Library) and a few larger halls. I walked to the cavernous Eureka Municipal Auditorium (thanks to Derral Alexander Campbell for supplying the name and also agreeing that it was “a sound man’s nightmare”) — a huge hall with a balcony running around its upper level — but a band led by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, and featuring Little Charlie; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums, was scheduled to appear there.
I got to the hall early, and found an energetic band, not to my liking, more rock than jazz or blues, pummeling a rapt audience who had filled the front half of the hall. It was loud. When they had mercifully (to me, at least) finished, I looked for a seat in the front from which to video, but the happy listeners had no intention of leaving, and I climbed up to the balcony to catch my friend-heroes in action. I set up my camera (small) and my microphone (sensitive but also small) and settled in to video-record the performance.
The sound people at this festival were generally superb — and what follows may reflect my predilection for small halls and almost-or-completely unamplified sound — but whoever was running the board for this set wanted a good deal of volume to fill the hall. I have never been to a rock concert, but this sounded like rock-concert volume. The music was splendid, but I felt like a pineapple chunk in a blender, and after a few selections I left. As I walked to the next venue, I could hear the music from far away. I write this long prelude to explain the unusual sonic ambiance. I thought these videos were unusable, and when I sent them to a few of the musicians and heard no comment, I felt as if they agreed.
But this year — the desert of music as well as so much else — I thought, “Let me listen again. These are precious documents: Charlie isn’t going to play anymore,” so I offer them to you — loud, funky, good and greasy. (“Greasy,” for the timidly scrupulous, is praise.)
47th STREET JIVE, a series of life-instructions and exhortations:
CHERRY RED, a color Big Joe Turner found in life, not in a Crayola box:
FISHERMAN’S BLUES, for my pescatorian readers:
INDIANA BOOGIE: “the moonlight on the water” never sounded like this:
As I wrote yesterday here in a post featuring Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang performing CLEMENTINE (From New Orleans) at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, it’s been postponed to September 30 – October 3, 2021, and I am looking forward to being there. I’ll tell you more as those months approach, but I have already purchased a 2021 wall calendar and marked off those boxes. It’s never too early to anticipate joys.
May your happiness increase!