Sunday, 14 July 2024

CyberSoulMan: Blues Travel Log

Sugar Pie DeSanto at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant on Monday, Oct. 12, 2009. Photo by T. Watts.




… I’m not tall like a model

I’m just so high

but if you know how to use what you got

it doesn’t matter ‘bout your size …

Sugar Pie DeSanto

As I reported last week, I road managed the Sugar Pie DeSanto show into Minneapolis, Minn., for four shows, this past Oct. 12 and 13.

On Monday, Oct. 12, I was scheduled to call Ms. DeSanto’s room for an 8 a.m. wake up, but my phone was ringing at 7:55 a.m. It was the Sugar. She hit’s the ground running upon awakening, kinda like the way she takes the stage in performance, by storm.

Speaking of storms, outside in Minneapolis it was snowing. Now, your CyberSoulMan is not a big fan of snow, never has been, probably never will be. But those folks in Minneapolis have the cure. The Skyway allows you to walk for miles over the downtown area without having to go outside. The elements – snow, ice, hail, rain, sleet and the almighty hawk – can be totally avoided if one chooses.

When I first viewed the Skyway from my hotel room, my perception was way off base. I thought it was a huge annex to a parking garage. But after Ms. DeSanto and I overdressed and got in it, the deal was very surreal. It felt like being in a Jetsons movie or something. OK, CyberSoulChildren, I’m dating myself. That’s what I do.

Sugar Pie and I found a cool little joint for breakfast, a half-mile by Skyway from our hotel. It was so good we ate their three days in a row.

Back at the hotel we chilled awaiting a phone call from Curtis Obeda, bandleader for the Butanes. Now the Butanes are no slouchy joke of a lounge act. They are authentic, real deal cats. If you go to their Web site, , you will see that they have played behind many including Little Johnny Taylor, Hubert Sumlin, Percy Sledge, Fenton Robinson, Tommy Ridgely, Pinetop Perkins, The Memphis Horns, Mighty Sam McClain, Betty LaVette, Lady Bianca, Ben E. King, Mable John, John Lee Hooker, King Floyd, Bo Diddley, Johnny “Clyde” Copeland, Otis Clay, Gene Chandler and James Carr. That, CyberSoulPeople, is a fraction of the partial list. They are funkily fully accredited.

I got the call from Curtis about 1 p.m. We hailed a cab from the hotel and had lunch while the band sauntered in and set up.

A word about the venue here. The Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant is touted as one of Playboy Magazine's A-List upscale Jazz Club and restaurants. On any given night, Chef Jack Riebel’s five-star menus might include chicken dumplings with smoked chicken, truffle dumplings and matsutake mushroom broth. Or pan seared hamachi featuring kalua pork and shrimp pot stickers with papaya ginger sauce, and out of this world desserts like warm yucca cake with caramelized bananas and rum raisin ice cream. Park me under the yummy yucca tree!

Sound check and rehearsal were a labor of love. Although Jim Moore had sent charts of Sugar Pie’s material ahead, the band rehearsed them for three days in keys that the Sugar Pie DeSanto of yesteryear sang in. I think bandleader Curtis Obeda had kept Ms. DeSanto’s charts from when they last gigged 12 years ago and accidentally rehearsed the band with those instead of the recent ones. No matter. Pros that the all were, it was just a matter of dropping it down an octave and working on the subtle nuances of timing. Yeah. Timing is the thing.

Sugar Pie worked them at rehearsal a good 90 minutes. Rarely during rehearsal did she actually sing. Saving her voice she softly spoke the words or lip synched them.

“Watch me,” she’d admonish them. “Pick it up.” Or, “do it again and play it right this time.” What a lesson in craftswomanship and artistic expression she gave to all her were paying attention.

After rehearsal it was back to the hotel. The Sugar did two shows each night – 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Monday evening we headed back to the venue at 6 p.m. Despite the chill factor, the Minnesotans did turn out in respectable numbers. Sugar Pie astonished the crowd with sets that included “Black Rat,” “Blues Hall of Fame,” “It’s Your Thing,” “In The Basement,” “I Want To Know,” “Slip In Mules” and others.

Sugar Pie DeSanto does things stage that no one that I’ve seen has done. I won’t tell it all (seeing is believing) but being 4 feet 10 inches tall and all of 100 pounds allows her so much flexibility on stage it’s hard to believe she is now 74 years of age. She is so energy efficient.

As an added treat each night, she pulled out all the stops for the late show. I actually got worried on Tuesday night that her voice was tired during the early show. Silly me went to the very capable sound engineer Craig Eichorn and asked him to either pump up Sugar’s audio or diminish the band slightly. He seemingly obliged my whimsical request. During the late show I was astonished that Sugar Pie had craftily saved enough to simply blow the socks off those in attendance.

Indeed venue owner Lowell Pickett (who treated us wonderfully) seemed similarly impressed. “What a great performer you are,” he told her after her performance. “We’d love to have you back.”

Sugar Pie quipped, “As longs as it’s in the spring or summer, I’m cool.”

We got back to our respective rooms about 1 a.m. and breakfasted at our cool little Skyway joint. The son of Johannes picked us up at 10 a.m. and dropped up off in plenty of time for our 11:50 a.m. flight. The only bummer was the flight was delayed two hours in Minneapolis. When we reached San Francisco Airport, we circled the airport for an extra hour for some strange reason.

Sugar Pie DeSanto’s first hit record was in 1959. Here we are 50 years later and she’s still cooking. What a story. I’m sticking to it.

Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts.


Upcoming cool events:

Monday, Oct. 26

Twice As Good with Paul Steward. 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Information: 707-275-2233 or .

Tuesday, Oct. 27


Charito, 8 p.m., at Yoshi’s Oakland, 510 Embarcadero West. Telephone 510-238-9200.

Thursday, Oct. 29

Open mike night, 6 p.m. Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Information: 707-275-2233 or .

Sunday, Nov. 1

Sunday brunch at the Blue Wing Saloon & Café from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. MisDemeanors of Jazz featuring Dan Meyer performs from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Information: 707-275-2233 or .

T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. Visit his Web site at

Upcoming Calendar

07.16.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
07.17.2024 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Free veterans dinner
07.20.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.23.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
07.27.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.30.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
08.03.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
08.06.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
08.10.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
08.13.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park

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