At times, the music smoldered, other times it wept.
Moments of foreboding were tempered with bursts of joyful swing.
There was a time to rock and a time to slither, a time to contemplate and a time to wail.
And while the music wore many faces, on this night, its common thread was the legend who crafted it.
The genius of American songwriter Willie Dixon — whose numbers have been covered by The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Cream, Led Zeppelin and countless others — was exuberantly exposed to several hundred blues aficionados Sunday at Memorial Hall.
“Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon” is a project of Colorado’s favorite sons Big Head Todd and the Monsters with able assistance from genuine blues royalty.
This all-star collective, tagged the Big Head Blues Club, features vocalist Mud Morganfield, son of Muddy Waters; guitarist/vocalist Ronnie Baker Brooks, whose father Lonnie Brooks is a Chicago blues master; vocalist/mouth harpist Billy Branch; and Erica Brown, perhaps the most powerfully voiced of this all-star collective.
While the nearly two-hour show is designed to show Dixon’s astonishing songwriting range and influence across all genres, it serves another, equally enjoyable purpose: to expose the incredible vocal and instrumental chops of this exclusive eight-member club.
In blues terminology? These cats can play.
Branch is a bonafide genius on the harmonica, and no slouch as a singer. (Big Head) Todd Park Mohr and Brooks are as masterful on the fretboard as they are the microphone.
And both Morganfield and Brown have been blessed with voices that simply ooze the blues in its rawest form.
The songs, of course, speak for themselves. While you might not recognize Dixon’s name, if you’ve heard the Doors’ treatment of “Back Door Man,” The Rolling Stones’ take on “Little Red Rooster” or Zeppelin’s reworking of “You Need Love” into “Whole Lotta Love,” you know his work.
With the exception of the sorely missed “Back Door Man,” these and other gems were flashed in all their ragged yet polished glory.
There were shades of romance (“I Want to be Loved,” “Let Me Love You”) tempered with flashes of sexy (“Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Wang Dang Doodle,” “Midnight Lover”).
If the club was in a buoyant mood (“Good Advice,” “Spoonful,” “Hidden Charms,” “Pretty Thing,” “Crazy Mixed Up World”), they also showed a haunting, moody side with “My Love Will Never Die,” “Sitting and Crying the Blues” and the timeless “It Don’t Make Sense (If You Can’t Make Peace),” a high point of the evening.
Noting that the politically charged number is “more relevant now than ever” in this age of destruction, Branch said blues has never shied away from the darker side.
Rather, “Blues is the facts of life.”
Another peak came during “Hoochie Coochie Man,” which was interspersed with recollections of Dixon from the club’s main voices, including words of wisdom spoken to a young Brooks.
“At that time I had just started singing, or trying to sing,” Brooks said. “And my dad, Lonnie Brooks, asked Willie to give me some pointers.
“So Willie told me, ‘Son, you got to come from the heart when you sing the blues. What comes from the heart, reaches the heart.’ ”
And way down inside, that’s exactly what the world needs now more than ever.