Texas blues and Mississippi Myers open concert series

Published: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 at 10:43 p.m.
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Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets play Saturday at Side Bar.

Courtesy of Anson Funderburgh


Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets

WHAT: Blues band kicks off new concert series with Sam Myers
WHEN: Music begins at 9 p.m. Saturday with Terraplane
WHERE: The Side Bar, 15 SW 2nd St. COVER: $4 for North Central Florida Blues Society members, $5 for non-members

Anson Funderburgh hails from Plano, Texas, and so does his blues.
"I grew up listening to country music - Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, George Jones," he remembers. "Watching all those country music shows with my dad ..."
But, about the time he got his first guitar, the blues grabbed him. And he found his passion playing the country-influenced, guitar-heavy flavor of blues known as "Texas-style."
It's a style that has served him well, and one Gainesville will savor when Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets, along with Delta bluesman Sam Myers, appear at the Side Bar on Saturday.
Funderburgh started playing guitar in clubs when he was 15 and formed his Dallas-based blues band in 1978.
"I've just always wondered, all my life, when I'd have to grow up and get a real job," Funderburgh says.
But his blues credentials are about as real as it gets. Funderburgh and the Rockets are three-time winners of the Blues Foundation's WC Handy award for Band of the Year, the international blues community's highest honor. Last year, their "Which Way Is Texas?" was honored as the WC Handy Traditional Blues Album of the Year. Jukejoint legend and recording artist Delbert McClinton, a fellow Texan, has called the Rockets "the best blues band in the country."
In 1986, Myers joined the Rockets roster, adding a thick, soulful flavor of Mississippi blues. Myers, who is legally blind, sings, drums, and plays harmonica.
Funderburgh and the Rockets have seen the popularity of live blues wax and wane from the front line.
"In the '70s, it was not real great, just kinda so-so," he says. "But things got a lot better in the mid-'80s. In the '80s, you had Robert Cray's 'Smokin' Gun' and Eric Clapton's 'From the Cradle,' and Stevie Ray (Vaughan) had tons of hits. You got to hear our stuff on the radio. There were more venues to play. The blues took off pretty big there for a while."
And, though Funderburgh doesn't say this, the Rockets played a large part in the mid-'80s blues revival in Texas, along with Vaughan and The Fabulous Thunderbirds.
"But things changed after the death of Stevie Ray," says Funderburgh. "There just isn't somebody to stand up and preach for the blues like he did, nobody to bring (blues) music to the people."
In a world of MTV pop stars, Funderburgh will tell you, making a living in a traveling band is hard. "The money's not always there," he says. "But making money's no way to put a value on yourself."
"Some people make more money than they know what to do with. And some people ride the road and make a livin'. We ride the road and make a livin'."
"When 9/11 hit, the economy kinda took a bad turn, and not just in our genre of music. People wouldn't go out as much," adds Funderburgh. But, he says, people are returning to the clubs, slowly, to hear touring bands.
"The economy's come back some. Either that or people are getting used to bein' poor."
Funderburgh's crossover style reaches both blues and country audiences, and the Rockets (with Myers) play about 200 dates a year in the United States, Canada and Europe.
"Music has taken me all over," says Funderburgh. "I've seen so many things that many people have never seen; I've been to the Louvre four or five times and the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam ... It's pretty amazing. And my mom and dad have barely been across the Texas line."
But touring does take him away from his family - his wife, musician Rene Schofield, and 4-year-old daughter, Savannah, are clearly the center of the Funderburgh universe these days.
"I don't enjoy (touring) nearly as much without them," he admits. "But you kinda hate thinking of a career change at 50; most people are thinking about retiring.
"Sometimes it blows me away to think how fortunate I've been. Then there's times when you look in your child's eyes and see she doesn't want you to leave, and you think, 'How can I do this?' So it's got its wonderful parts and its not-so-wonderful parts, anymore."
But this week, Funderburgh's wife and daughter will accompany him on a Blues Cruise out of Fort Lauderdale, where he and the Rockets will play with Taj Mahal, Little Charlie & the Nightcats, Derek Trucks and others.
Then on Saturday, Funderburgh and Myers perform in the first show of the North Central Florida Blues Society series in Gainesville, a quarterly event made possible, in part, by a $2,500 grant from the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, noted society president Bill Barnard.

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