Lee’s Liquor Lounge sits as an outcast of downtown Minneapolis. Small but confident, it knows exactly what it is. The Last Honky Tonk of the North.
Ten years on the road builds a grit that helps with saying hello to the Forsaken leaning against the brick exterior. Two speak with each-other, the third speaks to himself. All three say hello. Target Field hosts the .373 Minnesota Twins and arrogantly has it’s back to the venue. A .373 record is decent enough for 5th place in the AL standings and a sure-shot numerological sign that I’m in the right place at the right time.
The same year the original Northwestern League, Minneapolis Millers folded due to financial struggle, a warehouse was erected on the present corner of Glenwood Ave and Royalston Ave N. Serving warehouse purposes for 66 years, owners Lee and Sally Triemert turned the north side into Lee’s Liquor Bar. Widow Sally parted with the premise in ’77 leaving newbie-owners Louis and Carmen Sirian with the vision. Louis dug pool – loaded the joint with tables. Fatefully in 1985, local garage band Trailer Trash were the catalyst to the transformation. No more pool hall. Walls knocked out. Stage put in place. Dance Hall Time.
I’m greeted at the door by the bartender wearing a ‘The Smalls’ hat. Nice.
‘what can I get ya partner?’
‘not drinking these days – water please.’
‘aight. gotta pay the band too – it’s 5 bucks’
‘no problem, who’s up tonight?’
‘Lucky Tubb – Ernest Tubb’s great nephew’
Are you shitty me. Fort Worth, now Austin’s Lucky Tubb. On stage.
A constant violet stage light remains unchanged and a motherfucker of a feedback squeal is the next to greet my presence. A tight-lipped Lucky glances to his right and locks eyes with upright slapper, Brent Hazard. With Tubb’s touring schedule you know bandmate telepathy is developed. Hazard’s thinking, yep – that’s strike one.
Hazard’s walking bass line gives Tubb a chance to bounce the lyrics out, I make bad decisions when I drink…Well those words are enough for Mr. Dayton Beach Bike Week 2014 sitting to my three o’clock to yell a solid ‘Fuck Yeah’. He wore shorts and boots out tonight. Why not.
What seems like Tubb’s right hand man, as I assume most Tele players are, Sam Whips Allison stands to Tubb’s left. Slickin’ licks and pulling down on his guitar strap to activate the bender. He’s bearded and smiles to himself. You can hear the Roy Nichols influence.
Strike two. Maybe it’s the hat? But it’s short-brimmed. Short-brimmed hats usually don’t trap the sound coming back off the monitors. Tubbs sings a ways back from his mic – could only be agitated but doesn’t sell himself out. Straight-faced continues through. The boys play a slutty shuffle like no other. Everybody in the room is letting this one sink in. Feels good. Even I let an orgasmic ‘yip’ out.
“Ya’ll play something without me” Lucky instructs his guys immediately following the last chord. And with that he adjusts his waist and walks off the stage, across the dancefloor, to the sound-tech. A one second exchange has an uncomfortable sound-tech following Tubb out the side door. What the fuck am I watching right now…quite possibly the most boss move I’ve ever witnessed at a live show. A four minute instrumental garners zero return as the crowd watches the exit.
A 10kHz frequency feedback will slice directly into your abilities to make rational decisions. That, an a microphone in the teeth. A road dog doesn’t have fight or flight response when either of these happen…it’s always fight. The side door opens and a continued conversation moves its way back into the room. You can’t help but feel the mutual respect gained over the course of the last few moments – but this is Lucky’s stage. Nobody’s but his tonight. And that’s how it’s done. I take note – lesson learned.
“Big hand for The Modern Day Troubadours, folks, and to Lee’s for havin’ us in, ya’ll are our family”. And with that Tubb displays his southern charm, removes his hat from his head, holds it too his heart and continues on with the show.
I chat with Sam, Brent and the completion to the quartet, Josh. Josh literally wears a hat that doesn’t match the other three. He’s the new guy. Slide guitarist and unlike root trio of Texans, he’s a Florida transplant that calls East Nashville home. East Nashville, that sounds like the place to be for a bit. We exchange numbers.
Enter Dennis Smothers. Minneapolitan and Twang authority. A communal hang by the merch table during the set break leads to Dennis and I bro-ing out hard over everyone from Jamey Johnson and George Jones to Reckless Kelly and Dale Watson. Then he schools me:
“You listen to Amber Digby? You listen to Pat Reedy? You listen to Virgil Bowers? You listen to Pee Wee Moore? You listen to Unknown Hinson, Linda Gail Lewis? How about KFAI Good n’ Country Saturday’s from 3 till 5?”
He invites me back to his perch and introduces me to his lovely wife, Renee. Dennis spent his years on the road.
“I’ve hauled for them all man, from Pearl Jam to MC Hammer…he called it the too legit to quit tour, we called it the too much shit to fit tour.”
We talk honky tonk between Tubb’s tunes. A second set peppered with classics and his own brand of Texan twang. Mentioning he’s hitting the road with Rev. Horton Heat and name drops Hank III in a tune. Fuck I love this place. No bullshit. They get it.
Tubb encores and closes with his great-uncles tune, “Walkin’ the floor”. Pure class.
Dennis, Renee and I walk out the front door. With there disclosed knowledge, I trust their opinion on whether my parking lot digs will be a safe night of sleeping. Of course. Dennis kick starts his bike and reminds me to call them on my way back through offering a couch, laundry and shower. Gems. He tears off, she tears off, I tear off.
Lucky’s newest record gets me an hour east of Minneapolis. I sleep in a bank parking lot. Mary Kay Baby-wipes.
Lucky Tubb is needed in today’s climate. It’s raw and represented with the same gusto and class as his late great uncle. His brand of honky tonk is produced to honour the era and mixes boogie woogie, shuffle, and twang. It’s early rock and roll and attitude. It’s devout to the spirit and represented with road worn musicianship and a sonic conversation that only brothers can have. Because it’s that age, he compromises and give us 5 of the total 13 songs off his new release Del Gaucho on iTunes.
Lee’s was built on the foundation of people like Dennis and Renee. There’s a reason that Dale Watson immortalized it with his song “Louie’s Lee’s Liquor Lounge” giving love to both early male counterparts of the husband/wife owners and visionaries in its title. Signed to Minnesota’s Red Roof Records, this is Dale’s joint when he comes to town and for good reason. Whom, by the way, is gracing the stage under the stuffed mountain line next Thursday night. September 15. $17.50 advance ticket.
Me? I’ll be down the trail.
Lots of love to Lucky, the Modern Day Troubadours, Lee’s, Dennis and Renee, and the rest of the people that made me their own for the night.