Tuesday, December 11, 2012

No. 541 – Madison Blues

Performer: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Songwriter: Elmore James
Original Release: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Year: 1977
Definitive Version: Live Aid, 1985

Live Aid, of course, was the live music event of my formative years if not my lifetime. I made two tapes of music from the day’s broadcasts and listened to them on a fairly regular basis until I got iTunes. Most of the songs that are on those two tapes are on this here list—many still to come.

George Thorogood, of course, brought out Albert Collins to help him whale away on this song. Not yet being familiar with the Chicago blues scene, I hadn’t heard of Collins, except maybe in passing. I loved Thorogood’s introduction midway through the tune, calling him The Master of the Telecaster.

That stuck with me, and in June 1987 shortly after my birthday, I got to see The Master in person. The occasion was Armadillo Day, which was (I don’t know if it still exists in some form) a daylong party at Northwestern.

Psychedelics supposedly played a large role on Armadillo Day. In fact, I still remember a student, a female, talking about how the event was very groovy—you did what you did and went out to the lake, where there would be balloons and music and people blowing bubbles. That sounded good to me even though I didn’t partake in the drugs. As I mentioned, I didn’t even drink back then, not really.

But I thought a date to Armadillo Day would make it groovier, so I concocted another in a long line of hair-brained schemes regarding members of the opposite sex.

At the time, I worked behind the desk at the Medill library. Whenever a student—usually an undergrad—came in looking for certain reserved materials, I’d take their student ID in exchange.

A brunette named Robin came in fairly regularly the spring quarter. She wasn’t a knockout by any means, but she was friendly and had this really cool vibe. Because I was rebounding off Beth, Robin seemed in many ways the antidote. So, I decided to ask her to Armadillo Day … except I couldn’t possibly come right out and ask her. No, instead, I wrote a note and stuck it to the back of her ID.

I handed her the ID, and she put it away without saying a word. The next day she came back in with a big smile on her face, and I knew then that she had seen the note. That she came back at all seemed positive. Actually, she loved the note and agreed.

Armadillo Day wasn’t our first date, but I’m telling this a bit out of order, because another song to come played a far more important role on that particular day. Anyway, Robin had heard me talk enough about Albert Collins, just from seeing him do his thing with George Thorogood at Live Aid, that she wanted to see the man and his famous guitar.

Albert was the Armadillo Day headliner, but what I didn’t know was that it cost money to enter the festival grounds. I just assumed that, like with Pan-Hel at Wabash, if Armadillo Day was a collegewide event and you were a student, you got in free. Nope. Robin and I were shut out.

The good news is if you just hiked past the festival area to the breakers—my late-night Lake Michigan hangout—you could hear and almost see everything perfectly. So we hung out there and talked and listened as Sir Albert, as George called him that fateful day, tore it up.

Unless you count the second-hand smoke that wafted over from the festival area as “doing drugs,” I did nothing that day and didn’t need to to feel plenty groovy.

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