Thursday, April 8, 2010

Eyesight to the Blind

Riyadh & Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

What an interesting few days it has been here in Saudi Arabia. On Tuesday morning, April 6th, on our way to a Saudi TV interview, we received word that our big performance at the gigantic King Fahd Cultural Center was scheduled to happen that evening. It would be by invitation only, with women and children seated separately from the men. This would be an historic event, since no American music had ever been played here before, especially Blues. We felt the weight of history on our shoulders and we were determined to deliver our cultural message.

The Saudi TV interview was a live interview on a local morning show. The floor director only spoke Arabic, so we felt a little unsure as to our “on air” cues. In fact, I happened to be strolling out of the bathroom directly on to live TV as the interview was starting. I was hustled around the camera to the other side of the sofa with a big smile like it was all planned. The program tied a cooking segment around our performance, so after our mini performance and interview, we then provided the musical soundtrack as the chef prepared yummy American style hamburgers. Just like Regis and Kathy Lee…..or maybe more like Wayne’s World. It was big TV fun.
Live from Riyadh, it's Good Morning KSA!

On the set of Good Morning KSA
As the day unfolded, we felt excitement as we prepared to head to the King Fahd Cultural Center for the sound check and performance. We arrived there around 6:00 pm and Billy Banks ensured that everything around the show was super professional. As we waited for the performance in the green room, Ben Peracchio from the Embassy continually updated us as to the size of the crowd. Ben is also a talented graphic artist and designed a special poster promoting the concert at the King Fahd Cultural Center. The posters are glossy, with a large press photo of us and lots of Arabic writing promoting this groundbreaking event. Ben is mailing a few of the posters home to us. I plan to have mine framed and hang it in a place of honor.

"Song List" - Little Joe McLerran
When the curtain rose, we were introduced to the crowd of approximately 1000 people by US Ambassador James Smith. The lighting on the stage made it impossible for us to see past the first 2 rows of seating, but we could hear their vigorous applause. We played for an hour long set and the show was met with good response throughout the performance. After the show, we were told some folks actually stood up, clapped, and boogie-woogied in that Saudi way. I’m reminded of conversations I’ve had with my friends Bubba, Jerry and Rayne down in Helena, Arkansas about the segregated south. They said that in their youth, they would attend soul and blues shows in Helena and Memphis. Blacks were relegated to the balcony or were separated by a velvet rope. However, once the music started, the barriers came down and folks mixed, as the power of music helped heal our country. I witnessed some of that same dynamic unfolding at the King Fahd Cultural Center that night.

Billy the Grinder with Bernesto
Immediately after the show, the Embassy staffed whisked us from the venue to the airport to where we bid a fond farewell to our dear friend Billy Banks, who left us to go back to Jazz at Lincoln Center. Billy taught us many things about how to ensure a successful performance in a strange land and how to travel efficiently and on time. He’s a smart, funny cat who we all just love. We can’t wait til our paths cross again. The Embassy staff helped expedite us through ticketing and security for our 12:30 am flight to Jeddah. We were starving, and we spied some fried chicken in the airport. We sat down to enjoy a quick snack and we were all totally buzzed about the historical concert we had just played. We were in warm, afterglow, all smiles and laughter, but when I looked at my watch, it was 12:25 am. We hustled to the departure gate and were informed by the staff that our flight had just departed!! Billy Banks had been gone for 30 minutes and left us on our own and we missed a flight! I know he’ll find out about it and we’ll never the end of it. We spent the next 5 hours hanging out in the Riyadh airport, waiting for the next flight to Jeddah. The odd thing is that the airport was full of people and bustling like it was 3:00 in the afternoon, not 3:00 in the morning. I’ve learned that Saudi culture is very nocturnal. It was weird and surreal. After all, they roll up the streets in Tulsa at 9:00 pm.

We arrived in beautiful Jeddah about 9:00 am on Wednesday, April 7th. The drive to the hotel was along the Red Sea. The city has countless pieces of public art found in every roundabout and all along the waterfront. The climate is hot and humid, like Oklahoma mid summer, but it’s yet to really warm up here. We’re staying at the beautiful Intercontinental Hotel where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stayed a few weeks ago.

Last night, we performed at the US Consulate in Jeddah at Heroes’ Hall. We played for artists, students, reporters, various ex-pats, and other diplomatic personnel from other countries. I had a wonderful conversation with Toshimitsu Ishigure, the Consul General of Japan. He commented on my harmonica playing and I gave him a harmonica as a souvenir. He was delighted! After the show, we were treated to a reception at the social club with a buffet featuring yummy US food, including fried chicken, cheese grits, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie!! The high point of the evening for me was meeting and talking with Lt. Col. Gerald C. Graham, the Region 2 US Marine Corps Commanding Officer in charge of the Embassy security groups for the whole region. I told him about my dear friend Tom Moran, an ex-marine who sent me his Marine pin as a good luck mojo for my trip. I must have been tired because I was overcome with emotion. I gave the Lt. Col a harmonica and he gave me his personal coin of the Marine Security Guards, engraved with “Disciplined Professional Vigilant”. The motto at the bottom says “Miles from home and meters from chaos”. I gave him Tom’s pin and told him I would give the coin to Tom upon my return. I was so deeply moved by this experience and will never forget it.

Today is a much needed rest day. We plan to have dinner and watch the sunset on the Red Sea tonight. The Rhythm Road has taken me to places well beyond anything I could have ever imagined in my life!
Jeddah from my balcony


  1. Matey Boy! You and the guys are making history. These experiences will stay with you for the rest of your life. I'm so proud of you and just humbled to say that you're my mate. Keep playin' the blues and spreading the love and peace! Salaam aleikum, baby!

  2. Ciao David....from whence we came. It is hard to put into words how wonderful it is to check your blog each day to hear and share in your incredible experiences. I am so happy for you and "the boys". Would love to have Road Managed for you as well. I would have had you on that know that's right! Congratulations and keep spreading the blues and the amore (love). A presto (See you soon), Patricio

  3. I have read every word of your blogs. I've always known what a great musician you are, but never realized that you are a fine writer as well. You are creating wonderful visuals for those of us reading from afar, and I thank you for that. In all your words, however, the following line stands out as something I hope you will carry with you always: "You had the power to grab our eyes and set them on you." (I may have paraphrased that a bit as there was no copy and past option!) Your 9th grade fan summed up what, I am sure, is in the hearts of many who have heard your songs. So proud of you, and know that Gramps is playing along, with Grandma tapping her toes and a big smile on her face! Love you.