Moon at The Wild Card
I'm sorry to say that I was unable to attend Cynthia
Manley's surprise birthday party for Zola Moon. Evidently, the
stars were not in alignment, the planets must have shifted out
of place. One shifty planet in particular was especially troublesome.
Saturn of Cerritos Auto Center, where the hubris is as sweet and
sticky as their complimentary doughnuts. Saturn of Cerritos, California,
where I'd made an apointment three days in advance for the privledge
of purchasing two tires. Saturn of Cerritos, where I was told
that it would take just a little over four hours to install my
new tires. Yes, those friendly folks at Saturn, who charged me
fifty-five dollars to mount my new tires, but didn't bother to
secure the spare tire and jack in my Saturn Coupe's wonderfully
versatile plastic trunk.
But why dwell on shifty planets when we can admire
the moon? A post modern blues moon. The one and only Zola Moon!
For the past three years, I have listened to Zola
Moon's four CDs more often than any other music. Zola Moon has
surpassed her mentors in composition, inspiration and execution.
I am truly a fan; so it was a pleasure to attend her birthday
celebration at The Wild Card in Gardena, California.
One of the benefits of catching a performance
with Zola and her band is the location of the stage. Whether she
appears at a local festival, a posh nightclub or a corner bar
that is showing it's age, they are always unique in their own
way; a place one wants to visit again and again.
The Wild Card is no exception. Located next door
to the crumbling Patio Hotel, some folks might be reluctant to
go inside. Many would prefer a newer establishment; a place where
the galvanized walls are prefabricated and there is an adjacent
souvenir shop where one can purchase t-shirts, caps and buttons
to promote the club and not the entertainers.
The first tip-off is the parking lot. Instead
of an army of SUV's is a collection of vehicles that range from
Toyotas to Harleys, mini-vans and Hummers. The cars in front of
The Wild Card are as diverse as the patrons inside. The people
who call Southern California their home.
Inside, the club was nearly as warm as the hot
summer sun outside. The free buffet, standard fare for the club,
includes a whole roast pig with all the trimmings. No buffalo
wings here, folks; and when was the last time you've seen that
classic picture of those dogs playing poker?
So, soak up the atmosphere, smell that pig cooking
and enjoy one of the finest blues bands of our time.
One would think that a band playing on a hot summer's
day would be tempted to coast through their repertoire. Instead,
Zola and the boys treated this friendly crowd to the most electrifying
The owner of The Wild Card is Yvette Evil, a no
nonsense, take charge gal who just happened to be celebrating
her own birthday, as well. I rose from my chair by the back door,
intending to wish her a happy birthday when I suddenly found myself
nose to nose with Yvette. She pointed to the back door. "Make
sure that door stays closed when the band is playing. When the
band stops, open that door ALL THE WAY and keep it that way until
the band comes back. THAT'S YOUR JOB." Before I could open
my mouth, She was already walking away. Nice gams, Yvette. I'll
be a gentleman and not reveal the lady"s age. Come down to
the club and she'll be happy to tell you herself. Yvette is proud
of her age and rightly so. She looks fabulous.
After the band set the mood with a couple of blues
standards, Zola was introduced and opened her first set with DOWN
HOME BLUES, followed by one of her own post modern blues compostions.
ALLEY CAT is a delightfully disturbing tale of feline philosophy.
While Zola playfully pawed the air while singing a soft, Eartha
Kit growl, guitarist Michael Carter delivered a beautiful accompanyment
to this tune. Michael is a new face in the band. His soft jazz
melody was in stark contrast to the blistering blues licks he
plays so proficiently.
With the exception of Zola's unique version of
Del Shannon's classic hit, RUNAWAY, the first set was a dozen
songs of Zola's own, post modern blues compositions. Despite the
heat, Zola delivered her songs with power and authority. Her smile
was as bright as the California sun as she strutted and shuffled
behind her microphone. I enjoyed watching the crowd, as their
attention turned away from the ball game on the television to
enjoy the music.
After the first set, I captured by Zola and took
her outside to chat. I asked her how playing the smaller clubs
compared to doing the larger clubs and festivals. "It's more
intimate; you can see the audience better and sometimes, it's
just more fun. There's a lot of energy you get from a big field
of people, but that's a different kind of show. In the smaller
clubs, people are packed in like sardines and they really get
loose and into it."
As usual, our conversation ran into overtime.
We returned to our places as the crowd chanted Zola! Zola! Zola!
She obliged them by opening her second set with NEVER GIVE UP
ON YA. The bar belonged to Zola, now. Nevertheless, she momentarily
left the stage to the band as she ran to do what she should have
done instead of chatting with yours truly. The crowd wasn't fooled,
laughing and teasing her as she ran back to finish one of my favorites,
Zola always delivers her performances like a polished
professional. However, I love it when she loses herself in her
own music, as she did with HOT TEXAS SUN. I love the way she rises
to her toes, eyes closed and a look on her face reminiscent of
Janis Joplin. With Michael Carter providing excellent accompanyment,
she finished this tune with an incredible scream, once again displaying
the range and sheer power of her voice.
While a half dozen adorable little girls flitted
about the room, one of the busy ladies whispered into Zola's ear.
Zola announced: "They're ready to bring the pig out."
Not missing a beat, a gentlemen who bore a striking resemblance
to Judge Ito hollared, "Hey, quit talkin' about my girlfriend!"
Even the normally stoic band had to laugh at that one.
Time for lunch, the crowd lined up to enjoy the
sumptuous meal the ladies prepared that day. A meal consisting
of a whole roast pig, fried chicken, cole slaw, cornbread, potato
salad and a macaroni and cheese casserole. It must have been a
furnace in that kitchen, so I'd like to thank them now for their
efforts to feed this happy, hungry crowd.
The band opened the next set with Michael doing
the vocal on I'M TELLIN' YOU and drummer Jerry Olson's own gritty
version of James Brown's I FEEL GOOD. Despite the heat, Micheal,
Jerry and bassman Eric Williams took turns with solos that had
the crowd cheering. Pretty damn good, boys!
Zola returned to the stage with a heartfelt rendition
of TIME IS ON MY SIDE. She stepped down the stage to walk into
the crowd, dancing along with them and obviously enjoying their
enthusiasm as much as they appreciated hers.
After two more of Zola's original tunes, Zola
introduced the audience to her special guest, bluesman Johnny
Ray. Johnny Ray is a giant of a man (to quote Lou Costello: "If
he fell down, he'd be home") who finally gave up trying to
raise the microphone stand and delivered his renditions of LIGHT
MY FUEL and I'M READY. Both tunes were well recieved by the crowded
dance floor. Zola returned to the stage to entertain all with
four more of her post modern blues tunes.
After a short break, the band once again opened
the set with a sweet version of DOWN HOME BLUES. Michael is newly
wed to his wife, Tara. I had the pleasure of chatting with her
and found her to be as charming as she is lovely. "He practices
constantly," she confided. It certainly shows; the man knows
how to use his axe.
It wouldn't be a Zola Moon performance without
the audience calling out for Janus Joplin's PIECE OF MY HEART,
to which she happily complied.
The set ended with all of those adorable children
crowding the stage to sing a shy but heartfelt rendition of HAPPY
After a short break to enjoy a piece of Yvette
and Zola's gigantic birthday cake, Zola and her band returned
to the stage for the last four numbers of the day.
I'm an emotional old hippie; so,to watch people
of four different races, aged from seven to seventy, sharing the
dance floor was incredibly moving. Then, Tara Carter eased onto
the dance floor and soon had them all holding hands while they
danced together. Just sitting here now, writing that moment down,
causes my heart to swell, as it did then.
I left the Wild Card to hugs and handshakes from
old friends and folks I'd never met until that wonderful birthday.
So, you ask, how old is Zola Moon? I'm happy to
tell you: Zola Moon is timeless, immortal. Her name will be spoken,
her music heard long after those little plastic Saturns cease
to occupy our crowded freeways.
Don't look to the sky to find Zola Moon. You can
visit her website at ZOLAMOON.com.
Be sure to say hello and sign up to be notified of her future
engagements. You can purchase her music at CDBABY.com.
Come join the crowd. You'll have a natural ball!