By Adam Waldman
Life is filled with highs and lows, happy memories and sad ones, bittersweet moments and serendipitous ones as well. This day is always one of the more difficult ones of the year, celebrating yet another of my father’s birthdays without him here. The passage of time has lessened the raw emotions of this day, but it doesn’t stop me from wondering…“what if?”…a simple two-word question that has tremendous power.
On top of the expected blues that arrive each March, this year, the question of “what if?” has taken on an even greater meaning, as political turmoil threatens to tear at the fabric of the country. Thankfully, I found the perfect escape to wash the blues away – if only for a moment – by immersing myself in the music of Pink Slip Blues Band.
You may not have heard of this band before. Truth be told, I only discovered them about a week ago when Jay Jay French (Twisted Sister) mentioned the show on his Facebook page. French is the leader of this all-star band that plays only one show each year. This year’s lineup also featured guitarist extraordinaire Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake), who was playing his first show with the band. It wouldn’t be much of stretch to think that this was going to be a nostalgic ‘80s hard rock music experience given the two names prominently featured on the sign outside of Brian’s Backyard BBQ, a hidden gem nestled on a country road in Middletown, NY. However, that was not the case at all.
Pink Slip Blues Band is about a few things, none of which has anything to do with ‘80s hard rock. This band is about paying homage to the blues music that inspires each of the members, and celebrating a number of meaningful classic rock songs in a fun way. French was as much the emcee of the night as he was a guitar player or singer, regaling the intimate crowd with music history nuggets and a number of jokes about musicians. It’s fitting that his performance took place not far from an area that was known as the “Borscht Belt” once upon a time.
When you lose someone close to you, the temptation is always there to look for signs that they are still with you on earth. If ever there was a sign, this show, in this venue on this date certainly fits the bill. Although Pink Slip Blues Band took the stage the day before my father’s birthday, the set lasted well into the beginning of the 13th of March. The number “13” has always held significant meaning for me because of my dad. Was it a coincidence that Hoekstra – whose solo project is called Joel Hoekstra’s 13 – just happened to be playing with the band for the first time ever? Was it a matter of chance that the show took place in the shadow of the place where my family spent so many winter breaks? Maybe, but I took comfort in it just the same.
Adding to the serendipity of the moment was the fact that the performance took place just down the road from the record store where I purchased Twisted Sister’s legendary Stay Hungry album back in the summer of ’84. Although Pink Slip Blues Band didn’t perform any Twisted Sister songs, their set included a number of songs that brought back fond memories.
I can certainly appreciate the blues songs that the band performed, but for me, the highlights were the classic rock songs that have always been personal favorites: “Bell Bottom Blues,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” “Whiter Shade Of Pale,” “The Weight,” “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Brown Sugar.”
Although I’ve covered Hoekstra’s work on Hard Rock Daddy, and have interviewed him on a few occasions, this was my first opportunity to see him play live and to meet face-to-face. As impressive as he is on record, seeing him perform live brought my appreciation for his talent to another level, and it wasn’t just his guitar work. One of the coolest songs of the night was an edgy version “Sunshine Of Your Love,” highlighted by Hoekstra’s metal-influenced vocal delivery.
Every fan of rock and roll is well aware of the fact that 2016 has seen the loss of a number of rock icons, perhaps none greater than David Bowie. French acknowledged Bowie as one of his biggest influences before the band launched into a rousing rendition of “Suffragette City.” The entire set was made up of songs that featured musicians who have passed away, something that French discussed in a somewhat lighthearted (but respectful) way.
By the time that Pink Slip Blues Band completed their two 11-song sets, I was left with a sense of peace from the blues that always accompanies this day. Being amongst a collective group of like-minded people who were all sharing this moment in time, thoughts of political turmoil never even entered my mind. Washing the blues away by seeing a blues band may seem counterintuitive, but Pink Slip Blues Band reminded me that music has great healing power, and for that…I am extremely grateful.