My friend Dennis had just asked to borrow another $1.75 for another glass of Coors Light when I glanced at the digital clock glowing green on the cash register behind the bar. After translating the 00:19 on the display into non-military time, I decided to join him. By that point one more beer wouldn't have made it any harder to get up and go to work in a few hours. Besides, the few chances I get to hear a band as good as Georgie Porgie and The Party Crew made the concept of leaving before they unplugged about as distasteful as the thought of going to work in the first place.
"Why not?" I said. "Traffic at this time of night is horrendous anyway. Better to sit back and enjoy the music a while longer."
It's rare for a couple of guys with families and newspaper salaries to get loose in the middle of the week with enough cash to see a band and drink some beer. Almost as rare, in fact, as the likelihood of finding a good live band on a Wednesday in Fort Wayne.
Wednesday night at the House of J & B on the Landing may seem an unlikely time to find one of the hottest bands currently working the Fort Wayne club scene. Hump day, after all, is the day when the excesses of the previous weekend finally subside enough to let the promise of the coming weekend bloom. Those of us mired in the workaday world tend to relish the midweek calm, choosing to conserve our energy and money for nights unsullied by the threat of an early morning alarm.
As for the House of J & B, the floor-level stage and in-the-round feel makes a night out, midweek or not, worth the trip. When the club opened two years ago following the demise of other ventures that failed in that spot, either because of poor management or some ancient, burial-ground hex, national acts were on tap every Monday night.
That tradition now continues with the weekly Wednesday night appearance of Georgie Porgie and the Party Crew. Though the group may not be national, the caliber of the musicians certainly is.
Back in January my wife, Laura, and I caught The Party Crew in action. At that time, however, I didn't know The Party Crew even existed. We had gone to the Voodoo Lounge that Friday night to hear Top Shelf, a jazz/R&B combo fronted by a guy called Ray Harris. Harris had been in Fort Wayne for about three years, moving from Chicago to care for his ailing mother. In Chicago, he had made the rounds in playing guitar with Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, everybody. When a friend here opened a club and made Harris a headliner, he called on some old friends to join him. On alto sax came veteran player T-Bone. Playing bass was Robert Johnson, a longtime session man who played with the O'Jays and did studio work for the Jackson 5. At the drums was a young guy named Steve Smith. Smith, in addition to being a fine drummer who has played on various gospel albums, is also a star basketball player at the University of St. Francis, currently the top rated team in its league, the NAIA. (Fort Wayne's answer to Bill Walton, the 6-foot-7 Smith recently scored 53 points in a NAIA Division II quarterfinal in Missouri.)
Top Shelf is aptly named. The band sparkled, grooved and boogied through tunes by Miles Davis, Al Green, War and a collection of other soul, jazz and R&B classics. Talking with Harris later on, he told me that in Chicago he was used to playing two or three times a week and that, with the stiffer competition, a player who wanted to work really had to have his chops honed. His, as well as the rest of the bands, were razor sharp.
About midway through Top Shelf's first set, George Conner walked in. Conner has been a familiar face around town for a long time, playing with a variety of the area's top musicians in some very good bands. Before long, Conner was slapping the bar, hooting and hollering at Harris and the band like they were old friends. As it turned out, they were. Conner's latest gig, he told me, between songs, was playing keyboard and guitar with Harris, T-Bone, Johnson and Smith as Georgie Porgie and The Party Crew.
Formed in October of 1998, Georgie et al., have brought a much needed dose of funk and fun to local ears. "Nobody else is playing this music," Conner said. Certainly no one else is playing it any better. Whether it's a tune by the Commodores, Tower of Power, James Brown, George Clinton, or Steely Dan, Georgie Porgie and The Party Crew can really light it up.
Which is why it was so easy to stay up past by bedtime on a school night to drink beer and listen to music. I had a great time, and it looked like the other folks in the place had a great time, too. So did the band.
"I love playing with these guys," Conner said between sets. "They can find the groove and really hang onto it."
That's for sure. They can hang onto the groove so well, in fact, I'm thinking of letting go of my view of Wednesday as a day of rest.
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