When you speak about the blues in Fort Wayne, the name G-Money inevitably comes up. A fixture in the Fort music scene for more years than he cares to divulge, Gary Brabson, aka G-Money, continues to carry the torch for the blues in Fort Wayne, never giving up on his personal crusade to bring the music he loves so much to the people who love him.To hear Brabson tell it, his start in music came innocently enough, but had a lasting effect.
“When I was younger, my family would have what we called ‘company’ over to the house. Basically, family and friends would come over to talk, play records, let the kids run in and out of the house and have a good time. One time, when I was six or seven, my mom called me in the house to do my James Brown imitation for her and her friends. I did a song called ‘Money Won’t Change You.’ When I was done, the kids picked me up on their shoulders and everyone was applauding. That’s what did it for me. I liked that. I still do. I like that adulation.”
Brabson began playing the guitar around the age of 14 after hearing Ernie Isley play on The Isley Brothers hit “Who’s That Lady.” “He’s by far the greatest influence on me,” Brabson says.” Then there’s Jimi Hendrix who actually played in The Isley Brothers band for a time. His ‘Red House’ is a signature number. Of course there’s the three Kings – BB, Albert and Freddie – and you can’t forget Muddy Waters. Later on Stevie Ray Vaughan, whom I got a chance to meet in 1987 before his show at the Coliseum, came along” and reminded us of how great blues can really be.
Acquiring the moniker G-Money from fellow musician Mike Patterson, Brabson played shows in the area for quite some time as a member of the Fabulous Rhythm Kids, a band that also featured Dave Zych on guitar, Mark Stein on bass and Scott Byler on drums. That particular group fell apart a few years ago, so Brabson now plays as G-Money and The Fabulous Rhythm. Though the group bears his name, Brabson is quick to point out his bandmates are an extremely talented bunch of musicians themselves. Currently playing with longtime drummer and friend Terry Smith (aka Uncle Curly), bassist Lee Lewis and guitarist Terry Lunn, G-Money and The Fabulous Rhythm can whip out any number of blues, soul, R&B or dance favorites at the drop of a hat. Moreover, as anyone who has seen the band can attest, they play those songs as well as, and sometimes better than, the original artists.
Brabson continues to host the All Star Blues Jam, now at The Office Tavern every Tuesday night, after moving around town from the now defunct The Hot Spot, to Mid City/Bill’s City Grill, to The Latch String, to its current home. The jam allows musicians from all over to play and hone their craft with one of the best blues guitarists, and some of the best blues musicians in the area. Anyone who gets a bug to come and play can do so, but it takes a lot of talent to keep up with these guys.
“The band I play with now,” says Brabson,” is the original Jimmy G’s All Stars, from back in the days of The Hot Spot,” so there’s a lot of years of experience under their belts.
G-Money and The Fabulous Rhythm will, once again, play at the annual BBQ Ribfest at Headwaters Park on Father’s Day, June 17. Asked why he plays the festival virtually every year, Brabson says he enjoys it for a number of reasons.
“First, they (BBQ Ribfest organizers Mark and Cindy Chappuis) really want to promote the blues. Secondly, I get treated really well there. The backstage area is awesome and they have a great stage and great sound there. And lastly, the Ribfest has live music every night,” bringing many great musicians into the area every year. “Some of my personal favorites,” Brabson continues, “have been Ronnie Baker Brooks, The Kinsey Report and Larry Garner. These guys play all over the world. To say I was ever on the same stage as any of those musicians is an honor in itself. Mark and Cindy Chappuis have done a great job keeping this thing going by promoting blues from the heart. Blues, brews and barbecues are a great combination.”
Despite the annual BBQ Ribfest and the occasional national artist popping in at other venues, Brabson sees the future of music in the Fort, especially his beloved blues, as bleak.
“First of all, we have to get kids playing guitars, not Guitar Hero,” he says. “Then we need to get club owners to hire live bands and promote them, instead of hiring PWC [people with computers] and hoping people will come in for cheap drinks. Then we need to get someone in that one percent group to put up some money and help the BBQ Ribfest turn into something that can rival the Chicago Blues Fest. There’s no reason we couldn’t do it with the right sponsorships.”
But that won’t happen if people don’t get out of their houses and lend their support to local and national bands who are out there playing most every night. Brabson, a straight shooter if there ever was one, sums it up like this: “To the people who tell me ‘Hey, I really miss The Hot Spot or Mid City Grill,’ all I have to say is, ‘Hey, if you would have gone out to support those places in the first place, they’d still be there. But times have changed. Most bands don’t have a following any more, with the exception of a few local bands like Cougar Hunter,” so bar owners don’t book them. “They’d rather have the PWC. When I’m talking to bar owners and promoters and I’m asked if I have following, I never say I do. I’m sure there’s some people who come to see me, but that’s not what it’s all about. I’m an entertainer. I entertain. Get the people there and we’ll show ‘em a good time. We have a high-energy show with a fun, positive vibe. Do I have a following? I don’t know. Will the people that come to our shows be entertained? Definitely.”