(This article originally appeared in Huffington Post on 2/23/17.)
Mae West, widely considered to be the lady who invented sex on the big screen, famously said, “It’s not what I say, but theway that I say it.” Indeed, Mae was a sex symbol not just because of her buxom figure, but more so for her… figures of speech! This actress knew how to work a double entendre. Mae West is clearly a source of inspiration for Reverend Mary, AKA Mary Elizabeth Micari, who pays tribute to West with both her look and her persona for her show Granny’s Blue-Mers at Freddy’s Bar in Brooklyn’s South Slope on Saturday, February 18th. Micari even performed one of Ms. West’s famous songs, A Guy What Takes His Time, which Mae sang in her 1933 movie She Done Him Wrong. West, however, is only one of the wild women who Micari and her like-minded songbirds payed tribute to in this high-spirited show. Others included Ida Cox, “The Uncrowned Queen of the Blues”; the legendary Bessie Smith; and the enigmatic Lil Smith, who is honored with two of her songs being done: One was Take Your Hand Off It, and another was Press My Button (Ring My Bell), with the famous lyrics, “Come on baby, let’s have some fun! Just put your hot dog in my bun!”
In 2017, when it would seem like audiences are truly unshockable, it may astonish pop culture aficionados of today to first hear some of these cleverly coded musical gems from yesteryear. Called “The Meat Show”, this edition of Granny’s Blue-Mers featured songs with titles like It Ain’t The Meat It’s the Motion, I’m Wild About That Thing (Hmmm…!) and Sam The Hot Dog Man (“You can drink your coffee, eat your jelly roll; but if you taste Sam’s hot dog, it will satisfy your soul!”). As Micari warned us, the show was about (1) meat— “different sorts of types” and (2) gentlemen—also, “different sorts of types”. Indeed, the show was a truly grande buffet, with four talented women: Micari, Courtney Lynn Wilds, Liz Rabson, and Jennifer Sirey. And, yes, there was one “bad hombre”: Dan Furman on keyboards. The crowd was clearly digging it, especially when It Ain’t The Meat It’s the Motion became an audience clap-a-long, or Sam The Hot Dog Man epitomized the meaning of “This joint is jumping!”
Reverend Mary (Yes, she is a spiritual leader as well. No one can say “Glory, Amen!” quite like she can!) opened with Mighty Tight Woman, written by legendary blues singer Sippie Wallace and later recorded by Bonnie Raitt. In between sipping her moonshine and playing her washboard, this singer knows how to belt— as well as how to growl and occasionally roar. She can also switch to slow and sexy (Kitchen Man) and to feverishly romantic, as with My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll), a song first made famous by Trixie Smith in 1922. Micari’s voice is robust, lusty, and well suited for songs about female empowerment. Speaking of female empowerment, the other ladies of the act also got their chance to show their diverse vocal talents. Powerhouse singer Courtney Lynn Wilds was next up with King Sized Papa, a thinly-veiled novelty sex song from 1948 which, interestingly, showed up decades later in an innocent commercial for Pillsbury biscuits (!) in the 1990’s. Wilds is able to show off her entire vocal range— and it’s an impressive one— in a single verse! Liz Rabson, who played ukulele, gave us the eternal blues anthem Stavin’ Chain. Jennifer Sirey, who played guitar, offered an interesting contrast to the other women, with her voice being a bit higher and more ethereal than the others. That voice was put to great display with Me and My Chauffeur Blues, first done by Memphis Minnie in 1941.
The night continued with many more naughty nuggets just begging to be heard again, all done with gusto by an ensemble who were clearly having a great time. Wilds’ and Furman’s duet Telephone Man will make you yearn for the days of rotary phones again, and Rabson’s You Stole My Cherry, combined with Micari’s Sugar in my Bowl, provided a very sweet conclusion. But of course, the ladies and one gentleman wanted to send the crowd home with a bang… so the finale of the night was Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues. This song is believed to be one of the earliest feminist anthems, with singers from Ida Cox and Bessie Smith to Cass Elliot and Cyndi Lauper giving it justice. As mentioned before, it’s astonishing how the music of yesteryear— decades before the so-called “sexual revolution”— was so deliciously decadent. But what’s just as astonishing is how much energy and talent Granny’s Blue-Mers packs into a one hour show.
Granny’s Blue-Mers‘ next stop is Thursday, March 2nd at Pianos, 158 Ludlow Street, New York City. Visit www.GrannysBluemers.wordpress.com for more information.