PREVIEW: The Devil’s Music gets right with the Lord at Edmonton church benefit

Jack Semple, playing hot electric blues to a liquor drinkin’ crowd …. in a church?

No, it’s not the closing guitar duel scene from a Ralph Macchio blues flick. Surreal as that sounds, it’s what you’ll get this Friday night when the Saskatchewan blues guitar maestro cooks up some bid’ness at McDougall United, with proceeds going to help replace the church’s roof.

There are a lot of contradictions inherent to the blues. People play it when they’re sad; and people play it when they’re happy. People sing it sweetly; and people shout it like they presoaked their vocal chords in whiskey and nails.

It was founded on plantation call-and-repeat mantras by slaves combined with church spirituals, but gained popularity in houseparty “jukes” on 72 rpm vinyl Long Play record, because a record player could be cranked and didn’t need mains electricity. Church people called it “The Devil’s Music,” and though most of the people who play it seem pretty nice, that’s reflected in the music too: the songs are always about one party doing the other wrong, the good guy done in by the bad girl who did him wrong on the wrong side of town.

It’s a big dichotomy then, between good and evil, Heaven and hell.

The licensed “Blues Cafe” will be in the church’s basemen? Holy irony, Bluesman.

But here’s the truth about the blues: most of it has nothing to do with deals with the devil, or women doin’ men wrong, or people losing they’re jobs. Nope: it’s really about trying to get people to get along, trying to protect and respect a sense of community.

Sure, that sometimes comes in the form of reminiscing about the cheating whore who broke his heart and stole his truck – blues is country music originally, after all – but it can just as easily be the late, great Koko Taylor demanding we “Let the Juke Joint Jump,” or the King of the Blues, B.B. King telling the landlord to “Let the Good Times Roll.” “Hey Mr. Landlord, lock up all the doors. If the policemen come by, just tell ’em that the joint is closed …. and let the good times roll. Let the good times roll!”

Whether your lot in life is good, or your lot in life is bad…. it ain’t only you, Jack.

And that’s what the blues are really all about, which, when you think about it, is kind of what most churches are about, too.

It’s true: survey after survey of church congregations — from orthodox to moderate – show that most members place more value in the community of the congregation than actual rituals.

That’s the blues, for you, too. Most of the people love it because they come together with others, hear a few tunes they relate to because the songs are about ordinary, average folk, dance their feet off for a few hours and go home happy.

Makes the basement of a United Church – inclusive being the United Church’s middle name – seem rather appropriate then…Devil’s music notwithstanding.

The appropriately named Raise the Roof benefit concert, starring Jack Semple with opening guests The Bus, kicks off at 7:30 p.m. with doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $37.50 here through Tix On The Square.