Crossroads is visceral code for the blues, hailing back to an urban myth that Mississippi Delta blues master, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to become a successful guitarist. Little wonder a new club in Nashville has branded itself in that dark Faustian myth to attract the best the blues has to offer in Music City. So I went over to Crossroads Grille on Murfreesboro Road March 16 as the boys from Bad Moon were back in town after a road trip playing to packed houses at Sweet Pea’s and The Art Museum in Knoxville.
It’s been exactly two years since I first heard Bad Moon Blues. It was St. Patrick’s Day 2011 — ducking in an offbeat Nashville club and hearing this smokin’ hot band. What impressed me initially was some obviously serious musicianship. Just four guys with a rich sound this Northwestern girl hadn’t heard much of, at least speaking from the perspective of the blues. The second thing that impressed me was I didn’t know many of the tunes they were playing.
That’s rare in the south. Everywhere you go, somebody’s playing a cover that’s been run into the ground.
“Playin’ da blues what don’t get played,” is the tagline Bad Moon shines under. The legacy of this genre pretty much ensures if you listen to the blues, you’re listening to covers. Yet, Bad Moon is careful to pick songs you don’t hear regularly.
Their signature opening tune is Robben Ford’s classic, “He Don’t Play Nothin’ But The Blues.” Bad Moon’s version has more soul and more presence than anything I’ve heard from Ford’s recorded work. The first 12 notes from guitarist Tom Whisenhunt let you know this tune is going to rock and it’s going to be powerful.
As band mates Vic Mastrianni (drums), Richard Sanders (bass), and Peter Burger (sax) come in it’s clear these guys can heal any hole in your soul. And that’s what the blues is all about. Bad Moon specifically picks their sets to include up tempo tunes ensuring their audiences have a good time.
The first set was flawless. “Undercover Agent For The Blues” is always a crowd pleaser with a distinct swampy sound and a particular tempo and nuance that sizzled. Keb Mo’s “As Soon As I Get Paid,” Albert King’s “I’ll Play The Blues For You,” and a new tune, “Nine Below Zero,” were executed perfectly. Whisenhunt and Mastrianni nailed Robert Johnson’s “Down At The Crossroads” a tune they had to play for obvious reasons later on.
Sanders and Mastrianni are both seasoned pros with years of experience on the road with various tours they’ve been party to. Sanders toured with Scott Holt for about a decade throughout North America. He’s a tall drink of Texas influence and puts a soulful funky groove into Bad Moon’s tight rhythm section. Mastrianni has done it all playing with everyone from Ted Nugent to The Dirt Band, Reba, JJ Kale, Elvin Bishop, B. B. King, and the list goes on. He’s a monster drummer keepin’ things tight behind the three piece plus sax.
Burger has played with some of the most legendary players in contemporary blues including Bobby “Blue” Bland, Son Seals, B. B. King, and Junior Wells over a career that has taken him to more than 20 countries on three continents. His sax is smooth adding color precisely where it’s needed and his stage banter keeps everyone on their toes.
It’s Whisenhunt’s impeccable and tasteful guitar and low southern grit that brands Bad Moon as one of Nashville’s leading blues outfits. His playing is often compared to Johnny Winter and he’s always got a surprise riff strategically placed in solos and throughout the tunes thoughtfully handpicked in evolving set lists.
Keeping in mind Bad Moon is only a four-man outfit, you’d be hard pressed to find the sound they produce with a bigger band anywhere around these parts. They’re showmen without being flashy. They’re entertainers without long drawn out stories that are told the only way blues men know how. Best suited for listening rooms, Bad Moon can move a joint with everyone on their feet, or the audience is so quiet, they’re watching and waiting to hear the space between every tear stained note.
Bad Moon is the blues, mama. It’s a state of being.