"OK, we should just go," my friend blurted. We had been talking about visiting the All People's Grill in north Durham, a mystical place six miles down Guess Road off Highway 54. On a spirited impulse, we loaded up and hit the road to the country. The place was electric when we arrived, people hanging out rapping in the dusty pebble lot in front. We quickly realized we'd hit the place between sets of local guitar hero Cool John Ferguson. Perfect.
Once you go through the front door at the Grill, you absorb the atmosphere of a downhome, family-run place--a country store with a menu that boasts homemade biscuits, fatback, chitlins and, of course, cold beer. Overheard: "So, where do you get the fried chicken?" "Oh, my sister makes it." Damn. The smells wafted over us: bacon grease hanging in the air. After gawking at the menu, I paid and moved through a doorway adorned with a simple glittery paper "Happy Birthday" sign. It turned out All People's was celebrating an audience member's special night.
In the small band room, which is a converted lounge area, the amps and guitars were set up on the floor and a worn pool table was casually pushed to one side. (There's also a DJ dance room in All People's, encased in cinderblock and strings of little colored lights, just off from the band room.) This night, as he often does on weekends, Cool John was in the midst of playing several varied sets. As the drummer and bass player readied their gear, the man of the hour entered. Humbly dressed in a plain T-shirt and jeans, Cool John grinned at all the faces, slung his guitar over his shoulder and slowly began to strum a tune. As the set progressed, Cool John cruised effortlessly through so many styles that my head was aflutter. His left-handed guitar mastery (yep, just like Hendrix) lends him the aura of a chameleon, shape-shifting through blues traditionals, '60s pop, and rocking fret-board pyrotechnics.
In the Hendrix spirit, Cool John even performed a requested version of "Hey Joe." Everyone loved it, some bobbing their heads, others sporting T-shirts bearing the guitarist's name, others, like the birthday girl, shaking a tail feather. As I looked across from my seat to the bar, over the ashtrays sculpted from crushed beer cans, I could even see the bartender himself doing a little boogie.
The All People's Grill is a place that brings to life the words of legendary bluesman Robert Pete Williams: "Music is in the air." Like me, you've just got to go. Cool John Ferguson is scheduled to play at the All People's Grill, 6122 Guess Road, every Saturday night in June, starting around 9:30 p.m. For more information, call the Grill at 620-9591 or visit the Music Maker Foundation Web site, www.musicmaker.org, for more details.
Give the Drummer some
Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster is a busy guy behind the kit, lending both hands most recently in the backing bands of Caitlin Cary and Alejandro Escovedo and doing session work for REM. He knows how to bring the funny, too, as evidenced in on-air phone antics and CDs with New York radio DJ Tom Scharpling. Or if you've seen those Metallica "Icon" bits with Matt Walsh from comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade, Wurster wrote 'em. Ditto for the commercials for the MTV Movie Awards, with Justin Timberlake, Seann William "American Pie" Scott and the ever-present David Lee Roth.
Wurster says: "What a weird experience to walk onto a soundstage at Universal Studios and see a bunch of sets being built for an idea you came up with while sitting in the parking lot at Wellspring."