"Turning point" is such an overused rock 'n' roll phrase, especially in White Summer's case - with Jimmy Schrader (guitar) and Jimmy Watkins (founder, drummer, vocalist) being the only original members who've stayed the course since this legendary Berrien County band began n 1973. (Schrader joined in 1976, while two other former members - Jeff Aldrich and Ron Rutkowski - have since passed away.)
Having had more members than any chronicler cares to count, and more comebacks than Richard Nixon - the first annual reunion shows began only a couple of years after the band hung up its rock 'n' roll shoes in 1991 - it's fair to assume that the White Summer story hasn't followed a predictable, clock-punching order. Who knows, maybe some smart patron saint of cult movie causes will put White Summer's story on the arthouse screen some day - how many local heroes have rubbed shoulders with Eric Clapton, and Neil Young? (See my previous entry on the 2011 reunions for further reference.)
Along the way, White Summer found time to record and put out five albums of original material - long before such gestures became hip, or commonplace - but that isn't the focus of tonight's little soiree, whose set tilts firmly toward the blues/boogie/classic rock end of the equation - and one that Schrader lifts to a decidedly higher level through his tasty, but fiery, playing style. When I arrive, he's wowing the Hidden Pointe faithful by kicking the wah-wah - then taking the strumming out of the picture entirely, while leaving his left hand to wiggle the fretboard...without racing up and down its confines like some kind of aimless greyhound.
Trust me, as often as you've heard some of these songs - whether it's the umpteenth time on the radio, or some other local hero exhuming them for the umpteenth-umpteenth time - you haven't truly heard them until you see the Schrader-Watkins axis put its own rugged no-frills stamp on the proceedings. And that's the acid test for anybody doing someone else's song - as the Clash demonstrated with "Police And Thieves," or Jimi Hendrix proved with "Wild Thing," at Monterey Pop, before that can of lighter fluid reared its fortuitous little head - and White Summer is no exception.
They have a knack for making the well-worn likes of "Gimme Three Steps" - ably sung by bassist Paul Stuckey, standing in for Randy Brown - like it's a song of theirs, which is no mean feat, and one reason why the faithful still come and pack the place out. What's even more amazing is how firmly that interplay holds, while assorted special guests jump in and out of the picture, during the final set...there's Dawn Dee, holding down the Ronnie Spector-style fort on "Two Tickets To Paradise" (but not "Take Me Home Tonight" - maybe we'll get that one next time around, who knows)...followed by Rick Ory, playing some crisp, galloping drums on "Shooting Star," and "Born To Be Wild"...while Jimmy's son, Adam, darts in and out for his own series of percussive cameos.
In some ways, we might bill this night as the White Summer Revue A-Go Go, but - as I've already mentioned - the center holds firm throughout, just the way you remember it...only colored with splotches of Schrader's own blazing guitar work, while his partners in crime don't let the beat bog down into a ham-fisted display of pyrotechnics. That's apparent on lower-key numbers where Schrader takes a backseat, like "Down On Main Street" - while I've never been much of a Bob Seger fan, I confess to having a soft spot for this song, which the band reels off with gusto, as Schrader makes those between-verse leads ring louder, longer, and with more wtisfulness than the radio version.
He also expertly fills in the orchestral passages during "Comfortably Numb" - though it's s strange to hear such a downbeat song ending a seat, especially when the crowd seems to want the White Summer High Energy Meter For All Occasions to keep on burning the grid down. However, the encore puts things right fast enough, as Dale Parsons gets up to sing two back-to-back ZZ Top numbers ("Tube Snake Boogie," "Cheap Sunglasses")...before handing off the mike to yet another special guest in Freddy Brecht...who wastes little time channeling his inner lemon squeezer with Led Zeppelin's "Rock 'N' Roll, one of those heads-down, no-nonsense basic rockers that crowds - then, and now - don't ever seem to stop expecting, or demanding.
However, the song serves its purpose - putting yet another exclamation point on the latest snapshot of White Summer's long and winding road (sorry, pun fully intended - it's been another late night at the computer, only this time, it's one that I'm blazing for the sake of my own amusement)....and a satisfying night for yours triuly, who missed the last reunion get-together at Chief's Bar (Coloma, MI), due to an earlier than anticipated starting time imposed by the venue in question...which meant that I got there just in time to see Watkins and his cohorts breaking down their equipment! I can laugh about this one now, but did my face burn ever so red with embarrassment then...at any rate, it's good to see the White Summer banner flying again, surrounded by so many of the familiar faces who patiently wait for the next turning point in the story - so here's looking at 2015, and beyond.