The Original

Texas Boogie King

Nat Dove keeps the piano rocking

At Warren Hall, Nat Dove keeps the piano rocking
May 12, 2008 6:59 AM

On Saturday night at Warren Hall, class was in session and the professor had the true-blue blues. Nat Dove is not only a solid, veteran blues pianist and singer, but also a teacher at California State University, Bakersfield, an author and general historian on the music that has defined his life. Another fitting attribute is his directorship of the Bakersfield Blues Preservation Society, appearing here under the auspices of the Santa Barbara Blues Society.

For many years a sideman to blues stars and, more recently, a leader in his own right, Mr. Dove was making his Santa Barbara debut as a leader, although his gigs as a sideman in this town date back 30 years. Although he dished up a bit of back story in the course of the evening, Mr. Dove mostly checked his professorial side at the door, instead leaning on his gracious performer persona, with rough and ready help from three other veteran players.

Although Mr. Dove's most recent recording, 2006's "Real Texas Piano Blues," included inventive originals and nods to his Texan roots (he also lived in Los Angeles and Europe before settling in Bakersfield), Saturday's show primarily was a leisurely stroll through blues hits and classics. The show opened with "Every Day I Have the Blues" and touched on "When the Evening Sun Goes Down" and left-of-blues tunes, such as "Georgia" and "Send Me Someone to Love," by Percy Mayfield (who Mr. Dove dubbed "the poet laureate of the blues").

Late in the show, he summoned the churning dance floor-instigation of "Sweet Home Chicago" and then down-shifted into the grinding boogie blues of "Hoochie Koochie Man."

Aside from the familiar material, though, it was great to catch a blues show based around a pianist, as opposed to the standard guitar or harmonica player. The downside was that, by necessity, Mr. Dove played on a sampling keyboard instead of the real deal, which robbed some authenticity of his barrelhouse roots. Then again, the logistical difficulty of the piano versus the easy portability of guitar and blues harp partly explains the rise of those mobile instruments in blues culture.
To juice up the party atmosphere, Mr. Dove played "Got My Mojo Working" twice, once per set. The second time around, the band was looser and more lubed with the blues spirit. It turned up the loping, grooving heat as the piano man lured the crowd into a singalong. There was nothing scholarly about it -- just pure late night mojo in the house.

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