There's something about Barrelhouse Blues music that gets under your skin and won't leave you alone. Perhaps it's the beat, the inflection of the singer's voice, or maybe it's just the easy swing that sets your hips to moving and your toes to tapping. Yet, a real good Barrelhouse player can also take you down a sentimental road full of tears and heartbreak without once making it taste like too much sugar in your coffee.
It's a real trick, and not one that many people can manage; Dr. John is probably the best-known player, and I've heard one or two others who can carry it off. One of the guys I knew is no longer with us — Ron Hedland — and you probably never heard of him. I knew him in the early 80’s when he was calling strippers at the Brass Rail in Toronto Ontario as his day job, and playing a Fender Rhodes Electric when he got the chance. He could sing an old chestnut and make it sweet, or he could reach down and play barrelhouse like he was sitting in with the whorehouse band back home in Virginia where he was born.
The other man you may not have heard of either, but he's still around and kicking. At 81-years-old, Eddie Tigner doesn't sound like he's going anywhere in a hurry. His voice is strong, and fingers fast on the keys of either his piano or the organ that he plays - kicking out some of the best, lowest, and fattest Barrelhouse blues I've heard in a long time.
If you haven’t heard of Eddie Tigner, I guess you can be excused because it's been a while since he was in the public eye. According to his biography over at the Music Maker Relief Foundation’s web site, he's been spending his days recently serving lunches in a school cafeteria. Eddie started his piano playing career back in the 40’s when he was in the Army (he figures he has played gigs at every military installation in the United States) and was actually playing Vibes in his first band.