Originally available as a souvenir for voyagers on the legendary Blues Cruises, All Jams On Deck is becoming known as a film all blues lovers in general should enjoy. It’s also a primer for blues performers looking for some tips from the pros. Shot on the October 2010 Rhythm & Blues Cruise to the Mexican Riviera, the 96-minute documentary is roughly half musical performances culled from after-hour jams and half discussions among the performers about the art of jamming. On every level, it’s an education.
The documentary opens with guitarist and bandleader Tommy Castro explaining how these jams came to be. He describes how he established the format of getting the guest musicians on stage as quickly as possible once the 1:00 a.m. performances began. From that point on, we’re treated to the music and views of the likes of Castro, Johnny Winter, Coco Montoya, Marcia Ball, John Nemeth, Elvin Bishop, The Lowrider Band, Randy Oxford, Commander Cody, Jimmy Thackery, Kim Wilson, and others.
In between generous samplings of the big bands on stage, various players discuss and demonstrate what makes for a good jam. It’s part etiquette, knowing when to kick back and let someone else shine. If you’re the bandleader, it’s about how to organize potential chaos. It’s also partly listening. If one guitarist is playing the high strings, the other should go low. If one pianist is soloing, the other should get simple and provide texture and layers. It’s part hot players showing off their chops for their peers and competitors, but always being mindful they have an audience to reach. Every minute of it is about having a good time.
Along the way, there are other surprises. For example, I didn’t know until Lee Oskar mentioned it that the Lowrider Band was once War, the guys with hits like “Spill the Wine” and “The World is a Ghetto.” As a drummer, I must ruefully note we don’t get our due other than some good playing. One tip for stickmen I’d have added: keep to the high-hat when a singer is doing their thing, go to the ride cymbal when you want to fill space behind soloists.
All Jams On Deck benefits from good editing by Robert Mugge as well as good organization. Each jam is preceded by pointers the viewer can see demonstrated on stage. Every musician should see this disc at least once. Fans who want to get insights into how it’s done should enjoy the short and to the point discussions. If you don’t care about any of that, fast forward to the jams. Odds are, you’ll want to go on a Blues Cruise yourself to enjoy what hot licks sound like after-hours.