Birney Imes: Blues travelers

May 29, 2010 9:28:00 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


"Much obliged." It was an expression I heard my father often use. Friday afternoon I heard the term directed toward Andrew Murphy, a barista at Kudo''s coffee shop. It came from a bent, elderly gentleman nattily attired in seersucker pants, a white knit polo shirt and gray New Balance running shoes. 


Much obliged. It''s a phrase you hardly ever hear these days. "Did I say that?" Bill Davis asked when I asked him about the expression. Davis is a retired New York Life agent, who lives in east Columbus. 


My father used it so readily, I imagine he too was unaware of saying it. 


"I had one of the best fathers anybody ever had and I''m sure I heard it from him," Davis said. 


I suppose when Davis'' generation passes so will "much obliged."  


Speaking of colorful expressions, the mention of the word boondocks to a couple of Australian blues fans at Saturday''s Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market elicited a steam of the Down Under equivalents: "Up the scrub," "whoop, whoop" and "back of the beyond." 


Boondocks worked its way into the American lexicon the way many colorful expressions have, through the military. American military personnel serving in the Philippines in the late 19th century stumbled across the Tagalog word "bondoc" meaning "mountain," and they came to use it to mean mountains, jungle or any remote area. 


As you read this, those Australians -- blokes, I think they''re called -- should be steaming toward Cajun country in a black 2011 Mustang. The two of them are in the early days of what will be month-long music pilgrimage. 


Garry Roberts, 53, and John Werner, 45, live with their families in Koornalla, an obscure outpost about two hours east of Melbourne in southern Australia. There they help run power generating plants that make electricity from what they call brown coal (lignite). 


John is a musician and Garry a blues fan. 


"This has been a dream for 35 years," said Roberts about what is his first trip outside his homeland. They''re taking this month-long sabbatical with the blessings of their wives, who urged their husbands to act on their dreams. 


"They even booked our flights," said Werner. 


The wives didn''t know about the black Mustang, he admitted. 


Roberts said he got hooked on the blues by listening to, of all people, the Rolling Stones. 


"I''d see W. Dixon (Willie Dixon) and M. Morganfield (Muddy Waters) after the songs I liked. Son House, Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton. It was a evolutionary process that led me to the Mississippi Delta. 


"This is like a trip to Mecca." 


After zydeco country the two plan to drive through the Mississippi Delta to Memphis and Nashville, then to Atlanta where they will rent an RV for travels to North Carolina and Virginia where they will revisit bluegrass musicians Werner met while roaming the area with his wife in 2008. 


In Whitetop, Va., on a Sunday afternoon the Werners stumbled on a bluegrass hoe-down in a firehouse that featured the best guitarist Werner had ever heard, a retired mail carrier. 


They also met and made friends with the Whitetop Mountaineers, a bluegrass duo, that has since visited them twice in Australia. 


For a souvenir of America, Roberts'' daughter asked her dad to bring her a bit of oil washed up on the Gulf beaches. 


"We get a lot of American news," he said. 


The Australians are bewildered by Americans'' opposition to universal health care. 


"Everybody (in Australia) has access to reasonable health care," Roberts said. "I can''t understand why America is so fearful of socialized healthcare. 


"We look after those who are less privileged." 


The blues travelers on Friday and Saturday took in Willie King''s Freedom Creek Festival near Aliceville, Al. 


"This is almost a rite of passage -- something you have to do," said Werner about their journey. He hopes to return home with a Martin guitar. 


"This is like a trip to the Holy Land for us, echoed Roberts. "This is only the third day and it''s already mind blowing for me." 


E-mail Birney Imes at [email protected]

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.