North of Margaritaville: Jimmy Buffett’s drummer plays the Duck Room
I knew I was in the right place as soon as I got out of the car. I was on the corner of Delmar Boulevard and Melville Avenue, walking into the entrance of Blueberry Hill. I knew I was in the right place because I was standing behind two middle-aged white men in matching uniform: black loafers and dark blazers over button-down shirts tucked into blue jeans, announcing “we are here to see the drummer from Jimmy Buffett’s band play a jazz set.”
To clarify: Roger Guth has been the drummer of Buffett’s Coral Reefer band since 1989, but he is also a somewhat accomplished jazz songwriter. He recently released an album of instrumental jazz called “Tin Roof,” and on Saturday night he returned to his native St. Louis to play Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room. His band was scheduled to come out at 9 p.m. There was no tour scheduled; so, this was more of an album release party than a tour date.
As I walked down into the Duck Room, I realized that the two men in front of me were indicative of the larger demographics of the crowd. Everyone was either a middle-aged white man or the wife of a middle aged white man. They wore collared shirts with sweaters and blazers and congregated at the back of the room to grab beers before taking their seats in the rows of folding chairs that had been set up in front of the stage.
The band came out at exactly 9 p.m.—both they and their audience are past the part of their lives where they have any interest in building up tension by waiting past the scheduled set times. The band, shockingly, is also all middle-aged white men. They are five-piece, composed of Guth, a pianist, a bassist, a trumpeter and a guitarist. Based on his longer hair and white polka-dotted blazer, I assumed that the guitarist had his origins in rock somewhere. The rest of the group seemed like jazz guys, based on their more subdued clothing.
They jumped right into Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” and, honestly, they were pretty good. Guth formed the backbone of a very solid rhythm section, and the guitarist and trumpeter traded impressive licks. My suspicions that the guitarist had origins in rock were all but confirmed when he kicked up the distortion and launched into a solo.
The crowd went wild after every solo, and as I looked around, I realized that I was at the white middle-aged version of a college basement show. Between every song, someone recognized someone else that they knew, and they hugged and talked about “how great Roger is playing tonight.” The man in front of me was Facetiming the show to one of his friends.
Guth’s original music is not exactly up my alley. It’s melodic and moody, kind of like a more rhythmically interesting version of Kenny G. However, I can recognize that they are very good; so, it was easy to enjoy the show. Every song basically had the following format: There was a single instrumental introduction, followed by some written sections in which the guitar and trumpet play a melody together, and then the band broke into solos.
Near the end of the show, Guth himself came to the front of the stage. Everyone cheered. He thanked everyone for coming out and for supporting the album: “We have a few songs left. I would read out the set list, but I forgot.” Everyone cheered a lot for that. They forget things, too.
And as much as I didn’t really like the songs themselves, everyone was having such a pleasant time that it was hard to be too cynical about anything. I even managed not to roll my eyes when they did a song featuring a six-string ukulele. I left a little after 10:15, somehow happy that I just spent my Saturday night watching the drummer from Jimmy Buffett’s band play a jazz set.