Travelin' Man Blues

Travelin' Man Blues
Rock of Ages

How will the residents of the Persian Gulf take to Tulsa's Little Joe McLerran?

The young blues impresario is just as curious to find out himself.

"I'm just going to take this as it comes," he said in a deep-roots voice hiding his 26 years of age. You'd guess you were talking to a seasoned blues man of 50-plus. But then, McLerran's been playing for a long time, since he was 8.

"I'm not really going to get a big picture in my head and get planned out for something if it's not going to be what I expected. I'm really not going to have any idea what it's going to be like until the wheels come down in Bahrain and we're on the road."

The Little Joe McLerran Quartet sets out soon to tour four countries as part of "Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad," a unique program of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It's administered by Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The program seeks out American musicians and offers them opportunities to present their music in other countries as a way to "promote cross-cultural understanding and exchange among nations worldwide," states the program's Web site.

McLerran said he was notified of the program and was encouraged to apply. Next thing, he and the rest of the quartet
— David Berntson, Robbie Mack and Ron McRorey — found themselves flying to New York City to Jazz at Lincoln Center, where they were schooled on how to work with translators and other practicalities of working in other nations.

Ten bands were selected for the program based on musical ability, artistry, integrity and educational skills.

McLerran is excited to bring his Piedmont-style blues guitar playing to the Persian Gulf. The tour will take the quartet to Bahrain, March 29-April 2; Saudia Arabia, April 3-11; Kuwait, April 12-15; and Oman, April 16-21.

On June 3, the band will play the Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, D.C., followed by a performance at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Frederick P. Rose Hall, which houses Jazz at Lincoln Center, in New York.

McLerran said he's been told that public music performances are prohibited in Saudi Arabia. So is dancing. Just to make sure they don't have a situation similar to McRorey's first visit to the country — he was made to cover up when he went to a hotel pool in only his swimming trunks — the guys want to make sure they follow all the rules.

He said he hopes that his audiences in those countries can identify with the band's devotion to making good blues music.

McLerran said his main goals are to stay focused on "just the music part of it and making sure that I make these people happy — I don't know if they dance — but get them wanting to dance."
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