Caught by the River

Jeb's Jukebox

Jeb Loy Nichols | 2nd August 2013

JebPhoto: Neil Thomson.

This month, in a break from the norm, we’re going to change how we present Jeb’s long-running, highly entertaining and most-popular column. Instead of doing as we do and leading with an image of the label – or cover – from the record that Jeb has chosen to play for us, we are going to lead with a picture of the man himself. So here’s Jeb, a brilliant shot of him performing on our stage at the Open East festival in London last Sunday. It was a wonderful show featuring great new songs and we’d like to say thanks for coming along Mr Nichols, it’s always a pleasure to have you.

Drop the dime:

Red Ant (Nature)
Olu Dara


20. red ant (nature)

There we were, in Chicago, lost, looking for somewhere to eat. Our method was simple; pass a restaurant and listen to what music they were playing. If the music was good, so too, we reckoned, would be the food.

It didn’t take long. Squeezed between a shoe repair shop and a hairdresser, we passed a place called Shorty’s Big Loaf. Coming through the door was the sound of a squealing trumpet. We stopped and listened.

Over the next two hours the food and the music kept coming. Fried okra, plantains, rice and peas with pickled cabbage, iced tea and steamed greens; Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Gary Bartz, Sonny Rollins, Don Cherry.

The owner of the restaurant, it turned out, was a bass player and had played with Henry Threadgill and Lester Bowie. There were pictures of him on the wall wearing African robes and a Chicago Bulls t-shirt.

When we ordered desert (pecan pie), a new record started, and the familiar sound of Olu Dara filled the room.

“I saw a red ant crying, cause the black ants was walking on his hills…”

It seemed, at that moment, that the whole width and history of American music filled the room. Blues, country music, soul and jazz, all puddling up together. A tearful, funny, neighbourhood sized warning; the voice of surprise and weariness.

“Nature says, don’t start me crying, you don’t wanna see me crying – I’ll cry up a hurricane, I’ll cry up a tornado…”

We sat for a while soaking it up. The groove, the smells, the mumbled conversation. The steam rising from the kitchen. We watched the other diners nod and shuffle and chew in time. We listened to Olu Dara channel the fretful voice of Nature: “You made your own bed, I gave you everything I could. Nature wants you all to dance, dance, dance…”

Never has a slice of pecan pie tasted so good.

Jeb Loy Nichols.