By on August 20, 2013


As is surely the case for many of TTAC’s readers, cars aren’t my only passion in life. Early on in my college and young adult life, I spent many nights in the addictive limelight that only belongs to the performing musician. Being a saxophonist gave me a sort of versatility that not many other musicians had-R&B band one night, Ska/Punk the next, Jazz the next, and so on.

But the one music that has stayed consistent with me throughout my life has been the Blues. The Blues is present in all forms of American music-it’s the foundation of Rock and Roll, Country, Jazz…everything. One could make the argument that the Blues is America’s Classical music-much like the classical music of Europe, it’s based on folk tunes that have been passed down from generation to generation aurally, and it’s totally unique from region to region. Mississippi, New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago. They each have their own brand of Blues that a true connoisseur can recognize immediately.

Even as a young man, I was drawn to the Blues because of the stories it tells. It was once said of Charlie Parker that he frequently listened to country music, often crying as he absorbed the woes of the songs. The Blues-REAL blues, mind you, not the co-opted electric music that can be heard in nearly every city in the world, but the genuine article- has that same power.

I was also extremely fortunate when I was just nineteen to have been asked by a friend to read a baritone saxophone part on a recording session with a twenty-five year old Blues singer/guitar player named Sean Carney. Sean came from a long line of musicians; the Carney name is well known and respected throughout Ohio and the midwest. The alliance I formed with Sean during that recording session and the gigs that followed has always been a unique and powerful one. Sean went on the win the International Blues Challenge and the Albert King award in 2007, and has been touring the world ever since.

Needless to say, I have had a certain amount of envy, and perhaps even jealousy of Sean’s ability to “live the dream,” as aspiring musicians say. “Living the dream” means that you don’t have to have a day job-that you entirely support yourself through your music. As music became his career, it became my hobby. We stayed in touch over the years, playing a gig or two along the way together if he needed a saxophonist, and I moved on in my career as well.

Then my phone rang one day early this year. Well, not really-it buzzed. And not with a phone call-with a Facebook message from Sean Carney that contained an offer to play several festival and club dates in Europe I’M SORRY DID THAT SAY EUROPE? I hadn’t been to Europe in nearly two decades. I nearly broke the Gorilla Glass on my iPhone replying as quickly as possible as I could to say YES. The details on these things can always be worked out later.

As is typical with the life of a true Bluesman, the details had yet to really be worked out several months later as I boarded my series of flights that would end in Brussels, Belgium. Somebody would be picking me up at the airport-it might be Sean, it might be somebody from the European band he worked with, it might be somebody from the staff from the first festival gig. Who knows. When one accepts a Blues gig, one must let go of the sense that one has in the “real world” that things must go according to some sort of plan, because they virtually never do. Invariably, the location is wrong, the time is wrong, the date is wrong…nobody in the history of the Blues has ever had a gig where everything went according to plan.

Of course, when I arrived at the Belgian airport, my bag was the last one off of the carousel, and my connecting flight from Rome already been delayed. As I put my Bam saxophone case over my shoulder and walked out into the arrival area, I quickly scanned the crowd that stood there beyond the gates, looking for “Bark M.” on one of the tablets being held by the dozens of awaiting chauffeurs. No dice…and then I spotted Sean, looking just like he’d been awarded the role of Blues guitarist by Central Casting-salt and pepper swept back hair, wayfarer sunglasses, silver chain, and blue jeans.


We walked over to a coffee shop inside the airport where the members of Sean’s backing band, the French Blues Explosion, awaited- Sam “Mister Tchang” Tchang on guitar and vocals, Fred Jouglas on bass, and Pascal Delmas on the drums. I was genuinely excited to play with these guys, having listened to their latest recording online. Sam was a master showman, a guitarist in the true tradition of the blues and a fine singer. Fred was laid back, a man of few words and many funky bass lines. Pascal was the brains of the operation and a swinging drummer, to boot.

We had about an hour’s drive to our first gig, a Blues festival in Hamme, Belgium. Pascal led us to the parking garage and to our chariot for the week-a six-speed manual Citroen Jumpy van. My two passions of Cars and Blues had just merged in an incredibly awesome way. The Jumpy was of the post-2006 refresh variety with a 2.0 liter engine and about 100,000 kilometers on the clock. Did I mention that it was a six-speed manual?


It’s a good thing I liked the Jumpy, because I was about to spend a lot of time in it over the next week, and in very close quarters with my musical colleagues. In addition to Sean and the French Blues Explosion, we were also picking up Mississippi bluesman Terry “Harmonica” Bean when we got to Hamme. So, to recap, that’s six bluesmen, two guitars, a bass, a saxophone, a drumset, and four amplifiers in a minivan. This was starting to remind me of why I quit touring back in 2005-and I was eight years younger then.

Upon leaving the airport in Belgium, I was hit with a bit of automotive xenoshock. I’m extremely used to being able to identify every vehicle on the road without much thought. My brain was assaulted with an endless parade of Renault, Peugot, and Citroen vehicles, almost all small-engined hatches, and virtually indistinguishable to the American eye. To help our American readers understand exactly what this is like, let me put together a quick list of some of the vehicles I did NOT see during my eight days in Europe:

Ford Mustang
Chevrolet Camaro
Chevrolet Corvette
Ford F-150
Chevrolet Silverado
Honda Accord
Toyota Camry
Nissan Altima
Ford Fusion
Chrysler 200
Chevrolet Malibu
Chevrolet Impala
Hyundai Sonata

In other words, I saw virtually none of the top-selling cars in America. It wasn’t just a different continent- it was a flat-out different automotive planet. To my European and musical friends that I was with, it was no big deal. To a car lover, it was both exciting and overwhelming.

I also began to learn a few things about driving in Europe, which I’ll cover in Part 2.

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21 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: The Jump(y)in’ Blues, Part One...”

  • avatar

    Ah belgium. I know what you mean. I was there last summer.

    Tiny hatches all very boring looking. Couldn’t really care to find out what they were. Sure they had diesels but they are like the toyota camry and midsize cars of western europe.

    But! I’m supprised you didn’t see a f150, silverado, suburban, ram 1500. I saw a silverado which looking like a monster truck parked infront of one of those tiny hatches in brugge.

    I saw the ram 1500, suburban (nice old 80’s model ), in the netherlands. Looked equally as strange.

    I have managed to find a f150 in every single country i have travel too. Keep your eye open. You would be supprised.

    Oh they love opel’s in those parts too. Don’t forget about them.

  • avatar

    NHice article ! .

    I too love The Blues and always have , even as a Child they spoke to me .

    I await your next entry here , the van sounds nice .


  • avatar

    This sounds like my experience every time I go to Europe – my mental “car radar” is knocked offline – I can’t identify cars from the corner of my eye. Even familiar models are different enough to stump me at times (Euro Civic, various Rover-Civics, Mercedes Sprinters, for example!).

    I still want an old DS or 2CV (Goddess or Goat, I’ll take either one!) to drive as a weekend toy.

    ALSO: WHile I can’t speak for Belgium, the Ford Focus and Fiesta have been EVERYWHERE. Same for the Honda Fit/Jazz, Honda Civic, Toyota Yaris. And a vehicle I wish would come back to the states was EXTREMELY popular in Greece: The Suzuki Jimny, formerly known as the Samurai. It still has the soft-top, but looks even more like a knockoff Jeeplet. I think it would be a fun runabout.

    • 0 avatar

      Sub-compacts (in the US sense) are popular cars.
      I had read somewhere that 70% of Ford’s business in the UK (their largest European market) was just the Fiesta and Focus (admittedly with more bodystyles).
      There are similarities – any Mazda (excluding the CX9), any BMW, Audi or Mercedes will be recognizable.

      • 0 avatar

        What I’ve noticed is that the smaller cars (B-class, US sub-compacts) are virtually the same, except almost exclusively stick-shifts. The C-class cars (US compact) are similar, except usually wagons or hatches… and again, mostly stick shifts.

        Larger vehicles diverge drastically. Large for the sake of it cars(Accord, Impala, Buick-anything) largely don’t exist… if you’re going to pay for a big car, it’s not going to be a big boring car – it’ll either be a big luxurious car (Executive car) or a big space-efficient car (such as the large Citroen MPV pictured above). You’re not going to limit yourself from parking spaces unless you don’t need to find street parking like the typical prole, or have to carry around a large brood.

        I remember seeing advertisements for the Honda CR-V in the UK around ’05 advertising it as a large, luxurious car. It seemed to be pitted against the Land Rover Freelander. Also, a buddy stationed in England brought his Grand Cherokee with him. Used GC, modest trim level – hardly luxurious here, but it was the marker of someone who had truly arrived in life over there (not to mention dominating the road!)

  • avatar

    I got the blues, man.

    I got the auto-by-default-




    I got the frustrated Europhile bluuuueeeeessss…

  • avatar

    I’m reminded of the automotive scene in Costa Rica, where a Golf seemed both rare and large compared to most cars, and American cars just plain did not exist.

  • avatar

    I am a metalhead that discovered blues very early in life when I traced back the roots of metal riffs. I also learned a great life skill to have: knowing the blues scale. It gives you the ability to pick up any guitar anywhere and look to the untrained like you know what you are doing.

    As for the cars, I’ve never been to Europe, but I was just driving all around Costa Rica, and checking out cars as usual. I was shocked at the lack of domestic brands. I saw a very few F150s, and no GM cars to speak of. Nearly everything was Japanese or Korean (there were some very wealthy Ticos in BMWs, and–just like here–they park like assholes).

    • 0 avatar

      Metalhead – Blues aficionado here too.

      I’ve always had a soft spot for the blues, even since a quite young age watching my uncle jam with his buddies. The guitarist in my metal band is the son of Mark Riley, a fairly well know Pacific NW blues singer/writer/performer. My band has been known at times to stop in the middle of our metal set, jump right into a blues jam, and right back into our next metal song. I will say that it’s well received by about 90% of the metalheads we perform for.

      Since we’ve only played around the US, I don’t have any car related exploits to share involving other countries, but we did once fit 4 band members, 2 half-stacks, PA equipment, a drum set, 2 guitars, and a HUGE Dean Razorback bass into my ’88 Subie Loyale wagon. I’m pretty sure the plastic bubble on the roof was quite over the weight limit!

  • avatar

    I was driven around Ukraine’s exclusion zone in an van that looked JUST like this, but it was an Opel something-or-other. It had a sub-2.0L diesel and a manual gearbox and, while the driver had no qualms about overtaking on a two lane road with blind curves, I saw certain death.

    I guess GM’s rebadging efforts have no borders.

  • avatar

    Nice story. Looking forward to part II.

    This reminds me of being in Rota, Spain and renting a “small” (you know how you use all caps for emphasis–too bad there’s not something similar for de-emphasis, because this thing was small) hatchback.

    I don’t remember the brand but I do remember it being pretty cozy. Anyway that car took us all around Rota, Cadiz and Tarifa.

    And the women in southern Spain will absolutely stop your heart.

  • avatar

    Rock came from the blues. It passed from Robert Johnson to Albert King to Eric Clapton and then on to Stevie Ray Vaughn. What do you get when you play country music backwards? You get your job back, you get your woman back, you get your truck back, you get your trailer back, you get your dog back…. I always loved the old country standard: “I Would Have Married My Horse, But I Couldn’t Find A Bridle Suite”

  • avatar

    What a tedious read. Sounds as though you are your greatest fan.

    • 0 avatar


      Yet another ditzy white boy slathering gooey indulgence over himself and the noises originally wrenched from lives damaged beyond anything he could ever begin to conceive.

    • 0 avatar

      The author, I though, was modest in his explanation of being included in a tour with respected musicians… Why the “self love” hating? Many musicians work very hard on tour, well, those that have to share a small van anyway. I would say your comment is pretty far off the mark and, frankly, offensive to hard working musicians out there. Ya, know “Money for nothing” and such…

  • avatar

    I am hoping to read more about the cars in part 2. So far, interesting story!

  • avatar

    A dash and a hyphen are two different things. Please learn the difference.

    “The Blues-REAL blues, mind you, not the co-opted electric music that can be heard in nearly every city in the world, but the genuine article- has that same power.”

    “The Blues — REAL blues, mind you, not the co-opted electric music that can be heard in nearly every city in the world, but the genuine article — has that same power.”

    There, fixed.

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