By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Sometimes they come back
Anyone who has cause to look back ruefully on the '80s probably can recall a band like A-Train. You know the type: hard-working floor-stirrers providing the soundtrack to another night of blitzed barroom bonhomie, the kind of a band you declared to be greeeat! This was usually done while you were grabbing the edge of a nearby table for support--secure in the knowledge that the band would be playing somewhere close the next weekend. And the next. And the next.
A favorite in Texas and Louisiana funspots of that era, this Shreveport quintet boozed and cussed onstage until it hired singer Miki Honeycutt in 1981; then, it stopped the cussing. Not that Honeycutt was demure in her drop-dead minis and boots-up-to-her-butt; her hot pipes and persona were an apt front for the boys in the band, a group centered by brothers Bruce and Buddy Flett, presently of Shreveport's bluesrocking Bluebirds (whose albums include Swamp Stomp in 1995 and South From Memphis in 1996).
A-Train disbanded when the group blew a deal with RCA in 1987; the Bluebirds formed--originally as a Tuesday-night jam band--not long thereafter. Like a minority of bands--yet most of the great ones--both acts were able to do covers and original material compellingly. The Fletts are able songwriters, with guitarist Buddy showing a knack for heart-wracked, Southern-style soul ballads. A-Train staples included his "Not By Man Alone" and "Don't Cry For Me," which Honeycutt also sang on Soul Deep (released in 1989), her recommendable Ron Levy-produced set with currently de rigueur Kid Bangham on guitar.
Those tracks will be among the tunes Honeycutt will perform when she appears with the Bluebirds at Caravan of Dreams. She's now a registered nurse, but still gigs occasionally (sometimes on full-scale A-Train reunions in Shreveport). With new drummer Chad Gamble, who signed on this year, the Bluebirds played the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Waterfront Blues fest in Portland, and shows in Belgium and Amsterdam. Buddy wrote "Half Past The Blues," which Dallas-based soulster Vernon Garrett used as the title cut on his Ichiban CD this year. Buddy's also a great slide guitarist; his only local equal is Jim Suhler.
The Caravan one-off will feature material from A-Train days and such Bluebirds tunes as "Close To You Baby," on which Honeycutt will duet with bassist Bruce. Honeycutt will also cover tunes by Aretha Franklin, Etta James, and Irma Thomas. It's unseemly to behave nowadays with '80s-style abandon, but if Honeycutt sings Thomas' "Breakaway" the way she did in the A-Train days, that behavior is very likely to occur.
Miki Honeycutt and the Bluebirds play Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth January 9.