Well it’s been a week since we got back and so I guess it’s time I wrote this before the memory fades any more. This is going to be “stream of consciousness,” to some extent.

Yes, one last time, it was THE Delbert McClinton Sandy Beaches Cruise. I can hardly express what it means to me to go on it – it’s like a pilgrim going to the Wailing Wall, the Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām, the Vatican or some other sacred shrine.

For unlike some, this ol’ secular codger’s religion is music…and yes, the music that touches MY soul. Might not touch yours but this is MY tale. Delbert has inspired me for most of my adult life. He’s also, through his collaborations, made me aware of others who’ve lit my nose hairs on fire.

Day one. Man, last night I played the last gig with a band that ultimately didn’t suit me. Got home around 12 and spent time finishing up the packing, which included two guitars, capos, slides, extra strings, picks, floor tuner, dvds for the video camera, battery charger for the video batteries, batteries for the still camera. Whew, god DAYAM, glad that’s done. OH SHIT, can’t forget CDs, some folks from the Delbert forum want to buy them and I need some promos for Delbert and a few others.

OK, packed. 3 a.m. Off to bed for a too-brief sleep.

0600, phone alarm wakes me, drink some hot stuff (can’t drink coffee, but J can). Call cab company, “pick us up at 0730.” Cab’s here, good, we’re ready. Hug and kiss the kitties, Auntie Darlene will be here twice a day. Load out the bags and the guitars.

Airport is a breeze on a Satuday morning but I sure as hell gotta get me a pair of slip-on/off shoes for fly days.

Airborne, fire up the iPod, nice playlist, Starts with “Chug-A-Lug,” a cover of an old Roger Miller song by the Kentucky Headhunters who are a great rock and roll band. ‘Bout the time the playlist rolls over to start again, FA tells me to shut it off, San Diego is near.

Thump, we’re down, grab the geeters (always carry on) head for baggage. Flight was half empty, quick cab ride, we’re AT THE BOAT AND WE CAN WALK RIGHT IN to start the boarding process. Waay smoother than the previous three.

The “welcome luncheon” is ok, have a Red Stripe and chill a bit. I see some friends, including Kevin McKendree, Delbert’s keys player who played a song on our record last year, I go over, shake hands, thank him again for bailing us out of a bad situation. Whoa, there’s Delbert. He sits at Kevin’s table but eyes J and me. I do a “howdy ho” wave (like Mr. Hanky) and he gets up, walks over, shakes my hand and asks “are you ready to rock, brother?”

“Man, I was born ready.”

No sooner does ol’ Delbert take his leave than there’s MOGGIE! I must explain Moggie.

Maurice Ahern of Dublin, Ireland was on the boat last year too. He’s a great, great drummer and a mere cruiser like me, but we needed a drummer at the late-night jam and he volunteered. I looked at him and figured “ehh, maybe he’ll be ok” and boy was I wrong. The guy has all the beats – swing, shuffle, straight 4, funk, you name it, Mog has it. We got to spend a lot more time with Maurice and his wife Clare Anne and I am so pleased and proud to have measured up to be called a friend of theirs. We got to play together a lot this year. They are great people and I wish I’d met them much earlier in life. They’re about 10 years older than I am.

Didn’t get much sleep so I’ll skip a couple shows tonight and catch a nap. Get up in time to hear Delbert’s show. IT was Delbert so, of course, it was great. If you don’t know Delbert’s music, you should. He’s the man who brought the country, the blues and rock and roll all together. Others have done so since, but ol’ Delbert is an original and he’s been road-dogging for almost 40 years.

Up to the Jam (the part of the Cruise that keeps me coming back) and someone says “We need a guitar player. Then they see me, Tele and Strat (in open G) ready and tuned. “YOU!”

Up I go, plug into the Deluxe Reverb RI, crank the volume to 8, back the guitar volume off, and away we go on “Sweet Little 16.” After a few minutes, Delbert shows up (he usually does the first night) and I holler “I toldja I was ready!”

He comes up and actually ASKS “Hey can Joe (Big Joe Maher, a swing singer and drummer from Maryland, one of the performers on the boat) and I come up and sing a couple with y’all?”

My reply is, “hey man, this week you own the place, bring it on, brother.” So they get up and we do “Every Day I have the Blues” as a shuffle and a totally funky, different “Got My Mojo Workin,” (the only way I could play that song and not groan) and as it was last year, it was one of the great moments of my life, being up there, backing Delbert McClinton. The guys up there all played great and Delbert was happy. Also on the bandstand at the time was Norman Caesar, the keys player for Cyril Neville and Tribe 13. Norman is a badass keys player. Not quite Kevin McKendree but no one is.

Sunday – Wake up earlier than I want, go get some breakfast…come back and go to sleep. Wake up in time for lunch. Go out and catch Marcia Ball’s set. She’s so great, much better live than on records. You don’t really experience Marcia until you experience her live. Back to the room for a little more sleep and out again for JIMMY HALL, Y’ALL! For those of you who don’t know, Jimmy Hall sang with Jeff Beck, and also was a founder and vocalist for the Southern Boogie Band, Wet Willie. Jimmy is one of the great vocalists of our time, an unsung national treasure and what I wouldn’t give to have 1/10 of his vocal ability. My friend Greg Martin, guitarist and one of the founders of the Kentucky Headhunters is playing guitar with Jimmy on the cruise. It’s ALWAYS good to see ol’ Greg, he doesn’t get out here that much and as usual he tears it up with a couple of Les Pauls and an 18-watt Marshall half-stack.

Every night is Jam night! Australian bluesman Geoff Achison comes up and we play. It’s clear he’s not used to playing with another guitarist and I do my best to find a place to settle in and stay out of his way. He finally gets frustrated and splits. Its tough in a “jam” environment for a guy to come up and do originals, especially if his songs are not ubiquitous and it’s not fair for the expectation to be anyone will know your stuff. The rest of us, plus a number of members of the Cyril Neville Tribe 13 band carry on, including Jimmy and Norman Caesar, on drums and keys. They have both become friends and I’ve already heard from Norman since getting home. Also, with Delbert’s guitarist Rob McNelly, I played a rock and roll version of Roosevelt Sykes’ “Drivin’ Wheel,” best known as an Al Green song.

Monday – We check out the Doyle and Debbie show, Fred Eaglesmith and my favorite Artist on the boat, Paul Thorn. Paul is from Tupelo, MS, the birthplace of Elvis Presley, and has a unique, funny and thoroughly engaging view of the human condition. Those of you who remember me from childhood may remember me saying, way back when, I thought Pete Townshend had a laser beam into my soul, understanding me better than I understand myself. As an adult, Thorn seems to have that same laser beam. For a glimpse into Paul’s unique POV, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkOtvE6jTy8 and notice ol’ Delbert is sitting in.

Jam consisted of a rejuvenated Geoff Achison and this time it goes off well, because Geoff has figured out in order to have folks who don’t know his stuff, he must lead. My effort, other than solos, was directed into finding a place I could settle into rhythmically, and mostly stay out of his way. My work is rewarded with a hearty round of applause from the Louisiana contingent, the Nevilles and Tab Benoit’s band. Before I know it, ol’ Tab himself is coming up and says “Hey man, stay up here, we’ll jam.”

So I stay up with the great Tab Benoit, and jam on some blues. When we’re done, I let another guy play my Telecaster and the Nevilles wave me over, buy me a drink and ask me where I learned to play slide like that. I tell ‘em the great Lee Roy Parnell (a great singer, player, writer, teacher and friend) taught me and they’re impressed.

Tuesday – INAUGURATION DAY! I woke up just in time to see Obama sworn into office. Today is a shore day, in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Z is a wonderful place. As the ship was slowly sliding through the water approaching the city, a large pod of dolphins greeted us and they put on a show, indeed. I’ve rarely seen dolphins that close up and I was mesmerized and amused by their friendliness and playfulness.

Like any city in Mexico, Z has some of the trappings of a third-world place, but the city has a groove and a vibe unlike any other place I’ve been in Mexico. Despite a bustling city-center, it retains the sleepy fishing village thing, which is made very apparent by the fish market along the beach. We ate lunch in a little place where only the waiter spoke English. The boom box is playing Mexican polka music, and since I love that kind of music I was bopping in my chair, digging the groove. There was a gal, an employee of the restaurant, loading the beverage cooler case. She was grooving to the music too, and was amused by the fat tourist enjoying the music of HER country.

It’s said music is indeed the universal language, and while I’ve always believed that, this was an intimate, personal example of that truth and a moment I’ll remember as long as I live. I got video of street Mariachi musicians playing. Again, a friendly vibe to the place. Apparently a number of Americans and Canadians have retired there. I’m thinking about it myself. I could do worse than to be in that place. I’d get myself a guitarron and learn to play Mexican polka music.

Another thing I noticed in Z was every TV I saw was tuned to CNN, and the inauguration coverage. It was interesting to see how many people were interested in America finally having someone other than a wealthy white man in office. I heard a number of “Obama si!” exclamations as I walked through town. We saw Fred Eaglesmith’s show later that evening. Fred is a Canadian folksinger of some note and his stage patter (“It’s a fuckin’ MONOLOGUE, not audience participation”) is hysterical. “There’s a whole floor of cougars upstairs, and if you’re walking the halls at 2 a.m., they’ll open their door and drag you in!"

Wednesday- Another shore day, in Manzanillo. Nice town, good food, DOLLAR BEERS! We had breakfast with Greg Martin and Paul Thorn, the latter of whom told us the most hysterically funny story from his youth. I can’t reveal the details, but the moral of the story is always wear clean underwear and never let your houseguests have access to your laundry hamper.

Artists seen included Delbert, Fred Eaglesmith again, Pianorama (the most get-down, five-piano clusterfuck of boogie-woogie you’ll ever hear) Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps (Teresa sang on a couple songs from the record I made last year) Mike Farris, who sings spiritual blues and rock and roll…

Jam night again! Played with Terry Wilson, husband, songwriting partner and Bassist for Teresa James. He recorded the parts she sang for us last year. Then Lynn Williams (Delbert’s Drummer) and Tab Benoit come up and it’s blues time again. I play slide and have a blast.

Thursday – More Jimmy Hall, more Paul Thorn, more Fred Eaglesmith, we finally catch Geoff Achison’s show and he’s just terrific.

Last Jam night – I’m up in the Crow’s nest, tuned up and just hanging out, having a margarita when singer-songwriter Heather Waters comes over and says "We need a guitar player – YOU!" Never one to turn down that kind of invitation, I grab the guitars and plug in. She and Delaney McClinton (Delbert’s daughter) are singing and it’s VERY cool. To hear Heather’s original music you’d never think of her as a get-down blues shouter but there she is.

Last day – I miss all the shows but Delbert’s at the end. I had to catch up on some sleep. No jam tonight as they have to tear down the backline.

Again, I can’t emphasize enough how validating playing with all these cool people and somehow measuring up can be. I got a LOT of validation this year, more than any other.

It sure raises your standards, being around folks like that.

Next year is the last year, but I suspect we’re not going to be able to go, as I’m still out of work. The boat had many fewer people on it and I suspect they lost their asses on it.

I’m not complaining, we’ve had a great time and I sure as shit padded my guitar resume by going. If you can afford it, the last one should be quite an extravaganza.