Steamin' gumbo

By Anna Marie D'Addarie - September 28, 2006

Offshore Ale in Oak Bluffs rocked last Thursday night to the down-to-earth blues styling of the Sauce Boss and his band, the Ingredients. Bill Wharton (Sauce Boss) on guitar, Majic John Jones on bass, and Big Jim Jenness on drums charged the air with a driving rhythm that went directly into your soul. The music alone would have been enough for the audience, but the Sauce Boss gave much more. He cooked a huge pot of gumbo right on stage. With appetites whetted, the audience would have to wait until after midnight to get a taste. No one seemed to mind a bit.

David Paine of Boston, on-Island for the fishing derby, was intrigued by the concept of a gumbo/blues show. While waiting for the show to begin, Mr. Paine talked in detail about his own gumbo, a recipe he's been perfecting for a while. He watched with anticipation as the band set up amps, microphones, two large stockpots, and a table for the gumbo ingredients (not the band).

Offshore Ale was filled with Islanders and visitors, all wondering what was about to happen. After the sound check, the Sauce Boss appeared. Except for the earpiece and wireless mike he wore, the Sauce Boss could have been mistaken for the kitchen staff. From his chef's hat to his black and white, wing-tipped, Doc Martens, the Sauce Boss was ready to cook.

The Sauce Boss takes his music into the audience.
The Sauce Boss takes his music into the audience.

Everybody sings the blues

"Let the Big Dog Eat" opened the show on a high note, and the band never looked back. The songs were all original material. The group was so tight that they musically finished each other's sentences, trading off solos, and smiling at one another as musicians do when everything is cooking just right.

Speaking of cooking, throughout the show the gumbo took shape downstage, center. Ingredients were added with much fanfare. The audience insisted, with loud cheers and applause, that the entire bottle of hot sauce be added to the pot. The boss gladly obliged.

"I Broke My Heart All By Myself," could be an anthem for baby boomers. The boss wrote it about his quadruple bypass surgery that sidelined him for six weeks. He walked around Offshore Ale, playing his guitar (thanks to wireless technology), singing, and taking responsibility for his heart problem. One woman reached out and touched his heart as he passed her table. The two exchanged knowing looks. It wasn't long before he climbed up on the bar, guitar wailing, crowd cheering, as if he owned the place. He did.

Bill Wharton (Sauce Boss). Photo by Ralph Stewart
Bill Wharton (Sauce Boss) took the blues to new heights when he played atop the Offshore Ale bar last Thursday. Photos by Ralph Stewart
Another highlight included a drum solo on an inverted stockpot he placed on a table in the middle of the crowd. The boss played the stockpot like a steel drum, conjuring up images of a Jamaican beach. Drummer Majic John joined him, and the two brought the drum duet to a fiery climax. The boss added a bottle of beer to the gumbo pot after a little R-rated demonstration from behind the bar. Blues musicians have a reputation for saucy lyrics and a sensual style. The boss does it all with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, like Santa Claus eyeing Mrs. Claus after a long night of delivering presents.

Midnight miracle

The aroma of the gumbo filled the Offshore, and by midnight the crowd was ready to eat. As the audience lined up for gumbo, the boss worked the chow line. Talking to everyone, shaking hands, posing for pictures, no signs of fatigue after a two-hour gig. Meanwhile at the stage, Majic John and Big Jim ladled out the gumbo, graciously acknowledging complements on the show.

Soon the Offshore went eerily quiet. Everyone was eating. Delicious. The gumbo was dark and mysterious just as the boss promised it would be. He also said it would be magic, and it was. The audience became one in a delicious communion. We shared his music, and now shared a meal, together. It was a powerful combination. He said, during his show, we are all the same inside. Somewhere between the blues and the gumbo, it was clear that he was right.

For more information on the Sauce Boss and his non-profit organization to feed the hungry, visit www.planetgumbo.org or www.sauceboss.com.