Legendary bassist Scot Sutherland's Monday Night Live prepares for the next stage
The white plastic tip bowl at the Greenwood Lounge isn't a major source of Scot Sutherland's income. The winner of two Blues Music Awards pays the bills by touring with top blues bands around the country and the world, pinning down their rhythm sections with his battered Fender bass.
But on any given Monday night when he's not on the road, you're likely to find him thumping away in front of the faded murals of dancing dogs at the Greenwood Lounge, a venerable dive bar where the only compensation is the cash dropped in the bowl.
Sutherland, who turns 53 on Jan. 31, has been a regular performer there for at least a decade. Five years ago in January — purely as a labor of love — he launched a series called Monday Night Live, filling the traditional off-night with performances.
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He started with a jazz combo. But he was increasingly interested in the singer-songwriter scene that he saw rising in central Iowa.
"I wanted to play with these artists," Sutherland told me. "So I started reaching out to them."
A Monday Night Live gig starts with Sutherland — widely respected among Iowa musicians — inviting a guest performer.
"About a week before the show we get material from that artist sent through Dropbox, or whatever the case may be, of the songs they'd like to perform," Sutherland said.
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His band learns the material. Then they and the artist meet up for the first time at the Greenwood as they plug in for the set.
On a recent night, the featured performer was Dustin Smith, front man for the Des Moines blue-eyed soul group The Maytags and more recently a solo artist with a country bent. Smith drew from across his repertoire and also delivered wide-ranging covers that included a soul-tinged rendition of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy."
Performing unfamiliar songs with an unfamiliar collaborator requires a high level of agility, Sutherland acknowledges. He's assembled a core group that is more than up to the task. In addition to his bass virtuosity, there's Dave Ducharme-Jones, an expert ax-man who returned to his native Des Moines with wife Anne in 2017 after almost 30 years on the Austin, Texas, music scene. And keeping the beat is Russ Tomlinson, who's been drumming professionally since he was in 10th grade at Lincoln High.
The chemistry between the bandmates is apparent both on stage and off. As they and Anne Ducharme-Jones assembled on a Saturday morning at Smokey Row Coffee to chat with me, they laughed freely and often finished one another's sentences.
Aside from the trio's skill, "I think the other thing that kind of makes the music special is that we're really good friends," said Ducharme-Jones.
That's important because Sutherland will be relying on their help as he launches the next chapter of Monday Night Live. He said reports of the musical freedom of the format, the skill of the players and the fun they have has drawn inquiries from potential participants as far away as Nashville, Tennessee.
The group avowed its love of the Greenwood, but said it's time for a move to a venue with more room and amenities. Beginning in mid-March, Monday Night Live will take up residence in the first-class digs of xBk Live, a cutting-edge music hall in the Drake neighborhood.
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"We all love the Greenwood," said Ducharme-Jones.
"But there's only so much you can do there," said Sutherland.
The new location will open the possibility of regularly hosting artists from other parts of the state and region, as well as providing an off-night booking for touring bands, he said. xBk shows also get airtime on Iowa Public Radio, and Sutherland and his friends have a grand ambition of bringing rising artists to wider attention.
At the same time, though, they want to keep the casual, improvisational feel of the Monday night series. Sutherland said xBk owner Tobi Parks is working with them on that goal.
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One key concession: There will be no ticket sales or cover charge — just the humble tip bowl.
Bill Steiden, the business and investigative editor for the Register, got his first job at age 13 so he could pay for concert tickets. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Monday Night Live leaving Greenwood Lounge for xBk's more upscale digs