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Chapter Twenty-Five Carolyn Somerville, August1987 Although the Bomb Shelter in New Bedford, Massachusetts, was too small to have a stage, the club featured live music every weekend. Crammed against the back wall of this basement dive, Mr. Jelly Belly’s Blues and Jazz Band pumped out the blues at full volume. The club, which had no windows, reeked of booze, cigarettes, and sweat. Illuminated by the light of a flashing silver disco ball, our audience, immigrants from the African island of Cape Verde, drank, danced, and flirted in a swirling mass inches from our instruments. “Further on up the road!” Jelly screamed, his lips nearly touching the microphone . We were deep into our last set. The crowd had been dancing for hours now, and Jelly knew that our rendition of this hard-hitting blues would give the dancers one last chance to strut their stuff before we finished our show. I let loose an ear-splitting arpeggio on the electric organ as Ralph, sweat dripping from his forehead, laid down the groove with an authoritative cymbal crash. “Come on, Jelly!” A caramel-colored woman in a skintight pink strapless dress and six-inch heels pirouetted away from her partner to encourage the band.“Come on, now! Tell me about that road.” Jelly grinned and ground his enormous hips in a lascivious circle. Dave locked into a throbbing bass groove while Philippe, our saxophonist, blasted a high-pitched riff into the swirling crowd. Just when it seemed that the song couldn’t get any more intense, Jelly raised his voice another octave, screaming with the full force of his three hundred pounds. “Further on up the road, that’s when it’s all gonna come down! Further on up the road. Ow! Help me now!” Holding one arm high he pleaded with the audience.“Help me, now! I said help me!” “Tell it, Jelly,” yelled a pencil-thin black man with an enormous gold cross dangling from the chain around his neck. Holding a beer bottle and a lighted cigarette in the same hand, he draped his other arm possessively around the neck of his spandex-clad date.“Tell the truth, now!” If I hadn’t seen Jelly perform this feat several nights a week for the last three months, I would not have believed it possible. He had this raucous crowd of 126 127 Carolyn, Somerville, August 1987 hard-living, hard-drinking Cape Verdeans eating out of the palm of his hand. Raising his meaty arm still higher, Jelly stood up on tiptoe. “I say there’s gonna be trouble,” he shouted.“And you know when? Further. Yes, Further. Do you know where? I said, do you know where? Up that road! You never know for sure, but you know it’s coming, oh yes you do! Further. On. Up the Road.” On the last “Road” his arm came crashing down to cue the final chord. As the crowd went wild, Jelly mopped his forehead with an oversized handkerchief and took a small bow before introducing each of the band members. I was always last:“And on the keyboards, ladies and gentlemen, the beautiful and talented Miss Carolyn Wilkins.” As I waved, the Bomb Shelter’s patrons showered me with applause. They stomped their feet, clapped, whistled, and begged Jelly to sing another song. Which was, of course, exactly what Mr. Jelly Belly had intended for them to do. After the clapping and pleading died down, Jelly leaned into the microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen, because you’ve been so wonderful tonight, we’re gonna do just one more tune for you. This is the last one, though. Last dance. So grab your partner and come on down. Here is a little something by the great Sam Cooke. This is dedicated to all the lovers in the house.” Smoothly, the band eased into a languid slow-dance groove as the dancers pressed against each other, grinding their hips in time to the music. As Philippe blew a sultry solo, Jelly hummed softly into the microphone. Earlier in the evening, he had whipped the crowd into a frenzy, but now it was time to relax them. It was nearly quitting time, and as Jelly was well aware, the Bomb Shelter never paid for overtime. “Yes, yes, yes,” he crooned as I laid down a few gentle chords on the keyboard .“Darling, You Send Me. You. Send Me. Honest you do.” Gesturing for the band to continue playing softly, Jelly addressed the...


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