Costa Rica’s Blind Pig Blues Band recording live album at Hard Rock Café Saturday
BELÉN, Alajuela — Dave Scott, 73, the talkative Londoner who leads an improbable Costa Rican blues band called the Blind Pigs, handed me a business card, and I remarked on the cool image of the pig wearing sunglasses.
“It’s a real pig, by the way — not real, but it’s 3 feet high and it’s carved out of [a local wood],” Dave said in his distinctive British accent, which used to be famous on Central American radio. “It was hanging outside a butcher shop, as you cross the border into Nicaragua, and I thought, %#@& me, that’s a pig. And I nearly ran into a wall. I was with two friends of mine and we had been smoking a fatty before we crossed the border.”
Dave and I met up at Hard Rock Café, San José (actually Belén), to talk about the Blind Pigs’ upcoming concert in this very place at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 23. The Pigs are going to record a live album here — apparently the first time this has ever happened at a Hard Rock Café — and Dave will be signing new copies of his provocative memoir “London Boy,” which is now out in a second edition ($20) after the last 3,000 copies sold out.
Back at the Nicaraguan border, Dave said they stopped at the shuttered butcher shop and talked to an old woman about purchasing her carved pig. She said, “You want the pig?” and she had a couple of boys take it down and give it to them.
“And she invited us in to get drunk there, two bottles of wine,” he said, “and then we went off, and that’s how I got the pig.”
It’s a very Dave Scott story — funny, profane, surprising and revealing of the friendly boldness of this perpetual bon vivant.
Dave’s book is full of such stories. He writes of his job at Fulham Road Hospital in England: “If they had to perform an amputation, I was the guy who carried the limb down to the incinerator, passing friends and asking what was for lunch in the canteen that day.”
This was after he spent two years in Franco-era Spanish prisons over a January 1968 incident in a bar in Spain. He says some Spanish drunk was shouting vulgarities about England and the queen, and so, “being the Royalist that I am,” he shouted some vulgarities about the man and Francisco Franco. The man turned out to be a cop.
“The guy pulled a gun on me,” he writes. “Standing up, I whacked the guy round the head with my guitar, which was in its wooden case, and floored him. … Someone came at me with a machete which I somehow managed to knock out of their hand, and then I felt like I had been hit on the head with a mountain.”
It was not Dave’s only stint in prison — he was already a veteran of juvenile hall, and thanks to his taste for drugs he would spend a total of six years of his life locked up. His book recounts all of these ups and downs, and his madcap adventures from England to California to Costa Rica, in his happy-go-lucky style.
A refugee from heroin
When I asked Dave how he came to Costa Rica, his surprising answer was that he did it to quit heroin. He had kicked a major smack addiction in the late ’60s, but he was slipping into it again in the late ’80s in San Francisco.
“I started skin-popping,” he said, “then I started mainlining again.”
He says it might have been January 1990 when he got a call from an old friend, Peter Edmonds, who knew he was doing heroin again.
Edmonds said he was doing wardrobe on a film in Costa Rica with Gerard Depardieu playing Christopher Columbus, “1492,” and for the last six weeks of filming he had signed Dave on to be his assistant.
“You get $100 a day,” Peter said. “Come to Costa Rica.”
“I’m thinking, I have to get the map of the world,” Dave recalled. “I’m thinking, where the &%$# is Costa Rica?”
His friend bought him a plane ticket, and Dave flew down.
“Getting $100 a day, and I stayed for that week,” he said. “You ever been on a movie set? Bore you to death.”
He ended up taking buses all over Costa Rica, stopping and getting out wherever he felt like it (all the while detoxing from heroin, but not like he detoxed in the ’60s).
Central American celebrity
For a while he flew back and forth between the U.S. and Costa Rica. Then he met a guy who had “loads of money,” and offered him $100,000 to start a blues club in Costa Rica as 50-50 partners.
“I did it for 60 grand,” Dave said. “I opened the first-ever blues club in this country.” It was called Soda Blues, at Calle 11 and Ave. 10.
“Dave the Dude” became a popular DJ on 107.5, where he worked for 11 years. Dave says he was the first English-speaking DJ in Central America, and his voice became famous, as he recorded all the English-language advertising in the region, as far afield as Venezuela.
He later spent two years at Radio Dos, 99.5 FM, where his wife, Margie Scott, is still known for reading 99.5 seconds of live news in English on the air.
Dave does not have a good memory for dates, but he knows he started the Blind Pig Blues Band in Escazú in the early ’90s, and his book says it really launched in 1994.
(I asked him if the name of the band was the “Blind Pig” or the “Blind Pigs,” as I’d seen it both ways. He said it was the “Blind Pig Blues Band,” though the band is often called “the Blind Pigs,” or just “the Pigs.” The Facebook page, contrary to Dave’s preference, says “Blind Pigs Blues Band.”)
The Pigs played gigs all over the country — for one stretch, twice a month at each of four places: the Key Largo and the old Beatle Bar in San José, the Copacabana in Jacó, and at Manuel Antonio.
“I’ve played every joint that had live music here, to the Nicaragua border and back,” he said.
Dave says he soon realized that you couldn’t just play blues in Costa Rica, because people wouldn’t know the music, and “you’ll see their eyes close.” To get their attention, between every three blues tunes he’d play something from the Rolling Stones, Santana, the Who, and the audience would wake up and keep listening.
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Dave is very excited about the upcoming gig, recording the Pigs’ fourth live album on Jan. 23. He asked Fausto Solano, 38, general manager of the Hard Rock Café, to tell me about this venue and what it was doing for new artists.
“When we first opened this place two years ago, our idea was to be the stage for new and upcoming artists,” Fausto said. “And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of putting ourselves out there and bringing in new events, opening doors for up-and-coming bands.”
It’s a stage where musicians who are “just getting out of diapers, basically,” can perform with people like Dave who have long careers in the business, Fausto said.
The aging bluesman
Dave, by the way, did not look at all like a hardscrabble old bluesman, an ex-con or a recovering junkie. He was dressed in a new, perfectly ironed blue shirt, nice khaki pants, a multicolored belt and a jovial smile. He looked thin but healthy, clear-eyed and clean, and he said he hasn’t done heavy drugs since 1990.
He ordered a Pepsi before our interview, and then to go with his lunch (potato skins) a shot of Jack Daniel’s, neat.
When I asked if I could take a picture, he said not until he put on his signature Rayban sunglasses, which he’s been wearing since he was 16. (“I was the coolest kid in London.”)
Finally, there’s the one question I had to ask: What’s up with the name of the band?
“The name Blind Pig comes from Philadelphia,” said Dave. “In Prohibition, when all the speakeasies were around, there were two kinds: the ones when you knocked on the door and a (slot) opened, and they saw that you were wearing evening dress — that was the top-of-the-line speakeasy. You just knew that the booze came from (Joe) Kennedy, and that was the good booze.
“But the walkers went to the blind pigs that were just kind of like rotgut booze that was made upstairs in the bathtub. They also had a blues piano player, a little blues combo, and they were called blind pigs because if you went you made a pig of yourself, and if you drank too much of the booze you went blind.”
IF YOU GO
Who: Dave Scott and the Blind Pig Blues Band.
What: Recording a live album and doing a book signing.
When: Saturday, January 23, 10:30 p.m.
Where: Hard Rock Café, Belén. (Use Waze, or take a taxi.)
Why: Rare opportunity to hear Costa Rica’s best blues.
For more info: https://www.facebook.com/BlindPigsBluesBand.
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