Ernie Peniston with Washboard Jo

Last weekend, The Muddy Waters hosted a reunion show. The full Ernie Peniston band came together for one night in Bettendorf, Iowa. Along with the reunion, a former local musician returned for a visit and to join in the festivities. Washboard Jo Burke paid us a visit and decided to stay around for a while.

Ernie Peniston is a local musician, originally from Muscatine and still located in the area. His band, including Joe Collins, Darren “Bo” Butler, Rick Penhallegon and Manuel Lopez III is representative of a 90’s version of the band. The show at The Muddy Waters celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the band, and brought a whole lot of people together. I arrived at 8:15 and discovered the place was already wall-to-wall people. Every table in the venue was full. This was going to be a great crowd. Not long after I arrived, Jo Burke whisked me off to meet with Ernie Peniston – if you could call it “meet”. Everyone was there to see Ernie, so it felt more like he was holding court. I snapped a couple of photos of Jo and Ernie together, and Ernie told a story about being on the road 30+ years ago with Jo, with women breaking into the hotel room. And then off we went so Ernie could visit with some more folks.

The house was standing room only when Ernie’s band kicked off, fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. The band warmed the crowd as Peniston watched from off stage. Darren “Bo” Butler laid down a heavy bass line and some great bass solos, and drummer Rick Penhallegon rocked the house. Joe Collins made his guitar sing, while Manuel Lopez III coaxed the keyboards and provided sweet backing vocals throughout the night. It was apparent from the beginning why this man was inducted into the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame in 2003. Aside from his lengthy list of credits, including Prince’s Purple Rain movie and fronting some amazing bands throughout his career, Peniston’s voice is proof enough of his talent.

Halfway through the first set, Peniston called Washboard Jo up to the stage. I had the pleasure of meeting Washboard Jo Burke last year just about this time when she showed up at a Mississippi Misfits gig at Brady Street Pub. I included a story about her in my blog at that time. Jo is an absolute joy. She has these great stories about playing in venues all over with so many different blues artists. Her love for her music has taken her all over the world, yet it is best shown in her penchant for sharing it with everyone around her. She appears at jam sessions with extra frottoirs (steel washboards that she has hand-decorated), and she always manages to find someone to play along. At this show, she was dressed for performance and brought out a single board. This was a special occasion.

Jo joined the band on stage and quickly became lost in the music. If she had any nerves at the size of the crowd (by this time, we heard they had to turn people away because the venue had reached capacity), they were not apparent when the music began and her fork handles hit the corrugated metal of the board. I’ve seen Jo play several times, but this was the first opportunity to capture her in decent light. The packed house made it difficult to get to all of my favorite vantage points, but I did take as many photos as I could. Both Burke and Peniston are very expressive artists, which made the photography all that much more fun.

During the set break, I wandered out to the bar area and discovered that was just as crowded as the venue. Few people left during the break, but those who did were replaced by people waiting for spaces to open up. Second set started with the house just as packed as the start, and ended the same. Ernie called Jo up during the second set as well, and together with the Ernie Peniston band they performed a little Commodores’ cover, “Brick House”. M3 Studios recorded the show, and I hear we might be able to acquire a live CD sometime in the future. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a few photos of this exciting night. Check out The Ernie Peniston Band Facebook page at