by Maria BAINER
Festivals entertain in the good old summertime. News items happen. Musicians visit. New CDs are released. That’s the format for this column, so let’s catch up on the last 3 months in the extended Bay Area blues world.
THE FESTIVAL SCENE
The 27th annual Metro Fountain Blues Festival began the season at San Jose State University in the middle of May. Featured musicians were: Buddy Guy, Sista Monica Parker, Jimmy Thackery, Jason Ricci, and J.C. Smith.
The Santa Cruz Blues Festival happened for the 15th time the end of May. Performers on Saturday were: Los Lonely Boys; Indigenous; Jackie Greene; Sonny Landreth; and Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings. Sunday’s players were: Etta James with the Roots Band; Little Feat; Robben Ford; Tommy Castro; and Nina Storey.
On the actual Memorial Day, the end of May, the free l3th annual California Blues Festival was back at the bandshell in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Performers were: Jimmy McCracklin; Fillmore Slim; Sonny Rhodes and the Texas Twisters; Tina Glenn; Barbara Gainer; Pat Wilder; and Britain’s favorite, Kyla Brox. Bobbie “Spider” Webb and the Smooth Blues Band backed many of the performers. Bobbie also produced the show.
The Black Diamond Blues Festival was held in Pittsburg, California the first of June. This city, about forty miles east of San Francisco, has a long history of supporting the blues. The theme of Saturday’s show was “Ladies Sing the Blues,” which some of them did. Tia Carroll and her band, Hard Work played a mix of blues & soul. Pure Honey, comprised of vocalist, Alicia Daniels, and her husband, Dan Daniel on keyboards, did a high energy, eclectic set. Zakiya Hooker, daughter of John Lee, had a zesty delivery of soul & blues. Roach, the vocalist in Café R&B, got more animated with each tune. Sista Monica Parker managed to put her signature on the songs she sang with full force with her big, robust voice.
Sunday’s theme was “Men of the Blues.” Some of the Bay Area’s own had a heavy influence of R&B. Louis Jones & The Cavaliers opened the show, and were followed by Eldridge “Big Cat” Tolefree & the Hypnotic Blues Band. Bobbie Webb, blew his tenor sax and sang with his band, Smooth Blues. Bernard Anderson and the Old School Band played a set of oldies but goodies. Layce Baker and his Black Diamond Band were right at home with their blues.
The show continued with the Caravan of Allstars Revue, fronted by guitarist, Ronnie Stewart, who was also the festival producer. The group featured several talented vocalists like Wylie Trass; Terrible Tom Bowden; Xymphoni; and Teddy “Blues Master” Watson. Sonny Rhodes is always entertaining as he stays close to his Texas roots. The headliner, the charismatic Johnny Rawls, sang Southern soul tunes. There was a variety of music, but the blues were well represented.
Note: Thanks to Dorothy Hill, a blues fan, for helping with this review.
The l2th annual Russian River Blues Festival was held mid-June in Guerneville, about 2 hours north of San Francisco.
Saturday’s lineup featured Little Richard, Koko Taylor, Lowrider Band, Elvin Bishop, and Roy Rogers. Sunday’s performers were: Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd with Hubert Sumlin, Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings and Bettye Lavette.
A MUSIC FEAST The 22nd annual Monterey Bay Blues Festival, always held the fourth weekend in June, had a variety of music, even though it was a blues festival. There were performances Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday, with a total of 55 acts. There were 5 shows on the Main Stage and continuous entertainment on the two smaller stages. This event is always at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, with its scenic terrain.
Three of the five headliners on the Main Stage programs related to the blues. Bobby “Blue” Bland’s show reflected the fact that Bobby seemed under the weather. Buddy Guy finally played some searing guitar in the crowd and had some deep emotion in his vocals. He was this year’s recipient of The Monterey Bay Blues Artist of the Year Award.
The 4 Kings of R&B all played blues and gospel at one time. Jerry Butler’s ‘For Your Precious Love,” and several songs by Ben E. King, including “Groovin,”were particular blues songs with an influence. Others in the group included Lloyd Price who helped nationalize the New Orleans sound with songs like “Stagger Lee,” which was an adaption from an old blues standard “Stack-O-Lee.” Gene Chandler was more into doo-wop with his calling card, “Duke of Earl.” The Whispers and the 36 performers who presented a tribute to Ray Charles in their show, For The Love of Ray, didn’t have that much in common with the blues.
One of the highlights of the festival were Florida-based Ike & Val (Woods). They were the big winners in the Monterey Bay Blues Festival’s Battle of the Blues Band and therefore got to open on the Main Stage at the Saturday afternoon show. Both were dynamic vocalists, and Ike played the heck out of his guitar. This impressive and talented duo entertained with some dramatic, soulful, and powerful blues and r&b tunes. They were one of the best winners so far. On the subject of this talent show, the second and third runner-ups, Sonata Pi, a Bay Area vocal quartet, and Teresa Lynne, who sings and plays harmonica, performed on the smaller stages. Furthermore, 4 of the past winners, Karen Tyler, Big Mo, Shane Dwight, and Gregg Wright, also played on the smaller Garden Stage.
Saturday’s two Main Stage shows were pretty solidly blues & r&b. That included repeat performers Chris Cain, Barbara Morrison, and Shemekia Copeland. Tommy Castro played more blues than usual. Kenny Neal, who hasn’t played much in the last year due to an illness, was in top form with his vocals, and guitar and harp playing. His daughter, Syreeta also sang a few numbers and his son, Kenny, Jr., played drums.Two of Kenny’s brothers have played in his band for a long time.
Joe Louis Walker opened the Main Stage show on Friday. On Sunday on the Main Stage, Australian-born Fiona Boyes played her style of blues. She was the first Australian and the only woman to win the acoustic competition at the 2003 International Blues Challenge. Boogie-woogie whiz, Mitch Woods sat in with her fcr a few numbers. Lil Jimmy Reed sang and played a lot of blues, especially covers, on his guitar, and sounded just like Reed with his harmonica playing. Eddie Cotton Jr., a minister’s son, grew up singing and playing gospel music. Now he can really play those blues for you, especially through his strong, melodic guitar playing. His vocals could be smoother.
On the smaller stages, there were repeat performers, such as the Delta Wires, Terry Hanck, Deanna Bogart, Ms. Taylor P. Collins, Sai Whatt, J.C. Smith, Red Beans & Rice, and Bobby Murray. Murray’s All-Star Revue included vocalists, Takezo and Mz.Dee, and Detroit-based Lenny Watkins. There were also some talented, refreshing newcomers. Texas-based, award-winning Zac Harmon asked permission to turn the place into a Mississippi juke joint, and then proceeded to play some high-energy, powerful blues and r&b music.
EG Kight was impressive with her excellent vocals. She was honored with three W.C. Handy Awards in 2004. Even the next generation blues teen-agers, the trio of Lemon Tea I.V., sounded good. There was an alluring flow to their music. 15-year-old, Nate Earsley did a fine job with the vocals and guitar playing. Reade Collins, also 15, played bass. Noah Allen, 12, played drums.
There was a general consensus that this year’s program was better than last year’s. The musicians were more talented and played more blues and there seemed to be less repeat performers. Let’s hope this trend continues for future shows, so we have a more genuine and exciting blues festival. The festival is always held the fourth weekend in June, so next year’s show will be June 27-29, 2008.
AWARD NEWS Several awards happened. The Bay Area Black Music Awards were held in April. Keyboardist-singer Lady Bianca was awarded the best blues performer trophy. Singer-pianist and composer, Jimmy McCracklin was one of four to receive a Hall of Fame trophy. At the 2007 Blues Music Awards, formerly the W.C. Handy Awards, in Memphis in May, Charlie Musselwhite not only won the Best Instrumentalist for Harmonica again, but he also won Best Song of the Year for his “Church is Out,” and for the Best Traditional Blues Album of the Year for his “Delta Hardware” CD. Congratulations to the winners!
MEDIA NEWS A blues site that I mentioned in my last column has relocated to Clarksdale, Mississippi. They have a wealth of information and an extensive slide collection. They even have a store in Clarksdale called Blues Source.com.
The site is at: www.bluessource.com.
Saxist, singer, and DJ, Bobbie Webb is the cover story in the April-May issue of the e-zine, “Enfluenz”. This article is at: www.bobbiewebb.com.
Kenny Neal has a weekly half-hour TV program on a local Palo Alto, Ca. station which can also be viewed on the internet. It is called “Neal’s Place,” and Kenny interviews and has live performances with local and international musicians. Each program is aired about 8 times at different times during the week. Click on www.kennyneal.net for details.
Earlier this year, boogie piano player, Mitch Woods toured France and Belguim with his Big Easy Boogie Band. The Europeans loved the show and packed the venues full every night. He also toured Italy with his Italian 88 band. Vocalist, John “Broadway” Tucker performed in Poland, Hungary, and Italy and other countries for two months in June.
UPCOMING NEWS The Hayward-Russell City Blues Festival will be July 7 & 8,2007 at Hayward, Calif. Chicago performers will be on agenda this year. For further information, check out: www.bayareabluessociety.net or call 510-836-2227 or 707-647-3962.
There will be a Biscuit Benefit Concert on August 22, 2007, starting at 7pm. Tnis concert will give support to keep the Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival, formerly the King Biscuit Blues Festival, going into the 22nd year. The festival is held the first weekend of October in Helena, Arkansas. This is a free three-day festival with four stages. People from around the world make a pilgrimage to the home of the blues, the Delta, which gave birth to the Mississippi to Chicago sound. Performers at the benefit will be Kenny Neal, Craig Horton, Patricia Wilder, and Mark Hummel. It will be at the Little Fox Theater, 2219 Broadway, Redwood City, Calif. For further information, email [email protected] or phone 415-824-3502. If you wish to make a donation, details are found on: www.bluesandheritage.com.
Curtis Lawson will celebrate 50 years of singing the blues on Sunday, September 1, 2007 at the African-American Art & Culture Complex at 762 Fulton Street, at the corner of Webster Street, in San Francisco. There will be an open buffet and free parking in the rear. Showtime begins at 7pm. The Curtis Lawson Band will play and there will be 23 guest artists! For further details, check www.curtislawson.net or call James Pye, Jr. at 415-346-7474 or Curtis Lawson at 415-289-0541.
The lineup for the San Francisco Blues Festival is out, but not completely listed on the website, www.sfblues.com yet. Bios of performers, not in alphabetical order, are posted. The festival will be September 28-30,2007 and will be in the usual downtown and Great Meadow locations. Keep checking the website for more information.
TOURING MUSICIANS The Bay Area seems to be a favorite place for touring musicias.. Over the last three months, we were entertained by Alvin Youngblood, Johnny Winter, John Hammond, Earl Thomas, Ron Thompson & The Resistors, Little Willie John Jr., Pinetop Perkins; Kyla Brox, an English blues lady; Baby Gramps, Sonny Rhodes, Henry Butler, Marcia Ball, Rose City Kings, from Portland, Oregon; Curtis Salgado, C.J. Chenier, Guy Davis and Tracy Nelson, to name a few.
CD NEWS Blind Pig Records issued two CDs: Peter Karp: “ Shadows And Cracks,” and Elvin Bishop: “Booty Bumpin.” Their website is: www.blindpigrecords.com.
Frank Goldwasser, a.k.a. Paris Slim, has a new release with the Alastair Greene Band called “Riatsala.” He also had a CD issued on the Crosscut Label in Germany in 2003, and now released on the Delta Groove Label, called “Bluju.” Malik, aka Lil’ Wolf, has a new CD out called, “The Blues Got Soul.” It is available on http”//www.cdbaby.com or his website, www.hellcatblues.com. “Naughty, Bawdy and Blue” is the name of Maria Muldaur’s latest CD on the Stony Plain Records label.
Correction: In my December, ’06 column, I mentioned that the name of Fillmore Slim’s new CD was “Hey, Little Brother.” Actually the real name of the CD is “The Legend of Fillmore Slim.” “Hey, Little Brother,” is an original song that gives a real strong message to kids to put down their guns and grow up to be a man. Among other places, this CD is available at:http://westcoastblues.com. This CD was #6 in April and #7 in May in the “Living Blues” Radio Charts.
Talk to you again in three months. In the meantime, here are some good comments about the blues from veterinarian, Dr. Donna Flaggs. “Blues energizes me. It gives me hope. Blues for me are happy, not sad. I love blues because it releases me "it relaxes me.” So take in all the blues you can!
----- Maria Bainer
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