by Maria BAINER
Here’s what happened blueswise in the extended San Francisco Bay Area in the last three months.
Festivals continued, special events and news items were of interest, musicians entertained, and more CDs came out. So let’s delve into the details.
The eighth annual Hayward/Russell City Blues Festival, the first of July and a two-day event, had some exciting Chicago talent. Some of the highlights of the show included Big Time Sarah, with her North Side Chicago blues style, who delivered one of the most commanding performances with her raspy, raunchy deep vocals.Tail Dragger told stories with his original and unique West Side Chicago blues. Vocalist and guitarist, John Primer, played one of the most outstanding sets of the day. The Sons of Blues Band backed this group. The band was comprised of the melodic lead guitarist and soulful vocalist, Lurrie Bell; rhythm guitarist, Carl Weathersby; harpist, Billy Branch; drummers Mose Rutues and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith; bassist, Nick Charles; and pianist, Ariyo. This band played an entertaining set later in the day.
Pinetop Perkins was a star of the show since he celebrated his 94th birthday the first day. His unique keyboard style has influenced many musicians. He played some strong keyboard and sang some rich vocals. He got some proclamations, including ones from the White House, the California governor, and two Congressional recognitions. The mayor of Hayward proclaimed “Pinetop Perkins Day.” The festival presented him with a pretty purple hat. Pinetop thoroughly enjoyed himself.
The next day, Nellie “Tiger” Travis was a big hit with her powerful and emotional vocals and showmanship. Continuing in the Chicago tradition, Eddie Shaw played an explosive sax, and did a hot set with his son, Vaan Shaw, who played guitar.The show was in Hayward, which was in the shadow of the now defunct Russell City which was one of the few California cities where the West Coast Blues was born. This city had its heyday from the forties through the sixties. Some musicians who actually played in Russell City formed The Russell City Memorial Band and performed at the show. The group included Big Bob Deance, guitar; Bobbie Webb and Geno Landry, tenor saxes; Carl Greene, alto sax; Henry Odom, bass; Big John Evans, drums; Clem Lowe, piano; and Eldridge “Big Cat” Tolefree, vocals. Other Bay Area groups performed during the two-day event. Thanks to Ronnie Stewart, producer, for bringing such Chicago greats to this memorable event.
The Sonoma County Blues Festival is always held in connection with the Sonoma County Fair the end of July. Performers this year were John Lee Hooker, Jr., Janiva Magness, Michael Burks, Patrick Sweany, Volker Strifler Band, and David Jacobs-Strain.
The Marin City Blues and Soul Festival was on Labor Day, the first Monday of September. A gospel group, Spiritual Keys, opened the show. Then The Alligator and The Bayou Band played an exciting set of zydeco and reggae. Pride and Joy R&B Band played. There was a tribute to some women in the blues. Margie Baker, Ms. Dee, Angela Strehli, and Annie Simpson performed. Bobbie Webb and The Smooth Blues backed these singers. Booker T. Jones headlined.
Also that same day there was Mitch Woods’ Club 88 first annual Boogie Woogie
Bar-B-Q and Piano Blowout at Rancho Nicasio, about an hour north of San Francisco. Players were Mitch Woods, Ron Thompson, Wendy DeWitt, John Allair, and Carolyn Dahl. A good time was had by all at this laid-back venue.
The second annual Great American Blues & Barbeque Festival was a block-long event in San Rafael, about a half an hour north of San Francisco, in mid-September. The blues entertainment included Jackie Payne and Steve Edmondson Band; Johnny Rawls and The Blues Defenders; and Austin de Lone and the 14th Rib Review with special guests Steve Freund, John Nevin, and Nick Gravenites. More than 10 of the best professional barbeque vendors in the area competed and microbrews cooled everyone down. There were also arts and crafts, gourmet foods, and musical instruments and equipment. That’s a lot for one city block!
A THIRTY-FIVE YEAR CELEBRATION
The San Francisco Blues Festival
celebrated its 35th anniversary this year in two venues. The first venue was the Embarcadero Plaza, near the Ferry Building, on FRIDAY NOON. The hour and a half show featured Lost Legends, an appropriate name for a group of veteran musicians who have performed for decades, mainly in the San Francisco and Chicago areas. Guest artist and vocalist, Curtis Lawson, who has worked with many great performers in the Bay Area since the 1960s, opened with his touching love song, “My Woman, My Girl, My Wife.” Freddie Roulette did some incredible solos. He has an extraordinary ability to play his lap steel guitar, and can literally make the strings sing out words as he often creates a call and response with his unique instrument. He is often like the frosting on a cake with his amazing playing. Harvey Mandel is one of the most innovative guitarists to emerge out of Chicago. He is known for his unique guitar technique of sustaining notes, feedback, slurring phrases and multi-string bends. Vocalist, Lisa Kindred dates back to the sixties and has often been compared to Janis Joplin. The other four members of the group have all worked with well-known music greats. Those include drummer, Mike Borbridge, who is also promoter and publicist for the group; bassist, Michael Warren; guitarist, Chris Planas; and harmonica player, Eugene Huggins.
The second venue was the scenic Great Meadow at Fort Mason where the two-day festival occurred over the last weekend in September. SATURDAY’S LINEUP included the following. The up -and -coming singer and harmonica player, John Nemeth, has been a crowd favorite at every performance, and his opening at this festival was no exception. His set was upbeat and impressive with his fine vocals and rich harp tone. Dave Alexander, aka Omar Sharriff, was entertaining with his solo blues and boogie-woogie piano styles. Nick Moss and the Flip Tops was born and raised in Chicago and taught the blues by Chicago musicians. The group is one of the only bands playing the original styles of Chicago blues of the 50s and 60s today. As a master of the classic Chicago sound, he was most enjoyable. Eric Bibb, another acoustic solo act, played blues and also the roots music of folk, country, gospel and soul. Many of his songs reflected humanistic concerns. He continues the tradition of story telling and finger picking guitar.
The Chicago All Stars was a quality show with its five participants. Billy Boy Arnold is known as one of the last Chicago blues harmonica kings. Vocalist, Deitra Farr, first gained attention as the lead singer in the notable Chicago group, Mississippi Heat. She is a smooth singer, sort of a combination between Koko Taylor and Irma Thomas. Bassist, Bob Stroger, has played in bands, backed performers, and worked as a session man. Guitarist, Billy Flynn, has mastered blues guitar and is known as one of the best of the current Chicago players. Drummer, Kenny Smith, did a fine job of drumming which he learned from his dad, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. This group played some good vintage Southside Chicago blues. The Tommy Castro Band worked from blues to rock to funk to jazz. Robert Randolph & The Family Band started with upbeat rhythm and blues and danceable music where Robert played his heart out on the steel guitar. Then the music went into the spacy, funky, Hendrix style since Robert had learned how to play jaw-dropping pyrotechnics on the pedal steel guitar. Special guests were one of Robert’s mentors, Calvin Cooke, and another sacred steel elder, Aubrey Ghent. Robert and guests were all raised in the Pentecostal House of God church where they all played the sacred steel guitar.
SUNDAY’S SHOW started with a hot beginning for a hot day. Blues Guitar Women Showdown featured three of the Bay Area’s most talented and exciting female blues guitar players.The charismatic Patricia Wilder was particularly impressive with her unique guitar flourishes and fills and her distinctive flair. She also writes many of her songs which reflect her earthy and real personality. She was a big hit at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in July and will tour Italy in November, so she is gaining international fame. It was no wonder that Carmen Getit could keep up with pianest, Steve Lucky’s hot boogie woogie number. After all, she is married to him and in his band. They have toured the United States and Europe many times. Laura Chavez, the lead guitarist in the Lara Price Band, played with emotion and technical ability beyond her years. All three women and Rene Solis, another guitar player and producer of this show, played together in the finale, including playing their guitars behind their backs.
Then there was a Tribute to Little Walter Jacobs. Gary Smith, Dave Barrett, Joe Filisko and Paul Durkett all played good harp solos as a dedication to the blues harmonica master. Special guest, Craig Horton, a guitarist with an original style, backed Little Walter for a time in the fifties, and is now touring back on the road after a time away from the blues. Ron Hacker and The Hacksaws played a set of danceable rock and roll and rock blues. Ron played guitar and sang some deep vocals. The Blues Farm Revue was the real deal. It featured the eighty-year old guitarist and vocalist, Hosea Leavy; singers Fillmore Slim and Johnny “DaDoo” Wilson; and The Carter Brothers with their explosive raw sound. Roman Carter sang and Albert Carter played a dramatic guitar. These brothers are more known in Europe and Japan. Joe Louis Walker, Jimmy McCracklin, and Sugar Pie DeSanto were up next. They performed alone and together.
The British vocalist and guitarist, James Hunter, was impressive with his broad range of vocals, including a high falsetto, and his guitar playing.
His R&B style is like the classic 1950s and early 1960s R&B. He feels that this music is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago since it makes people feel good and want to dance. There was a Special Anniversary Blues Fest Bash with three legends to end the day. Vocalist and talented harmonica player, John Hammond, played a variety of acoustic tunes. Pianest and vocalist, Allen Toussaint, from New Orleans, had a gentle touch on the piano and in his vocals. He has spent more time in the studio as arranger, songwriter, and producer. Charlie Musselwhite sounded great with his singing and harmonica playing. Thanks to producer, Tom Mazzolini. for providing a festival with such a diverse variety of music.
Several films were shown at the Roxie Theater in the Mission District in San Francisco, which related to the blues. Friday and Saturday of the festival, two movies were shown in the evening, “Every Beat of My Heart,” the Johnny Otis Story, and “The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins, a Les Blank film. On the next two evenings, “Sacred Steel,” history of the steel guitar of the black church, and “The Blues & A Well Spent Life,” story of guitar and songster, Mance Lipscomb, another film by Les Blank, were shown.
Curtis Lawson’s 50th Anniversary was celebrated in high style the first of September with a two-show gala shows at a San Francisco venue. The first show was recorded for TV playback on a San Francisco community media station. Both shows were very entertaining. The first show featured a bevy of strong and exciting female singers. Tia Caroll, Sumac, daughter of guitarist and vocalist, Craig Horton, Barbara Gainer, Ella Pennywell, Darlene Lene, and Lady Memphis.
Plus there was a seven piece band which included Bobbie Webb and Julian Vaught on saxes and Ted Wysinger on bass, among others. In fact, Julian played on the two CDs of Curtis and has been in Curtis’ band off and on since the 70s. Ted was one of the first electric bass players in Curtis’ band. The piano player, Billy Dunn, was quite entertaining with his piano antics, including “eating” the keyboard. Of course Curtis was there too, enjoying the show. He appeared several times in different outfits, including some with his cape, which is a trademark of his. He sang some of his songs. The second show was minus the saxes, but featured Kim Norman, Georgia Freeman, Ella Pennywell & Sumac singing a duet of “I’ll Take You There.” Lisa Kindred sang some deep vocals and Eugene Huggins played the harp. Curtis sang more songs. The songs were all blues and R&B for a change. It was an evening to be remembered.
Ron Thompson Day on September 5, 2007 was proclaimed by the mayor of San Francisco. This was to honor Ron’s very talented and versatile playing over several decades. Fans and friends were there to help Ron celebrate. That same day Ron played two concerts, including a blow out concert with his band, The Resistors, at Biscuits & Blues, a blues venue in the City. For more information about Ron, check out his website: http://www.rtblues.com.
BLUSICIANS IN THE NEWS
Charlie Musselwhite received the “Living Blues” Reader’s Poll award for “Most Outstanding Musician” for his harmonica playing. Vocalist and guitarist, Barbara Dane, who turned 80 in May, is still performing. In an interview she said, “Bues songs did speak to me in terms of women…There’s a way of seeing yourself as more in control,,,Basically, it’s survival music.” Barbara has CDs which range from her 1956 debut to sessions recorded in 2000. She sells these CDs on her website:
http://www.barbaradane.net. Within a month of each other, two members of the Fabulous Flames that used to back James Brown passed on. Louis Madison, age 73, who used to play organ with Brown, and vocalist, Bobby Byrd, are both gone. Madison wrote “Please, Please, Please” and never forgave Brown for stealing it and making a big hit out of it.
A SF Blues Guitar Summit was held in San Francisco in August. It featured the Volker Strifler Band, the Daniel Castro Band, and Johnny Nitro & The Doorslammers. Blue Horizon was a special guest.
The Sweetwater, a popular music venue in Mill Valley, about half an hour south of San Francisco, finally got closed down from its old place due to remodeling and rent increase. The good news is that it will exist in a new locale right around the corner.
The news was not so good about the Village Music store, also in Mill Valley. It closed its doors forever the end of September, partially due again to high rents. This record store was a nationally known vinyl-emporium and rock museum since 1968. Every inch of the walls and ceilings was covered with old posters and phonographs that John had collected.The 64-year old owner, John Goddard, had worked in the store since he was 13, and bought the place when he was 23.Over the years, many noted musicians visited the store, including B.B. King. In fact, B.B. recently drove his tour bus from Las Vegas to the store to spend one last happy afternoon rifling through the stacks. The final days of Village Music are being recorded for a documentary by filmmaker Gillian Grisman and her brother, Monroe Grisman, the grown-up kids of musician, David Grisman.
A World of Blues is a new website of interest. Their first goal is to have live broadcasters all around with blues on the air 24/7/365. There is a chat board directly with the broadcaster so that dialog and requests can be conducted. Their second goal is to “distribute royalties more directly and more strictly to playlist (sound recording and publisher).” They started with a data base of over 1600 tunes. Don’t be fooled when you bring this website up, since you will see your own itunes listed. Don’t worry, they are not going to be broadcast around the world! The website is:
It is always great when musicians visit this area. Here’s a list of the most recent visitors: Marcia Ball; Shana Morrison and Caledonia; Rory Block; Frankie Lee; Cafe R&B; Janiva Magness; Tinsley Ellis; Eric Lindell;
Buckwheat Zydeco; Eddie Turner; Hamilton Lewis; Roy Gaines; Earl Thomas; Sweet Baby Jai; Jackie Greene; James Armstrong; Lloyd Jones; Duke Robillard; Mose Allison; Keb Mo’; Robben Ford; Cathy Richardson; Muraoi Coryell; Mem Shannon and Candye Kane.
Blind Pig Records issued an all Hendrix set in two new CDs from guitarist, Popa Chubby. The albums are called “Electric Chubbyland Volumes 1 and 2.” They also released Nappy Brown: “Long Time Coming,” and “The Essential Magic Slim.” Their website is: http://www.blindpigrecords.com.
Freddie Roulette’s new CD, “Man of Steel” is on the German label, Tradition & Moderne #TM036. Xymphoni’s new CD is called: “New Woman On The Block.” She is from the Bay Area and her name is pronounced “Symphony.” Joe Louis Walker’s new CD is called “Playin’ Dirty,” and is on the JSP Record label.
Birdlegg plays the harmonica and sings on his latest album entitled, “Meet Me On The Corner.” Guitarist and bandleader, Eugene Blacknell, who died in 1990 at age 44, was a key link between Oakland blues of the 1950s and the East Bay funk of the 70s. He released a series of singles over 20 years, mostly for his own Seaside label. “We Can’t Take Life For Granted,” compiles the bulk of Blacknell’s output. Evidently two of John Lee Hooker’s albums “Boom Boom,” and “Chill Out” have been re-released. These are recordings from the Pointblank and Virgin labels.
That wraps it up for now. Here’s some good thoughts from Elvin Bishop. “Blues lovers seem to have a desire to understand the music on a deeper level For blues people, it has to do with life.”
----- Maria Bainer
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