Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Benefit

Applejack Walroth

Monday night, I headed up to the Ivy Room in Albany. Steve Freund was hosting a benefit for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. I arrived fashionably late.

When I arrived, I noticed that the place was packed to capacity. There were a lot of familiar faces in attendence. Mark Hummel was on stage. It was so crowded that I couldn't make my way to that side of the bar, so I hung out where I was. I talked with some people that I hadn't seen in a while.

After Mark Hummel finished up a crowd pleasing set, Jackie Payne & Steve Edmonson Band stepped on stage. I had seen these guys when they were a part of the the Dynatones, but was my first time seeing this band. They were very impressive and had a excellent horn section. The horn section was what really caught my attention before Jackie Payne started singing. It was a really nice change of pace as most of the bands that I've seen recently have been four or five piece ensembles.

Next up: Craig Horton, Rick Estrin and Rusty Zinn. This set was pure Blues straight from Chicago. These three guys traded off singing. Craig Horton is a throwback to a time almost gone. His guitar work and singing sounds like it's straight out of a bar on the South Side of Chicago. Rick Estrin played some great Sonny Boy Williamson-influenced harmonica and demonstrated excellent chromatic playing. He led a couple of mid-tempo tunes that were fantastic. It had been a while since I had last seen Rusty Zinn. The last few times that I've seen him, he has changing his look so much that I wouldn't have recognized him. When he started playing, it was pretty obvious who was playing.

Next up: Applejack Walroth, Steve Freund, and Kenny "Blue" Ray. Applejack sang three or four tunes. He performs every Sunday afternoon with Blues Power at The Saloon in San Francisco. He's a very good singer and harmonica player. He dates back to 1960's Chicago and worked with Elvin Bishop.

Next up: Birdlegg and the Tight Fit Blues Band featuring John Graham, Patty Hammond and a drummer that I didn't recognize. They were joined by Kid Andersen. They played several songs and Birdlegg worked his ass off. There isn't much more that I can write about him, that I haven't already written. He's a great entertainer and very cool.

Next up: Daniel Castro and Kenny "Blue" Ray. I headed outside for a bit. It was pretty hot in the bar with all of the people present. These guys were really good, but very loud. Loud enough to be heard outside, so I hung out until they were done.

Next up: RJ Mischo, Kid Andersen, Jon Lawton and Bob Welsh. RJ, Kid and Jon each did a song or two. Kid Andersen played an Otis Rush-style number that knocked the ball out of the park.

Next up: The lovely Misty Browning sang a few numbers. I had seen her at the Mojo Lounge a few times. She played acoustic guitar and displayed her magnificent singing voice.

At this point, it was about 1:00am and I had to get up early the next day for work. I headed out as Steve Freund and his band were getting back on stage with Rontu Karr.

One last thing: Robi Bean and Randy Bermudes backed almost every band. They were onstage most of the night and were rock solid as usual. They were probably the performers of the evening.

It was a really long night, but I've been to Blues Festivals with lineups no where near as good as what was presented at the Ivy Room. It will certainly be a memorable night and it was for a worthy cause.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Blues Fest Weekend Report

Lynwood Slim

Yesterday marked the beginning of a very busy week and the conclusion of a very busy weekend.

Friday afternoon, I caught the kickoff event of the San Francisco Blues Festival, the West Coast Harmonica Jump featuring: RJ Mischo, John Nemeth, Birdlegg and Lynwood Slim. Backing these guys was a band that knows how to back harmonica players, the current Charlie Musselwhite Band fresh off the road and sounding great. Kid Andersen, Randy Bermudes and June Core.

John Nemeth kicked off the festivities to a crowd which continued to grow in size and stuck around until the last note was played. He began the afternoon's performance with a really nice version of the BB King classic, Sweet Sixteen. After his performance, Birdlegg kept the crowd on their feet with one of his electrifying performances including walking out in the crowd using a wireless microphone. When he left the stage, people were screaming for an encore. The requests came to an abrupt halt when RJ Mischo started playing some excellent post war Chicago Blues. Lynwood Slim kept the groove going, but brought things straight back to the West Coast with some excellent chromatic harp playing that invoked the memory of George Smith.

Overall, the weather was fabulous. It was a warm and sunny day. The music was great. It was a perfect way to spend the day.

There was a lot of great music happening Friday night. I got sort of a late start on the evening, so I thought why mess with success. The West Coast Harmonica Jump was happening at the Mojo Lounge, so I decided to head down there for a while. Vance Ehlers had replaced Randy Bermudes on the bass for the evening performance. John Graham played some fantastic slide guitar during Birdlegg's performances. Lynwood Slim played the flute on a couple of numbers. The place was packed. It was a really fun evening.

Saturday, I took things easy. I don't bounce back as well as I used to.

James Cotton

Sunday morning, I took the family to the Great Meadow at Fort Mason in San Francisco to take in the San Francisco Blues Festival. We got stuck in a traffic jam at the Bay Bridge toll plaza. Once we got off the bridge, the traffic gods were smiling on us. Almost every traffic signal was green. We made it from the Bay Bridge exit to Fort Mason in less than ten minutes.

When we walked into the park, Steve Freund was going up on stage joined by Ken Saydak, Harlan Terson and Marty Binder. Ken sang a couple of tunes before bringing Dave Specter to the stage. Steve sang a few songs off of his Delmark releases and played a couple of nice instrumentals off of there most recent CD before bringing Shirley Johnson to the stage. It had been about ten years since the last time that I saw Shirley Johnson perform. Her powerful voice has improved like a fine wine. It was really unfortunate that she only sang two songs. She was great!

After she walked off the stage, I was disappointed that I hadn't gone to see the Delmark Blues Revue the previous night at Biscuits and Blues, but then I remembered that I don't bounce back as well as I used to.

Next up were the Campbell Brothers followed by the North Mississippi All Stars. Mavis Staples was up next. For the next two hours, I felt like I had been transported to a festival somewhere in the deep South. The music was filled with energy and great.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds were celebrating their thirtieth anniversary. Prior to the festival, I had seen almost every member in the group. However, it was the first time that I had seen this band. They weren't my favorite band of the day, but they were really enjoyable. I liked how Kim Wilson would lead the band into a slow blues with a very hypnotic quality and then Nick Curran would come up and smack the audience upside the head with a really high energy number. Overall, their set was pretty cool.

The final set of the afternoon was billed as The Legends of the Chicago Blues. Bay Area artist, Ron Thompson joined Bob Stroger and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. He sang a few tunes, before turning over the microphone to Bob Stroger. The groove got real nice and laid back in keeping with the lazy Sunday afternoon. Willie Smith sang a few numbers before introducing Hubert Sumlin. He sounded really good. You certainly couldn't tell that he had been ill in the past year. After a couple of great Howlin' Wolf tunes, James Cotton joined the band. He immediately tore into a couple of his classic instrumentals, How Long Can A Fool Go Wrong and Cotton Boogie. He proved once again that he is one of the best blues harmonica players of all time. Elvin Bishop and Kim Wilson came on stage. Kim Wilson sang a tune and traded harmonica solos with James Cotton. When he left, Willie Smith sang Got My Mojo Working and Charlie Musselwhite walked on stage and exchanged soloes with James Cotton. They finished up the evening with an extended version of Sweet Home Chicago before everyone called it a wrap.

Overall, it was another great festival weekend.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Gary Primich @ The Mojo Lounge

Gary Primich

Last night, I caught Austin-based harp player Gary Primich down at the Mojo Lounge. He put on a great show consisting of some very nice originals along with some dusty old chestnuts from the 1950's that I hadn't heard in a very long time including some Billy Boy Arnold and Clarence Garlow tunes. It was a very cool show.

Gary Primich is a fantastic harp player. His playing is very versatile and true to the memory of Sonny Boy Williamson II, Little Walter, Billy Boy Arnold and a multitude of others. His guitarist, Jeremy Johnson, is also very good. He is a native of Minneapolis and has toured with R.J. Mischo. Teenage heartthrob and guitar wizard, Kid Andersen and June Core sat in for a few numbers and really tore things up. Blues harmonica master and accomplished vocalist, Phil Berkowitz" was celebrating his 40th birthday. He and Dennis Carelli each sat in for a number.

I ran into several people at the show. The President and CEO of Mountain Top Productions was present. He mentioned that the work on the Blues Harp Meltdown - Vol 3. is progressing quite nicely. This CD was recorded at Moe's Alley in 2004 and contains stellar performances from: Carey Bell, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Lazy Lester, Cephas & Wiggins, Mark Hummel and Steve Freund.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

RJ Mischo's World Famous Blues Jam - 09/13 Edition

Freddie Roulette

Last night, I was planning on heading up to the Ivy Room to see Steve Freund. I was too blasted tired to make the drive up to Albany. I decided to go to the Mojo Lounge to catch the first set of R.J. Mischo's World Famous Blues Jam and then head home. The plan didn't quite work out.

When I arrived, I ran into RJ and Don Yonder talking in the parking lot. RJ mentioned that lap steel guitarist extraordinaire, Freddie Roulette was going to be playing. He sounded fantastic. I ended up staying most of the night.

The band for the evening consisted of RJ, Freddie Roulette, Kenny "Blue" Ray, Marc Carino and June Core.

It was a pretty busy night for harmonica players. There must have been about a dozen in the audience. Junior Morrow stopped in near the end of the evening and sang a few tunes. The highlight of the evening was listening to Junior sing the Albert King classic, I'll Play The Blues For You and hearing Freddie Roulette play a phenomenal Albert King-style solo on his steel guitar.

That was really cool!

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Birdlegg's World Famous Blues Jam - 9/06 Edition

Tuesday night, R.J. Mischo was on vacation. In his absence, Birdlegg was hosting the World Famous Blues Jam at the Mojo Lounge.

It was a really fun evening. The band for the evening included: Birdlegg, John Graham, Vance Ehlers and Norm Decarlo. There were a multitude of guests including: Mark Hummel, Little Junior Crudup, Arthur Daugherty, Don Yonder, Jerome Engelberts, Ryan Eric, E-Rock, me and many more.

I had the opportunity to play a few songs with Little Junior Crudup, Don Yonder, Ryan, Vance Ehlers and a drummer named Tom. It was a good time. Junior sang a couple of really nice slow tunes before finishing up with Turn On Your Love Light. It's always a blast to be on the stage with him. He's an excellent singer and entertainer.

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Gary Smith & Kid Andersen @ The Poor House Bistro

Friday night, I got home from work a little early. After watching the news coverage of Hurricane Katrina, I decided that I needed to get out for a bit. I dragged my family down to the Poor House Bistro in San Jose. Gary Smith and Kid Andersen were playing. Hans Bosse and some bass player that I've never met rounded out the band. We arrived during the first set. The place was packed.

It seems like whenever Gary Smith plays anywhere in the Bay Area, harmonica players come out like cockroaches in the middle of the night. There were a bunch of them in the audience. During the second set, Gary brought a couple of them up to perform. Jimmy Dewrance and Gil deLeon played some very fine blues harmonica.

Anyway, the music was great. It was good to see Kid Andersen back after a summer of touring with Charlie Musselwhite. The owner of the Poor House Bistro is planning a big fund raising event for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. See their website for details.