Monday, May 8, 2006

Blues Harp Blast @ The Mojo Lounge


If you weren't there last night, you missed one hell of a time.

Phil Berkowitz kicked off the festivities and he set the bar high. I've seen Phil numerous times. Last night, he sounded better than ever. He started off with a couple of Little Walter instrumentals and a Howlin' Wolf tune before he played a couple Louis Jordan tunes from his most recent CD. He sounded great. Not much more to say. If the night had ended after his set, it would have been a good night of music.

Next up was Gary Smith. He fought some static problems early in his set. Once he got going, his extended set featured the big fat harp tone that has made him a South Bay legend and a global cult figure among harp players. It was heavy and as thick as molasses. He burned through a very nice set of Chicago Blues featuring several Little Walter tunes.

During his set, I was talking to the infamous Double G. We were discussing Gary Smith's impact and influence on harp players. The list of harp players in the Bay Area that has not been influenced by Gary Smith would be a very short list and they are almost all transplants from other parts of the country.

The band took a break. The fine band consisted of Robert Welsh, Kedar Roy and Hans Bosse. Bob Welsh sounded great. He's a fabulous guitar player that is very skilled in backing harmonica players. Last night's event would have made a great instructional video. You could hear the stylist voicings of some great guitar players like Louis Myers, Jimmy Rogers, Robert Jr Lockwood, Buddy Guy and Freddie Robinson in his playing. Kedar and Hans kept the groove moving ahead like an old steam locomotive. Powerful, strong and kept time like the clickety-clack on the rails.

After the break, RJ played several tunes. His set consisted mostly of original tunes and he tossed in a couple of classics by guys like JB Hutto. He did one thing that really stood out during his performance. It was something separated him from almost all of the other performers in the lineup. His harp playing was very sparse, so when he played, it made a statement.

Next up was Jimmy Dewrance and there was yet another stylistic change. It's hard to describe, but his style is a bit more modern, while retaining a very classic feel to it. Like Phil Berkowitz, he digs deep and find some excellent songs that aren't heard very often. He also picks some swinging tunes by saxophone players and adapts them to fit his harmonica playing in the Little Walter tradition.

Mark Hummel followed a fine set. He sounded a lot like Mark Hummel. He sounded great. He played a couple of really old James Cotton tunes and a fabulous version of "Blue and Lonesome." Bob Welsh sounded absolutely awesome on this tune creating a high degree of tension displaying some very nice supporting guitar work much like Luther Tucker. Mark Hummel finished up his set with a couple of nice instrumentals.

The band took another break.

For the final scheduled performance of the evening, Birdlegg blew the roof off of the Mojo Lounge. That man is a pure entertainer from the old school. He really knows how to work a crowd. It was an amazing change of pace and a turn away from the Little Walter-influenced sounds of the evening. Birdlegg burned through several Sonny Boy Williamson and Jimmy Reed tunes before finishing up with a few of his own compositions and a pretty nasty version of Stoop Down Baby.

RJ did one tune with a three other harp players in the house. Arthur Daugherty, a harp instructor named Dave (not Barrett) and myself. He asked Birdlegg to do one final number, Birdlegg asked me to stick around. I felt honored, but it just didn't feel right, since people really wanted more of him.

In a nutshell, that was it.

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