Friday, September 15, 2006

Pork Pie Phillips

Pork Pie Phillips

Pork Pie Phillips was a really nice guy. He passed away after a battle with cancer.

I met him down at the Mojo Lounge a few years ago. I had the opportunity to play with him several times. He was always very kind and supportive. He was a blast to talk with about Blues, classic cars, clothing and all sorts of stuff. He was a really nice guy and a very good singer. He was also a very good songwriter who wrote some very funny songs.

The last time that I saw him was at Hayward/Russell City. He had been sick. He told me that he was going to have heart surgery that he said was routine. For a guy that was sick, you wouldn't have known it by his performance in the 100+ degree heat. He sounded as good as ever.

I'll miss him.

Here is a nice tribute in the Vallejo Times Herald.

Friday, September 8, 2006

Bonnie Lee

Bonnie Lee

Today, the world lost a tremendous blues singer and a fine lady.

Bonnie Lee was a great Blues singer. The first time I heard her was on the radio in Chicago in the early 1980's. There was a live concert broadcast from Biddy Mulligan's on WNIB. The host was long time Chicago radio personality, Big Bill Collins. Performing that evening were the Kinsey Brother, Sugar Blue, Billy Branch & the Sons of Blues/JW Williams & The Chitown Hustlers and Bonnie Lee. She was a powerhouse singer.

I didn't have to opportunity to see her perform until the mid 1990's when she accompanied Willie Kent to the Bay Area during the opening months of Blues on B in San Mateo. I went to several of those shows. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to her a few times. She was a really sweet lady with a tremendous voice that could be powerful and then soft and sensitive.

In 1997, she performed at the San Francisco Blues Festival. It was sort of a disappointment to me. She was billed as part of a package and performed only a couple of songs. When she departed the stage, she left the audience wanting more. It seemed crazy to fly her to California for a couple of songs, but it was great to see her perform.

One of the last times that I saw her perform was at a tribute to Muddy Waters at the Taste of Westmont in 1999. She was on the bill with several fabulous female Blues singers that were backed by Willie Kent's fine band. Bonnie Lee sounded great. She really delivered the goods.

Whenever I went back to Chicago, I always made sure to catch a Willie Kent show and it was a really nice bonus to see Bonnie Lee perform. She also has an excellent CD out on the Wolf label called "Queen of the Chicago Blues" and she made appearances on several other CD's. I was just listening to her Delmark CD last weekend and thought that she was really under-recorded and under-recognized. "Sweetheart of the Blues" is a fabulous CD.

I'm really going to miss seeing her. She really was the Sweetheart of the Blues!

Friday, September 1, 2006

Junior Wells

Junior Wells

Since being introduced to the blues while in college back in the early 80's, I had been fortunate enough to see Junior Wells perform several times prior to moving from Chicago to California in 1987. After relocating, I didn't get out to see many blues shows. In 1990, Junior was scheduled to play a one nighter at JJ's Blues Lounge in Mountain View and I knew it was a show that I couldn't miss.

The night of the show, my wife and I got there early so we could get a good seat. Gary Smith, a local harp player, opened the show with his band. They played the opening set.

During the break, Junior was pacing back and forth like a caged animal. Something was wrong. This seemed very out of character. Junior's regal presence transcended "cool". About twenty minutes later, Junior's band took the stage. The band consisted of two guitars, bass and drums. There was no horn section to be found. George Baze led a couple of songs and then called Junior up. For the next 45 minutes, Junior played traditional blues and blew a lot of harp. He played more harmonica than I had ever seen him play before. It was incredible. He put on one of the greatest shows I have ever seen.

At the next break, four guys walked in carrying black cases. It was the horn section, they had accidently driven to JJ's in San Jose about 15 or 20 miles away by mistake. Junior looked pretty upset with them. I thought Junior was going to kill them and from the looks on their faces, they were thinking the same. The next set featured Junior more soul-based material. I enjoyed this side of Junior, but it was really nice to have been able to see him in the more traditional setting. That is a show that I will never forget.