Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Steve Freund @ The Mojo Lounge

Tuesday night, I stopped into the World Famous Tuesday Night Blues jam at the Mojo Lounge in Fremont. The fabulous Steve Freund was the host. I forgot about the new 8:30pm start time and I arrived shortly after the music started. Steve was onstage with Robi Bean, Marc Carino and Jon Lawton playing nothing but traditional, old school Blues. It was really cool music and a very cool, relaxed vibe that continued on throughout the course of the evening. Jon Lawton sounded excellent as usual.

During the break, I was surprised to learn that Jon had broken his hand and the possibility of him never playing again was discussed. He is planning on returning to the Mojo Lounge next Tuesday night and he will be appearing at Biscuits & Blues with his All Star band next week.

It was a really good night jam-wise. There were some really good performances by: Phil Berkowitz, Barrelhouse Solly, East Bay Wes, LD (from LD and Blues Redemption) and Double G. There were some new people in attendance including a harp player with a killer sound named Charlie and a couple of horn players.

Many people in the crowd also became misty at the tearful and triumphant return of Don Yonders after his recent triple bypass surgery. Despite some problems with his fretting hand, he sounded really good and it was great to see him back on the scene.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Monday Night @ Artis's

Billy Branch & Eddie Shaw

My flight out of Chicago was scheduled to depart at 06:00am Oon Tuesday morning. Instead of going to bed and waking up at an un-Godly hour of the morning, I decided to stay out all night long and go straight to the airport. I decided to go head down to the South Side of Chicago to experience a Monday night institution.

Artis's near 87th and Stoney Island is a nice neighborhood bar that features one of the longest running regular shows in the city. Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues have appearing there on Monday evenings since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Well, maybe it isn't that long, but it's close.

When I walked in, Billy, Nick, Mose, Giles and Ariyo were in full swing. Billy always puts on a great show, but there is something very special about seeing him at his home base. He really cranks it up for the hometown crowd and the place was packed to the rafters.

Half the place was filled with musicians from around the world. There were people from Italy, Spain, Mexico, England and Japan.

Billy opened up the stage and let several of the people in the audience perform. I can't remember the order of people that appear, but I do remember that Eddie Shaw, Vaan Shaw, Tommy McCracken, Steve Arvey and Vivian Kelly all got up to do some numbers.

Billy was nice enough to ask me up, but I didn't have harmonicas with me. I thought I was taught that lesson last July. I guess I don't learn too well. Doh!

There were several other killer artists hanging out like: Reginald Cooper, Johnny Drummer and LC Roby.

Time flew by and before I knew it, it was time to head for the airport to head back home.

If you're a Blues fan visiting Chicago, it's worth extending your visit to hang out at Artis's to see Billy Branch.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Chicago Blues Festival - Day 3

When Saturday morning rolled around, I was dead tired, but I got up and made the trek back downtown. I arrived to catch the last half of Elmore James Jr's set with the infamous Cadillac Zack. It was nice to see the legendary Willie Young playing the saxophone. It was a very enjoyable set filled with traditional Blues that took the audience on a trip back to the 50's. Very raw. Very powerful.

I styled and profiled down Jackson Blvd to catch Wanda Johnson with Shrimp City Slim. I hung out for about three songs. This set did nothing for me, so I hit the road.

I ended up seeing the Homemade Jamz Blues Band. These kids were great! Way better than a lot of music that passes for Blues in this crazy mixed up world. These kids were phenomenal. Ryan Perry, 15 (guitar and vocals), Kyle Perry, 12 (bass), Taya Perry, 8 (drums) play with skill and soul. They are capable of delivering pure emotion that many performers way older can't seem to muster.

A bit later, I took a stroll and checked out David Dee and the Hot Tracks. I wasn't expecting much, because the name of the band sounded kind of 80's-ish. I was surprised. This group was really impressive. Strong soulful vocals. Excellent musicianship. Very tight performance.

After a few songs, I realized that I was going to miss Drink Small's set. I raced down the street and saw one of the most powerful solo performances that I've seen at the Chicago Blues Festival, since John Lee Hooker appeared solo at the Front Porch Stage about two decades ago. Nothing, but deeply powerful Blues.

After three days of walking, my feet were starting to hurt, so I decided to hang out near the State of Mississippi Juke Joint Stage and the Front Porch Stage fro the rest of the day. I was rewarded by some excellent music and another great solo performance by Alvin "Youngblood" Hart.

The Chicago Harmonica Project - Part II sounded sort of intriguing. I wasn't sure what to expect, since some of the names were unknown to me. I knew the band backing them up would be good with Rick Kreher, Illinois Slim, E.G. McDaniel, Mark Brumbach and Twist Turner. Plus, Harmonica Hinds and Little Arthur are always worth seeing.

Harmonica HInds started off the festivities. He sounded really good sporting some really nice post-war style tone. Harmonica Hinds reminds me of the guy that got into a time machine in the early 1950's and showed up here 55 years later.

Next up was Big D. Mr D ripped through some uptempo Little Walter tunes. This guy sounded fantastic playing through an old Super Reverb. He sort of resembled the Jake Blues or the Blues Brothers, but you cant judge a book by looking at the cover. This is quite talented, showcasing some monstrous tone.

Next up was Charlie Love. He played some Sonny Boy Williamson-style harp which differentiated him from the previous harp players. Charlie Love is a good harmonica player. He was one fo the better singers during this set and he has years of experience leading an excellent band which frequently appears at the Kingston Mines. He brought up a guest who has been very influential and an inspirational teacher. Jeff Stone joined him on the stage for a song.

Jeffrey Taylor followed these guys. He wasn't the best harp player on stage, but he used the instrument to good effect to punctuate his tremendous singing.

Last up was Reginald Cooper. This guy is a good harmonica player and an excellent singer. He's the type of guy that makes you wonder, where the hell has he been hiding and why hasn't he been discovered before. His voice was as smooth as silk and he delivered his set expertly. I would have liked to hear from him.

They finished up the set with a multi-player jam, which I expected to be a disaster, but it sounded good with each player taking a turn.

It was a very nice set.

From there I caught a portion of the set by Khalif Wailin' Walter. I hadn't seen Walter in ten years when he would sit in around town. He relocated to Germany and I hadn't heard anything from him in a while.

He sounded really good. His guitar playing is very modern sounding. Backing him was Roosevelt Purifoy. That dude really gets around.

Finally, I dropped in at the Chicago Jam Station to catch a little bit of Guy King, Kenny Smith and Calvin Jones. This was a nice mellow way to end the day concluding my visit to the 2007 Chicago Blues Festival.

But I wasn't through hanging out in Chicago just yet.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Chicago Blues Festival - Day 2

This was a really awesome day. The theme of the day was the 30th anniversary of the appearance of the Son oF Blues at the Berlin Jazz Festival. Appearances from numerous different acts that appeared in Berlin back in 1977 were featured. Also featured throughout the course of the day were members of the Sons of Blues and there own bands.

Needless to say, it was an awesome day of music which concluded with a two hour performance led by Billy Branch and featured over two dozen guests.

I started out the day by catching the Blues In The Schools set on the Front Porch stage which was led by Billy Branch and featured children from the Delta Blues Museum. This was a really cool set. It featured some performances by some really talented kids that possess skills and soul that surpass people many years their senior. They were supported by the Reverend Larry Blades and Super Chikan alumnus, Daddy Rich who also appeared later in the day during the Clarksdale Delta Blues Museum set.

Next up, I made my way down the street to catch Carl Weathersby. He's one of the few people that can make a performance in front of an audience of thousands seem intimate. Carl was in fine form. He sounded really strong as he worked his way through several original tunes and some not often heard Albert King numbers. His band was super tight featuring young Corey Dennison (guitar/vocals), Calvin "Skip" Gaskin (bass) and Leon Smith (drums). They put on an excellent show including dancing in unison which didn't appear to be an easy feat considering none of them was wireless.

I walked back down Jackson Blvd to catch the last part of a fine set by JW Williams & the Chi-Town Hustlers. Along the way, I made a quick detour to catch part of Ken Saydak's solo set. He was sounding really good.

It had been a long time, since I had seen JW Williams. He's a strong singer and always has a good band working with him. This was no exception. He was backed by Shun Kikuta and a number of other solid players many of whom have been aroudn the Chicago scene for years.

I walked back down Jackson Blvd for the millionth time (or so) to catch the next set which included Mighty Joe Young, Jr and Mighty Joe Young's grand daughter Chontella Rose. This was a really cool set. Chontella Rose has a tremendous voice. I really enjoyed her singing and she has fantastic stage presence.

Mighty Joe Young Jr was excellent. His set was pretty freaky. He sounded a lot like his father who I had seen a few times over twenty years ago. Sometimes, the sons of legendary performers appear to forcing themselves to sound like their famous predecessors. Mighty Joe Young Jr came across as himself and in no one's shadow.

I hightailed it down Jackson Blvd to catch most of the Harrington's set. Vernon (bass) and Joe (guitar) Harrington were an unexpected treasure. I knew that they go back a long way and are members of the infamous Harrington family, which include such legendary figures as the Reverend HH Harrington (founder of the Atomic H label), Eddy Clearwater and Carey Bell. I had never seen them before, but they delivered some very old school, traditional raw Blues from the West Side of Chicago. This was a very excellent set. These guys need to be recorded!

They were backed by a very solid drummer named Sambo who also was a good singer. Additionally, he imitated a amplified harmonica quite well. Well enough to be humourous and entertaining. They were joined by a fantastic vocalist named James Kinds and by Larry Taylor. They attempted to coax Johnnie B Moore to the stage, but were unsuccessful. I saw him walking around behind the stage. He was a little stiff walking around, but it was really good to seem him.

Next up. The quandry of the day. Carlos Johnson or Lurrie Bell. I decided to do both.

I made my way quickly down Jackson Blvd to catch the first part of Carlos Johnson's excellent set. Backing him was one of the Ironmen of the Chicago Blues Festival, Roosevelt Purifoy. He was everywhere. He backed Mighty Joe Young Jr, Carlos Johnson and several others during my three day excursion.

Carlos sounded excellent as he always does. He's a bad ass guitar player and singer. He's also one of the most under-recognized guys on the Blues scene anywhere. His music is rough and tough. He's always worth seeing.

I went and caught Lurrie Bell's set. I hadn't seen him perform in a long, long time. He sounded great. He's a fabulous singer and guitar player. He played a great set of really traditional Blues. He was supposed to appear with his legendary father, Carey Bell, who had recently passsed away. On this night, he was joined by Matthew Skoller and his harp playing brother, Steve Bell.

When Lurrie Bell is on, he's nothing short of great. Legendary. His set was great. It was filled with traditional Blues and some excellent original tunes written by Matthew Skoller.

Skoller is an excellent harp player. He's superior to many of the current crop of people considered to be among the best. on the instrument.

After this set, I got into the queue to get into the seating area at the band shell to catch the shows on the historic stage that has featured some of the finest Blues talent to have ever walked the Earth.

That was the past. This evening was about the past, present and the future of the music.

Johnnie Mae Dunson was joined by her son, Jimi "Prime Time" Smith and a big band . She has been performing since the 1940's and she sounded fantastic. She was brought out on the stage on a wheelchair and delivered a very powerful set singing some of her tunes that went on the be big hits for artists like Jimmy Reed.

Next up was a two hour extravaganza show marking the 30th Anniversary Reunion of the Sons Of Blues led by Billy Branch. This group, originally featuring the sons of famous blues musicians, formed at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1977 and has since gone through many lineups and traveled throughout the world.

Performing during the course of this set were:

Ariyo, Lurrie Bell, James Bell, Steve Bell, Billy Branch, Nick Charles, Giles Corey, Freddie Dixon, Joe Harrington, Vernon Harrington, Carlos Johnson, Minoru, Mose Rutues, Carl Weathersby, JW Williams, the Heritage Horn Section including Gene Barge and some excellent backup singers. (I can't remember their names at the moment.)

Billy kicked off the set with the recitation of a poem by Langston Hughes anf then immediately kicked things into high gear by demonstrating his world class prowess on the harp. He tore through Little Walter's Juke and several of his own songs. He demonstrated fabulous teechnique and showcased his phenomenal tone. He began a process of going introducing each former member of the SOB's before they did one of more of their own tunes.

This show ran for over two hours. It was solid. With more than a dozen musicians on stage at once, there could have easily been a disaster looming on the horizon. It was tight. It was right.

Two hours flew by. I shout about 1500 pictures.

I was dead tired, but not tired enough to not do it all over again in less than 14 hours.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Chicago Blues Festival - Day 1

I arrived at Grant Park shortly after the start of the festival. It was in the mid 90's on the lake front. As I walked down Jackson Blvd, I could hear the solo sounds of some fantastic old school blues piano from the Front Porch Stage.

Nearly twenty one years earlier, I was in the same sport to hear John Lee Hooker perform solo. This time, it was pianist Aaron Moore. Aaron Moore is one of the last of the great Blues piano players. I was really glad to have the opportunity to see him perform. It was a feeling that I would have several times during the next few days.

After the conclusion of Aaron Moore's set, I strolled down to the Crossroads Stage and caught a portion of a fine set being laid down by Osee Anderson and Da Blooze Folks.

I hung out there for a while before heading down to the Juke Joint Stage to catch John Primer and Matthew Skoller. This was a really enjoyable set featuring some excellent guitar work by John Primer and some fantastic harp playing by Matthew Skoller.

After this I walked back to the Crossroads Stage to catch the Hoochie Coochie Boys. This was an All Star lineup featuring several of the sidemen from the last Muddy Waters Band including: Mojo Buford, John Primer, Rick Kreher, Ray "Killer" Allison, Calvin Jones and Barrelhouse Chuck. This was a very high energey set considering that several of the artists were well into their 70's.

During the last several numbers, these guys were joined by Larry Williams aka Muddy Waters, Jr. Larry Williams is one of the sons of Muddy Waters. He's a good singer and showman.

After this set finshed up, I headed west and caught the last portion of the Phil Guy set.

By this time, I was dead tired and needed some rest before it all started the next day.

There was a lot more that could be said about the performances of the day, but it's time to go...