Sunday, May 20, 2007

Carol Fran Benefit

Sid Morris, Norm Decarlo and Barrelhouse Solly opened the show with some killer old school style Blues. Just a piano, drums and singer. It was really great stuff. Russell Barber and Eddie B joined them for a bit. Jimmy Dewrance got up with them (replacing BS 1) and did several tunes.

Steve Freund got up with Jon Lawton, Sid Morris, Eddie B, Norm and me for a few tunes. It was good to hear Jon Lawton again. He was in fine form. The exchange between him and Steve was excellent. These guys work really well together. It was a real treat to share the stage with them.

Next up was Double G, East Bay Wes, Russell, Mike Phillips and Norm. They did a really nice set featuring an obscure classic, "Potato Diggin' Man." Wes really tore it up on the slide guitar.

James Reed got up. He was joined by Mighty Mike Schermer, Jon Lawton, Andrew Griffin and Mike Phillips. After a couple of tunes, Mike Schermer left. Marvin Greene got up for a few tunes. James stepped down and Phil Berkowitz got up. Jon Lawton picked up the bass.

The evening closed with some excellent tunes by the big voice of Barrelhouse Solly featuring Jimmy Dewrance, Marvin Greene, Scott Miller (playing bass) and Andrew Griffin.

It was a very fun night. Lots of great music was played during the five hours of nearly continuous music. I was dead tired by the end of it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Fountain Blues Festival

Buddy Guy

Mother's Day weekend marked the beginning of Blues Festival season in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Fountain Blues Festival at the San Jose State University campus has been running for around 27 years.

I've been to this festival many times. The first year that I went was 1991 when the legendary Johnny Shines appeared. Johnny was in town for several shows that weekend. I think I hit all of them. He was a fantastic talent and a great bluesman. His story is sad and somewhat stereotypic. He was instrumental in shaping the post war electric Blues sound in 1950's Chicago. He made some fabulous recordings for Chess and JOB records. He worked for years and never really achieved commercial success.

I skipped a few years and returned to the festival grounds in 1995 to see Mark Hummel, Johnnie Johnson and Jimmy Rogers. The weather that day was sort of cold and foggy. I think it was drizzling a little bit, but it didn't stop a fabulous show by Johnnie Johnson and Jimmy Rogers. Come to think of it, I've seen Jimmy Rogers several times and he never put on a bad show. Never. Ever.

Jimmy Rogers is one of the guys that I miss the most. His style was really laid back, while remaining incredibly deep. He was one of the first guys that I ever saw in Chicago. He had Nick Moss and Scott Bradbury working with him back them.

I skipped a few more years. In 1998, I saw Deborah Coleman, Eddie King, Tommy Castro and R. L. Burnside. I really enjoyed the RL Burnside set, but the group that really sounded great that year was Eddie King and the Swamptones. He spent time in Chicago working with Little Mac Simmons and Koko Taylor. I had never seen him before and I've never seen him since, but he put on a great show.

In 1999, I went to see Son Seals, Sugar Pie DeSanto and Howard & The White Boys. Also on the bill was Rusty Zinn and Chris Cain. This was the last time that I ever saw Son Seals before his health problems began. The man was a fantastic singer and a unique guitar stylist.

In 2000, I went to photograph Bo Diddley and Jimmy D Lane. Unfortunately, I missed Jimmy D Lane's set, but I did get to see Sista Monica for the first time. Looking back on it, that is odd, because she always seems to be performing at this festival. I sat through a set of Tommy Castro. Some of his fans were rather obnoxious, but sometimes you have to put up with some shit to see a fabulous performer like Bo Diddley. Seeing Bo Diddley was well worth the wait.

I skipped 2001. My twin daughters were due any day and killing time at a Blues Festival didn't seem like a great idea even if Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown was performing.

I did attend in 2002. I arrived late so I wouldn't have to sit through another Corby Yates performance. My main objective was to see Magic Slim & the Teardrops for the zillionth time in my life. I try to never miss Slim. He's great. There is no one else like him. Seeing EC Scott and Smoke was a very nice side benefit. I left early, so I wouldn't subject myself to another Tommy Castro performance.

I skipped several years before attending this year.

I arrived during Jason Ricci's set. The guy is talented. There is huge buzz about him among harmonica players as being "the next big thing." I just don't get it. After seeing him play, my first thought was that he isn't doing anything that Sugar Blue wasn't doing 20 years earlier and better. In fact, it sort of ticks me off that Sugar Blue receives very little recognition for his contributions. Maybe that's why he moved to Europe.

Jimmy Thackery's set was a real guitar fest. Sista Monica put on an excellent show. The real reason I was there is was to see Buddy Guy.

Buddy Guy absolutely tore it up for over an hour with his four peive band. He was the highlight of this year's festival. He gave the people of San Jose a much needed blues lesson. He played with more energy and emotion than anyone I saw before him. He's rare in this day and age. He's a true innovator.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Carey Bell

Carey Bell

The legendary Carey Bell passed away from heart failure this past Sunday in Chicago, IL.

Carey Bell was one of the finest practitioners of the Blues harmonica. He had toured through the Bay Area many times during the past 20 years. He was an influence on an entire generation of harmonica players. His incredible tone, his ease at witty and inventive phrases and personal idiosynracies made him one of Chicago's finest, and the world's greatest harp players. His impact on Blues will likely remain immeasurable. He was an amazingly talented and innovative artist.

I grew up in Chicago. In 1980, I started listening to the Blues. I didn't know much about the music. Some people might say that I still do not. For me, it started when I was a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Circle Campus.

Muddy Waters was one of the first Blues artists that I had ever seen. He was performing at Chicagofest. I also caught Luther Allison there, too.

During my freshman year, the university had a weekly Blues series that lasted for several weeks. Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues kicked off the series. A few weeks later, it was the first time that I ever saw Eddy Clearwater.

Shortly after the passing of Big Walter Horton, I came across his Alligator release with Carey Bell. It was Alligator release #4702. It was amazing stuff. I was hooked.

It was about a year later that I first saw Carey Bell at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted. He was playing with his son Lurrie. It was a jaw dropping experience. The man had killer tone and a really unique sound that was indescribable. He was one of those rare artists that took what he had heard and propelled in into a new direction. He was truly inventive.

I've spent a number of years attempting to accumulate his recorded works:

- his early recordings with Earl Hooker,
- his rare appearances with Muddy Waters in the early 70's,
- and the super obscure recordings with guys like Willie Williams
- not to mention recordings under his own name.

After moving to California, I didn't go to Blues shows very often, but I always made it a point to see him when he came to town. I remember one of Mark Hummel's first harmonica blowouts that I attended. It was at Kimball's. There were four or five well known harp players that came up before Carey.

I was just about all harmonica'ed out, when he stepped onto the stage. He said more in about 30 seconds and with fewer notes, than all of the preceding players that are considered the creme of the crop of today's players. For the next 45 minutes, he put on a fabulous show that just exhibited a tremendous amount of soul.

I caught him several more times during his travels through the Bay Area. He could always be counted on to deliver a top notch show. He was a really friendly and approachable guy.

He was the anti-thesis of the current crop of harp players out there today that are focused on techniques, lessons, masterclasses and equipment. He used whatever crappy equipment was on stage and he sounded phenomenal through it. He learned from the true masters of the instrument. He was a harp player's, harp player.

I remember the last time he came through town. He was part of Mark Hummel's Harp Blowout that produced the Blues Harp Meltdown, Volume 3 recording. I had photographed him many times, but I never really thought that I captured an image that captured his essence. Half the photos, I shot that night were of him. While I got some great shots, nothing really seemed to capture his intensity at I saw and heard it.

It's almost become a cliche to say that the recently deceased artist didn't receive the critical acclaim and financial recognition that was due to him, but I don't believe that he did. His degree of talent was unparallelled. He was a unique and talented stylist that was true to the tradition while bringing something new to the music.

He will be missed.