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March 29, 2006

The Subdudes at Last Day Saloon, Santa Rosa 3/28/06

All I knew of the Subdudes was “I’ve Got All The Time In The World” and a few other radio tunes, and the fact that music writers and musicians I respected were big fans of theirs. I remembered that they were big in the early 90s when rock made a bit of a comeback for me. It was a midweek show at the Last Day Saloon so it wouldn’t be a zoo. So I went.

The place was packed! The crowd was full of faces I slightly recognized from music shows, serious music fans. I began to feel better about coming to the show. I had to shove to a bar to get a drink. Business was so fast at the bar I settled on getting a beer.

Spotting Steve and Diana and Mark right at the back of the folding chairs that had been put up on the dance floor I joined them for the best standing location. Dancing wasn’t going to happen this night. The Last Day had opted for paid seating over dancing.

The Subdudes came out and to modest fan applause simply began with an almost acoustic song. In an era of power rock and bigness the Subdudes have gone in a whole ‘nother direction. I guess you'd call them a rock band, but they aren't what you'd call Rock. John Magnie’s Cajun accordion takes care of that, especially when Tommy Malone plays slide guitar.

“Ohh, if wishing made it so, I’d be a swift flying straight to your heart”

They're from Southern Louisiana (though they spent years in Colorado too) and infused with all the kinds of music and rhythms that come from that fabled music place. Often the lead instruments are an accordion and a slide guitar, with the drummer playing a tambourine and the bass drum. The instrumental choices they make are different too. They have a sound that whispers of a million influences while being their own and all with that second line rhythm feel only Southern Louisiana musicians have.

A very different sensibility in the songs they write too. No testosterone strutting. They are honest to god singer-songwriters with deep takes on their subjects. This is a band that can sing of love way beyond moon-June-spoon-croon or teen-age rituals. They sing about love of children and social events and, well, lots of stuff.

“I’m angry ‘cause I still love you.”

In Tommy Malone they’ve got an honest-to-god lead singer, but without that lead singer ego. Tommy has a wry sense of humor and appears both confident and modest. He’s an excellent guitarist too, with licks meant to make the songs work. None of the band members are strutting, they all seem like regular people you could talk to at the supermarket. Maybe that’s why they sing harmonies so well. The singing of the band is wonderful.

Part way through the first set they sang “One Time” and they had me. The analytic part of my brain switched off and I was with the groove and the songs and the crowd swaying around me. There with the Subdudes and their gentleness and “still on my feet” attitude and humor.

A wonderful night! I’m not into a lot of what gets sold as “roots music”, too much of it is Woody Guthrie/ Austin troubadour wannabees with a Stratocaster. The Subdudes couldn’t be less like that formula. New Orleans and the Frenchman’s Land are too strong, too full of humor, in their music. I bought both their on sale at the show CDs and found another today in a used bin. I’m a fan.

One Time
(by the Subdudes’ John Magnie ©1989)

Hey Girl, have you been…
Running down by the River Again.
(Muddy Mississippi)
All alone you went back
You know mama don’t like that
Mama don’t like that

One Time!
You don’t care
One Time!
Say that ain’t fair.

Now I’m…
I’m begging you
You who dream so well,
Why don’t you dream yourself….
Into being a little bit…
Happy One Time!

You know and I know…
You’re the very special one
You’re one of a kind.
Put the pen to the paper
And create a whole new world…
A world of your own

One Time!
Is not enough
One Time!
It’s all too much

Now I’m
I’m begging you
You who dream so well
Why don’t you dream yourself…
Into being a little bit…
Happy One Time!

Sweeter than everyone
Are you going to run away and leave…
Run away from me
Well that’s all right
As long as you’ve got something better
that you’re running to.
I won’t take it personally
Cause you know too well…
I will always take you back
I’ll take you back …
‘Cause I’m greedy that way

One Time!
If you stay…
One Time!
Which I pray

Now I’m….
I’m begging you
You who dream so well
Why don’t you dream yourself…
Into the middle of being…
Happy One Time!

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 04:52 PM | Comments (0)

Volker Strifler Band at DG’s, Napa, CA 3/24/06

I received the following email and immediately put this gig on my personal calendar. I had the calendar listing and had been thinking about it.

Please join me....
Come for the birthday cake, stay for the music!
I'll be at DG's Night Club in Napa on Friday, March 24th at 9 pm celebrating my birthday with The Volker Strifler Band. Please come join me as I turn 47 years old and try to remember the days when I wasn't old enough to get into a nightclub! The Volker Strifler Band breathes life into blues with a Hammond organ and a horn line. It just doesn't get any better! If you come out to hear the band you'll know why I'm so excited that Liz of DG's booked this very special group for my birthday! DG's is located at 530 Main Street. There is a $7 cover for the evening. I'll bring the cake!
Dancing with silly birthday hats optional!
Please come and share an evening of music with me....
Rhonda Lucile Hicks of Red Dragonfly Productions

It seems that I’m always pushing through a rainstorm when I go to DG’s in Napa. This time the storm wasn’t too bad; there wasn’t any flooding. The real problem was that DG’s was closing. The announcement happened fast and was only a small notice on DG’s calendar. Dang it! Liz Ratliffe had one of the best clubs for hearing music and was known for fair dealing. She’d had some of the best artists in her place. This night it was one of my favorites, The Volker Strifler Band.

Ok, I’m sold on this band. They have a drive and melodicism that’s hard to beat. Volker on guitar, Don Bassey on bass, Chip Roland on organ, David Schrader on tenor sax, Carl Bowers on trombone, and usually Gary Silva on drums is smooth, powerful and inventive. This night, Gary Silva was playing drums with Elvin Bishop, and the mighty Willy Jordan sat in with his inventive drum work and his huge voice.

The VSB is so rhythmic and plays great dance tunes. Volker is inventive about songs, changing them so they are both the original and his own songs too. The Texas roadhouse feel of his earlier years has transformed itself into something which has no labeled style and no regional feel, yet Volker can haul that feel out as needed. With the present band he’s got so much freedom to move around. His soloing is simply beautiful.

I went out on the floor and danced in the back corner for a long while by myself and with volunteer partners. I went into the zone with Volker and the guys. I’m going to miss the dance floor at DG’s, it’s a crème-finish concrete one, my second favorite kind, you can pivot and spin on it. I can’t give a narrative of the tunes. I can report that Dave Schrader is a monster bop/blues soloist with a gift on saxophone that exceeds all other local saxophonists. Gawdamighty David! The man tore me apart physically and mentally by going two ways at once harmonically while under complete control.

Carl Bowers’ trombone playing is concentrated right now on horn section work with David. As a leading bass guitarist and upright bass player he’s got that old problem of playing two instruments, --how to get enough time to work on both while holding a day job, being in two or more groups, and being a family man. He said recently he had to concentrate on one instrument at a time, and the trombone was getting second place since he has to learn a lot of bass material. Carl’s solos were fine and enjoyable, and they were danceable too.

Chip Roland is now familiar with the material of the band and is slowly asserting his great harmonic skills on organ. At this show he seemed to concentrate mostly on rhythm section work, but when he had a solo it was full and rich. Give me that Hammond sound any time, Chip!

Rhonda Lucille Hicks, the promoter behind Red Dragonfly Productions, was having one heck of a birthday party over at the big table against the south wall. A great big birthday cake and some funny hats marked a celebration both fun and sad. Liz Ratliffe was everywhere that night taking care of the party, the house and being friendly. I’m going to miss DG’s both for the music and for Liz. What a fine person! I want her to get a new place opened up, she knows how to treat the public and the musicians like people.

Dancing was the order of the night and not making notes. The huge sound of this band and the tightness it has just drove me out on the floor. What a sound! Willy being on drums meant that some of the funk numbers he does well also were played. James Brown numbers were really done well. People were going nuts dancing.

Beth Kohnen the harp player sat in for one number and sounded good on a hot up-tempo number. She came back to the table and said, Wow, it’s just like driving a Cadillac! You give them eye contact and they go where you want them to go. You never have to wonder where anything is in the song; it’s all right there! For you to use!”

I have to make special mention of Volker’s slide guitar playing. It’s really good, and what’s so special about it is he goes to new harmonic places with it, just like his regular guitar playing. What he does to “Spoonful” is surprising and unique. I think he’s found an extra note in the blues scale or something.

It was quite simply a wonderful night of top-notch music by a top-notch band in a wonderful club that’s going to really be missed. So many clubs are disappearing, that it has me seriously worried. Farewell DG’s, I hope Liz Ratliffe is able to get it going again in another location.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 02:31 PM | Comments (0)

Bay Area Blues Society Hall Of Fame Awards Show 3/18/06

As many times as I’ve driven past the Scottish Rite Center on Oakland’s Lakeshore Drive I never realized there was a three story high neo-classic marble auditorium on the fourth floor. The word auditorium doesn’t begin to cover how it looks; it’s slightly more magnificent than the United States Senate chamber. Walking into it after the inevitable Lakeshore parking hunt, I was astounded at the old ornate carving, Masonic symbols, and the marble and wood paneling.

I arrived a little late and didn't miss anything. I was able to sneak up and sit down right behind Drummer of the Year Willy Jordan and whisper, "I don't care what anybody says--you're still ugly." Willy, knowing that this award and $2.45 would buy him a cup of coffee, snickered. His girlfriend, Beth Kohnen the harp player, rolled her eyes at me. She doesn't know Willy and I do “The Dozens."

The Bay Area Blues Society, largely the organization of Ronnie Stewart, gives these awards every year. The selection process is apparently a vote. Many musicians and blues fans are not members of the Society. This year’s honorees were a good group.

In format it was a mediocre awards show. You know the kind from TV, including a smarmy announcer who had trouble reading the cards and two good looking young women in flashy tight dresses to flank all honorees and hand them the award plaques. Milling around on the stage in a disorderly line while the band played eight bars was the normal activity.

For me the big interest was always on the honorees, about half of whom were allowed to speak. There were a lot of very worthy veteran musicians and music scene people who received awards. I was very interested in all the Oakland and Bay Area music history and learned a lot. There was a great story from an 80 year old about backing Billie Holiday at a Theatre in Oakland in the late 40s, and at the big Market Street jazz club in the early 50s. I’m fascinated about that time period since I found the website Amarcord’s Fillmore Jazz Project and the photograph book “Harlem of the West.” I love those pictures of Bop City.

It was amusing wearing my flashiest pin stripe suit and black hat. I was constantly hustled for my business card by musicians and various hustlers who thought I was a record producer. After I would say I was a music writer they'd try to sell me their home produced CD at a low price so I could review it. Somehow they never quite offered it for free.

My friend and blues writing example Dorothy Hill seemed thrilled that I'd come. She's always been a big help to me without appearing to lift a finger. Dorothy, once she'd read my writings, just has somehow waved the magic wand that gets me in the back door. Dorothy "put me on the list." Dorothy also taught me not to be bashful, to always sit up front and center, wear clothes people will recognize, and never apologize for being a blues writer. I'm glad I went just for her alone. Dorothy got introduced from the podium twice. Once as “probably the greatest single blues fan” (she is), and then again as "Blues Journalist of the Year."

I got to see the legendary Heartsfield Brothers (now doing only gospel) who were the local singing trio (with full horn band) in the late sixties and early seventies. They had local hits on KDIA and played everywhere, including at the Divisidero Theatre near where I lived then in the lower Haight. I used to go there and see Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and Earl ("Dr. Strangelove") Hooker. Seeing the Heartsfield Brothers brought back memories of great stage shows.

There was a fun long single number by Frankie Lee who tried to ham it into a half hour until told to save it for the after-party. Guitar phenomenon Little Gabe played a single number and brought down the house, he just turned 14. A fine short set by Little Jimmie Reed from Alabama was the final and best of the performances between the awards.

Crowning schmooze moment: Talking with the legendary Ruthie of the great blues and soul club Ruthie's Inn (R.I.P.) in Oakland. Ruthie who's about 75 was poured into a heavily gold embroidered black dress that emphasized her posterior to the autoerotic level, and was tottering on five inch gold heels. I told her I was one of the little hippy boys that used to sneak in. "Mmmm" purred Ruthie, "Looks like you're a Big hippy Man now." Barely managing to keep my composure, I grinned at her, "You were one of the ones who converted me to a better way of life." Ruthie got hold of my arm and I managed to make a graceful exit line before I was completely enfolded into her ample bosom. Willy, who was standing about five feet away at the time, commented later that I'm getting pretty good at bullshit.

Well, I got my face seen. Worrying that my tiredness would sandbag me I didn't go to the after-party and from what I've seen commented, I made a mistake not going.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 02:14 PM | Comments (1)

Michael Barclay Band at the Tradewinds 3/11/06

I arrived early for the Michael Barclay Blues Band show at the Tradewinds. It was a cold rainy night outside and the bar was cold inside. Roger Volz was there in a good mood setting up and saying things like “I don’t want anyone to interrupt me, this is serious business’ and making faces at us. Three rotund guys left over from Happy Hour were at the bar quite drunk and getting noisy yelling “Oh man, you are so right!’ and “Yeehaw!” and “Wow, Man, Wow!” Plus, the ever-popular “Oh Wow!” Kelly the bartender was giving them the fish eye and obviously considering if action was needed. I wandered over to Roger as he was setting up his sax mic and said, “Wow Man, Wow! I’m Drunk, Man, Wow!” Roger, veteran of hundreds of bar gigs in the Dynatones and other bands, thought a second and said, “I think it can all be summed up with ‘Wheeooowh!!” That became the sound of the night.

Setting up my favorite table with hat, piece of paper, and my raincoat on the chair, I got comfortable, and circulated a little bit greeting friends in the somewhat busy house. When I got back Roger was unzipping his alto sax at the table while mock-pompously informing his laughing lady that he was a serious artiste and couldn’t be distracted during the “all-important preparation period.”

“Hey man”, said Roger, “I’ve been re-reading your reviews of us for the last year and a half. I found the one where you wrote that you were concerned that Michael looked nervous and distracted at the start of a gig—until you realized Michael ALWAYS looks nervous and distracted at the start of a gig. I’ve been teasing him with that for days now.” Now I knew why Michael had given me the fisheye when he’d entered the back door clutching his tweed Stratocaster case in both hands. I glanced over to where Michael was fussing with his amp and the P.A. He looked up for a second, saw me talking with Roger and his eyes got like Clint Eastwood’s. Roger’s eyes crinkled. I’m in trouble now.

Band members Don Bassey, sitting in on bass, Banana on organ and guitar, Rick Cutler on drums, Joel Rudinow on electric piano, and Roger on alto and tenor sax began to honk and test their instruments while keeping an eye on the adjustment prone Barclay. Michael suddenly turned around as they were slowly “noodling” and joined in.

Then breaking all common wisdom for opening a show, suddenly the “noodling” was a magnificent long slow blues. Huge solos by Joel, Roger, Banana, and most of all, Michael filled the place. People sat up in their chairs and hung on the playing of this heart-rending blues. It was a knockout of emotion. At the end the band members had a moment of stillness, and then they looked at each other like “Did we just do that?”

Michael’s up-tempo “I Refuse (to get the blues)” was the dance number that got the dancers out on the floor. One of the new songs from the new CD, “I’m A Desperate Man” was also a medium dance tune, with an affecting solo. Michael’s guitar cried.

It was an interesting night as Michael and the band played more slowly than they have in many past appearances, many previously fast tunes were played at medium tempos. It actually made for great dancing, especially as the band was playing with melodicism and emotion. It fit the night like a glove.

I had fun talking to Banana at the break, I asked him about the less expensive guitars I’d previously seen on his website that were now appearing in local guitar stores. Banana is one of the great on-line instrument dealers, with those great professional-level “players” instruments. “I’m moving them out, they take up too much space. It’s time to upgrade even more. The cheaper ones have become more trouble than they’re worth; they’re the ones people return with little complaints. Not worth it in my business. Plus, it’s nice to have room in my bedroom again!” If you haven’t seen Banana’s website go to Player’s Vintage Instruments.

As the evening wore on I paid little attention to keeping notes. I was dancing and lost inside my own concerns. The band kept playing at a high level and Michael’s soloing took me away. I remember the bare hint of a chord structure and allusion to the melody that clued me to “(Really have to use my) Imagination” that drew me out on the floor and dancing before Michael developed the tune line enough for the band’s cue to come around. Michael really has those advanced harmonic ideas that allow for unusual ways of approaching tunes.

It seems that this was the last regular monthly gig for MBBB at the Tradewinds. For unknown reasons the Tradewinds management has chosen to break the long term understanding with the Barclay Band for playing the Tradewinds every third Saturday of the month. This was done without giving notice to the band. The band got ready to play the third Saturday of February-- and their spot was taken by another band. They only found out by reading the newspaper. I’m not clear why the Tradewinds management cancelled one of the hottest bands in Sonoma County, one with a loyal following, a long history, and one who’s CD was the pick hit of the week on KRSH, with the #1 song played in rotation with strong sales.

Perhaps it’s because the Tradewinds has decided to “dumb down” with Monday Night Football, beer company decorations, and head banger music. The holiday decorations over the last few months have been sorry, and Mardi Gras was decorated with beer company streamers. The Winds seems to have lost its sparkle and drive and direction.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 10:10 AM | Comments (1)

March 28, 2006

Joe Louis Walker at Eli’s Mile High Club 3/4/06

Joe Louis Walker at Eli’s Mile High Club 3/4/06

Returning to Eli’s a second night for Joe Louis Walker I had the same good feeling of the club I’d had the night before. Sam Marshall has made a difference. He seems to have found a good sound guy too. The sound was fine this night.

Joe was his usual good self on the opening numbers. Dressed in a baseball cap and tan jeans, the saga of the Joe appearance continues on. I’m always impressed by Joe’s rhythm guitar work. He’s usually very solid behind other players and this night was no exception. Playing with Joe at this gig was Bobbie Webb and musicians I’ve seen with Bobbie as his Smooth Blues Band. It was a tight group that allowed Joe the solid foundation to really solo.

I had a wonderful time dancing and I really got into it. Joe did many classic tunes as well as a few of his originals, several from his CD “In The Morning.” The title cut was particularly good.

“In the Morning, when I rise,
I wipe the dust from my feet, and the tears from my eyes.”

Joe really got an incandescent solo on that tune. I was dancing harder and really was able to cut loose with the passion of that song. Over the course of the evening both Joe and Bobbie Webb had a lot of fine solos.

Joe’s notorious long intermissions weren’t a problem this time. The second set was just as good as the first. Joe looked to be in a settled mood and was concentrating on his guitar work. The dancing continued and I really had a fine time. The band was soulful, yet no nonsense.

At midnight Joe put down his guitar and went up to the band room. I knew the signs and it was time to go. Shaking Sam Marshall’s hand, I went out the front door to see Joe getting into a Cadillac and driving away.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 08:24 PM | Comments (0)

Daniel Castro At Eli’s Mile High Club, Oakland, CA 3/3/06

The opportunity to see Daniel Castro at Eli’s was too good to pass up. Eli’s has so much character and Daniel’s playing is so excellent that plans for the show went into effect immediately. Arriving at Eli’s felt good, under Sam Marshall’s management the place has that old time comfort and character. The black and red interior sings of good times and the blues. Even with a lot of the old decorations gone it feels like “juke.”

Entering the club I found it half full and with a lot of familiar faces from Sonoma County like Mo and Terri, and from the Central Bay Area including Dorothy and Lucretia. I had that “at home “ feeling right away.

Daniel Castro has that power that just flows out of his guitar. I’ve seen him a lot and he astounds me every time. It’s almost a cliché’ among Bay Area Blues fans that “Daniel’s gonna hit the big time one of these days and we’ll never be able to see him like this again.” Well, this was one of those nights. Mike Emerson was on the keyboards, T. Moran on the drums and Glade Rasmussen on bass, it was Daniel’s first line premier band, and they were going full bore.

Daniel is always melodic and this night he was at a peak in his lead guitar work. High flying is the only way I can think to describe where he went in this performance. Daniel has a lot of music theory and fretboard knowledge that doesn’t always get displayed. Some nights he has a house full of social dancers to please and they want pounding rock beats. Then there are the nights his audience is knowledgeable fans and Daniel goes to town with wild licks, big dynamics, and fretboard explorations. This was one of those nights.

Daniel took me far, far away on song after song. Mike Emerson was right there with him and did some of his father out solos. And I began to dance. It was one of those nights when the mind goes with the body and away from words. I hadn’t had the dance inspiration like that in a while.

And as the solos and rhythms flowed out of the Daniel Castro through the almost perfect atmosphere of Eli’s, and I danced in a way I hadn’t in a long time. With room to move on the “crème finish” concrete floor I could spin and make body moves that a packed dance floor won’t allow. Other dancers were also doing advanced dance moves. It was that kind of night with the music. Flowing, moving, it was the body as art form felt from the inside. What dancing is when it’s more than a social activity. I felt comfortable expressing myself.

I really have to thank the members of the Daniel Castro Band and Daniel himself for a wonderful night of superb playing. As many times as I’ve seen Daniel play, this was one of his finest nights. I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Around me fans that know were really into dancing and cheering when they were sitting down. It was a total blues experience melding the band, the audience, and the band.

It was a wonderful night at Eli’s. Sam Marshall has done a great job bringing back this club from the dead. He’s got a soundman now that knows what he’s doing; the bar is great and the food fine. I just hope that there’s enough business for Sam to make a go of it. Eli’s Mile High Club is too good to lose.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 07:15 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2006

Revolutions Need Not Be Televised - Women and the Blues

By Eldridge “Big Cat” Tolefree

Isn’t it funny how times and trends constantly change when it comes to females in the recording and entertainment industry? From the beginning of recorded music, African American women have made major contributions in the music business and performing arts. Some of the most influential female recording artists were forced to be in the background of early music. Many started out as receptionists, background singers, writers even engineers behind the scene of many independent record labels.

On Valentine's Day, 1920, the vaudeville performer Mamie Smith recorded "That Thing Called Love" the first recording by a black woman, and it sold 75,000 copies in the first month of release. Proving money could be made off black female singers and variety acts. Mamie Smith’s public notoriety kicked down doors, allowing an entire generation of beautiful brown skinned women the opportunity to innovate and transform the Blues, vaudeville, cabaret, and night club acts.

Companies like Paramount, Columbia, Victor, including Okeh Studios had created their "race" catalogues, distributed to blacks through “mom and pop” record stores in the North and South. In the early 20’s the labels had their best scouts look high and low for the best black female talent. They exclusively signed blues singers like Alberta Hunter, Victoria Spivey, Ida Cox, Bessie Smith and trend-setter Ma Rainey. Together they sold thousands of records, unfortunately not all of the women received much for their hard work or creativity.

It didn’t take long for the revolution to begin. Women started producing their own music, movies and all female concerts. Things were definitely changing in the entertainment industry, and minority females were in the front leading the charge. The revolution had many bright new participants including new comer, Mahalia Jackson. Her unique voice garnered Jackson a record deal with Apollo Records from 1946 to 1954. Jackson switched labels again near the end of 1954 over to Columbia Records.

Dorothy Dandridge also contributed to the image of black female entertainers from the early days of the revolution. Dorothy's provocative singing act and strong will gained her popularity among black and white women all over the world. Dandridge was the first black female to perform at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, and the first black woman to received an Academy Award nomination for the category of Best Actress.

The 60’s introduced the world to Ertha Kitt. She changed the entertainment industry for again women. Suddenly more positive role models appeared in public and on television for women of all races. The sexy little cat women scratched and clawed her way into mainstream television, and earned her a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, nominated for an Emmy for her role in the series I SPY in 1966.

The sixties were good for independent and major record labels. All over sudden woman were allowed to express themselves like never before, and music fans were the proud recipients of the new revolution of entertainment. Labels unleashed acts like “Russell City’s” Big Momma Thorton, Pearl Bailey, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Diana Ross, Tina Turner and San Francisco’s Sugar Pie De Santos.

Today African American women are still positively representing the entertainment industry, and making ground breaking music. But it’s been a long time in between revolutions. We need a new generation of female pioneers to create the next wave of influential music. So when your out there purchasing CD’s and stuff, remember to buy local independent music that feature unique female entertainers and musicians. Because so many ladies helped create most of the genres we hear today, and believe it or not you can actually change the way labels release music.

If you’re fed up with the same cookie cutter style of music from females in today’s market, simply stop buying it and they’ll stop making it. Women have always initiated political movements and societal change in the past, and we look forward to the next journey in history. All revolutions need not be televised to impact change. You can learn more about the history of women in the entertainment industry by checking out one of these websites:
Roots and Rhythm
Women Leaders On-Line

Eldridge "Big Cat" Tolefree

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 01:45 PM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2006

Ron Thompson solo at Zebulon’s 2/25/06

Arriving a little bit late at Zebulon’s [soon to be renamed SoHo] Ron Thompson was in already playing the hard edged blues he’s known for. Working with a hard-sounding Stratocaster he was singing and playing up a storm. Working very fast and seeming a bit nervous at the beginning, his lightning fast licks propelled blues tunes out into the full audience of the “living room” that is Zebulon’s.

As the evening wore on Ron became more comfortable with the solo performance and really began to interact with the audience. He also became more used to the different requirements of the solo performance and developed a softer guitar sound by switching to his old Gibson. And his choice of songs widened.
Ron Thompson solo at Zebulon’s 2/25/06

Arriving a little bit late at Zebulon’s [soon to be renamed SoHo] Ron Thompson was in already playing the hard edged blues he’s known for. Working with a hard-sounding Stratocaster he was singing and playing up a storm. Working very fast and seeming a bit nervous at the beginning, his lightning fast licks propelled blues tunes out into the full audience of the “living room” that is Zebulon’s.

As the evening wore on Ron became more comfortable with the solo performance and really began to interact with the audience. He also became more used to the different requirements of the solo performance and developed a softer guitar sound by switching to his old Gibson. And his choice of songs widened.

Ron went way back to both old blues songs and to old rock songs and did them in a humorous manner, taking us all back to “old times.” The presence of an old friend of his from school days prompted Ron to bring him up and play some harmonica. It was a gas.

Ron’s piano playing was a highlight, Ron has that barrelhouse feel and it seemed that the old piano professors were in the house. Ron’s left hand boogie rolls were a lot of fun in the living room. Zebulon’s has a nice piano and it’s really good to hear someone who knows how to do it perform and make it sound right. It needed gas lights for that final touch.

I’d like to thank Ron for a really fun evening of different-than-the-usual-stuff blues. I hope that he continues to have this solo act and develop this side of his talent. He sure has changed from back when he didn’t talk to the audience. It was all very personable. I believe Jay the owner said Ron’s coming back in June. Recommended.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 04:28 PM | Comments (0)

Roger “Hurricane” Wilson at Tradewinds 2/23/06

Roger “Hurricane” Wilson is a well-known guitar player and bandleader in the Southeastern United States, working out of Atlanta. He put together a small tour of Northern California for February 2006. I was fortunate to get to see him Friday February 23rd, the day before his showcase show at Biscuits and Blues and before his appearance at the Tattoos and Blues Festival in Santa Rosa.

Roger is a warm yet no-nonsense musician. Looking at the house as people filed in, without talking he simply began. With a two woman band of bass and drums behind him he moved right into “Checkin’ On My Baby”, and then into those danceable signature riffs and licks of “Honky Tonk.”

I couldn’t understand the name of the bass player through the sound system. The drummer was Sandy Spencer. They provided steady rhythm foundation for Roger’s flights on the guitar. Roger is an outstanding guitarist with fantastic solos that contain no showy bits, but are rather beautifully constructed and progress to emotional highs. Roger would sing two verses of a song and then it was guitar time. Soloing was the order of the night, the whole purpose of his show.

Roger has several different ways or styles within his soloing; it’s mostly all “song appropriate.” He can be very “swampy” sounding or very clean almost “Brit Blues” sounding. Roadhouse feel in some of the songs brought to mind Texas guitarists. Yet he never loses his particular feel nor seems a copy of anyone else. His resonant baritone sets off all the songs perfectly and he’s concerned about making the audience feel entertained and a part of the show. He has fun doing the wireless crowd walk and playing for every table and all along the bar.

Over the course of the night the house filled up as people came in and stayed because the music was so good. Roger did solo after solo. With classic but not over done songs like “My Baby’s Got A Black Cat Bone” and “Seems Like Everything I Do Is Wrong” he has a fine roadhouse-honky-tonk-juke joint feel that sys he’s done thousands of bar gigs.

Roger is one of those special guitar players, one of the guitar players just born to play. I look forward to seeing him again. Highly recommended. Hopefully he’ll be back in California again some time.

Roger "Hurricane" Wilson webpages

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 03:34 PM | Comments (1)

Ron Hacker leaving Us??? By:Mo

There's an image I've got stuck in my head that I can't get out and I thought if I finally try to 'talk" about it, maybe it'll finally get outta my head and move on.
Maybe I'm just in denial about the whole thing.

It was while at Ron Hacker's show last weekend.
It was supposed to be the famous "North Beach Strut" with some Hacker at the Saloon and Daniel Castro at Grant & Green.

-Man, I've missed those North Beach Struts!
I remember when Daniel held down the Thursday gigs at G&G and you were ALWAYS guaranteed great blues at the Saloon, so we would do our thing on many a Thursdays going back and forth.
No huge crowds, free easy parking and it didn't matter if we had to get up at 4am or not. Aaaah, those were the days-

Terri and I went down. Amazingly found free parking in China Town and walked across Broadway and into the funkiest, smelliest, best damn blues joint anywhere...The Saloon!

We all waited patiently for AJ, Bassist extraordinaire, to return from finding parking so we could begin getting into our "Hack Attack"!
It was a relief to hear he was there, and to see Ronnie Smith, drummer extraordinaire, in the house already and set up and ready to go!
He had his full drum kit instead of his simple 3-piece kit. I think his simple kit is better. It's amazing to hear what he can do with that little ol'thing.
These two make up the "Hacksaws" the best damn rhythm section anywhere!
I know....I know...I say that a lot about many but we are fortunate around here in our little ol' blues corner of the world.
Why, without these two guys, it just ain't the same. I heard that these three don't get to play together much anymore but they tend to always try to make these Saloon gigs.
Ok, sure, Hack can carry a whole acoustic night, no problem, but just any ol' band won't do for the proper "Hack Attack".

It was a decent night of music. The Hacksaws were on!
Hacker's guitar was alright too although not one of the best Hack attacks.
Maybe I couldn't hear it that well. The bass incredibly louder than the guitar and it proved difficult to tune into Ron's guitar instead of AJ's awesome thumpin and his incredibly powerful gear.
I was standing right in front but it has never been that kind of problem before. I always stand there and get a much better sound than that.
But anyway, it was a great night of Hacker and his hacksaws. I never did do the strut so I never got to see Daniel and crew up at Grant & Green but for good reason-I just couldn't pull myself away from Hack and their breaks are synchronized now.
And besides, we just saw Daniel at Eli's the night before and I don't think anything could've topped that awesome evening!

Now back to the image:
I was standing there, front & center of the stage, just watching this amazing "White Trash Bluesman" in action. It was surreal, him just playing the hell outta that thing, them Hacksaws backing him and just drivin' him further into abyss and then a sadness hit me. The rumor was floatin' around that he's moving back east. Some snowy state way far away, I'm not sure where but it just saddens me that we are losing one of the best we have around here.
I knew he was leaving for Europe after his daughter turns 18 but I thought we had a few more years yet. Now I hear he's headin' back east. Not sure when he was leaving, I stood there and thought that this might very well be the last time I see these guys, at least for awhile if ever again. I stood there and just watched, and watched, just soaking in all that Hack Attack I could. Trying to get that ultimate fix knowing I was gonna have to go through some major withdrawals from here on in. Yep, recovery is gonna prove difficult. At least I have his Cds because it's all about baby steps and getting through this is gonna take time and lots of support ;-)
I'm really gonna miss you, Ron Hacker.
Good Luck to you in your new life. I hope the Midwest and France knows what they're getting.

I'm not sure when Ron's leaving but I have a feeling it's soon. Gigs will be few and further apart so I urge all of you to get out there and see him before he leaves us for good.

So, that's the image. A bluesman standing up there in his "Tattoo" shirt, playing that guitar like no other, with a story to tell. It's in his lyrics, his playing, it pours out of him while on stage.
It's intense, sad, frightening, angry, nasty and maybe some joy in there too ;-)
It's real life.
Thanks, Ron.
Love ya!

Posted by Mo at 02:01 PM | Comments (0)

"Mighty" Mike Schermer at the Flamingo! By: Mo

Thought I'd catch "Mighty" Mike Schermer at the Flamingo lastnight since I've failed to do so since he's been playing there.
I remember seeing him scheduled there for the first time ever a few months back and I thought it was strange.
The Flamingo is not your typical blues venue but hey, it works and I aprreciater the fact that they're trying the blues there.

My plan was to stay there for a set or so and then hit Michael Barclay at the Tradewinds. I never left; it was that good. And besides, I was talked into staying by a certain someones and I'm glad I did so Thank You certain someones ;-)

It was a pretty quiet night as far as bodies are concerned. Plenty of dancin' room and it was utilized by the small but mighty crowd in the house. I was lookin' around and only recognized a few hardcore blues lovers and figured they all must of been at Michael Barclay's gig or something.
While everyone was pairing up to dance, I was left alone to dance with my music!
I like that. I'm glad I'm not asked for the most part. I try to put that vibe out to be left alone and it works for me. How can I be distracted with a partner when there's music to be listened to and a band to watch? Partners are distracting and want too much attention. Besides, some dancing is very intimate to me and I like to save that for my Honey ;-)

So, "Mighty" Mike was up there along with Steve Erhman on bass, Paul Ravelli on drums and Mike Emerson on keys!
That Emerson sure gets around, don't he?
He and Mighty Mike go together well. They played off eachother and flowed real nicely.

Paul Ravelli is one of the best drummers around-enough said.
Ok, not enough said.
Steve Erhman is no slouch neither. What an awesome rhythm section!!
It was a well oiled machine, like a train that kept a rollin down the track without missin' a beat. I was just in awe at how well these guys play together. I would be goin' along, tuning into "Mighty" Mike's guitar or Mike's keys, and then, outta nowhere, here comes Steve throwing some bass riffs in there just to mix it up some. He would get back into the groove, no problem, like he never left it, and then another. Then Paul would back that by throwing some mix in there on his drums and they would do this through out the night. I love it when it's mixed up like that.
An amazing dynamic duel to watch but better yet....to listen to.

Mighty Mike is just one of the best performers we have around here in our little blues corner of the world and we have plenty.
He's can do it all!
You want soul, R&B, funk, rock and my favorite...mostly the BLUES.... then he's your man.
The guy writes much of his own stuff and man can he write!!
He plays guitar and man can he PLAY!!!
His guitar work is eye-popping, hair raisin', toe-curlin', feet-crampin', turn-your-knees-to-jello kinda stuff and it literally "floored" me a few times during the night. He is so awesome!!
Go see "Mighty" Mike Schermer, with his own band, if you haven't yet. It's a real treat.

After the first break, he had a couple of guest singers up. One of them was none-other-than, Earl Thomas!!
He belted out a couple and ooooh-wee..... can he sing!!
It was great to see and hear Earl again. It's been too long. The last time was at the BoomBoomRoom awhile ago and that show left much to be desired for some reason. I can't quite remember why I didn't like it but just these two songs he sang lastnight, with this awesome band backing him, more than made up for it.
The small-but-mighty crowd LOVED him!!
He made a few new fans lastnight and the room was a buzz with "who was that guy?" after he stepped down.

"Mighty" Mike then asked Allison Paige up to sing a couple and man.... can that lady belt out some BLUES!!!!
I've heard her a few times and everytime it's great! Her range can reach across the whole state of Texas and her confidence is powerful. She pulls you right into the song and up on stage with her, so to speak.
The crowd loved her too!
Two great singers just added to an already awesome night of "Mighty" Mike's singing and guitar with one of the best bands around.

I never got to hear the song that has been stuck in my head all week long, anticipating this show, and that is "Annabelle". Yep, it's still stuck in my head so I'll just load his two Cds in the stereo and listen to it that way while I try to get something done around here.

Thank You Flamingo for supporting the blues every so often. The sound was pretty darn good too. Not too loud and everyone was in their proper places without stepping all over each other.

Sorry I never made it down the road to the Tradewinds for Michael Barclay. I just couldn't pull myself away from "Mighty" Mike Schermer. Another "Blues Jewel" we have nestled in our little ol' blues corner of the world.


Posted by Mo at 12:12 PM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2006

Friday Night Blues at Eli's By Mo:

Two nights of BLUES in a row!
Wow! It’s been waay too long.
I definitely don’t have what it takes anymore to do the school night gigs and I’m starting to wonder about the weekend ones too.
It really takes its toll on me. I’m into working out and running a lot now and getting home at 3 & 4am, trying to get up and get a good workout in is just too much. Especially when shows are really good and take a lot outta me as was the case with Daniel Castro band at Eli’s on Friday!!
I was really excited about going back to Eli’s since its latest reincarnation.

The night started out with nuthin’ but wrong turns, u-turns, and illegal ones to boot,
I was starting to wonder had it been that long or was it just me?
Probably a mixture.
Drivin’down 580, we were in the fastlane just a yappin’ away and my auto drive set in and we were on our way to the Ivy Room!
Turn back onto the freeway and headed towards the Maze and I veered onto 880 instead of left at the split onto MacCarther and was headin’ towards the airport. Got back on track aimlessly and the rest was easy.
I really need to get to know Oakland a bit more.
Weird night driving for me and I’m kinda sorta wondering if I should give up my license.
But we made it. Not too late and The Daniel Castro band was goin’ at it strong!

Walked in and Sam Marshall greeted us with warmth. What a nice guy. I have seen him once or twice play at Grant & Green as Marshall Law and know of him this way. Heard he bought the ol’ place and have been noticing some well-known and not so well-known blues acts going thru there on the weekends.
I immediately noticed Lucretia and Armond as the sole dancers on the floor. Well, we were gonna have to fix that. We joined them and so did a bunch more folks. It was great to be back in Eli’s. The whole feel of the place, it’s in the walls I think.

The sound was great!!!
Everybody in their proper places, not too loud, and no drowning out dat guitar!!!
It was real great to see T. Moran back on them drums!! He’s one of the best, no doubt. He wasn’t there the last few times I saw Daniel.
Mike Emerson was there too on keys. I heard that it’s becoming more of a rare thing to catch him with Daniel anymore so we really caught them on a “Lucky” night.
I know…I know…Daniel’s great any ol’ night but the chemistry between these guys is infectious.
I really can’t remember the new bass players name but he has been with Danny for some months now and is really getting’ in that groove!!
Really great night for this band.
Daniel Castro was on the marquee and by golly that’s what we got!!
Sure, Michael would get his share of key solos, and awesome ones too, but it was blues guitar time, baby!!

No need to go into explaining all the songs and solos because if you haven’t seen Daniel Castro yet well then…..Shame on you!! Not only that, you’re cheatin’ yourself out of hearing one of the “Blues Jewels” we have right here nestled in our blues corner of the world.

Thank You Sam and the crew at Eli’s for your hospitality. And a big Thanks for the dance floor crew!! Great night of dancing.
I mentioned that I thought more people would show up and I was told by a certain someone that it was good turnout in comparison to some of the other nights. Whoa...we can do better than that. I hope it works out for Eli’s this time around. I’ll be back for sure.

Missed the Joe Louis Walker show there the following night but it was for a very good reason……….

See ya’ll soon,

Posted by Mo at 12:22 PM | Comments (0)

March 03, 2006

Johnny Heartsman Memorial Concert at Horseman’s Club, Sacramento 2/12/06

The Horsemen’s Club shows are like sex, you know what you know, and it’s hard to relate how great the experience is. Big Mike Balma promotes the Horseman’s Club shows four times a year (as well as the great Sacramento Heritage Festival). Big Mike can really book the shows and the Horseman’s Club has a wonderful juke joint location with great outdoor patio, barbecue, kitchen and bar. Combine easy access and easy parking with the fine old California wood building, and it’s an experience hard to beat on a very warm sunny February day.

The very long line for tickets moved pretty fast and soon we were indoors. Get there early if you want seats. Moving back out doors to the patio and the outdoor stage, the concrete slab had been used for a dance floor, another Big Mike touch; he knows blues is dance music. The barbecue was going and the smells were delicious. I collared something to eat early before drinking. Circulating in the crowd I was able to meet and greet friends and make a few acquaintances. The Horseman’s Club shows is a large social occasion for the Northern California Blues community, many go to them knowing they’ll be heavily social. I knew I was going to be at the stage so I tried to meet everyone I could early. I had intended to try to introduce myself to the show’s producer, Mike Balma, but was unable to in the press of the crowd and his obligations. I’m glad I didn’t push as Big Mike got word part way through the show that his father had died. My condolences to Big Mike.

First up was Johnny Rawls doing polished set of his crowd-pleasing numbers. It was a good bit different than the long bar gig I would see him do the following week. Johnny did his short festival set list from his new CD “Live In Montana.” Johnny concentrated on singing and showed only some of his fine lead guitar work. A long version of “Lucy (juicy)” was the highlight of the show and was a real crowd pleaser. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see Johnny more often. He sure is smooth.

Earl Thomas, doing a rare full band appearance, had Mike Emerson, a favorite keyboard player with him. I was a bit disturbed with Earl’s show, the planning and set selection just weren’t right for the very knowledgeable blues audience. Earl looked tired and worn. Earl did some of his most ‘pop’ numbers and the flow and continuity weren’t really good. Earl has a great soul voice yet it wasn’t too much in evidence as he did numbers like “(Ring a gong) Get It On.” The best was the last number “Sweet Like Lemonade” with Earl really getting his vocal across.

The James Cotton Band had me “anticipatin’” as their load-in went on. I’d seen them the Thursday night before and I had hopes for another good show. It was a faster paced and pared-down set of hot numbers and more crowd involvement. Slam Allen was hot playing lead guitar on fast numbers and showed some fine singing. James Cotton is still a magnificent harmonica player. He plays a whole level higher than many. Tom Holland showed a bunch of great rhythm guitar and some fine Freddie King-type chops. The crowd was beginning to really get packed in the dance area. The band was driving and the dancing was the best. Cotton had a sure touch with the audience and there was lots of participation. Then Cotton brought up his guest, and eleven year old boy, who proceeded to show some great harp chops and wow the crowd. The whole set was lots of fun.

Lucky Peterson’s show was a study in contrasts. Lucky seemed intent on finding ways to connect with the crowd with showmanship and shifted from one bit to another, from guitar to organ to guitar. There was only a little of Lucky’s instrumental prowess on guitar or organ. He seemed changed from the last time I’d seen him three or four years ago. Meanwhile, the great Rico McFarland was burning on guitar. Rico’s guitar playing was so phenomenal that I stopped watching Lucky. Rico’s soloing was of burning intensity and technical skill and his rhythm guitar playing at a level that had me watching intensely. Meanwhile Lucky went into the crowd and was playing the guitar behind his head and other showmanship turns. Rico is simply one of the best I’ve seen, and excels at several styles.

The sun was beginning to fade and the chill invade when the show was switched indoors for the “Fillmore Review” of veterans of the old San Francisco Fillmore District Blues scene. Headlining were Joe Louis Walker who had been a youngster in those days, along with saxophonist-leader Bobbie Webb, singer Frankie Lee, Harp player Rick Estrin, and old time guitarist-singer Fillmore Slim.

Joe Louis was sounding very good and his guitar skills seemed never better. It was interesting to see him in a more rhythm guitar mode than is usual; he sure can drive a band. His singing early on and his lead work were fine too. Frankie Lee had a slow start but really excelled on his last two slow ballad-type songs. He’s still a fine soul singer when he gets warmed up. Rick Estrin, obviously enjoying old times, had a lot of fun playing older tunes and Little Walter licks. Fillmore Slim’s work was somewhat generic, I found him more interesting as a historical figure than as a lead musician in this show. I think he needs his own practiced band to really shine. Bobbie Webb was as smooth as he always is in the leader-horn section role. My respect for Bobbie’s musicianship continues to grow.

All in all, a magnificent six hours of the blues in a great juke joint environment both inside and outside. The Horseman’s Club has wonderful food and grounds with room to mingle. This review is just a mere outline of this magnificent show and series. Thanks to Big Mike Balma. I’ll be going again in April.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 05:53 PM | Comments (1)

Big Jack Johnson at Black Bean Barbecue 2/11/06

In the Big Back Room of Black Bean Barbecue with the barn wood beams, rough plaster, picnic tables, old naugahyde booths, folding chairs, and beer signs the atmosphere was a whole lot different than it had been the night before at the college auditorium. The light of neon beer signs seemed right and Big Jack grunted in some satisfaction seeing the room and its big elevated stage. It’s a blues room. Joining Jack on stage this night were Gary Silva on drums, Don Bassey on bass, and Joel Rudinow on keyboards. Smith and Bowker Productions know what the blues audience wants and had provided simple folding chairs while leaving lots of dancing room. And a strong, well balanced sound system with an experienced sound guy.

“You ready to Boogie?” said Big Jack going right into an instrumental with everyone getting a solo while Jack checked the musicians and the sound system. Looking somewhat satisfied, he told us there were three kinds of catfish, and Channel Cats were the good eating kind. Then he played “Catfish Blues”, and my lord, it was 1940 and the blues! Keeping it way down in the alley he did “Baby Please Don’t Go.” It wasn’t a museum piece song, no sir, it was juke joint good! He added in “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, and several other quotes before bring it back to Baby Please Don’t Go.” The crowd which had sat for the first minutes began to dance—and the dam broke and the whole place went active.

“Why I Sing the Blues” was clearly a B. B. King tribute. Meanwhile the sound guy, discovering that the bass floor speakers had a connector problem, fixed the sound and the place really went hot. Big Jack did one of his great songs “We Got To Stop This Killing” and we all chanted the chorus back to him. A look of satisfaction crossed his face and he began to interact with the other musicians. Joel Rudinow was really sounding good on keyboards and knew the piano backing riffs Big Jack needed for his solos. Jack pointed at him while nodding. A burning “Rock Me Baby” followed and Don Bassey became more animated working with Jack. Don‘s bass was filling a lot of space and he was quick to handle Jack’s quick changes of time and volume. Gary Silva was playing very hard and really working.

“Rock me Baby, Rock me all night long,
I want you to rock me ‘til my back ain’t got no bone!”

The whole place was taking turns dancing and people were having a hell of a good time. Jack really bent things around with a juiced up version of “Boom, Boom, Boom” that turned into the very non-standard “Dimples.” Don Bassey was laughing with the fun of it and following Big Jack’s excursions. “I like the way you switch up and down the floor” “When you talk that talk and walk that walk!” Good and raw!

“Big Boss Man” was good dancing; it also had a starker social comment quality than you often hear. “You just tall that’s all.” That hot sun in the fields of the south was there.

Then Big Jack did one of those songs he’s made his own, Ivory Joe Hunter’s classic “Since I Met You Baby.” A centerpiece of his “Live in Chicago” CD, it’s just pure Big Jack, with all his heart and sentiment.

”Since I met you baby
I'm a happy man
Since I met you baby
I'm a happy man
I'm gonna try to please you
In every way I can”

The second set was a real dancing set with Big Jack in an expansive mood and ready to show off. Joel Rudinow was really making a difference in support and Big Jack could stretch out on top of the chord vamps. Don and Gary were hot and the rhythms got wilder. The bouncy “Mama Talk To Your Daughter” moved into a funny “How Blue Can You Get” which received the full falsetto “I gave you seven children and now you want to give them back” treatment to a wild rumba rhythm. Then it was time to do “The Twist” and by god, we did the twist out on the floor, round and round, up and down. Big Jack laughed.

Slowing the roll Big Jack did another classic, Bobby Bland’s “When You Got A Heartache (there ain’t nothin’ you can do)” followed by a cutting version of “The Things I Used To Do.” A lot of guitarists do this tune, Big Jack manages to make it new and sound like Guitar Slim with those looping guitar licks.

Then it was off to the races again with Big Jack making faces and having a good time with “Baby, What You Want Me To Do?” “Dust My Broom” was a marvel --very cutting and hard, another Big-Jack-makes-the-song-his-own deep blues. Big Jack leaned back to the band and barked “Tequila!” and we yelled the one word at the right places while Jack laughed. With everybody dancing he was really in his fooling around mode and we barked “Do The Dog” right with him. Woof! Woof! Woof! Arf! Arf! Arf! Everybody Do the Dog!

What a great night! It was the juke joint experience, with Big Jack finding we all came to dance in the light of the neon beer signs. It was clear Big Jack dug the show and the crowd. He sure wasn’t afraid of clowning around for us and driving the dancers out on the floor. I’d like to thank Drummer Gary Silva who really pounded those drums, bassist Don Bassey who seemed to instantaneously go wherever Big Jack went, and Joel Rudinow who pulled all his experience out and really helped make the show.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 03:02 PM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2006

Evolution of the Blues Concert 2/10/06

Evolution of the Blues Concert, Burbank Auditorium, Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa, CA 2/10/06

I was really anticipating the Evolution of the Blues Concert this year. It was one of the finest lineups in several years. Two greats of the blues on the same bill: Charlie Musselwhite and Big Jack Johnson. It was Clarksdale, Mississippi night in Northern California. KRSH Radio DJ Bill Bowker, introducing Charlie, noted Charlie’s roots in Mississippi and Memphis and asked the audience to write questions to ask Charlie later. The house lights went down and it was so dark where I was sitting I wasn’t able to take notes.

Charlie played solo that night. I was familiar with Charlie’s harmonica playing from the 1960s. What astounded me was Charlie’s guitar playing. Charlie can play some real down home guitar. With his harmonica in a rack (fun jokes about how the rack hinges forward at just the wrong moment) Charlie did a one-man-band show of power and sentiment. Recollecting songs he first heard from the bluesman who played outside the local sawmill on payday or learned from his uncle, he took us back to another world where people earned a dollar a day and scuffled to survive. Playing Memphis tunes he brought the ‘jump’ into the tunes. Taking us north to Chicago he played some early Little Walter and Muddy Waters tunes with those bass runs and vamps that seem lost in today’s screaming guitar attack.

Charlie really astounded me when he switched guitars and played in old time “G” tuning. Playing without a slide he showed big knowledge of the special techniques and runs for this tuning, techniques not in books even today. He’d really learned it from the old guys. It took me way back to the early ‘60s and the old guys who first showed me the first few chords and the four or five songs they each knew.

Charlie finished up with the question period answering the cards handed in. It was truly interesting and warmly educational. “No, I didn’t go north to Chicago to learn the blues, I went north to get a good paying job. Guys would come back from there and they’d have nice clothes and cars and stories about what they were making working. I went north to make some money. ‘Course, when I got there I began hanging out in the blues bars.”

After Intermission Big Jack Johnson took over. With Gary Silva on drums, Don Bassey on bass, and Adam Birney on organ, Big Jack proceeded to power into a fine set of traditional blues with some of his own songs. The acoustics and sound mixing of the show left a lot to be desired. I was halfway up the hall and the drums, and most especially, the organ overpowered my hearing. Jack’s guitar was frequently hard to hear. What I could hear was the work of a juke joint master and long time entertainer. Truly, it was a guitar player who had years of experience.

Jack didn’t seem too happy with the sound mix nor the support he was receiving from the organ. He growled a bit at the lack of supporting licks. Accepting his fate, he played a combined rhythm and lead style and played ‘crowd pleasing’ songs. The lack of dancing room made the experience a touch artificial and without enough energy. For all of that Big Jack still put on a masterful show and showed a lot of charisma on stage. Truly a commanding presence.

I’d like to thank Smith and Bowker Productions, Dr. Joel Rudinow, and the Arts and Lectures Series of Santa Rosa Junior College for this annual show. I look forward to the next one. It’s great these are in February, usually a slow month.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 09:20 PM | Comments (0)