||Here´s what has been happening in the extended San Francisco Bay Area in the last three months. The emphasis is on a few festivals, new CD releases, and news items.
There were several blues festivals in the area, but I´ll only discuss three of the larger ones. The twenty-first annual Sonoma County Blues Festival was held again in connection with the Sonoma County Fair in August. The openers were The Aces, a hot local group playing an
original brand of Mississippi romp punk blues. They were followed by guitarist, Steve James from Austin, Texas who played his acoustic roots/blues music. Next was Eddy "The Chief"
Clearwater with his classic west side Chicago blues style. Then Sonny Rhodes, the turbaned king of lap steel guitar, entertained the audience. Another Chicago group, Magic Slim and The Teardrops, were next. Another Bay Area group, The Mighty Mike Shermer Band, played a few numbers and then backed vocalists, Angela Strehli and Tracy Nelson. Angela and Tracy also sang a few tunes together. It was a pleasant blend of music to enjoy for seven hours.
One of the most traveled festivals, the B.B.King Blues Festival 2000, performed in twenty-three venues, including seven in California, in fifteen states in August and September. Our local rising star, Tommy Castro, opened the five-hour show with his exciting guitar playing and vocals. Rock-blues guitarist and vocalist, Susan Tedeschi, also performed. Buddy Guy and his new band did some great numbers. B.B. King sounded the strongest he has been in the last ten years. It was a memorable show.
The San Francisco Blues Festival celebrated its twenty-eighth year with a fifteen and a half hour gala event. The free noon waterfront concert on Friday, September 22, featured The Rooster Blues Mississippi Revue, with three performers. Robert "Bilbo" Walker, strongly influenced by Chuck Berry, did a flamboyant set of rock ´n´ roll blues and blues. Sam Carr, son of Robert Nighthawk and a member of Sonny Boy Williamson´s band for many years, played. Guitarist and vocalist, Super Chikan, a.k.a. James Louis Johnson, who got his nickname from a childhood pursuit of chasing chickens and imitating their sounds, was entertaining.
Shemekia Copeland, Photo Joseph Rosen.
There were seven hours of various blues and related music each weekend day at the picturesque Great Meadow. Among the women performers, twenty-one year old Shemekia Copeland, daughter of the late Johnny Copeland, made an incredible SFBF debut. She belted out songs with a mature voice that belied her age, and sang an emotional version of her father´s song, "Ghetto Child."
She sang her closing song without a mike, just to show how strong her voice was. The audience loved her. One of Shemekia´s influences, Koko Taylor, was also a crowd pleaser with her earthy vocals and Chicago blues. On another blues spectrum, Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, a nine-piece band, brought the swing, blues, and bop music of the thirties, forties, and fifties back to life. Changing scenes again, guitarist and vocalist, Rosie Flores played a set of hard-drivin´ country and classic rockabilly dance tunes.
There was a lot of good, varied blues during the weekend. Roy Gaines was another highlight. After a varied musical career, he decided to pursue a solo career again, and was chosen "Most Outstanding Blues Guitarist" in the 2000. Living Blues Critic´s Poll. He is one of the great, original masters of the T-Bone Walker legacy and at one time had the nickname of T-Bone Walker Jr. He played Texas blues and jump guitar in a powerful, dynamic performance, putting every ounce of his emotion into his playing. He was also highly entertaining as he played his guitar on his knees, back, and with his legs up in the air.
The masterful chromatic and diatonic harp-blowing of Rod Piazza and boogie-piano playing of wife, Honey and the talents of The Mighty Flyers always combine to produce a high-energy show. Bay Area guitarist and vocalist, Fillmore Slim and the Blue Mirrors, including J.J. Malone, gave a short, but strong performan-ce. The seven-piece band, The Dynatones, were impressive with their sixties soul, Memphis funk, and blues sounds. The audience enjoyed Keb´ Mo´s laid-back acoustic set of rural blues mixed with melodic pop-folk traditions.
Sometimes two or three performers worked together in the same set. Elvin Bishop has had some grueling times lately with the murder of his daughter and former wife. He was thankful that the blues helped him get through his hard times. He played a set with his mentor and long-time friend, Little Smokey Smothers. It was a good, solid performance by two blues veterans. The audience loved Smokey´s rendition of "Little Red Rooster" and his play on words at the end.
Elvin Bishop and Little Smokey Smothers Photo Stuart Brinin.
Johnny Bassett and the Detroit Revue featured Joe Weaver and Alberta Adams. Alberta´s deep vocals and story telling talents and Joe´s charisma, singing and piano playing were moving. Incidently, Joe has performed with Johnny since high school days. Johnny´s singing and guitar playing were as smooth as ever.
There was also other varied music in the festival. Roy Tyler and New Directions played a crowd pleasing set of blues-based gospel. Tower of Power, now in its 32nd year of performing, and known for its monster horn section, played a set of funk-tinged soul. The infectious zydeco group, Boozoo Chavis and the Magic Sounds, had the audience dancing. Boozoo, the accordian-playing legend from Lake Charles, rarely leaves home. There was also a surprise appearance by guitarist, vocalist, and Tuvan throat singer, Paul Pena, who has a life-threatening illness. He and local bluesman, Big Bones, played a gospel standard with blues lyrics,"Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac."
Both headliners had their own revues. Joe Louis Walker and the New Blues Allstars featured Chicago harpist, Billy Branch, Chicago guitarist, Ronnie Baker Brooks, acoustic guitarist, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and blues and boogie-woogie pianist, Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne. Branch and Baker sounded particularly good. The Johnny Otis Show featured blues and jazz singer, Barbara Morrison, and vocalists Jackie Payne, Heather Marie, and Gail "Little Bit" Muldrow. Johnny played both piano and vibes as he performed snippets of his traditional songs, using his featured vocalists. Jackie and Heather were most impressive.
Tom Mazzolini, producer of the festival, had brief interviews with most of the artists, which the audience appreciated. It was a weekend of varied, high-energy music to be remembe-red. Another Bay Area bluesman is gone. Saunders Samuel King, a.k.a. as "S.K.", passed away at his Oakland home on August 31. 2000. He was 91. He was most known for his big 1942 hit, "S.K.Blues,"which became a blues staple. This first electrified blues guitar recording predated T-Bone Walker´s debut on that instrument. He was a giant in the San Francisco music scene of the forties, and retired from professional music in 1961. He briefly came out of retirement in 1979 to do a guest recording for his son-in-law Carlos Santana´s album, "Oneness." King spent his later years playing guitar and singing at an Oakland church of his youth. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, two daughters, and five grandchildren.
On the news front, Chris Strachwitz, Arhoolie Records owner, was awarded a new type of National Heritage Fellowship, the Bess Lomax Hawes Award, for his outstanding contribu-tions as a "keeper of tradition. "These fellowships are the most prestigious honors for achievements in the folk and traditional arts. Chris is planning a two-week celebration in October in honor of his fortieth year of Arhoolie Records. Check out his website, www.arhoolie.com/current news.html for details. Bay Area artist, guitarist and vocalist, James Armstrong received a big write-up in the July-August 2000 issue of "Living Blues" magazine. Harpist and vocalist, Carlos Zialcita, spent the summer touring the East Coast, Canada, and Oregon with Sonny Rhodes and his band. Carlos also coordinates the music classes of Johnny Otis.
The list of touring blues musicians seemed larger than ever, maybe because it was summer time. Performers included: John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, John Mooney and Bluesiana, Long John Hunter, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Kenny Neal, Mem Shannon and The Membership, Walter Trout, Paul DeLay, Debbie Davies, Henry Butler, Joe Houston, Phil Guy, Chris Smither, Eric Bibb, Teddy Morgan, North Mississippi Allstars, Indigenous, John Hammond, Louisiana Red, Kelly Joe Phelps, Bobby Rush, Smokin´ Joe Kubek and B´nois King, Mason Ruffner, Arthur Adams, Candye Kane, The Holmes Brothers, Walter "Wolfman" Washington & The Roadmasters, Mighty Mo´ Rogers, and Tab Benoit. More CD`s continued to emerge. Alligator Records released two albums of local Bay Area musicians: Elvin Bishop & Little Smokey Smothers: "That´s My Partner" and their debut CD of Rusty Zinn: "The Chill." Blind Pig Records also issued two: Norton Buffalo and the Knockouts: "King of the Highway," and Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers: "Sinner Street. "Fantasy, Inc. put out a great collection of 26 tracks of obscure 45s of sixties vocals groups on their Speciality label. It is called "Going Back."
Arhoolie Records just released a five-CD box set of over six hours of music on their CD#491. It is called: 40th Anniversary Collection: 1960-2000 - The Journey of (owner) Chris Strachwitz. It features 106 songs from 96 artists that Chris recorded, a 68-page color book, over 120 photos from the Arhoolie Archives, and an extensive history of Arhoolie Records. Their CD #484 featured Clifton Chenier, Mance Lipscomb, and Lightning Hopkins Live! At The Berkeley Blues Festival.
James Armstrong´s latest release is Got It Goin´ On on the Hightone Records label. Fillmore Slim´s most recent CD is Other Side of The Road on the Fedora label. Saxist, Terry Hanck´s new release is called Live and Raw. Maria Muldaur´s 26th album entitled Richland Woman Blues, is an all-acoustic tribute to blues greats of the past, and includes guest performances by Bonnie Raitt, John Sebastian, Taj Mahal, Roy Rogers and AlvinYoungblood Hart. King Ace Music Inc. has a new release from the late great harpist, William Clarke, called William Clarke. It includes rare and four previously unissued tracks.
Some old recordings have turned up. John Lee Hooker´s CD, The Unknown on the English Flyright label has blues standards, work songs, religious material, and pre-blues folk songs. These were recordings made in late 1949 when Hooker played acoustically before a private gathering of jazz enthusiasts from Detroit who requested old songs from the South. Mountain Top Productions has issued a CD of Mark Hummel which is called Harmonica Party. This album has no relation to a CD of the same name issued by Double Trouble Records. It features tracks from 1984-1993 and includes seven previously unissued tracks.
That´s it for now. Keep on enjoying those blues! Maria Bainer
Tommy Castro, Photo Maria Bainer
Boozoo Chavis Photo Barbara Roberds
Johnny Bassett and the Detroit Revue Photo Robert Barclay.
Koko Taylor Photo Peter Amft.
Keb´ Mo, Photo Maria Bainer
Johnny OTIS Photo courtesy of: Glodow-Nead Communications
Joe Louis Walker Photo Maria Bainer