Magic Slim (aka Morris Holt) again graced our shores to quench a craving for raw-edged Chicago blues. He played at Biscuits and Blues, then went down the coast to perform for the Santa Barbara Blues Society, and finished off at the Sacramento Heritage Festival's show at the Horsemen's Club. I was lucky enough catch him at two of the venues, which will have to suffice this time around.
At the show at Biscuits and Blues, Magic Slim was backed up by the Teardrops, consisting of Jon McDonald on rhythm guitar and vocals, Vernal Taylor on drums and back-up vocals, and Chris Biedron on bass. The band kicked off the show with McDonald doing an expressive version of "Honey Bee" on slide guitar and full-bodied vocals. Taylor's shuffling drum support on "Help Me" drove McDonald's inventive guitar riffs.
Opening up with "Bad Boy," Magic Slim's gruff vocals and fast guitar licks were a warning that we were indeed in for some rough and ready blues. On "The Sky Is Crying," Magic Slim cast a solid soulful vocal spell over a rhythm-driven guitar delivery.
His rendition of "Goin' to Mississippi" was the epitome of the Mississippi to Chicago connection, and the catchy refrain was delightfully repeated in the vocal backup by McDonald and Taylor.
"Crazy Woman" featured Slim's slow phrasing, conveying his need to go downtown to get a toolbox for his woman who had a screw loose.
This was an evening of intense blues, and Magic Slim and the Teardrops kept the Chicago sound fresh and innovative with their delightful show.
Carl Weathersby at Boom Boom Room
Chicago-based bluesman, Carl Weathersby appeared at the Boom Boom Room along with a local band composed of members of the Caravan of Allstars and led by Ronnie Stewart on rhythm guitar.
Weathersby hit the stage with a torrid guitar display and confident vocals on "Dust My Broom." His crowd-walking got the attention of all the dancers crowded around the stage with his sizzling guitar display which included the physical stunt of playing with his teeth.
On the Tyrone Davis tune "Can I Change My Mind," Weathersby's earthy vocal delivery was compelling. On this evening, Weathersby covered Chicago-infused blues with an intensity that was mesmerizing. He has become known for his biting social commentary, but this evening he came to entertain and that he did splendidly.
The following Tuesday, Phil Guy appeared at Biscuits and Blues backed up by Anthony Paule on rhythm guitar. Paule is one of the most expressive and talented guitarists in the Bay Area, and it is always a treat when he is on the stage.
Paule opened up the show with a Jazz-infused instrumental and then did a smashing version of "Comin' Home." Guy hit the stage announcing that he was going to play a little blues for us. He launched into a stinging guitar exercise and never looked back as he ran through a repertoire which included a soulful turn on "Sadie" and "Turning Point" and a hypnotic driving beat on "I'm a Bluesman." This was another evening of Chicago blues with a soulful flavor.
Anthony Paule at Biscuits & Blues
This past year has been filled with great festivals and shows, and the blues is alive and well even while suffering from a loss of patronage and increased transportation costs for traveling musicians. There is a plethora of musicians who are imparting a fresh approach to the blues genre, and I would like to mention just a few who have made the year memorable for their live performances.
Foremost in this category are Otis Taylor, Chris Cotton, Kenny Neal, and Earl Thomas. They all have superb CDs available, and that is the next best thing you can do to keep this music vital. There are so many more worthy artists, and my mission is to encourage everyone to get out and experience live shows.
The festivals present an opportunity to see many musicians in one locale, and some of the best this year have been the Monterey Bay Blues Festival, the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival (aka King Biscuit), and the Hayward-Russell City Blues Festival.
Small clubs and venues are the best way to experience the music. Biscuits and Blues in San Francisco, the Sacramento Heritage Festival at the Horsemen's Club in Sacramento, the Sunday Blues and Jazz Club in San Francisco, and the reopened Eli's in Oakland are just a few of the better venues in the Bay Area presenting blues on a consistent basis. Do yourself a favor and make a resolution for 2006 to check out what is happening in the blues.
Article and photos by Dorothy L. Hill
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