There have been some extraordinary shows in the last several weeks in the Bay Area which featured national acts of major import. The most auspicious was the appearance of David "Honeyboy" Edwards."

David "Honeyboy" Edwards at Biscuits and Blues

   Edwards is a true legend of the blues who was first recorded in 1942 by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress. It all began in Shaw, Mississippi, where he was born in June of 1915, leaving at the tender age of fourteen to perform in the Delta juke joints. Along the trail, he met up with Robert Johnson and was present the night Johnson was poisoned. Blues aficionados warmly greeted him at his recent appearance at Biscuits and Blues for a sold-out show on a Monday evening.

 Edwards opened with "Catfish Blues" in an intense, haunting guitar expression. His version of "Sweet Home Chicago" on slide guitar was full bodied with raw vocals. Accompanied on harmonica by Michael Franks, his manager and longtime friend, Edwards let the mischievous gleam in his eyes and the guitar tell the story. His rendition of "Crossroads" expressed the flavor of the Delta.

After performing "West Helena Blues," Edwards reminisced about his life in the blues in a fascinating educational session that was a highlight of the evening. It was indeed an honor to witness living history imparted by a still vibrant national blues treasure.

 W. Allen Taylor "Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins In Search of My Father"

 Another memorable event was the play, "Walkin' Talkin' Bill HawkinsIn Search of My Father" presented by the Marsh in Berkeley, a one-man show written and performed by W. Allen Taylor. Taylor was informed of his father's identity after the death in 1975 of Bill Hawkins, who in 1948 became the first African-American radio disc jockey in Cleveland. No less than Allen Freed modeled his style on that of Hawkins, and his influence on a generation of listeners of blues, Jazz, and gospel is incalculable.

Allen, who earned a master of fine arts degree from the American Conservatory Theater, was masterful in his search performed against a background of recorded music. He channeled his mother to explain the secret of his paternity, gave a good dancing interpretation of James Brown, and covered a wide range of musical figures who crossed his father's path. This was an extraordinary evening of enlightening theater.

 Lou Pride at the Boom Boom Room


 Pride honed his soul-blues style from the gospel sounds in his native Chicago. His enormous vocal skills were well on display at his recent appearance at the Boom Boom Room. Opening up with "Midnight Call," Pride warmed up the audience with an upbeat R&B vocal delivery. His passionate phrasing on the slow tune "You Were Never Mine" was smooth soul melting into a falsetto voicing with great effect. His exquisite groovy delivery of "Love for My Baby," ended with an interesting scatting exercise. Pride covered a range tunes, and had the audience in the palm of his hand in a suave performance that was a sensational old-school soul showcase.

 Kenny Neal at Biscuits and Blues


 Neal recently brought his two brothers (Frederick on keyboards and Darnell on bass) and vocalist daughter Syreeta along with drummer Brian Morris to join him on stage at Biscuits and Blues. Neal, hailing from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, now resides in the Bay Area when not on the road, and it is a wondrous experience when he has his family on stage with him. Kenny's swampboogie-influenced guitar and vocal style along with his energetic showmanship and dazzling smile was infectious this evening.

Syreeta displayed a blues sensibility on "Down Home Blues" and will undoubtedly join the star category in the Neal family. Kenny's solo performance on "When Things Go Wrong" was masterfully poignant. The audience was ebullient in their enthusiasm for this fantastic performance.

 Lou Louie Walker and Kenny Neal

 Phillip Walker at Biscuits and Blues



 Walker was on stage the next evening at Biscuits and Blues in another of his blow-out shows. Walker's musical roots are Texas influenced, and his deliberate guitar licks complement his plaintive soulful vocals as amply demonstrated on "Linda Lou." The horn section (Tom Carroll on trumpet and A. G. on alto saxophone) filled out the sound. Leon Blue delivered a skillful piano introduction to the tune "Driftin'."

Hard-driving drummer Aaron Tucker and the thick-lined bass of James "Broadway" Thomas rocked the house to open up the second set with a number of upbeat funky blues-based tunes. Celebrating his birthday, Walker was in extremely good humor, making for another great evening of blues and merriment.

 Big Jack Johnson at Santa Rosa's Black Bean BBQ

 Johnson, one of Clarksdale, Mississippi's finest, graced the stage at Black Bean BBQ in Santa Rosa, California, in an incredible demonstration of real-deal Delta blues. He started off the festivities rocking the house with a fast and greasy blues instrumental and then launched into a catfish-related medley on slide guitar and raw vocals.

On "Baby, Please Don't Go," Johnson's finger-picking was infused with feeling, and he put a little humorous change into it interspersing the melody from "She'll Be Coming round the Mountain."

A highlight of the evening was the delivery of his stunning composition "We Got to Stop This Killing" filled with probing lyrics.


 Johnson ended the show with a vibrant exercise on slide mandolin doing "Sweet Home Chicago." It doesn't get any better than Big Jack Johnson, and there just are not enough superlatives to describe how good this show was!

 James Cotton at the Little Fox in Redwood City, California


 Cotton is a legendary figure in the world of blues who played a major role in developing an inventive harmonica style which would influence generations of young players worldwide. His nickname, "Mr. Superharp, is well earned. Grammy award-winner, Cotton has garnered fame on a number of fronts. Like so many other blues legends, Cotton was born in Mississippi, and those roots were fused with the sounds of the south side of Chicago.

At his show at the Little Fox in Redwood City, Cotton proved that his skills are still unmatchable. The James Cotton Blues Band, consisting of Slam Allen on guitar and vocals, Tom Holland on guitar and vocals, Charles Mack on riveting bass, and Mark Mack on drums, lent superb support. Cotton's intensity and tonal range on the harmonica were prodigious on "The Creeper" with his slapping the harmonica for effect and an incredible display of circular breathing.

 Allen contributed the lyrics on "Rocket 88" with Cotton's sizzling harmonica pumping cascades of sound into the atmosphere. There is not another harmonica player on this planet with the power and precision possessed by James Cotton, and seeing him in a live performance is not to be missed!

 Sacramento Heritage Festival

 The Sacramento Heritage Festival celebrated its fifteenth year with a power-packed ticket consisting of Johnny Rawls, Earl Thomas, James Cotton, Lucky Peterson, and the San Francisco Fillmore Blues Revue featuring Joe Louis Walker, Frankie Lee, Fillmore Slim, and Bobby Webb. Since it was such a beautiful afternoon at the Horsemen's Club, most of the acts were presented on an outside stage.


Johnny Rawls opened up the show with his Southern soul style vocals and commanding guitar on "My Turn to Win" and had the crowd on the dance floor with his enthralling upbeat set.

 Earl Thomas delivered his urban soul vocals on a funk-inspired delivery of "The Higher Ground." His incredible phrasing on the tune "Sweet like Sugar" epitomized the best of soul vocalizing that one is likely to hear.


Lucky Peterson put on an energetic performance sticking mostly to the guitar on this occasion. Peterson attacked the stage and delighted the jam-packed crowd with his searing guitar exercise of contemporary blues supported by the immensely talented guitarist Rico McFarland. Joining the Peterson band on stage, Kenny Neal and James Cotton brought the house down on ""Bright Lights Big City."

 Joe Louis Walker and the San Francisco Fillmore Blues Revue moved the audience inside for a blues jam extraordinaire. By this time, I let the notes go and just danced and enjoyed the acts which included Kenny Neal on guitar jamming with Walker and then Rick Estrin on harmonica. Frankie Lee's soul-searching vocals were animated as usual and this closed out the glorious day for this tired but deliriously happy blues fan.

 Article and photos by Dorothy L. Hill

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