Bettye LaVette

Extraordinary soul singer Bettye LaVette recently appeared at Biscuits & Blues in San Francisco in a show laden with emotion. Her repertoire included excursions into rhythm and blues and pop tunes, but she was at her best as a soul diva. Her version of "Your Turn to Cry" (a Joe Simon tune which, as she points out, she does better than he did) was fervent with revenge and delivered with raspy soul style.

LaVette reminisced with the audience about her long struggle for over forty years in the business. She unleashed a belting exercise on "Joy" that was stupendous and would almost put Tina Turner to shame. LaVette was a force unto herself when perched on the edge of the stage sobbing with unrestrained soul. She is a fearless performer with passionate expression and exquisite timing in every phrase. Anyone who has caught her in live performance comes away with a sense that they have witnessed a colossal performer at the top of her game, as we did on this occasion.


Sacramento Heritage Festival

The next day, the Sacramento Heritage Festival presented another in their series of Sunday shows. The weather was perfect for the outdoor event held on the expansive grounds of the Horsemen's Club outside Sacramento. The theme was Blues Divas and featured Bettye LaVette, Marva Wright and Roach with Café R&B.

Marva Wright opened up the show using Betty LaVette's wonderfully talented band due to an highway accident involving the band which was due to back her up. The band didn't miss a heartbeat although they had only a few minutes to become familiar with Wright's music.

Wright is known as the Blues Queen of New Orleans, and she suffered the loss of her home and possessions and has now relocated to Maryland. She related that she has lost 125 pounds due to the stress, and it was of special significance that the Sacramento Heritage Festival sought her out to perform this day.

Wright is rooted in gospel and was influenced by Mahalia Jackson, who was a family friend. Her delivery of "Bluesiana Mama" was soulful and steeped with slowly dripping blues. She launched into a shameless rendition of "You Can Have My Husband," and it was incessant blues- and gospel-infused soul throughout her fantastic performance.

LaVette was more casual in the outdoor setting but nonetheless delivered another show packed with emotional soul and boundless energy.

Café R&B closed out the day with a steamy set of funky rhythm and blues, spotlighting the amazing Roach doing her hair-raising dance routine and explosive vocals. As I have said many times, this venue is a gem, and the shows and ambience are just the best!


Sweet Jimmie's

Jay Payton has been a fixture in Oakland for the past fifty-eight years as a promoter and performer, and he celebrated his eightieth birthday in style at a Scorpio party at Sweet Jimmie's.

The Brummels band performed for the evening and backed up the many artists who came to honor Payton. The Brummels is a favorite Bay Area band fronted by bassist James Nelson and included Ken Winters on keyboards, Ben Petry on vocals and saxophone, Lonnie Dodson on vocals and guitar, Hammer on trumpet, and Layce Baker on guitar. They kicked off the festivities with a Jazz instrumental and then launched into funky tunes to get the dancers on the floor.

Many artists were in the house to honor Payton. Lenny Williams (Tower of Power) performed a couple of soul-injected tunes, including "My Way" accompanied by John Turk on keyboards.

Little Junior Crudup, wearing an eye-catching outfit and wig did his blues vocal stint, and Terrible Tom did an outstanding soul-infused version of "Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You."

The birthday ceremony included a huge cake and recognition by so many of the Oakland artists who were part of Payton's shows, including comedian Finney Mo, vocalist Rusty Carlisle, and Esther Mabry of the famed Seventh Street club, Esther's Orbit Room.


Sunday Blues & Jazz Club

The SBJC is hopping these days with special birthday parties and blues shows. At a Scorpio party (it seems there are a lot of Scorpio parties, and it must be because we love to party) the hot funk of Clyde Street Band II drew the dancers to the floor. This entertaining band is fronted by Anthony Dillard on vocals and saxophone.

The next Sunday, Chick Willis enlivened the audience with his adult-oriented lyrics and electrifying guitar styling. Willis was backed up by one of the best local blues bands, Layce Baker and the Black Diamond Band, who kicked off the show with some downhome blues. Willis took over with an upbeat blues and proceeded to crowd-walk paying special attention to the ladies. Introducing the tune "Hello Central," he said, "you have to be over fifty to know this one," and his rendition was loaded with soul.

His more raunchy offerings included "I Want to Play with Your Poodle" and his hit tune "Stoop Down Baby." He closed out the show with a tender "That's How Much I Love You, Sweetheart." Willis is one of the most charismatic blues artists on the scene, and he worked the adoring crowd this day in one of his more memorable performances.


Terry Robb and Walker T. Ryan

Original stylist of Piedmont fingerpicking, Terry Robb recently appeared at Biscuits & Blues along with guitarist/vocalist Walker T. Ryan, each doing a solo set.

Robb opened the show exploring an intricate fast version of "Bill Bailey." His version of "Sitting on Top of the World" on National steel guitar using a glass slide was a feast for the ears. Robb's relaxed vocals enhanced the rhythmic complexity of his amazing guitar technique.

Walker T. Ryan was a figure in contrast to Robb with his spirited vocals and more emotional guitar styling. His opening tune, "Taxicab Blues," featured a strumming deep blues groove. On "Write Me a Few of Your Lines," Ryan's energetic slide playing was bass heavy, and his vocals were delightfully expressive.

On the slow tune "Black Cat at Midnight," Ryan's phrasing was eerie it chills me to the bone" and it sure did. One could not find a more prodigious duo for an enjoyable evening of acoustic blues.


Francis Clay Birthday Tribute









Francis Clay (photo above seated shaking hands with Mac Arnold) was the seminal drummer in the Muddy Waters band for about fifteen years and during the late sixties. A bass player named Mac Arnold played in the band where they became friends. Over the years, they lost contact with each other and only in the past few months got reacquainted by telephone. The two met before the show after all these years in a touching moment and swapped stories about their experiences on the road with Muddy.

So it was a special occasion to have them reunited to celebrate Clay's eighty-second birthday at Biscuits & Blues. Arnold now resides in South Carolina where he has formed a new band which he brought along with him to this event. This tight band consisted of Max Hightower on keyboards and harmonica, Austin Brashier on guitar, Mark McMakin on bass, and Mike Whitt on drums. A film crew was in attendance to capture the occasion for educational TV and eventual DVD release.

About time for the band to begin. Clay made his grand entrance rolling his wheelchair into the club to the cheers of his many friends.

Mac Arnold delivered up an evening of Chicago/Delta blues which was incomparable. Left-handed bassist Arnold has an infectious stage presence, and his smile and delight in performing is evident in his every move. His vocal delivery of an original tune, "I Don't Know," displayed an incisive phrasing and precise timing that is masterful.

He pulled out his homemade gas-can guitar (photo at left) on which he played on a couple of tunes. His version of "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man" was especially effective with his muscular vocal delivery.

Arnold possesses one of the most original voices in blues and has a uniquely distinctive resonance. A special moment took place when Clay read several of his poems with vocalist Sumac singing "Amazing Grace" in the background. It was a memorable occasion, and Clay said later that it was the best party he had ever been given!


Twenty-Four Hours of the Blues

 The Bay Area Blues Society recently held a twenty-four-hour blues bash to assist the Musicares Foundation's Hurricane Katrina fund. It took place at the Vallejo Performing Arts Center from 6 p.m. Saturday until 6 p.m. Sunday. Many styles of music were represented including blues, Cajun, Zydeco, R&B, and gospel.

Tom Rigney and Flambeau opened the show with their unique blend of Cajun and Zydeco. Rigney's violin playing was fiery on an exuberant delivery of the Carl Perkins tune "Boppin' the Blues."

Raymond Victor's blues band included the saxophone styling of Bernard Anderson, and they covered a mixture of jump- and R&B-influenced tunes.

Guitarist/vocalist Alvon heated up the set when he joined the Victor band with his unique delivery of R&B and soul. Alvon's vocals were delivered with rich clarity on the blues classic "Everyday I Have the Blues." Alvon has a captivating personality, and his guitar styling was sizzling to say the least.

Producer Ronnie Stewart introduced a singer named Tia Carroll who traveled with the Caravan of All-Stars on their tour of Thailand. Carroll was fantastic, displaying a voice steeped with rich phrasing on several blues tunes.

It was about midnight when Alvin Draper and his band got on stage. Draper's tight band is splendid, and this was one of the more impressive performances of the evening. Draper opened up on vocals with "Love of Mine" and was mesmerizing when he sat on the edge of the stage pleading "Please, Please, Please."

The Jackie Payne and the Steve Edmonson Band with Carl Green on saxophone and John Middleton on trumpet kept the ball rolling with an exuberant delivery of soul and R&B. Payne teased the crowd with the announcement that he was getting married and then launched into "I'm Going to Marry My Mother-in-Law." It ain't nothing but a party when this band hits the stage, and Payne's vocal prowess was unmatched on this evening.

After a couple of hours of sleep and some breakfast, we were energized by the gospel of Stars of Glory early Sunday morning. The five women vocalists were backed up by a dynamic band (the drummer is sixteen years old). Every one of them has a fantastic voice. They preached the word with Jesus as the theme and had the appreciative audience jumping and clapping as they walked around the room testifying.

The Harmonics followed with a more traditional soul-infused gospel approach. The Wingnut Adams group featuring Jeramy Norris on guitar exhibited a unique brand of funky and roots blues.

The afternoon's highlight was a solo performance by Rev. Rabia whose deep exploration of Delta blues on acoustic guitar and vocals was compelling. Her discerning vocals were rich with inflection on the Charley Patton tune "Pony Blues." Her rendition of "Soul of a Man" on slide guitar was spectacular, and she got soulfully sensual on "Rock Me Baby."

Many talented bands entertained during the afternoon including Soul Inheritance, Rhythm Doctors, Old School Flavor (featuring a really wonderful vocalist Ron Carson), Layce Baker and the Black Diamond Blues Band, and Ron Joseph and Stepping Stones.

Blues swamp master Kenny Neal was scheduled to appear on Saturday, but his flight was delayed and he finally made it in time for a finale which was definitely a showstopper performance. Backed by Ronnie Stewart on rhythm guitar, Ron Joseph on bass, Donny Prout on drums, and Jimmy Smith (yes, that is his real name) on keyboards, Neal launched into "I'm a Blues Man." "There Is Something on Your Mind" was followed by a Jimmy Reed medley. Neal took to the lap steel guitar on one number and ended his set with a rousing upbeat arrangement of "Merry Christmas Baby."

The twenty-four-hour concept was innovative but sustainable only for the most hardy fan!

by Dorothy L. Hill

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