Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins, born in 1913, was in town recently celebrating his second nomination to a Grammy award this year for Best Traditional Blues Album. At Biscuits & Blues, Perkins was joined by the trio of Bob Margolin on guitar, Tad Walters on harmonica and bass and Wes Johnson on drums. The trio's set consisted of some good Chicago-style blues and twenty-something year old Walter proved that he can hold his own when performing his shuffling boogie composition, "Slam Em Down." Margolin, a former Muddy Waters sideman, provided some gritty slide guitar work. Johnson is a talented drummer, effectively working the melody at times with some large brushes. Perkins opened with "Chicken Shack," then doing "How Long" with slow and torturous vocals. His voice is a low moan with plenty of hard living showing through and his key-tinkling piano style still has depth. He loves to end his tunes with some expression and this night, his favorite was "Who wears the badge--Joe Friday." Perkins has an endearing stage presence and on this two set sold-out night, he had the audience in the palm of his hand, ending the first set with an encore performance of "Got My Mojo Working."
At his recent show at Biscuits & Blues, Montoya was joined on stage by Benny Yee on keyboards, Steve Evans on bass and Randy Hayes on drums. The first set of an hour and a half was mostly devoted to blues with Montoya leading off with the hard-driving rockish blues tune "I Need Your Love In My Life." Then performing "You Didn,t Think About That." Montoya demonstrated his blistering guitar work. His years of performing with Albert Collins have honed his chops well as he exhibited on the tune "Get Your Business Straight." His vocals are warmly expressive. Keyboardist Benny Yee is absolutely amazing! He asserts his presence with soul in his playing and a smashing style that is breathtaking but all the while melodic.
Montoya is one of those musicians who appreciates the audience and graciously spends time conversing with his fans (this evening he was especially grateful to the industry guests, Gavin Convention attendees and Monster Cable representative--Montoya is one of the Famous Monsters). This is definitely a band to catch, tight hard rocking blues that delivers!
Soul vocalist E. C. Scott performed at the Sunday Blues & Jazz Club at a special birthday celebration for Aquarian club members. She is bawdy and brassy and lives up to her self-titled "Empress of the Blues" label. Scott's material revolves around those time-worn themes of love relationships, women's issues and domestic violence with a measure of male-bashing thrown in for good measure.
The Aquatic Groove Session filled in on a Saturday night recently when Detroit bluesman, Larry McCray failed to show. This local band usually performs on early Saturday evenings at the club and were still around when the call came. They play a solid mixture of blues, funk and soul and on this evening seemed to fit the bill quite nicely by getting the dancers on the floor and in the groove. The audience did not even seem to realize that the headlined band was a no-show!
W. C. Clark returned to Biscuits & Blues with his Texas brand of blues. Clark is one of the best bluesmen plying their wares these days and his distinctive vocal style and guitar licks are always a delight to behold. He is an unassuming dynamic artist who delivered an awe-inspiring performance on this evening.
Mighty "Mo" Rodgers, the existentialist blues philosopher, provided the Biscuits & Blues audience with an evening of originals including his tunes, "Picasso Blues" and "The Kennedy Song." Rodgers is a W. C. Handy award nominee this year in two categories--most definitely deserved.
Henry Butler, New Orleans pianist, in San Francisco in a funky show which featured the wonderfully gifted blues guitarist, Danny Caron, and talented drummer, Deszon Claiborne, both alumni of the Charles Brown band. This show was devoted to low-down funk for the most part although Butler got off some of his classically oriented intros on several tunes and some good old fashioned gospel-infused vocals.
Big Jack Johnson appeared in San Francisco on one of his infrequent visits to the Bay Area. Johnson hails from Mississippi and is a fiery guitarist with an interesting vocal style. He concentrates on the instrumentals and this evening graced the audience with mostly blues standards. Drummer, Peter Philis, was right in the pocket. Johnson is definitely a blues artist who shoots straight from the hip with his honest style and down-home stage presence.
Hadda Brooks, again graced the stage of Biscuits & Blues with her cabaret style of Jazz-blues along with bassist, Eugene "Senator" Wright and guitarist, Danny Caron. Brooks still has what it takes and her sultry singing and piano playing are just delightful. Actor, Roscoe Brown, made a surprise visit to Hadda--they are old friends.
Johnnie Bassett moved into Biscuits & Blues for his first visit to this club and he was energized enough to get off some hip shaking movements. R. J. Spangler, drummer, and Pat Prouty, bassist, were along this time with new band members, pianist Al Hill and tenor sax player, Paul Cerra. They were joined by San Francisco-based tenor saxophonist, Scott Peterson. Bassett,s tasty guitar combine with a soulful voice and this evening provided the audience with a good taste of Detroit blues.
Phillip Walker, Texas guitarist, is making big blues news in his appearances with Long John Hunter and Lonnie Brooks, billed as the Lone Star Shootout. On this appearance at Biscuits & Blues, Walker was joined by his tight band consisting of Hollis Gilmore playing Jazz-oriented tenor saxophone, Joe Campbell on trumpet, James "Broadway" Tucker on bass and Aaron Tucker on drums. Walker's sweet guitar style and eloquent soul-filled vocals reveal a distinctive style and along with the great horn section this evening made for some good blues listening on a rainy night!
King Ernest Baker
The blues world lost vocalist King Ernest Baker who died when the automobile in which he was a passenger swerved off rain-slicked Highway 101 near Santa Maria, California on March 5th. King Ernest was born in Natchez, Mississippi on May 30, 1939 and after obtaining an A.A. degree in math, he headed for Chicago to make his mark in the blues. During the 1960's and 1970's, Baker performed and recorded in New York and Chicago.
In 1980, when blues was on a downswing, Baker moved to Los Angeles where he would spend the next fourteen years working as a deputy in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and singing in the church. After retirement, Baker recorded a hit CD, "King of Hearts," and performed worldwide. Baker was also a beloved San Francisco Bay Area performer with his powerful soul and blues vocalizing and scintillating stage antics.
King Ernest Baker had finally attained success with another CD on Fat Possum Records in the can and was to perform at the Monterey Bay Blues Festival this year for the first time. More than that, he was one of the nicest persons in the business--he will be sorely missed.
Blues is well represented on the Internet although sometimes the search can be exhausting and frustrating. Most artists have web sites where they post biographical information, discography and tour schedules.
Some of the best sites have links which lead to more information, such as bluenight.com, thebluehighway.com, blues.org, and bluesblitz.com. The festivalfinder.com site lists a variety of music festivals including blues while bluesaccess.com lists blues festivals. For Muddy Waters fans, check out muddywaters.com. Record label sites post a wealth of data about their artists and major ones include alligator.com, antones.com, blindpigrecords.com, delmark.com, fatpossum.com, malaco.com, and vanguardrecords.com. Happy surfing!
Blues in the Clubs
Vocalist and guitarist James Armstrong recently appeared at Biscuits & Blues. Armstrong has recovered from a 1997 incident when an intruder broke into his home stabbing him and throwing his two-year old son down a balcony landing. After a rigorous physical therapy program, Armstrong has regained his dynamic guitar skills. This evening, his intense vocal style was displayed on the tune he wrote for his son, "Little James." He introduced the tune "Bank of Love" stating "no more ATM's!" Despite one venture into funk, Armstrong was faithful to the blues and definitely presents a dynamite show.
The Rossi Brothers appeared in San Francisco, minus one Rossi. Mike Rossi was in good form on guitar and vocals, especially on the tune "My Piece of the Pie," an ode to Bill Gates. Marvin Banks contributed some fine soul vocals. This group has a wonderful CD entitled "Rain of Tears" on which Mike Rossi demonstrates a biting humor in the compositions. Their web site can be accessed via rossibros.net.
Alvon Johnson is a charismatic performer as he demonstrated in his recent appearance at the Sunday Blues & Jazz Club. Johnson,s vocals are pure soul and he plays a mean blues guitar. His raunchy vocals are fun and his movie matinee good looks and million dollar smile combine for an evening of good entertainment.
Kenny Neal brought his hard-edged Louisiana blues to Biscuits & Blues on a recent evening. Neal was a huge hit at the San Francisco Blues Festival kickoff last year and is one of the most inventive bluesmen around. His band is a family congregation with Frederick on keyboards, Darnell on bass and Graylon on drums. Neal's guitar sizzles, his harp playing is straight-ahead blues and he is not bad on lap slide either! His tune, "Howling at the Moon" was a delight and his musical tribute to the legends was satisfying. Neal is a talent not to be missed next time he is in town!
James Cotton returned to Biscuits & Blues with his aggregation consisting of the fantastic keyboard player Dave Maxwell, vocalist Darrell Nulisch, and Chicago-based guitarist Rico McFarland. The show started off with Maxwell's solo boogie beats with McFarland then joining in on guitar laying down his inventive backup. Wailing in the distance, harp legend Cotton played his way to the stage. "After Hours" with Cotton's subtle textural and rhythmic effects was outstanding. Maxwell's solo on "Rocket 88" was rollicking electric keyboard playing at its best.
Cotton's tonal range on harp and extraordinary breath control sends shivers down your spine. Cotton's power as a vocalist has diminished with his throat problems but this evening his gruff emotional vocal delivery was engaging. Cotton is one of the harp virtuosos still delivering the Chicago style, foot-stomping boogie blues.
It's blues festival timeget out those lawn chairs and blankets and check out the listings. A note of special interest is that the Monterey Bay Blues Festival has booked Jimmy McGriff and Hank Crawford on the Main Arena Stage this year. Scheduled for June 23, 24 and 25, this festival is always sold out for the Main Stage, but grounds tickets are available and with a little extra effort, one might be able to score a ticket for the McGriff-Crawford show.
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