blues & boogie by Dorothy Hill

Mississippi Juke Joint Caravan Tour

Authentic Mississippi blues graced San Francisco's Bottom of the Hill club on June 2nd featuring T-Model Ford, Paul "Wine" Jones and Robert Belfour. This date was in conjunction with recent releases by the artists on Fat Possum Records. Belfour opened the show with his solo set of hypnotic country blues with strong accomplished vocals and rhythmic guitar style. Belfour conjures up haunting images in his vocals and although he moved to Memphis over forty years ago, his Mississippi roots are fully intact. Paul Jones (he has apparently recently dropped the "Wine" from his name) was a good contrast on this show with his version of electric Delta blues. Jones has a more rockish guitar style--slashing and raw along with shouting raunchy vocals demonstrated on the tune "My Baby Got Drunk." On "Roll That Woman," Jones' guitar work was intensely contemporary. T-Model Ford at 78 years old is in fine fettle on stage and off! He greets women with the question "are you married" and his devishly sweet smile has obviously contributed to broken hearts along the way. Ford's rambling, womanizing blues vocals and guitar style was mesmerizing. He still has a commanding voice as demonstrated on "I Feel So Bad" and "Back Door Man." This show had all the fun and joy reminiscent of a Delta juke joint!

Johnny Rawls

Dynamic soul singer and movie-star handsome Johnny Rawls gave the San Francisco audience a show to remember on June 3rd. Rawls drips with southern soul infused with gospel. His bluesy guitar style is emotionally expressive.

Rawls started the evening crowd walking and his rapport with the audience is awesome. A multi-talented performer, Rawls showed his prowess on the organ on the tune, "I,ll Take You There," and his funky roots on "Lucy." Merl Saunders sat in on organ with Rawls, vocals and B.B. King-inspired guitar styling on "The Thrill is Gone." Rawls delivered a wonderfully soulful version of "Stormy Monday." The overflow crowd immersed themselves in an evening of dancing and partying down to one of the best shows to hit town and if you want a good time, catch Johnny Rawls next time.

Russian River Blues Festival

On the weekend of June 17th and 18th, Russian River rocked with the blues and funk stylings of a diverse group of artists. Although the weather was cool and there was a persistent breeze, the sun occasionally peeked through the clouds in the afternoon. There were plenty of boats in the river anchored so they could take in the sound.

Saturday's program started off with the Bobby Murray Blues Band with the welcome addition of soul singer Frankie Lee. Murray is a consummate guitarist who is also featured in the Etta James Roots Band. Now relocated to Detroit, former Bay Arean Murray returns for the major festivals and always delivers a solid show. Teamed with longtime colleague Frankie Lee, this was an outstanding effort by the closely knit band. Lee performed "Here I Go Again" the title track on his CD on the Blues Express label. Lee's style of Texas soul-blues vocals are emotional as he grips the words and then releases them with spiritual intensity. This was definitely a satisfying start to the day.
The Average White Band put out their brand of soulful funk in a set which failed to spark much enthusiasm but had an appeal to the less blues-oriented portion of the audience.

Tommy Castro is always a crowd-pleaser and this day was no exception. Castro has become quite a star and his tight band sets up the right groove. His rousing delivery of "Chairman of the Board" was outstanding. Castro is a riveting performer with emotive vocals and intense, slashing guitar licks which commanded an encore performance this day.

The Joe Campbell Band opened up the next set with Chris Jones featured on electric bass and raunchy vocals on "Hold On." Jones gets into action with the gyrating hips and the whole nine yards! This band consists of some of the best musicians Los Angeles has to offer and the horn section sets the tone. Little Milton then really warmed up the temperature on "Muddy Water" with his smoky brand of soulful blues vocals. Clapping and exhorting the audience to respond, Little Milton then picked up the guitar exclaiming "it's time to get serious..." His superb version of "Annie Mae's Cafe" was a slow soulful blues and his repertoire included "Little Bluebird" and a hip-shaking version of "Shake, Rattle & Roll." Little Milton's new tune, "Lump on Your Stump," from his new CD "Welcome to Little Milton" on the Malaco label was a delightfully raunchy "don't mess with my woman" tale.

Veteran performer, Little Milton Campbell, is a blues treasure and this show was the memorable event of the day.

Closing out the first day, the Funky Meters featuring Art Neville on keyboards and vocals was lackluster at best. We expected a good New Orleans-influenced set but got mostly funk which went nowhere.

Sunday's program began with vocalist Angela Strehli with her country Texas blues style. Assisting her was the wonderful guitarist, Mike Schermer.

Mighty "Mo" Rodgers filled the bill--his club appearances are always inspiring for the socially relevant content. It appears that this translates well into the festival setting because the audience was appreciative of his sensational performance. He opened up with "Heaven's Got The Blues" then on to "Took Away The Drum" and "The Kennedy Song," all tunes from his CD ,Blues Is My Wailing, Wall." "Gone Fishin," was a delightful blues romp. Rodgers is definitely a modern bluesman and this soul-satisfying performance was another notch in his belt on the way up!

The Duke Robillard Band performed a solid set of rock 'n roll-infused blues with some great saxophone work by Doug James. The next act, Los Lobos, was outstanding with their unique funky Latin-infused tunes which definitely had the approval of the audience who took the occasion to get up and shake that thing. They appropriately performed "Down By The River" and earned an encore.

The splendid performance by Etta James was so spectacular and awe-inspiring that it had to be her best in many years. Her vocals were strong and wise and saucy. On "Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home," Etta got sassy and on "I'd Rather Be A Blind Girl", she got soulfully wistful. On The Bobby Blue Bland tune, "I'll Take Care of You," Etta exhibited the obligatory strong guttural styling. The tune, "At Last," is just the ultimate for Etta James--she makes this song her own. This performance was so lengthy and so good that everyone was stunned by her strong showing and it was the highlight of the festival. When Etta gets down to business, she is unmatchable...she did it this day! We love Etta and she loved performing for us.

Russian River was a fun festival this year and producer Lupe DeLeon is to be commended for a job well-done.

Editor: Now if whoever was responsible for the Russian River Jazz Festival advertising for the 1998 event would just pay their Jazz Now ad bill, we would all be happy!

Big Bill Morganfield

Big Bill Morganfield is making a splash in the blues world, proof that his heritage as the son of Muddy Waters has served him well in the talent gene pool. Morganfield appeared at Biscuits & Blues on May 16th along with Bob Margolin on guitar, Tad Walters on harmonica and bass, and Wes Johnson on drums. Margolin is an alumnus of the Muddy Waters Band (1973 to 1980) and this match of talents is pretty awesome. Their CD, "Rising Son," on Blind Pig Records produced by Margolin, was an impressive debut for Morganfield and a fitting salute to his late legendary father.

Morganfield started off his set with two Delta blues tunes then broke into a great upbeat version of "Dead Ass Broke." He is a commanding figure and demonstrates great stage presence combining his legacy with his own vision and style. Morganfield's gruff vocal style is impressive and he can play some mean slide guitar. This show was solid, satisfying Chicago blues standards and everyone in the band is an exceptional performer in their own right.

On May 25th, Morganfield won the 21st annual W. C. Handy award for Best New Blues Artist. Look for this phenomenal performer on the blues festival circuit.

Joe Houston

The Sunday Blues & Jazz Club presented the legendary Joe Houston on May 21st. Houston is a Texas native who has been a fixture on the Los Angeles blues scene for many years and is known for his honking '50s style saxophone. Accompanying Houston on this occasion was Big Bones on harmonica and his band including the accomplished Jake Sampson on bass (both are impressive musicians who appear locally with their own bands).

Houston's harsh vocal style is penetratingly harmonic and emotional. He is equally outstanding on alto and tenor and this day seemed to favor the alto. He serenaded the audience with a beautiful version of "Blue Shadow Falling" on alto. Houston's rocking version of "Home Sweet Chicago" was stunning. Houston delivers that hard driving honkin' with grace and style.

George "Wild Child" Butler

Alabama-born Butler is one of those conservative, down-home bluesmen plying their trade on the circuit who come to town too infrequently. On his first visit to San Francisco, wearing a beautiful tasseled harmonica belt, Butler's performance of "Killing Floor" was fantastic with his earthy vocal style and melodious harmonica. On "Anyone Can Say They Love You," Butler's strong baritone showed emotional depth. His humor was demonstrated on the tune "Forty Year Old Woman." When performing his composition "Gravy Child," Butler reminisced about having worked with the late, great Lightnin' Hopkins. This is another outstanding bluesman who deserves more recognition and wider exposure on the blues scene.

Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials

Talk about a wild and crazy guy, Lil' Ed Williams fills the bill! Smoking slide guitar, raw distinctive vocal style, flying leaps in the air, and brilliant smile are just a few ways to describe this amazing five foot, one inch dynamo of a bluesman. On May 27th in San Francisco, we experienced the energy of this band whose members have been together for close to fourteen years. James "Pookie" Young, half-brother to Lil' Ed and musical co-conspirator from the beginning, is astounding on bass and laid-back stage presence (his eyes appear to be closed the whole night). Their late uncle, J. B. Hutto, a renowned slide guitarist taught them both. The other band members, Michael Garrett on rhythm guitar and Kelly Littleton on drums, are right in the pocket and more than hold their own.

The band covered such tunes as "So Long," "Shake Rattle and Roll," "Mustang Sally," "Stormy Monday" and one entitled "Mean Old Frisco" with Lil' Ed's sizzling guitar licks, raw vocals and amazing antics. What a show!!!

California Blues Festival

Memorial Day at Golden Gate Park's Bandshell was warm in more ways than the weather. This sixth annual event is produced by Bobbie "Spider" Webb and is free to all. The audience is part of the show with the homeless, bicyclists, exhibitionists and plenty of dogs on leashes participating in the festivities. The music was electic but mostly blues. The first band, "Stage Fright" certainly lived up to their name in dress and the musical style was indescribable. The guitarist and vocalist, Mamou, performed an outstanding set with his brand of blues and crowd-walking interaction with the audience. Memorable acts included Curtis Lawson in a blue sequined hat and blue cape with rhinestones singing his heart out, Big Bones on harmonica and guitarist Gary McMahon in a duo performance of gritty blues and, of course, headliner Sonny Rhodes, on slide guitar and his soulful blues vocals. This was a fun, down-home festival that just gets better every year.

Super Chikan

Hailing from Clarksdale, Mississippi native, James "Super Chikan" Johnson, is one of the most original voices in blues today. He composes most of his material and it is humorous and earthy. Of course, the name Chikan (that's the way he spells it and he likes being addressed by the nickname!) stuck after Johnson started mimicking the chicken cackle on his guitar strings. As a truck driver, Johnson concentrated on his composing skills on the road and he is a storyteller of gigantic proportions as shown in his performance May 31st.

On the tune, "Crosscut Saw," Super Chikan mimics a saw, and on one tune, he does a mean imitation of a machine gun, even does some good licks with his tongue--his guitar skills are exceptionally interesting. He obviously loves performing and the crowd was an appreciative one this evening. Super Chikan ended practically every song exclaiming "somebody shoot that thing!" By the end of the evening, we were all repeating the phrase and having a ball. The club promises to bring him back soon and if you are looking for a good evening of blues, funk and just fun, look for Super Chikan.

by Dorothy L. Hill

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