” Let’s Spark Up! ” – One Spark Festival, Jacksonville, FL 4/9/14

Quick takes from One Spark 2014, Jacksonville, FL 4/9-10/14

RYVLS

Friday’s highlight band RYVLS at the Beer Village stage

The unlikely success of last year’s One Spark crowdfunding festival caught the sleepy River City by surprise, and this year’s festival drew a huge response from innovators and developers ( ” Creators ” in One Spark lingo ) who have lined the streets and parks of downtown Jax to compete for venture dollars. Thankfully, the event planners took pains to provide multiple stages and venues for local live music!

Wednesday highlight- Weekend Atlas

Weekend Atlas

Weekend Atlas– (l-r) Carter Hess, Michael Urbizu,  Kelly White, Mike Pruitt,  Brennan Hinck, Nick Garcia ( obscured- sorry, Nick, you were great! ) , and Jacob Casey

 

From the tiny fenced border of the Beer Garden, we caught a fine set from local Indie folk/ rockers Weekend Atlas in the first of their four shows at OneSpark . Drawing from influences the Head and the Heart and Mumford and Sons, the band- Nick Garcia – Guitar, Kelly White – Vocals, Brennan Hinck – Vocals/Guitar, Carter Hess – Trumpet, Michael Urbizu- Drums, Mike Pruitt- Keyboard, Jacob Casey- Bass–  knocked out a short, tight set in limited time before giving way to kindred spirits Northe. Look for the band on Friday at 5pm at  Cowork and  7pm at1904 Music Hall, as well as Saturday at 5 pm at the Landing and 7:30pm at the Omni Hotel. They are Project # 20439 so cast your vote!

Friday’s highlights

GCM

Grandpa’s Cough Medicine beneath the Skyway Express at Hemming Plaza: guitar, vocals- Brett Bass/ 5-string banjo- Mike “Banjo Boy” Coker/ upright bass, vocals- Jon Murphy

Hopping off the no-charge for the fest Skyway Express and walking into historic Hemming Plaza, we were greeted by the finest bluegrass band in these parts, Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, playing a spirited set between the Skyway pillars. GCM had been playing live on the great public radio WJCT throughout the day, and deserve great props for treating fans and new listeners to enticing tunes sure to bring folks downtown for the fest. Most artists play short sets at several venues around town, including the Main Stage at the Landing on the St. John’s River, where we later caught GCM in full swing!

Granpa's Cough Medicine

Grandpa’s Cough Medicine on the Landing’s Main Stage

Moving out of the Plaza along Laura Street, just past the wonderful Chamberlain’s book store and our finest Italian restaurant, La Cena, we ran up on a huge bottleneck around a small street stage with the band Third Kind laying down their jazz/funk dance tunes.

Third KindVery nice! Moving downhill toward the river, we caught a cool running set of ska/punk/reggae by Chieforia at the Landing. These guys would make a great Sunday afternoon on the water at Cap’s or River City!

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Chieforia on the Landing stage at One Spark

But once again, the hottest set of the night was found at the Beer Village in the tiny stage now facing northward as RYVLS cranked out fifteen minutes of original hard pop/rock tunes to a crowd of …well, almost no one!

RYVLS at One Spark

RYVLS rocks the Beer Garden stage! Props to Micah Davis, Jonathan Davis, Eric Gray, and Alan Reinmuth for a great set!

As shown by the GCM shots above, One Spark puts artists in varied venues, mostly unannounced to the public, and with no regard for how many visitors will be passing by at a given time. The challenge for any artist is to still ” play like you mean it “, regardless of the house, and RYVLS surely did. At times echoing diverse influences from Radiohead to Bowie, the band cranked out short catchy melodies powered by choppy, Vegematic-like rhythm guitar laced with blistering lead solos. Their spot on the Landing stage was two hours away, but you might have thought the pawnshop was going to repo their gear the way they finished out their set. Kudos to the band for keeping it real, and sorry to those who missed it!

Saturday night highlights- Universal Green

Despite epic lines to board the Skyway Express we were able to get to Hemming Plaza and head down Laura Street. We  quickly ran into a jumpin’ crowd outside the Landing for the Last To Leave Band playing party cover tunes.

Last to Leave Band

Last to Leave Band outside the Landing at One Spark

The main stage at the Landing featured a lovely set by Shawn Fisher and Jordyn Jackson, p/m/a Flagship Romance , playing what they call ” contemporary harmonic folk ” for an appreciative crowd. The Jax Beach couple have a compelling vocal blend, and have  aligned their musical career with the clean water cause via the organization charity: water.

Flagship Romance

Like the sign says!

And the evening found yet another great show at the Beer Village, local progressive hip-hop band Universal Green. Featuring an unusual line-up of horn, violin, rapper, and keys out front, the band played Rhythm and Blues-based tunes with rock guitar and reggae beats punctuated by the ska horn. Look for this band at the clubs!

Universal Green

Our favorite of Saturday night, Universal Green at the Beer Village

Perhaps the strongest performance was the ongoing spirit of grace, cooperation, and innovation that pervaded the venues, performers, creators, volunteers, and One Spark staffers. Kudos for a knockout event!

 

” Who’s Holdin’ ? ” – Springing the Blues 2014

Festival takes: Springing the Blues, Jacksonville Beach, FL April 4-6, 2014

Betty Fox on the Blues Lounge stage Saturday afternoon

Who’s holdin’ ? Betty Fox poses the question on the Blues Lounge stage Saturday afternoon.

The first weekend of April on the First Coast brings Florida’s largest free outdoor festival to the oceanfront stage in Jax Beach with Springing the Blues, three days, 45 hours, and 22 bands worth of live music. Check out this venue:

The main Seawalk Pavillion stage lit up in 2013.

The main Seawalk Pavillion stage lit up in 2013.

Saturday notes:

The surfers like to say that Locals Rule, and on Day Two of the fest, Jacksonville’s Corbitt Brothers and Tampa’s Betty Fox provided the highlights from the inland Blues Lounge stage near Jax Beach City Hall. STB books several bands to play sets not only on the main Seawalk Pavillion stage on the dunes a mere clam’s toss from the waves, but the tiny Blues Lounge a block inland, where you don’t need VIP access to walk right up and cheer the band, shake what your mama gave you, or chat up the artists between sets. The western stage also typically features local and lesser-known artists hoping for the exposure that might be a tipping point, as well as sponsor George’s Music’s Featured Artist chosen from tapes and auditions. A special treat this year was the Blues Brothers-bedecked Fletcher High School band, playing a jumpin’ set of brassy R and B under the stage name Uncle Johnny’s Blues Machine. Props to the STB for giving a spot to these young musicians in front of a spirited crowd!

The kids are alright! Fletcher High School band rocks the Blues Lounge stage!

The kids are alright! Fletcher High School band rocks the Blues Lounge stage!

When we saw the Grateful Dead-themed blanket on the artists’ merch table and the hippies setting up their gear, it could only mean that Jacksonville’s own Corbitt Brothers had won the Featured Artist award and would soon be blasting their unique brand of blues from the unconventional guitar/harp/sax/drums lineup. Newsome and Isaac Corbitt embrace their North Florida musical  heritage with Allmans jams, Skynyrd attitude, and straightforward blues philosophies cast in a Southern accent. Isaac’s mastery of the blues harp evokes Ricky Medlocke’s long intro to Blackfoot’s ” Train, Train “, and at times conjures Blues Traveler’s John Popper, but the younger sibling has his own style, moving easily from leads to rhythm to backing fills, such that the bass is not missed. Brother Newsome leads the band on guitar and vocals, with the material ranging from Johnny Cash’s ” Folsom Prison Blues ” to Skynyrd’s ” Ballad of Curtis Lowe “.

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Newsome and Isaac Corbitt take the blues down South!

With each song, the crowd at the tiny Blues Lounge stage grew larger, until the aisles were packed with standees and fans surrounded the sound booth. Several veterans and STB staffers insisted they’d never seen any band get that kind of response at the venue, prompting the hosts to promise that the Corbitt Brothers would play the main stage next year, after the crowd had insisted on a third encore from the boys!

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Newsome and Isaac squeezing out squawks on their own ” Chicken Pot Pie Blues “

While camped out on a blanket just outside VIP at the Main Stage enjoying a fine set from local blues rockers Woody and the Peckers, festival veteran Sweet Jane had tipped me off to get to the Blues Lounge by 3pm to see Betty Fox, who had wowed everyone in her Main Stage set earlier. While seeking a tad of shade at the Blues Lounge after the Corbitts,  a young woman passed by wearing an aqua sequined dress she’d been poured into, and I wondered if she’d been told to dress for a club. After all, it’s 85 F and we’re in Jax Beach, where many attendees opt for trunks or a bikini and sandals.  Silly me, that was Betty Fox! After graciously greeting fans and posing for photos, the sassy chanteuse took the stage to belt out song after song of club-style R and B, backed by a tight 3-piece band of Matt Walker on guitar, Barry Williams on bass, and Sam Farmer on drums that supported her incredible vocals without stepping on her lines.  Betty elegantly shifted volume and tempo, all the while charming the crowd with her engaging demeanor and chatter. Highlights of the set included her own ” Goodbye ” and ” Who’s Holdin’ ? ”

Foxy

Don’t get too close, boys, she’ll pin yer ears back!

As the rain clouds formed, we had to leave due to the only downside of STB; the Saturday night sets always conflict with the Final Four. For one night, March Madness trumps live blues!

Sunday notes

Though many in the crowd were drawn out by the closing Lee Boys, who were well known from last year’s fest and for opening at the Florida Theatre for the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, the highlights of the day were clearly the emerging talent of Mama Blue and the return from a 5-year exile of Eric Steckel.

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Mama Blue casts her spell from the Main Stage!

That big voice from Mama Blue evoked Billie Holiday, Etta James, and even Aretha as she rocked out classic blues and R and B, all the while chatting up the crowd and working the VIPs who staggered to the stage for a closer look. Her own ” Breakaway ” ( ” my divorce song… he liked it, though! ” ) and another original,  ” Leave the Light On For Me”, showcased her golden pipes and powerful delivery. Hopefully this showcase gig will open doors for Mama Blue; look for her in your town!

Mama Blue

Local fave Mama Blue reaches for more!

At the tender age of 11, Eric Steckel released his first CD, and a year later was being introduced by John Mayall at the Sarasota Blues Fest as the youngest guitarist to ever appear onstage with the Bluesbreakers ( whose alums include Clapton, Page, and Mick Taylor). His apparent influences include Stevie Ray, Hendrix, and Bonamassa, and his set included a lyrically shifted but thinly veiled riff on Jimi’s ” Let the Good Times Roll ” from ” Electric Ladyland “.

Eric Steckel

Eric Steckel shreds the blues

The set was breathtaking fast and hard rocking, with little patter between songs and lots of soloing by the agile Steckel. His flying fingers and rockstar moves quickly won over fans new and old, most of the latter recalling that he had blistered the Main Stage four straight years prior to the recent hiatus.

Steckel rocks STB

Doesn’t this look like fun?

Before ceding the stage to the Legendary JCs, Steckel brought down the house with a long closing solo that evoked Eddie Van Halen’s ” Eruption “, and showcased his quick-reacting band . While the blues reveres old hands and spirits, the next generation of players will be responsible for introducing the genre and carrying it forward. This grinning young man will be part of that!

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Yes, Eric, we’re amazed, too!

Many  thanks to the STB for another amazing lineup and smoothly run festival!– Nanker   ” Not Holdin’ ” Phledge

Ginger's Place

We told ya it was Jax Beach, not Palm Beach!

 

 

 

Tommy Emmanuel and Martin Taylor- Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, Ponte Vedra, FL 2/21/14

Tommy Emmanuel and Martin Taylor

Tommy Emmanuel and Martin Taylor

Concert Review- Tommy Emmanuel and Martin Taylor

The intrepid Mr. Phledge enters a House of God and Jazz on the same night !

While staking out a prime spot in the ” festival ” standing room at PVCH to see Tab Benoit last month, I ran into my guitar playing pal The Real JP and after exchanging the usual        ” who have you seen and who’s coming up ” greetings, he queried, ” Are you going to see Tommy Emmanuel ? “.  The name rang, but I knew nothing of the artist, much less his catalog, or even genre. But I knew JP, who had grown up in Loosiana and was schooled in the musical gumbo of the Crescent City, and had years ago burnished his musical cred with a Jazz Fest preview for me and Joe Bomb, turning us on to artists like Sonny Landreth, so his enthusiasm for Tommy gave me pause. Such that when he called this week and offered his tix due to a double calendar booking, I jumped on them in faith. Though not so much faith that I didn’t skip quickly across the threshold of the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, a converted Baptist church in the palms, hoping to avoid any residual lightning that might still strike heathens!

Tommy is a Chet Atkins protege/devotee from Australia who first heard the Columbus, GA, native while ” serving as the antennae “, holding a coat hanger wire while hanging out of his Dad’s car window  Down Under at age seven. Tommy knew immediately that the five-finger picking guitar sound, one that Atkins wondered ” why eveyrbody didn’t play that way “, was exactly what Tommy wanted to do. And has he ever!

Tommy's guitars, prior to the photo taking embargo, which we support. Good for you, Tommy!

Tommy’s guitars, prior to the photo taking embargo, which we support. Good for you, Tommy!

Perhaps in tribute to his ” buddy ” Martin, Tommy opened the show himself with a blizzard of acoustic shredding and his trademark showmanship, often mugging and hamming it up for the crowd as he effortlessly picked and strummed the Merle Travis-penned Tennessee Ford hit ” 16 Tons ” , the Doris Day chestnut ” Secret Love ” , and his own ” Lewis and Clark “. The highlight of Tommy’s opening set was the Beatles medley, with ” Here Comes The Sun “, ” Please Please Me “, ” Lady Madonna “, and ” Day Tripper ” worked into a seamless web ending in Mason Williams’ ” Classical Gas “, all played uptempo and flawlessly by the endearing Emmanuel, whose joy in his art and the moment were evident.

Throughout the show, Tommy played a Wilbur Harrison-style One-Man Band, less the drum kit, by percussive effects on his amplified Aussie-made Maton guitars. Striking the top, sides, and machine head of his axe with fingers, hands, and drummer’s brush, Tommy often mimicked a rhythm section of his own, at times venturing into a Dreaded Drum Solo on the miked Maton before heading back to the strings. His finger playing technique resembles that of a classical guitarist, but his stage presence and showmanship are that of a street busker. His animated gestures and facial expressions punctuated many breaks and chord changes, and his joyful, self-effacing demeanor was quite contagious.

Bringing on his longtime buddy, Martin Taylor, at the middle of the show instead of the          ” opening act ” was quite effective, as the crowd got a full dose of the headliner, followed in turn by the duo doing several tunes from their recent collaboration CD, ” The Colonel and the Governor “, then by Taylor’s fine solo set. His clean picking on jazz standards evoked his days as a sideman for Stephane Grappelli, where he claimed to ” keep Django Rhinehardt’s seat warm “. He took pains to credit songs and writers, noting that ” I’m a jazz guitarist, and people don’t know the songs. I sometimes get a request and say, ‘ I just played that’ ! ” The subsequent interplay and trading licks with Tommy gave another taste of their shared musical turf, before Tommy closed the show with several solo tunes and favorites from the Atkins catalog. Notably, Emmanuel took pains to credit another finger style player, Jerry Reed, who wrote several songs for Atkins and was one of only four people, including Emmanuel, to be named a Certified Guitar Player by Atkins.

The lucky souls who witnessed this great show were grinning like Cheshire cats as they poured out of the former chapel into the warm Florida night. Tommy stayed at the merch table greeting and charming fans to the very last: ” It’s only 262 miles to Sarasota… if you’re not busy come on down and see us tomorrow night! ”

Many thanks to The Real JP for hooking us up in the front row! Woohoo!

Many thanks to The Real JP for hooking us up in the front row! Woohoo!

Mr. Phledge will gladly accept front-row seats to future shows! – Ed.

Blues Year’s Eve– Gregg Allman with JJ Grey and Mofro- The Florida Theatre, Jacksonville, FL 12/31/13

Concert Review– Gregg Allman, with JJ Grey and Mofro– The Florida Theatre, Jacksonville, FL, 12/31/13

Gregg Allman and Band rock the Florida Theatre on New Years' 2013

Gregg Allman and Band rock the Florida Theatre on New Year’s 2013

” But I’m not gonna let ’em catch me, no; not gon’ let ’em catch the Midnight Rider “-
Gregg Allman, ” Midnight Rider ”

So who were those hellhounds on the trail of the Midnight Rider? The law? Jealous husband’s posse? Or could it have been Father Time, stalking even the most elusive of us, bearing down until every horse had fallen under our saddles, every step in flight had ground to a halt? Or could one bearded Pale Rider outrun even Time itself?

Back in the late 60s, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, the frontman for a Jacksonville based band, the Allman Joys, phoned his brother Duane to ask that he leave his rising career as a session guitarist in Muscle Shoals and L.A. and come east to start a new band. Based in Macon, GA, the Allman Brothers roared out of the South behind a two-drummer, twin lead guitar lineup playing a blues/rock hybrid that gave free rein to jammy solos and soulful vocals. Soon they headlined festivals, sold millions of records, and won fans worldwide, their career arc culminating in the 1970 release of one of the greatest live LPs ever, ” Live at the Fillmore East ” . Sadly, Brother Duane and bassist Berry Oakley died in motorcycle wrecks months apart within a few blocks of their beloved Big House headquarters and residence in Macon, and now rest peacefully in a lovely local cemetery.

Gregg shows off his guitar chops on an extended break from the keys

Gregg shows off his guitar chops on an extended break from the keys, alongside Scott Sharrard.

But the music lived on with new band members, surviving the departure of original lead  guitarist Dicky Betts and various personal triumphs and tragedies. And no one put more miles on the odometer than Gregg, with his confidante Scooter Herring puking on the band to the DEA, a head-spinning marriage to Cher Bono, tattoo-contracted Hepatitis,  and constant touring in the headwind  of musical trends from punk to disco to grunge threatening to  marginalize every genuine blues rocker into obscurity. But like the song says,  ” the road goes on forever.. and I’ve got one more silver dollar…”

Today the Allman Brothers Band features guitarists Derek Trucks ( whose uncle Butch is an original member on drums) and Warren Haynes, both named by Rolling Stone as among the 50 top axemen of all time ( both just announced this year as their last with the ABB – Ed.), and tours as a unit when Derek and wife Susan Tedeschi are not on the road with their Grammy-winning band, Haynes is on break from Government Mule, and Gregg is not touring with his own band. And as Father Time bore down on 2013 on Florida’s First Coast, the Midnight Rider took his act into the Florida Theatre before a hard-sellout crowd of ABB fans from three generations.

JJJ Grey and Mofro

JJJ Grey and Mofro serve up some home cookin’ to the locals!

The promoters could not have scored a better opener than local favorite JJ Grey and Mofro, who would ordinarily have been rocking the Freebird LIve, a Jax Beach venue owned by Ronnie Van Zandt’s widow Judy, during their annual 3-night New Year’s run that has become legend in these parts. JJ has stubbornly refused to follow any trends or commercial leads, instead hammering away at his very own blend of blues, soul, R and B, with a smattering of rock. JJ’s love for the swamps and backwaters of the undeveloped Florida woods pours out in his lyrics and music, especially tunes like ” Lochloosa “, which prompted an amazing singalong by the packed house. The number of fans who knew JJ’s material was staggering for a guy whose name is unknown nationally and never will have a ” hit “, much less care. His set was wildly received, and the humbly amiable frontman wore a shit-eating grin throughout, no doubt prompted by the show of love from the locals.

Grey led Mofro through a rousing set of favorites, including ” 99 Shades of Crazy “,” Country Ghetto”,  ” Brighter Days”,  ” Ybor City “, and a tribute and wave to his daughter in the house , ” The Sweetest Thing”. His stage banter and mid-song freestyling were alternatively poignant and hilarious, with down-home philosophizing on the beauty of Old Florida and the inanity of his childhood preference of a Big Mac over the native foods he loves today: ” I didn’t want no okra… I didn’t want no blackeyed peas… I didn’t want no Silver Queen corn fresh off the cob!” Grey’s unabashed sincerity and embrace of American roots music forms show his artistic integrity, and drive his steadfast fan loyalty and fellow musicians’ respect.

The extended ovation for Mofro was exceeded only by the roar when Gregg strode onstage, waved, and climbed behind the Hammond B3. Back off, Father Time!

Scott Sharrard steps into the limelight, effortlessly

Scott Sharrard steps into the limelight, effortlessly covering those Duane Allman and Dicky Betts solos the crowd came to hear.

With the opening lines of ” Statesboro Blues ” , the lead track from ” Live At the Fillmore East” rocking the house, the sellout crowd knew they were in the presence of Blues Rock Royalty. Following his solo ” I’m No Angel “,  Gregg chose heavily from the ABB catalog, with ” Ain’t Wastin’ Time”, ” Hot ‘Lanta “, ” Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ ” ,  ” Whipping Post “, and yes, ” Midnight Rider ” . Gregg stepped off the Hammond B3 stool to join Scott Sharrard on guitar for several tunes, including ” Melissa”, and Jackson Browne’s ” These Days “.  Despite the years and the mileage, his voice was amazingly strong, with no apparent loss of tone or range. To the delight of the crowd, Sharrard managed to wail unerringly through the well-known Skydog and Betts solos on the ABB standards, with the rhythm section and horns keeping pace.  The band closed with Sonny Boy Williamson’s    ” One Way Out “, another ABB war horse, and the celebration ended as the New Year began.

Father Time rounded up the hellhounds and waved goodnight, as the Baby New Year cried in vain for another encore. The Midnight Rider escaped again!

Were you at the rock show?

Were you at the rock show?

Our Florida correspondent Nanker Phledge sends special thanks to the Florida Theatre security for clearing out the pinheads who constantly stand in front of the stage shooting video on tiny cameras that will never be watched by anyone. Props to you!

Dash Rip Rock- Bradfordville Blues Club, Bradfordville, FL

Dash Rip Rock at the Bradford Blues Club 11/30/13

Dash Rip Rock at the Bradfordville Blues Club 11/30/13 ( l-r) Bill Davis, Kyle M., Patrick Johnson

 

Concert Short Takes-  Dash Rip Rock at the Bradfordville Blues Club

An unexpected drive-by from our friend Teri Jo out in the Florida hinterlands! – Ed.

Still going after all these years, hillbilly punk rock’n’roll band Dash Rip Rock stopped in at the historic Bradfordville Blues Club Saturday night and ripped a series of songs with hot guitar riffs and rocket-fast lyrics!  A good crowd of Dash fans piled into the historic Mississippi Blues Trail venue, enjoying ice-cold beer and great table service.  The first set was broadcast live over a local radio show, so frontman Bill Davis kept it cool with songs from their new album  ” Dash Does Shaver ” , cover songs from the Texas country-rocker Billy Joe Shaver.  Best of all, Dash’s long-time former drummer Kyle was back, blasting the drums and adding his wild sense of humor to the set.  Not to be outdone, new bassist  Patrick Johnson got into a running commentary act, in addition to some pretty hot bass licks.  Nothing like fast rock’n’roll covers of country heartbreak songs to get the crowd up and dancing!

The band threw some perennial sing-along tunes into the first set, including their classic “I Wanna Be Locked Inside a Liquor Store With You,” but saved the true Dash oldies for the non-broadcast second set:  “Bum Fuck Egypt,” “Let’s Go Smoke Some Pot,” and “Pussy-Whipped” brought out all the singalong drunks, but the band’s insertion of micro-riffs from “Sweet Home Alabama” [after Auburn’s wild win] and “Freebird” into their own songs brought the house down.  Dash still has it going on, and continues to be a hard-driving and bitterly funny act.  Amazing that they’re still playing small clubs after all these years. Won’t somebody take them big-time???? Keep it going, Dash!!!

” Duality of the Southern Thing “- MUSCLE SHOALS documentary

” MUSCLE SHOALS ” directed by Greg ” Freddy ” Camalier

muscle shoals” Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers, and they’ve been known to pick a song or two…” — Ronnie Van Zant/ Ed King/ Gary Rossington; Lynyrd Skynyrd- ” Sweet Home Alabama”

The Swampers at Muscle Shoals Sound

The Swampers at Muscle Shoals Sound

Just south of the Alabama/Tennessee border, about 26 miles from Mike Cooley’s  ” Zip  City “, runs a stretch of the Tennessee River where the rocks seem to make the waters sing. Native Americans believed that a woman sang to them from beneath the waves. When extraordinarily rendered to Muscogee, Oklahoma, many grieved for the loss of the songs in the water, and at least one woman trudged by foot for five years to return to Muscle Shoals.

Years later, world-class musicians would heed that siren song and make their pilgramage  to this tiny corner of North Alabama ” to record that sweet soul music, that Muscle Shoals sound ” ( Patterson Hood, DBT: ” Ronnie and Neil” ) at Rick Hall’s FAME studio, and later at Muscle Shoals Sound with Swamper/Producer/guitarist Jimmy Johnson and his cohorts bassist David Hood and drummer Roger Hawkins.

Rick Hall and Clarence Carter at FAME studios

Rick Hall and Clarence Carter at FAME studios

The amazing story of how these country white boys partnered with artists of all genres- from Clarence Carter to the Rolling Stones– to make great music is the heart of the film, but it is the personal grief and glory revealed in interviews ( brilliantly edited to answers only ) that make the story so compelling. We hear driven, hard-boiled Rick Hall recounting his brother’s horrific farmyard death, his mother’s abandonment, and his father’s clawing the soil with his nails as he was crushed under his tractor. We hear Jimmy Johnson reveal that while recording the first demo of ” Free Bird ” for then-unknown Lynyrd Skynyrd, they returned from lunch to hear the ethereal piano solo now memorialized in the song being played by then-roadie Billy Powell, who had feared that the band wouldn’t like the fact that he was a classically trained pianist. Jimmy Johnson tells of ” the beginning of Southern Rock “, when Duane Allman sold Wilson Pickett on the crazy notion of covering the Beatles’ ” Hey Jude “, and Rick Hall candidly admits completely whiffing on Duane’s prediction of the popularity of the genre. And brother Gregg tells of dropping off a bottle of Coricidin and a copy of Taj Mahal’s first LP at ailing Duane’s house, and having Duane call him hours later, loudly playing ” Statesboro Blues ” with the emptied Coricidin bottle as a slide.

Gregg Allman in MUSCLE SHOALS

Gregg Allman in MUSCLE SHOALS

Surely, the presence of willing interviewees Mick, Keith, Winwood, Aretha, and Bono will draw many to this fine film, but it is the personal vignettes, and the attempt to answer why  so much great music came out of this backwater town, that will burn the memory of this film into our cranial hard drives. Why then? Why there?  Great soul artists like Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, and Percy Sledge testify to the color-blind harmony in Muscle Shoals, even while Alabama Governor George Wallace was standing in the doorways of schools to keep out black children.This contradiction, so powerful that record companies would call Rick Hall to get ” that soul band of black guys ” from his studio , was part of what David Hood’s son Patterson would later call the ” duality of the Southern Thing “, wherein barely schooled poor white country boys would back up soul, R and B, and even reggae artists like Jimmy Cliff, by becoming that artist’s band for the time of the session. In one of the film’s many poignant moments, Clarence Carter notes that perhaps the success of blacks and whites working side by side  in Muscle Shoals was demonstrative evidence to the public that peaceful coexistence was not only possible, but a path to great art.

Roger Hawkins in MUSCLE SHOALS

Roger Hawkins in MUSCLE SHOALS

” Meanwhile in North Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd comes to town to record with Jimmy Johnson, that Muscle Shoals Sound, and they met some real fine people, not no racist piece of shit, and they wrote a song about it, and that song became a hit..”– Patterson Hood, DBT: ” Ronnie and Neil “

With a tip of the hat to SNL’s Leonard Pinth-Garnell ( Dan Akroyd), your humble correspondent, Nanker Phledge.

” Sunshine of Your Blues “- Florida Blues and Music Fest

Festival takes– Florida Blues and Music Festival, Sarasota Fairgrounds, Sarasota, FL 10/26/13

Samantha Fish rocks Sarasota!

Samantha Fish rocks Sarasota!

” In Sarasota as a child my grandparents lived next door.. to the surviving Wallendas and their amazing wild stories..” – Patterson Hood, DBT: ” The Flying Wallendas “

” Way, way down in Florida.. where the sun shine damn near ev’ry day ..” – Muddy Waters

John Ringling built this town on circus money, and despite its snooty side, the place still digs a good live show, with musical Wallendas walking the wire without a net. Blues fans from all over the Southeast, some of whom were freshly off the Legendary Blues Cruise just like Samantha Fish, packed the Fairgrounds for a gorgeous Gulf Coast day of sunshine, craft beers, and outstanding local and national blues acts. While most were drawn by the well-known Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, organizers and promoters were well served by showcasing local notables in the opening act, and revealing breaking stars in the run-up to KWSB’s rousing finale.

Local veterans Big T and the Tornadoes welcomed the early arrivals with an upbeat set of blues rock, with an alternating cast of local female blues singers. This produced some interesting tandems, and gave needed exposure to artists who rarely see an audience of several thousand blues fans.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd - Sarasota, FL 10/26/13

Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Sarasota, FL 10/26/13

The Fairgrounds were filling up when Samantha Fish began tuning and sound checking, and fans quickly hustled to their spots to catch this rising blues star from Kansas City. First noticed in the Girls With Guitars project with Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde, Samantha has managed to grow gracefully, wisely choosing veteran blues man Mike Zito to produce her new CD, Black Wind Howlin’. Her Sarasota set included several cuts from this fine release, including ” Go To Hell “, ” Sucker Born “, ” Foolin’ Me ” , and a searing version of the title track. Perhaps playing to the crowd of aging boomers, Samantha closed with the Black Sabbath classic ” War Pigs “, released years before Ms. Fish was born. A credible version, passionately rendered, brought the Thurston Howell-ites to their feet and a huge grin from Samantha as she confidently strode offstage in triumph. Having seen Grace Potter close a show at Red Rocks this summer with the same 40-year-old cover, it begs the question? Who turned these nice girls onto Black Sabbath?

Honestly, sweetheart, there's a time delay on the shutter and she turned around and...

Honestly, sweetheart, there’s a time delay on the shutter and she turned around and…

The old show biz saw speaks of the ” tough act to follow” , and after Samantha, it was tough to get worked up over Big Chubby and the later Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, and one would hopefully be forgiven for taking their sets as an opportunity to sample the local craft IPAs and great barbecue. And in fairness to those fine artists, the distractions of the local scenery may have lead even your faithful correspondent to miss their well-received  sets, although there may have been some slow grinding on the dance field  to Chubby’s surprisingly effective cover of ” Hallelujah “. And since we’re begging questions, what is it about Leonard Cohen that makes women melt?

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band

When he hit the national scene years ago, at about the same time as Jonny Lang, Chris Duarte, and some other Next Big Things, Kenny Wayne Shepherd was thought to be the most talented guitarist of the bunch, but not a compelling vocalist. Problem solved! KSW hooked up with singer Noah Hunt in 1998 and the rest, as they say, is history. Kenny’s affinity and confidence in Noah is evident onstage, and with a stellar band of Chris Layton on drums, Tony Franklin on bass, and Riley Osbourn on keys, Kenny is free to simply shred, which he did, to the crowd’s delight. A thoroughly professional and tight set was capped by early favorite ” Blue On Black “, with the chorus sung by many longtime fans. Kenny then announced that this was the point where most bands would ” go offstage and act like they’re not coming back” for an encore, but decried this practice as depriving fans of time to hear the band, stating that they’d just stay onstage and play as long as time permitted. Hoorah! And tear it up they did, closing with a phenomenal version of Hendrix’s  ” Voodoo Child ” from the seminal Electric Ladyland album, which is still the acid test of  any electric blues guitarist’s chops. Kenny effortlessly delivered the finest version of this chestnut I’ve heard since Stevie Ray Vaughan some thirty years ago, whipping the aging crowd ( many of whom were rockin’ Hendrix t-shirts ) into last-gasp frenzy.

Samantha and band suffer fools gladly in the merch tent after their set.

Samantha and band suffer fools gladly in the merch tent after their set.

The seemingly ubiquitous Mr. Phledge would like to thank his Probation Officer for permitting him to attend this event.

” That way, down Highway 61…” — Americana Music Festival 2013

Bottle Rockets and our own Harry Gebippe !

Bottle Rockets and our own Harry Gebippe !

Our roving correspondent Harry Gebippe made the drive down the legendary Highway 61 to Clarksdale, then on to Nashville for the annual showcase event for Americana music. We’ve assembled his epistles for your perusal!

Memphis in the meantime

Written September 16, 2013 9:33pm

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Gebippe at the Rum Boogie Cafe. That huge neon from the original Stax studio was rescued from the garbage!

After an exhausting 500-mile trek through MN, Iowa and Missouri, we pulled into Troy, MO, for the night for the evening.  Troy is about 50 miles north of St. Louis & that seemed like a logical place to rest, rather push on through the St. Louis metropolitan traffic.  After a forgettable meal from the local Mexican restaurant – where everything from the salsa, enchilada sauce, and burrito topping tasted exactly the same – we called it a night.
We rose fairly early, taking advantage of the complimentary breakfast bar (such as it was) and got on the road.  There seemed to be a traffic delays between here and Memphis, but we managed to make good time and arrived at the hotel before 3:00.  The hotel had arranged for an “accessible” room for us, for which we we were grateful.  The gray clouds that had shadowed us most of the day parted, and we were greeted with warm, late afternoon sunshine.

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Looking down Beale Street toward BB’s place.

After a nap, Jinx assembled the wheelchair that we brought along for the trip.  This was a “dry run,” as Jinx gamely pushed me the half-dozen or so blocks from the hotel to the Beale Street tourist trap.  We stopped and ate at the Rum Boogie Cafe (pictured top), which was pretty much the most sedate I’ve ever seen the scene in several trips to the town.  But, what could you expect on a Monday night?
For now, we’re relaxing and enjoying the ambiance of the River Town for another full day, before pushing onto Nashville on Wed.  More from Memphis tomorrow.

Clarksdale, MS

Written September 17, 2013 6:41pm

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You can’t visit Memphis without going to the Stax Museum! Check out Isaac Hayes’ Caddy inside!

One of the more storied highways ever written or sung about is the famous Highway 61.  Dylan’s epic “Highway 61 Revisited” and the legendary “Crossroads” of the junction of Highways 61 and 49, where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, are just two examples of how this epic thoroughfare has capture the minds and hearts of dreamers and visionaries throughout the ages’
Stretching from the Canadian border all the way through the Blues Highway to the Gulf of Mexico, Highway 61 is monumental in its scope and rich in its history.  Jinx and I have made it a point to travel the length and breadth of Highway 61, albeit in several forays, in a number of separate adventures, over a period of days, often separated by a period of many months before undertaking the next road trip.  But, somehow, we missed out on the 72 miles between Memphis and Clarksdale, MS, to make the whole transcontinental journey complete.  That was one of our goals for this trip: to fill in the missing gap.
Once you get beyond the trash-strewn ditches and depressing boarded-up shops of South Memphis, the countryside around Northern Alabama opens up in warm and beckoning manner.  Fields of ripe cotton and corn grow right up to the edge of the highway.  A huge Harrah’s casino takes up several miles of development along Highway 61, all of which is kept neat and trim for the “guests” who will soon be separated from their hard-earned cash.
The trip to Clarksdale is only about an hour long.  We opted for lunch at the Ground Zero Blues Club, which has to be the most graffiti bedecked bar I’ve ever seen.  Even the inside of the lamp shades are chock full of mementoes of when so-and-so where there.  I confess that when Jinx and I were there a year or so ago, we left our “calling card” there (before we veered off East across Northern Alabama; hence the missing 72 miles from Memphis to Clarksdale).
Clarksdale is a depressing town, in a lot of ways, but we did discover that it has the cheapest gas ($3.09/gal) and what appears to be the cheapest cigs ($3.24/pack) of any of the Southern.  We pumped the tank full, but passed on the cigs.  I’ve got my own troubles to deal with without adding nicotine to the mix, thank you!
Tomorrow, we’re leaving Memphis for Nashville and what promises to be a ratcheting up of the activity level.  Let’s hope my stamina holds up for it!  In the meantime, here’s the only photo we took today, outside the Stax Museum where we picked a couple trinkets.  Enjoy!

Music City, USA

Written September 20, 2013 1:00pm

Rodney Crowell shamelessly chums up influential blogger! 🙂

A couple of apologies, to start with.  First, apologies to my friends from below the Mason-Dixon line, to referring to the territory just South of Tennessee as “Northern Alabama.”  Of course, we meant to wax rhapsodic about the beautiful Northern Mississippi countryside.  And I apologize for the lateness of this post.  The damn Sheraton wants to charge us $14.95 PER DAY for daily internet access – can you imagine??  So, instead, we have, to ferret out the lone free internet access outpost, in the lounge, to send out our posts (short of packing up and looking for a free internet cafe in the vicinity).  We’ll try to better!
We had a great time at the Americana Honors and Awards program on Wednesday night at the historic Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville.  Rodney Crowell stopped by for a photo ( above!) prior to the show and before winning two awards, Album of the Year, and Duo/Group of the year (both of which were for his collaboration with Emmylou Harris).
The awards presenters were as eclectic as the nominees – including award winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, and actor/bluegrass fan Ed Helms.  The house band provided stellar accompaniment all evening long (Don Was on bass; Buddy Miller, guitar; Larry Campbell on multiple instruments; the McCrary Sisters on backup vocals; and rounding the house band were Marco Giovino (drums), John  Deaderick (guitars), and Jim Hoke (keys).

Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson

Highlights of the evening’s individual performances were too numerous to mention but included “North Side Gal” by JD McPherson, “Jericho” by John Fullbright, “Birmingham” by Shovels and Rope, and a reunion of sorts between Stephen Stills and Richie Furay performing their 1967 Buffalo Springfield hit “For What It’s Worth”.   And how about Old Crow Medicine Show name checking local legend Spider John Koerner?   Cool.

Guitar legend Duane Eddy

Guitar legend Duane Eddy

Speaking of legends, there were tributes to Hank Williams, and living legends twang-meister Duane Eddy, and longtime Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.  Hunter even performed “Ripple” for the first time publicly in ten years.

Robert Hunter, in a rare public appearance.

Robert Hunter, in a rare public appearance.

All in all, a series of memorable performances by a group of dedicated artists, both veteran and newcomer.  We left The Ryman too tired to continue on with the evening’s showcase events at the various locations for the remainder of the evening.  We’ll save the next post for a special review of one such showcase from Friday’s highlights – that is, as soon as we get to a free internet coffee bar!

Dr. John, the Night Tripper

Dr. John, the Night Tripper

Old Friends; Musicshowcase Sept. 19, 2013

Written September 26, 2013 4:55pm

Billy Bragg and Roseanne Cash

Billy Bragg and Roseanne Cash

Forget the internet connectivity issues of last week.  Forget even the unique problems when Apple rolled out its new IOS 7.0 (or whatthehellever it’s called) at the same time as we were experiencing internet-from-hell week.  We’re going to roll back the clock a week to make up for some lost time and missed opportunities, starting with the Thursday night Showcase, September 19th.
Oh, sure, there were plenty of acts to see all around town, at the 6 venues hosting the official Americana Showcase events, but really there was only ONE place to be on this warm Thursday night; the accurately-named-but-hardly-descriptive music bar known as “3rd and Lindsley.”  Clearly, the marketing folks didn’t work up a sweat dreaming the bar’s moniker.  No matter; by a hour before show time, practically every seat in the house was taken.  Jinx lamented to a sympathetic security guard that it looked like we’d by forced to take a cab back to our hotel, when the security guard promptly escorted us to the front of the stage, where we were directed to seating tucked stage left.  The guard even found a chair for Jinx!  Sometimes, it pays to be wheel-chairbound.
And what the big attraction for this night?  Well, it was the whole  evening line-up, starting with Rosanne Cash, then Billy Bragg, followed by Richard Thompson, next The Wood Brothers, culminating with the show-closing set by the The Steep Canyon Rangers (who just completed a sold-out tour with Steve Martin and Edie Brickell).  Whew!  Our stamina (OK, MY stamina!) would only allow us to review the first three acts, but that was more than enough for an evening’s worth of entertainment.

John Leventhal and Roseanne Cash

John Leventhal and Roseanne Cash

Rosanne Cash’s was a treat, debuting her forthcoming 2014 album in its entirety (save the set-closer, “Seven Year Ache”).  Led by Cash’s husband, John Levanthal on guitar and vocals, and featuring some fine accompaniment by David Mansfield on mandolin and fiddle, the new songs were engaging and enthusiastically received by the crowd.  We can’t wait for the January release date!

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

I have seen Billy Bragg (pictured at top in a duet with Rosanne Cash) several times, but I can’t recall seeing him with a band before.  Frankly, the band added nothing beyond fleshing out the sound of the players on the stage, and there no jaw-dropping solos from any of the band members that would cause one to sit up and take notice.  Competent ensemble playing, but nothing special.  Perhaps that’s due, in part, to Billy’s choice of songs on his latest CD, “Tooth & Nail,” featured prominently in his set list.  The low-key, subdued arrangements on that album focused primarily on guitar and vocals, less on other instrumentation.  Perhaps Billy could benefited from a wider ranging set list, including old favorites like “Sexuality” and “A New England.”

Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson

On the other hand, I HAVE seen Richard Thompson, both solo and with various bands, and he has never failed to impress.  Fresh from his Americanarama tour with Dylan, Wilco and My Morning Jacket, Thompson was solo for his set, with Slobhan Maher Kennedy on background vocals on 3-4 selections from Thompson’s 2013 release, “Electric.”  Unlike Billy Bragg, however, Thompson spiced it up with selections from his deep catalogue of old favorites, including “Valerie” and the ever-popular “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.”  Throughout it all, Thompson dazzled with his fretwork on his acoustic 12-string Gibson.            Even with two more acts to follow, we were too exhausted to stay up any later.  Fortunately, there were still more showcase events to catch up on in the coming days.  Stay tuned!

Lone Star Music Magazine Party, September 20

September 29, 2013 6:52pm

    One of the best finds of the day was stumbling into a great little eatery called Taqueria del Sol, in a nondescript neighborhood of southwest Nashville.  While we perused the menu, the owner of the establishment greeted us with his Google glasses (how trendy can one BE?) and made some recommendations for first-time diners, like us.  We went with the corn and shrimp chowder, the brisket taco, and “one of the 100 dishes you must try before you die,” (according to Garden and Gun magazine – I SWEAR that’s the magazine’s title!), spicy turnip greens!  Maybe it was just the fact that we’d had such shitty food ever since leaving the Twin Cities – or maybe my taste buds have been so ravaged by chemo – but this was the best meal we’d ever had before or since.  Jinx had guacamole & chips to complete the meal.  Great food, cheap eats – and take my word for it: the zesty turnip greens spiced with onions, chopped peppers and onions were TO DIE FOR!
Why mess with success?  We went back for lunch the next day, only substituting chips and salsa for the chips and guac.  Wish we’d had a series of Taqueria del Sols that we could have followed all the way home!
Today’s entertainment option of choice was the “No Borders Twang Banging’ Happy Hour,” sponsored by Lone Star Music Magazine and hosted by a local record store, Groove Records.  Although the highlights of the Americana Musical Festival are the evening showcases held at the established 6 or 7 venues through Nashville, there scads of other special events hosted by various music publications, record labels, etc., from which to choose.  Free beer, free entertainment – sign me up!
We stayed for a couple sets, one by the up and coming Amanda Shires, and one by one of our all time favorites, the Bottle Rockets (pictured with yours truly, after the end of their set).  The comely Ms. Shires plays fiddle and 4-string guitar (?) and sing.  Her new album was just released recently, and, in fact, she had her Twin Cities’ debut less than a month ago.  Her sound is an eclectic mix of bluegrass, country and gentle rock.

Amanda Shires

Amanda Shires

Her career has gotten an unexpected boost lately, due to her recent marriage to rising alt-country star Jason Isbell.  Together, they form one of the newest Nashville power couples. Shires’ set was pleasant, but not compelling.

Bottle Rockets

Bottle Rockets

The Bottle Rockets, by contrast, played a self-assured 45-minute all-request set, plus a couple of unreleased tunes.  Drawing from their 20-year history, the Bottle Rockets treated long time fans to a rousing, crowd-pleasing set of old faves.  Chalk that up to the difference between Amanda Shires’ need to promote her new release, versus the Bottle Rockets deep catalog from which to draw on.

Chief Bottle Rocket Brian Henneman

Chief Bottle Rocket Brian Henneman

We closed out the evening’s entertainment by stopping the Cannery Ballroom for an evening billed as the New West Records 15th Anniversary Party.  Alas, by weaning off the steroids (which I’ve SINCE gone back on, in part), I was too pooped to pay much attention to any of the bands, and we headed back to the hotel early.  Seems strange to apologize for “only” checking out 5 bands on one day, but that’s the way it is during the Americana Music Festival, where the party’s never over and the music never stops!

Out of Her Mind — Cassie Taylor – Crystola Roadhouse, Crystola, CO 8/19/13

Cassie at Crystola 8/19/13

Cassie at Crystola 8/19/13 with guitarist Steve Mignano and whatshisname on drums. Hey, if you’re not named on the web page, you’re not really in the band, are ya?

” We’re goin’ to the Roadhouse gonna have a real…good time! ” – The Doors-                        ” Roadhouse Blues”

When you’re the daughter of  famous Chicago bluesman Otis Taylor, but raised around many genres of music, it’s good to keep in mind that ” they all come from the blues “, as Cassie pointed out on Saturday night to a crowd of aging whitebread patrons perhaps unfamiliar with the genealogy of her g-g-generation’s hip-hop and rap. So when she spliced Trent Reznor’s  ” Closer to God ”  together with the Etta James blues chestnut ” I Just Wanna Make Love to You “, hopefully many saw the connection. That is,  if they could get over the shock of the pretty young big-haired woman singing ” I wanna fuck you like an animal “. Not that it bothered me!

So it is with the style-shifting Ms. Taylor, who glides easily between pop ( ” Satisfy My Soul”, from the Girls With Guitars project with Samantha Fish and Dani Wilde), R and B    ( ” Leavin’ Chicago”),  rock ( “Out of My Mind “),  brassy funk ( ” New Orleans”), and slow  blues ( ” Lay My Head On Your Pillow” ). Her edgy stage persona ( ” if you know her father, you know where she gets it “, according to promoter Amy Whitesell) contrasts sharply with her runway model looks ( she has her own designer label)  and ordinarily soothing voice. But those sweet expressions and dulcet tones can turn to snarling growls in a heartbeat, so watch your ass!

Cassie solos on keys!

Cassie solos on keys!

Otis told Cassie to learn songwriting, ” because it’s the only way to make money in this business”, she says, and her set at Crystola featured precious few covers, save the Nine Inch Nails/Etta James mashup noted above. The songs on her fine new CD, ” Out of My Mind ” ( Yellow Dog Records), reflect her hard work to overcome childhood dyslexia and craft narratives reflecting her own perspective and influences. Not surprisingly, given the pride that she shared in her parents’ long-term marriage on her last visit to the Springs area ( check the archives!), themes of marriage ( ” No Ring Blues”, ” Again” ) and family     ( ” Lay My Head On Your Pillow” ) recur throughout. While the CD was cut at Boulder’s Immersive Studios, sassy Cassie has recently tied the knot and relocated to Kansas City with her beau, whose own devotion is chronicled in the liner notes: ” Dedicated to My Man, who sold his car to make the album “. Talk about givin’ it up!

So it all made sense  when Cassie lead in to ” Forgiveness” by asking the crowd, ” how many of you have parents?”, and hearing little reply,  taunted, ” so the rest of you were raised by wolves.. Howlin’ Wolves” ! See, it really does all get back to the blues.

Mr. Phledge regrets that journalistic integrity compelled reporting the profane lyric verbatim–  Editors.

Strong Persuader– Robert Cray- Arvada Center, Denver, CO 8/21/13

Awakening from an assisted slumber, our own Nanker Phledge checks in from a typically High Altitude!

Robert Cray Band rocks Arvada 8/21/13   Photo by Jenny-- thanks!

Robert Cray Band rocks Arvada 8/21/13                                                                                          (l-r) Les Falconer, Robert Cray, Richard Cousins  
Photo by Jenny– thanks!

With last year’s ” Nothing But Love ” making several year-end ” Best ” lists, Robert Cray once again stunned loyal fans with fresh takes on blues themes and styles. Yet for most casual fans, Cray remains the cliched ” he’s much better in concert ” artist who made his name as a guitarist on the 80s’ releases of ” Strong Persuader” and ” Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”, when every track seemed to be steeped in hidden rendezvous and dark infidelity. His famed tours with Eric Clapton and duets with BB King and the late (unrelated) Albert King burnished his stringslinging rep, but if you take a  trained musician to his shows they’ll rave about his voice, with its graceful upper register and scat-like phrasing.

That's no smoking gun, it's Robert's guitar!

That’s no smoking gun, it’s Robert’s guitar!

Backed by longtime cohorts Jim Pugh on keyboards and Richard Cousins on bass, as well as stalwart drummer Les Falconer, the RCB took the stage at the Arvada Center just as a mountain rain was gently caressing the uncovered patrons in the terraced Hippie Seating. Freely mixing old favorites like ” Strong Persuader” and ” The Road Down ” with material from the ” Nothing But Love ” CD, Cray was relaxed and affable, in sharp contrast to the early days when Young Bobby seemed so angry he’d fight with a fencepost if it looked at him wrong ( thank you, James McMurtry). Highlights included a smooth cover of the Walter Vinson/ Lonnie Chatmon classic ” Sittin’ On Top of the World “, with several humorous asides and expressions that amplified the ” she’s gone, but I don’ worry ” theme of the great Mississippi Sheiks’  tune ( revived by  Cream  on ” Wheels of Fire” ). Cray’s voice was strong and clear, and his choppy chording and clean picking on various Fenders reaffirmed his unique, easily recognizable style. He remains one of a handful of axemen– Carlos Santana and Mark Knopfler come to mind– whose chops can be identified by even untrained ears ( who, me?).

Robert Cray Band (l-r) Les Claypool, Robert Cray, Richard Cousins, Jim Pugh

Robert Cray Band (l-r) Les Falconer, Robert Cray, Richard Cousins, Jim Pugh

The set built to a crescendo with the newer stuff: the gentle ” Sadder Days”, the R and B-flavored ” I’ll Always Remember You ” , the graceful, lilting ” A Memo “, and the slow burning Economic Downturn anthem ” I’m Done Cryin’ “, with Cray squeezing out the lyrics from a place of deep pain, and the crowd eerily quiet during the tense ” I’m still a man ” choruses. With a wave to the roaring crowd, and a giggly wish for the lawn patrons to ” dry out soon”, Cray strode offstage and into the Rocky Mountain night. He’s gone, but I don’ worry. I’m sittin’ on top of the world. At least for one night!