Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Final day at Crescent City Festival, plus photos

We are back from our epic US trip at last and I will be posting photos of some of the great musicians we saw during our three weeks there over the next few days.
Starring on the final day of the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival was the irrepressible Bobby Rush, now just a month away from his 84th birthday. His act was as energetic and amusing as ever, with his usual array of bluesy. bawdy material, plus a couple of numbers from his recent Porcupine Meat album. With him was Mizz Lowe (pictured below), looking fine as ever, plus a new lady dancer. Even though I've seen his act many times, Bobby remains a true delight.
Bobby was presented with a portrait before his set.
Earlier in the day The New Soul Finders featured some numbers by Marilyn Barbarin, who made some now collectable New Orleans style records in the 1960s.
I expected rather more from gospel trio the Como Mamas than they delivered.
Little Freddie King, however, is always reliable.
Starting a recording career rather late in life, here is Robert Finley, a man with a soulful voice, who was impressive on numbers such as It's Too Late To Tell You I Love You and Is It Possible To Love Two People At The Same Time?
Here are some more pictures from the first two days of the BBQ Festival. This is Luther Kent with Trick Bag.
Also on the first evening, this is Deacon John.
Kicking off the second day, this is King Edward, who I've seen before at Hal and Mal's in Jackson.
Next up. here is Louis 'Gearshifter' Youngblood.
Samantha Fish looked good but was rather rock orientated.
Here is a young guitarist with a funky sound, A J Ghent.
John Mooney provided some solid New Orleans sounds.
I was impressed by young bluesman Grady Champion and look forward to seeing him again.
Headlining on day two, and producing a polished set, here is Robert Cray.
Saturday night at the Ace Hotel featured a great set by New Orleans resident Nikki Hill.
On my final day in New Orleans I had the pleasure of having lunch with Ira Padnos, aka Dr Ike, and his wife Shmuela at a great little restaurant called Sammy's. It was great to meet him properly and hear about the trials and tribulations of putting on the Ponderosa Stomp over the years. It really is a fantastic festival and it was such a shame that the Mayor's hurricane curfew wiped out the second evening. Among the stars who didn't get to perform were Ray Gaines, Carla and Vaneese Thomas, Frankie Miller and James Hand, but the afternoon shows at the Ace Hotel were very much appreciated. Ira is taking a well deserved rest for a while but I sure do hope that the Stomp continues in the future. He alerted us to a final show at the Ace Hotel on Monday evening featuring yet another of Michael Hurtt's bands, The Night Howlers. They put on a splendid show featuring rock and roll and swamp pop material. What a trip it has been. So many great memories. More pix to come.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival 1

After the excitement of Baton Rouge we returned to New Orleans and checked out some music landmarks, including the tomb of Ernie K-Doe and Earl King, the Dewdrop Inn and Fats Domino's house, now seemingly empty. The evening entertainment was provided by Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Bluesrunners at the Rock & Bowl. A competent band enjoyed by the Cajun dancers. Next day was the first of the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival, with two long standing local bands playing. Luther Kent and Trick Bag had a six piece horn section and Luther's strong voice was good on some Bobby Bland and BB King numbers, a New Orleans medley and the ubiquitous (on this trip) Let's Straighten It Out. Deacon John's Jump Blues had an old style feel, with Deacon John conducting, in between singing and playing guitar. He had a good female singer called Lady T with him who was great on Clean Up Woman, but the set was mostly jump blues and standards. We had heard that Guitar Slim Jr was playing at the Mother In Law Lounge so went along. It wasn't the case, as a lady called Natasha was having a birthday party. We were invited in and made welcome and had a drink while Dave chatted to a fellow Gooner who was there. The bar is now owned by Kermit Ruffins and all references to former owner Ernie K-Doe inside have gone, although the murals outside remain. Later we caught Little Freddie King at Siberia. He looked smart as ever and finished every number by saying 'Thank you very much.  Thank you.' Hypnotic and quite effective.
The first full day of the festival was mixed, with headliner Robert Cray in fine form, oozing class throughout. Numbers included old favourites such as Strong Persuader and Smoking Gun, and some newer numbers, including one having a dig at Trump. I also enjoyed Grady Champion, a dynamic showman with a hint of Howling Wolf in his voice. He included Smokestack Lightning, plus South Side Of Town, Do Something and Baby Don't You Panic. He had something of the preacher about him and is good to watch. Of the others, King Edward was fine on his Mississippi blues, Louis 'Gearshifter' Youngblood was pretty soulful, Samantha Fish looked cool in her hot pants and dark glasses but was a bit too rock orientated, A J Ghent proved to be a young funkster with attitude, and John Mooney, with sousaphone accompaniment, provided some acceptable New Orleans music. After the fest, we caught what proved to be the best set of the day, that of Nikki Hill at the Ace Hotel. We had to wait for 90 minutes while a DJ twiddled with his knobs and had a few beers. It was worth the wait. Nikki is a sassy and classy singer and really rocked through her own numbers like Strutting, and classics such as I Know, The Girl Can't Help It, Sweet Little Rock and Roller and New Orleans, finishing with Twisting The Night Away. Great stuff and very enjoyable. We got wet on the way back and also a little pissed as Ronnie insisted on a final drink.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Juke joints in Baton Rouge

Wednesday in Baton Rouge proved to be a day to remember for all the right reasons. We looked around for a breakfast place, eventually settling for Twin Peaks which, we discovered, has the same dress policy for its young nubile staff as Hooters. Rather non PC but easy on the eye, and the food was good too. We set off in the morning to look for Slim Harpo's grave and called in at a little museum in Port Allen for directions. There's a juke joint there that's been moved from somewhere else and which isn't up and running yet, although local bluesman Kenny Neal has played there. The directions led us to the marker for Slim Harpo, a couple of miles out of town, but not the grave and we spent a fruitless hour looking for it before discovering that it was in a cemetery close to the marker.
On the way back into town we chanced on a place called Neal's Juke Joint on Plank Street and checked it out. As we suspected, it's owned by Kenny Neal and his family and, what's more, found out that there was live music in the evening. After a Lebanese meal in St Francisville we stopped off first at Teddy's Juke Joint in Zachary which I went to once before. There was no live music but Teddy  Johnson is an affable guy with a smile on his face all the time. He welcomed us like old friends, played some Slim Harpo and BB King from his disco stool, hidden behind dozens of stuffed toys, and chatted to us, even refilling a pitcher of beer unasked and gratis. The place is full of teddies, car licence plates and Christmas lights and is well worth a visit. But it was virtually empty apart from us.
From there we moved on to Neal's Juke Joint and what a night that turned out to be. As juke joints go this is definitely the real thing, a bar for locals which plays the blues. Kenny Neal is away touring in Europe but the band who played was great. It included Leroy Touussaint, a great nephew of Allan, who could sing (his Release Me was fantastic), play keyboards and bass guitar. The lead guitarist was Samuel Hogan, son of the great Silas Hogan, and the main keyboard player Brandon Adams was fantastic. He plays with just his left hand, but what a player he is. After a break April 'Sexy Red' Jackson came on stage. She was great on Trapped By This Thing Called Love, Happiness and Tonight Is The Night and the audience, which included some exuberant ladies celebrating a birthday and the principal of the local school, dressed in best shirt and tie and braces, really got into it. Leroy returned to the microphone and was excellent on songs like Mel Waiters' Got My Whisky, before calling Tyree Neal, latest bluesman in the Neal clan, to the stage. He gave fabulous renditions of Candy Licker and Let's Straighten It Out and played guitar and harmonica as well.
The welcome we got, as the only white people in the house, was tremendous and we were turning away free drinks in the end. This is a fairly new club, but it's as authentic as any blues club I've been to. An outstanding night and there was no way we were leaving before the end.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The music continues in Jackson

The Stomp may be over but the music has continued for the most part. After foolishly staying at the hotel to watch a disappointing England game we went to the Ace Hotel for the gospel brunch and caught a great set by the Mighty Rocks of Harmony, a nine piece group immaculately dressed in lilac three piece suits and brown and white shoes. After a trip to Domino and Euclid for some records and a decent meal on Bourbon Strert we went to One Eyed Jacks. The support group Redondo Beat featured two go go dancers but were otherwise quite boring, but the Royal Pendletons, featuring Michael Hurtt, were excellent. As well as some garage type numbers they included blues classics such as Lonely Lonely Nights and Toussaint McCall's Nothing Takes The Place Of You. Deke Dickerson guested on one number.
Next day we headed up to Mississippi, stopping off at Hazlehurst where Robert Johnson was born. There's a small museum there and I bought some interesting promo 45s from an antique shop. We met up with Noah in Farish Street, Jackson, and went for a coffee. He's on his way to Richmond and then Detroit, but no doubt we will be catching him in the UK again soon. In the  evening we made a return visit to the Blue Monday blues jam at Hal and Mal's. Dorothy Moore was there celebrating her birthday but unfortunately didn't sing. There were plenty of others who did, however, backed by an excellent guitarist called Lonnie George plus band. These including Abdul Rasheed, Pat Brown, who hosted the evening, a good bluesman called Fred T, several female singers, including Patricia Thomas and a busty lady called Sheila, a soul man called Denis who was good on a couple of Johnny Taylor numbers, and Percy, dressed in a sparkly jacket, who was excellent on a couple of Al Green songs. Finally Pat and Denis duetted on Since I Fell For You and Daddy's Home.
The following day started well with breakfast at an IHOP where the chatty waitress reminded us of Mrs Overall. We drove through Port Gibson and Fayette looking at blues markers and arrived in Natchez. David Dreyer at the local AfricanAmerican museum gave us a fascinating tour and talk about the racial history and black literature of the area and we took a look at more markers, including one for the Ealey family overlooking the river. Things started to go downhill from there. We drove to Baton Rouge and had great trouble finding where the hotels were located. Then we went to a bar where Henry Gray was supposed to be playing only to find that he was unwell. To top it all we found that a tyre on the rental car had been damaged by a pot hole. We will need to sort that out in the morning before we can continue our road trip. Never mind. The evening meal and beers were good, even without music.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Hurricanes hardly happen, and the Stomp continues

It turned out to be the hurricane that never was. Nate moved to the east of New Orleans and caused no problems in the city. But by then it was too late, as the Mayor had ordered a curfew, meaning that the second night of the Ponderosa Stomp couldn't go ahead. It wasn't all bad news though as Dr Ike, the man who has master minded all 13 Stomps to date, managed to arrange some sets at the Ace Hotel. And very good they were too, as the small room they took place in was a lot more intimate than the Orpheum Theatre where the first night's show was held.
Guitar Lightnng Lee, performing for the first time in a year after illness, began proceedings with some blues, before Los Straitjackets set the room alight with some stunning instrumentals, including Space Misquito and Itchy Chicken. They were joined on stage by various vocalists for Hanky Panky, Cruel To Be Kind and, Tom 'Spongebob' Kenny, for Ooh Poo Pah Doo. Next up were the Stomping Riff Raffs , a young Japanese band comprising an energetic male singer and three female instrumentalists. They were great fun on a succession of high energy two minute numbers. Rockabilly man Johnny Knight came next, looking dapper with shiny black hair and matching moustache, who was very good on Rock and Roll Guitar, Snake Shake and What Happened Last Night. He was backed by Deke Dickerson, which helped of course.
The most popular act with the crowd came next, a garage band from Portland called the Mummies, who dressed the part. They were terrible:tuneless, loud and extremely basic. Unadulterated rubbish, but what do I know? The crowd loved them. The room quickly cleared once they finished and I was able to get to the front for a short set by Evie Sands, a left handed guitarist and a singer who showed that she is still on top of her game. She included a couple of numbers made famous by other artists (her fate throughout her career), I Can't Let Go and Take Me For Little While. Excellent stuff,but the best act was the last one of the day, Gary US Bonds, backed by Los Straitjackets. He started appropriately enough with New Orleans, continued with I Wanna Holler, a song he said he had sung only four times in 50 years, and ended with his anthem A Quarter To Three. Gary is a joy to watch - very funny as well as a decent singer - and his set was just great, if inevitably short.
We had to leave the hotel soon after this to comply with the curfew and it's a real shame that some of the other acts who were scheduled to appear didn't do so, including Roy Gaines and Vaneese and Carla Thomas, who were in the hotel at the time. The Mayor has a lot to answer for, making his premature and, in the end, totally unnecessary order, for no doubt political reasons. But a good day all the same. We stocked up on beer and sandwiches for an evening in expecting the hurricane, but it didn't materialise.


Saturday, October 07, 2017

Ponderosa Stomp blows up a storm

Hurricane Nate has blown away the second evening of the Ponderosa Stomp as there is a 6pm curfew today. But there's been much to enjoy so far. The first two days featured conference sessions on a variety of topics, all of which were of interest. The first day included a session on music in Bourbon Street in the 60s, with Gorge Porter Jr, and this was followed by a discussion of gospel label Rosemont with Al Taylor, Andrew Jackson and James Williams. There were some amusing memories of South Rampart Street by Deacon John, who gave vivid descriptions of the tailors, pawn shops and bars, and a really interesting session on Mary Jane Hooper, a soul singer who recorded with Allan Toussaint and Eddie Bo. Soul man Winfield Parker from Baltimore reminisced about his records and touring with Little Richard, while Willie West recalled his early days in Louisiana as a member of the Sharks and his swamp pop/soul career including a spell as vocalist with the Meters - an interview moderated by John Broven. Maggie Lewis joined husband Alton Warwick and members of swamp pop group the Riff Raffs in a discussion on Ram Records of Shreveport, while the day finished with the Ragin' Cajun Doug Kershaw.
Day two's interviews began with a John Broven interview with Sam Montelbano, the man behind the Montel and Michele labels, and there was an emotional session about Norton Records and co-founder  Billy Miller with his partner Miriam Linna, Deke Dickerson and Michael Hurtt. Other sessions included Evie Sands, a singer who missed out when other acts such as the Hollies and Merralee Rush covered her songs, a great life story of Reggie Young, a man whose brilliant guitar work can be heard on dozens of soul Revords, introduced by Red Kelly, the life of Keep A Knockin' drummer Charles Connor, amusing memories of Rufus Thomas by his daughters Carla and Vaneese, and a hilarious session with Gary US Bonds.
The first evening's live music, and as it turned out the only one, was terrific. After some blues from Billy Boy Arnold, there was some swamp pop from T K Hulin, who was good on I Got Loaded and Say Girl, and G G Shinn, who was a little dull I thought. Warren Storm then did a couple of numbers, including Lonely Lonely Nights and Prisoners Song. The next four acts were all excellent. Willie West got into gear with The Greatest Love and Don't Be Ashamed To Cry. Winfield Parker, dressed in sparkly jacket and gold shoes, danced around the stage and was excellent on SOS, Rocking In The Barnyard and They Call Me Mr Clean. There was more dancing from Archie Bell on hits such as Gonna Be A Showdown and Tighten Up and a song called Strategy. The best was yet to come with the Gulf Coast soul queen Barbara Lynn on Got A Good Thing Going, Don't Be Cruel, You'll Lose A Good Thing, Sugar Coated Love and a duet with Evie Sands. Roy Head, now recovered from illness, was as wild as ever on Treat Her Right, Just A Little Bit and My Babe. And Doug Kershaw was superb, and equally wild, on Diggy Diggy Do, Louisiana Man, Cajun Joe and others. Overall a great night of obscure music. Long may the Stomp survive. And two fingers to Nate. Dr Ike is arranging some additional day time shows so all is not lost.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Blues and more in Mississippi

We drove north out of Monroe, crossing part of Arkansas, and entering Mississippi at Greenville. A couple of years ago we searched for the blues marker for Jimmy Reed without success. This time we had another go and eventually found it. We continued on to Clarksdale, our base for three nights. There's a new bar in town called Levons where the Blues Doctors were playing and where we had a beer and later a meal. That evening we went to Red's to see Lucious Spiller. He's a fine guitarist but seemed to be playing for the tourists as he had a varied set, only part of which was blues.
Next day we toured around looking for more blues markers and found one for Junior Parker in Bobo and for Robert Nighthawk in Friars Point. There's also a marker there for Conway Twitty, whose parents ran a bar at nearby Moon Lake. We also found a marker for the Jelly Roll Kings at Lula. All these little towns are semi derelict as the population has left. In the evening we went to Cleveland for a free concert in tribute to John Lee Hooker by three fine young bluesmen, Marquise Knox, Jontavius Willis and Kingfish Ingram. They were note perfect on Hooker songs such as Dimples, I'm In The Mood, Boogie Chillen, Crawling King Snake and Boom Boom, and were joined on stage by Hooker's daughter Zakiya, who sang One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer. Delta blues looks to be safe in their hands.
On Tuesday we visited some more markers, for Hooker himself in Vance and Sunnyland Slim in Lambert. We also made a return visit to Tutwiler, where W C Handy encountered the blues, and paid our respects to Sonny Boy Williamson at his grave. There are plans for a blues auditorium in Tutwiler. I wonder if it will ever see the light of day.
Things are looking up, however, in nearby Cleveland, where only the second Grammy Museum, after the one in Los Angeles, opened last year. It's an impressive place, with lots of interactive exhibits, but it seems to be trying to cover rather too much musical history in rather a superficial way. The John Lee Hooker exhibit which is currently there is good though. Connected to the museum are a series of concerts in the Bologna Performing Arts Centre in Cleveland. We were lucky enough to catch a concert by the great Aaron Neville, a man whose voice never fails to send shivers down my spine. Backed by just a pianist, he sang upwards of 30 songs, ranging from the Drifters to Leonard Cohen, Nat King Cole, blues and gospel, even a touch of Bob Marley. The highlights, though, were the songs that really showed Aaron's exquisite voice to its fullest extent, including Ave Maria, Danny Boy, The Grand Tour, Louisiana 1927 (a real standout), Yellow Moon and, to end, Tell It Like It Is. Aaron has one of the most beautiful voices on the planet and on this evidence it is still very much intact.