Biscuit rises on the second day
After a first day at the King Biscuit Festival in Helena, Arkansas, when rock, rather than blues, dominated, day two brought some excellent blues acts, until an electrical storm drove us away without having seen Bobby Rush.
Sonny Burgess and the Pacers kicked things off on day one with some solid rockabilly with blues and R and B numbers included, such as Just A little Bit, Caldonia and Sweet Home Chicago. Drummer Bobby Crafford took the lead on Shake It Up And Go and there were good versions of Ronnie Hawkins' Odessa, Long Tall Sally, The House Is Rocking and Fulsom Prison Blues, before Sonny finished with Red Headed Woman, first recorded at Sun in 1956. There's only one stage in use on the festival's first day and the organisers tend to play it safe with heavy guitar sounds dominating. Eric Hughes, now a regular at the Rum Boogie Cafe in Memphis, proved to be effective but a little on the heavy side. Numbers included I'll Play The Blues For You and Drink Up, title track of his latest CD. Next up was festival regular Sterling Billingsley whose set tended towards the tried and tested, with Down Home Blues, Caldonia (again) and There's A Man Down There included. Billy Branch and the Sons Of The Blues brought a touch of genuine down home blues before the really heavy guitar started with Guitar Shorty who walked through the audience playing all the while. His numbers included The Blues Got The Best Of Me, I'm Gonna Leave You and Hey Joe. Some light relief followed with Jimmy Hall and Wet Willie. I saw both Guitar Shorty and Jimmy Hall at Porretta this year and Jimmy in particular exceeded expectations. He didn't disappoint this time either with the Doowop flavoured Street Corner Serenade, Gimme Some Kind Of Sign, Lonely, Love The One You're With, the New Orleans styled Too Tall To Mambo, Same Old Moon, Grits and Groceries and the Wet Willie hit Keep On Smiling. Not blues perhaps but enjoyable and probably the day's highlight. Finally it was back to heavy rock with not one but two slide guitarists on stage in the form of Roy Rogers and Sonny Landreth. A bit too much for me so I didn't see out the set.
The second day, with three stages in action, offered more choice and three stand out acts for me, none of them on the main stage. The first was Lonnie Shields, a dynamic home town singer with a good, if loud, band who mixed some heavy blues with soul in the form of Can I Change My Mnd, The Turnng Point and Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City. Lonnie spun around playing his guitar and got the crowd going with soulful interpretations of How Can You Mend A Broken Heart and The Thrill Is Gone. Enjoyable stuff.
Elsewhere Earnest Guitar Roy on the main stage sounded pretty good, Toronzo Cannon with his Flying V guitar, was loud, and Richard Rip Lee Pryor, playing solo, provided foot tapping blues, but it was Demetria Taylor, daughter of bluesman Eddie Taylor, who lit the fuse on the Front Porch Stage. A lively performer with a big voice, she was excellent on such up tempo numbers as Bad Girl, Trying To Make A Living, Miss May's Juke Joint, Going Back To Mississippi and Ernestina Leave My Man Alone. Other numbers included Hoochie Coochie Girl, Long Way From Home and Sweet Home Chicago. An excellent set, well received.
Demetria was followed on stage by a promising young bluesman named Marquis Knox while on the main stage festival regular Anson Funderburg was superb as ever, with quite a few New Orleans numbers such as Something You Got and Sick And Tired, and with Big Joe Meyer as guest vocalist. Finally, and as it turned out, the last act before the storm arrived, it was the turn of Nora Jean Bruso, a blues singer with more than a hint of Ko Ko Taylor about her, along with a touch of Etta James, who was a revelation. Originally from Greenwood, Ms, she moved to Chicago and has been around for many years, first recording with Jimmy Dawkins in 1985 but it was the first time I've seen her. This was an exciting, high quality set with a couple of numbers (Miss May's Juke Joint and Going Back To Mississippi) that Nora recorded which Demetria had covered earlier. Her highly enjoyable set included quite a few self penned numbers and she showed that she is as effective on slow numbers such as At Last as she is on solid up tempo blues songs such as Got A Man To Ramble and I'm Just A Fool For You and the gospel flavoured Let's Shout. She ended her set with I Can't Seem To Make The Right Moves and within minutes the rain was falling and the lightning was flashing, depriving us of Bobby Rush. But it was a pretty good day overall with much to enjoy.
Back in Clarksdale afterwards, having driven through some incredibly heavy rain with lightning all around, Dave and I went to Red's once again, where there was some excellent blues on offer from
Anthony 'Big A' Sherrod, enlivened by a bunch of characters who could have been the cast from a play set in the Deep South, including a skinny guy who shouted encouragement and posed during songs, a dude with a big hat who danced with the ladies and a huge guy who looked like Lenny from Of Mice And Men. Great entertainment.