Ernie Johnson's Blues Bash
Guest contributor Noah Schaffer reports on what sounds like a great show at R.L.’s Blues Palace II, Dallas, TX.
The recent deaths of B.B. King and Bobby “Blue” Bland didn’t just mean the conclusion of their storied careers. It also meant the end of two of the last touring blues big bands.
Thankfully soul-blues belter Ernie Johnson is keeping the flame alive with his Ernie Johnson Show, a 9-piece orchestra that frequently performs around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.
Johnson’s discography dips back to 1968’s 'Lovin' You' and includes Southern soul hits on Jewel and Malaco in the 90’s. For his birthday Johnson puts on an annual show at R.L.’s Blues Palace, which surely ranks as one of the greatest juke joints in the United States. Owner R.L. Griffin, who also has several rare 45s to his credit, hosts local and national blues and Southern soul talent every Friday through Sunday night. The club is especially known for its late-night Hen Call, where the band breaks into a Bo Diddley beat while ladies of all sizes climb on stage to shake their booty.
The venue’s fine house band was given the night off so the Ernie Johnson Show could be showcased all night. The band started off with an instrumental before 25-year bandleader and guitarist Sam Honey was showcased.
Next up was a raunchy set from Lady Lotion, whose own booty shaking didn’t overshadow the fact that she’s a singer of great depth and emotion. During a short break a DJ entertained the full house with a set of popular line dance tunes and current Southern soul hits like Pokey Bear’s “Sidepiece.” (Pokey Bear will surely fill the Blues Palace when he sings there next month.)
Soon it was showtime, with the birthday boy taking the stage for originals like the pleading “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” A tribute to his friend Bobby “Blue” Bland followed, featuring cameos from soul luminaries in the audience who included Vernon Garrett, Rue Davis and, most emotionally, an ailing Big Charles Young, who passed away a few weeks later.
Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” found Johnson roaming the audience before he returned to originals with the title track of his “I’m the One You Need” LP and the masterpiece 'Loves on the Other Line.' The night ended with Johnson’s two trademarks: the upbeat anthem “It’s Party Time” and his oft-requested version of Otis Redding's 'Dreams to Remember'. Johnson’s next high-profile appearance will be as part of the spectacular lineup on offer at Austin’s East Side Kings Festival on Sept. 11.