I loves me dem blooz!
This last Saturday I drove out to the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival. I missed last year’s show (I was at a convention) but I caught the great 2011 event as loyal Journal readers will attest.
The Blues Stage started out with a bang — or should I have said blast, as in harmonica blast. Three great harp players took the stage in the Delta Grove Harp Blast: Al Blake, Mitch Kashmar (pictured above) and Big Pete (pictured below). Delta Groove is a blues label to whom most of the acts at this show are signed.
There were surprises all weekend. A big one was the appearance of the lead singer/harp player extraordinaire for The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Kim Wilson!
Years ago I caught a surprise appearance by Kim at one of my favorite clubs, Antone’s in Austin, Texas. I saw Kim get up on stage to sing and play harp with the Texas music legend Doug Sahm (aka Sir Douglas, as in the Sir Douglas Quintet). The man is a great harp player and an incredible showman. Lucky for us, Kim kept popping up on stage throughout the day to lend a musical hand to the proceedings.
That’s Kim on stage giving support to Australian blueser Kara Grainger.
Ms. Grainger ably performed the second set of the afternoon, showcasing her powerful blues-drenched vocals and guitar work. She had great back-up in the form of Mike Finnigan, Jimi Hendrix‘s keyboard player on “Rainy Day, Dream Away” and “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” (from Electric Ladyland).
Blues great James Harman took the stage by storm and charmed the audience with his wryly humorous observations on life in between numbers. He was joined on stage by Nathan James (more on Nathan tomorrow).
The duo of Andy T and Nick Nixon followed James Harman. Beautiful set, full of soul! They were joined on stage by the incredible blues guitarist Anson Funderburgh and… Kim Wilson!
Sugar Ray & The Bluetones were up next. They provided me with one of my most pleasant surprises of the weekend, the incredible guitar work of Monster Mike Welch (his righteous moniker bequeathed to him by Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd). Mike’s playing reminded me of my favorite white blues guitar player, the incomparable Peter Green, founder of Fleetwood Mac. I got to chat with Mike later and discovered that he and Peter shared two big influences: Otis Rush and B.B. King. I showed Mike a copy of Legends of the Blues.
“Holy cow! You’re the guy who did this? I bought this book yesterday — it’s great!!”
As you can guess, we’re now fans of each other (Mike is also a big comics fan). Mike’s playing is powerful, ballsy and, yet, elegant. He really makes his instrument sing with enormous class and taste. He recognizes the importance of knowing when not to play.
I wish I could say the same for the band’s keyboard player who apparently yielded to an urgent need to fill every available musical space with his incessant hammering on the piano keys. He really drove me crazy with his intrusiveness, plus, he was turned up so loud that everything he played distorted, giving the band a murky, muddy (not in the good Delta way) sound. Sorry to be so critical, but I was ready to shoot the guy. He fooled most of the audience, though (too much booze, perhaps, to be discerning?).
The final set was a tribute to Finis Tasby, who was listening at home to the show on his radio, as he had recently suffered a stroke. Finis is the lead singer for The Mannish Boys.
Kid Anderson, an amazing blues guitarist from Norway (and the lead guitarist for Rick Estrin & the Nightcats), was joined by the legendary Elvin Bishop (you non-blues fans know his pop hit “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”), one of the original lead guitarists (along with Mike Bloomfield) in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Kim Wilson did a fine job filling in for the late and sorely missed Mr. Butterfield, as did Rick Estrin (see photo below).
Elvin was in great spirits — in fact, I’ve never seen him happier.
The food was great, too. The food tents offered all sorts of appropriate food: Cajun food (including alligator and crawdads), BBQ, corn-on-the-cob cooked in its husk, and plenty of beer, daiquiris and margueritas to wash things down. My wife and I shared a great grilled hot link sandwich and a flavorful andouille sausage sandwich, plus some homemade peach cobbler and a blackberry cobbler.
All in all, it was a great day. And, I could still look forward to even more on Sunday!