BROTHERHOOD

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Joan Osborne & The Holmes Brothers; Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, January 2011

 

I came upon the Holmes Brothers following the release of their cd, State of Grace.  Since then I’ve had the good fortune to meet Sherman and Wendell Holmes and Popsy Dixon.  The more I found out about these three elder statesmen of the music scene made me wonder why I hadn’t stumbled upon them before.  Truth be told, I’ve heard their music many times over the years but never made that connection to these three southern gentlemen.

More amazing and a testament to their talent is the fact that their last several releases have all been so strong and had so much mass appeal.  Their work on Rounder Records beginning in 1989 garnered a lot of attention from folks in the music industry but when the group signed to Alligator in 2001, the band seemed to hit a stride that began with the critically acclaimed Speaking in Tongues, included Simple Truths, then State of Grace.  Both Simple Truths and State of Grace reached the Billboard charts and the top five of the Blues Album chart.  State of Grace would garner the band the Soul Blues Album of The Year.  Pretty good for a couple of brothers who formed their first band in 1963, 50 years ago.

Sherman plays bass, Wendell holds down guitar and piano and Popsy is on drums.  They’re a vocal triple threat and share the songwriting.  Their sense of roots and gospel inspired blues, soul and country ground their plaintive vocals while their musicianship is high caliber, if understated at times.  It’s all about the song and the simple truths they sing about that bring a kind of universal appeal to their music. Their latest release, Brotherhood, continues with the same southern sense of soul and blues that is their trademark.

The biggest appeal of this release is the slice of life songwriting that hits a chord with me, and probably will with a lot of you out there.  These are the songs that will have you singing along in short order when you remember that time when…  We’ve all had those moments and events in our lives and this cd seems to sing about the changes and the people in our lives up close and personal.  The cd begins with the uptempo “Stayed At The Party (Just a Little Too Long)” and while celebrates isn’t the right word, it acknowledges with affection the party animal in us all.  They bring the three part harmonies up front for the next cut “I Gave Up All I Had” and in the spirit of being a musician with years spent on the road, share that experience with “Passing Through.”

Next up is some old fashioned rock and roll with that big fat sax sound, gritty blues and then some sweet soul.  Another highlight is the repentant tale of the former womanizer proclaiming to his woman, “My Word Is My Bond.”  “Drivin’ In The Drivin’ Rain” is reminiscent of vintage Al Green; and then the brothers break into the kind of 60’s soul that used to fill our radios and summers when we were just kids, “My Kind Of Girl.”

“Darkest Hour” goes exactly where you think it would, walking straight into that smoky gin mill with the ratty pool tables and questionable clientele.  The power of the Holmes Brothers though, has always been their uplifting spirit and the joy of life they share with their audience.  Nowhere is that more evident when they proclaim that when everyone else fails you, they’ll be the “Last Man Standing.”  The closing number, a live performance staple for the Holmes Brothers, is a nearly eight minute version of “Amazing Grace.”  The song receives a tender and emotional treatment, truly reflecting what’s in the heart and provides a powerful closing to a wonderful cd.

My childhood was filled with early country and bluegrass growing up on the reservation and then classic soul and R&B when my family moved to the city when I was just a kid.  Hearing all the elements of those sweet sounds from my youth on one cd makes this one of my top ten cds for the year.

~Daryll Davis

McWells: Central Florida Blues Institution

mcwells restaurant

A long time Orlando institution, McWell’s, closed suddenly at the end of September following some equipment problems and a dispute with the building owner.  The McCarthy family, Sue and Gary (parents); Ryan, Toni and Andy owned and operated the bar and restaurant for the past nine years.  The alignment of the planets being what they are at the time prevented McWell’s from hosting a finale kind of show, stealing away an opportunity for many of us to say goodbye.

The bar would become a blues institution following the McCarthy’s partnering with Zaida Zoller and her ZShowz Productions.  The ZShowz mission is bringing top-notch entertainment in a small venue setting to Central Florida.  McWell’s provided that opportunity for national touring blues and americiana music in a small intimate setting, up-close-and-personal.  The ability to attend a great concert where the artist is only a few feet away made for memorable shows and artist and audience interaction that came to be the McWell’s homespun hallmark.

So how did this mom and pop establishment come to be so near and dear to our hearts?  I believe the reasons were Sue, Gary, Ryan, Toni, Andy, and a bunch of other fine folks we would all get to know; Jennifer and Dave Watkins, Brian Valance, Rachel Krantz, Lenore “Lala” Webb, Ivi Vilar, and a couple of other nice folks known to a lot of you, Jae and Bing Futch.  These people were the roots of the McWell’s Family that would continue to grow over the years to include you and me.

Toni told me, “You were only a stranger once,” and the friendly atmosphere was what made this place so popular.  So popular in fact, that when different situations arose, without asking, customers stepped up and participated.  Remember the night the water main broke and when the restaurant had to be closed due to the flooding, it was the customers who stood up and helped mop the place up?  When the kitchen was busy, there were customers known to get up and help with the food service!

And while the blues nuts across central Florida came to be a part of the McWell’s Family, there were other groups who also became regular fixtures.  The Orlando area Parrotheads called McWell’s home for the past several years.  The place was also known to cater to the firemen in the area.  Not only were dinners and luncheons hosted on behalf of the Orlando Fire Department, McWell’s accepted the call from time to time and opened at 8AM so the midnight shift could have someplace to relax after work and enjoy a hearty meal and enjoy happy hour; even it was only 8:30 in the morning.  There was also Jhon Builes’ Simon Sez trivia shows, and Bing Futch hosted a Dulcimerpalooza or two.

Toni and the family raved about several shows and performers over the years.  A lot of that had to do with the relationships with the artists being hosted that night.  When asked about the performers that stood out, Toni said three names in quick succession:  E.G. Kight, Grady Champion, and J.P. Soars.  Many of you know these folks too but Toni said they went out of their way to be respectful not only of her and her family, but also of the staff on duty; took the time to talk to them on a personal level; and found their own place in the McWell’s Family.

There were many other notable shows that would go on to be truly memorable evenings.  Mem Shannon wowing the house with his humorous repertoire; any of the rowdy Nouveaux Honkies performances; and fan favorite and IBC champ, Selwyn Birchwood.  And we can’t leave out the Chubby Carrier OBBS Christmas show a few years back!  Who didn’t get up and dance that night!?  I remember somebody asking then OBBS President Jerry Waller, “is every blues show like this?”  To which Jerry calmly replied, “That’s the plan!”

As it stands now, the McCarthy clan is not finished.  The McWells Family lives on and for now, the family is taking a much welcomed vacation from the bar business.  A chapter may have closed in the blues pantheon that is the central Florida blues scene, but the family is optimistic and excited about what the future holds for them.

Daytona Blues Festival 2013: The Report from the Bleachers

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The 2013 Daytona Blues Festival seemed like all the years before this lead up to this killer three day weekend at Jackie Robinson Stadium.  The weather was beautiful with warm afternoons and cool evenings; and the line-up included seasoned veterans and young and up and coming acts that were first timers in Daytona.  The mix of acts ranged from country blues to swing to gritty soul and blues, gospel and rockabilly.  Each of the three days stood on their own with six acts each scheduled from 1PM until 10:30 every night.  You could not go wrong if you could only attend one day this weekend but the beauty of it went far beyond the three days of sun and blues.

To get the whole swinging weekend going, there was a pre-festival party hosted by Damon Fowler on Thursday night that went on to include performances by Daytona stalwart Victor Wainwright and Nick Black.  Then Bryan Redmond and Grand Marquis from Kansas City took the stage and they brought up our own Betty Lou Fox for a couple of songs.  Victor and the Wild Roots close out the evening at 1AM and we’re ready for Friday afternoon!

Early on Friday afternoon Betty Lou Fox opens up the festival and the light crowd does not mean Betty holds back.  The next act on the bill is Harper and Midwest Kind.  This Australian transplant currently hailing from Detroit is familiar to some of us on the blues festival circuit in Florida but what isn’t well known is that he’s famous for performing with an aboriginal instrument called the didgeridoo.  His harp playing was top notch but breaking out the ultra bass of this massive horn colored his blues in new and interesting ways.

Carolina boy Matt Hill and The Deep Fryed 2 brought their sense of tortured rebel blues and country honk for a raucous show.  This band’s work is reminiscent of Dave Alvin and the Blasters and their social commentary, and Matt is equally adept at writing riffs and hooks.  He always believes in taking the show to the audience and his guitar playing stroll included reaching the uppermost reaches of the stands in Jackie Robinson stadium.

Also notable for a return stint as Daytona Blues Fest MC is Dar Lopez from WKPX in Miami, the home of Sunday Blues with Dar since 1993!  The ever charming Dar is celebrating her 20 year anniversary hosting a nationally broadcasted show that is consistently recognized in south Florida as one of the best listener supported radio programs.  Just ask anybody with the South Florida Blues Society about their herculean support and efforts to keep Dar on the air.  For those of you not in south Florida and able to tune into 88.5 FM on Sundays, Dar’s show is also available at www.blueatheart.com.

There’s a short break and the line-up takes a sophisticated turn with Grand Marquis taking the stage.  These boys in the sharkskin suits featuring trumpet and sax lead the audience through that Kansas City swing to depression era blues.  Nice uptempo show that had the now growing crowd dancing.  Next up is one of the more journeyman acts in the blues, The Nighthawks.  They know what works and bring their tight fretwork to a boil.  The sun was just starting to go down and the band really lit up the band shell with a seasoned performance.

Tonight’s headliner is Tommy Castro and the Painkillers.  About a year ago, Tommy parted ways with his band of nearly 20 years that included a full horn section and keyboards in favor of band with only a bass player, Hammond B-3 and drums.  The result is Tommy tightening up the act to largely feature him on guitar and vocal with a blues rock sound that really worked up the crowd.  Tommy’s got this blues party kind of attitude and it was infectious as the band got everyone on their feet.  To cap the night off, Tommy brings up his partner from the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue, Ronnie Baker Brooks and the guitar duel is on!

The festival shifted gears from there as we all headed back over to the Bahama Breeze on International Speedway, the official host for the festival after parties all weekend.  The outside veranda surrounding the restaurant served nicely to accommodate everyone and there was even a gazebo that served as a makeshift band shell.  The hosts tonight are the Grand Marquis and after a couple of numbers, they brought Betty Lou Fox up for a series of songs that got everyone dancing again.  And if she wasn’t on vocals, Betty joined the party-goers down front for some hip-shakin’ fun.  To everyone’s delight, especially Betty’s, Ronnie Baker Brooks takes over on guitar for a few numbers!

The band takes five and the stage is taken over by Victor Wainwright and the Wild Roots with Tommy Castro on guitar!  Boogie woogie numbers dominate and it was obvious that the band was having a good time.  Nick Black took over as front man and the party wrapped up at nearly 1:30AM.  Whew!  The after parties are the shiznit!

Saturday is going to be more fun than we can all stand because today’s line-up includes eight microbreweries bringing their ice cold craft brews to the thirsty crowd.  Early on the crowd seemed light but as the day wore on, more and more folks showed up and there looked like a capacity crowd was in the house by dinner time.  Thankfully, for those of us who dared to stay up the previous night, the day started out with some traditional acoustic blues courtesy of Canadian Darren Johnson.  Darren’s a return performer to Daytona and one of the nicest guys on the blues circuit.  It’s a little disarming to talk to the guy before the show and then hear him up on stage use a voice like Howlin’ Wolf and his personal hero, Leon Redbone.

Next up is singer-songwriter Hadden Sayers and his band.  This Texan may have looked kind of unassuming and had a laid back style but him and the band have a level of sophistication that was subtle and unexpected and each member of the band was a master of his instrument.  Seeing his bass player, Mark Frye break out a flute at one point was a nice touch.  Hadden also performed his Handy Award nominee blues song of the year, Back To The Blues from his cd, Hard Dollar.

Another surprise for this Saturday afternoon was an appearance by renowned radio DJ Bill Wax!  Bill works for the Blues Foundation now and it was nice to hear his voice that was so familiar to us on Sirius XM radio.

E.G. Kight, the Georgia Songbird, brought a band with her and after seeing her a couple of times focus on her vocal and guitar work, this time the band was allowed to work out and she was unexpectedly in a rowdy mood.  Nice uptempo performance from a blues artist known for her acoustic shows.

The night would go on to be one party band after another from here on out.  Nashville resident blues icon Stacy Mitchhart has a unique take on double entendres and funky grooves that worked up the crowd as the sun set.  Another seasoned performer, he knew how to keep the crowd dancing and was good with a joke or story in-between the songs.  An all-around performer who did not disappoint.

The party really switched into high gear when Biscuit Miller and The Mix took the stage.  With a mix of soul and blues and funk, I could not believe how many people were up and dancing during this band’s performance.  Can somebody say, “Yeah, yeah, YEAH!”  By the time he got to the James Brown medley that ended the show, everybody in the stands was on their feet.

Not to be outdone, the headliner this night is Ronnie Baker Brooks!   There’s a guy on Hammond B-3, a four piece horn section, and a whole lot of soul-infected blues rock with Ronnie playing his trademark stinging leads.  He can bring the low down blues his father, Lonnie, played in the early blues days back in Houston; and the blues funk he learned in Chicago from the masters.

[I did not make the after-party this night.]

After two and a half days of heavy blues partying, we looking forward to an easy Sunday afternoon with Alexis P. Suter.  Her booming voice reminded me of Mahalia Jackson but the gospel number she started with soon brought out the rowdy rockin’ blues with a thundering rhythm section and scorching lead licks.   This band hailing from Brooklyn, New York featuring Jimmy Bennett on that guitar just refused to let the crowd have that hazy lazy Sunday afternoon and began a day that would be one long blues party.

Too Slim and The Taildraggers were not about to let up.  The blend of country honk and blues and southern rock teased the sun to see who would be hotter this afternoon.  Slim and the boys haven’t been to the east coast much but they’ve recently relocated to Nashville from the Pacific Northwest and we’re looking forward to these good ol’ boys bringing the blues ‘ZZ’ style to Florida again soon.

Louisiana’s Jon ‘Boogie’ Long got into everybody’s face right out of the gate.  Abusing his bright red Gibson in the very first song of his set, Jon stepped down off the stage to come down in front and show us some of his licks up close.  He strolled back up to the stage playing behind his head the whole time and the show was on!  He indeed, brought his infectious boogie with him and challenged the crowd to stand still while he was tearing the place up.

In the more traditional style of blues was journeyman harmonica player on the Memphis scene, Brandon Santini.  Brandon is a return performer to the Daytona Festival and for good reason, he’s a crowd favorite and leads a tight band through delta and west coast blues.  In addition to his work on the harp, Brandon is a fine singer and has a great voice that has earned him extensive airtime on Sirius XM radio.

In the mood to party and wanting to get the crowd into it again is J.P. Soars and The Red Hots.  In 2009 they won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and J.P. was also acknowledged with the Albert King Award for his guitar work.  Learning to play guitar in Miami, J.P. plays a varied style that shifted from latin Santana infected riffs to boogie woogie and blues rock.  He’s also adept at playing a Diddley Bo his brother made for him that’s made of a plywood box, a stick, two strings and a pick-up.  From finger-picking to some searing slide work, J.P. can handle it all.

The festival closer and boogie kings, Victor Wainwright and the Wild Roots were not to be outdone.  Victor was well rested and in fine voice after taking off the last month and was ready to show everyone a good time.  He was humble enough to let each of his band members have their time soloing before sitting down at the piano with what have got to be the fastest hands east of the Mississippi.  From standing on his piano bench and urging the crowd to get into it or leading them in a little call and response, he was really enjoying himself and the crowd responded accordingly.  The party wasn’t going to be over either, until Victor said so and his set went on for two hours.

People from all over the U.S. and Canada were in Daytona for the culmination of the work of one man, Dominic Benecasa.  Having endured your usual concert promoter issues from personalities to rain in the past, none of that was on the table this year and the times I ran into Dominic throughout the weekend, he was all smiles.  He could be seen everywhere this weekend, from sitting at the entrance at the main gate to helping vendors load their wares, he was always working and didn’t take too much time to sit down.   Running into him at one of the after parties and hear him announce ‘record attendance’ made the weekend a huge success all around.  These are the kinds of weekends that make the Daytona Blues Festival a must-see event and makes you eager to be back next year for more!

[I did not make the after-party this night.  I was exhausted from the previous three and a half days!]

~ Daryll Davis

Stevie Ray Vaughan Resurgence

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Photo Credit:  John Rockwood

This year saw the release of two recordings showcasing the emerging talent that would spawn the rebirth of the blues in popular culture in the 1980’s.  The first is a recording of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble in a small club in Norfolk, Virginia in 1980.  This club, The King’s Head Inn, was popular with the college crowd from the nearby Old Dominion University and the show was taped for radio broadcast by local station WNOR.

While Stevie had been playing in a variety of bands for over 10 years by the time Double Trouble was formed in 1978, this recording dates from three years prior to the release of the band’s first album, Texas Flood.  Unsigned by a major label and unrestrained, Stevie was free to play the music he loved and the raw power and talent of this performer is up-front and center.

Stevie was known to be a loner in his school days and absorbed into the guitar.  He was self-taught and learned to play by ear, resulting in a man who knew every sound his guitar would make, whatever he would do to it.  While his style was heavily influenced first by Lonnie Mack, and later, Jimi Hendrix, his performances encompassed little nuances and throw away notes and riffs that many contemporary artists have to learn to add to their repertoire if they want to emulate the SRV catalog.

The King’s Head Inn recording features only two Stevie penned numbers and many of the blues favorites by the artists he admired.  The tempo is fast-paced and the band is tight.  You’ll be familiar with many of the songs because they would later show up on Double Trouble studio recordings, but a couple of songs only appear here.  The first is Freddie King’s Hideway that opens the cd.  The cd ends with a couple of Hendrix covers, the second of which, Drivin’ South, only appears on this cd.

One of the highlights of the cd is when Stevie gets to the Hendrix material, the last two songs on the cd.  While his version of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) became a SRV concert staple, at one point he stops and asks the crowd, “Anybody here like Jimi Hendrix?”  Then he breaks into a killer version of Little Wing before closing with the more obscure Drivin’ South.  After a series of Texas shuffles and juke numbers, his performance of Little Wing is a showcase of his command of the sublety and beauty capable on a Stratocaster.

There are other live versions of Double Trouble but this one has a certain energy and spontaneity the other recordings lack and as it turns out, the radio broadcast ends at the conclusion of the first set of the night.  To think that this could have been a 3 cd set of the complete show makes one wonder when the rest of the show will be released, if at all.  Worthy of inclusion in your SRV catalog of releases and recommended if you’ve never heard this man live.  A real glimpse of what everyone was excited about when this guy finally got exposure outside of the State of Texas.

As the now famous story goes, Double Trouble’s strong performances enabled the band to get booked at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival.  In the audience at this show were both David Bowie and Jackson Browne, both of whom were genuinely impressed by this unsigned artist.  Bowie recruited Stevie to play guitar on the multi-million selling Let’s Dance released in early 1983 but Stevie’s management talked him out of signing up for Bowie’s subsequent Serious Moonlight tour to support the album.  Instead, he returned to the United States and Jackson Browne let the band use his personal recording studio in order to record their initial release, Texas Flood.  This cd was a seminal release for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that blues music was being played on the then popular MTV and with the band’s videos in high rotation, the take-over of the planet was sure to follow.

The 30th Anniversary release of Texas Flood this year includes a remastered copy of the original record, as well as a complete live performance at Ripley’s Music Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania recorded on October 20, 1983.  The songs here will all be familiar and find Stevie, Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton riding that wave of newfound notoriety that their top-selling record ensured.  All of the classics are here, including the Blues Instrumental of the Year, Rude Mood.

The remastered version of the original recording sounds clean and crisp.  I listened to this with great anticipation because I wore out this record back in the day.  I had not heard the complete release in a long time and it was like an enjoyable dinner with an old friend.

The live recording from Ripley Hall was the tour supporting their new record and the band was playing a cleaner more nuanced show, in comparison to the grit and fire of the King’s Head gig.  A highlight here is that Little Wing segue ways into Third Stone From The Sun, another song that doesn’t appear on a studio release by the band.

If you don’t already have a copy of Texas Flood, this 30th Anniversary edition is highly recommended, if only to make sure you get a copy of the Ripley show too.  Be careful what you pick up in the rack down at the record shop, there was a re-release of Texas Flood in 1999 that featured some extra tracks from the recording sessions and five live tracks, including an interview of Stevie Ray.

If you already have a copy of Texas Flood, be sure to get a copy of the King’s Head show and get love struck for Stevie Ray and Double Trouble all over again.

As a bonus, if you’re the ‘visual’ type and wondering how Stevie Ray played those notes, that same 1983 tour included a date at the El Macambo in Toronto, Ontario.  That show was videotaped and a DVD released with that night’s show.  I’ve seen Stevie and the band in concert three times but I had never seen them do Third Stone From The Sun live.  I was absolutely stunned to see Stevie’s performance of this song included him jumping up and down on his beloved Fender Strat.  Ever wonder how his guitar looked like it was dragged behind the van to every show?  Now you know.  Get this DVD for somebody for Christmas for the full SRV experience.

~ Daryll Davis