This has to be quick. I just wanted to remind you that Verlon Thompson will be on the Grand Strand tonight, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, at the historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot, courtesy of the folks at South By Southeast. Verlon is the walking definition of the term singer/songwriter, a first rate troubadour.
I talked to him for a while earlier in the week. He was in between road trips and happy to talk a little about the upcoming show and Works, his 18-track 2011 album that ranges from solo recordings to a full band.
“Starting out, I wanted to keep it simple,” he says. “So some tunes are just me and Mike Dub on upright bass. But others have the complete band. It’s mostly pretty recent tunes.
“The song, “Oklahomagain” is about my home. It means a lot to me, and every time I sing it, I picture myself at home.”
For “Mike and Betty’s Daughter,” it’s a waltz, I added a big string section … I was just feeling so passionate about that song!” [Verlon met his wife, Demetria Kalodimos in 2000. Neither had expected to find “this love thing” again, but they did and Verlon calls her his “dream come true.” Demetria is a journalist and TV news anchor in Nashville and well as a filmmaker and documentarian.]
“The Guitar: I had made a little video for Guild Guitar company when they gave me an endorsement. The song was part of a songwriter class Guy Clark and I were teaching – [Jorma Kaukonen’s]Fur Peace Ranch, it’s like camp for pickers. We’d sit there and basically write taking input from the members. They all inspire me. To see the passion, the beliefs that some young person has … They don’t know – or care – how hard it is and how hard it is to get it produced. They just have to do it … They inspire me.”
“’Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle’ was a true story. Guy and I had talked about writing it. The story had all the ingredients for an old time murder ballad, but we were concerned about the families, so we kept putting it off. One day, Sam Bush came by and said his dad had saved newspaper articles about the murder. The three of us started jotting down facts and by the end of the day, we had a song.”
Verlon’s had some pretty heavy co-songwriters during his 30-something-year career, so I wanted to know how collaborating stacks up against writing solo.
“I get the most satisfaction when I write a song myself because every word is mine. Collaboration is great, but it’s always a compromise (even if it’s better). The ones that are all yours are the ones you hold closest.
“The ones I write myself, I can’t tell you how these happen. I try to catch them. If I let myself be open, sometimes I can get them. I write down what comes to me.
“As a songwriter, it’s your job to be open to what comes to you. I’ve just grown to see it that way … Now when I see a leaf fall from a tree, it’s a metaphor. Or sometimes, what’s literal to me might be a metaphor to you. That’s the beauty of songs; they mean different things to everyone.”
Click here to read my full interview with Verlon the last time he came to town. If you can make it out tonight, reserve your spot by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You won’t be sorry. Storytelling doesn’t get any better than Verlon Thompson.
Works track list with notes: “The Show We Call the Business” – the story of Verlon’s arrival in Music City. Accompanied by Mike Bub, Shawn Camp, John Gardner; “Oklamomagain” – Scenes from Verlon’s home town Binger, Okla. And a special shout out to fellow Binger boy, Hall of Famer Johnny Bench; “Caddo County” – More vivid images of home; “Dinnerbell” – …”you can’t lose what you never had”…; “Where the Bottom Is”; “Backup and Turnaround” – Perseverance. Verlong and Bub with harmonies by Larry Marrs and Diana DeWitt; “Adalee” – Not enough perseverance in this case. Featuring the “Works” band, Bub on Bass, Gardner on hand drums, Shawn Camp on fiddle and Larry and Diana harmonizing; “Gone But Not Forgotten”; “Big Bad John” – Just Verlon and a mando doing Jimmy Dean’s classic; “I Need More Time” – Don’t we all? With special guest Paul Franklin on steel guitar; “Joe Walker’s Mare” – Joe Walker was an early American explorer … he always had a nice ride; “The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle” – Sad, but true. “The Get To You Waltz” – I’ve never been a dancer … or so I thought. A beautiful string arrangement by Kristin Wilkinson; “Mike and Betty’s Daughter” – In honor of three of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known; “El Toro” – Inspired by a trip to Spain. V., Shawn and Bub handle the manly harmonies; “Don’t Take Me Back” – Classic country music … I hope; “The Guitar” – The last line is the payoff; “Barnegie Hall” – Practice. Practice. Practice.
Cape Fear Blues Festival • Friday, July 27 – Sunday, July 29
Sometimes, to be on the leading edge of the blues, you gotta look back. Case in point: this year’s Cape Fear Blues Festival. The headliner for the annual event is EllerSoul recording artist Li’l Ronnie & the Grand Dukes. This group mixes up elements of 50s R&B, soul, vintage rock & roll and jazz into a unique blend of American roots music.
It’s retro, baby, and it’s fun.
In fact, this whole Festival, which takes place July 27 – 29 at multiple venues is going to be a blast.
Friday, July 27. The fun starts Friday evening at 5:30 with Sweet Sue Savia entertaining on the riverboat dock (Water St. at Dock St.), as folks are waiting to board the Henrietta III for the 2012 Blues Cruise along the Cape Fear River.
Savia, like so many musicians, has a great story to tell. She says she woke up at age 51 and realized that she’d hate to come upon her death one day without at least trying to fulfill her life’s dream: performing on stage. So she took a leap of faith and jumped into a successful career of singing, songwriting and playing guitar (actually just about any acoustic instrument, but the guitar is her main axe).
How cool is that? And we haven’t even left the dock yet.
FYI, boarding begins at 6:30 p.m. and the boat leaves promptly at 7:30 p.m.
Onboard the Henrietta III, there will be three bands on three decks with three cash bars, along with heavy appetizers and a gorgeous sunset on the Cape Fear.
Here’s the Cruise lineup:
On the main deck will be Elliott & the Untouchables. This will be a super show, I promise you. Elliott New is a master of retro blues, whether he’s playing jump blues or slide – and he’ll do plenty of both. The whole band is topnotch, in fact. The horn section is classic old school. Like to dance? You’ll be in boogie heaven!
Up on the second deck, aka the party deck, we’ve got the Dynamic Therm-o-Tones. The ultra-popular Wilmington band is known for their blues-driven R&B. They’re the dance band of dance bands.
Randy McQuay will be playing the third deck, or atrium as it’s called. This versatile and exciting performer won the 2011 Cape Fear Blues Challenge in the solo category. If you’ve never seen him, this is a great introduction.
Festival organizer and head honcho for the Cape Fear Blues Society Lan Nichols told me, “Randy McQuay is an International Blues Challenge finalist and winner of the Lee Oskar Top Harmonica Player Award. By himself, he’s reason enough to ride the Cape Fear Blues Cruise.”
But, happily, the two-hour Cruise gives you plenty of time to get to all three acts, which is a good thing, because you’ll kick yourself if you miss any one of them. Advance tickets for the 2012 Blues Cruise are $49 each and can be purchased online now at http://www.capefearblues.org/cruise.html or call 910-350-8822 for more information.
Over at the Rusty Nail (1310 South 5th Street),one of my favorite Wilmington haunts, the post-cruise party starts about 9 p.m. with Lawyers, Guns & Money, a great R&B-infused blues band out of Greensboro, N.C. These guys were semi-finalists at IBC last year and winners of the Cape Fear Blues Challenge. It’ll be a fun night that lasts late into the night.
Saturday, July 28. The annual (and free) blues workshop features guitarist Elliott new. According to Nichols, “Untouchables band leader Elliott New will amaze everyone at the Blues Workshop at Finkelstein Music, 11 a.m. on Saturday (6 S. Front St.). Elliott sports a cigar box guitar, tons of talent, and a sense of humor. One hell of a Bluesman!” Consider yourself warned.
At 1 p.m., E-Train and the Rusted Rails roar into town with a stop under the tent at the Rusty Nail. This exciting band, with a great mix of rockabilly, swing and blues, was voted best band by the Triangle Blues Society in 2011 and the Cape Fear Blues Society in 2010, sending them to Memphis to compete at IBC both years. Don’t miss the train this time around.
For the headline show, we move over to the Soapbox Laundro-Lounge (255 N. Front Street) for Li’l Ronnie & the Grand Dukes. Nichols was thrilled to sign them for the Festival. He says, “L’il Ronnie & The Grand Dukes have been a favorite of blues, beach and boogie crowds for years, and Ronnie has a new lineup that’s as sharp as a tack. Anyone who comes down to the Soapbox in Wilmington on July 28 is in for show-stopping performance. And the club is in the heart of downtown Wilmington – a great location.” Tickets are $10 in advance (www.etix.com) and $12 at the door. Show time is 8 p.m.
Back at the Rusty Nail again, music starts at 9 p.m. and goes until about 1 a.m. with local faves, the Chickenhead Blues Band. Frontman Rick Tobey says, “I was born in a south Louisiana chicken coop with a bottle neck on my little finger and a guitar in my hand. Been playin’ dem Chickenhead Blues ever since I could crawl, from the Mississippi Delta to the North Carolina Piedmont, from the Cape Fear River Basin to the Smokey Mountains.”
I know I’ve used that quote before, but it’s all you need to know about Chickenhead Blues. Love, love, love this band.
Sunday, July 29. The finale to the Cape Fear Blues Festival is an all-day blues jam under the tent at the Rusty Nail. Music starts at noon and it’s all free to the public. Be sure to bring a lawn chair or blanket, but no coolers please. Food and drink will be available for sale all day. Musicians, to reserve your performance time slot, call 910-383-1247.
Plan on staying until the end, because not only is it an afternoon of blues, blues and more blues, but the Finklestein Music Guitar Giveaway is at 6 p.m. Some lucky sumbitch is going home with a Gretsch guitar. Raffle tickets for the Giveaway are $1 each and available at Finklestein Music and the Rusty Nail. Proceeds go to support the various programs of the Cape Fear Blues Society.
In case you’re still in party mode, at 7 p.m. it moves indoors with saxophonist Benny Hill’s Sunday night jazz and blues jam at the Rusty Nail.
I love me some Cape Fear blues. Hope to see you there!
I’ve just heard that this show has been cancelled due to illness. No details yet. Bummer! DB – 8 p.m. July 9, 2012
A group of legendary Piedmont blues musicians are coming together for an evening of music, storytelling and camaraderie – the likes of which most of us never get to experience. On July 21 the Legends of the Piedmont Blues Show at the Mauldin Cultural Center will feature Pop Ferguson, Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, Mac Arnold, Boo Hanks and Drink Small. Prepare to be amazed at the combination of talent, energy, and love on the stage.
It’s a sad fact of life that if we manage to bypass illness, disease, accident and worse, we’re going to grow old and die. But life also gives us the opportunity to leave a legacy behind, evidence of what we brought to the table. This lineup is proof that life is, indeed, what you make of it.
Pop Ferguson has traveled the country playing juke joints, fish fries, coal fields and street corners. At 84, he’s one of the last practitioners of true traditional blues of the N.C. foothills. On stage his energy is only surpassed by his unpredictability.
Boo Hanks is 83. He’s said to be a descendant of Abe Lincoln (on his mama’s side). Boo bought his first guitar by selling little packets of seed and grew up picking and singing songs he learned in the tobacco fields. You can still find him sitting out front of the country store with a bologna sandwich. Listen closely, you’ll hear Blind Boy Fuller in his finger-style guitar work.
Beverly “Guitar” Watkins is 72. She was still in high school when she was introduced to Piano Red (later known as Dr. Feelgood), who had his own radio show on WAOK in Atlanta, Ga. She joined his band and began building a name for herself in the blues community for her searing guitar riffs and James Brown moves. (Visit her website)
The Blues Doctor – 78-year-old Drink Small – plays a mean blues guitar with a voice to match. He has performed at some of the country’s top music festivals including Chicago Blues Festival, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, King Biscuit Blues Festival, Smithsonian-Folklife Festival and Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. Drink has played Lincoln Center and Central Park in N.Y.C. His profiles have been published in Downbeat, Metronome, Blues Revue, Il Blues, Juke Blues, Soul Bag and Blues News. (Drink’s MySpace page)
Mac Arnold, at 69, is the youngster in this posse. When he was 24, Mac joined the Muddy Waters Band and helped shape the electric blues sound that would provide inspiration for a generation of rock guitarists. He played on the iconic John Lee Hooker album Live at the Café Au GoGo. (Mac’s website)
This is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime evening of musical performances, personal commentary and surprises. I mean, you never know what Drink is going to say.
Tickets are $20 general admission (or two for $35/five for $80) or $40 VIP, which includes an event T-shirt, pre-show meet and greet with one glass of wine. The VIP reception begins at 6:30 p.m. Doors open to the public at 7:30.The show runs from 8 to 10:30 p.m. Mauldin Cultural Center is located at 101 E. Butler Road, Mauldin, S.C. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.piedmontlegends.com. Tickets will also be available at the door. cutline:
The seventh annual Charleston Beach Music & Shag Festival will be held on August 25 and 26 in the ballroom of the North Charleston Performing Arts Center, which is connected to the Embassy Suites, organizer Harriett Grady has announced.
The two-day event will feature six powerhouse acts, shag workshop and deejays: on Saturday, brush up on your shagging at a workshop with Jerry and Barbara Wade, 1 p.m.; Rickey Godfrey Band at 3 p.m.; the Castaways at 5:30 p.m.; and Carolina Soul Band at 8 p.m. Deejay Gerry Scott will spin tunes for shaggers in between performances.
On Sunday, deejay Betty Brown begins at 1 p.m. and returns between acts. The Fantastic Shakers start at 2 p.m.; the Johnny Rawls Blues Band – with Rickey Godfrey sitting on guitar – takes the stage at 4 p.m.; and the mighty Tams close out the entertainment at 5:30 p.m. Betty Brown returns to the deejay booth at 7 p.m.
The Festival is being presented by The Beach Music & Shag Preservation Society of South Carolina (BMSPSSC) along with Big Mamma Entertainment of Charleston, S.C.
In a telephone interview, Grady said she formed the BMSPSSC back in 2006 at the urging of Diane Pope, manager of the original Joe Pope Tams and wife of original member Charles Pope. “She [Diane Pope] talked to me for several years asking me to have a beach festival in Charleston,” explains Grady. “She said there was not a beach music festival here and she thought there should be. She said she had been thinking about it over and over and she thought I should be the one to do it. So about that same time an investor came along and said every one in Charleston pointed at me to help get a Beach Festival going.
“Well, with two strong people coming at me I decided to try it. I coined the name Charleston Beach Music and Shag Festival that first year and it stuck. That was in 2006 and I have continued every year on my own having the Charleston Beach Music and Shag Festival. The Joe Pope Tams have been in all but one of them.”
Festival sponsors include Strom Altman Suzuki of Charleston; Coast magazine and Alternatives NewsMagazine (myrtlebeachalternatives.com) of Myrtle Beach; music blog DarielB-Flying Under the Radar (darielb.wordpress.com). According to Grady, she is still seeking and accepting sponsors for the event.
BMSPSSC is a private nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization formed to promote, preserve and perpetuate the S.C. state dance, the shag, and South Carolina’s most popular music, beach music. Festival tickets are $20 per day for BMSPSSC members and $25 for nonmembers. Two-day tickets are $35/members and $45/nonmembers. Tickets may be purchased online at http://www.bmspssc.com or http://www.pivotsbeachclub.com. Special Festival rates are available at the adjoining Embassy Suites. For more information, call 843-814-0101.
Mary4Music.com gets over 32,000 unique visitors a month, and I don’t mean hits. (That number is in the hundreds of thousands.) I’m talking about individuals who come back to the site over and over again. I’m not particularly surprised, because I’m one of them. It’s a great site.
Mary4Music is one of the best resources around for all things blues – blues clubs, blues festivals, blues bands, magazines, websites, CD reviews and more. So I’m beside myself that they’ve asked me to add my interviews with blues artists to the site. Zowee!
The Mary in Mary4Music is Mary Roby. She’s a music fan from way back. About 13 years ago, she met blues guitarist Forrest McDonald online and wound up working with his Atlanta, Ga.-based World Talent Records label. “It began as a hobby. I used to update the web page for the label site. I put up a page of music-related links and that link page evolved into Mary4Music,” she told me on the phone last week. “Then I met Pete online, too. I had been to see Lonnie Brooks and commented on AOL about it. Pete responded, so I started checking out his reviews.”
Pete is Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro, Mary’s business partner, fanatic blues aficionado and CD reviewer. Pete adds, “I was working as a doorman at what was then a major blues clubs (now defunct) called Alligator Alley. I’d come home all wired up, not ready to sleep. There was section in the Jazz & Blues category in AOL called Who’d You See Tonight. So I’d review the shows I’d seen … Mary sent me an email about writing reviews for her website and that’s how we became partners.”
Today Mary4Music has evolved into a comprehensive resource used – and inspired by– both musicians and fans. Mary says, “I had one email that said, ‘I’m coming up north. Can you map me a route?’ That’s where the directory came from. Another guy told me that he had planned his whole trip from Canada through the U.S. based on my website.”“For us,” Pete (who gets to at least 40 blues events and festivals a year) explains, “blues isn’t just something to do on a Saturday night. It’s a lifestyle. “My wife, Rose and I, we take our vacations to blues festivals.” Asked about his favorite event, the Blewzzman answers emphatically, the Blues Awards, which are held each May in Memphis, Tenn. “Rose and I went to our first Blues Awards show in 2000, and we got hooked. I said to her, ‘We have to do this again,’ and we have, every year since. This year was my thirteenth consecutive year. “I know everybody. I know it sounds like I’m bragging, but I’m not. Blues musicians are so approachable.”
Pete and Mary have not gone unnoticed in the industry. This past October, Pete was invited to be a presenter at the Blues Blast Awards. “So here I am at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago and Buddy Guy won my category. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life.” Mary4Music was also honored last year with a 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award in the Internet category from the Blues Foundation. These international awards are presented to individuals and organizations (non-performers) who have made “significant contributions” in both promoting blues and preserving the music.
Pete “Blewzzman” Lauro, who used to write for BluesWax online and Big City Blues magazine in Detroit, publishes CD review/s each month. By the first read, you can tell this is a man who loves his blues. I’ve been following his reviews for some years now, and my take is, if the Blewzzman tells you to check something out, check it out. You won’t be sorry.
On the subject of CDs, Mary4Music is currently hard at work on putting together a ten-track compilation CD. Sadly, it won’t be for sale. The recording, which is titled Mary4Music Presents Keeping the Blues Alive Vol.1 (with the blessing of the Blues Foundation), is a promo disc for radio deejays, to help get airplay for the groups involved. According to Mary, they hope this is the beginning of a series of recordings. To me it seems this is just one more way that Mary4Music is working to get the music out there.
You may notice when you visit the site, there are two portals, one titled Blues and the other, Indie. “Back when I first started working with Forrest, it was more about indie music,” Mary says. “But as I got into it, I started leaning more toward the blues, so I separated them.” There is clearly more blues-related information, but there’s plenty of indie resources, too.
What I’ll be doing with Mary4Music though is strictly blues. My plan is to continue my blog, DarielB-Flying Under the Radar, which covers mainly roots, R&B, soul and blues. But my interviews with blues artists will be posted at Mary4Music as well. I am so excited to be a part of this. Stay tuned. I’ll be posting my first Mary4Music interview soon!
If you haven’t been to Mary4Music.com already, I hope you’ll visit soon and “like” them on Facebook, too. (And in case you’re wondering why there isn’t a photo of Mary, you’ll have to take that up with Mary herself!)
Mama Rue’s Blues Garden in Pawleys Island, S.C. was under water during the recent torrential downpour, but owners
Marrue Bleau and Eric Sutherland know how to roll with the atmospheric punches. They stayed open through the worst of it and are already gearing up for a summer of jerk pork and blues.
The entertainment lineup for June includes local favorites along with some regional big names that, combined with Chef Eric’s magic in the kitchen, are pushing this “best known secret of the Grand Strand” to the forefront of the music scene.
During cool months, there’s an intimate corner stage inside the restaurant. Once it’s warm, though, everyone heads outside to the Blues Garden with its live oaks, bottle tree and friendly, rustic bar.
June offerings include:
Friday June 15, 8 p.m. Pastor Pastor, a blues trip off the beaten path.
Wednesday, June 20, 7 p.m. Jeff Liberty. From Columbia, S.C. Liberty’s scorching guitar and smokey vocals make him a favorite at Mama Rue’s.
Friday, June 22, 8 p.m. Re-Fried Blues. This local group plays some rockin’ blues. Members include Mike Markiewicz (vocals), Rick Oliver (bass), Chicago Bob Hess (guitar), and Ed Roderick (percussion), Sadly, Todd Roth “aka”My Buddy Todd” is off finding his fortune in Austin, Texas, so he won’t be joining them onstage.)
Wednesday, June 27 (not yet scheduled)
Friday June 29, 8 p.m. Back Road Hounds. Another local group, the Hounds play hard drivin’ contemporary blues. Players are Eric Stair (drums), Johnny Webb (bass), Mike Donellan (lead guitar and vocals), and Steph Wilmson (harp and vocals).
Clyde “Pop” Ferguson is a legend. Never mind that you may not know his name. He’s a legend anyway. At 84 years old, he’s still playing the blues, and let me make it as clear as possible. He’s the real deal. He’s not someone who’s been influenced by those early authentic bluesmen; Pop Ferguson is authentic blues.
So gas up your Hummer or the pickup, whatever your vehicle of choice; mark your calendar for June 8 and 9 and set the Garmin for the historic city of Lenoir, N.C. in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains for the fourth annual free Pop Ferguson Blues Festival.
This Festival is unique in that its goal isn’t simply to provide a venue for blues acts. According to festival organizer (and Pop’s son) Clyde Ferguson, Jr., the Pop Ferguson Blues Festival also charges itself with the mission of reconnecting today’s culture with the true heritage of the blues.
To that end, five of the nine acts are considered elders of the genre, playing a range of blues, and all connecting to the past.
Eighty-four-year-old Pop Ferguson is one of the last practitioners of traditional blues in the N.C. foothills. Growing up in the African American community of North Wlikesboro, he played for local revivals, all the time yearning for the blues. As a young man, he traveled all around, playing juke joints, fish fries, coal fields and street corners in the northeast. He shared the stage with Papa John Creach and Etta Baker. Playing at first in the local Piedmont blues style (thumb and finger), he adopted popular techniques and developed his own style of blues gospel.
“With my dad,” Ferguson, Jr. laughs, “you never know what you’ll get. He may start a song that you think you know, but then he just does his own thing.”
The Festival lineup also includes the inimitable Drink Small, South Carolina’s much loved blues doctor (age 79); from the N.C. Piedmont, finger-style guitarist James Arthur “Boo” Hanks (age 83); Beverly “Guitar” Watkins (age 72), playing straight ahead blues and telling it from a woman’s P.O.V.; and Mac Arnold, playing modern day jump blues that reach back to the old days. At 69, he’s the baby of the group.
There will also be gospel, traditional acoustic folk music, storytelling, country blues and the introduction of a special young talent – Miss E.
How the Festival was born is especially touching.
“My dad and I starting playing together about six years ago,” says Ferguson, Jr. “My parents got divorced when I was really young, and I visited my dad and heard him play, but we didn’t spend ‘time’ together. I went away to school, started teaching, had kids. In 2006, we came back together, started to have a real relationship.
“For Christmas that year, I wanted to give him a special present. I learned to play guitar so we could pick together and on Christmas day I sat down to play for him. When I was done, he turned to me and said, ‘Boy I believe that song goes like this.’”
Clyde is laughing out loud as he remembers. “Well, my feelings were hurt, but Merry Christmas anyway! I went back to his house on New Year’s Eve, with a bass guitar and this time he said, ‘Play that again.’ And then we started playing together.
“Within 30 days we had a harmonica player, a guitarist and Pop Ferguson Blues Revue was created. So we started playing.
“This guy was following us around everywhere we went. And a little while later, we get this notification he was going to be recognized by the Smithsonian Institute.”
Turns out the guy who was following them around was with StoryCorps Griot Project and he was researching Pop for the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. So Pop Ferguson’s life story, recordings and works will be preserved by the Smithsonian.
This year’s Festival theme is Celebrating the Blues Heritage of the Appalachians. What a terrific way to not only learn, but experience the heritage of the area.
The Festival is free. Just head into downtown Lenoir and volunteers will be onsite to direct you toward the stages and events.
(5 – 8 p.m.)
Patrick Crouch. Slide blues guitar
Jaret Carter. Country blues guitar
Max Hightower. Blues “Hohner” harmonica
Main Street Stage
3:45 Pop Ferguson
5:15 Drink Small
6:00 Boo Hanks
6:45 Beverly “Guitar” Watkins
7:30 Pop Ferguson
8:15 Mac Arnold
9:00 Blues Jam Session
Sweet T’s Stage
4:00 Strictly Clean & Decent
5:00 Mt. Pilgrim Choir
6:00 Jaret Carter
7:00 Smith Memorial Choir
4:00 Jaret Carter
5:00 Diana Banner & Sisters
6:00 Life Center Choir
7:00 Strictly Clean & Decent
Venti’s Casa Stage
4:00 Pop Ferguson w/Miss E
5:00 Life Center Youth Choir
6:00 Storytelling – Diana Banner
West Avenue Stage
5:00 Jacob Johnson Band
The debut album of Royal Southern Brotherhood (Ruf Records), which hit the street on May 8, is one of the most exciting releases of the year, and that’s only slightly due to the hype that preceded it. The lion’s share of the credit flat out goes to the band, Royal Southern Brotherhood: Cyril Neville, Devon Allman , Mike Zito, Charlie Wooten and Yonrico Scott.
The Royal moniker and lineage are both a lot to live up to for a group formed barely six months ago, but RSB is a musical gestalt of sorts and their self-titled,12-track recording delivers in a big way.
Cyril Neville is a master of funk and soul, bringing with him his considerable contributions to the Meters, Soul Machine and others, including of course the iconic Neville Brothers, of which he is the youngest.
If that’s not enough royalty for you, add Devon Allmanto the mix, son of Gregg Allman, nephew of
Duane Allman and leader of his own sweetly fierce Honey Tribe. Devon brings some rockin’ guitar licks to the show, which bring to mind his legendary uncle even more so than his daddy.
Also on guitar is hard rockin’ bluesman Mike Zito, whose “Pearl River,” co-written with Cryil Neville, earned a 2009 Blues Music Award for Song of the Year.
Lest you think the rhythm section is just there to add fill, Charlie Wooten on bass and Yonrico Scott on drums are at once badass and in the pocket. Wooten is known for jamming with the Woods Brothers and his own Zydefunk, which has been called a gumbo of Louisiana grooves. Yonrico Scott earned a Grammy with the Derek Trucks Band, has played with the Allman Brothers, Col. Bruce Hampton and has his own band.
Royal Southern Brotherhood is a powerful blend of personalities and sound. The synergy between players is evidenced in every tune.
Opening track, “New Horizon,” is also the first single, released on video and all over Facebook back in March.
The in-your-face harmonies are spot on, and set the tone for the CD. The combination of Cyril’s soulful vocals, Devon’s power and the gritty appeal of Mike Zito is as good as it gets. Devon’s wailing on his Gibson. Charlie and Yonrico are laying down a groove. Great way to begin.
“Fired Up” is a Wooten/Neville composition and this band is fired up. This tune brings it on. Hard to sit still. The sweet and soulful “Left My Heart In Memphis,” penned by Devon Allman is the album’s third track, followed by “Moonlight Over the Mississippi,” written by Cyril Neville and Mike Zito. Neville’s soul-dripped vocals are a stand-out.
On “Ways About You,” written by Mike Zito and Cyril Neville, you have to appreciate the combined talent of the band – Zito’s raw bluesy vocal, the harmonies, Yonrico in the pocket, the plaintive guitar of Devon Allman all emphasize the utter sadness of the song.
The musical chemistry is so strong among this band, it’s interesting to note how they came together. It was all Reuben Williams’ idea. Reuben is the owner of Thunderbird Management Co. out of Larose, La. He had originally formed his company to manage Tab Benoit. Then came Monk Boudreaux and Anders Osborne.
In a telephone interview, Reuben told me, “I like to put people together on projects. It keeps things interesting.”
So he gets Boudreaux and Osborne to record together for Shanachie Records. Then he created the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars (his clients Benoit, Osborne and Boudreaux plus Cyril Neville and Johnny Sansone).
Mike Zito joins Reuben’s client roster, and suggests that Devon and Reuben might be a good fit. Next thing you know, Reuben is looking at this group of artists, all of whom have other groups and projects underway, and the wheels start turning. Royal Southern Brotherhood is born.
Other tracks include the Grateful Dead’s “Fire On the Mountain,” a great surprise, by the way; “Gotta Keep Rockin’,” an anthem-type Allman/Neville piece featuring Devon on lead vocal; Zito’s “Hurts My Heart,” which is a favorite of mine; “Sweet Jelly Donut” by Cyril Neville (I bet this is a great live performance); Allman’s vocal and guitar showcase “Nowhere to Hide;” “All Around the World,” written by Mike Zito; and the instrumental closer, “Brotherhood.”
Royal Southern Brotherhood is a supergroup in the making. You may not know it yet, but you want to see them live, and you want this CD. Visit their website: http://www.royalsouthernbrotherhood.com and go to my blog for a recent interview with them: darielb.wordpress.com.
Tracks: New Horizon(Neville/Zito), Fired Up (Wooten/Neville), Left My Heart In Memphis (Allman), Moonlight Over the Mississippi (Zito/Neville), Fire On the Mountain (Hart/Hunter), Ways About You (Zito/Neville), Gotta Keep Rockin (Allman/Neville), Nowhere to Hide (Allman), Hurts My Heart (Zito), Sweet Jelly Donut (Neville), All Around the World (Zito), Brotherhood (Allman/Neville /Zito/ Wooton/Scott)
Album credits: Cyril Neville (vocals, percussion); Devon allman (vocals, guitar), Mike Zito (vocals, guitar), Charlie Wooten (bass guitar), Yonrico Scott (drums), Jim Gaines (producer), David Farrell (engineer), Brad Blackwood at Euphonic Masters (mastering), Thomas Ruff (executive producer), Reuben M. Williams (associate producer), Dockside Studio (recording), Jerry Moran at NativeOrleanian.com (photography).
Multi-talented S.C. musician Rick Strickland is a one-man band. To say he’s a prolific songwriter just hints at his lyrical stamina. His soulful stylings are out of this world and and – with a four-octave range – his vocals reach even further. Add to that technical savvy, masterful guitar work and a producer’s ear, and you have an inkling of what Rick brings. He can do it all, and he usually does.
That said, this new recording is a departure. It showcases the entire Rick Strickland Band. Titled
Hangin’ Out, the brand new 12-track album (released on April 20) is a collaboration of the entire group, and Rick Strickland is very much the proud papa.
“The idea was for everybody to have their fingerprints all over this. I didn’t want to get in the studio and tell them what I wanted to hear. I just gave them little acoustic guitar/voice demos and said, ‘There, do what you want with it.’ And they stepped up with ideas I would never have even thought of.
“For ‘I’d Rather Be Your Friend,’ the big ballad, my original thought was to have the band in the whole song. But Lesa suggested starting with just the guitar, then bringing her in and then the rest to build. It really makes the song.”
Lead vocalist and keyboard player Lesa Hudson, a songwriter in her own right, is also responsible for some distinctive orchestration on “I’d Rather Be Your Friend.”
Rick explains, “We’re holding these two chords and she kind of does these classical rolls through them that provide the song the tension and release that makes it interesting … Lesa has a million great moments on the CD.”
Lead vocalist and keyboard player Lesa Hudson adds, “For me, I love the harmony and Rick’s take on the harmony arrangement.”
Harmony is key to the Rick Strickland Band, both in an out of the studio. “This experience was all about the group,” Lesa continues. “At the end of the day, it wasn’t just Rick’s project, it was all about everybody.
“What sticks with me is the whole process … the talent, the people. This is my seventh CD, but the first I’ve recorded with live musicians … It really comes through in the recording.”
This is definitely a cohesive, single-minded band, but there’s room for individuals to shine, and shine they do.
Says Rick, “Don [Hamrick] really shows his butt through the whole thing, and being a drummer myself, I love it. On ‘I’d Rather Be Your Friend,’ his first entrance is the second verse, and he’s barely playing on the rim of the snare drum and just before bringing the snare in on the precourse (where 99% of dummers would do a bombastic drum fill on the toms), he instead just lightly touches on the head of the snare drum before bringing it in officially. It’s so artful and restrained.”
“Alive Til 95” is a kick-ass soul tune with lead vocals by bass player Debbie Anderson and Rick.
“I had a band called the Citizens back in ‘85. This was written for them, but I thought it was be great for Debbie to sing, and she nailed it! I had never heard her sing lead until we got into the studio … and she can nail it! To see our Cupcake sing like Mavis Staples …” Rick’s voice trails off here. He’s genuinely proud of his band mate.
That’s a running theme of our conversation, as he recounts the studio sessions, which, by the way, were executed in about three days.
“‘Gonna Come a Day’ is a sassy duet with Lesa Hudson and Rick Strickland on lead vocals.
“Lesa and I wrote that in the car on our way somewhere, to a gig, I think. We got most of it down on the way and finished the lyrics on the way back. It’s another really good example of Don’s brilliance.”
The admiration here is mutual. “It’s an honor for me to be in this band,” says drummer Don Hamrick. Words almost escape him as he tells me about the recording sessions.
“The collaboration in the studio … the intent … the chemistry … The ideas we had just meshed like a dream come true. I’ve had recordings where you spend weeks working with a click track, but this … this is real. This is us playing. What we did in the studio is exactly when we do onstage.
“Sometimes you can lose the chemistry when you try to make it too perfect … We rehearsed, but we allowed the chemistry to come through. For ‘Let’s Take Our Time,’ I was playing cajón. I thought it was a run through, but when we listened, it was right on the money.
“It’s a wonderful experience to record that quickly and still have the quality.”
Chatting with Debbie Anderson, it strikes me as ironic that the woman who can ‘sing like Mavis Staples’ is so soft spoken and shy even. She tells me that this is her first time recording instrumentation, that she’s an understated bass player; she keeps the tempo, keeps the pace. But then suddenly, she makes me laugh out loud.
“I started playing bass when my church needed a bass player,” she says. “So I put on some Lynyrd Skynyrd and taught myself.” Goes to show, you should never underestimate the shy ones.
Listen closely to “Hey What You Say.” Debbie came up with a subtle bass line that adds a lot to the song.
Keyboard player Art Benton is a session veteran. “I’ve been doing studio work sing the 60s, and it was amazing to see how this group with little studio experience ripped through everything.”
I wondered if he had a favorite tune on the Hangin’ Out CD.
“Maybe ‘Little Diva.’ Technically speaking it’s got vocals, piano part, drum track, flute, syncopated piano part all going on at once. I love it.
“It’s great to work with a drummer who can hold his meter and be colorful at the same time.”
CD credits: Rick Strickland (lead and background vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, producer, mixing); Art Benton (keyboards and accordian); Debbie Anderson (lead and background vocals); Lesa Hudson (lead and background vocals, keyboards); Don Hamrick (drums and percussion); Kevin Smith (engineer); Six+1 Studios (recording); Songwriting: All songs written by Rick Strickland except “Gonna Come a Day,” written by Rick Strickland and Lesa Hudson. CD cover design Lesa Hudson. CD cover photography Jim Allen.
The Rivertown Music & Arts Festival is held in Conway, S.C. each year on the first Saturday in May, and it’s always fun. But this year, it’s going to be even better. Headlining the festival will be the eclectic and uber-talented Randall Bramblett Band.
The twenty-sixth annual Rivertown Music & Arts Festival will be held May 5 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. in historic downtown Conway, S.C. Great music, art and a variety of cuisine choices will celebrate this annual event. Local and regional bands will provide music ranging from jazz to gospel to beach music from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The headline act, Randall Bramblett Band, is an extraordinary group of “musician’s musicians.” From his early career with Capricorn Records (Cowboy, Gregg Allman, Sea Level) to his more recent tours with Widespread Panic, Traffic and Steve Winwood, Bramblett has worked with the best in the business. Chuck Leavell (Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers) says “Randall is in my opinon one of the most gifted and talented souther singer-songwriter musicians of the past several decades.”
Bramblett has toured and recorded with national acts including Traffic, Gov’t Mule, the late Levon Helm, Elvin Bishop and Gregg Allman, to name just a few. Guitarist John Keane, of Widespread Panic fame, is joining the band for the Rivertown Festival show.
Randall Bramblett Band performs at 5:30 p.m.
Also playing the Festival will be alternative rock’s Kick the Robot, a young powerpop trio driven by strong songwriting and vocal harmonies. The group, which recently won the Atlanta division of the Hard Rock Rising 2012 competition, is produced by Gerry Henson, legendary session drummer and producer for many artists, including Shawn Mullins and Randall Bramblett. Kick the Robot takes the stage at 4 p.m.
Another plus, local favorite Southern Blue is also set to perform at the Rivertown Festival. Playing throughout the southeast, the southern rock and blues band has opened for a long list of national acts that includes Blake Shelton, Molly Hatchett, Little River Band, David Allan Coe, and Confederate Railroad. Southern Blue performs at 7:30 p.m.
Festival-goers are encouraged to bring a chair to enjoy the musical acts on Laurel Street and then meander over to the Classic Car Show hosted by Chicora Car Club and sponsored by Palmetto Chevrolet.
From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. local artists, crafters and merchants will line the downtown streets offering an assortment of wares including pottery, wood, glass, photography, jewelry and paintings. Gourmet food, hotdogs and local cuisine will also be available in the food court area.
Proceeds from this event benefit Conway Downtown Alive, a nonprofit organization that aims to stimulate economic development, encourage historic preservation and promote the vitality of downtown Conway. For more information visit conwayalive.com or call 843-248 6260.