She D’Ambrosio is a talent scout, booking agent and all around lover of blues music. It’s been on her bucket list for quite some time now to put together a blues festival for the Upstate of South Carolina, and this month it’s finally come to pass.
On Saturday, Sept. 17, the inaugural Summer’s Last Blast & Blues Festival will take place at the Pavilion at Acadia in Piedmont, S.C. (a suburb of Greenville). The lineup is extraordinary, especially for the ultra-reasonable ticket price of $15 per person (free for kids under 12).
Headlining is the incredible Beverly “Guitar” Watkins and her band; then there’s Cee Cee James featuring the inimitable Rickey Godfrey on guitar; the Matt Walsh Blues Band; Freddie Vanderford with Brandon Turner and the Shades; singer songwriter J Edwards and his kick-ass band; and the King Bees. YEAH!
Beverly “Guitar” Watkins was born in Atlanta, Ga. in 1939, and she can play the pants off musicians half her age. She says, “My style is real Lightnin’’ Hopkins lowdown blues. I call it hard classic blues, stompin’ blues, railroad smokin’ blues.”
D’Ambrosio can’t wait to bring her to the Upstate. ‘Beverly is a national treasure,” she tells me. “She’s got a style all her own and she’s so charismatic. Wait till people see her with that guitar over her head.”
Watkins was a junior in high school when she joined Piano red and the Meter-tones. Later she played with Eddie Tigner and the Ink Spots and other groups, becoming a fixture at the Underground Atlanta.
She would go on to work with James Brown, B.B. King and Ray Charles, becoming well-known throughout the blues community. But like so many other roots musicians, she had little airplay, and wouldn’t achieve success until the advent of the Internet. Re-discovered by Tim Duffy, founder of the nonprofit Music Maker Relief Foundation, she joined Koko Taylor on the women of Blues “Hot Mamas” tour in 1998. Her debut CD, Back In Business (1999), earned her a W.C. Handy Award nomination in 2000, and she was on her way. A bout with cancer a few years later couldn’t keep her down, and she’s back touring and getting the kudos she deserves.
Originally from Portland, Ore., Cee Cee James was 12 when she put together her first band. She discovered blues early, but went on to explore R&B and her native cherokee roots. “Hiking in the mountains outside San Diego,” she says, “I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan whispering to me from the Heavens… “Go back to your roots girl. go back to what you do best,” which I intuitively knew was blues, low-down roots and soul.”
Her current blues band includes songwriting partner and husband Rob “Slideboy” Andrews and Nashville’s hot rockin’ bluesman Rickey Godfrey wailing on his Telecaster. This act is going to blow the sky open.
“Cee Cee James is a vocal volcano,” says D’Ambrosio. “There’s this gut-wrenching quality … Her originals come from walking through fire … and there’s just not enough to say about Rickey Godfrey. It’s an honor for us to have him here.”
J Edwards Band is going to shock a lot of people at this show. A popular Columbia, S.C. musician, he just isn’t well-known outside the area. But this boy can sing. His raw, rough, heart-wrenching vocals will stop you in your tracks.
In a matter-of-fact style that I’ve come to expect from She D’Ambrosio, she says bluntly, “J’s voice is my crack cocaine. He’s got a voice like no other. Once you’ve heard ‘I’ve Got a Woman,’ you know what I mean.”
Matt Walsh’s sound is rooted in the old-school blues of south-side Chicago in the fifties. He first gained national notoriety in 2006 when former guitarist for Muddy Waters Bob Margolin interviewed him for Blues Revue magazine. Since then Matt shared the stage or opened for Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, Pinetop Perkins and others. This guy’s on his way up! Catch him while you can!
The King Bees out of N.C were formed by guitarist/organist Hound Dog Baskerville and singer/song-writer/bassist, Queen Bee Penny Zamagni. They have a musical pedigree I can’t even imagine. They have sat in with or backed up so many blues giants:Bo Diddley, Tinsley Ellis, Billy Branch, Mojo Buford, Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr, Frank Frost, Lazy Lester, Ronnie Earl … the list goes on.
“When you hear that voice come out of Penny, who stands all of five feet … you wonder where it comes from,” says D’Ambrosio as she talks about the King Bees.
Harpman Freddie Vanderford is doing his part to keep the blues alive. In 2010 he received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award for sharing the tradition of Piedmont blues harp. For the Summer’s Last Blast festival, he’s playing with iconic guitarist Brandon Turner and the Shades.
“Brandon Turner is one of the most underrated guitarists in the U.S. I can’t wait for this show,” She tells me.
“We have people coming fro Atlanta, Charlotte, Virginia, the Carolina beaches,” she goes on. “We’re hoping to have a lot of locals, too. We have a lot of talent in this area, but we wanted to bring in acts from out of the area, too … give people a chance to see someone that maybe they haven’t been able to see before.”
This is a family-friendly festival. Food vendors will be selling homemade ice cream, funnel cakes, hot dogs, barbecue, beer, wine, soda, tea, lemonade and more.
Vendor spots are still available for $25. As a further incentive, this year’s vendors will be able to return next year for the same price.
The Pavilion at Acadia is located at 102 Fathers Way in Piedmont, S.C. For more information, log onto the website at http://www.summerslastbluesfest.com, email email@example.com or visit them on Facebook.
I’ve been following the career of Columbia, S.C. musician J Edwards for just over a year. I first heard him at a club in Columbia and was struck immediately by the soulful vocals he delivered. Then I got hold of a couple earlier CDs: Watcha Doin’ (2006), which is mainly acoustic blues; and Everything Changes (2008), electrified and less bluesy, with a full band. The musical arrangements along with the same raw, gut-sucking vocals convinced me to include Everything Changes in my CD Picks (February 11, 2010).
Long story short, when J Edwards told me he was hard at work on a new blues CD, I was giddy with anticipation and more anxious for it than a school girl shopping for her first brassiere.
I’m happy to report that LuLu’s House hits home in a big way. This ten-track recording overflows with goose-bumpin’ vocals, boot-stompin’ blues and heartstopping musicianship. LuLu’s House beckons us in to meet some good ole down home folks and share in the sumptuous buffet of Southern life. It’s all about eatin’ and leavin’, leavin’ and eatin’. LuLu sets the tone for a warm, if irreverent group of House dwellers. There’s not a loser in the bunch.
Track one, “Aint Gonna Be Your Dog” is a love song, but he suspects she’s leaving, so he sets some rules. And I bet LuLu approves.
Baby when you’re home, you walk away from me
And when you talk, you talk away from me
When you laugh, it ain’t with me
I’ll be your everything
But I ain’t gonna be your dog
Track two is also about leaving. “You Told Me You Loved Me” is a heartachy tune about life’s shortcomings and love’s disappointments. Between vocals by J Edwards and signature guitar work from Nashville artist Rickey Godfrey, you’ll be feeling this straight ahead blues tune.
You said you loved me
That you would never never never go
You said you love me
That you would never never go
Now you say you’re leaving
I say I told you told you so
Told your friends you would change me
Said you were gonna tie me down
Told your friends you would change me
Said you were gonna tie me down
There are nights I go out drinkin’
You don’t even stick around
I thought you said you loved me baby
At LuLu’s House, love is definitely a double-edged sword.
According to J, “New Shoes” is his take on Northern blues. The shoes are dapper, the coat is fancy and this boy is “whistlin’ while he’s walkin’.” Leavin’ again.
Edwards told me that most of these tunes have been around for years. He said, “I wrote them back when I was playing the Columbia blues clubs every weekend, so when I decided to do another CD, I came up with some different arrangements of blues ideas and songs I’d written. In fact, ‘I Got a Woman’ is one of those songs.”
“I Got a Woman” is the standout tune off the CD. It features plaintive vocals by J and more searing guitar licks from Rickey Godfrey.
J says response to the tune has been phenomenal. “It’s a solid blues song – simple progressions, simple lyrics … but every blues player I’ve jammed with falls in love with it. Someone will say, ‘Hey, if you’re going to do that song, I wanna play guitar on it.’ I was in Nashville earlier this year, at the Pro Blues Jam with Tim Gonzalez, the Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar in Printer’s Alley. Rickey Godfrey was on guitar. I think it was maybe the second or third time he played it and … whoa!”
There’s a video of that performance on YouTube. You can see it for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2E5cv25Zcs.
A side story to that, J told me he had really enjoyed the guys jamming with him that night. Back at the studio, he said the same to producer Mike O’neil , mentioning the bass player, in particular. O’neil knew the guy (Gere Hoffman) and worked with him often, so he wound up playing on the CD, too.
“Taste” is another “taste of somethin’ good,” with lusty, whisky-edged vocals and a performance by the backing band that is solid on its own, but never steps on the vocals.
Rickey Godfrey, a top drawer vocalist in his own right, explains it like this: “J’s vocals are so strong, so huge, I think we all just tried to stay out of his way, and let him put it out there. No one wanted to play over him, we wanted to support him. It’s not every day you have a vocalist like this to work with.”
Track eight, “Come On In the Bedroom,” is another of my favorites, for the pure lustfulness of it. And again, great band work.
But what about the CD title? I wanted to know where LuLu’s House came from.
“I remember, as a kid,” J Edwards says, “that everyone had songs about LuLu … and some of them were kinda dirty … so this is my song about LuLu: “Eatin’ About LuLu’s.”
“You know, you see people on the side of the road sometimes with signs ‘Will Work For Beer.’ They’re honest about it.
“Well, this guy, this street musician may drink some, but it’s really about the food.”
He can “eat down to LuLu’s for 65 cents …” He just wants some pancakes. When LuLu’s House turns out to be a cathouse, too, our boy’s not opposed to sharing her bed, but it’s still the “biscuits and hamhocks” he’s really lusting for.
And that’s where LuLu’s House came from. Check out the tuba. Makes you feel like you’re on the streets of New Orleans somewhere, ready to head on over to LuLu’s. For the food.
Players on LuLu’s House include: vocals, J Edwards; piano and organ, Larry Van Loon; drums and percussion, Mike O’neil; bass, Gere Hoffman; guitar, Kenne Cramer; harmonica, J Edwards; additional guitar on “I Got a Woman” and “You Said You Loved Me, Rickey Godfrey; additional bass on “Eatin’ at Lulu’s” and “Taste,” Kevin Grantt; saxophone, “Summer’s Waiting,” Dana Robbins; tuba on “Eatin’ at LuLu’s,” Matt Glassmeyer.
Recorded at Serenity Hill Studios, Nashville, Tenn; producer, Mike O’neil; engineer, Brian Tortoro; mix, Mark Polack; mastered at Serenity Hill by Mike O’neil and Mark Polack.
This is one dude who knows how to party. The eleventh annual J Edwards Birthday Bash is set for July 31 at the Jamil Temple in Columbia, S.C. from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m.
Singer/songwriter J Edwards has been throwing his own birthday party since the year 2000. One Saturday night, which happened to be his birthday, he had a gig booked at a joint called Sandra’s Corner Pocket.
“I invited some blues buddies to come and jam with me,” he remembers. “I couldn’t pay them, but I figured I could handle the bar tab. It was a lot of fun, and the tips covered the tab, so it was a great birthday.”
He did it again and by the third year out, he had so many bands wanting to play he had to make a schedule.
“I’ve had up to 15 bands, but cut back now because I’m actually paying them!” he told me in between finishing work on his new CD, finalizing band schedules, selling tickets and organizing raffles for the nonprofits involved and who knows what else.
The entertainment ranges from full on electric blues to funked up R&B, rockabilly, modern rock and smooth acoustic country.
This year’s line-up covers a lot of ground. Here are some of the players.
Rob Crosby (singer-songwriter/acoustic country)
This Sumpter, S.C. boy moved hisself to Nashville in the late eighties and has scored hits as both songwriter and artist. He has writing credits on “Concrete Angel” performed by Martina McBride, “She’s More” by Andy Griggs and “Holdin’ a Good Hand” by Lee Greenwood. His own top ten hits include “She’s a Natural,” “Love Will Bring Her Around” and “Burnin’ For You.”
Talking about Crosby, Edwards says, “Rob is just smooth .. that’s all I can say … the boy just drips with honey. His songwriting abilities weave a message that’s pretty phenomenal.” Showtime 5:45 p.m.
Rickey Godfrey (soul-blues guitarist/vocals)
Whether you’re talking vocals or instrumental, Nashville’s Rickey Godfrey is recognized not just in Music City and his home state of South Carolina, but all over the world. He’s toured and played with Sam Moore, Rufus Thomas, the Box Tops, Johnny Jones and Billy Preston. J Edwards said, “Rickey’s superb bluesmanship captures attention wherever he goes. He’s got such a cool groove. Folks are going to be blown away.” Godfrey, who is currently working on his own blues album for release later this year, also played on Lulu’s House, J Edwards CD on the Serenity Hill label, set for release at the Birthday Bash. I’ve heard a few of the tracks and can’t wait to hear the rest. Showtime 3:15 p.m.
Tommy Tutone (80s pop, rockabilly)
Best known for his hit “867-5309/Jenny” from his gold album Tutone 2, Tommy is working on a new CD called Soul Twang, bringing a new synthesis of rockabilly, soul and country to the table. Gonna be fun. Showtime 6:30 p.m.
Soul Mites (funk-rock)
This quartet has been together since college, and on the S.C. music scene for some 13 years. Lead singer Tim Davis’ raspy voice adds to their unique sound. Edwards said, “These guys are pure funk rock… their grooves are unbelievable.” Showtime 7:30 p.m.
Cravin’ Melon (Southern rock, folk rock, rockabilly)
This is one of those bands you just gotta see live. Their fans, who range from the fanatical Front Row Club to newbie melonheads are practically part of the show. The band mixes southern charm with tasty guitar licks, vocals and rhythm section to serve up a feast of musical morsels. Get yourself some. Showtime 9:45 p.m.
Midway Blue (Southern rock)
Out of Florence, S.C., these guys recently played the Charlotte Motor Speedway and won the semi finals round of the SPEED channel’s talent show, “Fast Track to Fame.” J Edwards is really enthusiastic about this group. “Midway Blue have a really cool take on Southern country rock … kind of a Beatles’ flair and it’s straight into Craig Morgan country sound with a little Lynyrd Skynyrd over the top.” Showtime 5:45 p.m.
Latin influences, funky phrasing and straight up rock are words that founders Gabriel Lopez and Charles Funk use to describe their unique musical sound. You’ll have to hear it for yourself. (If you’re already a J Edwards fan, you know Funk as his scorching guitarist.) Showtime 2 p.m.
General admission tickets for the Birthday Bash are $15 advance/$20 at the door. VIP tables for four cost $200. A portion of your ticket price will go to one of half a dozen charities. There will also be raffles and silent auctions going on all day.
For more information on the charities, schedules or tickets, visit www.jedwardsband.com or “J Edwards 11th Annual Birthday Bash” page on Facebook or call 803-315-1901. J Edwards Band showtime 8:45 p.m.
Cagle & Nash
If you’re not located in the Carolinas, you may not yet know about this Charlotte, N.C. duo, but Cagle & Nash are one of the best R&B acts around. Greg Cagle plays saxophone, guitar and sings lead vocals. Rick Nash plays a mean trumpet. Both are talented composers.
This soulful recording consists of 11 tracks and for my money, any one of them could be released as a single. Presentation throughout is solidly polished. This is pop meets old school and the result is spectacular. All songs on Soul Complete were written by Greg Cagle and Rick Nash.
The first song into it, I knew I was in for a treat. “Pick Up the Phone” is a jazzy piece that shows off the vocal talents of Greg Cagle, and Rick Nash – what a horn player!
The second track, “December,” boasts some equally rich horns. Also of note are the disc’s harmonies by Cagle and backup singers Robyn Springer and Jarrett Gillis.
Musicians on Soul Complete include: Greg Cagle (drum programming, saxophone, lead vocals, background vocals, guitar, bass, vibraphone), Rick Nash (trumpet), David Rhyne (percussion), Joe Miers (bass), Bobby Aycock (piano), Larry Gianneschi, Zach Wheeler, Greg Mitchell (alto sax), David Floyd (string arrangement, strings), Robyn Springer (lead and background vocals), Jarrett Gillis (background vocals), Tovaris Matthews (drums), Kenneth Leonard Jr. (piano), Steve McGuirt (drums), Bill Baucom (piano), Di Yonna Mitchell (lead vocal).
If you’re a fan of R&B, soul or pop, you’ll want to give this album a listen.
C&N is releasing another CD titled Loungevity later this month. I haven’t hear any of it yet, but I’m expecting big things.
Awendaw Green Records
I love the simplicity and authenticity of this CD. There’s virtually no digital manipulation. It’s just one lone acoustic bluesman singing, picking and stomping his own version of backwoods Delta blues.
Jeff Norwood is a superb storyteller. He doesn’t judge. He just tells it like it is – whether he’s singing about sex, race, religion, love, money or catfish, he just has a story to tell.
“Bad Ass Boogie” is “the way music was made, back in the woods, back in the day, everybody got high, everybody got laid, that was the tune that always got played, the bad ass boogie.”
“Walking Catfish Blues” really is about a big ole catfish walking around looking for love and something to eat.
“Horny Road” is the back country counterpart to suburbia’s Lover’s Lane, only the couples don’t stop.
In the same vein, “Shake” will transplant you to a street corner or a front porch on a sticky summer evening when temperatures and hormones are on the move.
Our faithful bard wrote all but one of Awendaw’s ten tracks. “Kokomo Blues” was written by North Mississippi blues guitarist/singer Fred McDowell (1904 – 1972).
Norwood, who grew up working on a S.C. farm, has paid his dues working some rough roadhouses and juke joints. Maybe that’s why he’s so matter of fact about his subject matter.
Awendaw, which is named for the small S.C. town where Norwood records, should be part of any serious blues collection.
I first heard this phenomenal performer at a club in Columbia, S.C. He was playing to a packed room – folks who knew the lyrics to every tune and the story behind it. It didn’t take me long to appreciate Edwards’ considerable vocal talent and songwriting skill. His voice is whiskey-edged velvet, tender and tough at the same time.
His latest CD, Everything Changes delivers the same kind of live energy and raw vocals that keep his fans coming back for more. As a songwriter, J Edwards ( and yes, his first name is J) wears his heart on his sleeve, and while his tunes aren’t necessarily autobiographical, he makes us believe they are.
The 11-track disc opens with a rockin’ Delbertesque number called “Junkyard of Love,” a song about a guy talking about a girl who’s maybe worked her way through most of the guys at the bar, and by the end of the tune, he’s going to get himself a “mechanic to start working out the kinks in his heart.” He’s ready to move on.
“Carole Ann” is a hauntingly sweet tune of life on the road. Edwards then picks up the pace for “Can’t Get Over You.”
“Lover’s Moon Over South Carolina,” is a road trip anthem with a special yen for heading home to South Carolina. It was voted in the top three at the Songwriter’s and Musician’s Guild of South Carolina songwriting competition.
Let yourself give in to “Skye.” Crank it up and go. It’s just plain fun.
Track seven, “Baby,” is going to take your breath away and fill you full of longing and sweetness until you just ache all over. This is that whiskey velvet I was talking about. Add to that, guitar work by Charles Funk … well, just wait for the goose bumps. They comin’.
Without even giving you time to recover, “If I Had To” is up next and it’s another tune that strips away the layers as you listen to it. Good stuff. Also called “Conner’s Song,” J was inspired by Columbia’s Chris Conner, lead singer for Sourwood Honey and later The South, who passed away in late 2007 of lung cancer.
“Use Me” takes the emotion from the previous two ballads and channels it into a rockin’ romp for the whole band.
Edwards’ songwriting ability is evident on “Catch Me,” a song of love and leaving and lamenting the contradiction of it all. The road warrior longs to stay but feels the constant pull toward the highway. As with most all J Edwards’ songs, powerful vocals combine with solid band performances.
All songs were written and performed by J Edwards (acoustic guitar). Other players include Charles Funk (acoustic, rhythm, lead guitars); Hesham Mostafa (bass guitar); Greg Bickley (keys on “Catch Me” and “Lover’s Moon;” Buddy Parker (keys on “Junkyard of Love;” Evan Simons (drums); Mike Marchbanks (drums on “If I Had To” and “Can’t Get Over You;” Erin Bates (background vocals on “Junkyard of Love”).
At this writing, the J Edwards Band has begun work on a new blues CD. They expect to be back in the studio by early March and hope for a summer release.