DarielB – Flying Under the Radar

Charleston’s Down With Da Blues

Posted in Live Performance Previews/Reviews by darielb on January 28, 2010

Harp man Charlie Sayles (Photo Perry Manuk)

Once again, the Lowcountry Blues Bash is combining a lineup of stellar out-of-town talent with a crew of topnotch local area performers to give blues lovers one sizzling show after another. According to organizer Gary Erwin, the event, which is in its twentieth year, is offering 53 different acts performing 90 shows at 24 venues throughout the Charleston, S.C. area during the 12-day blues crawl.

I’ll give you some highlights here, but the best way to figure out which shows you gotta see is to mark your calendar for Feb. 5 – 16 and download your own brochure at http://www.bluesbash.com.

Headliners for 2010 include  Charlie Sayles & the Blues Disciples; Paul Geremia; blues legend Eddy Kirkland; blues mama Beverly Guitar Watkins; and Bryan Lee & the Blues Power Band.

Harp man Charlie Sayles picked up his first harmonica during a stint in Vietnam. He’s known as much for his authentic song- writing as for his soulful harmonica sound. Add to that, the smokin’ guitar of Tony Fazio and this band is a Gotta See in my book.

Traditional bluesman Paul Geremia is considered to be one of the best country blues hand pickers in the country. He paid his dues playing with legends such as Yank Rachell and Howlin’ Wolf; today he’s a jazz and blues scholar, an esteemed songwriter and a legend in his own right.

Born in Jamaica and raised in Alabama until he went off with the Sugar Girls Medicine Show at the ripe old age of 12, Eddie Kirkland is truly the “Gypsy of the Blues.” He toured and recorded with John Lee Hooker; he was a bandleader for Otis Redding; he still tours over 40 weeks out of the year. Eddie Kirkland & the Energy Band will perform two shows on opening weekend.

It makes me feel good just knowing that Beverly Guitar Watson is still out there kickin’ and pickin’. She growls originals and classics into the mic while she ignites her guitar.

Braille Blues Daddy Bryan Lee. (Courtesy photo)

If you haven’t heard of Bryan Lee, he’s nothing less than a bona fide New Orleans blues institution. Eric Clapton calls him “… one of the best bluesmen I have ever heard…” Blues Revue magazine says “… Lee’s fiery Telecaster is unstoppable …” You’ve got three chances to catch him at the Lowcountry Blues Bash.

Daddy Mack Blues Band is back by popular demand bringing their downhome, funky Beale Street sound to town during the second weekend of the crawl.

Shemekia Copeland will be at the blues bash that weekend, too. Still in her twenties, the daughter of blues legend Johnny Copeland has opened for the Rolling Stones, headlined the Chicago Blues Festival and shared the stage with Buddy Guy, B.B. King and Taj Mahal. Mark my words, it won’t be long before Shemekia is going to own the stage! Gotta See!

I’m excited to report that Delta Highway is on the roster for this year’s Bash in Charleston. I saw this rockin’ group in 2008 at the Cape Fear Blues Festival. Led by founders Brandon Santini on harp and guitarist Justin Sulek, their sound has traditional roots, but definitely takes you for a ride through some uncharted territory. If this is the future of the blues, count me in!

Now you may know Col. Bruce Hampton & the Quark Alliance, but for this gig, the Col. Bruce Hampton Blues Trio will be front and center, exploring their blues roots. Another rare opportunity for lovers of the genre!

Guitar wizard Rickey Godfrey is bringing his Telecaster to town for one show only. If you’ve never experienced his unique brand of soulful blues and the utterly raw power of his vocals, make sure you’re in the neighborhood of the Hometeam BBQ on Sunday, Feb. 7. It’s not just the barbecue that will be smokin’

Another hot rockin’ show in the lineup is Johnny Mac & Booty Ranch. Charleston locals love the raunchy blues of this exciting bar band. But it’s the musicianship of these guys that keeps packing the room.

Atlanta’s Big Bill Morganfield is sure to pull a crowd. Son of the legendary Muddy Waters, Big Bill is on his own blues journey and making his daddy proud. He has been named Best New Blues Artist at the W.C. Handy Awards. The Chicago Tribute has said, “… it’s eerie, as if his father and Howlin’ Wolf had never left…”

There are so many more to mention: singer/songwriter Davis Coen; my favorite lowcountry bard, Jeff Norwood (whose latest CD, Awendaw, I love!); Drink Small, the blues doctor; Wanda Johnson, another S.C. gem; the King Bees from N.C.; the one- man blues band of Robert Lighthouse; Cole Train, which is the new group led by the amazing young guitarist Sarah Cole (Stone Cold Sarah); Lil Dave Thompson and his Mississippi brand of electric juke joint blues; and The Scissormen from Nashville. I have to say, I don’t know this group, but I love Gary Erwin’s description of them: “Blues/rock mayhem and wild slide guitar.” Gary’s alter ego, Shrimp City Slim will be performing throughout the festival, too. This is going to be another great Lowcountry Blues Bash. Hope to see you there!

Discount lodging is available at the Rodeway Inn at River Crossing at the foot of Ravenel Bridge in Mt. Pleasant. Be sure to mention the Blues Bash to get the special rate. Call 843-884-5853 or visit http://www.theinnatrivercrossing.com.


R.I.P. Jeff Roberts: Myrtle Beach’s Beloved Minister of Music

Posted in Music Stories, Personal Essays by darielb on January 13, 2010

One of my faves, Jeff Roberts (on right) with one of his own faves, rocker turned gospel singer Mike Farris. May, 2008 (Photo by Dariel Bendin)

I won’t say that music in Myrtle Beach died along with Jeff Roberts. But it took a hit and the whole community is feeling the pain.

Co-founder and director for Myrtle Beach’s nonprofit South By Southeast, Jeff has been working his butt off for years – keeping music in our schools, supporting our local musicians and bringing topnotch national and regional talents to perform  at the monthly SxSE Music Feasts at the city’s historic Train Depot.

On a personal note, Jeff was simply one of my favorite people. The perfect day for me would include a stop at his wonderfully independent Sounds Better record store, where I could just hang with Jeff for a while. Our Minister of Music was always up to the challenge: “Find me something I’ll love that I’ve never heard before.” And he’d rustle through a stack of CDs or flip through a bin of LPs until he came up with just the right recording.

That’s how I learned about the incredible blues mandolin player Yank Rachell. It was Jeff Roberts who introduced me to Mike Farris – both the music and the man – whose gospel vocals are nothing short of life-changing. Without Jeff Roberts I wouldn’t know the green-eyed soul of Lari White. Or the rockin’ good humor of Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack. Or the quirky blues of Harry Manx.

Jeff Roberts was my mentor, my teacher, my friend. So Jeff, if you’re reading this – and I know you are – thank you for everything. I am so much the better for knowing you.

But where is that Verlon Thompson CD you’ve been promising me?

Homecoming Jam Rocks Greenville, S.C.

Posted in Live Performance Previews/Reviews by darielb on January 13, 2010

Garfeel Ruff at the Handlebar, Greenville,S.C. Dec. 28, 2009. L-R: guitarist Buddy Strong; drummer Scotty Hawkins; keyboard player Ronnie Godfrey; bassist Franklin Wilkie; guitarist Rickey Godfrey.

I would have written about this terrific event sooner, but I caught the granddaddy of colds on my trip to the Upstate and I’ve just now been able to get my thoughts together.  Comments from guitarist Rickey Godfrey  add a musician’s POV, so I’ve included as many as possible.

Taking place at the renowned Handlebar concert hall/pub in downtown Greenville, S.C. on Dec. 28, this was billed as the fourth annual Homecoming Jam 2009, and was it ever a homecoming! The S.C. Upstate boasts a rich heritage of musicians that include the Marshall Tucker Band, the Toy Factory, Garfeel Ruff, Backbone, Fresh Licks and then some. Those names were all represented at the Handlebar. I can’t tell you how excited I was to be there for this show and if the packed house was any indication, I’d say I wasn’t alone.

The opening set began with Ronnie Godfrey (Marshall Tucker Band, Garfeel Ruff, Virgil) on keyboard; Donnie Winters (Winters Brothers Band) on guitar; Scotty Hawkins (One-Eyed Jack, Reba McEntire,  Brooks & Dunn) on the drumkit;  Rickey Godfrey (Rickey Godfrey Band, Garfeel Ruff, Fresh Licks) on guitar and, on bass, Franklin Wilkie (Marshall Tucker Band, Garfeel Ruff, Coconut Groove, Gypsy Souls, Rickey Godfrey Band).

You know what I’m going to tell you, right? They rocked! Ronnie opened the show with a soulful rendition of “Tobacco Road.” Donnie’s slide guitar solo got the audience going and we were ready for Ronnie’s “Rainy Night In Georgia.”  I have to interject here that Ronnie Godfrey doesn’t perform in public too often these days. He’s busy recording and writing, which is his big love. Long story short, if you get a chance to see him, run, don’t walk to get your spot in line. He’s that good.

Next up was brother Rickey singing “Keep What I Got,” the popular blues tune by Slim Harpo.  Rickey was just warming us up. In fact, he told me later he could tell the crowd was getting into it and “really in the mood to have fun.” Well, his next tune blew me away – along with everyone else in the room –  Benny Lattamore’s funk-edged soul song, “Let’s Straighten It Out.” This song will never be the same for me again. How can one family have this much talent?

After a few more tunes, they brought out former MTBers Tony Heatherly on bass and guitarist Ronald Radford (Faded Glory, Randy Travis). Rickey told me, “We’ve always regarded Ronald as one of the best country guitar players around, so he just gets up and shows everybody that it’s true. When Hawk sang ‘Sittin’ On Top of the World,’ Ronald did some fancy chicken pickin’. Then on ‘I Hear the South Calling Me’ [great vocals by Tony Heatherly here], he AGAIN dazzles the audience with aggressive playing that sounded to me a lot like Toy Caldwell himself.”

At one point guitarist Donny Duncan (Backbone) came out and did a super job on the MTB tune “Can’t You See, ” with Rickey Godfrey on vocals. This was especially fun for those of us in the audience because Donny runs a sound company these day and doesn’t play all that often. Like so many of these guys though, he couldn’t resist coming home!   With Donny still on the stage, bass player and jam organizer Mark McMakin (Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’ Blues, Hard Rain) came out and sang the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out.”  Great job, all around, Mark! And for the guys I missed, I apologize.

A couple hours into the evening, Garfeel Ruff took the stage, and, to be honest, this  was probably the most anticipated set of the night.  In existence less than five years, Garfeel Ruff was among the hottest of the Upstate bands.  They had a national deal with Capitol Records and a huge following in the area. Their self-titled Garfeel Ruff (1979),  soundtrack for The Hitter (1978) and Born To Play (1984) are collectors’ items today.  They performed just five numbers, all originals written by the band. First up was Rickey Godfrey’s “Pine Needles Don’t Cry,” and the crowd went wild. They’d been waiting for it all night. Buddy Strong and Rickey executed their double lead guitar parts flawlessly.

The band was having as much fun as their audience. Emailing his comments  to me about the show, Rickey says, “Buddy and I did a great job on Frank Wilkie’s song, “Closer To Jesus.” Scotty Hawkins on drums and Frank on bass laid down a funky groove on this song that was ten miles wide. And with folks like Wolfman and Tony Heatherly  singing back up harmony … we were definitely in the blues church in rock & roll heaven. On “I’m Hungry” [written by the late Alan Pearson, GR’s original drummer who passed away in Jan. 1996], I sang it aggressively and Ronnie’s piano solo was incredible – just like in the old days!.” Rickey’s into aggressive music.

The band’s next tune was “Greensnake Blues.” Ronnie Godfrey  wrote it with Alan Pearson. The crowd was lovin’ the blues and Rickey’s guitar solo was one of the best of the night. The Garfeel Ruff closer was “Purple Satin Lady,” written by Buddy Strong, vocals by Ronnie Godfrey. It’s one of the group’s best known songs, and the crowd was on its feet.

The next set was Marvin King with son Markus King – two of the most exciting guitarists around. Get this, Markus is 13 years old. He’s got some career ahead of him. The highlight of this whole set may well have been the Allman Brothers classic “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” The guys handled the double leads just like the original and it was incredible to hear.  I had to laugh, when dad Marvin started to tell the audience his son’s age, Markus objected. Yeah, I remember 13. Also contributing in no small measure: Mark McMakin was on bass, Easley musician Bobby Simmons was playing keyboard and Max Hightower was on harp.

The night closed out with Donnie Winters, Justin McCorkle (yep, George was his dad) and Mark McAffee onstage. They did  “Fire On the Mountain” and “Statesboro Blues,” a fitting end to Mark McMakin’s Homecoming Jam 2009.