DarielB – Flying Under the Radar

Living History: Piedmont Blues Legends Show July 21

Posted in Live Performance Previews/Reviews by darielb on July 9, 2012

The irascible S.C. Blues Doctor – Drink Small. (Photo James Quaint)

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:


Road Trip: Pop Ferguson Blues Fest in Lenoir, N.C.

Posted in Live Performance Previews/Reviews by darielb on June 1, 2012

Pop Ferguson (Photo courtesy reverbnation.com/cjblues (Pop Ferguson Blues Revue)

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.”

Beverly “Guitar” Watkins. (Photo Mary Ann McLaurin)

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.

Festival Schedule
Friday Workshops
(5 – 8 p.m.)
Patrick Crouch. Slide blues guitar
Jaret Carter. Country blues guitar
Max Hightower. Blues “Hohner” harmonica
Saturday Performances
Main Street Stage
3:45 Pop Ferguson
4:30 Anointed
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
Alibi Stage
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

Pimpin’ for the Pee Dee

Posted in Live Performance Previews/Reviews by darielb on April 21, 2010

Pee Dee Blues Bash • April 23 – 24

Music promoter Gary Erwin brings us several S.C. blues festivals every year. Each February, the ten-day-plus Lowcountry Blues Bash showcases some 50 blues-driven acts in about 25 different venues in Charleston, S.C. The smaller Carolina Down home Blues Festival in Camden, S.C. takes place the first weekend in October. May brings us Blues by the Sea on Kiawah Island, S.C. The annual Greenwood Blues Cruise (yes, it’s four-wheel cruising) delivers our blues fix in July. And now there’s the Pee Dee Blues Bash in April.

Introduced last year, the second annual Pee Dee Blues Bash takes place April 23 – 24 in Florence, S.C. As always, Erwin presents a mixed bag of varying rhythms from local musicians to international touring acts. Headliners include old school bluesman Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues (S.C.); roots-blues band Bradley’s Circus (The Netherlands); genre-jumping harmonica wizard, Harper (Australia); and traditional blues preservationists Asamu Johnson Project (Michigan).

Mac Arnold (Photo Stephen Stinson)

Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues. Even in high school Mac Arnold had a happenin’ band. James Brown often sat in on piano. At 24 he had the opportunity to join the Muddy Waters Band. With the band, he shared the stage with Howlin’ Wolfe, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, Junior Wells, Big Joe Williams, and Big Mama Thornton.  Mac played on John Lee Hooker’s live album, Live at the Café Au Go-Go, as well as Otis Spann’s classic recording “The Blues is Where It’s At.”

He later formed the Soul Invaders, a band that backed up the Temptations, B.B. King and other big name groups. Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues includes Danny Keylon on bass and vocals; Austin Brashier on guitar and vocals; Max Hightower on keyboards, harmonica, guitar, and vocals; Mike Whitt on drums, and; of course, Mac Arnold on vocals, bass and Gas Can Guitars.

Matanja Bradley of Bradley's Circus

Bradley’s Circus. Fronting this contemporary group are two rockin’ ladies: Mattanja Joy Bradley on vocals and Lidewij Veenhuis on vocals and harp. Bradley’s husky blues voice is a powerful instrument and Veenhuis’ harp is legendary in the Netherlands. On guitar is Jimmy The Lounge and backing them are the spinning upright bass of Toine Stout and rolling drums of  BeeWee Nederkoorn. This is not your father’s blues band.


Harper. Think of this as world blues.  Harper combines roots, jam, blues and world music to create a style all his own. From his website, Harper has been described as “a singer with the deep soul of Motown, a harmonica player who can graft Sonny Boy II and Little Walter with John Popper, a songwriter who tells his own compelling stories in an unhurried, J.J. Cale-like manner, and a musical visionary who is unafraid to mix the didgeridoo, an important part of his Australian indigenous culture, with infectious modern percussive rhythms.”

Asamu Johnson Project

Asamu Johnson Project. Asamu Johnson is a bluesman through and through. His bio says, “He doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, he is the wheel,” and that says it all. Johnson’s lyrics come from life. “Devil Wind” is about  destruction from a tornado. “Turnips and Greens” is just that: his love of good down home cooking. Give him a listen. You’ll hear some authentic blues.

And there’s more! Other artists at the Pee Dee Blues Bash include Robert Lighthouse, originally from Sweden and now living in the Washington D.C. area. Playing guitar and harp as he handles vocals, too, Lighthouse is the definitive one-man band. Listen to him play the old Mississippi Delta blues; you’ll hear Robert Johnson whispering in his ear.

Local boys Juke Joint Johnny and Drew Baldwin, the wildly popular acoustic harmonica and harp-guitar duo, will blow you away as they blend country blues, swing and jazz.

Also from the southernmost Carolina are Naz & the Falsehoods. If you’ve ever enjoyed the sounds of Elliott & the Untouchables and Delta Swagger, you’ve probably heard Mike “Naz” Nazarenko blowing the harp. His music was also featured in the 1999 indie film My Drug Dealer.

Texan Randy McAllister brings his Lone Star trio to the Pee Dee. This multi-talented Grammy nominee (drummer/harp man/ vocalist/songwriter) says he can be found where modern blues meets Americana, ranch rock and swamp pop. He’ll do fine in S.C.

If you ask what sort of music Tampa Blue plays, the short answer is that it’s based on Alabama blues and spirituals. The long answer is, “Traditional, acoustic, Delta, slide, Piedmont, finger-style, Southern rural, pre-war, country, pre-electric with a touch of spirituals, hollers, rags and American finger-style guitar seasoning.” I love a picker!

Florence is barely a stone’s throw from the beach, so if blues is your bag, the Pee Dee Blues Bash is the place to be. Log onto www.peedeebluesbash.com for more information and links to the artists’ websites. There’s also a downloadable .pdf file of the flyer that you can print out for yourself.


Florence, S.C.

• International Stage at Arts International – Francis Marion University

• Blues Stage at Arts International Festival – Francis Marion University

• The Cottage – Francis Marion University

• Creek Ratz – 2001 W. Cashua Dr., Florence, 29501, 843-661-5100

• Florence County Main Library – 509 S. Dargan St., Florence, 29506,  843-662-8424

• Indigo Joe’s – 3410 W. Radio Dr., Florence, 29501, 843-667-3888

• Red Bone Alley – 1903 W. Palmetto St., Florence, 29501, 843-673-0035

• Victor’s Bistro & Garden – 1247 S. Irby St., Florence, 29505, 843-665-0846

Bennettsville, S.C.

• Bennettsville Visitor Center – 304 W. Main St., Bennettsville, 29512, 843-479-3941

Hartsville, S.C.

• Bizzell’s Food & Spirits – 137 E. Carolina Ave., Hartsville, 29550, 843-857-9080

Lake City, S.C.

• National Bean Market Museum (outdoor stage) – 111 Henry St., Lake City, 29560, 843-374-8611


Friday, April 23

Bennettsville Visitor Center: 5-8 p.m.:  Juke Joint Johnny & Drew Baldwin

Florence County Main Library: 6-8 p.m.:  Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues

The Cottage at Francis Marion University: 7-9 p.m.:  Bradley’s Circus

Red Bone Alley: 7-10 p.m.:  Robert Lighthouse

National Bean Market Museum: 7 – 10 p.m.: Randy McAllister

Bizzell’s: 9 p.m. – midnight:  Asamu Johnson Project

Creek Ratz: 9 p.m. – midnight:  Harper

Indigo Joe’s: 9 p.m. – midnight: Naz & the Falsehoods

Victor’s: 9 – 11:30 p.m.:  Tampa Blue

Saturday, April 24

• Blues Stage at Arts Int’l (FMU): 11 a.m. – noon:  Robert Lighthouse; 12:15-1:15 p.m.:  Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues; 1:30-2:30 p.m.:  Randy McAllister; 2:45-3:45:  Asamu Johnson Project Blues; 4 – 5 p.m.:  Harper

• Main Stage at Arts Int’l (FMU): 4-5 p.m.:  Bradley’s Circus

• Red Bone Alley:  p.m.: Bradley’s Circus

• National Bean Market Museum (outdoor) stage:  7 – 10 p.m.:  Robert Lighthouse

• Bizzell’s: 9-midnight:  Asamu Johnson Project

• Creek Ratz: 9 p.m. – midnight: Harper

• Indigo Joe’s: 9 p.m. – midnight: Randy McAllister

• Victor’s: 9 – 11:30 p.m.: Juke Joint Johnny & Drew Baldwin