Getting his start as a professional musician in the early 1970's, Sugar Ray formed a band in 1979 with guitarist Ronnie Earl. Sugar Ray and the Bluetones went on to play with some of the great blues players of that time including Ray's harmonica inspiration, Big Walter Horton. In 1991 Ray became the lead vocalist for Roomful of Blues and fronted that band for a number of years before reforming his Bluetones again in the late 90's.
I remember seeing Ray with Roomful of Blues and was not only impressed with his vocals but also his excellent harmonica playing. This show at Famous Dave's not only showcased his soulful vocals and his powerful harp playing, but his band also featured young guitar sensation, Mike Welch. Welch, who was dubbed with the moniker "Monster" Mike Welch by Dan Aykroyd has released 3 albums on his own (recording his first when he was just 15). Welch, who has played in town in the past with his own band added an excellent counter point to Ray's singing and harp playing--never overplaying but stepping to the forefront with some outstanding guitar solos when called upon by Ray.
Also in the band that night was bass veteran Michael "Mudcat" Ward (playing both his famous upright bass as well as an electric). Before I realized who was playing bass I was continuing to be drawn to one of the best bass lines I had heard in a long time, thinking, "this guy is really good." Ward began his recording career with Walter Horton and has recorded with the likes of Hubert Sumlin, Ronnie Earl, Ron Levy, John Brim, James Cotton, Jerry Portnoy, Charlie Musselwhite, Otis Grand, Paul Oscher, and Sleepy La Beef, to name just a few, in addition to Sugar Ray.
The band performed an impressive two sets of traditional blues, west coast swing, and stirring ballads. This was simply one of the most impressive shows and best nights of blues music I have seen this year. If you missed this show go buy one of his records, you won't be disappointed. Ray's new album is called "Rockin' Sugar Daddy" on Severn Records.
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