Dr. John hosted the four-hour awards and music presentation that honored the best of the blues. The awards were handed out between a great variety of musical entertainment.
The show kicked off in high gear with Gatemouth Brown & Gates Express. He switched from blues to guitar to blues fiddle and never missed a beat. Dr. John joined the band and if we could have heard his piano, it would have been great.
Richard Johnston, the first place winner of the International Blues Challenge, wowed the crowd with his powerful voice and inventive musical abilities. He appeared to be playing a cigar box that was a bass and a lead guitar while keeping the beat with his feet on a miniature drum set. A man to keep your eye and ear on in the future.
The music continued with Corey Harris and Henry Butler. This was a great collaboration, Harris on acoustic guitar and Butler's hands flying across the piano keys.
The 2001 Handy Awards All Star Band was comprised of Duke Robillard, Pinetop Perkins, Willie King, Levon Helm, Kim Wilson and Bob Margolin. Each member got in a solo and this was definitely a "dream team" band. Kim Wilson was outstanding as usual on the harp, at times playing without amplification, the notes coming out sweet and clear. It would be great if they took this show on the road.
Gatemouth Brown opened up the second half of the show and then turned it over to Bobby Rush. By now, the audience was a little restless and the chairs were getting a little stiff. Bobby Rush energized the place with the help of a tight band and his lead guitarist Vasti Jackson. Jackson has to be one of the best guitarists I have ever seen and never heard of. It was a treat to watch him play. Rush was playful, enthused and just plain fun to watch.
Eddy Clearwater played his recent song "Winds of Change." This was blues you could feel to the bottom of your soul. He then played some Rock n Blues and did a lot of dancing around the stage. He was certainly enjoying himself as much as the crowd enjoyed him.
Big Jack Johnson, Kim Wilson and Sam Carr were the next ones up to entertain the troops. It was a pleasure to listen to them and they did a great job but, the audience was starting to zone out. Three and a half hours had passed and though it seemed quick the cramped positions were starting to take a toll.
Taj Mahal was the last performer of the night and he woke up everybody. His three song set passed way too quickly. His final song "Mr. Pitiful" had the audience up and dancing. Now, we could go another four hours!
The last award of the evening was for Entertainer of the Year. Rufus Thomas and Ruth Brown presented it. Their humorous banter was a delight and of course the award went to Mr. B.B. King.
The presenters were as star studded as the performers and they included Big Mack Rice, Paul Pena, Chris Thomas King, Sean Costello, Safire, Levon Helm, Leroy Parnell and others.
The only down side to the night was that the show was too long and there were no female performers. They were in town but not booked to play and that is a shame.
This was my first time at the Handy Awards and scuttlebutt is that it was the first sold out show with the most nominees attending and the most professional, entertaining one of all. I guess practice makes perfect and if this night was any indication of shows to come, get your tickets now.
2001 W.C. Handy Award Winners:
Acoustic Album of the Year - Robert Lockwood, Jr.
Acoustic Artist of the Year - Keb' Mo'
Band of the Year - Taj Mahal & The Phantom Blues Band
Best New Artist of the Year - North Mississippi Allstars
Blues Album of the Year - Shemekia Copeland
Comeback Album of the Year - Mel Brown
Contemporary Album of the Year - B.B. King/Eric Clapton
Contemporary Female Artist of the Year - Shemekia Copeland
Contemporary Male Artist of the Year - Eddy Clearwater
Entertainer of the Year - B.B. King
Historical Blues Album of the Year - Otis Spann
Instrumentalist of the Year-Bass - Willie Kent
Instrumentalist of the Year-Drums - Chris Layton
Instrumentalist of the Year-Guitar - Duke Robillard
Instrumentalist of the Year-Harmonica - Charlie Musselwhite
Instrumentalist of the Year-Horns - Roomful of Blues
Instrumentalist of the Year-Keyboards - Pinetop Perkins
Instrumentalist of the Year-Other - Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown
Song of the Year - It's 2 A.M. Vito (Shemekia Copeland, Wicked)
Soul Blues Album of the Year - Irma Thomas
Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year - Etta James
Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year - Little Milton
Traditional Album of the Year - Son Seals
Traditional Female Artist of the Year - Koko Taylor
Traditional Male Artist of the Year - James Cotton
I'm back from my second trip to Memphis for the Handy Awards weekend.
Who I heard that played harp .... Taj Mahal, Kim Wilson, Chris O'Leary, John Kay (of Steppenwolf), Blind Mississippi Morris, Jimmy Hall, Terry Harmonica Bean (new and good), Bobby Rush, John Weston, Linzie Butler, Eddie Shaw, and two more whose names I don't know. Kim Wilson was beyond awesome.
More great music ... David Keyes, Richard W Johnston (incredibly good!!!), Eddie Vaan Shaw, Bonnie Bramlett, Sam Carr, Doug MacLeod, Pinetop Perkins, Lee Roy Parnell, Corey Harris, Henry Bulter, Eddy Clearwater, Amy Helm, Levon Helm, Big Jack Johnson, Dr. John, Robert Lockwood Jr., James Armstrong, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Sam Carr, Bob Margolin, Brad Webb, and more whose names I don't know.
I missed seeing/hearing some musicians because jams/concerts lasted longer than I could stay awake. Nevertheless, I saw many. I feel fortunate for the opportunity (especially since I am newly-acquainted with blues music --- and only recently have I been getting out to hear live performances).
Favorite souveniers ... a voodoo doll and a magnet with a picture of art (portrait of James Cotton) done by Tater Red (owns a lucky-mojo store on Beale Street and does a Sun. night radio blues show).
I walked the riverwalk. I walked Beale Street. I walked downtown. I visited with an artist and bought a piece of his artwork (called the Family of Spirits) that I will get framed. Turns out this artist is based out of Chicago.
Beale Street was packed full of people. I met some blues-passioned wonderful people (e.g. a Tampa-based community radio person and a photographer from Seattle who was the official photographer for Handy's last year).
I hope I can go back and do this again next year ... perhaps go to see Graceland, revisit Mud Island (which also has a wonderful museum), and just see more of historic Memphis.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Deb Brunsberg & Judy Cedar, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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