Billy spent four nights in Minnesota, bringing his precise, expressive guitar playing, smooth, accomplished harmonica, and passion for the blues. A night with "The Specialist" is always a lot of fun, since Billy always manages to pull a few surprises out of his blues bag of musical trips. And he traveled over from his home in Green Bay without a band, calling on local blues players to back him up for a great blues sound. At Famous Dave's Big George Jackson, Jeremy Johnson, and Dwight Dario, all from the Big George Jackson band, along with Billy's brother, Jimmy Flynn, from Joe T Cook and the Longshots, playing bass.
Billy warmed things up before Big George came out with his great blues guitar playing and raspy yet passionate vocals. Billy can make his Gibson ring out repeating chords like a bell, its multi-tone sound rich with expressive warmth. He gave the crowd a little Muddy Waters on a slow blues grinder, playing some great slow slide, his slow, subtle picking filled with feeling. This was a special request from a fan, and Billy always aims to please, as he did here. Billy respects his fellow players, frequently letting Jeremy Johnson, a very talented guitarist himself, take the lead on his Fender for some great stinging licks, quick chord progressions, and piercing notes. Billy brought it down low and soulful at the end, rubbing his guitar strings with thumb and forefinger, playing one-handed, and just showing how easy a great blues guitar player can make it look to play solid blues. Easy if you have that much talent and years of playing.
Big George then strolled out on the stage for some great, low throaty singing and low, powerful harp, rich with vibrato, on "Mean Old Blues." Billy backed up George with some expressive, penetrating slide guitar licks. George, Jeremy, and Billy played great off each other, switching smoothly back and force to create some great blues. Jimmy was playing his acoustic Kay guitar, able to make it sound like a stand-up bass at times while providing a very nice bass line that he made jazzy, thumping, or subtle as the songs dictated. Drummer Dwight Dario kept a solid rhythm going strong with Jimmy all night. Big George gave the crowd several of his original songs, including the funky, heavy hip "Rubbish Truck." The humor and reality of George's lyrics, delivered with his big voice, smile, and muscular harp, along with Jeremy's expressive lead made this a highlight. Billy played a mean rhythm line to add depth to the song.
Billy played a solid original, "Crazy About Mary" from his last CD. Billy's crisp, clear picking, moving over into full, rich, stinging lick rich with reverb, sliding into a song within a song with the lead from "Baby Please Don't Go" and then back again. His vocals here were warmer and smoother, the passion and feeling for the subject of his song and the music itself seeming to inspire him.
Sunday night Billy brought his band of local players into Neumann's for another night of great blues and special guests. The first set Billy played guitar, including a great two song set of John Lee Hooker including a great version of "Sallie Mae" after a fan requested some Hooker. Billy aims to please, and he certainly did here, getting that raw, Hooker boogie going on his guitar with a tone and power that would have made John Lee proud. This night Billy had Jeremy on drums and Jimmy on bass for the first set. The second set John Franken, who had guested on the last song at Famous Dave's, take the lead so he could play some harp. Billy is a solid harp player, with a smooth, fluid, expressive style. He can play a mean chromatic harp as well, achieving a full, rich sound as he smoothly held and bent the notes.
John, accustomed to playing with solid local harp player Joe T. Cook, played clean, crisp, clear licks with great fast fills, some nice stinging licks on the back beats, getting down and dirty on the blues grinders, fast and precise in other spots. John and Billy played well together as Jeremy and Jimmy kept the solid rhythm groove driving. Billy then switched back to guitar and brought Steve "Boom Boom" Vonderhaar up to play some harp. Steve added his bouncing, enthusiastic energy on harp and vocals, giving the fans some jump blues, a great slow, beautiful blues grinder "Blue Midnight." His great slow, powerful harp riffs, going from low and grinding to high and penetrating, as well as vocals delivered with hip style and passion made this a highlight of the last set. For the last song Billy sat down behind the drum kit to give Jeremy a chance to play guitar.
Once again blues fans were witness to the great guitar and harp talent of Billy, what a gentleman he is, and how he shares the spotlight with the many talented local blues players he counts among his friends. Billy's blues has great roots. His respect and reverence for the legends that came before him came through in his choice of covers. Billy says he will try to make it back in late Summer or Fall. For great blues where the music is the thing, be sure to come out and hear Billy when he returns.
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