Performers: Taj Mahal & The Music Makers, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials, Bernard Allison, The Radiators, Kelley Hunt, Chubby Carrier, Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers, Curtis Salgado with surprise special guests; Pat "Lamont" Hayes, Mitch Woods, Pinetop Perkins, Bob Margolin, Albert Castiglia, Todd Sharpville.
I have to start out by saying "hats off" to Roger Naber, he puts on one hell of a party. Roger, owner of The Grand Emporium in Kansas City, has been putting together the LRBC for years. We've been to the Grand Emporium many times with Lamont, in fact, Roger's first booking as a blues promoter was The Lamont Cranston Band in 1979.
Pat and I had known for quite a while that we'd be on board for the Bluesin' Blast, but couldn't advertise it on our website because Pat was invited to be a 'surprise' special guest for the trip. Since, we've had a few fans say that they would've gone if they had known, but you know how that goes. Each trip, Roger solicits a few unannounced guests to jam with some of the acts and to take part in the every night-all night jams on board.
Pat and I left a day early for Ft. Lauderdale and boarded the boat on Tuesday, February 4th at Port Everglades. We've had such a mild winter in Minnesota this year that it was feeling pretty nice to know that we we're getting away. By coincidence, the night before we left, we got 14 inches of snow, so it REALLY felt nice. The boat was scheduled to depart at 4:00 p.m., but was delayed until 7:00 p.m. because Lonnie and Koko's flight from Chicago was delayed getting into Miami.
To limit what could easily turn into a 10-page review, I'll touch on a few of the magical
moments and not ramble on about each and every show. I'll simply list the daily lineups of each band's sets and you'll get the idea. That says enough.
Day One - Pool Deck: Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials 7 p.m. (sail away party); Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers 9 p.m.; Curtis Salgado 11 p.m.; Pro Jam 1:30 a.m. Club Universe: Lonnie Brooks 9:30 p.m.; Taj Mahal & The Music Makers 11:30 p.m.
Day Two - Day in Freeport (you could take excursions or run free). Pool Deck: Kelley Hunt 9 p.m.; The Radiators 11 p.m.; Pro Jam 1:30 a.m. Club Universe: Bernard Allison 9:30 p.m.; Koko Taylor 11:30 p.m.
Day Three - Day at Sea. Pool Deck: Chubby Carrier 12:30 p.m.; Bernard Allison 2:30 p.m.; Taj Mahal & The Music Makers 4:15 p.m.; Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials 9 p.m.; Lonnie Brooks 11 p.m.; Pro Jam 1:30 a.m. Club Universe: Curtis Salgado 9:30 p.m.; The Radiators 11:30 p.m.
Day Four - Day in Key West. Pool Deck: Sail Away Jam 5 p.m.; Chubby Carrier 9 p.m.; Koko Taylor 11 p.m.; Pro Jam 1:30 a.m. Club Universe: Kelley Hunt 9:30 p.m.; Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers 11:30 p.m.
Add 24/7 jams in the Junkanoo Lounge (semi-pro) and the Blue Riband Lounge (acoustic, piano), and you have a non-stop party. Every time you walked by the piano bar, there was always someone at the piano; Taj, Kelley, Pinetop, Mitch Woods, etc. Mitch Woods was the real workhorse, he was everywhere. AND, 80 yr. old Pinetop was out and about and jamming almost as much. We talked one night until about 3 or 4 a.m.
The surprise special guests on this trip were; Pinetop Perkins and Bob Margolin (we all know them from their days with Muddy Waters), Lamont Cranston's front man Pat Hayes, monster piano man Mitch Woods, Britain's 1994 "Best Album" and 1995 "Best Guitarist" winner Todd Sharpville and from Florida; Albert Castiglia, who played in Junior Wells' band before his death.
On Day One, the sail away party finally got rolling at about 7 p.m. with Lil' Ed. With barely enough time to run off to the dining room, the next shows were to start at 9:00 on the pool deck with Piazza and at 9:30 in the lounge with Lonnie. I caught a little of both shows. Both bands were in top form. Next up, Curtis outside at 11:00 and Taj inside at 11:30. This time I skipped Curtis' show because I knew I'd catch his show on Thursday.
Taj Mahal & The Music Makers - The Music Makers have a history of backing some of the most remarkable piedmont artists. They brought a few along on this trip; blind South Carolina piedmont artist Cootie Stark; 62 yr. old Beverly "Guitar" Watkins from Atlanta, ex-guitarist with Piano Red (John Lennon even copied some of her licks); South Carolina's piedmont legend, Cool John Ferguson and Georgia native Danny "Mudcat" Dudeck, who drives the Music Makers' roots experience. Check out the Music Maker Relief Foundation at www.musicmaker.org. Taj is always at his best performing his country blues roots.
The Music Makers opened the show with their own great roots style. Then, they called up Cootie Stark, whose only accompaniment was Taj Mahal on the Upright Bass. Next up, Beverly "Guitar" Watkins, who tore it up with fiery guitar. When she played guitar behind her head, everyone went crazy. Taj took over solo on the piano for a few before moving to his acoustic guitar and dobro for a few more. GREAT SHOW !
The Radiators and Chubby Carrier charged the crowd as they always do. Bernard left everyone in awe once again. Piazza seemed to step it up a notch just for the cruisers. Koko and Lonnie brought all Chicago blues lovers to their feet. Curtis tore it up with amazing harp and vocals. Kelley Hunt got everyone to Boogie Woogie song after song.
The late night pro jams were incredible each and every night. Lil' Ed hosted the first night. Pat Hayes jumped on the harp with Lil' Ed and Bernard and blew everyone away. Curtis jumped in, along with Albert Castiglia and Todd Sharpville. The second night was just as high caliber. Pat got up again with Lonnie during his set on Thursday and once again blew some mean harp. It seemed to inspire everyone so much that Taj hopped up on stage for a few, then Pinetop, then Mitch Woods. Wayne Baker Brooks and Biscuit Miller took over hosting that night's jam and once again, all hell broke loose; Pat, Taj, Cootie, Beverly, Curtis, Albert, Mitch, Sharpville and Pinetop. Pat got a chance to play some mean guitar as well as harp on this night. Even Lil' Ed jumped up behind the drums. Night four was a repeat. Even though everyone was a little burnt out by then, you couldn't stay away.
When we were getting off the ship on Saturday, the next wave of cruisers were boarding for the 7-day LRBC that followed (about 300 of our group stayed on as well for the whole 11 days). This time with Taj Mahal, Tyrone Davis, Otis Clay, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Saffire, John Mooney, Tommy Castro, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Duke Robillard, Shemekia Copeland, Terrance Simien and Alvin Youngblood Hart. Curtis and Bernard stayed on as special guests and I heard that Charlie Musselwhite came aboard as well.
A lot of the musicians were always out hanging with the crowd. Taj was always out spending hours talking with everyone. When I went into Freeport to visit the markets, before returning to the ship, I wound up spending a couple hours having some native Freeport beers with Taj, Mudcat and others. FYI - Taj says that Minneapolis is one of his favorite places, so when he returns, get out to his show. This is one class guy. Taj says the cruise is "like a floating blues festival where everyone has a backstage pass."
There were blues workshops on Day Three; 'Celebrities With A Cause' with Shirley Mae Owens of Big City Blues Magazine, Taj and others, and 'Finding The Hoochie Coochie Man' with Bob Margolin, Pinetop and others. The cruise was sponsored by Living Blues Magazine, Big City Blues Magazine and Red Stripe Beer. The cruise had a Bluesin' Bazaar with all of the artists merchandise. Each night there were autograph parties. I never made the Cinema or the Casino, but many did. Each cabin had a 24/7 blues radio channel (it was even loaded up with all of the artist's songs, including Lamont) and a 24/7 blues video channel, which played old blues videos, documentaries and related histories. How cool is that? The food was plentiful with two dining room seatings and morning, afternoon and late night buffets. I met people from all over the U.S., Canada and Europe and made a lot of good friends. The cruise line was Italian; Mediterranean Shipping Cruises. Very classy and the staff was first rate.
This is the only fully chartered blues cruise. A floating blues festival. If you're a blues lover (obviously you are if you're reading this), you don't want to miss the 2004 cruise. You will have the time of your life. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. www.bluesin.tv
Rico Anderson - Manager, Lamont Cranston Band
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