Blues Guitar Tour on a Saturday Night
The Twin Cities are blessed to have many talented local blues musicians, and to have many great touring artists come through town. Normally, like most blues fans, I prefer to go to one venue, enjoy the show, and catch as much of one great blues guitarist as I can. But on this night there was so much going on around town that I decided to see as much as possible. Three tremendous blues talents graced local stages, from 23 year old Ross William Perry to solid Chicago veteran Carl Weathersby to precise veteran blues guitarist and blues singer extraordinaire W.C. Clark. It was quite a night, and worth the time and travel to catch three distinctly different, but all very powerful blues players.
Ross William Perry has been fronting his own blues trio for several years around town. His enormous natural talent and hard work has resulted in people who know having to count him among the top guitarists in town. This Saturday night he brought his trio into the Break-Away Bar & Grill in Robbinsdale for some powerful blues, a little rock, and some simply incredible guitar playing on his 1961 Fender Stratoscaster. Ross' vocals have gotten much stronger; clearly he has been working at his singing. His voice is also maturing and deepening. Yet it's his brilliance on guitar that will always grab blues fans. Ross plays with a powerful, hypnotic quality and beautiful tone that transports you in time and space when he covers classic artists like Hendrix or Otis Rush. His cover of Rush's "I Can't Do My Homework Anymore" captured the spirit and energy of this song as he stood on his toes playing, his lanky frame stretched with emotion. His ringing, repeating chords, over the heavy bass and driving drums, along with his solid, clear vocals, drove the song home.
Ross's music seems to have solid roots in the blues, and respect for those that came before him. Yet he has his own sound, and his own way of playing. His expressive, fast picking, interrupted with quick, slashing licks, held for just a moment, quick hand slides, and many other little things he does add to the sound and visual display on stage. In short, he is becoming more than a guitar slinger, and more of a well-rounded performer with his developing vocals, songwriting, and showmanship. His funky, special effects laden guitar on Junior Wells' "Messing with the Kid" was a unique and pleasing experience despite the lack of a harp. Bass man Brad Pelke on vocals gave a raw, husky delivery of the song with strong, energetic style and all the right attitude.
The growth Ross has made as a performer comes through on his original, "Take It Baby." His heavy, snarling, growling guitar powers out on top of Casey Schultz's driving drums and Brad's throbbing bass. Ross' vocals here are dark, heavy, and brooding with dark passion. He threw one hand above his head with emotion, and continued to play one-handed. He brought the song down low for a slower, subtle guitar solo, and then brought it right back up with screaming passion. The crowd roared their approval, clamoring for more. This is a young man who is going places, and who will keep the blues vibrant for years.
Next it was down to Famous Dave's for some powerful Chicago blues guitar with veteran player Carl Weathersby. Carl was replacing Big Jack Johnson, who had to cancel for health reasons. This was another blues trio, with Carl backed by bass and drums. Carl opened his second set with a stinging, snarling, in-your-face guitar instrumental where he wowed the crowd with his playing. Then he served up the beautiful, powerful blues of "Angel of Mercy." Carl's fast, snarling, howling guitar perfectly complemented the soulful passion of his husky singing on the great, hard luck blues lyrics here. At one point Carl brought his guitar licks from penetrating and heavy, down to some great slow, soulful licks as he strolled around the stage, bringing it back up to a high-pitched scream on his repeating guitar licks.
Breaking a string, Carl kept right on playing as he started into "Red House," stroking out chords and singing as he changed the string. Easily the most entertaining string replacement I have ever seen on stage. His fast, expressive guitar licks snarled and stung at the enthusiastic crowd. Experienced showman that he is, Carl was off the stage as much as on it, strolling through the crowd playing, stopping by fans' tables to show his powerful guitar playing up close.
Carl's version of "Killing Floor" captured the slashing guitar style of the song, and he even sang down low and heavy briefly like Howling Wolf. This is definitely a performer doing his part to keep the Blues alive.
The highlight for me was his cover of "Feels Like Rain." Carl's beautiful, soulful playing had him sending out rippling chords as smooth and expressive as a stringed harp. His heavy, emotional vocals added to the power of the song. He played fast, expressive guitar fills, interrupted by stinging licks. The sweat rolled down his face as he gave it everything he had. At one point he was scat singing, matching his vocal expressions to his guitar sounds. This was the best I have every heard Carl play. He seemed inspired, energized, and very happy to entertain and interact with his fans. Let's hope he comes back to town soon!
I'd planned to hit Whiskey Junction earlier, but it was already 12:40 AM when I walked in to the sound of W.C. Clark's precise, clear guitar picking and smooth, soulful blues singing. There was only time for a few songs, but W.C. did not disappoint. His beautifully clear, upbeat tone and smooth, soaring vocals wowed the crowd on "Sunshine Lady." The crowded, sweaty dancers seemed to have been at it all night and were ready to go on until dawn. They roared and clapped their approval at the end of each song.
Those of you that have seen W.C. over the last ten years know that for quite some time he played with young, raw sidemen that should have been paying him (a lot!) just for the experience of playing with a great blues man. But a few years ago he put together a much more talented, veteran, backing band consisting of bass, drums and sax. The sax adds richness to W.C.'s smooth, expressive vocals and up-beat, happy blues guitar sound. My only regret was that I got there too late to hear "Pretty Little Momma." Well, there's always next time. And he did play it twice the last show I heard him at last Fall. W.C. is not only one of the great blues guitar players and singers, he is also one of the finest gentleman you will ever meet in music or anywhere else. I have seen him numerous times, and he always puts on a great show with grace, style, and seeming effortless playing.
So there you have it. A brief tour around town in one night to catch three talented blues guitarists. While it's always great to catch talented artists from across the country, you can have just as much fun supporting all the local blues musicians and clubs that feature them. We are lucky to have so many venues that feature a wide range of local and national blues talent. Be sure to get out there and do your part to keep the blues alive by supporting the bands and clubs.
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