We are fortunate in the Twin Cities to have a great deal of blues talent in the Twin Cities. The eight local blues harmonica players who performed this Monday night proved that again, providing some great blues harp and wowing the large, enthusiastic crowd on hand this balmy night. All of the artists performed well, with a range of styles. In the end it was hard to say if the all the musicians on hand or the fans had a better time. It was simply one big, fun party fueled by great blues, a friendly venue, and blues fans' love for the music and the artists that bring it to them.
Big George Jackson of the Big George Jackson Band kicked things off with his heavy, powerful, traditional sounding Chicago harp sound. George can play it fast and strong on double shuffles with his fluid, buzzing harp sound. Or he can bring it down slow and soulful, as he smoothly held and bent notes on the slow rolling blues of "Healthy Woman." George has a big, deep voice that nicely complements his powerful harp. His original songs featured his strong harp playing and catchy, humorous lyrics delivered with style and passion. He closed out his set with some great fast boogie-woogie harp playing on "Boogie Woogie Woman."
Harold Tremblay of Cool Disposition was next up with his strong, expressive chromatic harp. He gave the crowd two straight instrumentals where he made his harp soar, swoop, hit quick, and trill with passion. Harold's second number was delivered with energy and passion, bending and holding notes with a pleasing tone. Harold confessed to the crowd he doesn't sing, and brought band mate and lead singer Mickey Bauer up for vocals so he could do what he does best: blow the heck out of his chromatic harp. On the jump blues of "Too Much Rhythm" Harold's great low chromatic tones solidly drove the song. Harold closed things out with his signature instrumental, "Hurricane Howard." He played fast, low and powerful, with great fast riffs and a nice dirty tone as he finished up with passion and style.
Steve Grosshans of Rocking Daddy and the Rough Cuts then brought his smooth, expressive chromatic harp and hip inflected vocals to the stage. His full, rich harp sound featured solid trills and smooth, fast playing on the up-tempo "You're Gonna Miss When I'm Gone." He then brought it down on his next number for some great subtle, soulful playing. Steve closed things out strong and fast on "You Know It Ain't Right" as he played fast repeating chords, smooth bent and briefly held notes, and made his harp swoop down to some pleasing low trills and soar back up with passion.
Big Everett Smithson plays a mean, low down and dirty harp that seems to rasp and resonate low with vibrato. His harp matches his low, growling, rasping vocals that seem to echo Howling Wolf himself. Everett's low, grinding, back-and-forth harp on "Big Fat Daddy" worked well with his growing vocals on this catchy number. He showed off all his harp work over the next two songs, playing low, strong repeating riffs, playing choppy like James Cotton, and keeping that low vibrato, dirty tone going.
Pat Hayes of Lamont Cranston took over the stage with some energetic, up-tempo jump blues. Playing fast and furious, he bounced up and down as he played his smooth, soaring, up-beat chromatic harp. Pat then down-shifted into slower rolling blues, playing smoothly bent and long-held notes. He caught the crowd's attention with how long and smoothly he held notes. Pat showed nearly everything on "I Got My Eyes on You." He brought his harp down low and dirty, up soaring high and bright, blew some great trills, and held notes broken up by fast trills. Pat closed things out with more jump blues, bouncing and playing with enthusiasm and energy, showing great, flowing range and sound on harp, including a nice wah wah effect.
Joe T. Cook and his Long Shots then moved on stage for more great blues harp. Starting out low and heavy on "Secret Life" he played strong, repeating riffs and low-pitched bent notes as he bounced, bent, and swayed with passion. Joe showed off his strong, clear singing voice, drawing out the lyrics and demonstrating great, throaty vibrato. His cover "I'm Coming Home to You" had him playing slow, soulful chromatic riffs, lingering on notes with vibrato, repeating licks, and getting low down and gritty for some grinding harp licks. Joe finished off his set in fluidly expressive harp style on his signature song, "Long Shot." His soaring harp riffs, notes lingering with vibrato, seemed to echo on after he left the stage.
Then it was Steve "Boom Boom" Vonderharr's turn to wow the crowd with his soaring, swooping, darting harp sound. Steve played smoothly up high with some fast, expressive trills and fluid, repeating riffs. His cover of "Checking on My Baby" showcased his strong, passionate vocals and fast, high-pitched harp playing that wailed with feeling. Steve finished his set with a great harp instrumental, smoothly holding notes and drawing them out an incredibly long time. He had his harp moving all over the place, playing very low trills, high trills, and showing great range and fluid style throughout. The passion, skill, and energy of his playing and singing made for a great sound.
Jay Wilkins from the Blues Kings hit the stage after midnight, playing strong, rich notes on the slow rolling, heavy beat blues of "Too Many Drivers at the Wheel." His full rich harp quivered with vibrato on his held notes. Jay's vocals were strong, low and slightly raspy with a hip inflection. Playing "Cadillac Coupe DeVille" from their recently released CD, he brought it down low and slow with subtle, smoothly drawn out riffs. His slow, mournful harp quickly rose to high and sharp, without being shrill or thin. Jay's instrumental gave him the chance to show all of his talent, playing great circular riffs, expressive trills, and smoothly held notes.
The folks at Whiskey do a great job keeping the show moving along from artist to artist without a hitch. The artists help by being ready to jump on stage and get started right away. This showcase series give the fans and musicians a chance to hear, see, appreciate and visit with many of the talented blues artists we have in the Twin Cities. Be sure to look for the blues guitar show in June!
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