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1st Annual Okoboji Blues Fest|
Arnolds Park, IA
August 25, 2007
by Rich Benson
A perfect clear late Summer day in the upper 70’s greeted blues fans arriving for the first ever Okoboji Blues Fest. Local favorites The Pearson/Haakinson/Gamble Trio got it rolling with a pleasing mix of folk and country blues. Their infectiously fun cover of “Bare Footin’” got early -arriving fans up and moving. The trio, actually a quartet this day, consists of Perry Pearson, Bill Haakinson, Joe Gamble, and Jake Wittkamp. They play with such a sense of fun and joy that it draws their audience in and ensures no one has a better time than they do when they perform.
Next up from Rochester, MN was the party and dance blues of Doghouse Jon and the Misbehavers. This rocking, rollicking outfit is quickly becoming one of the most popular blues band in Southern Mn and Northern Ia. Ex-Dust Bowl Blues Band veteran Doghouse Jon fronts the band on harmonica and vocals. Doghouse led the bad through two entertaining sets of driving, danceable blues. On “Got My Mojo Working” Doghouse blew a mean harp with solid, gritty vocals. Brilliant guitar player Charlie Lecy added some great, expressive slide. The romping blues of “Chicago Line” featured bright, colorful harp by Doghouse and powerful, quick-hitting drum work by Bill “The Hawk” Tourville. The band’s funky, hip version of “Sweet Home Chicago” breathed new life into the Robert Johnson classic. In their two-guitar attack the band also features the stinging Fender riffs of Tom Kocee and the rock-solid bass Scott “Beer Man” Hanson.
The blues party continued with powerful blues and r &b sound of the The Chicago Rhythm and Blues Kings. The band hit the stage led by their powerful 3-piecen horn section of veterans “Daddy G” Gene Barge, tenor sax man Terry Ogolini and Don Tenuto on trumpet. Smoking young guitar player and strong vocalist Rob Blaine added youthful energy and enthusiasm while returning drummer Lou Palmer laid down a solid foundation for their music. One highlight was their infectious ode to music, “Play On” featuring Daddy G on strong, husky vocals and gritty, honking sax. Their cover of “Love, Love, Love” featured a powerful sax solo by 81 years young Daddy G that wowed the crowd. This should have been recorded as a lesson for young sax players everywhere. This tight, talented and has seen personal changes and ups and downs since their origins as the Mello Fellows backing Big Twist. But with the constancy of original members Terry and Don, and the additions they have made they achieve a great, small big-band blues sound that makes them a blues force to be reckoned with by blues around the world.
James Solberg headlined the day’s blues with his high energy rocking, searing blues guitar. He remains one of the greatest blues guitarists in the world. If you close your eyes, it’s hard to imagine all this great blues guitar sound ringing out from one player. You need to think of Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, or Carlos Santana to find another player who can deliver so much guitar sound, energy, and such a wide range of emotions from his instrument. Yet the multiple W. C. Handy Award winner and Grammy nominated artist is also a strong, expressive singer and brilliant songwriter. After warming up with a jaw-dropping, guitar-driven instrumental, Solberg played and sang his way through two solid sets of mostly original songs. Highlights included “The Hand You’re Dealt,” the title cut to one of James’ CD’s. This beautifully crafted song featured great chord progressions and a great swell of feeling, powered by James’ guitar and vocals. James plays and sings one of the best versions of “St James Infirmary” which he recorded on See That My Gave Is Kept Clean. His ringing guitar and strong, mournful vocals, with Larry Byrne’s slow, grinding organ work gave this number a deep, emotional impact. James’ Grammy- nominated song ”Ballad of a Thin Man” features some of his best songwriting, haunting blues guitar, and expressive vocals.
Solberg’s originals have the ability to take you inside the story told in the song and transport you in time and space, as all great music should. Colorful and talented drummer Taco Velasquez added to the show by his solid rhythm work with bass man Rick Roussel. Taco, like James, has that rock edginess he brings to blues. And his walk around, when he gets up to play with his drum sticks on the stage floor, light standards, chairs, the floor, and everything else in between adds to the show. The unflappable Larry “3rd Degree” Byrnes on electronic organ adds a fuller sound, working his cigar and the organ t the same time. Solberg closed with the sad, soulful “Let the Tear Drops Fall” rather than one of the high energy, guitar driven songs from his last CD, Real Time. Still, there was powerful surging guitar sound along with the sad-tinged vocal. The crowd pushed to the front of the stage to see a blues guitar master at his best. James closed out his encore with the powerful and inspiring “Every Day I Learn Something New.” The crowd roared for more, but due to noise regulations that was it. It was a fitting end to a great day immersed in the blues. I know I speak for everyone there in hoping the good folks in the Okoboji area have another blues fest next year!
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