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Some pictures posted, rest of the review to follow along with an interview of Curtis.
Blues Guitar Extravaganza 2009
The Whiskey Junction, Minneapolis, MN
November 19, 2009
by Ray Stiles
Photos copyright © 2009 by Ray Stiles, all rights reserved.
Phil Schmid & Jeremy Johnson
John Schroder, bass player with the band, arrived with 3 minutes to spare for the early 6pm set. After hitting the head and plugging in (to the amps that were provided by one of the sponsors, the Guitar Boutique) John quickly settled into the groove like he had been playing with these guys for years. Oh, that's right he has been playing with these guys for years. You can tell by the tight knit playing and comfort they all show on stage (Jeremy and Phil were joined by Dwight Dario on drums and Big George Jackson on vocals). It's just plain fun watching both Phil and Jeremy play guitar together (or by themselves, for that matter). Even though Jeremy sits in on drums quit often when he can stretch out and play guitar it's always a treat. And having Big George chatter during the songs in a preacher-like oration elicits some grins from Jeremy. After a searing opening number and several more with Phil and Jeremy trading guitar licks the all-too-short set ended. This was a great way to start off what turned out to be a non-stop evening of in-your-face blues played by some of the best guitar players (and musicians) in the area.
John is no stranger to the blues scene, in fact when he's not playing you will almost always see John out supporting other musicians (by joining in) or just enjoying the music he loves. And if you take a look at the line-up of bands or the CD credits of some of the blues groups in the area you will see John's name popping up. With good reason too, he is one of the sought after guitar players in the area.
And tonight we even got to hear John sing - that was nice as well. John has a touch on the guitar that is always supportive of whom he is backing in just the right way. John was joined by Steve Grosshans on harp.
Paul is a fellow "Iron Ranger" with lighting fast fingers and one of the best damn guitar players (and slide) in the area, or any area for that matter. When visitors come to the Twin Cities and are exposed to the wealth of talent we have here they often marvel at how the Twin Cities rivals Chicago, Memphis, Austin or just about anywhere else. And with good reason, players like Paul and many who performed tonight can match up with any player on any stage at any time.
Oh, and did I mention Paul's slide guitar playing? It's mesmerizing just watching him take us on a skilled slide-ride with songs like Give Me Back My Wig, Easy Lovin', Little Red Rooster or even a Jimmy Reed song like Hush Hush. There was some serious string bending going on that was being appreciated by the audience (the club was pretty packed by this time of the night).
Paul had another gig he had to get to so couldn't stay around to play later in the night as he was originally slated (hopefully with a Rhythm Doctors reunion with Jimi Smith that we will have to for wait until "next time.")
Korey Hicks (NiteRail)
Korey Hicks of the band NiteRail is one of a couple of the players I had not heard before tonight. His opening song, Hide Away, was a very nice homage to Freddie King. And it's one of the songs I really like to hear because it tells me a lot about the player by what he does with it. His playing was a clean, crisp and right on. And did I mention solos? After all this was a guitar show. And each guitar player tonight was not shy in stepping up and letting it out.
Even though the sets were about a half hour long Korey demonstrated in that short time why he is considered one of the best of the young players on the scene (everyone in the band was in their 20's but you wouldn't know it by how well they played together). An amusing comment to one of the songs by Korey was, "we will try to do an oldie now." Well, I guess just about every song would be considered at "oldie" by someone still in their 20s. Besides Hide Away the set list included Chitlin's, Funky Mama, and Crossroads.
Dan Schwalbe (Rockin' Daddy and the Rough Cuts)
Schwalbe is one of those blues guitar players that other blues guitar players like to watch and listen to, as well as us blues fans. I remember the first time I saw Dan play guitar many years ago. I thought, boy is this guy good or what? I also remember another time we were at I think it was the Mainstreet in Hopkins, watching Nick Moss. Nick asked Dan up on stage to play and just like the rest in the audience was impressed by his heart-felt interpretation of the music we all love.
Drawing on is vast repertoire of songs from the Four Jacks to Slim Harpo to Buddy Johnson to Lonnie Brooks when he was still known at Guitar Junior (but that's another story) Dan took us on a blues musical journey through the years that continued the theme for the evening - stellar guitar, excellent music, fun time.
What can I say about Willie that hasn't already been said? Willie and the Bumble Bees, along with Lamont Cranston, were the first two blues bands I saw on the West Bank when I moved to the Twin Cities from the Iron Range in the late sixties to attend the U of MN. What first impressed me about Willie's playing, whether it was on the keyboard or guitar or bass or any other instrument he happened to be playing was not only his versatility but his enthusiasm in playing the instrument and the music. And that's what it has always been about for Willie, the music. Not the blues, not rock, not R&B, not any category, just music. And Willie has been one of our music ambassadors to the rest of the world for a long time. You might remember seeing him ride around in a convertible as the Mayor of Mill City at one of the Mill City Music Festivals some years back. Well tonight Willie was right at home on the West Bank. In fact you can't think of the West Bank without thinking of Willie Murphy.
He started off his set with a salute to bluesman Robert Johnson on Crossroads and somewhere along the way played Big Joe Turner's Honey Hush (better know by the chorus, hi-yo, hi-yo silver). Willie is a master and a trooper - he broke his left elbow two weeks ago and still played for us tonight. You wouldn't know he was in pain by his playing either. I wonder how many in the audience knew just how special it was watching Willie play. By the way, he has a great new double CD out on Red House Records.
Tim Obrien (Tim Obrien Project)
Not to be confused with the bluegrass playing Tim O’Brien, tonight we got to hear the blues/rock guitar playing Tim Obrien. After hearing him I don't think there's any chance to confuse the two. For one thing this was electric and Tim had waaayyy more guitar pedals. This was compact "power blues" and tonight in Tim's short set we got to hear some Johnny Winter/Muddy Waters (Black Cat Bone) as well as Bill Withers, Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf (300 #'s of Joy), and Lightin' Hopkins. Tim doesn't spend too much time talking but lets his guitar do the singing for him, quite nicely, I might add. This was a fun set of hard rocking blues by a cat who can play the guitar.
Jimi "Prime Time" Smith
By far the best dressed musician tonight (or anyone in the club for that matter), Jimi knows how to make a statement (and not just with his appearance, but with his guitar playing). The son of the late Johnnie Mae Dunson (Chicago blues, Jimmy Reed fame) Jimi kicked off his seemingly effortless guitar playing with some Albert Collins (and a thanks to Tim Obrien for using his equipment). And even though we didn't get to see that reunion with Mayasich ala the Rhythm Doctors we did get to see and hear Jimi in "prime" shape and right on time tonight. He played one scorching guitar solo that pretty much summed up the night for me (one excellent guitar player after another demonstrating why we have one of the best and underappreciated blues scenes anywhere). Jimi's playing also reminded me of the night he opened for Coco Montoya a number of years ago at Famous Dave's. After watching Jimi on stage I overheard Coco saying he didn't want to go on after that performance. Ending with Pride and Joy we could have ended the long night right there and been satisfied.
Luckily we didn't be because there was more to come.
Curtis Marlatt (Curtis & The Kicks & The Brothers Curtis)
Pulling double duty tonight as host/emcee and player I don't think I saw Curtis sit down once during the evening. Where does he get the energy? Once he took the stage with his band he stepped into his performing mode and kept the groove going with songs like All Along the Watchtower and Poor Boy. Curtis can play slide, bend the strings and play some very nice R&B. His final number featured an R&B dance tune with a little Allman Brothers guitar licks thrown in for good measure. I also overheard him talking to some fans earlier in the night and gets my vote for the best line of the night when he was pointing out the large Hammond B3 on stage saying, "Did you see the guy with the big organ?"
Ross William Perry
Ross, who will be turning 30 in January, that means its been nearly 22 years since he first performed on stage (at the ripe young age of 7). As Ross said in our interview from 2000, "I think we played 'Pipeline' and 'Walk Don't Run.' I got off stage and my dad asked me if I was nervous - I said "yeah," and then he asked me if I wanted to do it again and I said "YEAH!" I knew at that point that I wanted to play music all the time." And fortunately for all of us he still is playing music.
One of the best guitar players in the area Ross has matured into a performer who can play a variety of styles from all out Rock and Roll to R&B to straight ahead rocking blues. Tonight he played some BB King and Albert King and then pulled out one of my all time favorite songs by Johnny Guitar Watson, Those Lonely Lonely Nights where he nailed the guitar parts and I thought his vocals actually sounded a lot like Watson's. Very nice stuff. Ross is also one of the nicest kids around (I have children older than him so I can still call him a kid). He said playing here tonight was an honor because these "are the guys I look up to." And yes, as Curtis pointed out, his speaking voice does sound a little like Michael Jackson's, to which Ross just smiled.
Interview from 2000
Little Bobby (Little Bobby & the Storm)
It was after midnight when Little Bobby took the stage and even though my body was getting tired I still found it very easy to stay engaged in the music, up to a point that is (until he started telling us he was drunk a few too many times). But his playing was still good. According to his website, Bobby was born on the Red Lake Indian Reservation and is a third generation musician. Little Bobby is the grandson of Bobby Houle a member of the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame and Known for the hit single "Dream Night" in the early 60's. Coming from a hard rock background Little Bobby has found his home in the power blues format with influences from Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Joe Perry to Stevie Ray Vaughan. Playing a mixture of standards and originals, Little Bobby's performance tonight was energetic and his set almost seemed like one very long guitar solo. I know it wasn't but hey, it was getting late.
Howie Beenken & Steve DeGennaro (The Blockheaters)
The final act tonight was Howie Beenken & Steve DeGennaro of The Blockheaters. And you have to be from Minnesota (or at least the upper Midwest) to understand the significance of the band's name. When people see you driving a car with an electrical plug hanging out the front end and ask what that is, it’s a dead give away they are not from Minnesota. Howie is a veteran of the Minnesota music scene and he and the band play a wide variety of R&B, roots, blues, rock and country music. Quite well, I might add with songs from Hank's Jambalaya to Taj Mahal to Hound Dog Taylor.
A few more pictures from the show:
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