Bayfront Blues Festival
Duluth, MN, August 8-10, 1997
Saturday - Day Two
Photo © 1997 by Tom Asp - All rights reserved

Performers on day two: The Busters, Big Walter Smith, T. Model Ford, Sue Foley, Preston Shannon, Smokey Wilson, Coco Montoya, Dr. John

The Busters
Saturday morning again started with the traditional Twin Ports blues band opening the days events. The Busters North Coast Blues Band brought a nice mix of original and traditional blues material to the stage. They played several songs from their new CD, "Waiting For The Tide," that were quite impressive. This is a guitar and harp driven band with vocals shared between all front 4 musicians. They helped the early crowd get their "mojo's" working to start the second day of the festival.

Big Walter Smith and the Groove Merchants
This was Walter's weekend in Duluth. On Friday the mayor of Duluth proclaimed it Big Walter Smith Day with a special presentation. Walter was presented with a certificate commemorating the day and designating him "Ambassador to the Blues." This was a special tribute and it was not lost on the fans who showed their true appreciation for one of Minnesota's blues treasures. Big Walter Smith and the Groove Merchants is the "only" band to perform at ALL 9 Bayfront Blues Festivals and he was greeted with one of the warmest receptions of any artist at the festival, getting several standing ovations. The fans just love Walter.

The Groove Merchants provided some fine R&B, as usual, with the great guitar playing of Scotty Graves, and the tight rhythm and keyboard section of Donnell Woodson (Papa D) on bass, Tom McShane on drums, and Paul Wigen on piano. The horn section, always right on the money with such soulful playing and entertaining dance steps, features JoMo Tar-V on trumpet, Ruston Reynolds on saxophone, and Matt Franko on trombone. There are several R&B bands that are quite good in Minnesota and the "Brother to the Blues," make that the "Ambassador to the Blues," Big Walter Smith and the Groove Merchants are definitely one of those bands.

T. Model Ford
76 year old delta bluesman T. Model Ford made the trip up to Duluth when his fellow Fat Possum label mate R.L. Burnside was unable to attend due to some laser eye surgery. He didn't disappoint the crowd either, delivering that raw, country blues born in the hills of northern Mississippi. He was joined on stage by R.L.'s band featuring Kenny Brown on slide guitar and grandson Cedric Burnside on drums. It was funny because many in the audience, unaware of a schedule change, and even the local radio interviewer afterwards, thought they were listening to Burnside. I saw Burnside a week later and he was laughing at the free publicity he got out of that show. T. Model Ford plays in a similar style to Burnside - a foot tapping, elemental roots guitar sound that takes you back to the gritty rural blues performed by the likes of Mississippi Fred McDowell and Lightnin' Hopkins.

Sue Foley
Local players John Schroder and Rob Stupka backed Sue during her performance. They had played with her once before (the night before in Minneapolis), but provided solid support for Sue's powerful lead guitar playing and authoritative singing. Sue, who just had a baby boy named Joe six months ago, is slowly getting back on the stage. She is also between record labels and is not even sure of where they want to live. They were on their way to Austin from her home in Canada, taking their time and enjoying the stops in between. We last saw Sue Foley at the Blues Saloon last fall for a spectacular show so it was great to see her out performing again.

With her trademark pink paisley guitar (with flower designs and what looked like a small shamrock), her golden red hair and her remarkable guitar prowess, Sue Foley put on a sizzling performance Saturday afternoon. Foley is only 28 years old but plays guitar, sings, and writes songs like a well-traveled blues veteran. She plays stinging lead guitar that makes you look up and take notice. I particularly liked several of her instrumentals. One was called "The Snake" that had a great sound - kind of like Dick Dale meets Hound Dog Taylor. The other rocking, foot stomping one was "Girls Night Out" (from the "Big City Blues" CD).

Sue said "the two artists that have influenced me the most, on recordings, are Memphis Minnie, and Earl Hooker. The guitar player that's influenced me the most live is Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, I just love his style." She sure did Mr. Hooker justice on her song "Hooker Thing," from her "Without A Warning" album and we saw some great blues guitar.

Preston Shannon
One of the surprise highlights of the festival! This guy is one fantastic soul singer and one fantastic guitar player. He has that definite Otis Redding quality about his singing and put on a performance that had to be the highlight of the weekend for me. A short rain delay didn't dampen any spirits. The crowd was dancing in the rain and Preston didn't miss a beat. His "Soul Man" by Sam & Dave was super. When he started playing the song "Purple Rain," the crowd went nuts. His guitar solo was out of this world. He was down on his knees creating an almost a religious experience. He broke a string during the long solo and the band kept the beat as he changed strings on stage and went right back into the song, finishing his spell binding performance. Shannon's raspy, forceful and expressive vocals simmered and soared as he soothed, grooved and moved the audience like the best of the legendary Memphis soul singers. Shannon is a master of vocal control and phrasing and can switch from deep rooted soul to down-and-dirty blues easier than anyone. If that weren't enough, when he plugged in, his stinging guitar delivery conjured up images of Albert and Freddie King, Little Milton and T-Bone Walker.

Smokey Wilson - August 9, 1997
Bayfront Blues Festival
Photo © 1997 by Ray Stiles
All rights reserved
Smokey Wilson
After 20 years at the famed Pioneer Club in LA Smokey is finally out touring bringing his unique blend of blues to the world. Smokey is a very friendly, down-home guy who was out greeting his fans after the show and likes to drive his own van while on tour. No limos for this blues veteran.
Born in Mississippi in 1936, Robert Lee "Smokey" Wilson learned his craft from his heroes Elmore James, Jimmy Reed and Howlin' Wolf. He developed a biting guitar and gritty singing style that incorporates the raw sounds of the Delta with some west coast blues. It wasn't until he was 35 that he moved to California in 1971 and opened his club.

Smokey was joined on stage by Ron Levy on keyboards, Aaron Tucker on Drums, Paul Slobod (Mr. Paul) on Bass and Andy Talamantez (Andy T) on rhythm and lead guitar. This was a seasoned band that provided some great support for Wilson. Smokey Wilson, with his ferocious guitar attack and gritty Jimmy Reed meets Howlin' Wolf vocals, delivered a show with so much enthusiasm and fun that we couldn't help but have a good time.

Coco Montoya
Coco had the audience eating out of his hands with some remarkable guitar playing and singing. Montoya had two influential mentors in Albert Collins and John Mayall, having toured many years with both of them. In 1993, after going solo, Montoya established a reputation as one of the strongest performers on the blues circuit, tearing up clubs and knocking out festival audiences around the country with his spectacular shows. We were treated to one of those shows Saturday night in Duluth.

Dr. John
Many of us remember him as Dr. John the Night Tripper -- the mysterious, freaky, Haitian voodoo root doctor persona he donned in the late 1960's. Saturday night's show featured his laid back piano persona with snake head cane and all. He did this silly little dance after one of his songs by the piano that was pretty amusing. He also played several of his popular hits like "Right Place, Wrong Time" plus some fun swamp pop songs like "Iko, Iko" and other R&B standards. His show served up quite a diverse musical gumbo of New Orleans music including blues, R&B, Dixieland, southern funk and rock 'n' roll, with some of the best boogie-woogie piano playing found anywhere.

With the end of day two we were pretty tired but still able to hit the clubs at night. A good thing too because we got to see more of Preston Shannon, saw Detroit blues legend Alberta Adams and had a preview of Bernard Allison's spectacular guitar slide playing over at the Bayfront Blues Saloon in Superior.

For additional photos by Patrice Bartling go to: Bayfront Photos Day 2

Bayfront Blues Festival - Day Three

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