The Twin Cities metro region is justifiably recognized as an artistic and cultural oasis. From my point of view, however, there are not nearly enough venues for acoustic blues artists. Which is why I'm delighted that the Cedar Cultural Center, a long-time friend to acoustic/folk/roots performers and fans, has been bringing more blues musicians to its stage.
The most recent blues performers to grace the Cedar's stage were local guitarist/singer Tom Feldmann and Catfish Keith, who, with his sound engineer, manager and wife, Penny Cahill, (and their dog) drove up from Iowa City, for an evening of fun and guitar magic.
Tom Feldmann opened with a short set of selections from his fine, self-distributed premiere CD, Lay It on You, as well as a few unrecorded songs. In addition to being a talented guitarist and soulful singer, Tom is a noteworthy songwriter. A quick study, Tom Feldmann began picking guitar at age seventeen, releasing his first recording in 1999, at the age of twenty-one. Although generally associated with his shiny National Resophonic steel guitar, he is also an accomplished acoustic flattop picker. Tom's repertoire for this evening included songs performed on the National steel (Feldmann's "Stop Being Kind to Me" the traditional "Poor Boy") and on the acoustic flattop ("C. C. Rider" ala John Hurt and Lennon & McCartney's "I'm Only Sleeping"). Feldmann appeared to be slightly uncomfortable on stage, segueing from one song to the next with little or no monologue between, leaving me asking just where I'd heard that particular song before. I have little doubt that, as Tom L (Feldmann musical career continues to grow, as it most certainly will, so will his confidence.
I first heard Catfish Keith (Keith Kozacik) when a friend lent me a CD a couple of years ago. I instantly became a fan. Last spring, I stood in cold drizzle outside a packed local coffeehouse to hear Keith, who'd come to town for a Resophonic guitar workshop. So, imagine my pleasure at a seat inside a warm, spacious room, Catfish Keith on the stage, with four of his guitars arrayed behind him.
Catfish Keith opened his set with a custom-built National Reso-Phonic Baritone Polychrome Tricone steel-bodied guitar. After performing Bukka White's "Jitterbug Swing" and the traditional "Poor Boy", Keith switched to his Radiotone guitar for his own "Mr. Catfish's Advice", as well as songs by Reverend Robert Wilkins, the idiosyncratic Bahamian guitarist, Joseph Spence and Jessie Mae Hemphill. He told how deeply he'd been moved on first hearing Hemphill's "hypnotic" live performance. Hemphill, who lives outside of Senatobia, Mississippi, was just beginning to receive national attention when she suffered a stroke in 1993. Today, while still able to sing, she can no longer to play the guitar. Catfish Keith has taken it upon himself to promote her music and encourage blues lovers to financially assist her.
Trading the Radiotone for his "blue submarine" guitar (it does, indeed, look as much like a piece of military hardware as it does a musical instrument), Keith launched into Blind Willie Johnson's "By and By I'm Going to See the King", followed by "Come Back You Old Devil and Don't You Come Around No More", by "the master of the single entendre", Bo Carter. Slowing the tempo, he then performed "Knocking Myself Out Gradually by Degree", by the neglected singer/songwriter, Lil Green. Returning to his Baritone guitar, Keith closed the set with (if my ear and memory serve me well) a breathtaking medley of Willie Johnson's classic "Dark Is the Night" and Robert Johnson's "Preacher Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)". Following an enthusiastic standing ovation, Catfish Keith performed three encore numbers, including the delightful "Hawaiian Cowboy".
Catfish Keith's left foot provided the percussion throughout his more than ninety-minute performance, the entire length of which he remained standing. He is, indisputably, one of the most energetic and enthusiastic performers I've had the pleasure to observe, punctuating the music with spirited vocals, animated body language and his ever present smile. Clearly, Catfish Keith loves his work.
If you've listened to any of Catfish Keith's recordings, (if you haven't, you owe it to yourself to do so) you already know what a superb guitarist he is. However, to see him in performance is a revelation. While an obvious devotee of the old masters whose music he often performs, he is a deeply innovative artist, as well. Every song becomes an occasion for extended elaboration. To watch Catfish Keith play is to appreciate not only his immense technical and artistic abilities, but also to be reminded of the astounding creativity and almost compulsive commitment of those earliest blues masters. To listen to Catfish Keith sing and play his guitar is to sense their spirits tapping and nodding right along with us of the embodied persuasion.
I think it's also important to here acknowledge Catfish Keith's highly "significant other", Penny Cahill. In addition to her roles as manager and sound engineer, she also runs Keith's recording label, Fishtail Records. Their apparent commitment to each other and to the music makes a Catfish Keith concert a joint venture.
Kudos to the Cedar Cultural Center for sponsoring this appearance by Catfish Keith and Tom Feldmann. Given the audience response, I anticipate a return engagement. And, if you love outstanding acoustic blues music, I expect to see you there.
To order Tom L (Feldmann CD, Lay It on You, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like any of Catfish Keith's CDs, or his very cool t-shirt, you can contact Fishtail Records at www: catfishkeith.com.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Peter Oman, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.