Despite subzero temperatures and intermittent snow an overflow crowd was on hand at the Blue Moon in Kasota the evening of Friday, December 22 for the Save the Kasota Prairie (SKP) Holiday Concert. The concert featured Mark Naftalin and Dave Ray. There was no admission charge to this event at the funkiest blues roadhouse going, as it was SKP's gift to the area.
The show was one of the rare gigs in which the two old high school friends headline together, although they've played together in various blues combos over the past few years. Their first performance as a duo was at a Mankato concert at the Kato Entertainment Center in 1996 which was sponsored in part by Save the Kasota Prairie. The duo returned for a SKP holiday concert at the Blue Moon in 1997.
Naftalin, who lives in California, was a keyboardist and an early member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the legendary Chicago-bred group considered a catalyst for the mid-'60s blues revival in the United States. It was the Butterfield band which, after Performing a set of its own, backed up Bob Dylan's first electric performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. It was that sound -- purists called it scandalous -- that pushed Dylan into the national spotlight with the hit "Like A Rolling Stone."
Naftalin recorded four albums with the Butterfield band before parting ways and pursuing a variety of projects that included him teaming up with one of Butterfield's guitarists, Mike Bloomfield. He also did session work with Duane Allman, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Canned Heat, Van Morrison and Bill Wyman among dozens of others. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by virtue of the admission of the Butterfield Blues Band.
Around the time Naftalin met Butterfield, Dave Ray was working in the blues-folk scene with partners John Koerner and Tony Glover. Koerner, Ray and Glover forged their folk-blues act at a time when the beat movement had ended and flower power had yet to begin.
They played national folk festivals (including Newport) and their mix of blues with string-band and ragtime sounds found favor with higher-profile artists such as John Lennon, who listed the trio as an influence. They recorded five albums for Elektra Records before splitting up in the late 1960s. The trio has since reformed and plays selected gigs.
After the split, Ray built his own recording studio, where he recorded Bonnie Raitt while she was being courted by Warner Bros.
He's been performing regularly with Glover during the past 14 years, and a 1987 recording of a live show, "Legends In Their Spare Time" was named Best Blues Album of-the Year by the Minnesota Music Awards. Dave also is part of the "Back Porch Rockers" -- a recent project that includes Tony Glover and members of the New Orleans Radiators.
Ray and Naftalin both grew up in Minneapolis, and both attended University High School in Minneapolis (Naftalin's father Arthur is in fact a former Mayor of Minneapolis and still a familiar sight on public television issue shows).
Since then they'd jam when Naftalin made a Minneapolis trip or Ray traveled out west. Naftalin doesn't find this tiny bit of history as terribly daunting. "We could play for hours without a problem."
At the Holiday Concert the two played mostly as a duo and drew primarily from their extensive catalogue of blues standards (including representative tunes such as: Love the Life I Live; Key to the Highway; Cold, Cold Heart; Mutha For Ya and Somebody Loan Me A Dime). A bit of jazz influenced material was mixed in, as well Dave played electric guitar and did most of the vocals. Mark did the keyboards and threw in a vocal now and then, and also did a short set of traditional "Holiday Music" on the piano. Besides playing an electric keyboard set up as a piano, Mark spent a good share of the evening on an authentic Hammond B-3/Leslie speaker combo that a SKP member donated to the evening's cause. Naftalin stretched out with a few jazzy solos on the Hammond.
Throughout the evening there was ample opportunity for members of the cozy crowd to commiserate with old friends and meet some new ones. The crowd was strong until late in the evening. As the event drew to a close, an appearance was made by "Billy the Christmas Bass" and clones who later sang a couple tunes from their limited repertoire. A good time was had by all and much enthusiasm was shown for doing an event of this nature again before too long.
More info about the artists can be found on the WEB at: www.jdray.com
The SKP WEB site is: www.SKP.Org
This review is copyright © 2001 by Mark Halverson and Joe Tougas, 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.