The Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings made their first appearance in Minnesota since the September release of their new self-titled album at Legend's in St. Cloud, Minnesota. When I mentioned to veteran sax player, Terry Ogolini, how I had been waiting with great anticipation for the new CD, he laughed and said; "I know. We've been waiting for nine years!"
For those who are not familiar with the Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings; the band was formerly known as The Mellow Fellows, backing up singer Larry "Big Twist" Nolan for several years. After Nolan's untimely death, the band remained together and continued to perform as The Mellow Fellows. Since losing Nolan, the band has endured several personnel changes and, eventually, the name change to the Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings. Their new CD, released on September 28 of this year, is the first release for the band under the new name.
The current Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings includes three former members of Big Twist and The Mellow Fellows; sax man Terry Ogolini, bassist Bob Halaj and trumpet player Don Tenuto. The rest of the band is comprised of David Mick on guitar; Willie "The Touch" Hayes on drums; and singer Ernie Penniston, who bears some frightening similarities to the late Larry "Big Twist" Nolan in looks and sound.
Opening their first set with two instrumentals, the band allowed each member to take a solo and show off their individual skills. The band was well-rehearsed and tight, doing an excellent job of bringing the crowd into the performance. The first vocals for the evening were handled by drummer, Willie Hayes, performing Jimmy Reed's, "Let It Roll."
Once vocalist Ernie Penniston climbed onto the stage, the level of energy exhibited by the band changed noticeably, with all members of the band becoming more animated in the wake of the charismatic Penniston. From his opening vocals on "Sitting On The Back Porch," and throughout the evening, Penniston captivated the crowd and encouraged the audience to get up and party along with him.
During the evening, the band mixed original tunes from the new CD (which every member of the band is CLEARLY proud of) with a variety of extremely well done cover tunes. Songs from Buddy Guy ("Slippin' In" and "I Go Crazy"); Tyrone Davis ("Turning Point"); and classics like "Little Bit" and "You Send Me" entertained the audience. The band was very tight and the solos, especially those by guitarist David Mick, Ogolini and Tenuto were fantastic. Whether soloing alone or playing off of each other, every solo was entertaining, making each of the three sets fly by, ending before they really seemed to get started. Personally, although I truly enjoyed every song, I would have liked to have seen more of Ernie Penniston during each set.
Despite the luxury of the music starting early at Legend's (7:00 p.m.), it still seemed to end far to soon for everyone. Fortunately, Minnesotans had two more chances to enjoy the Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings; in Rochester (Mugzee's) and Minneapolis (Famous Dave's) in the continuation of the band's road trip. I was glad to have gotten the first chance to see them in Minnesota at Legend's in St. Cloud.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.