On stage with Hubert Sumlin at the East Coast Blues & Roots Festival, Byron Bay , Australia.
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This blogging thing has got out of hand, dear reader…
In my last blog, I was looking forward to the fabulous 2010 Blues Music Awards ceremony. (That was held in MAY, folks.)
So we start in Memphis… The Preacher and I arrived one day early for the Blues Hall of Fame Dinner. Imagine the thrill of looking for my seat, only to find Howlin’ Wolf guitarist, Hubert Sumlin, already sitting at ‘our’ table?! With Hall of Fame inductees Bonnie Raitt, Charlie Musselwhite and Lonnie Brooks in attendance, plus Bobby Rush and many other blues celebrities, the gathering was a splendid exercise in blues star-gazing. Good practice for the following night! My favorite speech of the night came from the strong women of Gus Cannon’s family, accepting his induction in the ‘Performer’ category.
The Awards day began early for me and my mandolin-meister friend Rich DelGrosso. In a moment of craziness, we volunteered to play live on Memphis Morning television. Lots of fun! From the Peabody Plaza TV set, I raced to the Center for Southern Folklore to perform at the Yellow Dog Records showcase. Label-mate Eden Brent also performed and there was a wonderfully appreciative audience. After an already busy day, The Preacher and I got into our finery and hit the Awards pre-party drinks… Always one of the best parties in the Blues world, this years’ BMA’s featured stunning performances by various nominees – Buddy Guy, Maria Muldaur, Rick Estrin, Louisiana Red, Joe Louis Walker, Jason Ricci….and many more. It’s a fantastic social occasion; I caught up with Pinetop Perkins, legendary ‘King Biscuit’ radio presenter Sonny ‘Sunshine’ Payne, all the gals from Saffire the Uppity Blues Women, ‘Bluesville Radio’s Bill Wax… I even got to talk with Bonnie Raitt! The evening was a whirl. All that, PLUS, I got dressed in a sparkly long halter-neck dress, little feathered heels and bling – you do not get to see that every day, my friends.
Koko Taylors’ daughter Cookie presented the ‘Traditional Female Blues Artist of the Year’ category, now known as the ‘Koko Taylor’ Award, in her mothers’ honor. Cookie’s introduction speech was very moving; Koko’s last performance was at last years Awards event. The gracious Debbie Davies won the inaugural award. Debbie is a fine guitarist, honing her craft over many years playing with Albert Collins. We had fantastic fun when we met and jammed last year on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise (see Blues Cruise blog). By the end of the night we had started making plans to tour together – check my tour dates for the results!!!
The Awards night finished sometime around 5am, when a bunch of us were finally thrown out of a bar somewhere in Memphis… Time for The Preacher and me to go ‘home’ to Portland, Oregon, and recuperate?
Portland again welcomed us with open arms.
We caught up with lots of friends. I played a few local shows, including one of my favorite venues ‘Duff’s Garage’ (the juke joint of PDX); there was jamming – and I scored a funky ol’ Supro lap steel guitar. What a buy…just got to learn to drive the thing now…
Next destination: Houston, Texas.
Rich DelGrosso and his wife Sweet Lisa looked after me and showed me round town. Along with the business - a visit to radio KPFT and a fantastic gig with Rich and his band at ‘The Big Easy’ - I was generally wined and dined and introduced to the Houston scene. Thank you!
I joined Rich for a few days in Austin where he had a session booked at Wire Recordings. As luck would have it, this is where I recorded ‘Lucky 13’ and ‘Blues Woman’. Rich was also working in the studio with my mate Kaz Kazanoff and the Texas Horns, so it was another wonderful opportunity to reconnect with friends. Rich is collaborating on a project with guitarist Jon Del Toro Richardson (a fellow Category 5 amp endorsed player). What I heard of their new material sounded great, so keep an eye out for the album release.
My Austin highlight was being invited to spend the night with legendary piano player Pinetop Perkins and his ‘minder’ Barry at their regular local haunt ‘Nuno’s’. Pinetop was in fine form; holding court at his special table, smoking steadily and nodding sagely as admirers came to talk. He played half a dozen songs with the house band, singing and playing strongly, checking out the women and nodding at the tip bucket…old habits die hard. Happy 97th birthday, Pine!
Craig Speer, from San Antonio, TX, was my first American fan. He was there at the ‘Pig on Beale Bar’ when I played my first gig at the International Blues Challenge, in Memphis 2003. And he’s kept turning up at my gigs ever since – even some in Australia! With San Antonio just down the road, I went to visit with him and his extended family. Maine blues singer/saxophonist Pat Pepin was also in town, so we had a ball exploring the ‘Walk on the River’ and other touristy things. Despite being a Yankee, Pat is a ‘real mess’ - she even had me singing ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’ (Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap!) outside The Alamo. The Speer family organized a yard party in our honour. Craig’s dad, Donald, cooked his famous brisket and me and Pat and various neighbors got the music happening. Some real down-home hospitality – and y’all come back now!
Good old Craig gave me a ride to Kerrville, TX, to join the teaching staff at the Kerrville Folk Festival Roots/Blues Guitar workshop. I am not sure if ‘Texas Hippy’ is an oxymoron, but this festival not what you might expect… Most people camp – the festival goes for 18 days! – and everything is accompanied by a pioneering attitude and lots of tie-dyed clothing. The all-night jam sessions are legendary. Some campers even set up their own stages, complete with PA’s, sign-up sheets, upright pianos….quite mind-boggling!
Guitar Workshop coordinator Steve James and I did not camp, however. We were ensconced in the refined atmosphere of the YO Resort Hotel, hanging out with as many stuffed beasts and antlers as I’ve seen on any wall before!
In addition to his prodigious musical talents, Steve James is a funny guy and has a wealth of droll stories. He tells me about his long association with the Kerrville Festival. ‘Look!’ he says, ‘There’s Pampell’s…’ as we pass a local joint in town. On one of his early visits to Kerrville, he says, he met a local ‘old duffer’ who had once seen ‘The Singing Brakeman’ Jimmy Rogers jamming with Lonnie Johnson out the front there. ‘Imagine that!”
For the next few days Steve, fellow-instructor Brooks Williams and I were busy with our students. The weather was hot and lessons were held in the happy, informal setting of the outdoor theatre at Quiet Valley Campground. Until the weather turned! I had the first spot at the Blues faculty concert scheduled for Wednesday night. Two or three songs into the set, huge wind and rain squalls started pelting through the open sides of the venue. Suddenly the sound guys began running to unplug and cover gear. I abandoned my ‘old trouper routine’, rescued my guitar from the now-driving rain, while the whole audience poured onto the back of the stage seeking shelter. Soon the power went off as the storm raged on… Eventually the concert continued: an impromptu acoustic jam, with us musicians seated round a few tea-light candles, circled by an appreciate crowd. A strange performance, but a special one.
The next day my guardian angel, Craig Speer, braved the mud and picked me up from the festival and drove me to Austin. I had a 24 hour dash to make my next commitment - Fur Peace Ranch in Pomeroy, Ohio, last stop on this tour. It was lovely to see two of my students from last year back again, JR and the talented young Eli Catlin. Fur Peace is a guitar Mecca. Each workshop weekend schedule has lots of playing, teaching, jamming, a Saturday night concert (open to the general public) and access to a fantastic library of music, books, DVDs and various teaching materials. It’s the sort of place that makes you feel inspired about guitar, so everyone leaves with their heads spinning, fingers burning, saying ‘I can’t wait to get home and play!’
As well as hanging out with the ranch’s ‘Captain’, Jorma Kaukonen (of ‘Jefferson Airplane’ and ‘Hot Tuna’ fame), the other instructor for the weekend was my mate Geoff Achison. Geoff is also from Melbourne, Australia, although the two of us have been so busy touring in recent years, it was great to have the opportunity to see each other. We also took the opportunity to jam during the Saturday concert at the ‘Fur Peace Station’ - you can get a little taste on my YouTube page.
Look out - the Aussie’s are coming! And who knows where they’ll turn up next?
I let you know…in my next blog episode…