Sunday, June 19, 2011

Recording Academy Starts the Celebration of Blues Music

 For the ninth time, the Recording Academy - Chicago Chapter - staged a gala event as a lead-in to the 2011 Chicago Blues Fest weekend. The Academy is best known for its’ annual Grammy Awards. The organization also provides professional development and educational opportunities for its 20,000-plus membership. Once again, the sold-out party was held at Buddy Guy’s famous club, Legends.
After opening remarks from Tera Healy, Executive Director, and Larry Sturm, Chapter President, the evening’s master of ceremonies took the stage. Big Lou Johnson, from Sirius XM radio’s B.B. King Bluesville programs, showed off his vocal prowess on a song celebrating his large frame. Big Lou was backed-up by the house band for the evening – Brother John Kattke on guitar and keyboard, Paul Streff on bass and Marty Binder on drums.

Johnson then introduced the former band leader and musical director for KoKo Taylor’s band, guitarist Vino Louden, who got things off to a rousing start with an energetic rendition of “I’m Ready” followed by a solid version of “Rock Me Baby” that opened with a solo segment from Louden that showed off his skills on guitar.
Louden once again thanked the Academy and one of its affiliates, Music Cares, for the help they provided Louden after the Taylor band was involved in a terrible crash several years ago.
The pace didn’t slow when singer Nellie “Tiger” Travis took over and lead the band through a super-charged rendition of “Let the Good Times Roll”. Things mellowed a bit when she covered Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” before Travis used her powerful voice to summon the spirit of the late KoKo Taylor on “Wang Dang Doodle”.
The Chicago Stone Lightning Band was back again, paying tribute to the early Fleetwood Mac band on “Like It This Way”. Then guitarist Ben Pirani did his best John Lennon imitation as he sang on a rocking original tune “Do Yourself a Favor”. Cathy Richardson also made a return appearance. Her strong voice filled the club, especially on an over-the-top performance on “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, from the Led Zeppelin songbook.
Next up was The Brooks Family Blues Dynasty as Wayne & Ronnie Baker Brooks hit the stage. Wayne was featured first on the title cut from his Mystery recording, delivering several fiery guitar solos. Brother Ronnie showed off a few tricks of his own before the two took turns soloing “If It Don’t Make Dollars, Then It Don’t Make No Sense” that featured a hip-hop vocal segment from Ronnie.

The audience erupted when Lonnie Brooks, joined his sons for an obligatory run-through of “Sweet Home Chicago”, with the audience singing along as the family patriarch demonstrated that he hasn’t lost his touch on the guitar.

Matthew Skoller fronted a powerhouse band with Kattke on keys, Binder on drums, Felton Crews on bass and Nick Moss on guitar. Skoller opened with the instrumental “Off the Wall”, his superb harp playing delivering homage to Little Walter. His heartfelt vocal made “One Room Apartment” one of the evening’s highlights and he finished his set with plenty of upper register harp licks on “Get On Down”.

Moss stayed on the stage and brought up his band, the Flip Tops, along with special guest Curtis Salgado. They cruised through “Killing Floor” with Curtis taking the lead vocal. Then Moss slowed things done with a tasteful guitar intro to “Lonesome in My Bedroom”. They closing medley included “Bloody Tears” with Nick using a slide, “Mother-in-Law Blues” with Michael Ledbetter on vocal and Salgado closing things out on a spirited “Yonder’s Wall”.
 Billy Branch and the Sons of the Blues made their appearance next with a rousing set of songs.  Branch and his band continue to delight their fans with their homespun Chicago sound, and this night was no exception.  He did a tribute to Junior Wells on "Hoodoo Man Blues" then did "One More Mile" done as a funky shuffle, and last he did a new song to close the set, a boogie titled "Baby Let Me Butter Your Corn".  The crowd was looking for more, but time would not permit as Branch and the SOBs left to a rousing roar from the packed house.
 Even with powerhouse musicians like Skoller and guitarist Lurrie Bell in the band behind her, singer Dietra Farr’s voice easily cut through the music and reminded those in attendance that she is one of the premier female blues singers in the city. She rocked “Just Your Fool”, then dug deep into “Mean Old World” with Bell laying down several memorable guitar solos.
Carlos Johnson opened with “I’ll Play the Blues for You”, the lefty guitarist prowling the stage as he delivered one blistering solo passage after another. Johnson then called Billy Branch back to the stage for an instrumental jam that got the crowd going. They finished with “You Don’t Have to Go” as Johnson and Branch traded licks to the delight of the audience.

The evening’s final set was a tribute to the legendary piano player, Pinetop Perkins. The dean of Chicago blues piano, Erwin Helfer, started things off at a slower pace with “After Hours” before picking up the pace on his original composition “Stop Time Boogie” with Bob Stroger on bass and Kenny Smith on drums. Chris “Hambone” Cameron’s did one tune, with his flamboyant style being a stark contrast to the more graceful nature of Perkin’s work.

Barrelhouse Chuck Goering took over the piano chair and delighted listeners with his rendition of “School Days” and “Pinetops Boogie”, a fitting tribute to Perkins. Finally, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith took over on lead vocal and harmonica to lead the band through a number of songs from his Grammy award-winning collaboration with Perkins, Joined at the Hip. Little Frank Krakowski was on hand to add his tasty guitar work to the set, just as he did on the recording. Another fine harp player, Bob Corritire, also appeared during the set.  The back line of Kenny "Beady Eyes" Smith and Bob Stroger also provided great suppport.
And then the evening was over – but those fortunate enough to be there got a close-up view of some of the talent that will be on display during the Blues Fest weekend. Make sure you consider adding this event to your calendar for next year – and a hearty thank-you to the Recording Academy for their support of blues music !!!

Written by Mark Thompson and photographs by Steve Jones

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