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I've Got A Mind To Ramble
Hustle to Russellville
Each year, I attend the Mary Ann Fisher Concert Series in Russellville, Kentucky, to enjoy some good blues, food and the ambiance of a big event in a small town. This year the August 5 concert was special, for the long-anticipated exhibit of Mary Ann Fisher's musical career was just completed. The display was set up in two restored homes near the intersection of 6th and Morgan Streets. The concert series, now in its fourth season, is dedicated to Mary Ann because she spent some of her childhood in Russellville.
Following a brief stay in Louisville at the Kentucky Home Society for Colored Children, run by Bessie Allen, Mary Ann was adopted by Gertrude "Citty" Merritt in 1933. "Mrs. Citty" ran a restaurant and bar with her son. Her husband, Hershel Batsell, led an orchestra that performed throughout Kentucky. The tidy white frame cottage at 106 Morgan St. where Mary Ann lived is a block away from the concert site. Mary Ann once said, "Mrs. Citty was nice to me but somehow I just couldn't call her mom." When Mary Ann's mother, Annie Mae, found out where Mary Ann was living, she made arrangements with "Mrs. Citty" for her to return home to Henderson, Kentucky, in 1935. The years that followed, with the death of her mother in 1938 and unhappy experiences with her aunt in Indianapolis, didn't improve until she returned to Louisville in 1941 and began singing professionally.
One of the exhibits has several of Mary Ann's fancy gowns that she wore when she preformed. On the walls are information boards describing the highlights of Mary Ann's career. Enlargements of several of the 45 records that she recorded during the Fifties on the Seg-way and Fire labels make a dramatic visual impact. The other exhibit is set up as a small juke joint with a stage and old instruments, plus a bar complete with a string of white twinkle lights. The wall posters include several pictures and texts of her performing in Louisville, touring with Ray Charles, and her later solo career and tributes. This simple but comprehensive display was the creative work of Dr. Nancy Dawson, a lecturer, playwright and actress, who is currently residing in Russellville. She is also working on a musical drama about Mary Ann's life of sorrows and joys. A quote from Mary Ann says, "I always liked the blues & hellip;I just never been a person to cry and sometimes I would be crying, but I would be crying on the inside."
As the shadows lengthened over the grassy seating area in the big back yard and the smell of barbecue and fried fish hung in the air, it was time for the music to begin. Reverend Charlie Edmonds opened the concert. Edmonds' moniker is 'The Preaching Bluesman." He currently serves as pastor of the Zion Hill Baptist Church in Park City, Kentucky. In addition to his musical ministry, he does demonstration workshops on 'The Birth of the Blues.' He was dressed in a dapper white suit, matching shoes with steel tips and a straw hat. Charlie moved slowly to his chair with the use of crutches. He had his guitar case open at the front of the stage for tips.
While this sixty-three-year-old bluesman adjusted his harp on a rack and his guitar, he told the audience, "We're going down home and work our way back up." During his hour-long set, he touched on a wide spectrum of blues including raunchy originals like "I'm a Certified Plumber," "Put Me In Your Play Pen" and "Stay Away From My House," filled with sexual innuendos. Local musician Michael Gough joined Edmonds on bass for the last few songs. Edmonds' nimble fingers and raspy voice took us back to the way the blues was played sixty years ago. He provided a good contrast for what was to come.
For those of you who saw Tee Dee Young & The Scandalous Band at the Blues-n-Barbecue Festival at the Water Tower on July 8, you know what I mean when I say Young is a showman. This contemporary rising star from Lexington, Kentucky, got the attention of the Beale Street club owners when he was declared the Beale Street Blues King at the 2011 International Blues Challenge, following an electrifying performance at the New Daisy Theater. Young is like a hot-wired Johnny Copeland blessed with an Al Green voice. His two-hour set was nonstop with no breaks or pauses between songs. He frequently used a white towel hanging from the mike stand to wipe the beads of sweat off his face. Wearing a red suit with red-and-white spats, Young was all over the stage, pacing back and forth. Finally the stage couldn't hold him any longer and he was out into the middle of the audience for a ten-minute solo. Young's marathon excursions into incendiary guitar solos were always under control. His long set was so intense that when he slowed down to do a ballad like "Ain't Doin' Too Bad" or "Little Bluebird," it was a moment of relief for all of us. Young's responsive backup band included Bruce Smith on keyboards, Billy Lipton on bass and Milton Marshall on drums. When Young plays his regular Monday night gigs at Tee Dee's Bluegrass Progressive Club in Lexington, he must burn the house down and he may do that again at Jim Porter's on September 2.
Big Rock Has The Blues
Last year I made some comments during a planning meeting for the Big Rock Jazz Fest and suddenly found myself chairing the committee. One of my suggestions was having the blues set open the Fest to kick start some energy at the beginning of the concert. The other idea was to change the name to The Big Rock Jazz & Blues Fest, since blues had been a significant part of the Fest for the last three years. Blues was first introduced in 2008 with The Stray Cats Blues Band. This gig reunited the band after twenty-five years, with Greg Martin as a last minute stand in for Ricky Mason. Robbie Bartlett performed at the Fest in 2009 and the Walnut Street Blues Band closed out last year's Fest. The Stella Vees will provide the spark to ignite this year's Fest on October 2 at 2:00 p.m. in Cherokee Park. Parking and shuttle service will be provided from the parking lot of Adath Jeshurum at Douglass Blvd and Ellerbe Ave.
The Stella Vees' schedule has been packed this summer, but with no gigs in Louisville, so this event will be a rare treat to see them in action. FattLabb will follow at 3:45 p.m., performing their particular interpretation of fusion jazz. The Piano Jazz Summit will be the headliner at 5:00 p.m.. Harry Pickens has asked three regionally renowned pianists to join him for a first-time-ever moment. Phil DeGreg from Cincinnati, Luke Gillespie from South Bend and Steve Allee from Indianapolis will share the stage with two pianos and an all-star rhythm section. Harry plans to feature each pianist and then they will all come together with eight inspired hands to jam a little jazz.