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I've Got A Mind To Ramble
Great At The Gate
I have attended every Garvin Gate Blues Festival since its humble beginning in 1988. Each Festival has had a theme or quality about it that sets it apart from the others. This year I would call it "Something Old, Something New." There were the familiar local bands like da Mudcats, Walnut Street Blues Band, Nick Stump, Hellfish and Lamont Gillispie & 100 Proof. Then there were several established local bands that got a chance to play the Gate for the first time like Jimi V & Screamin' John, The King Bees, and The Travelin' Mojos. The headliners were relatively unknown locally but based on Mike Suttles' excellent judgment for booking the acts; they were all a pleasant surprise.
Friday, October 7, opened with Jimi V & Screamin' John doing an energetic thirty-minute set. This stripped-down duo of John Hawkins on guitar and Jimi Vallandingham on harp and vocals quickly warmed up the growing crowd as the sun casted long shadows on Oak Street. When da Mudcats took the stage, lead guitarist Rob Pickett said the band had been playing for twenty-six years. That would make Gene Wickliffe, their drummer, the remaining founding member. The band has gone through many personnel changes during those years, but the group has steadily maintained their dedication to playing an original style of rockin' blues. The close interplay between Rob and bassist Mike Lynch, is like experiencing their private little jam with each song. Da Mudcats received the 2006 Sylvester Weaver Award from the KBS at Stevie Rays. Since they were so tight-knit and so talented, the award went to the whole band rather than to an individual.
The Walnut Street Blues Band has been threatening to add rhythm to their name and repertoire, but Mike Suttles insisted that they stick to the blues for this festival. They came out with the right attitude, all dressed in black, and did what they do best, playing their trademark style of soulful blues. When Arti Wells sang, "I Been A Fool" and "Dr. Feelgood," I didn't need any of those pills listening to her.
Karen Lovely is a rapidly rising star from Oregon who started singing professionally in 2007, released her first album, Lucky Girl, in 2008 and placed second at the 2010 International Blues Challenge. Lovely received three Blues Music Awards this year for best Contemporary Blues Female Artist, best Contemporary Blues Album and Best Song. When Mike was traveling on the West Coast, Lovely got his attention enough to book her for the Festival. Earlier that day, Lovely and her band were in the WFPK studio for a "Live Lunch" performance. Her statuesque stage presence reminded me of Etta James, which can be forbidding with her grimacing stares and deep guttural growls. Lovely's voice transitioned from dark intensity to an intimate passion that put her personally in the middle of each song. Her powerful set came to a climax with the slow ballad "Still The Rain," the title cut from her latest CD. Lead guitarist Leonard Giffie propelled the band with his stinging guitar licks and extended solos. This emerging vocalist will be a mighty force on the blues scene.
Saturday, October 8, opened with the King Bees followed by The Travelin' Mojos. Both bands are led by the strong harp sounds of Rick Cain and Eddie Weigleb. Nick Stump's Blues Allstars brought back lots of memories of the Metropolitan Blues AllStars with songs like "Messin' With Your Hoochie Coo" and "Same Old Thing." Lamont Gillispie & 100 Proof had Dave Witherspoon playing in place of Mark Stein on guitar, which is a permanent change. Hellfish is in the process of changing their name to Mr. Jimmy recognizing Jimmy Gardner, who has been their lead vocalist.
The Kentuckiana Blues Society has given the Sylvester Weaver Award to someone each year since 1989 when bluesman Henry Woodruff received the honor at the 2nd Garvin Gate Blues Festival. Every year this festival has been held, the KBS has bestowed this award at the event on someone who has preserved, promoted and perpetuated the blues. We have tried hard to surprise each person so that they have no clue of what they are about to receive. We pulled it off successfully again following Hellfish's set, when Jimmy Brown got the Weaver. Jimmy seemed to be in a hurry packing up his bass guitar but KBS president, Gary Sampson, longtime friend Lamont Gillispie and I encouraged him to stick around as we got on the stage to make the presentation. I made some brief comments about all the bands Jimmy had performed with over the years besides Hellfish (The Stray Cats Blues Band, Bodeco, Murphy's Law and Lamont Gillispie's Homewreckers). Because Jimmy feels the music, he can never stand still when he performs. First, his feet start shuffling and then his neck starts twitching. Finally his whole body is in motion. There is not another bass man in Louisville who plays with this much emotion.
I always enjoyed reading Jimmy's column 'This Old Guitar" in LMN where he shared his experiences about wheeling and dealing in guitars. Maybe he has some new stories to write about.
When Jimmy received the plaque he was temporarily at a loss for words, but when they came, he told a personal story about only being able to play three notes. With a little more detail from Jimmy the following day, this true tale went something like this. In 1990 guitar virtuoso Duke Robillard married Susann Forrest who became Susannan Robillard. They were living in Louisville when he wasn't touring. This was after he was the founding member of Roomful of Blues from 1967 to 1979, fronted the Pleasure Kings during the Eighties. and had a brief two-year stint with the Fabulous Thunderbirds after Jimmy Vaughn left in 1990. Duke would often come by Jimmy's Guitar Emporium to trade and talk guitars. Duke was looking for a permanent bassist to go on tour. Once over lunch at the Uptown Café, Duke tried to persuade Jimmy to go on the road. At that time Jimmy was planning to get married and his guitar business was consuming his time. Jimmy was trying hard to come up with excuses why he couldn't do it. Finally he blurted out, "All I can play are three notes." Duke replied, "But you play the right three notes and that's what counts." Jimmy never did tour with Duke but Jeff McAllister and eventually bassist Marty Ballou did and recorded on Duke's acclaimed album Temptation. Several of Duke's albums released during the 90s acknowledge "Jimmy Brown and staff at Guitar Emporium" in the liner notes.
Tullie Brae & The Medicine Man Review came from Old Hickory, Tennessee, near Nashville. This tall, blue-eyed, blond singer put on an animated show, moving from center stage to her keyboards in perpetual motion. She brought a lot of country influences, maybe a little too much for a headliner at a blues festival. Her soulful voice and classy attire kept the crowd's attention, especially the men.
Karen Lovely was unable to get a flight back home on Saturday, so she returned to the Festival that evening to enjoy the music and her new found friends.
The closing act of the Festival was Grady Champion. This compact dynamo was a bundle of energy, blowing his harp from a selection that he wore on a belt around his waist. It was his deep growling voice and his natural way of engaging the crowd that endeared him to everyone there. The stage didn't contain him very long, for he was out in the audience performing several times. His call and response songs like "We Don't Need No Music (Come On Clap Your Hands)" and "Make That Monkey Jump" dissolved any separation between performer and spectator. Grady was the 2010 IBC winner and his plan for the future is simple "To keep the blues alive and continue to travel around the world to share my story, my sound and my love for the blues."
During the 1992 Garvin Gate Festival, a Gazebo Stage was set up at the south end of Garvin Place for acoustic acts. This year that venue was revived, with a small stage next to the KBS booth sponsored by ear-X-tacy. Jimmy Davis did two sets on Friday and Mississippi Adam Riggle did three sets on Saturday. These brief shows were timed to occur between the big shows on the main stage, so there was continuous music. It was refreshing to see these two young talented musicians playing acoustic, traditional blues that showed the other end of the blues spectrum. Jimmy will be representing the KBS at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis this February for the solo/duo competition.
Thanks to perfect fall weather, good promotion in the media, and an excellent diverse lineup of talent, the Gate had one of the best attendances ever.