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I've Got A Mind To Ramble
Venue With A Vision
There was a bustle of activity preceding the November 12 Kentucky Homefront performance for the taping of two shows on WFPK. Someone was hawking tickets for a guitar, last-minute audio adjustments were made and then the audience was primed to open the show with rigorous applause, hoots, whistles and foot stomping. John Gage, master of ceremonies (and a whole lot more) referred to the Eifler Auditorium at the Clifton Center as the "venue with a vision."
Jimmy Davis opened the first show with a set of acoustic blues. This was his first time at Homefront and he seemed at ease perched on a stool playing a variety of guitars. Davis, a native of Madison, IN, transitioned from the traditional with "Kindhearted Woman Blues" to an original contemporary song "Am I Wrong" which got the people tapping their feet throughout the auditorium. Actor Phil Cherry took us to a downhome picnic with the narration of Paul Lawrence Dunbar's poem, "The Party."
Little T&A (T for Tony Tkac, lead guitarist and A for Amy Johnson, potent vocalist) is an all-star rock/blues band that came together this year. When you have a supporting cast of Jeff McAllister on drums, Dr. Bill Dean on keyboards, Monk Mackey on bass, Mike Murphy on sax and the extra added attraction of Donn Adams on trombone, you can't lose. And win they did at the KBS blues band competition this year. They will be representing us at the International Blues Challenge next February in Memphis. When Amy put on her white hat and removed her jacket, she got down to business with the romping "I Can't Quit It."
The second show opened with a collaboration between guitarist Tyrone Cotton, Phil Cherry and Thadius Pinkney for a tribute to the poetry of Langston Hughes. Pinkney provided the background about Hughes' life, Cherry recited his poetry and Cotton played and sang with his raspy voice pulling the gut emotion out of every lyric.
Sue O'Neil and Blues Seville followed with Rob Pickett on lead guitar standing in for Larry Ferguson. Both of them had played together with da Mudcats until O'Neil left ten years ago to start her own band. She closed the evening with a rousing version of "Blow Top Blues."
RIPs for 2011
As 2011 comes to a close, the year has not been kind to some of the legends of the blues with the passing of Eddie Kirkland (February 27), Big Jack Johnson (March 14), Pinetop Perkins (March 21), Honeyboy Edwards (August 29) and most recently Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith (September 16). There were brief Louisville musical connections with all five of these musicians.
Eddie Kirkland has been to Louisville twice, once for a gig at Uncle Pleasants in the 80s and later in December 1996 for a recording session set up by Scott Mullins at Jeff Carpenter's Real to Real Studio. This two-day session included harmonica player Rock Bottom from Tampa, Florida and local musicians Gene Wickliffe, Jim Bauer and Rusty Ends. Due to Kirkland's deteriorating voice, this music was, sadly, never released on Mullin's Rollin' & Tumblin' Records.
Big Jack Johnson was known as "The Old Man" because he drove an oil truck before he joined the Jelly Roll Kings and soon became one of the Mississippi Delta's most intense guitarists. He was in his prime when he performed at the final Louisville Blues Festival in Playhouse Square in October, 1999.
Joe Willie 'Pinetop' Perkins was in Louisville as the pianist with the Muddy Waters band in the late 70s, performing at the City Lights on Main St. That was a night to remember. When the KBS had their General Membership Meeting in August, 1991, Perkins was there to entertain us, backed by Foree Wells and The Walnut Street Blues Band. Perkins returned the following year to the Waterside Arts and Blues Festival with the Legendary Blues Band. In 1996 Perkins was a last-minute substitution with the Jimmy Rogers Blues Band at BackStage Café. When I arrived early, Perkins was sitting at the bar munching popcorn without his teeth. He was down to the kernels when he said, "I need to buy me some store-bought teeth."
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards performed during the KBS Second Annual Blues Cruise in 1996. He was at Big Heavy's Blues & Dance Club, accompanied by Rick Sherry backing him on harp and washboard. At that time this eighty-two-year-old guitarist dazzled us with his mix of primitive Delta and amplified urban blues. Edwards was the last living person who knew and performed with Robert Johnson and was there the night Johnson was poisoned at Three Forks. That historical link is now gone.
Willie 'Big Eyes" Smith was also in Muddy's band, playing drums with Perkins that memorable night. Recently, Smith has gone back to blowing harp, his original instrument, since his son Kenny has taken over drumming duties. Smith was at Jim Porter's earlier this year, performing Chicago blues like it was meant to be played. Smith's sudden stroke at seventy-five was a shock, as he had recently won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album, Joined At The Hip, with Perkins.
Time To Go Back Home
This article will mark the end of my "Got A Mind To Ramble" column for Louisville Music News. When Jean Metcalfe, then co-editor, and Paul Moffett asked me if I would write something about the blues starting in 1993, I had no idea of how long and where this would go. After eighteen years (two hundred and sixteen articles), it is time to consider a new challenge. The blues will not be forsaken in LMN. Paul and I agree that the music is as viable as it has ever been, with so many talented bands and festivals in town and its presence must be maintained in the magazine.
The column will continue under new management, with a rotation of writers including Gary Sampson, KBS president, Nelson Grube, KBS director, Mike Suttles, Garvin Gate Blues Festival manager and blues diva, Sue O'Neil. Blues commentary from these four different perspectives will keep the column varied and interesting.
What will I do with all of my free time? For many years I have wanted to write a book about Mary Ann Fisher. Louisville's 'Song Bird of the South' had a life of joys and sorrows that must be told. The material and pictures have been accumulating and I need to begin. Peter Rhee, who produced Mary Ann's CD, Songbird of the South, in 1992 is planning to release it again next year with additional vintage songs and new liner notes. This dual tribute to Mary Ann with the book and music will be a dream come true.
To supplement her biography, I plan to edit and include approximately thirty interview stories of the many musicians from my past LMN articles. These interviews were the most enjoyable part of writing Ramble. Sitting with each musician with the tape recorder running, taking notes and trying to ask intelligent questions to get interesting answers was always a challenge but most rewarding. The list is long but will definitely include John 'Preacher' Stevens, Cliff Butler, Fred Murphy, Smoketown Red, Rick & Joe DeBow, Steve Ferguson, Greg Martin, Nick Stump, Sonny Sitgraves, B.B. Taylor, Robbie Bartlett, Ricky Mason, John Burgard, Gene Wickliffe, Sue O'Neil, Mark Hoekstra and Foree Wells, plus many more. I hope the book, Fish and Friends, will continue a record of the people who contributed to Louisville's blues history that was started by Pen and Brenda Bogert when they co-edited the KBS newsletter during the mid 90s.
If anyone has any information about Mary Ann or pictures of her and is willing to share them for the publication, I will give you credit due. You can contact me at (502) 451-6872 email@example.com. It has been a great experience Rambling all these years, but now I have some serious writing to do.