2012 Blues Fest – Friday, June 29: Tent Print
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
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Wednesday, 20 June 2012 05:50

Earnest “Guitar” Roy, 6:30 p.m.

Earnest Roy Jr. was born on September 25, 1958, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, under the watchful eye of his father, guitarist Earnest Roy Sr., who worked with Jackie Brinston, Ike Turner, John Lee Hooker, Wade Walton, Raymond Hill, and many of the other Clarksdale bluesmen. Earnest’s father taught him bass guitar at five, and when Earnest turned eight, he began playing in his father’s band, Earnest Roy & the Clarksdale Rockers, whose members included Big Jack Johnson. At age 11, Earnest Jr. began playing lead guitar, and he formed his first band at 14, which led to his being regular performer on Soul Train.

By 1989, Jim O’Neal of Rooster Blues Records had signed Earnest “Guitar” Roy to the label and released a single called “Too Many Women & I Wanna Know What My Little Girl’s Been Doing.” The song was written in a San Diego hotel room while Earnest was touring and playing backup guitar for Albert King. Earnest’s other credits include playing drums on Big Jack Johnson’s first album, Oil Man, and playing lead guitar and drums on Frank Frost’s Midnight Prowler album.

From 1993 to 2001, Earnest played for the international televangelist and pastor Rod Parsley, whose ministry aired in 320 nations around the world. In 2001, Earnest “Guitar” Roy returned to his blues roots when he began touring and appearing at blues and jazz festivals with Sam Carr. Earnest’s most recent CD is Going Down to Clarksdale from 2011. – from EarnestGuitarRoy.Homestead.com

Liz Mandeville & Donna Herula, 8 p.m.

Liz Mandeville and Donna Herula represented the Windy City Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis this year and made it to the semifinals. I was a judge at their venue on Beale Street, and I was so impressed with their high-energy blues! Blues content: check. Vocal talent: check. Instrumental talent: check. Originality: check. Stage presence: check is blurred by Liz trying to play washboard while lying on top of the judges’ table! When they met at the 2011 IBC, the two Chicago women recognized their shared passion for traditional and classic blues. They formed a duo shortly thereafter, featuring many of Liz’s original songs.

Liz got her first guitar at 16 and started playing professionally soon after. Her guitar style tips its hat to her oldest influences: Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Muddy Waters mixed with soul from Curtis Mayfield and the Chicago blues of Jimmy Reed. Liz also plays washboard, in a style first made popular in Louisiana and employed in many traditional blues settings, adding that Creole rhythm to her music.

Most of Liz’s songs are self-penned, but don’t be surprised when she busts out a classic cover. She’s spent years listening to and studying blues history and pays tribute with panache, both in her live shows and in the interactive workshops she presents for Blues in the Schools and at festivals around the world.

Donna is a slide-guitar player who plays country, Delta, and modern blues styles. With a percussive guitar technique, she plays finger-style as well as blues slide guitar on her resonator guitars, including a 1930s National Steel Triolian and National Steel Tricone. In her solo and duo acoustic performances, Donna plays a mix of songs from the early blueswomen, including Memphis Minnie, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith, and the early Delta bluesmen, including Robert Johnson, Robert Nighthawk, Furry Lewis, Blind Blake, and Muddy Waters.

Herula picked up guitar at age 10. By 16, she was playing lead in bands and writing original blues songs influenced by famous slide-guitar players and classic blues singers. Donna developed an aggressive slide technique based on a deep study of traditional Delta guitarists, most notably Robert Nighthawk, to whom she paid tribute with her CD The Moon is Rising. Donna performed a tribute to slide master Nighthawk at the 2009 Chicago Blues Festival for his centennial celebration. She also performed as part of a Nighthawk symposium for the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas.

Last year, Liz and Donna appeared on KFFA radio as guests of Sonny Payne during his historic 50th-anniversary broadcast during the King Biscuit Fest. That should tell you that this duo is keeping the old-style blues alive!

Herula will host a workshop at 4 p.m. Saturday; Mandeville will host a workshop at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

For more information, visit DonnaHerula.com and LizMandeville.com. – Karen McFarland

Super Chikan & the Fighting Cocks, 10 p.m.

James “Super Chikan” Johnson is a Blues Music Award-winning blues musician, songwriter, outsider artist, educator, and guitar-maker based in Clarksdale, Mississippi. One of 11 children, James came from a musical family. His grandfather, Ellis Johnson, played fiddle in local string bands, and one of his uncles, Big Jack Johnson, was an internationally known blues musician. He spent his childhood moving from town to town in the Mississippi Delta and working on his family’s farms.

At an early age, James got his first musical instrument, a diddley bow. As he grew up, he came up with new ways to improve and vary the sounds he could make on the one-stringed instrument, and in 1964, at the age of 13, he bought his first guitar. At age 19, he began hitting the jukes, playing bass with his uncle, Big Jack Johnson, and he went on to play bass and guitar for a number of Delta blues bandleaders, including Frank Frost, Earnest Roy Sr., and Sam Carr.

As an adult, James began driving a truck for a living. During the long stretches on the road, he began composing his own songs. When he showed the songs to his friends, they convinced him to go to a studio and record them. So in 1997 Super Chikan released his debut album, Blues Come Home to Roost, influenced by such musicians as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Chuck Berry. He went on to release What You See in 2000, Shoot That Thang in 2001, Chikan Supe in 2005, Sum Mo Chikan in 2008, and Chikadelic in 2009, which was awarded the 2010 Blues Music Award for Traditional Blues Album. Also in 2010, he was honored with three additional Blues Music Award nominations: B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, Song of the Year for “Fred’s Dollar Store,” and Traditional Blues Male Artist.

In recent years, taking lessons learned from his grandfather – who built instruments and made fishing lures – James began building his own guitars and other instruments. James combines discarded guitar parts with old Army gas cans to create “Chikantars.” He also makes cigar-box guitars and other one-of-a-kind instruments. He hand-paints each of his instruments, ornamenting them with detailed scenes of the Delta.

I like the guitar James made from a ceiling fan, covered in jeweled beads, mirrors, and working lights! Such decorated functionality parallels the kind of blues that Super Chikan writes and plays. I’ve seen Super Chikan many times, and he’s the real deal – a Delta bluesman who knows how to put on a good show. But I’ve never seen him with his all-female band, the Fighting Cocks – although Mississippi Valley Blues Society member Mary Jo Slocum, who heard them on the Legendary R&B Cruise, says they’re fantastic. I predict a superlative set!

For a 2006 interview with Super Chikan, visit RCReader.com/y/chikan. – Karen McFarland

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