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2014 Blues Fest: Friday, July 4, Bandshell Bios PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 26 June 2014 06:09

Dexter Allen, 3 p.m.

I had the luxury of seeing Dexter Allen for the first time in 2011, at the Windy City’s blues festival. I heard an amazing musician! Someone turned to me and said, “That’s Dexter Allen, the Blues Man from Mississippi.” Dexter was born in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, the son of a preacher. His grandpa was a deacon. Dexter began playing guitar at the age of 10, and thumping the bass at the age of 12.

Gospel was the first influential music in his life. Dexter moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1995, where his music career took off with Airtight Records, a local independent label. He shared his musical and writing talents in the studio recording R&B, hip hop, blues, pop, rap, country, and gospel.

Later, Dexter signed on in the lead guitarist role for Bobby Rush, the blues legend. Because of his unique style, Dexter was awarded the 2008 Jackson Music Award for Male Vocalist of the year. Earlier in 2008, Dexter began to write and record his own music and delivered an album titled Bluezin My Way, a bluesy, soulful album, with stories of love, lust, lies, and alibis.

In 2009, Dexter won the Jackson Music 2009 Entertainer of the Year Award. In 2011, Dexter released his current CD, Bluezin For Life, which takes you back to the roots with a host of originals and arrangements. Dexter is able to play every instrument on the stage without missing a beat. His smooth voice and songwriting abilities are extraordinary.

Tracy Martin

Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch, 5 p.m.

Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch was formed in 2008, a power trio that includes Brandon Katona on bass and Mike Talbot on drums. Their debut CD, Upside Your Head, was released in 2010 on the Underworld Records label. The CD got voted as one of the top 60 albums of the year by The Blues Report, and the song “Black Widow” was voted as one of the top 30 songs. The band comes from the Dallas, Texas, area and in 2012 was voted best blues band in the Dallas Observer Music Awards. They released the CD titled Tell You What in April 2013, also on Underworld Records, and have received even more great reports from fans and reviewers, spending several consecutive months at the top of various blues charts and radio playlists. They have spent time as the Dallas-area backing band for Big Bill Morganfield (the son of blues legend Muddy Waters). According to Blues Underground Network, Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch are the best thing out there right now for their type of music, in the category of blues rock – nobody else even comes close. Jason also performs solo acoustic shows on a regular basis. They are now currently at work on their third studio album, which will have even more blues material than their previous albums. I’ve had the pleasure to see Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch three or four times, and their high energy along with Jason’s devastating guitar chops and vocals will be sure to impress everyone. Jason’s abilities as a guitar player, singer, and songwriter are second to none, and his good humor and charisma turn fans into friends at every show.

Steve Heston

Tad Robinson, 7 p.m.

Tad Robinson has been nominated for a total of seven Blues Music Awards – for Male Soul Blues Artist and Soul Blues Album – since 2005. Downbeat Magazine notes that “Robinson places near the top of the list of the finest living singers of soul blues.” Don Wilcock, editor-in-chief of BluesWax, said this about Tad Robinson’s performance at the 2011 Blues Music Awards: “Tad Robinson may not look the part of the deeply inflected soul singer, but his delivery and his original songs suddenly elevated him in my mind to a level shared with Curtis Salgado and John Nemeth.”

I couldn’t agree more. When I saw Tad Robinson perform at the Muddy Waters last year, I knew he’d put on a great show at the Blues Fest! As Bill Dahl of points out, “Tad Robinson would have fit in snugly with the blue-eyed soul singers of the 1960s. His vocals virtually reeking of soul, he’s capable of delving into a straight-ahead Little Walter shuffle or delivering a vintage O.V. Wright R&B ballad. Add his songwriting skills and exceptional harp technique, and you have quite the total package.”

According to David Whiteis in Living Blues, “Tad Robinson’s vocal style owes obvious debts to vintage-era Al Green and other soul sophisticates, but he blows harp with the rough-hewn exuberance of a post-war Chicago juker. ... He incorporates stylistic elements of the fabled soul men – Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, James Carr – as he deems appropriate, but they all meld into a voice that is distinctly his own.”

The only way to understand all this praise for Tad Robinson is to hear him for yourself! In a day filled with the Mississippi soul of Dexter Allen and the Memphis soul of Preston Shannon, Tad Robinson will be able to hold his own and then some.

(Tad Robinson will also present a workshop on Friday at 4 p.m.)

Karen McFarland

Preston Shannon, 9 p.m.

I first heard Preston Shannon in a club on Beale Street in Memphis and was impressed enough to bring his name up to the Mississippi Valley Blues Society Entertainment Committee for more than three years. “The King of Beale Street” is a singer who sounds like Otis Redding and plays guitar in a style influenced by Albert King, Little Milton, and T-Bone Walker. Ray Stiles at describes Preston’s sound this way: “His raspy, forceful, and expressive vocals simmer and soar as he soothes, grooves, and moves like the best of the legendary Memphis soul singers. Shannon is a master of vocal control and phrasing and can switch from deep-rooted soul to down-and-dirty blues easier than anyone.”

Born in Olive Branch, Mississippi, Preston’s family moved to Memphis when he was eight. There he heard and fell in love with the blues. He began playing around town at age 18 and for the next 20 years played in a succession of Memphis bands on weekends while working in a hardware store by day. A break came in 1987 when he toured with soul-blues singer Shirley Brown, and he gained the confidence that he could do this on his own. In 1991, he put together his own band, and soon thereafter he was “discovered” in a Beale Street club by producer/keyboardist Ron Levy, who connected Preston with Rounder Records.

Preston recorded three albums for the Rounder Bullseye Blues subsidiary: Break the Ice (1994), Midnight in Memphis (1996), and All in Time (1999). Preston was nominated for three Grammy awards for All in Time, which was produced by and includes songs by Willie Mitchell (a collaborator with Al Green and Otis Clay). Last year Preston was a contestant on the hit NBC show The Voice, and he is testing his acting skills working in the movie Free in Deed, to be released in January 2015. Preston’s latest CD is a tribute to Elmore James called Dust My Broom. It might sound funny to have a Memphis guitar player not playing James’ signature slide parts, but add horns to the mix and the result is a magnificent Memphis soul stew.

(For a 2012 River Cities’ Reader interview with Preston Shannon, visit

Karen McFarland

George Thorogood & The Destroyers, 11 p.m.

For George Thorogood and his longtime band The Destroyers – Jeff Simon (drums, percussion), Bill Blough (bass guitar), Jim Suhler (rhythm guitar), and Buddy Leach (saxophone) – their 40th anniversary is indestructible proof that staying true to yourself and the music can still mean something. And with a catalog of iconic hits that includes “Who Do You Love?”, “I Drink Alone,” “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” “Move It on Over”, “Bad to the Bone,” and more, being able to share it with audiences is what will always matter.

Surprisingly, Thorogood began his career as a solo acoustic act. “I was more of a Robert Johnson/Elmore James country-blues player,” he explains. “That soon petered out, but I’d gotten enough feedback from artists like Brownie McGhee and Willie Dixon who thought I had something going. I knew I needed more.” George called high-school friend and drummer Jeff Simon, and with the addition of a bass player – as well as Jeff’s van – the electric trio soon graduated from basement rehearsals to local gigs. “We knew there was still time for one hardcore high-energy boogie-blues band to make it. We relocated to Boston, and toured the Delaware Valley, Philly, and New England nonstop. Crowds loved us. The acts we were opening for, like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, loved us. We were playing great, but still couldn’t get a record deal and didn’t earn more than $200 a night.”

Their 1977 debut George Thorogood & The Destroyers would soon be certified gold. It had sat on the shelf for 18 months and was finally released the day Elvis died. And for audiences and radio alike, the band instantly embodied – and continues to define – powerhouse rock with bar-band roots, unchained attitude, and a fierce love of its country and blues history. Over the course of 16 studio albums (including six gold and two platinum), they would storm the charts by putting their own stamp on nuggets by Hank Williams, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, and more, while simultaneously bashing out smash GT originals that crackle with humor and swagger.

“Stan Musial was once asked, ‘What was the greatest day of your career?’ And Stan said, ‘Every day when I walk onto the field is the greatest day.’ I feel the same way,” George says. “Every night when I walk out on that stage is the highlight of my career. I hit that first chord, the band kicks in, and we hear the audience respond. That’s the rush. Forty years into this, and every night, that’s still the only moment that matters.”

(For a 2014 interview with George Thorogood, click here.)


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