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2013 Blues Fest – “If I Don’t Sing, I Die”: Mighty Sam McClain (Friday, July 5, 11 p.m., Bandshell) PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:58

“Anyway, that’s just some of the stuff,” the soul-blues singer Mighty Sam McClain said to me in a recent phone interview. “You’re a good listener.”

He’d been talking, nonstop, for 31 minutes, responding to the simplest of opening questions: “What have you been up to?” After the compliment he paid me, he chattered for another 39 minutes, with just a few questions to prompt him.

Admittedly, the man has a lot to talk about.

He left his home in Louisiana at age 13 to escape an abusive stepfather. “He hit me a couple times,” McClain said. “He hit me in the head with a hammer. Once. Then he hit me with a walking stick. So I was getting ready to kill him. I really was. He was a hunter. And there were guns all over the house. ... I thought about doing it.”

Instead, he said, “I crawled out the window, and I didn’t look back.”

He then hooked up with Little Melvin Underwood, initially as a roadie and by age 15 – in the late 1950s – as a singer.

 
2013 Blues Fest – The King of La La: C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band (Saturday, July 6, 10 p.m., Tent) PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Mike Schulz   
Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:57

As he’s the son of the late Clifton Chenier – the Grammy Award-winning accordion legend commonly known as “The King of Zydeco” – it makes sense that C.J. Chenier would have a parent to thank for his initial entry into the world of professional music. And he does: his mom.

“I was, like, 20 years old,” says the native of Port Arthur, Texas, “and I was playing piano in this funk band I put up in my hometown, and one day we were playing a bazaar at a Catholic Church. And my mother sent one of my friends to tell me I needed to come home, because my daddy called and said he wanted me to go on the road with him. And I was hesitant, because I had never been to too many places, and I knew that everybody in my daddy’s band was way older than I was.

“But I got home and my mother told me, ‘I tell you what: You’re not working. You don’t have nothin’ to do. You’d better pack your bags and get on out of here!’” Laughing, Chenier adds, “And I just said, ‘Yes, ma’am!’ I mean, I was hesitant, but I was happy.”

Mom’s directive, as it turns out, has made a lot of people happy, because 25 years after taking over his late father’s Red Hot Louisiana Band, C.J. Chenier performances continue to thrill zydeco and blues fans worldwide. Called “the heir to the zydeco throne” by Billboard magazine and “the crown prince of zydeco” by the Boston Globe, the singer/songwriter/accordionist is an undeniable master of his genre – though the man readily admits that, in the early stages of his career, he didn’t fully understand what that genre was.

 
2013 Blues Fest – The Road to World Domination, Via Minnesota: Davina & the Vagabonds (Thursday, July 4, 8 p.m., Tent) PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Mike Schulz   
Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:56

Toward the end of our recent phone interview, I ask Davina Sowers – the lead vocalist, pianist, and bandleader for her five-person outfit Davina & the Vagabonds – what her plans for the future are, say, five or 10 years down the road.

She answers with her own question: “You mean, aside from world domination?”

I’m fairly certain she’s kidding. But considering Sowers’ rise to professional and popular acclaim over the past eight years, there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.

A Pennsylvania native now residing in St. Paul, Minnesota, Sowers’ career in music, as she tells it, began rather inconspicuously, when the singer/songwriter was performing as a street musician in Key West, Florida. Yet since relocating north in 2005, Sowers has not-so-slowly and surely emerged as one of Minnesota’s – and the country’s – most exciting and accomplished blues artists, touring extensively with her ensemble of Vagabonds and earning much critical praise in the process.

 
2013 Blues Fest – The Business Behind the Luck: Selwyn Birchwood Band (Thursday, July 4, 3 p.m., Bandshell) PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:55

Selwyn Birchwood’s e-mail signature doesn’t note that his band took the top prize in the 2013 International Blues Challenge. It doesn’t say that he won the Albert King award as the Memphis event’s top guitarist. Instead, it says: “Selwyn Birchwood, MBA.”

And, yes, that is a Master of Business Administration degree. Suffice to say that Birchwood – also a singer and songwriter – is not your father’s (or grandfather’s) bluesman.

“That’s always been a big part of my life is the scholastic part of it,” he said in a recent phone interview. “My family has always pushed me to do schoolwork and do well in school. ... A lot of people say that you don’t need school because you’re playing music. I looked at it the other way: I think if you’re playing music, you need it even more, because if, Lord forbid, gigs dried up and you have to get a job in a pinch, it’s a lot easier to get a job if you’ve got a degree or a graduate degree ... . I always saw it as a challenge as well. I always wanted to see if I could do it.”

So he got his undergraduate degree in business marketing, and in December earned his MBA. “I was ... kind of seeing how it can apply to my music,” he said.

 
2013 Blues Fest – In That Same Line: John Primer (Friday, July 5, 10 p.m., Tent) PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:54

John Primer grew up loving the guitar, but it took a while for him to have his own.

An uncle made one on the side of the house in Mississippi with nails and wire when Primer was two or three years old, in the late 1940s. “I liked the sound,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I loved it.” He’d lie on the floor, looking at guitars in catalogs.

By the time he was five, he said, he was playing the side-of-the-home guitar, “when they go to the field or something.”

At about that time, he said, he ordered one for $7 or so, but “I never did get it.” It was at the post office, cash on delivery, and “I didn’t have no money. My mom, she was out of town, working ... . She didn’t come back in time to get it, so they sent it back. That broke my heart.”

 
2013 Blues Fest – Thursday, July 4: Bandshell PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:53

Selwyn Birchwood Band, 3 p.m.
SelwynBirchwood.com

CD Baby says it best about Selwyn Birchwood’s CD FL Boy: “Eclectic original tunes ranging from swampy roots music to upbeat front-porch blues to hip-shakin’ funk grooves.” That description applies to his band’s high-energy live shows, too.

When I heard the Selwyn Birchwood Band at the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge in February, it was obvious to me that it was the best band in the finals. For the past few years, I’ve disagreed with and been disappointed by the winning bands chosen at the IBC finals, but in 2013 the judges got it right. The Selwyn Birchwood Band was chosen number one out of more than 200 bands in the competition, and Selwyn Birchwood won the Albert King award for best guitarist.

 
2013 Blues Fest – Thursday, July 4: Tent PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:52

Kevin “B.F.” Burt, 4 p.m.
KevinBFBurt.com

For more than 20 years, Coralville’s Kevin “B.F.” Burt has been electrifying audiences throughout the nation, dispelling the myth that true blues has no roots in Iowa. His soul-inspired presentation is unique, which consistently gets him compared to a range of artists including Bill Withers and Aaron Neville, with the ability to build an audience rapport that has been compared with greats such as B.B. King.

Kevin is a self-taught musician (vocals, harmonica, and guitar) who has also had some stage-acting experience. In the off-Broadway play Klub Ka, the Blues Legend, Kevin played Papa Gee and arranged all of the blues music. The play, which originally ran in Iowa City and then in Washington, DC, also had a two-week run at LaMama’s Experimental Theater in New York City and was sold out each night. Kevin has also had roles in several other plays at the University of Iowa – for example, playing Whining Boy in the acclaimed August Wilson play The Piano Lesson.

 
2013 Blues Fest – Friday, July 5: Bandshell PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:51

Mississippi Valley Blues Challenge, 3 p.m.

The first Mississippi Valley Blues Challenge final round is being held at the festival this year with three bands vying for a chance to be named the victor. Each of the bands will play for 20 minutes, with the winner of the challenge qualifying for the 30th International Blues Challenge in Memphis, as well as receiving a paid bandshell slot in this year’s Mississippi Valley Blues Festival – at 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 6.

The challenge started with three preliminary rounds at the sponsoring venue, The Muddy Waters in Bettendorf, where one band from each round advanced to the finals. The Mississippi Valley Blues Challenge preliminary rounds featured a strong field of competitors, including Harris Collection, the Jared Hughes Band, Mississippi Misfits, and Wheelhouse.

The three bands that advanced to the finals were the Chris Avey Band, Serious Business, and the Rock Island Rollers – playing Friday in that order.

 
2013 Blues Fest – Friday, July 5: Tent PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:50

Winter Blues AllStars, 4 p.m.

The Winter Blues AllStars is composed of talented young musicians selected from the River Music Experience’s Winter Blues program. The annual Winter Blues program features vocal and instrumental workshops (guitar, bass, harmonica, keyboards, and drums), as well as a concentration on blues composition and improvisation. These sessions are open to musicians from eight to 18 years of age, and are led by Ellis Kell of the RME and Hal Reed of the Mississippi Valley Blues Society, as well as veteran blues musicians from the region as special guests.

Here’s some information on the AllStars from the December 2012 session.

 
2013 Blues Fest – Saturday, July 6: Bandshell PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:49

Reverend Raven & the Chain-Smokin’ Altar Boys, 3 p.m.
ReverendRaven.com

I agree with how its Web site describes Reverend Raven & the Chain-Smokin’ Altar Boys as playing “traditional blues, straight up with a big dose of passion. With smoking grooves, served up with hot harmonica and smooth, stinging guitar, they play original songs peppered with nods to Slim Harpo, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, Billy Boy Arnold, Junior Wells, and the three Kings.”

In 1971, the Reverend saw Freddie King in his hometown of Chicago. That’s when Rik Raven decided he wanted to play guitar. After serving our country in the Navy, he came back stateside and settled in Wisconsin, where he backed up Madison Slim (longtime harmonica player for Jimmy Rogers) for 10 years. Eventually, he formed the Chain-Smokin’ Altar Boys and started opening for greats such as B.B. King, Gatemouth Brown, and Elvin Bishop. The Wisconsin Music Industry awarded them “Best Blues Band” in 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2008, and 2010.

 
2013 Blues Fest – Saturday, July 6: Tent PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:48

Detroit Larry Davison & Chris Avey, 4 p.m.

Detroit Larry Davison and Chris Avey are both veteran blues musicians on the Quad Cities scene. They are both stellar performers – Larry on harp and Chris on guitar and vocals. Together, their acoustic act sounds like Maxwell Street transported to your front porch.

Larry is acknowledged by local listeners – including other harp players – as the best harmonica player in town. He’s been a vital part of many bands, including the Ellis Kell Band and John Resch & the Detroit Blues. And he took the stage in Memphis as part of the Avey Brothers Band when they reached the finals of the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge in 2010. (They were the only real blues band in the finals, but the judges were after something else.)

You’ll be seeing a lot of Chris Avey at the 2013 blues fest. Besides this acoustic set with Larry, Chris heads the Chris Avey Band (finalists in the Mississippi Valley Blues Challenge), and the Avey Brothers are the host band for the 2013 after-fest showcase.

 
2013 Blues Fest – Workshop and BlueSKool Performers PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:47

David Horwitz (blues photography workshop)
Friday July 5, 2:30 pm.

Photographer and educator David Horwitz of Tucson, Arizona, has been traveling to clubs and festivals for decades in search of great blues music for his ears and visual images to capture on film. Winner of the 1999 Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Photography, David has spent more than 25 years capturing moments of the blues masters. His works have appeared in countless publications. In 2011, he was inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame. This is his 26th year of shooting the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, and the free photo exhibit near the workshops will showcase David’s work.

 
Complete 2012 Blues Fest Coverage PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 20 June 2012 05:59

This page links to the River Cities’ Reader’s complete coverage of the 2012 Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, including new interviews with seven of this year’s performers and biographies of each artist.

Ticket information is here. The welcome letter from the Mississippi Valley Blues Society president is here. Biographies of workshop and BlueSKool leaders who are not performing on either the Bandshell or Tent stages are here.

 
2012 Blues Fest – An Active “Retirement”: Lonnie Brooks (Sunday, July 1, 9 p.m., Bandshell) PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 20 June 2012 05:58

Brooks Family Blues Dynasty

“I’m not working as much as I’ve been,” said 78-year-old Lonnie Brooks in a recent phone interview. “I had in mind to try to retire, but my boys keep tellin’ me, ‘Let’s go out there.’”

I asked him when he decided he wanted to retire. Without missing a beat or belying the joke, the Louisiana-bred Chicagoan deadpanned: “I was thinking about this about 16 years ago. But I needed money, so I kept on.”

Brooks’ “retirement” decision coincided with his last studio release of new recordings, 1996’s Roadhouse Rules – which in retrospect seems to have ended a two-decade solo run on the Alligator label, including 1979’s classic Bayou Lightning. The All Music Guide called him “a Chicago blues giant” with a “unique Louisiana/Chicago blues synthesis unlike anyone else’s on the competitive Windy City scene.”

 
2012 Blues Fest – Devil in Disguise: Bobby Rush (Sunday, July 1, 8:30 p.m., Tent) PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 20 June 2012 05:57

Bobby RushWhen Blues Music Award winner Bobby Rush takes the stage at this year’s Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, he’ll be doing so in a concert set titled “The Double Rush Revue,” so named because, as he says, “I’ve got one part of the show I’m doing with the band, and the next part I’m gonna strip down – just me and my guitar.”

It won’t be the first time the 76-year-old blues artist has stripped down for a gig.

 
2012 Blues Fest – Finding His Soul: Coco Montoya (Saturday, June 30, 10 p.m., Bandshell) PDF Print E-mail
Music - Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 20 June 2012 05:56

Coco Montoya

For the music career of singer/guitarist Coco Montoya, thank the persistence of John Mayall.

It’s not merely that Mayall called Montoya to ask him to join the legendary Bluesbreakers band in the early 1980s. It’s that he called back when Montoya – who had quit music as a profession after a stint drumming for Albert Collins in the 1970s – hung up on him.

“I didn’t think it was him,” Montoya said in a recent phone interview, promoting his Saturday bandshell performance at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. “I was bartending at a British pub. ... So I thought it was some of the English cats in there teasing me. ... He called back. ‘No, this really is John Mayall. ... Do I have to come down there ... ?’”

 
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