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.

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.

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."

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.

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 ... ?'"

Kenny NealA lot of people count the harmonica player Slim Harpo as an influence - among them the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and Pink Floyd - but nobody can claim a connection as direct (or harrowing) as swamp-blues master Kenny Neal.

Slim Harpo was a regular in the Louisiana home of the Neals, and Kenny - one of the sons of harp player Raful Neal - recalled in a recent phone interview the story of how he got his first harmonica when he was three years old.

"He was just playin' around," Neal said of Slim Harpo. "He tricked me into a trailer one day. ... He told me, 'Look inside and see if there's any more equipment in there.' I went inside, and he closed the doors. It got pitch black and I got phobia. ... Freaked me out. I started screamin' and yellin', and that freaked him out. He was trying to quiet me down, so he decided to give me a harmonica - that was the closest thing he had that would probably soothe me a little bit."

Kelley HuntWhile listening to Kelley Hunt perform - the singer/songwriter's joyously smoky, soulful blues vocals a perfect match for her funky and fiery piano skills - it's easy to imagine that the Kansas-based musician never lacked for confidence. As she admits during our recent phone interview, though, she actually did. She just didn't tell anyone.

"When I was about 17, I was in a band with my brother's friends, and these were older guys - like 21 or whatever," says Hunt with a laugh. "I wasn't singing at all; I was just playing these keyboards that they had. And one night we were playing for an event at the college in Emporia, where I grew up, and we were being paid, and the gal that was supposed to sing just did not show up. And it was time to start, and the guys looked at me and just said, 'Oh my God, we hope you can sing.'

"I was pretty much horrified," she continues. "I mean, I knew I could, because I was doing it in school, but never in this kind of setting. So at that moment, I just made a conscious decision: 'I'm going to pretend like I'm all about this, and I'm going to pretend like I'm not scared out of my gourd.' And I just slammed it out for a couple hours, and I remember thinking, 'Well, (a) nobody here even knows there's anything different, (b) the singer's fired, and (c) I now get paid twice as much.'"

Laughing, Hunt says, "I just stepped into it brazenly and naïvely, and just assumed that it would all work out."

Preston ShannonPreston Shannon was working and performing in Memphis during the 1960s and '70s, when "Soulsville USA" rivaled Detroit's Motown. Stax Records ruled the airwaves with Booker T & the MGs laying down the backing "Memphis Soul Stew" for hits by Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Wilson Pickett, while over at Hi Records producer and songwriter Willie Mitchell was working with Al Green and Otis Clay. It was a magic time. You can hear those soul influences in Preston Shannon's music, but he doesn't acknowledge the soul connection.

"I am really a blues man," Shannon declared in a recent phone interview. "I know the blues, I've experienced the blues, I play the blues. You know, when I recorded all my CDs, the reason I inserted R&B ... was because at the time it was so hard to get airplay for the blues."

Lady BiancaLady Bianca. Her very name suggests confidence and brio and more than a hint of glamor, qualities that are readily apparent in the artist's soulful, soaring renderings of blues originals and covers, and that led Blues Revue magazine to call her "a great talent whose hearty, refreshing approach tugs at the heart while moving the feet." (For a quick, thrilling introduction to Lady Bianca's gifts, check out her performances of "Ooh, His Love Is So Good" - from her 1995 debut album Best Kept Secret - and Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel," both viewable on YouTube.)

So when you learn that Lady Bianca (born Bianca Thornton) was given her stage moniker at age 17 - a name bestowed on her by the noted San Francisco-based bluesman Quinn Harris, for whom she sang backup - you might think that even then she boasted the electrifying magnetism and blues-fueled assurance that she does now at age 58.

"Oh, no," she says, with a laugh, during our recent phone interview. "Quinn Harris named me Lady Bianca because I was so square."

Matthew Curry & the Fury, 6:30 p.m.

The party starts here! Matthew Curry is a teenage phenom from Normal, Illinois, who plays guitar, writes songs, and sings. He is backed by the Fury - veteran performers Greg Neville on drums and Jeff Paxton on bass.

In 2011, Matthew was awarded second place (first was taken by a Tommy Castro collaboration) in the International Songwriting Competition for his composition "Blinded by the Darkness," a slow, Chicago-sounding blues that features his Clapton-like guitar melodies. The song is included on the 2011 debut CD for Matthew Curry & the Fury, If I Don't Got You.