Sunday, May 15, 2011

The King of Blues

April 26th 2011
Two years ago at Gilreins in Worcester, I learned about the blues.  Dont get me wrong, it's not like I didn't know the blues existed. But "live and up close" to someone who seems to have lived the blues, well that's a different story. That was the night I heard Ricky "King" Russell.

Since then, I've heard a lot of blues, catching some well known blues artists, learning about some others, hearing some newcomers----at concerts, festivals, dive bars, jam sessions, whenever I can.  I am now an official fan, partly becuase the songs are just so danceable. Partly because the songs are so raw and unpretentious.   You simply can't play the blues without letting yourself go.  At least not well.

During the last two years, I've been able to catch Russell only a few times, since he seems to play closer to his south shore digs or in venues that require a road trip on my part.  The last time I heard him was last summer at Parker Wheeler's Sunday night Blues Party at The Grog in Newburyport. A great venue and with Michelle Wilson, a stellar event. 

This week, Russell was playing at Smokin' Joe's in Brighton. Casual atmosphere, no dance floor, and despite lots of competition with the Bruin's game at the bar, the place was rockin' and Ricky was at his peak once again.  The man just doesn't seem to work that hard to be a consummate blues artist.  His voice, his guitar and many of his original songs like Crawling Over Broken Glass, Uptown Woman and Basic Black, are iconic blues songs.  His title "the king" is well-deserved.

The band consisted of two horn  players: Doc Chanonhouse on trumpet, Scotty Shetler on tenor sax and those two, playing off each other, elevating the overall experience for those of us crowding the small room.  Bob Worthington on bass and Danny Banks on drums - two musicians that seem to play with Russell much of the time; again two talented musicians.. Danny was 16 the first time I saw him play with Russell ; now he's 18, playing with  well-known local musicians as well as his own band and starting at Berklee in the fall. There were several illlustrious crooners in the house that night that later stepped in, including  Racky Thomas and Lydia Warren. Although I've danced to the Racky Thomas Swing Band, I'd never heard Warren and she was "on fire"  and clearly knew how to find her way around a guitar.  At one point, Russell joined here for a duet.

A news flash for other blues fans inclined to travel south, now that the weather is warming up: According to Russell, there is a new blues venue in Hyannis, House of Bud. Check it out and if you want to make it really worth the trip, make sure you visit when "the king" is performing.

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