Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
18th Annual Lucerne Blues Festival
November 15-17, 2012
by Glenn Noble
photos: Jennifer Noble
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The 18th Annual Lucerne Blues Festival, set in a picturesque Swiss mountain town on a serene lake and held in the grand casino, runs for just over a week late in November, and comes to its climactic conclusion over a three-day weekend. This year the festival team put together an appealing and diverse programme boasting a mixture of blues divas, guitar greats, harmonica heroes, and talented performers both young and not-so-young -- plenty to satisfy the knowledgeable and dedicated blues loving audience that Lucerne’s reputation for quality attracts. The organizers always go to great effort to make it an enjoyable event for both the artists who perform and their appreciative fans.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 15
Opening the account with the first of two appearances was harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite. In an inventive twist, Charlie began his set with a couple of solo numbers (“Stingaree” for example) on a tiny acoustic guitar, amusing us with his feigned trouble with the “Spanish tuning” and claiming the he only “knows one note”! He then brought on young New Hampshire guitarist Matt Stubbs to accompany him in a series of duets. Matt has already gained many plaudits for his own work prior to working with the Musselwhite band, and it was clear that Matt’s muscular and lucid style was delighting the veteran bluesman as much as it was exciting the audience. In the third part of the set, the rhythm section joined in to power through the final numbers in a barnstorming finish. It was a captivating way to start the festival and set up for Charlie’s second set to follow on the Saturday night.
Marquise Knox, a young guitarist from St. Louis, was taught to play the blues by his grandmother; Granny certainly had an apt student. Both the technical skill and the showmanship on display made this a pleasure to witness. There is a maturity in Marquise’s guitar work that has echoes of the likes of Albert King. At only 21 years old, and with a brace of awards already under his belt, there must surely be a bright future ahead for this talented player.
A package of prime Chicago talent going under the banner of the “Chicago Blues Revue” now took the stage. Backed by some well-known and respected sidemen --Kenny Smith on drums, bassist Bob Stroger, piano man Barrelhouse Chuck -- and emceed by the irrepressible and energetic blues harp blower Bob Corritore, the revue featured three of the best Chicago bluesmen in the shape of Elmore James, Jr., Eddie C. Campbell and John Primer.
Elmore James, Jr., who is the son of the legendary slide guitarist, led off in vintage style, sporting a sharp suit and feathered fedora, blasting through classics while singing and playing guitar on “I Can't Be Satisfied' and “That’s Alright Mama” with energy and authenticity.
Next into the spotlight, West Side legend, Eddie C. Campbell, brandished his faded purple vintage Jazzmaster guitar and wielded a wide ranging set of shuffles, funky boogies and more traditional blues (“Things That I Used to Do”). A standout was his hypnotic interpretation of the Gershwin classic “Summertime” given a Flamenco-esque intro and a loping, reggae style beat. Having pumped up the crowd, the showman in Eddie came out, as he started playing his guitar with his tongue, teeth, and whatever other body part he could use!
John Primer then came onstage to declare: “My name is John Primer” and there was little room for doubt that this was, to coin a phrase, the “real deal”. Having membership of bands fronted by Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Magic Slim in his resume, and a slew of awards and nominations for his solo work, there is little doubt that John epitomises the spirit of quality Chicago blues. Luckily, this was only the first of two shows by the revue at the festival this year, so we would have another opportunity to enjoy a second slice of deep-dish Chicago blues!
Topping the bill for the Thursday show was Barbara Carr, first of the blues ladies on the festival bill. Bursting with energy with a bouncy opener, “Juke Joint Jumping,” Barbara immediately got the audience up and dancing. Lots of Barbara’s material is about keeping a woman happy and she doesn’t hold back in letting us guys know just what that means! Mixed in with the raunchy R&B numbers, though, there were one or two more soulful moments, including a beautiful duet on “It Hurts Me Too” with Marquise Knox. It certainly was a great finish to the opening night’s proceedings on the main stage.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16
Friday night kicked off with a lady originally from Gary, Indiana, now longtime San Francisco resident, Sista Monica Parker with her band in matching tee shirts proclaiming “Hug Me Like You Love Me”. Straight to the point, she let us know that “The Sista Don’t Play” and that she refuses to take any nonsense from guys who won’t pull their weight. The story behind the t-shirt slogan came out as being a quote from none other than B.B. King at a gig where Monica played a support slot.
Dedicated to the blues women who inspired her - - Ruth Brown, Koko Taylor, Etta James and Katie Webster -- Monica opened up on “Pussycat Moan”; this was a real tour de force, packed with an emotional intensity that spellbound the audience. As a contrast, some livelier numbers from her current CD, Living In the Danger Zone, got everyone into a party mood before a fantastic breakup song, “Tears,” brought the set to an outstanding conclusion with some excellent guitar work complementing Monica’s full-throated delivery.
The “Golden State/Lone Star Revue” is a name put together to recognise the origins of the twin lead guitars in the next group. Representing Texas, we had Anson Funderburgh and from California, “Little” Charlie Baty, with the vocal and harmonica duties taken on by Mark Hummel. What a treat to see these two veteran guitarists working together, and clearly having such a good time that it was infectious. Throughout the set, they would exchange little nudges and winks, egging each other on like naughty schoolboys set to outdo each other’s performance. It was interesting to hear their two distinct, complementary guitar styles; Anson’s spare, cutting licks compared beautifully with Charlie’s reverb-filled riffing. A laid-back, good humoured set included a nice showcase for Anson Funderburgh on the Freddie King tune “Side Tracked”.
A visit from Jimmy Carpenter, Wolfman Washington’s sax player for “The Hustle Is On” added an extra dimension. Not to be left behind, Little Charly’s showman side came out on the closing number, Mark Hummel’s “Stockholm Train,” as he swung his pearl-inlaid signature semi-acoustic around his head. Coincidentally, their encore “Lost A Great Man” was recorded for Mark’s Heart of Chicago CD with backing from the same guys appearing across the casino on the festival’s late-night stage – namely Billy Flynn, Barrelhouse Chuck and Bob Stroger, who are indeed the heart of today’s Chicago blues.
To an air of great expectation, Irma Thomas, sweetly smiling in a buttercup yellow prom dress, entered stage right already singing “Love Don’t Change, People Do” and the crowd welcomed her with open arms. “Let It Be Me” was next, and the hairs on the back of every neck in the room rose at the immaculate performance. There was hardly a dry eye in the house as Irma toured an impressive back catalogue of classy soul numbers like “I’ve Been Loving You,” “Ruler Of My Heart” and “Wish Someone Would Care”. Lightening the emotion a little, Irma had fun with more light-hearted, up-tempo fare such as “Hip Shakin’ Mama,” “You Can Have My Husband,” and a little song called “Time Is On My Side” -- that arguably inspired a hit version by a well-known British R&B band back in the day! With a sweet touch, she dedicated the final number to all her fans and the Lucerne audience who had made her feel so at home on this, her first appearance. Appropriately, the Soul Queen of New Orleans closed with “Simply the Best”.
The show now transitioned from a soulful blues lady to an electrifying guitar hero. In a complete contrast, David Kearney, better known as Guitar Shorty, came to pump up the volume and end the night with his high energy blues-rock. The flame motifs on the band’s shirts visually echoed the fiery musical performances. Shorty’s set covered an extensive range from slow, heavy blues like ”I’m Gonna Leave You” all the way through the loping rhythm of “Too Late” from his most recent album Bare Knuckle. Finishing up with an extended exploration of “Hey Joe” (made famous by one of his relatives, Jimi Hendrix) Shorty showed us plenty of raw excitement and guitar pyrotechnics; yet he remained rooted firmly in the blues sensibility to keep on the right side of an out-and-out rock show.
Over on the late-night club stage, the Chicago Blues Revue had started rocking the party with Bob Corritore and guitarist Billy Flynn leading the band’s sidemen (Kenny Smith, Bob Stroger and Barrelhouse Chuck) each through a turn in the vocal spotlight. Just to ring the changes on the running order from the Thursday night show, Eddie C. Campbell led off the featured artists, barnstorming through Little Milton’s “Hey Hey the Blues is Alright” to get everyone in the mood, then reprising his showpiece “Summertime”. Elmore James, Jr. then took over with a short selection of the highlights of his earlier set, moving the room with more of that authentic groove.
John Primer then stormed on -- and whether it was due to the open layout of the Casineum club stage or the energetic feedback from the late night crowd -- he radiated energy. Wrenching the most fabulous bottleneck licks from his guitar, John stalked from one side of the stage to the other, treating one part of the audience, and then another, to a close up performance. Eventually the stage wasn’t enough to work with, and so John took to the dance floor, shaking and shimmying with the delighted crowd. This was the “real deal” without a doubt, and the night wore on, finally coming to an exhausted close at about 4 a.m.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 17
Earnest “Guitar” Roy opened the show on the final night of the fest. With a true blues heritage, this son of a blues guitar playing father from Clarksdale, Mississippi represented the Delta with class and flair. Very ably supported on Hammond B3 by Eric “Scorch” Scortia, Earnest was engaging with the audience and nimble on the guitar fingerwork - a very pleasurable act to watch. Calling up Anson Funderburgh for a couple of numbers, it was revealed that he will be recording on Earnest’s next album, and judging by the gag routine Earnest went through - like taking down notes as Anson soloed - it should be fun to hear the result. Closing the set with not one, but two encores, “Clarksdale, Mississppi” and “Don’t Take My Blues Away,” it was clear that the crowd appreciated his blend of classy blues and funk.
Charlie Musselwhite, appearing for the second time, came out all guns blazing and took no prisoners. “I’m Just a Bad Boy” he claimed, which, given the mischievous twinkle in his eye, you could easily believe it. Charlie and guitarist Matt Stubbs worked together beautifully, maintaining perfect unisons throughout the instrumental breaks. After visiting a couple of tracks from the classic Stand Back album, we were treated to a Stax classic, Prince Conley’s “I’m Going Home,” his own “Highway 61,” then a rollicking cover of Shakey Jake/Magic Slim’s “Roll Your Moneymaker”. Matt Stubbs was clearly exhilarated by the reception he was getting and the crowd generated whoops of encouragement for his devastating solos; it was obvious that Charlie was getting as huge a kick from his young associate as the rest of us. Finishing up on “Wild Wild Woman” -- about an old friend from “Ten-o-see” -- they left the stage to the sound of much deserved cheering to the echo.
Who could make an accordion look better than “The Zydeco Sweetheart,” Rosie Ledet? Backed up by the festival favourites, The Zydeco Playboys, Rosie delivered the traditional Lucerne festival party finish, whipping up the audience into unrestrained dancing and singing along. The highlight was the guest appearances from the festival top guns Guido Schmidt and Martin Bründler on washboards! Why not? They were both entitled to blow off steam, having once again demonstrated, with the quality of the musical performers and the great entertainment event atmosphere, why the Lucerne Blues Festival commands such a respected place in the affections of both fans and artists alike. Here’s looking forward to the Lucerne Blues Festival 2013!
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