Saturday, February 4, 2012

Jan. 2012 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise Part I - correspondent Stilladog

Hello Blues fans! They call me Stilladog. Don't ask why, there are many fitting reasons for that name.

The Bman and I have been friends for upwards of 45 years or so and we have shared a common bond in music for that whole time. Suffice it to say he has introduced me to a ton of great music over the years and I have tried to reciprocate. So he asked me to guest author some posts from time to time and help his blog readers become aware of, and familiar with, some of the great blues out there.

Having just returned from the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise earlier this week, I wanted to start off by giving you a run down on the best 7 day party on earth!

The biggest hit of the cruise was without a doubt West Coast guitarist Chris Cain. He was the artist I most wanted to see and I was not disappointed. I met him in the Crow's Nest bar the first hour I was on the ship and saw him play 3 times. Each of his shows were absolutely sizzling!

He obliterated Tommy Castro in a bit of old school "head cutting" at one of the late night jams. All of his shows were filled with passionate tasteful playing that came from both his heart and from deep in his soul.

One of his signature tunes is "Drinkin' Straight Tequila." At his last show in the Showroom At Sea (main concert stage), a gentleman politely handed me a flask of straight tequila with which to totally immerse myself in the music. But that kind of thing happens routinely when you "Bluesin' on the high seas."

Next up, the most pleasant suprise of the cruise; also hailing from the West Coast, was Cafe R&B. I unfortunately was unable to see these guys until the last night. But wow was it worth the wait! Lead singer Roach came on with what seemed to me to be a high-energy combination of James Brown and Tina Turner!! As a matter of fact if James Brown and Tina Turner had a love child it would be Roach!! And much to their credit, Cafe R&B was the only band who acknowledged and honored the passing of Blues great Etta James during the cruise.

In the set that I saw, Cafe R&B also used the percussionist from the Low Rider Band, Chuck Barber. He was fantastic on congas, timbales, and just about every other thing you can hit and make a sound with!
A close runner-up in the most suprisingly good category was Shakura S'Aida from Toronto Canada. Don't lay no Boogie Woogie on the Queen of Rock and Soul! I know that's an old song and Solomon Burke was the King of Rock and Soul. But her cover of it will make you believe Shakura can lay an honest stake to that title!
This is a really tight band with all top notch musicians not the least of which was Shakura's guitarist and frequent songwriting collaborator, Donna Grantis.
I'm not sure what I expected from Shakura. I had a few of her albums so I was familiar with most of her material. I think her stage presence, personality, and the quality of her band really took me by surprise. She is most definitely a lady who should be heard on a widespread basis much more.
I didn't get to hear much of her second set due to a pretty nasty hangover. The source of which was from hanging out with some Californians with personal access to some of the finest Mendocino County wines that they traded me in exchange for a personalized guided tour of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
So if Shakura is the new Queen of Rock and Soul, then the undisputed Queen of the Blues is now Shemekia Copeland! With Koko Taylor and Etta James passing in the past 12 months let me declare now that the blues is still in good hands with Shemekia wearing the crown!!
I first saw this young lady sing when she was 19 years old. She absolutely blew me away. I have seen her at least half a dozen times since and I always come away with my mouth wide open because she always delivers a jaw dropping performance!
On this cruise I actually got to meet and talk to Shemekia and her mother, the wife of the late great Johnny "Clyde" Copeland. They were catching a Phillip Fankhauser set in the Crows Nest. For those that don't know, Johnny Copeland mentored and brought to America Phillip Fankhauser so he could live his life dream of becoming a bluesman. Fankhauser lived in the Copeland home when Shemekia was still in high school. Their friendship is uncommon and I have noticed that Shemekia and Phillip are booking festivals together this summer.
Shemekia also guested on numerous songs during one of the 3 Phillip Fankhauser (pronounced Fawnk-houser) sets I attended. Phillip is from Switzerland and after 30 years in the music business he does not hesitate to remind his audiences to "Get my fucking name right. It's Funk Houser. Don't be putting an R in there. It's not Frankhouser."
A lot of Phillip's music is very well written and he went from a virtual unknown to Blues Main Street over the course of 7 days on the ocean! He employs a horn section on most cuts and the arrangements are really nice. I highly recommend picking up any of his albums.
The usual suspects were also present on the cruise, Taj Mahal, and Tommy Castro. At some point Castro fired all his band so this was their last gig as the Tommy Castro Band in it's current configuration. Probably best for everyone. Castro also acts as bandleader for the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue which this year featured guitarists Debbie Davies and Joe Louis Walker, and harpist Rick Estrin of Rick Estrin & The Nightcats (Formerly Little Charlie & The Nightcats).
I caught a couple sets of the LRBCR and for my money Debbie Davies stole the show. She was really fantastic. Keith Crossan on Tenor Sax (formerly of the Tommy Castro Band) always turns in a professional performance and the cruise was no exception.
In the photo at left, Keith blows out a break between scorching Debbie Davies solos on the Pool Deck stage.
There are so many artists still to talk about and so many stories to tell I've run out of time for this entry. But check back in a few days and I'll share more opinions and stories of what the Blues Cruise is like including playing the steel drums with the Mighty Dow, Calypso King of St. Maartens and other exciting stuff! And please leave a comment or question so I can focus on what interests you.

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