“The Blues is all right, the blues is all right”….. If you are a blues lover. you have heard that song many times. February was a huge month to catch some fantastic blues musicians; so many in fact I could only get to see three national artists. The fourth one reviewed is by my friend Steve Diebler, so sit back and relax and pretend you were there with us.
I’ve been a member of the Kansas City Blues Society (KCBS) for 10 years, long before I became a biker. We follow all the blues bands locally and have become friends with many of them. It’s so natural to have Blues, Bikes and BBQ here in Kansas City and it’s amazing how much talent we have in the blues industry.
Let me get right to the biggest blues legend of all time, the one and only B.B. King. The legendary blues singer and guitarist performed at the Welk Resort to two sold-out audiences. We attended the Saturday night performance with seats just eight rows back….no binoculars needed! King turned 89 years old in September 2005 and had just received his 14th Grammy Award in February. As he came on stage assisted by his band members, he took a seat and picked up the “famous as he is,” Lucille, his beloved Gibson guitar. He seemed to struggle somewhat getting settled (being overweight and diabetic is taking its toll on him), but the smile that spread across his face made him seem quite at ease. He admitted to the crowd more than once that he was really nervous about playing in Branson because it was his first time to perform and he wasn’t sure how he would be accepted. I couldn’t imagine someone who has traveled the world, played for presidents, royalty and even the Pope being nervous about a crowd in Branson. The audience quickly embraced the beloved legend, and let him know several time throughout the evening how much they loved him and his music with standing ovations and cheers.
King belted out the favorites, “The Thrill is Gone,” “Every Day I Have the Blues,” “You Don’t Know Me,” and a host of others. He interacted with the audience at great length and made several comments like, “I better quit talking or the media will say I talked too much and didn’t sing enough.” He would sing a couple more songs then start talking to us again; catching himself, he would apologize for talking and got back to singing.
One fan tried to jump on stage to get his autograph on a poster, but B.B. shook his head no. Finally Security arrived to remove the over-zealous fan from the stage. B.B. said, “The only ones I let up here are pretty ladies and youngins.” It wasn’t much later when two moms headed toward the stage with their infants to capture a Kodak moment with the King. He seemed to be delighted by the youth and admiration of his fans.
Overall, I think his voice sounded pretty darn good after all these years, but his guitar playing was limited and nothing like he used to play. To his credit he had a fantastic bass player along with three horns, guitar and drums to make up his band. The only member who looked under 50 years old was his nephew who played the saxophone. The rest of the band has been with him for years and the smooth flow of music and the passion they displayed were exciting to see. The show was well worth the trip to Branson to see him in concert.
B.B.’s career began with the number one hit, “Three O’Clock Blues.” That was way back in 1956 when his band played 342 one-night stands. Fifty years later, retirement seems to be the last thing on his mind. King performs over 250 concerts a year. He really doesn’t need to travel, play in smoked filled bars or to sold out theaters, and I’m sure he doesn’t need the money. He simply continues for the love and passion of music and making his fans happy. He has released more than 50 albums and has been joined by some of the biggest stars for his album of duets, including Eric Clapton, “Riding with the King” (great CD!), Elton John, Sheryl Crow, John Mayer, Gloria Estefan, Bobby Bland and a host of others. His unique voice and guitar style allow him too harmonize and play with any musician.
B.B. King was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and received the NARAS’ Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1987. At the 2006 WC Handy Awards they presented him with Entertainer of the Year Award. If you are ever in Memphis, check out the B.B. King Blues Club on Beal Street. It is one of five clubs he owns throughout the United States. They also serve up some really good jambalaya while you’re taking in the local blues musicians.
King is headlining an international tour this year that will conclude with a concert at the famed Wembley Arena in the United Kingdom. In previous performances Kansas City has been privileged to see him at the Blues & Jazz Festival and The AmeriStar Casino.
King is also one of the top headliners for the Tulsa Blues Festival May 5-7, 2006; it’s a great bike ride!
The following Saturday night brought Rodney Crowell, songwriter and recording artist, to Kansas City where he played to a sold-out crowd at Knuckleheads. I’ve been listening to Crowell since 1998 and love his voice and music. He was considered pop/country in those days and that is the music I was looking forward to. A new Rodney Crowell surfaced with his last three CDs of Dylan-style songs. He has changed his style to a mix of folk and roots-rock. His lyrics include some liberal commentary on things like business, politics and religion. Gone are the typical country songs about “My truck broke down, my wife left me for my best friend and my hearts broken….what’s a man to do”?
Crowell played solo/acoustic, and much to the disappointment of some of his fans, he only played a couple “oldies” and without his band. He told us one band member was just diagnosed with cancer and was beginning his chemotherapy treatments; the other member was doing a gig with Jimmy Buffet, so they had good excuses for not being there.
Dressed in black I could see a lot of Johnny Cash influence in his performance, especially when he sang “Folsom Prison Blues,” and of course the train was passing by behind Knuckleheads at the same time. What atmosphere that place has!! Crowell was married to Rosanne Cash for several years, and he spent a lot of time with the Cash family. He admires and respects the family and made several references to them throughout the night.
It wasn’t a concert you could sit and visit with the friends you came with. You had to pay attention to hear the words to appreciate the song and his voice. It was frustrating for our group trying to tune out the conversations around our table and the patrons standing by the back bar. Someone could have written a song from the two girls talking at the bar about all the years her dad cheated on her mom and how dysfunctional their family was! You would think others would have a little more respect for the artist and others at their table and shut up while he was performing, but that wasn’t the case that night. It put a damper on the whole concert as far as I was concerned, especially when he told everyone up front that he was only going to do his new songs. But several in the crowd kept yelling out old song titles while he was singing….how rude.
I had the opportunity to ask Crowell what he thought of Knuckleheads and he said,
“It’s a cool roadhouse bar, a lot of character, I like it. When I asked him about his new image he said, “I’m pretty doggedly persistent about playing the songs only from my last three records because if I can’t hold my own with what I’ve created, then I should hang it up.” He said his new material reflects his creativity and if he only performed his old songs that would be lost.
I came away from the concert with a new opinion and appreciation for Rodney Crowell, but I think by not having his full band, the concert lacked crowd enthusiasm. He did sing a crowd favorite he recorded with good friend Vince Gill, “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long.” The words are a hoot and it’s a fun song.
Crowell was nominated for a Grammy Award this year for the best contemporary folk album, but he did not win. It didn’t seem to bother him as long as the Recording Academy took him out of the pop/country category in favor of folk. He has received a Grammy in the past plus an ASCAP Creative Achievement Award.
Smokin’ Joe Kubek
We are now into the Mardi Gras celebration with the 15th Annual KCBS Club Crawl. This is the first year in four years that we have not had to battle a snow or ice storm the night of the crawl. The weather was 70 degrees which is almost unheard of in Kansas City during February. This is the biggest fundraiser for KCBS so we were jubilant that the weather finally cooperated. If you have never been on the club crawl, here is how it works in case you want to go next year. You buy a $15 ticket in advance and you get a wristband that allows you entry to 14 local blues bars. Buses are provide so you go to the first club and park your car, stay and listen to a little blues then when the bus comes along every 20 minutes you hop on it and hit the next club. There are three routes, downtown, midtown and south. The most bars we have made in one night are nine and, we only hit the downtown and midtown bars. We were too chicken to take the bus out to BB’s Lawnside for fear we would miss the last bus and not be able to get back to where our car was parked. That would be an expensive cab ride.
This year we decided to volunteer for the KCBS and we were assigned to work the late shift at Knuckleheads. I sold beads and my husband carried the sign around to let the party-goers know the bus was there if they wanted to leave. Wow, did we luck out as far as the entertainment for the evening, I mean all the clubs had great musicians, but Smokin’ Joe Kubek! Who could ask for a more powerhouse band? He is one of the hottest electric guitar players on the blues scene today, the recipient of the 2005 WC Handy Award winner for the Best Blues Band of the Year.
Kubek was a guitar prodigy at the age of 14. Hailing from Texas he frequented the Dallas bar scene during the 70s and early 80s. He played with Stevie Ray Vaughn and all three of the “Kings,” B.B., Albert and Freddie. In 1989 Smokin’ Joe teamed up with another “King” guitarist and singer Bonis King from Monroe, Louisiana. The two formed a band and have been on the road together ever since. They have recorded seven albums before signing with Blind Pig in 2002. Kubek explodes on stage with a blazing blues/rock style born from the Texas tradition. Bonis soul-tinged vocals and jazz orientated style contrasts well with Kubek’s more strident finger and slide techniques. Watching Smokin’ Joe’s fingers glide and slide up and down his Gibson is almost mesmerizing. He is truly phenomenal to watch.
Kubek kept the stage smokin’ all night, but around 11 p.m. his show was over. Too early to quit, there were still plenty of Mardi Gras, bead-wearing blues fans wanting more, so Frank talked to Smokin’ Joe and agreed to pay him extra to play longer! What a guy Frank is….thank you, thank you!
It was a great night for the blues and hopefully KCBS made lots of money for their Blues in the Schools Education Program, where the proceeds from the crawl benefit. The only glitch we saw in the evening was a KCBS transportation problem at the end of the evening when a few people were stranded at Winslow’s and Jilly’s on Broadway and the bus driver at Knuckleheads refused to go pick them up and bring them back to their car. Frank Hicks at the rescue again, he sent his driver and 16 passenger van to both locations to help the party-goers back to their cars. This is the second year this has happened and I hope KCBS honchos address this issue before next year.
Having seen Kim Wilson and The Fabulous Thunderbirds, numerous times in the past (recipients of the 2006 WC Handy Band of the Year Award), we expected to see a good show, but what we saw on February 23 at Knuckleheads exceeded my expectations and then some.
What we got was the Kim Wilson Blues Review, an ensemble of musicians who love to play the blues, and show it. Kim Wilson put on a blues harp clinic that night! The group included Doug Deming and part of his Jewel Tones, Kim, and unexpectedly, guitarist Rusty Zinn. This was an old fashioned up close and personal show like you expect to see in a blues joint.
I don’t claim to be an expert, but I sat in awe watching and listening to Kim’s harp expertise. It was like watching your favorite local musicians at your favorite blues club. Kim and the band were very approachable and loved to interact with the crowd. The group played two sets giving homage to some of the old blues greats, and we heard some hard-driving originals.
Doug Deming and Rusty Zinn were a fantastic complement to Kim, supplying some very talented guitar riffs. The show ended with Kim on stage alone, just him and his harp playing the blues late into the night. He definitely loves to play and loves to play to a crowd who appreciates good blues.
“Never rider faster than you angel can fly”
Review & Photos of the Kim Wilson concert by Steve Diebler, blues fan and biker.