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Monday, April 30, 2007

Lurrie Bell at Bill's Blues Bar - 4/28/07

It is always exciting to hear the great guitarist, Lurrie Bell, fronting a band. His pedigree is formidable (son of the great blues harp master, Carey Bell), his life story is about fighting through tremendous difficulties and adversity (addiction, death of his twin children and his wife). He has lived the blues, and his heart is large, large.

But at Bill's Blues last Saturday, the band wasn't "Lurrie and a supporting cast." The band included Carlos Johnson on guitar, Nick Charles on bass and Kenny Smith on drums. These guys are in the top echelon of blues players nationwide. Kenny is the son of Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Muddy Waters' last drummer. Nick Charles has backed up all the major blues stars, from Howlin' Wolf to Billy Branch. And Carlos Johnson - he plays the old-fashion way, using his thumb and fingers - no picks, man. Here is a snapshot of the Awesome Carlos:

Well, with this line up, the music was intense. Lurrie and Carlos traded off leads. Lurrie was muscular and focused on the blues scale; Carlos was more subtle and had jazz flavors to some of his licks. Carlos is also a very skillful rhythm guitarist - his back-up work amazed me. These four artists turned traditional electric Chicago blues into an intensely beautiful and varied musical form. Oh, it was a peak experience for a blues junkie like me.

And Matthew Skoller showed up, too. Matt is a fine harmonica player who has worked with Lurrie and his sidemen on many occasions - Matt's band is one of the top working blues bands in Chicago (and the world). Matt is also the producer on Lurrie's newest CD, which Lurrie just finished recording last week. I admire Matt - he is fighting the good fight, making a living as a blues harmonica player (which takes a lot of determination and courage). So Matt sat in with Lurrie and the band. Unfortunately, that didn't work out so well. The soundman kept trying to adjust the volume on the house mic Matt was using (he was blowing through the PA system). This annoyed Matt and he finally made a string of angry comments and stomped off the bandstand. I understood his frustration (as a harp player, I have been murdered many times by overly-helpful soundmen). But I think the display of irritation on Matt's part detracted from the joy of the gig. I had to leave while Matt was going through his mini-rant to keep the bad vibes from overwhelming the glorious music that Lurrie and company had laid down. Anger on the bandstand is a real downer for the audience - even if that anger is wholly justified.


Joe said...

While I've never seen them perform as a unit, Lurrie, Carlos, Nick and Kenny are all great performers!

Carlos Johnson may be the most under-recognized Blues guitar player around. He's the real deal!

Mr. G said...

And Carlos is a warm, laid-back individual, too. It was a great night of music.