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True Blue from Ellis Kell
Argus/Dispatch blues columnist


FEBRUARY 2001

Through the efforts of the Mississippi Valley Blues Society, the 2000/2001 Blues Artist in Residency continues with featured appearances by Grammy nominee Billy Branch, February 23 - March 1, 2001. The blues-harp wizard was born in Chicago in 1951, and first starting playing at the age of ten. He learned his craft from legendary Chicago players like players like: Big Walter Horton, James Cotton, Junior Wells and Carey Bell. He would go on to work with Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All-Stars for six years. Later Branch formed and toured Europe with the Sons of Blues, including Lurrie Bell, Freddie Dixon and Garland Whiteside. He has also performed with a virtual "Who's Who of the Blues," including Muddy Waters, Big Walter Horton, Son Seals, Lonnie Brooks, Koko Taylor, Johnny Winter, and Albert King. Branch was also featured along with Carey Bell, Junior Wells, and James Cotton on 'Harp Attack!,' which received the 1990 Handy Award for best album.

According to the Mississippi Valley Blues Society release on this year's Blues Artist in Residency program: "Billy is also passing on the blues tradition to a new generation through his Blues In The Schools program. He is a dedicated blues educator and has taught in the Chicago school system for over twenty years as part of the Urban Gateways Project. In 1996, some of his finest students opened the Main Stage at the Chicago Blues Festival which was broadcast throughout the U.S. on National Public Radio. Blues producer, Chicago Beau has written, "Billy Branch has become a beacon, and model for his times; as an artist, and social/cutural activist... Billy Branch is a Bluesman; Billy Branch is the Blues.

(The original program of) "Blues In The Schools" was conceived in 1978 by Chicago musician Billy Branch and his band, "The Sons Of Blues." The program is an educational project for Middle School children which teaches them all aspects of the blues as an American art form including such topics as the history of the "Blues," famous Blues musicians, different styles of "Blues," and writing, singing and performing "Blues." Each student receives focused instructions on how to play the Blues harmonica. Following each multi-week program, the students appear in a graduation concert."

Billy Branch's Artist in Residency schedule of appearances in area schools is available online, courtesy of the Mississippi Valley Blues Society, and can be found at: www.mvbs.org, or you can phone the society's office at (319) 322-5837. The Blues Artist in Residency Program is sponsored in part by the Illinois Arts Council, the Illinois Humanities Council, Humanities Iowa, the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, LinguiSystems, the Harris Family Foundation and La Quinta, Moline. The project is also funded in part by a grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, Iowa Community Cultural Grants program. Additional thanks to the Riverboat Development Authority and the President Riverboat Casino.

New Blues Fer Youz.

"Speaking in Tongues," The Holmes Brothers (Alligator Records - AL 4877) Every once in a while, a very special recording emerges from the Blues world - one that transcends the tried and true, and the more typical, road-tested, houserockin' fare. "Speaking in Tongues" does all that and so much more. The Holmes Brothers have long been a favorite of Blues fans across the country, and their unique combination of gospel, spiritual, Blues and R&B has set them apart from the rest of the pack. This new collection exceeds all previous accomplishments, as it combines traditional spiritual and religious with contemporary compositions from Ben Harper and Bob Dylan. Produced by noted singer and composer Joan Osborne, the Holmes Brothers deliver this message straight from the heart and soul. As Rolling Stone says. "Inspired, warm and soulful. One listen and you'll adopt this family as your own." Of course, we already had, back some time ago.

Further On Up the Road.

"Dancin' on the River," The John O'Meara Band (Independent local release) This new one, from some well-known Quad Cities area players, should be coming out sometime around St. Patrick's Day. John O'Meara, Sr., Johnny O', Jr., Tewanta Yerington, Rob Dahms, Joel Dick, Terry Hanson, Jerry Maas, Matt Podschweit, Manny Lopez, 'Nervous' Neal Smith, and 'Detroit' Larry Davison came together for this collection of favorite river tunes and smooth jazz croons. Favorite cuts include the O'Meara's signature sailing theme, "Up The Lazy River," and a soulful new Blues version of the classic "Green, Green Grass of Home." It's fun, smooth, and John O'Meara, Sr.'s resonant Irish tenor is rich and warm. Get it before the ice flows move downstream, and you'll already be cruisin' up that lazy river.

As John McIntosh Kell, that old civil war sailor once said... "I can look backward into the past of holy memories without regret, and hopefully into the future, my lifeboat gliding on, no anchor dragging, Christ's love at helm, and God aloft!" With that said, and until we meet again at this crossroads...
Blues to 'ya!

trueblue@qconline.com

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