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True Blue from Ellis Kell

Argus/Dispatch blues columnist

MAY 2004

MEMPHIS - THE BLUES CITY…

This month’s True blue is late – on purpose. I make no apologies, but I do ask for your understanding. As a blues musician for a number of years, I know that many folks were surprised I had never been to Memphis. Well, we have finally taken care of that once and for all. My wife Kristi and I traveled to The Blues City for the W. C. Handy Awards on April 29, courtesy of House of Blues and The Blues Foundation. We are very grateful to Elwood Blues, as well as Jay Sieleman and the foundation for their southern hospitality.

On our flight from Chicago to Memphis, we met up with living legend Pinetop Perkins who is 91 and still going strong. The Blues No. 1 piano man and I exchanged CD's, and I knew from that point on our first trip to The Blues City would be a once in a lifetime experience. We again met up with Pinetop at the Handy Awards, had photos taken, saw him perform, and watched him take home the Handy Award for ‘Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year.’ For all this year’s Handy Award winners visit www.blues.org .

Our first stop after leaving the airport was Graceland, as it is only a mile or two away. I must confess that it gave me such a strange feeling to walk through the front door of Elvis’ house, that I have yet to find the words to describe it. (For more on Graceland, see www.elvis.com/graceland . ) Later Wednesday evening we walked on down to Beale Street, where I fulfilled a longtime dream of performing just once on that famous Blues City street. I did Elmore James' "The Sky Is Cryin'" with Big Johnny's Band, and I am forever grateful to Big Johnny for having me sit in. Standing there on the sidewalk singing, I closed my eyes and tried to visualize the legendary Memphis bluesmen and women who had wailed and moaned their Blues on that famous Memphis street. (For more on the web, see www.bealestreet.com )

On Thursday, we toured the Smithsonian’s Rock 'n Soul Museum at the Gibson factory, just a block off Beale Street. (See http://www.memphisrocknsoul.org for more on the web.) Later we visited the legendary Sun Studio - where I recorded "That's Alright Mama" (to amazingly authentic backing tracks) in the same building Elvis recorded the original classic back in the 50's. (For more info: http://www.sunstudio.com ) I must admit, doing the recording at Sun was the eeriest moment of all.

The W. C. Handy Awards show featured a pre-party with way too many Blues celebs to mention, along with a fabulous Memphis-style BBQ dinner for all the 1,200 people in attendance. It was a true blue honor to attend the 25th Annual W. C. Handy Awards, and to see Ol’ Pinetop and the others receive their awards. The evening’s monumental musical fare was enough to make a quadruple CD set - at least – of some of the finest live Blues you could ever imagine. We have finally been to the very heart and soul of the Blues, and they call it Memphis. Our heartfelt thanks again to Elwood and Jay…

New Blues fer Youz…

“John & The Sisters,” Sisters Euclid Band featuring Kevin Breit (Northern Blues Music)

This is a fresh and vibrant new collection featuring Kevin Breit, guitarist for Cassandra Wilson and Norah Jones Band, paired up with Toronto’s The Sisters Euclid band. John Dickie, formerly of the Prima Donnas, Mondo Combo and guest vocalist and writer with Cameo Blues Band. This one colors outside the lines, turns where you least expect it, and takes the listener on a brand new cosmic Blues voyage.

“Double V,” Otis Taylor (Telarc Records) Daughter Cassie Taylor joins father Otis Taylor on this collection of twelve Taylor composed, arranged and produced songs. This CD is at times very intense thematically, and very spiritual at others. Willingness to address social injustice and hard truths in his storytelling are what has always set Otis Taylor apart from the rest of the field. A significant new blues recording from one of today’s most vital Bluesmen.

“Keepin’ It Real,” Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers (Blind Pig Records) This new CD features thirteen houserockin’ tracks served up by one of the most essential and vibrant Blues bands out there today. The new CD features classic Blues like “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Good Morning Little School Girl,” as well as originals that will delight Piazza fans old and new. Highly recommended for your Blues collection.

Jeezkadongit! I’m plumb out of room, and out of ribs, so I might just have to jump on that big train back to Memphis. You won’t know until I’m gone, so don’t ‘ya fret none. Until we meet again at this crossroads, peace, love & blessings to all, and…

Blues to ‘ya!

Local musician Ellis Kell writes about blues music both local and national in ‘True Blue’, running the first Sunday of each month in Entertainment. He is also on the staff of River Music Experience, a not-for-profit museum and center dedicated to preservation, education and celebration of American Roots music.



trueblue@qconline.com

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