started with the various winners from the different affiliated
competitions. Of mention was an excellent 5 piece band from N.E. Texas
called Diddley Squat with guitarist Jim Cobb playing in a lovely T Bone
on the Sonny Boy Williamson stage was the winner of the 2010
International Blues Challenge Grady Champion who whipped up the audience
on a couple of walkabouts. He possesses quite a rasping voice and whilst
not the best of harp players he really goes down a storm backed by a
very tight band. Stand out tracks was Smile At Me.
He was followed by 78 year
old native Arkansan Willie Cobbs and his band. He performed superbly on
vocals and harp and of course performed You Don’t Love Me, his
Sterling Billingsley is
President of The Sonny Boy Blues Society so I suppose it does allow him
the privilege of playing the main stage. He gave a good steady
performance but the highlight was when he was joined on harp by Robert
“Nighthawk” Tooms on vocals and harp on Sonny Boy’s Help Me.
The harp theme continued
with James Harman backed by a superb band including guest guitarist
Anson Funderburgh and Austrian pianist Christian Dozzler in a superb set
of rocking swing blues.
Festival favourite Reba
Russell from Memphis took over from where she left off last year. A
vocalist with few peers she is backed by an incredibly tight band
including the precocious young Josh Roberts on guitar. She blasted
through her festival anthem, When Heaven Came to Helena and a
superb version of Bessie Smith’s Send Me to the Electric Chair.
Next up was Paul Thorn
from Tupelo who certainly is not a blues man but more a country rock
singer in the John Hiatt style. He nonetheless gave a very enjoyable set
and is very popular indeed with the locals.
headliner BB King and his band took to the stage he was presented with
the Sonny Boy Award for services to the blues and then to the great
surprise of all present, a giant banner was carried on stage and at the
given moment revealed the legend “The Biscuit is back – thank you Bill
Sagan and Wolfgang’s Vault.” The news that the original title had been
acquired by Bill Sagan was greeted with wild joy both on and off the
stage and next year’s event will once again be known as The King Biscuit
BB King then delivered a
majestic performance as befitting the special occasion, playing Lucille
beautifully. The set covered all his classics with his voice as strong
The next day arrived with
the bizarre and sad news that both of the opening acts Sherrie Williams
and Big Jack Johnson had suffered heart attacks on the previous evening
thus resulting in the promotion of Daddy Mack Orr from Memphis and the
appearance of Big Jim, son of Big Jack and his band The Cornlickers.
Both bands performed superbly well with Daddy Mack’s Big Recession
Blues a stand out.
From Texas, Smokin’ Joe
Kubek and Bnois King are firm favourites with Joe’s excellent guitar and
Bnois King’s soulful vocals and guitar delivering a set of great rocking
blues especially Sometimes I wonder Where You Are.
They were then followed by
country rock band The Kentucky Headhunters.
Massively popular with the
locals, they really raised the tempo with their loud rocking set.
On the second day, the
second stage the Lockwood/ Stackhouse comes into play and features
acoustic acts early on with electric acts later. Street performers also
feature in Cherry Street which runs behind the main stage and they are
always of very high quality with Terry Harmonica Bean, Little Jimmy Reed
and one man band Richard Johnstone standing out.
Eden Brent from Greenville
Mississippi is a stunning pianist and sings in a fun, raunchy style and
is making a name on the various Blues Cruises. She gathered a big crowd
on the 2nd stage having followed on from the evergreen Johnny
on the main stage the Willie “Big Eyes” Smith Band took the stage.
Willie plays harp in his band and after a few numbers introduced a
rather frail Hubert Sumlin who announced that “I’m not feeling my best
but I feel alright”. Hubert had an accompanying oxygen pack and played
with great passion on tracks like Little Red Rooster but at the
end of a short set was visibly breathless.
I stayed at the main stage
to catch yet another brilliant set from Michael Burks. Surely this man
is at the top of the next tier of American blues guitarists. Whilst
sometimes on the rockier side, when he plays the blues he has a certain
Albert King quality about him.
Marcia Ball then gave her
usual top drawer set of great piano blues, rocking away into the evening
before I moved over to the second stage to see the wonderful Mojo Buford
and his excellent pick up band from Atlanta. With great guitar from
Dexter Allen, Mojo was joined for the set by his close friend R.J.
Mischo on 2nd harp. They boogied together through the whole
set culminating unsurprisingly with Got My Mojo Working.
Completing the night on
the main stage was a good dose of N’Awlins with Dr John really getting
into the groove with all his classics and of course Iko Iko.
A new concept on the final
day was the introduction of three more stages The Emerging Artist Stage,
The Gospel Stage and The Bit –O – Blues Stage but with so much music and
temperatures of 95 degrees, I decided to stick to the 2 main stages.
First on the main stage
was the soulful blues of Preston Shannon from Memphis with his version
of Purple Rain a stand out followed by a powerful show of hard
rocking blues from Larry McCray whom I discovered was Michael Burks’
On the second stage I
enjoyed a lovely set of raw Bentonia acoustic guitar blues from Jimmy
“Duck” Holmes before a superb performance from Austin “Walking Cane”
from Cleveland, a new name to me. He mesmerised the audience with his
National guitar and his superb deep voice which certainly had a Blind
Willie Johnson texture. In a great set of covers and self penned tracks
backed by Earnest “Guitar “ Roy on drums, his best track was Death of
a Blues Singer from the album of that name.
Back to the main stage to
see Bobby Parker playing as well as ever on Watch Your Step in a
great set before the wonderful man of the blues, Pinetop Perkins, now 97
years old went through his short set of classics including Down in
Mississippi and They Call Me Pinetop Perkins aided by Bob
Shields was next up on the packed second stage and he got everyone
dancing during a brilliant set of rocking blues including a long
walkabout on The Thrill Is Gone before I made my last visit back
to the main stage for the penultimate act, The Charlie Musselwhite Band.
With a superb young guitarist Matthew Stubbs, Charlie put on a great
show with You Know It Ain’t Right given a fast tempo shuffle
treatment showcasing Charlie’s great harp and Matthew’s guitar.
Taj Mahal came on stage
with just a bass and drum backing and although he started slowly, his
set gradually gained momentum to give a superb ending to the festival
with his versions of Poor Boy, I’m Going Fishing and Make a
Strong Man Holla, Make a Weak Man Cry outstanding.
So came to an end an
amazing 3 days of music and I still wasn’t able to catch many great
musicians and performers. The festival is run and organised by a
dedicated band of enthusiasts, helpers and volunteers and immense credit
must go the lovely friendly people of Helena and I look forward to next
year and the official return of The King Biscuit.
big thank you to Pete for the review
Alan White, Earlyblues.com