This was the 26th
year that this festival had taken place and it was great to welcome back
The King Biscuit title for the 1st time since 2004.
The opening day commences
with winning bands from the various blues competitions and the Lionel
Young Band from Colorado, the winners of the Memphis International Blues
Challenge were of particular note.
Following Arkansas stalwart
Stirling Billingsley’s appearance, Mike Zito from St Louis made his
Biscuit debut and gave a cracking set of acoustic and electric blues
with particularly good slide guitar on Natural Born Woman.
Russell, to quote MC Bubba Sullivan, is “the greatest American white
blues singer” and few would disagree. She opened up with a sensitive
song dedicated to Ray Galloway, one of the festival founders who sadly
passed away in January.
This was followed by a superb
set of originals and covers including Wang Dang Doodle and My
Babe. Outstanding throughout was young Josh Roberts on guitar. UK
festival organisers – this band is brilliant – please note!
Slide maestro Roy Rogers was
next on stage and demonstrated superb musicianship especially on Robert
Johnson’s Stones In My Passway. [See
Earlyblues Interview with Roy Rogers]
Roomful of Blues were formed
over 40 years ago and still have original tenor saxophonist
Rich Lataille in their ranks. The latest line-up were
superbly tight with a great mix of swing and blues with Good Time
Charlie a standout. For the last part of their set they were joined
on harp by legendary 76 year old James Cotton, now one of the last
members of the Muddy Waters Band. His playing was strong and true
throughout and it was great to see each member of the band shake his
hand at the end. He was then presented with the 2011 award for Blues
Excellence by the legendary 85 year old DJ Sonny Payne who has been
presenting King Biscuit Time blues on radio KFFA in Helena for over 60
headlined the 1st night and he came out all guns blazing as
he superbly tore through Hoochie Coochie Man, Back Door Man and
While You were Slipping Out. He then went on a levee walkabout
generating great excitement. However, he then unfortunately reverted to
his irritating habit of stopping and talking in mid song and, and in my
opinion, lost some of his momentum and we left soon after. Shame.
day kicked off with Nashville based guitarist Stacy Mitchhart with a
tight, funky brass section with a big sound and a great opening act
that was then followed by Memphis enigma Don Nix. This singer songwriter
has worked with so many people starting from the early Stax days through
to some of the biggest names in blues and rock, writing and producing
classics like Goin’ Down and On The Road Again. But it was
Plastic Flowers and Going To Iuka along with Same Old
Blues his song recorded by Freddy King that were the high points.
is a regular UK visitor playing with Norman Beaker and his band but with
his USA band he had the audience in his hands especially with Keep on
Singing the Blues. He was also joined on harp by Sam Joyner. [See
Earlyblues Interview with Larry Garner]
The next band
on the main stage then played what turned out to be a tribute set to the
sadly recently departed Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Earlier in the day at
the Miller Hotel near the main stage, a very emotional gig had taken
place with Kenny Smith (Willie’s son) on drums, Bob Stroger on bass, Bob
Margolin on guitar and Bob Corritore on harp.
Jimmy Mayes replacing Kenny Smith on the main stage, the band was joined
by a frail Hubert Sumlin on guitar. He was however on fine form
especially on Sitting on Top of The World.
the second stage, The Lockwood-Stackhouse Stage, Memphis band The Wampus
Cats delivered a cracking set led by top organist Robert “Nighthawk”
Tooms who stayed on stage to join veteran Memphis and ex John Mayall
guitarist Papa Don McMinn whose band consisted of sons Doug on drums,
Rome on bass and joining him for his 1st major gig, 12 year
old grandson Mike on harp – a unique moment.
Back on the
main stage, Arkansas son and favourite Michael Burks with his incredibly
tight band blasted through a brilliant set including a levee walkabout.
On the song Ashes in My Ashtray, he is reminiscent of Albert
Earlyblues Interview with Michael Burks]
followed by another silky smooth set by Texan Anson Funderburgh keeping
up his record of appearing at every single King Biscuit Festival.
stage then featured Dexter Allen from Jackson Mississippi. Last year he
backed Mojo Buford but this time he produced a fast, funky and often
frenetic set of great guitar work.
followed by the ever popular 78 year old Bobby Rush who, backed by just
a bass and guitar, teased and tantalised the packed stage. Playing
guitar and harp and often singing a cappella he had the audience,
especially the ladies, completely under his spell especially on Blind
Snake – Mississippi’s version of Tom Jones!
stage though in the meantime had gone country. Guitarist Paul Thorn was
relatively unknown to blues fans when he appeared last year but he was
regarded by many as the star of the festival. Whilst essentially a
country singer he does touch on blues influences. However it is his
superb often amusing delivery of his songs like Pimps and Preachers
that makes him so popular.
the day, he was followed by the evergreen Delbert McClinton. Backed by a
superb band including Bruce Katz on keys and Dana Robbins on sax, he
performed many of his classic tracks including Going Back to Louisiana,
and also gave us a great version of Muddy Waters’ 19 Years Old.
final day gets very hectic with large crowds and 2 more stages in
operation. A first visit to the 2nd stage saw the oldest
performer of the weekend with 90 year old T Model Ford backed by his
teenage grandson Stud on drums. After a quick midday slug of Jack
Daniels, this wry old character had a packed stage as he worked his way
through a host of covers including Big Boss Man. His younger wife
Stella even got on stage to “shake her booty”
followed by the excellent Ben Wiley Payton, a complete contrast to T
Model, with his clean, authentic style and great voice.
stage opened up with regular UK visitor, Detroit’s Sharrie Williams
whose big voice might have been better suited to later in the day. She
was followed by guitarist Kirk Fletcher who has already packed a lot
into his 36 years with stints with Charlie Musselwhite, The Fabulous
Thunderbirds and more recently The Mannish Boys. An excellent guitarist
who demonstrated his credentials on a version of The Stumble.
with the large crowds, it is impossible to see every act and so sadly I
only caught ten minutes of Big Bill Morganfield before seeing the very
impressive Lonnie Shields on the 2nd stage. A clean sounding
guitar backed by a great voice and a tight band made for an excellent
show with stand out tracks Sleeping In My Bed and The Thrill
is Gone, complete with walkabout.
Arbuckle are two young boys from Kansas who authentically combine Delta
and Urban blues into a raw gritty modern mix, no more so than on The
Ballad of John Henry with outstanding harp and cigar box slide
guitar. Hope we can see them over here one day – they’d go down a
Schofield was flying the flag for the UK on the main stage backed by
Johnny Henderson also of the UK on keys and Robert Cray’s drummer Kevin
Hayes. He gave a masterful display gaining great applause especially on
Shipwrecked. Let’s hope more Brits might be represented in the
of the extra stages was showcasing up and coming younger talent and
there were two acts that confirm that the blues is in safe hands. The
Peterson Brothers from Texas are Glenn (15) on lead guitar and Alex (12)
on bass and they play superb blues with great maturity. Another young
band who have attracted rave reviews are Homemade Jamz from Tupelo
Mississippi comprising of Ryan Perry on guitar (19), his brother Kyle
(17) on bass and sister Taya (13) on drums. Their version of Lean On
Me was outstanding.
performers always feature superbly on the main street, Cherry Street and
stand out performers were guitarist Bill Abel and the oddly named but
superb father and daughter duo Tyrannosaurus Chicken playing some superb
stomping Hokum style blues.
Back on the
main stage Tommy Castro was another guitarist who went on a levee
walkabout. He has a superb band with possibly one of the best brass
sections of the weekend with Make It Back To Memphis the standout
stage featured Memphis favourite Blind Mississippi Morris blowing some
great harp with raw vocals and he was followed by Earnest “Guitar” Roy
from Clarksdale playing some nice clean guitar on Catfish Blues
and other covers joined by Bob Corritore on harp.
Burnside was next up with his new guitarist Trenton Ayers. The duo
captivated the large crowd with Cedric’s powerful drumming complementing
Trenton’s understated guitar with the north Mississippi Hill Country
blues of R L Burnside. Stand out tracks were Going Down Slow and
Junior Kimbrough’s All Night Long.
review hit the main stage with Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Lester Snell
and Steve Potts setting the scene with some classic Memphis 60s with
Green Onions, Hip Hug Her and Time Is Tight before a
very sprightly 74 year old Eddie Floyd belted out amongst others the
classic Knock On Wood and 6345789. Great stuff. [See
Earlyblues Interview with Steve Cropper]
final act of the festival was Keb’ Mo’ playing with a full band
including two keyboard players. It would have seemed difficult to follow
the energy of the Stax Review but the band performed superbly with
Dangerous Mood a standout. It was however when Keb reverted to
acoustic guitar that he was at his best especially with the wonderful
We Don’t Need It off his brand new CD 'The Reflection'.
Yet again the
festival was an overwhelming success and yet again immense thanks must
go to the 500+ volunteers, helpers and organisers from Helena for
putting on such a brilliant festival. Everyone is so welcoming and
friendly and it is without a doubt the ultimate in blues experience.
Bring on 2012!
big thank you to Pete for the review
Alan White, Earlyblues.com