The festival kicked off with superb hot weather and the first day
appeared busier than usual. The first set we caught was the tail end of
International Blues Challenge winner Selwyn Birchwood. A lovely
guitarist with a great future, he has already attracted the attention of
a major label.
Billingsley a regular at the festival boasted a new band line-up which
included Doug McMinn on drums and Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms on keyboard
and harp. They delivered a superb tight set with “Ain’t No Sunshine”
being the stand out track.
unusual for the festival to include a couple of deep South country rock
‘n’ roll acts and Travis Wammack from Memphis was next up. He was band
leader for Little Richard for many years and let rip with “Tear It Up”
and the great soulful blues of “Let Me Tell You About My Girl”
visitor to the UK Hamilton Loomis was next up and he gave his usual
polished show which also had him climbing up the stage girders to play
one of the guitars advertising the main beer sponsor.. slightly gimmicky
but it pleased the masses!
It was a
delight to hear the guitarist who can master all styles – Walter
“Wolfman” Washington. Backed by a superbly tight band with a crack brass
section his set had it all. Particularly good though was his leaning
towards his native New Orleans music.
guitarist’s heaven as next on stage was another Louisiana giant Sonny
Landreth. Surely the master of the slide he amazed the crowd with his
fretwork. Stand out tracks were “Congo Square” and his dedication to the
Katrina victims “Blue Tarp Blues”
one word can describe the set from headliner Marcia Ball and her
brilliant band – perfection.
Louisiana drenched blues and rock ‘n’roll flowed from her keyboard and
really fired up the crowd It’s hard to pick stand out tracks, however
the wonderful “Louisiana 1927” made a big impression featuring a superb
sax solo from Thad Scott.
Friday kicked off with two bluesrock outfits Jack Rowell Jr and the
Bart Walker Band, one of the Ruf Records stable of blues rockers. Both
were very competent but no different to a lot of similar outfits from
this side of the water but the quality of Reba Russell and her band from
Memphis really did shine through as the next act.
is rightly considered the blues queen of the region and with her super
band, she scorched through some great rockers like “Heaven came to
Helena” and then mellowed down to the beautiful “My Blues Angel”
dedicated to late festival stalwart Ray Galloway. This track featured
the amazing talents of Josh Roberts on guitar. Many people feel that
this young man is a finer talent than Bonamassa and Trucks so it was
with sadness we learnt that Reba was folding the band but with happiness
that one of the reasons was to enable Josh to pursue his own career.
stage had opened but sadly the veteran CeDell Davis didn’t arrive in
time for his slot so a wander around the streets enabled us to see a
fine set of covers from Li’l Jimmy Reed and an equally good raw set of
North Mississippi blues from Vince Cheney at the Delta Cultural Centre.
Staying at the Centre though enabled us to see the amazing prodigious
talent of the young Peterson Brothers from Texas. Glenn 17 on lead and
Alex 14 on bass are building up a huge following in home city Austin and
October 3rd (Stevie Ray’s birthday) is now known as Peterson
Brother’s Day. Stand out tracks in a blistering set of outstanding
musicianship were “Don’t You Lie to Me” and “Got to Go”. Blues in the
USA has a solid future with these lads – watch their name.
caught the end of Sharrie Williams before Andy T and Nick Nixon took the
main stage. Nick is a veteran of the Nashville scene and his smooth
soulful voice featured for years in the vocal band The New Imperials.
With Andy T on guitar along with Anson Funderburgh and a great brass
section they played songs from new cd Drink, Drank, Drunk gaining
Anson Funderburgh then stayed on stage to be joined by his own band The
Rockets. He has played at all 28 King Biscuit Festivals and is a
beautiful effortless guitarist and with his crack band featuring Dana
Robbins on sax and guest vocalist Big Joe Maher, they delivered a
polished set with “You Can’t Keep a Big Man Down” the stand out track.
Thorn from Tupelo was making his 4th successive appearance at
the festival and from being virtually unknown outside the southern
country rock circuit he is now a very firm favourite with all the blues
fans. His lively fun filled set features a superb band with guitarist
Bill Hinds catching the eye and songs like “Pimps and Preachers” are
was a surprise to find that headliner Robert Cray hadn’t appeared at the
festival before. His set was professional and well received but didn’t
really have the oomph that the festival usually expects. Having said
that, his delivery of the classics “Phone Booth”, “Poor Johnny” and
“Don’t You Even Care” was superb.
final day started with Earnest “Guitar” Roy and The Clarksdale Rockets
on the main stage. With a great brass section and guest Billy Branch on
harp they blasted through a great set of down home blues.
visit to the Delta Cultural Centre saw the wonderful Willie Cobbs who
was honoured with the Sonny Boy Blues Society for his services to blues.
Backed by a young white band he laughed and encouraged them along with
his classic “You Don’t Love Me” the perfect end to a great set.
up on the main stage was Memphis stalwart guitarist Don McMinn. He has
played with everyone in the major blues league and can also count a
stint as one of John Mayall’s guitarists. Uniquely he not only had his
sons Doug on drums and Rome on bass, and his daughter Lorina on vocals
but also his 14 year old grandson Michael on harp. And how well did
young Michael play. He would have made his old tutor Mojo Buford very
Drummer Kenny Smith, son of the late Willie “Big Eyes” Smith had “Steady
Rollin’” Bob Margolin on guitar and Bob Stroger on bass and these
Chicago legends belted out pure Chicago class. Joined by Matthew Skoller
on harp, top number was “Look on Yonder wall”.
the second stage David Kimbrough , son of Junior Kimbrough, and his band
gave us a good dose of North Mississippi hill country blues with “I’ve
Got The Dog In Me” played on a lap steel dulcimer the top track. A bonus
was when he was joined on stage by his gorgeous little girl on maracas.
on Cherry Street, with a famous surname from the past, Richard Pryor,
son of Snooky, delivered a great set on harp, guitar and kick drum with
“You Gotta Move” a stand out.
Arkansas son Larry McCray, now a regular visitor to the UK, was on his
home patch and was duly greeted with real warmth. His passionate set
included the covers “Sugar Coated Love” and “Love the One You’re With”
but it was his final track “Soul Shine” dedicated to his late cousin
Michael Burks that really brought the house down. Very moving indeed.
final hours of the festival were spent at the 2nd stage
starting with “Help Me” the best of a great set from harpman Blind
Mississippi Morris followed by one of the best sets of the whole three
days from Joe Louis Walker. He completely captivated the audience and
was back to his great early days with “Too Drunk to Drive” a classic.
was followed by the evergreen Bobby Rush with his full review. Now
nearing 80 years old, he has the energy of someone half his years and
although the sexism, corniness and double entendre is the same as ever,
his set was wonderful and he had the audience eating out of his hands.
Finally a quick dash was made back to the main stage to see the last of
Gregg Allman. We’d seen the opening part of his set which featured”
Statesboro’ Blues” and were able to catch some of his other Allman
Brothers classics including “Whipping Post”. He received a great
reception from his American fans of a certain age who remember how
important the band had been in American rock history.
again the festival was a massive success and all praise must be heaped
on the lovely friendly organisers and volunteers of Helena who work so
hard to make the festival such an amazing event. Bring on 2014.
after the festival is spent in Clarksdale Mississippi with Roger
Stolle’s Cathead Mini Festival taking place in the street outside his
store in the morning. We caught the talented Lucious Spiller and the
amazing new discovery , 81 years old Leo “Bud” Welch who had until
recently been playing and singing gospel music in his church. He could
be the last of the old traditional Delta blues musicians and the good
news is that a tour is already being planned to bring him to the UK next
a trip to Hopson’s Plantation in the afternoon sees a great post Biscuit
jam in memory of Pinetop Perkins who lived and worked at Hopson’s many
years ago in the cotton fields. Many of the musicians from the Biscuit
attend and a superb time is had by all. Highlight though for us was a
blistering set from North Mississippi star Kenny Brown and his band
which featured Bill Abel on 2nd guitar. A great end to a
great 4 days of brilliant music.
big thank you to Pete Evans for the review
Alan White, Earlyblues.com
Click to go back to The King Biscuit Blues
Festival introduction page
Pete Evans and John Taylor