Townsend: a local legend who was there at the genre's
Appearing at The Big Muddy Blues Festival
Details: Admission to the
event is free.
Music Date: Saturday, August
30, to Monday, September 1
Where: Locations on Laclede's
St. Louis' ongoing
love affair with the blues is hardly a secret. In the
90 years since W.C. Handy penned his famed "St. Louis
Blues," the city has borne witness to nearly all
of the music's many forms, from barrelhouse and R&B
to blues-rock and beyond. It's true that over the course
of nearly a century, the relationship between St. Louis
and the blues has seen its ups and downs. Marriages are
like that. And although the revival that began in the
1980s has yet to peter out, the union still has its rough
patches. Low attendance at gigs is a common complaint
among blues musicians and club owners today.
That's what makes the Big Muddy Blues Festival such a
vital piece of the St. Louis blues calendar each year:
It's an annual opportunity for St. Louisans to celebrate
all that is good about blues in the River City. It's a
chance to renew the matrimonial vows between a city and
its soundtrack. All of the elements for a great wedding
party are in place: dancing, drinking and, of course,
something old, something new, something borrowed and something
follows is a look at some of the scheduled highlights
for this year's festival:
unlikely that a more seasoned duo of blues musicians than
"Junior" Lockwood and St. Louis' own Henry
Townsend, whose combined age is 181, will be performing
anywhere this year. Yet these guys are no mere museum
pieces. Both remain capable of delivering dazzling live
performances when the spirit hits them. Lockwood, 88,
is best known as the stepson of the legendary blues guitarist
Robert Johnson. That's a pity on two counts: First, it's
not entirely accurate (Johnson was romantically linked
to Lockwood's mother, but they never married). Second,
it obscures the tremendous quality and diversity of Lockwood's
own recorded output. Lockwood can be a prickly character,
and his willingness to talk about his relationship with
Johnson has varied widely throughout the years. These
days he seems more resigned to the subject, even boastful.
"You know I came up with Robert Johnson, right?"
he asks. "Can't nobody play his shit but me. Anyone
tells you otherwise is a liar."
own recorded legacy began after Johnson's death in 1938.
A fantastic sideman, Lockwood has backed everyone from
Sonny Boy Williamson II to Sunnyland Slim. He is capable
of playing in a raucous Delta style but is just as comfortable
in a more urbane, jazzy setting.
him at the Big Muddy this year will be local blues patriarch
Henry Townsend. At 93, Townsend
is not just a local legend but a national treasure and
one of only a handful of living bluesmen whose careers
stem back to the genre's formative years.
and Lockwood perform from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Saturday,
August 30, at the Budweiser Stage (First and Lucas Streets).
will certainly be bigger names and more experienced acts
playing this year's festival than local guitarist Brian
Curran, but few are likely to serve as a better testament
to the ongoing viability and vitality of the St. Louis
blues scene. Though still in his twenties, Curran specializes
in a wide range of acoustic pre-World War II blues styles,
from brutal Delta slide to lilting Piedmont blues. He
also manages to mix in country and gospel tunes, electric
blues and a strong dose of originals. With his long mane
of hair and his brimmed hat, Curran is an instantly recognizable
figure at blues clubs around town, but he makes no secret
of his plans for wider exposure.
want to get out of the bar scene," he says. "I
don't know how cats have done this for 35 years, playing
'Mustang Sally' every night," he says. "I don't
want to be famous, but I want to play more venues."
In that respect, this year's festival should be mutually
beneficial to Curran and blues lovers alike.
with local harmonica ace Eric McSpadden, Brian Curran
performs from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 30, at
the Regional Arts Commission/Planet Hollywood Stage.
could easily argue that the entire genre of blues is built
on borrowing. The music is littered with shared melodies
and stolen lyrics, and that's part of what attracts its
legions of fans. Consistent with that tradition is a band
that appropriates the songs and sounds of one of the most
important blues musicians of the last half-century. The
Albert King Tribute Band intends to make the case that
its namesake is the greatest of the blues world's Three
Kings (Albert, B.B. and Freddie). Over the years, Albert
King has had his share of disciples, and his presence
and impact are especially strong in St. Louis, where he
spent much of his career. Eight of King's former bandmates
will come together at the Big Muddy this year to pay tribute
to the late blues guitarist.
facto bandleader Kenny Rice hopes the gig will inspire
an even greater appreciation for King in St. Louis. The
seeds of the tribute were planted in the drummer's mind
in 1992. "When Albert died, I went to the funeral
in Memphis," Rice remembers. "I was amazed at
the turnout, just stunned. Bobby Bland was sitting behind
me, tears just streaming down his face. Shirley Brown
was there, Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes -- it was like a
who's who of blues and R&B. They literally closed
down the city of Memphis for his funeral. I remember thinking
that I wished St. Louis would do something like that for
Albert because he loved St. Louis." The Albert King
Tribute Band's performance -- which takes place from 4
to 5:30 p.m. on Monday, September 1, at the Budweiser
Stage -- should go a long way toward righting that wrong.
doesn't get any bluer than Bobby "Blue" Bland,
who, at 73, is widely considered to be the greatest blues
singer living today. Bland's voice has lost some of its
youthful elasticity, but it's still a force of nature.
Bland is one of those rare blues artists whose appeal
isn't defined along racial or gender lines. Thanks in
part to his longtime association with B.B. King, Bland
has experienced broad crossover success. But he's also
managed to maintain a rabid following among black audiences
thanks to his constant touring along what is affectionately
known as the "chitlin circuit," a sprawling
trail of down-home blues clubs that cater to black audiences
throughout the South and Midwest. Bland's delivery, equal
parts swagger and seduction, makes him popular among both
male and female audiences.
he's played St. Louis countless times over the past four
decades, this year's festival appearance is sure to win
Bland some new fans. "Festivals are a little different.
I like the club setting. It's closer and more intimate.
You can feel out the crowd a little better. But festivals
are good, too," he says. "You get to play for
people who might not normally attend a Bobby Bland gig."
Those who fall into this category are in for a special
treat when Bland performs at the Budweiser Stage on Sunday,
August 31, from 8:30 to 10 p.m.
highlights of this year's Big Muddy Blues Festival neither
start nor stop with the aforementioned artists. Also appearing
will be no fewer than four former bandmates of Muddy Waters
(guitarist Bob Margolin, harpist Carey Bell, drummer Willie
"Big Eyes" Smith and bassist Calvin "Fuzz"
Jones), Howlin' Wolf's longtime guitarist Hubert Sumlin
and famed Delta drummer Sam Carr. Local legends ranging
from Oliver Sain and Johnnie Johnson to the Soulard Blues
Band also will be on hand.
not yet convinced that the marriage between St. Louis
and the blues has what it takes to last would do well
to remember the old adage: The family that plays together,
Reprinted courtesy of The
Riverfront Times | originally published: August 27,