The Kings of the West Coast Tour

Blue Tuesday at Phoenix Hill

By Keith S. Clements

It seems like the blues comes to Louisville in bunches, with three recent major blues events. On September 29 the KYANA Blues Society held its first All-Star Blues Band Concert at Willie's 537 Club; then came the Kings of West Coast Blues Tour which included Mark Hummel and the Blues Survivors, Phillip Walker and William Clark at Phoenix Hill Tavern on October 8. Finally, the Fourth Annual Garvin Gate Blues Festival arrived on October 11 and 12 with wonderful weather, good crowds and great music that featured The Professor's Blues Review (Eddie Lusk) and Maurice John Vaughn. (See Garvin Gate Blues Festival story elsewhere in this issue. Editor.) That's a lot of blues for Louisville in two weeks and my ears are still ringing.

It is always a pleasant surprise to get knocked out by a new performer and band that has not been heard in Louisville. Such a group was Mark Hummel and the Blues Survivors. I had read of Hummel through the newsletters our Society receives from the other blues organizations on the West Coast where he has an established reputation from San Diego to Vancouver.

Mark and his band came on first as the unknown warm-up band, but he established his credentials immediately with an up-tempo jump instrumental blues filled with jazzy riffs typical of the California sound. Throughout his hour-long set Mark put on a clinic of harmonica styles that showcased his command of the diatonic and chromatic harmonicas. His notes were clean and crisp, ranging from the screeching highs to the resonate lows of his instrument.

His set continued with Slim Harpo's "Scratch My Back," "She's My Bombshell Baby" and then a beautiful rendition of "Summertime." Some of you might remember a group called the Harmonicats who recorded in the '40s and '50s; well, he sounded like the whole trio playing at once. The band followed with another instrumental that is one of Mark's signature pieces called "Humblebug" which has influences of "Okie Dokie Stomp" and "Flying Home."

The climax of his performance was an extended version of "Hand Jive." Johnny Otis beware! There were long solos by the drummer, guitarist and some of the wildest romping on the harmonica I've ever heard. It reminded me of Rodney Hatfield's "Pike County Stomp," only more so. Mark's husky tenor voice came across nicely in such vocals as "Seven Nights to Rock" and "I'm a Lonely Man." There was also Jimmy Reed's "Roll and Rumba" and finally another instrumental where everybody in the band soloed to finish the set.

The Blues Survivors are a top-notch goup playing just as tight as can be. The guitarist deserves special mention. For a young musician he played with a lot of maturity. He started the set using a hollow-body amplified Harmony guitar that captured the West Coast feel, then he switched to his Fender and his playing reminded me of Anson Funderburgh with those beautiful extended notes.

After Mark and his Blues Survivors finished their set it was almost too good to believe that there were two more great performances to go. Philip "Walker and William Clark followed with great shows of their own, but that's another review. The long, enjoyable evening same to an end with both Philip and William doing a surprise harmonica duet together for the few hearty souls who stuck around. If that wasn't enough harp action, Lamont Gillespie and the Homewreckers were performing in the Roof Garden that same evening.

Little Walter referred to the harmonica as "the Mother of the Band." Well, that night the lady really had a chance to show her stuff.