The idea of the Kyana Blues Society sponsoring a blues cruise came together four years ago after the 1994 Chicago Blues Festival, when I had done a bus tour of several of Chicago's West Side blues clubs and the Delta Fish Market. Local blues guitarist Marshal Anderson also offered encouragement for the society to do such an event during an interview with him.
On May 16, the KBS embarked on its 4th cruise with a full crew of 42 people. This year, five of our cruisers were members of the Blues Society of Indiana from Anderson, near Indianapolis, plus several from Frankfort, Ky. When the bus rolled out of the Mid-City Mall parking lot, we anticipated a long evening, full of good food, booze and blues.
Mark Wagner prepared a hearty buffet pasta meal at his Come Back Inn at Breckinridge and Swan. About this time, Real Quiet was racing down the home stretch in the Preakness. After seconds of meatballs and cheese bread, we headed to Stevie Ray's, our first club of the evening, with the Duchess and the Boogie Kings doing the early show.
The Duchess is Sherry Edwards, who has become a born-again blues singer. She has wanted to do R&B and blues for some time and she definitely has the pipes for singing the blues. She and the band put on an excellent show for the premier performance at Stevie Ray's.
Sherry has that "This is a new band with old players." Veteran Jay Comstock did several strong vocals and played a powerful lead guitar. He is an alumnus of the Mighty Water Kings and toured for a year with Lonnie Mack. Bill Grinstead, who once played with the Wolfe Brothers, was the second guitarist, with a style that complimented Comstock's. Roger Yoder, who played many years ago with the Carnations, was on bass. The only young musician was the 22-year-old drummer, who fit right in with the old-timers. Sherry graciously let Mary Ann Fisher, who was on our cruise, sing with her on a duet of a medley of tunes that began with "You'd Be a Millionaire."
It was off into the sunset down Main Street and south on 22nd St. to Billy's Place at 2988 Wilson Ave. From the exterior, the club is a plain block building. Upon entering, the place has a touch of class, with photos of patron on the walls, a mirrored wall adjacent to the dance floor and friendly waitresses.
Fusion was playing and featured a fine female vocalist and saxophone player. the band got our cruisers into a laid-back groove and out on the dance floor. According to Billy, blues will be featured every Wednesday night, including Smoketown Red and possibly Mary Ann Fisher.
Our final stop was Fred's House of Blues, the Red Devils Motorcycle Club, at 10th and Dumesnil. The sun had set and the night air had cooled off, which made for a perfect setting in the backyard to listen to the blues. Another recently formed band of veterans, Barbecue, Booze & Beer, is the current house band, with Mary Ann and Fred Murphy doing the vocals. Marshal Anderson plays lead guitar. Previously, I had only heard Marshal play bass in other bands, so it was a treat to hear his low-key but very tasteful guitar licks.
Between sets, I asked Marshal how he got his old nickname, Sinbad. He said that in his younger days he had served both in the Marines and the Navy and had traveled all over the world. Hence, Sinbad the Sailor.
Keyboardist Don Harris gets a variety of sounds from his instrument. BB&B's drummer is Ellie Paige, who played with the Sunset Royals back in the Fifties. Lee Wales kept the rhythm on bass and Donnie Fugett sang with emotion and soul,
It wasn't until after the bus had taken the first blues cruisers back to our point of departure that Fred Murphy showed up to blow his harp. Fuzz Roth, who was also on our cruise, traded "blows" with Fred. This father and son exchange was one of the highlights of the evening. the combination of great food, ideal weather and the diversity of blues in various local settings made for a memorable evening, plus some income for the Kyana Blues Society.
It has become a tough choice to decide whether to go to the King Biscuit Festival in Helena, Arkansas, or stay home for the Garvin Gate Blues Festival, both held the same weekend. Mike Suttles is booking the bands for the Palace-sponored event again this year. He has put together a strong line-up of headliners for Garvin Gate.
On Friday, Oct. 9, Bernard Allison, Luther's son, will be featured, together with Chicago's little dynamo, Little Ed & the Blues Imperials. The Paul Delay Band from Portland, Oregon will perform on Saturday. Delay has had a roller-coaster career, including doing time for a drug bust, but now he has become one of the top harp players on the West Coast. Just maybe, Room Full of Blues will close out the evening. How about a reunion between Duke Robillard and the group he founded?
Greg Schaber & Highstreet from Cincinnati will open on Sunday followed by Harvey Cook & the Blues Tones from Indianapolis. One of today's hottest guitarists, Big Jack Johnson, and the Oilers will rock Theater Square with his deep Delta sound. Sherman Robinson will be the closing act. On a weekend with this caliber of talent, I plan to stick around.
The owners of the Palace are considering making a greater financial commitment to their talent budget. This decision could put the future festivals on a par with the other major national blues festivals.