New Names for the Biscuit and Handys
On August 10, just 57 days before the 20th Annual King Biscuit Blues Festival was to begin, the Sonny Boy Blues Society received a letter from King Biscuit Entertainment in New York directing the society to cease using the King Biscuit name and logo. The mandate was to be effective immediately on all advertising, merchandise, signs and promotions. This sorry scenario was the result of a long period of negotiations between King Biscuit Entertainment (KBE) and the Sonny Boy Blues Society (SBBS), the promoters of the festival. Because the KBE owns the "King Biscuit" trademark, the SBBS has always gotten permission to use the name for the festival until this year. Earlier this year the SBBS received a proposal from the KBE amounting to $15,000, based on a larger percentage of merchandise sales and sponsorships. In a good year that amount would wipe out any profits. The SBBS made a counter offer of a more reasonable amount in keeping its small non-profit stature, but the KBE felt it wasn't enough. Since the ultimatum was so close to the festival's start, the SBBS officers tried to persuade the KBE to grant permission for just this one year, but to no avail. Wayne Andrews, Society and Festival Director said, "It is hard to understand how a group from New York which started in 1973 can end up owning a name for a radio show that has been on the air in Helena, Arkansas since 1941."
The festival had taken its name from "King Biscuit Time," the first blues program in the country. The show is still broadcast each weekday on KFFA by Sonny Payne out of his storefront studio on Cherry Street. Anticipating the worst, the SBBS board began the paperwork to select another name appropriate for the festival and hired a graphic artist to create a new logo. There will be no more Sonny Boy Williamson perched on an ear of corn holding his harmonica. The new name is the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival. Andrews was trying to be upbeat when he said, "Nothing about the logistics and offering of the festival will change. The only things changing are the name and logo; everything else will remain the same." The lineup for the Main Stage and Acoustic Stage is very strong with the Kentucky Headhunters headlining on Thursday, October 6. Go to the festival web site: www.kingbiscuitfest.org/lineup to get the schedule of the rest of the excellent performers. As long as Sonny Payne opens his radio show saying, "Pass the biscuits, it's King Biscuit Time," the festival will always be the "Biscuit" to me.
W.C. Handy, "the Father of the Blues," would have rolled and tumbled in his grave if he knew that the W. C. Handy awards have been changed to The Blues Music Awards. The Blues Foundation recently made this decision "to bring broader visibility to the music we love" according to board president, Kevin Kane. The Handy name had been associated with the awards since 1980. This identification for the annual recognition of the finest blues performers and recordings has now become more general to be consistent with the Foundation's consolidation and standardization of the logos it uses for its various programs and events. I hope the Oscars, Tonys, Obies and Emmys aren't the next to lose their quirky image. The next Blues Music Awards ceremony will be in Memphis on May 11, 2006 at the Cook Convention Center instead of the historic Orpheum Theater.
B.B. King Celebrates 80
There have been several books written about B.B. King, including The Arrival of B.B. King by Charles Sawyer; Blues All Around Me, an autobiography with David Ritz, Blues Boy by Sebastian Danchin and ; The B.B. King Companion by Richard Kostelanetz. A new book is just off the press in time to celebrate King's 80th birthday on September 16, 2005. Backbeat Books has published "B.B. King: There Is Always One More Time" written by David McGee. This book is the first in their Lives in Music series. What sets this book apart from the others is that it combines historical biography with detailed discography. The book reads like extended liner notes, starting with his first 78 single, "Miss Martha King," on the Bullett label in 1949, to his recent CD, Reflections, in 2003.
McGee interviewed King only one time, in 1998 when King was 72, but McGee was able to probe into the legend deeper by interviewing guitarist Calvin Newborn about that first recording session and John Broven about the early Crown albums for the Biharis Brothers. Some of King's best music was recorded for Modern Music that came out on those budget Crown, United and Kent LPs. Ace Records has reissued all twelve of King's Crown releases with detailed liner notes by Broven. An interview with Bill Szyincyk, producer with ABC, discussed the studio sessions for King's "Live & Well" albums, where, "The Thrill is Gone" and the forceful "Why I Sing the Blues" were recorded. The latter was a song filled with the emotions of social injustice. Stewart Levine, a producer with MCA who provided King with lots of new songs said, "Records are snapshots. They're still photographs. They should be made quickly and they should have a certain kind of danger and that's the magic of them." McGee, who also authored Go Cat Go: The Life and Times of Carl Perkins, brings new meaning to so many of King's classic records. The musicians, producers, studio sessions, songs and social circumstances come to life and make each album a story unto itself in King's 55-year recording career. If you are a hopeless blues record-and-book collector like me, you will find McGee's book an entertaining essential addition to your library. B.B. King will bring the thrill back to Louisville on Friday, October 1, at the Palace.
Don't Blame Sue (For the Blues)
Etta James sang "At Last" and so should Sue O'Neil on the release of her own CD, Don't Blame the Blues. It has been three years in the making, on a slow but steady, pay-as-you-go basis, but it was worth the wait. Sue's presence in Louisville's music scene goes way back to Kessler's Friends, Da Mudcats, the Blues Hounds and now Blue Seville. She has touched so many musicians, singers and songwriters and they have all come together to collaborate with her on this fine recording. Often when I've listened to Sue in smoky bars and outdoor stages, the quality of her voice could not be fully appreciated due to background noise and less than perfect amplification, but Jeff Carpenter has engineered and mixed a masterpiece so that it's possible to hear Sue as she deserves to be heard, singing a variety of styles.
This is not a hard-core, get-down-and-dirty blues album, but a diverse presentation of blues, ballads with a little jazz and country thrown in. The first cut, "Stay With Me" opens with the thundering chords of Sam Holt's guitar while Sue lays down the ground rules for the relationship to work. "Thank Another Man" changes the pace with Greg Walker's light, jazzy guitar with Sue hurrying home (to her man) to finish what she started (with another man). The title track, "Don't Blame The Blues," is Sue and her band at their best, while "Intuitions" is a ballad with musical inspiration from another era. The up-tempo "Calling All Doctors" is a red code alert dedicated to the medical profession. "Still Thinking of Him" has a baneful country feel with a little Bessie Smith sass. "Come Tomorrow" is a procrastination blues that laments the realities of life as when Sue was just another lover in a long line of losers on "Lonely Town." "We Know Better" sounded a little out of place with the rest of the CD. "Down On `The Corner" is a tough commentary on urban life and "Didn't Mean It" is a mid-tempo apology from Sue. "Wailin' In The Wind" is a great closer with some wailin' harp from Rodney Hatfield.
Bill Dean's keyboards punctuate most of the songs and the background vocals by Jennifer Lauletta, Martha Brewer and Robbie Bartlett, blend beautifully. Sue said one of the most enjoyable experiences making the record was working with these women. Sue's husband, Rick O'Neil, produced and guided the project. The CD jacket shows Rick extending an invitation to Sue to ride on a vintage motorcycle and they drive off into the sunset with her guardian angel tattoo in full view. If you didn't get your CD at Sue's release party at Stevie Ray's on September 16 and 17, they will be available at ear X-tacy and Borders.