Leader Blues

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

FROM THE PUBLISHER>> Music still fills the air over area

BY GARRICK FELDMAN

You can create your own endless summer festival if you travel far enough to find your favorite musicians.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, fans traveled to Mississippi hill country north of Greenwood, where near the community of Avalon, off Hwy. 7, relatives and fans of Mississippi John Hurt honored the memory of the great country blues artist.

The lyrics to one of old his songs, “Coffee Blues,” asking for “just a lovin’ spoonful,” inspired the name of a 1960s rock group, whose leader, John Sebastian, will perform Mon-day near Hurt’s shack off a winding dirt road outside of town.

Sometimes you get lucky, and you’ll find good music in your backyard.

Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson appeared July 2 at Ray Winder Field. Dylan has been called the best white blues singer of all time, and if country is white blues, Nelson isn’t far behind.

Arkansans have heard some great music in recent weeks, including B.B. King at Little Rock’s Riverfest, the Holmes Brothers at Sticky Fingerz and, farther up the road in Eureka Springs, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Mavis Staples and Shemekia Copeland at the Eureka Springs Blues Festival, which attracted hundreds of bikers who came to town to show off their Harleys.

The Holmes Brothers — Wendell on electric guitar and Sherman on bass — are a gifted pair of musicians who play gospel-tinged blues with a drummer to round out their trio.

They played to a smallish crowd on a recent Tuesday night, but they were as enthusiastic as they were at last year’s King Biscuit Festival and at last May’s Handy Awards in Memphis, where they were named best blues group.

The Holmes Brother grew up in church and have moved beyond gospel into the secular world of the blues.

Their gospel-flavored CDs include the award-winning “Simple Truths” (Alligator), as well as “Promised Land” (Rounder), both a pleasure to listen to, especially on a rainy day.

The Blind Boys of Alabama never left the church. Dressed in long blue coats, they sang gospel for more than an hour in the old Eureka Springs Auditorium with their leader Clarence Fountain, along with Jimmy Carter, both original members of the group. (George Scott, another original member, passed away this spring.)

More than halfway through the show, Carter was led off stage and walked up and down the aisles, still singing and calling for a church service right then and there.

You haven’t lived till you’ve heard the Blind Boys of Alabama sing “Amazing Grace” like no one else can. Music in Heaven must sound something like the Blind Boys.

Their CDs include the Grammy Award-winning “Higher Ground” (Real World) with Robert Randolph and the Family Band, as well as “Oh, Lord, Stand by Me” and “Marching up to Zion,” which are two early LPs on one CD, and “The Sermon” (all from Specialty).

Three weekends ago, B.B. King returned to his home town of Indianola, Miss., where he helped break ground for a $10 million blues museum and performed at the city park. He played at the Club Ebony after 1 a.m. and didn’t stop till almost 3 a.m. He said he could have played all night, but the band looked tired, so he stopped.

Chris Thomas King (no relation), who acted in the movies “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Ray,” played a couple of numbers at the club, including “What’d I Say?,” before B.B. showed up. The next evening at the club before a small crowd, Chris, a gifted musician, put on a great show for a couple of hours.

The lucky few who were there caught a great performance.

Most blues fans had headed out of town that night, down to Pickens, Miss., where B.B. King played for two nights at the 42nd Medgar Evers Homecoming, a fundraiser in honor of the slain civil rights leader.

Charles Evers, his older brother, gave a moving address about the long struggle to achieve equality for black people, including the right to vote, and at one point, Evers held back tears, and King reminded the white people in the audience that 40 years ago it was against the law for blacks and whites to sit together.

Then it was back to more music.

B.B. gave the band the cue to play Brinkley native Louis Jordan’s “Let the Good Times Roll,” reminding us once again that the blues is not always sad. You’ve got to leave the hard times behind as much as you can and have some fun.

Enjoy the music.