Deeply authentic blues gigs and genuine roots music don't pop up around town every night ... unless the Lowcountry Blues Bash is in effect. Every February, Charleston musician and entrepreneur Gary Erwin's Lowcountry Blues Society creates a terrific opportunity for blues musicians and fans that dig the real-deal stuff.
"The Blues Bash is a venue crawl which sprawls over metro Charleston — not just clubs and bars, but also restaurants and all-ages venues," says Erwin, a.k.a. Shrimp City Slim. The Lowcountry Blues Bash celebrates its 20th year this week with a whole mess of gritty soul, blues, boogie, and roots-rock.
Presented by Erwin Music and the Lowcountry Blues Society, the Blues Bash starts on Fri. Feb. 5 and continues daily through Tues. Feb. 16. As always, the lineup of local and visiting acts features a wildly diverse list of established and up-and-coming talent across the Charleston area.
Listed below are eight highlights among many during the festival's first week. On the horizon, week number two's schedule is packed with such notable performers as singer Wanda Johnson, guitarist Lil' Dave Thompson, Daddy Mack Blues Band, the Col. Bruce Hampton Blues Trio, and the great Beverly "Guitar" Watkins.
Vocalist Shemekia Copeland is set to headline special concert at the Charleston Music Hall billed as The Charleston Blues Festival. The event was organized by promoter Steve Simon (CEO of Steve Simon Presents).
For more details and ticket information, log on to bluesbash.com, or call Erwin directly at (843) 762-9125. Check City Paper's Music+Clubs section online at charlestoncitypaper.com for all of the Lowcountry Blues Bash listings. —T. Ballard Lesemann
Blues Bash Picks: Week 1
- Charlie Sayles
World-renowned for his chops, Charlie Sayles' weapon of choice is a Hohner blues harp. It comes out sounding like a gritty guitar, but with an unmistakable twang. Hailing from Washington, D.C., he's a blues ambassador, having toured extensively throughout Europe and Asia, performing and authoring harmonica instruction books. In 2009, JSP Records rereleased his 1976 debut, The Raw Harmonica of Charlie Sayles. It's the foundation of Sayles' mixed styles and technical prowess. In a nearly 40-year career, Sayles has played for presidents and taught harmonica to prisoners. He's an old-school harp player who has influenced new-school bluesmen everywhere. With Sayles on the harp, you can be sure it's coming from a special place, every time. Sayles kicks off the Blues Bash with his band, the Blues Disciples, featuring Tony Fazio. (Charleston Co. Library, Fri. Feb. 5 at 12 p.m.; A Dough Re Mi, Fri. Feb. 5, 8 p.m.) —Brian Sewell
- Big Bill Morganfield
Big Bill Morganfield
Atlanta-based blues man William "Big Bill" Morganfield, the son of legendary blues singer Muddy Waters, is a regular at Charleston venues. He recently visited the Home Team venues behind his recent album Born Lover — a groovy collection produced by Bob Margolin, and released on Big Bill's own record company, Black Shuck Records. Morganfield's current band includes pianist and organist Clark Stern, guitarist Brian Besesi, bassist Tom "Mookie" Brill, and drummer Shelby "Winston" Salem. "I've been doing this professionally for 13 years," Morganfield says. "It seems like in the beginning, it was 'He's the son of Muddy Waters,' and that whole movement tying me to my daddy, which is something I didn't dislike. I'm very proud of my father and his accomplishments, and to be recognized as his son on the national level was great. But I always knew — in my own mind and in talking to my father — that I had to be my own man." (Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ, West Ashley, Sat. Feb. 6 at 10 p.m.) —T. Ballard Lesemann
- Michael Andrews
- Drink Small
Carolina blues fans know that singer/guitarist Drink Small (a.k.a. The Blues Doctor) is the real deal. There just wouldn't be a proper Blues Bash without Small's raspy singing voice and shoe-tappin', nitty-gritty boogie style popping up somewhere. A native of the upstate town Bishopville, Small has been performing and recording music since the 1950s. Gary Erwin calls him a "Palmetto State blues icon." Small's latest release is a stripped-down, funky-vibed, 10-song collection titled Tryin' to Survive at 75 (he's now 77 years old). The album is autobiographical and full of humor, sadness, and advice on livin' right. One the coolest tracks may as well be his current heme song: "Drink Small Boogie" (in which he name-drops John Lee Hooker ... "He was a boogie man like I am!"). Small headlines a solo gig on Friday and joins the gang at the All-Star Blues Jam on Sunday. (Blind Tiger, Fri. Feb. 5, 7:30 p.m.; Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ, West Ashley, Sun. Feb. 7, 7 p.m.) —TBL
- Eddie Kirkland
Blues guitarist Eddie Kirkland was born in Jamaica and grew up in Alabama, but he was really raised on the road. At 12, he ran away from home with the Sugar Girls Medicine Show. Touring since the '60s, Kirkland is a bit of a road dog. Nicknamed the "Gypsy of the Blues," he played behind greats such as John Lee Hooker and Otis Redding before his debut, It's the Blues Man!, arrived in 1968. His rough guitar style features strong-handed open chords — played with his thumb and fingers instead of a pick. Kirkland, an octogenarian and more than half a century blues man, is still evolving and demanding to be heard. (A Dough Re Mi, Sat. Feb. 6 at 8 p.m.) —BS
- Paul Geremia
An acclaimed singer/guitarist, Paul Geremia started out as something of a folkie, strumming and picking on six- and 12-string acoustic guitars across a wide range of roots, blues, and country styles. Since the mid '60s, he's played with and opened for some of the big names of the blues world, like Babe Stovall, Yank Rachel, Son House, Skip James, Howlin' Wolf, and many others. A favorite among local blues fans, he's become a regular at the annual Lowcountry Blues Bash events. Erwin calls him a "master country bluesman." His latest is titled Love, Murder, & Mosquitoes. (Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ, Sullivan's Island, Mon. Feb. 8 at 8:30; Charleston Co. Public Library, Tues. Feb. 9 at 12 p.m.; Blind Tiger, Tues. Feb. 9 at 8:30 p.m.) —TBL
- Davis Coen
Charleston-based singer/guitarist Davis Coen is a versatile blues man who knows the Mississippi Delta styles up and down. He spends much of his time traveling between the Lowcountry and towns in Mississippi and Tennessee, gigging, recording, and collaborating with various bands and elderly musicians. On his latest studio album Magnolia Land, a soulful 12-song collection recorded at Delta Recording Service in Como, Mississippi, Coen sings and picks with confidence. Expect a mix of originals and old traditional numbers at the string of shows Coen will play this week and next. (Ellis-Nicholson/Hamlet Galleries, Fri. Feb. 5 at 6 p.m.; The Mill, Tues. Feb. 9 at 9 p.m.)
- Michael Pickett
Canadian singer-songwriter Michael Pickett has a handle on American roots music. Beginning in the '70s with the Toronto-based Whiskey Howl, he later moved on to Wooden Teeth, a group he co-founded, exploring the jazz/fusion realm of blues music. In his various projects, Pickett initially concentrated on vocals and harp, but Blues Money (1998) and Conversation with the Blues (2000) ignited his passion for the acoustic resophonic guitar. Now, touring exclusively as a solo act, Pickett manages it all. Since receiving his first harmonica at 13, Pickett has steadily evolved into a versatile, authentic songsmith. An understanding of the blues and roots music has helped Pickett, and his music, stand the test of time. He plays a slew of Blues Bash gigs this week and next. (Charleston Co. Public Library, Wed. Feb. 10 at 12 p.m.; Blind Tiger, Wed. Feb. 10 at 8:30 p.m.) —BS
- T. Ballard Lesemann
- The Allstar Blues Jam at Home Team BBQ
All-Star Blues Jam & Oyster Roast
A highlight of recent Lowcountry Blues Bashes, this local showcase at the original Home Team BBQ in West Ashley is an authentic blues revue, with every musician taking their turn. This year's all-local roster features several singer/guitarists, including Drink Small, Jeff Norwood, Mississippi John Doude, Tommy Thunderfoot, and Ricky Godfrey. Myrtle Beach blues-rock act My Buddy Todd will also be there, as will the backing rhythm section duo of John Picard (on drums) and Whitt Algar (on keys and guitar). It'll be crowded, beer-fueled, and mighty fun. Music runs from 2-9 p.m. (Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ, West Ashley, Sun. Feb. 7, 2 p.m.) —TBL