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Jan. 13, 2005


The Hum


photo and headline -- Robert Cray

LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE COMES TO TOWN NEXT WEEKEND. It's a movie made in 2003, the official "Year of the Blues," produced by Martin Scorsese, the man behind the PBS series on the classic American music form. Purportedly offering "a one night history of the blues," the concert film captures a musical salute at Radio City Music Hall featuring a stellar cast, among them Robert Cray, who is seen playing a couple of tunes, including the closing number where he shares the stage with Bonnie Raitt and the King of the Blues himself, B.B. King.

You could say that Cray is the logical heir to the throne, the Crown Prince of the Blues. Over the course of three decades the guitarist once known as "Young Bob" went from playing the West Coast bar circuit (including frequent stops at the Jambalaya and the Old Town Bar and Grill) to revitalizing the blues with an MTV hit and numerous Grammy-winning albums in the '80s, then on to headlining festivals worldwide (including our own Blues by the Bay) and playing in concert halls rather than bars.

A few days before the movie opens here, on Wednesday, Jan. 19, the Robert Cray Band [photo above] plays on the stage of Humboldt's finest concert hall, the Van Duzer Theatre. It's a great band: Cray is backed by cool-as-a-cucumber organist Jimmy Pugh and a rock solid rhythm section. And Robert has honed his skills: His vocals are smooth as silk and his guitar playing is polished to a high sheen. That said, it might come as a surprise, but I think I'll skip the concert. I have a couple of reasons. One is the fact that it's a "concert," as in a bunch of people sitting in comfy seats watching a band play music made for dancing in a roadhouse. Another is the refined nature of Cray's playing of late. Rhythm and blues is a raw, spontaneous style, and it's supposed to be rough around the edges. I do not consider myself a blues purist, but as Young Bob has matured, he's gotten a bit too smooth for my taste. Of course, the serious bluesaholics out there already have their Cray tickets and I'm not about to talk anybody out of going.

Those who want another serious dose of the blues will also be at Six Rivers Brewery Sunday evening, Jan. 16, when the Duke Robillard Band hits town. Robillard traces his professional music history back to 1967 when he founded Roomful of Blues, and like fine whiskey or a good cigar, he gets better with age. His guitar playing has once again garnered him a nomination as best blues instrumentalist in the Blues Foundation's annual W.C. Handy awards; he's been nominated every year since 1998 and has won the Handy four out of the last five years. This time out he's also up for "Traditional Blues Album of the Year" for Blue Mood: The Songs of T-Bone Walker, his tribute to the guitarist who inspired him.

For a combination of reasons rural Humboldt County has developed into a regular stopover for the very urban underground hip-hop circuit. In part it's because of Peter "Thanksgiving Brown" Agoston of Female Fun, who brings his "Poor Man's Alphabet" tour to Humboldt Brews Thursday, Jan. 13, with Awol One, Z Man, Brycon and Mr. Brown on the turntables. But Peter is not the only local undergrounder -- his friend, Andrew Boehm, aka DJ Brooklyn Science, who runs the Hip Stop Record Shop in Sunny Brae, gave me a call this week to let me know about a little underground hip-hop bash he's putting together Saturday night at the Eureka Veteran's Hall Lounge. The dance party features a very special guest DJ, Fat Jack, a legend from the Los Angeles underground, house producer for Abstract Tribe Unique and an important part of the Good Life/Project Blowed scene who produced seminal albums for Aceyalone, Abstract Rude and the aforementioned Awol One. Joining DJ Brooklyn Science and Jack at the Vet's Hall are local artists Itchy Fingaz, Optimystic Populists and the Breakin' 101 dancers. As a warm-up, Fat Jack makes an instore appearance at Hip Stop earlier in the evening Saturday. And, Andrew tells me that he and Fat Jack will also join Dub Cowboy spinning at Friday night's Bling at the 535 Club.

"I'll be playing a lot of my own music, stuff I made," said Fat Jack in a call from South Central L.A. "And I play danceable classic hip-hop, a lot of things people up there don't have, new things and old. Being a DJ is all about bringing things other people don't have. DJs are always looking over my shoulder saying, `Where'd you get that?' Well, I got it when it came out new back in the day," he concludes with a laugh.

Speaking of instore performances, the Metro continues its Friday night series on Jan. 14, with a blast of folk grunge by Tamaras backed by drummer Laura Herbert. Some of you might remember when Laura was the drummer for a trio fronted by New Zealand native Nadia Snow , who, BTW, is next in line for a Metro instore.

While downstairs at the Eureka Veteran's Hall has become an integral part of the underground scene of late, home of Bummerfest and indie rock/hip-hop shows, upstairs the building was the temporary home for a courtroom while the county courthouse was undergoing refurbishing. This weekend the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1872 reclaims the upstairs with what jazz singer Donna Landry describes as a "repatriation of the dancehall."

"We're providing a free swing dance for the community," said Landry, who is performing at the Vet's Hall Saturday, Jan. 15, with her band, The A Train. The vets ask that those who attend bring cash donations for Socks for Soldiers, a program organized to send socks to our troops in Iraq, where sand and the lack of laundry facilities are hard on footwear. "Socks are at a premium," said Landry. "They tend to wear out, so we're sending them boot socks."

The Honkers are back, and no, I'm not talking about geese. Jim Piehl, banjo player for the Hall Street Honkers, Humboldt's favorite Dixieland jazz musicians, called last week to tell me that the band has found new digs.

The Honkers got their start at Hap's, a little club on Hall Street near Redwood Acres in Eureka (thus the name). They moved to the Eagle House and to the Ritz for a while, then for the last 12 years had been playing Sundays in the motel bar at the Red Lion. "We had our 20th reunion back in October at the Red Lion," said Diehl, "then we were replaced -- by a big screen TV and a sports jersey -- they're a sports bar now. I'd have to say we kind of saw it coming. They were only paying us 75 bucks for the whole band to play three hours, and they were squawking about that."

After a short homeless period, the Honkers found a new hall: the Moose Lodge in Eureka. "Normally we'll be playing the first and third Sundays of every month from 4 until 7," Diehl explained, "but the first two months will be a bit different; because of the Super Bowl, we're playing Jan. 16th and 23rd," then skipping Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 6) and resuming the schedule Feb. 20. Noting that non-Moose members are welcome at the lodge, Diehl added, "No antlers are required."

Bob Doran


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