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July 7, 2005

The Hum

Summertime blues


Maybe you've caught some of the great blues musicians who have passed through our parts in the past few weeks. Like Doug MacLeod, who played at Rumours in Eureka recently, with our own Shinbone opening. Or Keb' Mo', who tore it up at the SaPhoto of Chris Thomas Kingpphire Palace in Blue Lake last month (even dragging singer Earl Thomas out of the audience to front the band a couple of times).

In fact, the casino's new venue also hosted a free show with rockin' roadwarrior Tab Benoit and a fantastic night of harmonica-driven blues featuring the legendary Charlie Musselwhite, looking slick and sounding wicked at age 61. And in August, it's the 5th Annual Buddy Brown Blues Festival at Perigot Park in sunny Blue Lake (they've got a killer line-up this year).

But the main event is happening this weekend, down on the Eureka waterfront. It's Blues By The Bay, number 9. More so than ever, the emphasis is almost strictly on the blues. Longtime BBTB booker Deborah Lazio has handed over the scheduling of this popular event to People's Productions, th&nbspfolks responsible for events at the Mateel Community Center and Reggae on the River. They've come up with a solid array of talent that should satisfy most blues lovers' palates.

The music kicks off Saturday morning with Bluethorn, and then a pair of bands from the Bay Area -- the J.C Smith Band, followed by a set of swingin' boogie-woogie and hot jump blues from pianist Mitch Woods & His Rocket 88's. The afternoon slot will be filled by the Paul deLay Band, coming down from Portland. Graced with a soulful voice, a batch of cool original tunes and an unmatched virtuosity on the harp, deLay's set should not be missed. Besides, you don't want to lose your spot for the supremely spiritual and downright funky Holmes Brothers. This trio will set you back on your tailbone, as anyone who caught them at Café Tomo a few years ago will testify.

Speaking of testifyin', headlining Saturday night is the inspirational Mavis Staples. Mavis started singing blues and gospel in 1950 at the age of 10, with her storied family, the Staple Singers, and she ain't about to stop now. Mavis is surely a national -- no, make that an international -- treasure, so get on down to Halverson Park and check her out.

Sunday's list of performers is equally impressive. Kicking things off right after church are local homeboys Mojo Daddy, led by the one, the only, Doug Vanderpool. These guys played a smokin' set opening for Musselwhite, and more than held their own. Hit the lawn early and make sure they aren't lonely, okay? Tattoed loveman Ron Hacker and his band the Hacksaws play classic blues, and Ron knows a thing or two about slide guitar. Stand back! Next, self-described white trash girl (also the name of her new CD) and sexual libertine Candye Kane will shout, scream, wail and moan, all in service of the blues. Apparently she's quite flamboyant, so don't expect anything tame from this gal. The middle of the day is ruled by women, as fiery guitarist Deborah Coleman takes over after Candye's set.

Then, it's time for some good-time, rollicking down-home blues with Mr. Elvin Bishop. Originally from Tulsa, Okla., Elvin ended up in San Francisco near the end of the '60s, after making his name alongside fellow guitarist Mike Bloomfield in the fabled Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I grew up south of SF and was lucky to see the amazing Elvin Bishop Group many, many times, and feel richer for the experience. I hear he's still got it, so don't let the man pass you by.

Closing out the fest is one of a younger breed of artists, Chris Thomas King [Photo Above]. He draws from a wide range of influences besides the blues, including gritty Memphis soul, N'awlin's R & B and hip-hop, which get stirred in with more traditional electric and acoustic folk blues.

Still, despite the work on his many fine records, he rose to greater prominence when he appeared in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?. His version of Skip James' "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" on the multi-platinum and Grammy-winning soundtrack album was one of its highlights.

And his performance Sunday will no doubt be one of the weekend's highlights as well.

Back over the hill in Blue Lake, the clowns out at Dell'Arte are continuing their Mad River Festival with a little music of their own. Director Michael Fields had the idea of having some "bands out back" (on the amphitheatre stage), and so enlisted the services of the band from down the street, the highly distilled Rubberneckers. Joining them to enliven the denizens of Blue Lake on Friday night will be the Delta Nationals, clean, well dressed and guaranteed to get you on your feet and dancing. The 'Nats and the 'Neckers will clear the stage to make room Saturday for an extra-special, one-time-only reunion of the Joyce Hough Band. Fields approached Hough about getting back together (they played their final show last year at the Carlo Theatre), and she said yes.

"We all just love Dell'Arte, so it seemed like a good idea." The band and company have joined forces frequently in the past, so it's a natural fit. "They always try to do something musical in the festival, so there is a tradition," says Joyce. "We wanted to do two nights, but it's difficult to get everyone together, with all their other commitments." She's a bit sad that she'll be missing Mavis and the Holmes Brothers that night, but "it's great to play together again. The spirit of the band is so good." Expect some new songs and some surprises (think of accordion, imagine a violin). Sounds like a night to remember. Call Dell'Arte about tickets.

Oh, and Joyce wants everyone to know that she is not retired! From music, or anything else, for that matter. In fact, when I spoke to her, she was trying to keep baby swallows from the jaws and claws of critters around her home. See, there is real life beyond the spotlight.

Another woman who discovered that is Donna Jean Godchaux-Mackay. Starting her career as a session vocalist at the fabled Muscle Shoals Studios, she sang on numerous hit records for the likes of Percy Sledge, Neil Diamond, Ben E. King and Elvis Presley. She later moved to San Francisco and married a piano player named Keith Godchaux. In 1971, Keith became a member of the Grateful Dead, and eventually Donna would also join them as a singer. The couple left the band in 1979, ravaged by the Dead's rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Keith died in an accident a year later, and Donna moved back to the south to lead a quieter life. The rest is history. Or so she thought.

Back on the road with the Heart of Gold Band -- which includes her son with Keith, Zion, her husband David and her brother Brian -- Donna Jean continues to make music that's "about a greater sense of community. We are all playing in the band together." Donna and the HGB roll into Six Rivers in McKinleyville on Saturday, July 9, to prove that the music never stops.


* Gus Mozart hosts "The Music Box" Mondays at 10 p.m. on KHSU 90.5 FM. (Bob Doran is on vacation.)


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