All-star lineup celebrates the blues, harmonica
It is an annual gathering dating back 1991—Mark Hummel assembles some of the finest blues musicians and, in a tribute to the mighty harmonica, takes them out on the road.
This year the Blues Harmonica Blowout comes to Three Stages on Jan. 21 and features Charlie Musselwhite, Curtis Salgado, Billy Boy Arnold and Sugar Ray Norcia, gathered for an electric night of blues on Stage One.
The show will be a tribute to Little Walter Jacobs. Born Marion Walter Jacobs (May 1, 1930 – Feb. 15, 1968), he was an American blues harmonica player whose revolutionary approach to his instrument has earned him comparisons to Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix for innovation and impact on succeeding generations. His virtuosity and musical innovations fundamentally altered many listeners’ expectations of what was possible on blues harmonica.
Little Walter was inducted to the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 making him the first and only artist ever to be inducted specifically for his work as a harmonica player; he is widely credited by blues historians as the artist primarily responsible for establishing the standard vocabulary for modern blues and blues rock harmonica players.
“The list of musicians who have participated in the Blues Harmonica Blowout is mind boggling: John Mayall, John Hammond, Norton Buffalo, James Cotton, Kim Wilson, Watermelon Slim, James Harman, Fingers Taylor, Snooky Pryor, Magic Dick, Rick Estrin, Little Sonny, Paul Osher, Lee Oskar, Cephas and Wiggins and so many more,” said Three Stages Executive Director Dave Pier. “Three Stages is in for a real treat.”
Charlie Musselwhite is one of the most recognized names in Blues harmonica. Born in 1944 , Musselwhite has traveled the long road from backwoods Mississippi to a teenaged upbringing in Memphis, where he first heard and learned the blues from its originators. On to the south side of Chicago, Charlie served his apprenticeship with Johnny Young and Big Walter Horton.
By the mid ’70s he and Paul Butterfield were the two trendsetting white blues blowers in the biz. In the mid-’90s Musselwhite signed with Alligator Records and had a string of successful recordings. Musselwhite has recently hit his stride with Real World (Peter Gabriel’s label) — his newest being “Delta Hardware,” a throwback to his early ’60s sound with a little funky Mississippi mud in the grooves. Musselwhite has received several Grammy nominations and won 19 W.C. Handy Awards. Not bad for a southern country boy from Kosciusko, Miss.
For more information visit charliemusselwhite.com.
Curtis Salgado first gained northwest fame in the mid ’70s as the main frontman/singer in the early Robert Cray Band. At the time, Salgado probably did as much or more singing then Cray, who preferred a more backseat role as bandleader. Salgado also played fiery harmonica in the band but when these two vocalists joined their voices in harmony, they truly soared. This was the main reason John Belushi started the Blues Brothers, while filming “Animal House” in Eugene, Ore. Belushi would come and listen, hang out and pick Curtis’ brain to get inspiration to start the Blues Brothers. (The first TV performance and LP are dedicated to Salgado).
After leaving Cray, Salgado hooked up for a short stint with Roomful of Blues, while Ronnie Earl and Ron Levy were members. When Carlos Santana called Salgado to be his vocalist Curt couldn’t say no but soon was ready to resume his own career.
Salgado has been a major star in the Northwest but is just beginning to make a national name. Thanks to several releases on Shanachie records, Salgado’s soulful pipes and powerful harp blowing are catching the public’s ear finally. Salgado also is making a major comeback from a liver transplant and cancer scare.
Sugar Ray Norcia started the popular East Coast blues band The Bluetones 30 years ago with guitarist Ronnie Earl. They backed Big Walter Horton, Big Joe Turner, Jimmie Rogers, Otis Rush, JB Hutto and countless others in the early ’80s all over the Northeast. They’ve recorded two albums for Rounder Records.
In 1991 Norcia hooked up with Roomful of Blues and toured the world with the 11 piece band, appearing on their Grammy-nominated Rounder release “Turn it on, Turn it up.” Norcia also recorded the Grammy nominated Telarc release “Super Harps” during his Roomful tenure with harmonica heavyweights Charlie Musselwhite, James Cotton and Billy Branch. In 2001 Norcia reunited The Bluetones with guitarist Kid Bangham and later Monster Mike Welsh. The Bluetones have recorded four CDs on Severn Records, their latest being “Swinging.”
Billy Boy Arnold is a contemporary of James Cotton and Jr. Wells, who started with Ellis McDaniels in Chicago in 1955, where they created the “Bo Diddley” sound at Chess Records. Arnold learned harp at the feet of the legendary John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson when Arnold was just 12 years old. He went on to record singles for VeeJay like “Wish You Would,” “Ain’t Got You” and “You Got Me Wrong” with an all-star band made up of Jody Williams, Otis Spann and Syl Johnson.
Arnold has just released his Electro Fi Records debut “Consolidated Mojo,” which was produced by Hummel with backing by the Blues Survivors. For more information visit electrofi.com.
Mark Hummel was born in New Haven, Conn., and raised in Los Angeles. Hummel absorbed the music of such Chicago based harp blowers as Little Walter, James Cotton, and Sonny Boy Williamson before settling in Berkeley in 1972.
In 1980 he took the helm to lead the popular Blues Survivors Band. Since 1991 Mark has been both producing and performing at his Blues Harmonica Blowout series. These shows have grown to be a much heralded event and continue to draw sellout crowds wherever they appear.
The list of participents is a Who’s Who of Blues harp history: John Mayall, John Hammond, Norton Buffalo, Charlie Musselwhite, James Cotton, Huey Lewis, Curtis Salgado, Kim Wilson, Watermelon Slim, Sugar Ray Norcia, Kenny Neal, James Harman, Fingers Taylor, Snooky Pryor, Dave Earl, Rod Piazza, Magic Dick, William Clarke, Rick Estrin, Paul DeLay, Billy Branch, Lazy Lester, Carey Bell, Little Sonny, Paul Osher, Lee Oskar, Cephas and Wiggins, Gary Primich, Paul Rischell and Annie Raines, Carlos Del Junco, Sam Myers and more.
The music at Three Stages begins at 8 p.m. on Jan. 21. Tickets are $19 to $29, with premium tickets available for $39; they are available online at threestages.net or from Three Stages Ticket Office at (916) 608-6888 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and two hours before show time. Three Stages is located on the west side of Folsom Lake College campus in Folsom, facing East Bidwell Street.