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Ramblings on My Mind by Greg Johnson - CBA PresidentI’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t enjoy my recent trip to Memphis to assist with The Blues Foundation once again at the Blues Music Awards. I arrived Wednesday morning around 9:00 am and Deputy Director (and one of my closest friends) Joe Whitmer had me working as soon as I stepped foot through the office door. And it didn’t end until the awards show ended late Thursday night (or should I say Friday morning). But I loved every minute.

My main role at the Blues Music Awards the past three years has been working as a stage manager with Paul Averwater. Paul is one of the best in the MidSouth and always in demand. We spent all day Thursday doing line-checks with the performers and then returned less than an hour-and-a-half later to run the stage for the show for the next six-to-seven hours. It is my job to make sure that all the artists are ready to go on stage well in advance and have them in place so when one act ends, the other starts immediately. Kind of like the way the Waterfront Blues Festival runs the two main stages in the bowl, alternating back and forth. But this is one large stage divided into two parts, and I am running back and forth to opposite sides, changing acts every ten minutes. Always great sets delivered by the showcased acts. If I had to pick and choose my favorites this year I would have to top it off with Victor Wainwright’s extraordinary solo piano that brought the entire audience to a hush to listen closely. The Heritage Blues Orchestra was sensational, even more so when they had Eric Bibb sit in for a number. Joe Louis Walker has always been a favorite and having him trade guitar licks with Murali Coryell was superb. As was Mud Morganfield backed by one of the tightest Chicago all stars bands running. Curtis Salgado burned the house down with his soulful set. As did John Nemeth. And Royal Southern Brotherhood was the perfect act to close the night leaving the audience wanting more after a terrific cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” had them on their feet.

 Aside from the Blues Music Awards, I was fortunate to catch many fantastic artists that I do not get a chance to see too often like Greg Nagy, Gina Sicilia, Diunna Greenleaf, JW-Jones, EG Kight, Lisa Biales, Paula Harris, Dennis Gruenling, John Primer and more. Of course there are long-time friends I always try to catch up with like Jeff Jensen, Brandon Santini and Eric Hughes.

 But the best times are always those spent with close friends, not necessarily at a show. Being able to hang out with Henry Gavaldon . . . these are the people who make memories special. Big thanks to Joe, Sara, Jay Sielman, Priscilla Hernandez and Cindi James for making me feel as part of The Blues Foundation family. Cannot wait to head back again.

 But back to home, and the first matter of business is the Journey To Memphis competition. We have another strong line-up this year, so we hope to see you come out to the Trails End the first full weekend of June to help us select our next International Blues Challenge representatives and to raise some funds to help them get back to Tennessee. This is always one of the most fun events that the CBA holds, so hope to see many of you there. The summer just does not start right until the Journey To Memphis begins.

 Alas, as I did last month with the passing of my good friend, drummer Pete Muir, it is my unfortunate position to let you know that we lost another friend and musician right at the BluesNotes deadline arrived. Most people may remember Henry Gavaldon as the longtime bassist with Boogie Bone and those who knew him will forever remark what a kind, wonderful person he truly was. Henry passed following complications from surgery. Godspeed Henry. It surely is only the best who seem to be taken away from us way too soon. Sending my deepest condolences and best thoughts to Henry’s family and friends.

 

Eric Hughes Band CD coverDrink Up!
I-55 Productions

Chances are if you’ve ever spent any time on Beale Street looking for the blues, you’ve come across the Eric Hughes Band. Long time mainstays on Beale, you can usually find them in one of several venues throughout the week. His popularity amongst the performers has earned him perennial nominations as the Beale Street Entertainer of the Year. A master on guitar, harmonica and vocals, he is also a crafty wordsmith when it comes to songwriting.

Drink Up! is the fourth release from the Eric Hughes Band. It features a strong line-up of musicians alongside Eric: Leo Goff on bass, Walter Hughes on guitar and mandolin, Doug McMinn throwing down drums, percussion and congas, Chris Stephenson on keys, and Memphis legend Robert Nighthawk Tooms also on keys. The production staff is also of high note, with Brad Webb as engineer, co-producer and mixer, and Dawn Hopkins, perhaps the finest editor and mixing professional in the entire MidSouth if not the entire country.

What is truly enjoyable about Eric Hughes’ music is his ability to come at you from a multitude of directions. He opens up with the title track, “Drink Up!” done in a jumping rockabilly feel. Later on he takes a little funk flavor with tracks like “Frostina” and “Repo Man.” “That’s My Baby’s Mama,” with its pop song quality carries a memorable catch-phrase behind a Stax-like guitar groove that if you do not watch out, you’ll be singing in your head endlessly. The cover of “Going To Brownsville” opens with a very traditional Delta feel, played on a steel-bodied acoustic guitar, with the pace picking up midway through as the band joins in. And “The Ballad Of Weevil Point Willie” is a nice display of Hughes’ songwriting ability to pass on a story; this time with a little down-home setting enhanced by the mandolin work of Walter Hughes.

Eric Hughes runs fully in front of his band each and every time out. His harp work on “Blues Magician” captures the essence of his bluesy lyrics precisely, doubly enriched by tight guitar licks. And what songwriting: “I’m a blues man, I’m only happy when I’m down.” On “Frostina” he uses great imagery to describe the coldness of this woman: “combs her hair with an icicle,” “sleeps in a Fridgadaire” and “just too chilly to hold.” Now that’s cold! And visual. He tells us about the life of a bluesman , staying out all night, cigarettes and booze, now you’ve “Tested Positive For The Blues.” His doctor tells him he needs to get a little sunlight, but the only cure that there really is is to find a little loving. This song is Eric Hughes at his unique best!

Drink Up! is a terrific recording, falling quite rightfully in the Memphis mode. It is a blues album, but it has been crisscrossed by other forms of music, too. Much like Beale Street and the city itself. Eric Hughes has struck gold in his songwriting this time out and the musicianship of the band and himself are definitely reaching new heights as well. If you’re unfamiliar with Eric Hughes or the modern Memphis blues sound, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this one.

Total Time: 42:48

Drink Up! / that’s My Baby’s Mama / Blues Magician / Frostina / Tested Positive For The Blues / Mama Don’t Allow / Repo Man / Raining On Beale / Going To Brownsville / The Ballad Of Weevil Point Willie / My Baby Got A Black Cat