Mention Bay Area music history to most Americans and their minds turn instinctively to the rock of the 1960s and ‘70s; they will reel off such names as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, CCR, Janis Joplin, Bill Graham. If they are jazz fans, the focus will be on Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi and such seminal venues as the Blackhawk and Keystone Korner.
The history of the region’s blues scene is lesser known, which is why the Bay Area Blues Society’s Caravan of Allstars bills itself as “a powerhouse revue … organized to showcase some of the heroes of Oakland, a.k.a. West Coast, blues.”
Sporting influences ranging from James Brown and T-Bone Walker to Otis Redding and Albert and B.B. King, the ensemble features Ronnie Stewart (lead guitar), Dalhart Johnson (bass), David Stix Boyette (drums), Carl Green (alto/tenor saxophone), Geechi Taylor (trumpet), James Nelson (baritone saxophone), Rich Forman (keyboards), Funky Rob Gordon (keyboards), Wylie Trass (vocalist), Teddy "Blues Master" Watson (vocalist), Terrible Tom Bowden (vocalist) and Tommy Nunnelly (vocalist). The Allstars perform Friday night at Silo’s in Napa.
Blues has an esteemed and storied past, one steeped in the African-American experience. In an interview a few years back, Stewart noted to me that the Allstars bring that cultural background to every performance, a significant asset in an era in which whites comprise the majority of blues fans and (in California anyway) musicians.
“Blacks feel some sort of birthright to blues,” Stewart said. “All those white guys playing are all kids see. You’re in need to really give the kids and the youth the opportunity to hear
what is traditional rhythm and blues, and blues. We can add a little bit more historical
The Allstars include players “who maybe don’t have as much of the name recognition … but they are keeping on in the original tradition. We’re feeding the blues fans what they like and were also giving them something new.”
As for periodic media reports of a blues revival, Stewart noted that blues remains a constant. It is the media’s interest that occasionally resurfaces.
“You get resurgences but these resurgences are only from the capitalistic point of view,” he said. “The media – the electronic media and the print media – doesn’t jump on (blues) until it’s in some sort of big ad campaign. Blues has never left the black community.
“Blues is front-porch music,” Stewart added. “The creation of blues is storytelling in song. These resurgences are just fire in a pan that has brewing all along.”
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