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Warm up your winter with two months of smokin' blues

Roy Gaines
Roy Gaines Roy Gaines

I’ve got the deep winter blues.
I know, I know – I have nothing to complain about, particularly not this week. Here I am basking in the California winter warmth and hazy sunshine while friends in the Midwest and on the East Coast suffer from the polar vortex. I mean, during a standard winter I wonder how my friend Tony in Austin, Minn., makes it through to spring. Current conditions there make that usual deep freeze look like a day at the beach.
That said, January is a perpetual bummer for me, the least pleasant month of the year. The buzz of the holidays has passed and it’s back to work, back to grinding out those too-short, coat-scarf days. From the perspective of the year’s first full week, Groundhog Day – to say nothing of the spring equinox – feels far, far away.
The solution – and I embrace the irony – is cold beer and hot blues.
And fortunately both can be found in abundance over the coming weeks. That’s a tad unusual, as late summer-early fall tends to be Northern California’s best blues season but here we are nonetheless. Let’s rundown this month and next’s blues highlights.
Blues Harmonica Blowout: Bay Area harp mainstay Mark Hummel has long presented this annual winter showcase but the 2014 edition promises to be truly something special. He has assembled to honor Sonny Boy Williamson II a stellar lineup including John Mayall (harmonica, keyboards, vocals), Little Charlie Baty (guitar, harmonica), Rick Estrin (harmonica, vocals), Curtis Salgado (harmonica, vocals), Bob Welsh (guitar, piano), RW Grigsby (bass) and June Core drums. Thursday through Sunday, SFJAZZ.
Robben Ford: The veteran blues guitarist is on the road these days in support of his latest release, “Bringing It Back Home.” Friday, Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz; January 14-15, Yoshi’s, Oakland.
Kim Simmonds: It’s always a pleasure to welcome the Savoy Brown frontman back to Northern California. January 18, Moe’s Alley, Santa Cruz; January 21, Yoshi’s, Oakland.
Roy Rogers and Delta Rhythm Kings: Slide on over for an evening of scintillating guitar work as Rogers and his band are joined by special guest Carlos Reyes. January 18, Mystic Theatre, Petaluma; February 16, Yoshi's, Oakland.
Roy Gaines: This blues veteran (above) is not among the genre’s best known guitarists but he has longevity on his side as one of the last surviving “first-wave Texas axe-pickers” influenced by giants like Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and T-Bone Walker. January 25, Biscuits and Blues, San Francisco.
B.B. King: The King of the Blues certainly needs no introduction here. Age has slowed King but that doesn’t keep fans from turning out to catch this blues legend live. February 22, Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz; February 23, Uptown Theatre, Napa; February 25, Gallo Center, Modesto; February 26, Marin Veterans' Memorial Auditorium, San Rafael.
True Blues: This bill chronicles the living culture of the blues in an evening of music and conversation hosted by Corey Harris and featuring Guy Davis and Alvin Youngblood Hart. February 12, Mondavi Center, Davis; February 14, Humboldt State, Arcata.
Kirk Fletcher: This Southern California talent is among blues’ best up-and-coming players and boasts a resume that includes four years with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. February 23, Biscuits and Blues, San Francisco.

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