…and So, we return from yet another fantastic Blues Cruise!! I am filled with gratitude for once again being invited by Tommy Castro to join him in his Blues Review! Tommy brought horns aboard again for this review and we had Nancy Wright, one of the few bad ass female horn players on the scene today, so this was special for me! Nancy and I had not played together since we both toured in the opening band; Finger’s Taylor’s “Lady Fingers Blues Band,” on Jimmy Buffett’s Outpost Tour. I think this was 1992. Anyway, she has always kicked ass!
So we got to celebrate Halloween on the big boat! My favorite holiday! Of course I had to participate! I dressed up as the jester…or the fool…whatever you prefer! I was a bit concerned that the rest of Tommy’s band would not participate, but in fact they did! Thanks Tommy, and of course Mo, who brought the costumes! Ya know, sometimes I think it is easy to take Tommy Castro for granted as he is always on the cruises, and with his ready smile, easy demeanor and grace, it may not strike everyone just how great an artist he is! With every different collaboration of musicians he puts together for his reviews, it becomes more and more evident how absolutely versed he is in all styles of blues guitar. This is of course besides the fact that he is a monster shredder! Tommy has one of the best, grittiest, and most soulful voices in the blues today. He is a master song writer and superb band leader. Just gotta put this out there for anyone who is not totally hip!
The first night of the cruise I made my way to John Hammond’s first show for my deep soul fix! John is such an amazing blues icon, deservedly so, with his unique ability to combine singing, guitar playing and harp playing all at once! Sometimes he is soloing on both instruments simultaneously which always blows my mind. He is such an American musical treasure, and I love him and his wife, Marla, deeply! The perfect way to start a blues cruise!
My first gig was bright and early the next morning joining all of the women musicians on board for what has become a Blues Cruise tradition…playing for the returnee party. We do allow one male on stage, drummer Tony Braunagel, as the hen house always needs a rooster! The extremely gifted Danielle Nichole did the bass duties, Nancy Wright and young upstart Vanessa Collier were the horn section, Eden Brent on piano, and blues-rock guitar star Ana Popovic and I on guitars. We had a very special appearance by Diunna Greenleaf on vocals pushing the soul factor up several notches! We each chose a tune that was empowering women, and we all exchange ideas before getting on the boat so that our show kicks ass!
Speaking of empowering women, our their, The Summit, had a female captain…Captain Kate! As a special treat, Roger arranged for we gals to have a special viewing with Captain Kate on the Bridge of the ship! This has been a dream of mine for quite sometime but since 9/11, no one has been allowed on the bridge for extra security reasons! So what an honor! Captain Kate explained everything she could to us about ship navigation and of course everything now is all computerized…all of the maps, all navigation, everything is all in the computers…and of course they have back ups, and back ups, for the computers and back up generators, and yet the question remained in my mind, and in other’s minds also…what if for some reason all of these systems failed? I got the opportunity to pose this question to Ms Kate, and at that, she went into a cupboard and pulled out a very worn wooden box, opened it and pulled out the most beautiful of instruments, an old sextant! Yes, they are still trained to read the stars with this complex beauty even in this modern era! All I can say is, good to know!!
Oddly, the flight I had taken from LA to Miami had been captained by a woman also, so it seems we had quite a theme going on!
This cruise had so many incredible artists on it that it was virtually impossible to catch every show that one wanted to catch, but I did pretty well! We all made the big effort, of course!! From the big stars like Buddy Guy and Keb Mo to the young new bloods like Quinn Sullivan, it was thrilling!
I personally enjoyed getting to hear and jam with some of my East Coast buddies like Roomful of Blues, Tinsley Ellis, and Mark Wenner! I don’t know if ya’ll are hip to what an amazing guitar player Chris Vachon from Roomful is, as he does not go out of his way to try and position himself as a guitar star, but believe me, he is one of the toughest, most complete players you will ever hear! From burning guitar instrumentals to all of the swinging’ jazz stuff and subtle inside ways to back up a singer and horn section, this cat has it all! What a killer band and a nicer bunch of guys cannot be found!
Tinsley and I are distant cousins, don’t ya know, both being of Welsh decent! He’s got a lot of Davies in his family tree, and proudly, the Welsh are know for their deep musical traditions! Mark Wenner and I both joined Tinsley and his band on a Jimmy Reed number and had a ball! Tinsley’s guitar playing is always above and beyond amazing! We first met when his band opened for The Icebreakers in NYC at Tramps in 1988. Albert brought him up on stage and standing between the two of them will always be one of my strongest memories in the the “most amazing moments” category! He is truly a guitar wizard!
Of course there is never a shortage of guitar prowess on the boat, so sometimes it is the vocalists and horn players that really cleanse my musical pallet! Playing with Tommy’s review was another perfect blend on Tommy’s part! We had the bad ass traditional harp playing of Mark Wenner and the truly amazing vocals and soul of Sugar Ray Rayford! What a great mix! I had not met Sugar before, though I’ve been well aware of his vocals, and presence on the scene, for a while! What an awesome cat! I so enjoyed getting to know him and his wife a bit and having some most interesting conversations with them.
Speaking of singers, I just can’t say enough about Danielle Nichole! Her talent is so huge and natural…she is truly a gift to the blues world and the music world at large! She’s so great and beautiful that she hardly needs to play bass…but damn if she’s not a fantastic, rock solid bass player too! Here’s to years of continued success, Danielle…may your star continue to rise! She and her talented brothers brought the house down in the big theater and joining them on stage was their partner in crime, and a favorite of mine, Albert Castiglia! Albert and I met when he was out with Jr. Wells, so there is a certain bond, ya know? He knows that special world we were both honored to be a part of in a way only a few others do! I think I would have to give Albert the award for most “jammingest” artist…although I don’t know who actual picked up that title! He is an animal and was on stage with everybody! Thanks Albert for being such a great guy, great player, for inviting me to play on your last record, and for always making me laugh!
Speaking of guitar players, Nick Moss and Michale Leadbetter were guests on the boat, so they were on stage with everyone too. One night they booked an impromptu jam up in the top performance bar and had Kennan Shaw on bass. Kennan and Julie were on board not as players particularly but as honeymooners! So I was thrilled to get to play with Kennan at this jam…and of course Mark Wenner and Nancy Wright showed up too! did I mention the Micheal Leadbetter is one of the most exciting young singers out there today? To him him is believing!
Love the Neal family and my dear old friend Kenny Neal! It was so heartwarming to hang and laugh together with a couple of his kids and wife Josie! Unfortunately, just as I was about to head up on stage and join them for their jam, the sky opened up and it poured buckets out on the pool stage! This can happen, and did more than once on the cruise! We musicians take it in stride but what a panic it is for the sound crew trying to protect and cover all of their gear! Love to Dawn and the boys for the hard work they do behind the scenes that not everyone knows about!!
I didn’t do a lot of island hopping as I’m so focused on the music and honestly, I so love getting in the swimming pools, that sometimes the best pool times are when most folks are off the ship! Ha ha!! This cruise we were further south than I had been before, so it was really hot and humid, too. Another reason to feel the pull of the pools! But I did get off for some island frolicking on St. George’s Grenada. No special reason for this island except I was in the mood. I hopped a little train that takes you around to see the major sites, and then decided after passing the old Fort, that I would return to this after the train ride! It was a bit of a hike up to the fort, and in 90 degree heat with about that much humidity, it did kind of kick my ass! But for some reason I love exploring all of the really old stuff, and forts and castles are always a must see for me!
I was really happy to experience Quinn Sullivan’s show to find him a very natural player and singer. Ya never know, right? He was singing with such a natural voice, not trying to emulate anyone else…this was very refreshing! A natural young talent, and yea, he is most def a major guitar slinger! Killer tone, too! So watching Tom Hambridge steer that band on his drum kit, I made a point to catch Tom’s own band, the Rattlesnakes. Very cool stuff. Don’t ya hate these guys that can do everything? He’s a great singer and song writer up front, too! Damn!
Probably the biggest and most consistent star on the boat is Taj Mahal! I love the man and his work so much, and am never disappointed by him and the Phantom Blues Band!! Speaking of uber talented musical veterans…with Tony Braunagel on drums, a man who has backed up just about everybody you can think of and is now a heavy producer along with Texas guitarist Johnny Lee Schell…joined by veteran horn cats Joe Sublett and Darell Leonard, and one of the deepest cats you’ll find on bass, Larry Fulcher! Missing in action was Mike Finnigan, who is out on tour with Bonnie Raitt! What a thrill to have such high caliber cats on board!
I’ve been a big fan of Los Lobos since their release of WILL THE WOLF SURVIVE, and couldn’t believe they were on the boat too! The musical variety was about as diverse as it has ever been on this cruise, with blues roots deeply embedded in each act. One thing I found out is how much David Hidalgo loves to jam! He joined me on a my slow blues during one of our review sets, and every time I was poised to hit a jam, he was there too! What a cool cat! I was grateful to get to hang with him and get to know him a bit. Another cruise gem.
There are a few fellow female artists that I refer to as “Super Women!” Ana Popovic being one. This woman has continued the legacy of busting through glass ceilings that formerly held woman down, as not only is she a guitar player with tons of chops, she tours full time, and is raising a family! But what is most exciting for gals with guitars is the fact that she is included on the Jimi Hendrix tours! This is big!
It was very special having the legends on board, including Johnny Rawls, Super Chicken and Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials. Lil’ Ed has had the same band since he first began his career and they are all old blues buddies of mine! In 1988 we did a package tour with them in Japan. It was my first year with Albert Collins and Ed and his band and I were the “kids”. We hung out a lot and a couple of times Ed and I swapped out jackets as we were the same size back then! How cool is it that they are all still together and are now in the legend category!
Southern Hospitality continues to grow as a unit and sounded amazing! They take the whole jam experience to another level with their triple threat of talent! I consider them my little bros and just love ‘em to death! Speaking of little bros, Selwyn Birchwood is also precious to me! What a career he has ahead of him! Go little bros!!
Though I had already seen the Johnny Winter documentary, DOWN AND DIRTY, several times, I had to take it in another two times on the cruise! Thanks to Paul Nelson for presenting this superb work to Blues Cruise family! If ya haven’t seen it folks, this is one of the better music video documentaries out there!
So, to all the artists who made the piano bar groove into the wee hours, to all of the cruisers who brought the love, and especially to Roger Nabor and the LRBC staff, a big THANK YOU!