One from the Archives… Jason Ricci – Biscuits and Blues, San Francisco 5th Dec 2007

Prelude

Jason RicciDeeply disturbed by my chance encounter with Barry Manilow outside Tiffany’s this afternoon, I was in serious need of rehabilitation. Mercifully the Copacabana was closed for staff training, so Biscuits and Blues it was to be my place of convalescence and, to my good fortune, harmonica wizard Jason Ricci would be there, weaving his harp hoodoo  and performance mayhem.

To be brutally honest, I had actually never heard of Jason before, but he came highly recommended by Dave Barrett (Harmonica Master Class) and I intended to atone for my ignorance. Dave couldn’t make the gig, but Aki Kumar, one of his protoges, was at the bar nursing a beer. We made our acquaintances and Aki initiated my path to harmonica nirvana. Jason, he informed me, was originally from Maine, but currently works out of Nashville. His influences include Pat Ramsey and Johnny Winter, while his style includes fast flowing third position patterns, overblows and licks drawn from jazz, rock, samba and swing.

Jason took the stage playing through what looked like a Shure SM57 or Unidyne mic, into a 4×10 tweed 59 Bassman. The sound he created was at times reminiscent of Johnny Mars in full flight. Avant garde in urban blues terms, it is not your classic Chicago crunch, but a synthesised variant. The tone is specific and unfamiliar at first, it’s ‘in your face’, but you soon acclimatise to its punk compressions and focus on the artist.

Musically, Jason is as challenging as his adopted harp sound. He has planted his flag on the ramparts of Fort Radical. His persona is gloriously complex and countercultural. His energy is arresting. His playing is simply astonishing. If I had to credit specific harmonica players and bands for redefining the blues’ boundaries, Blues Traveler, Alabama 3, Little Axe, Lee Sankey, Lee Oskar and Sugar Blue readily come to mind. Jason Ricci vaults them all.

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Kim Wilson, Little Lou’s BBQ, San Jose CA, 26.Jan 2014 – Part I

FlyerIt’s so sad to be lonesome

If they’re honest, anyone faced with the task of reviewing a Kim Wilson performance will tell you it’s as unnerving as the thought of jamming on stage with the titan himself. What can be written that’s not already chronicled? How do you avoid a fawning litany of superlatives? The answer is.. just tell it like it is. So we will. Hang on to your hats.

Listen to

On the first point you can relax. For this commentator at least, the prospect of joining Kim Wilson on stage remains a pipe dream. On the second however, we should begin with some reflections on last year’s Fabulous Thunderbirds performance in London. (more…)

Doublecrossed and Blue

Steve Baker 1I’m gonna pack my bag

A third annual day of Harpin’ By The Sea completed, and another bucket load of memories collected!

Listen to

This year we had the very great honour of welcoming Steve Baker to his UK homeland, fresh from his tour of India. During a full programme of harmonica workshops,  Steve offered his wisdom and expertise to a select group of advanced harmonica players, many of whom had travelled across the country to meet him. Meanwhile over forty newcomers attended the workshop for complete beginners with the Harp Surgery’s Good Doctor. (more…)

Dave Ferguson, La Vie, Cape Town, 30.Jan 2011

Check him out now, the funk soul brother

If a sour mash of Alabama 3, Johnny Cash, Son of Dave, hip-hop, dub and fried green tomatoes was used for a whole new ass-kicking brew, the label would read Dave Ferguson’s Lucky No.7 Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

In our interview with The Mountain Of Love, reference was made to a New Blues music pioneered by R.L. Burnside and Little Axe in the 1980′s and 90′s. Here sequencing, sampling, dub and heavy dance beats were bulldozing the conventions of the blues.

Yet amidst the radicalism, two unalienables remained. The pathos of the slide guitar and anguish of the blues harp. Dave Ferguson is the latest settler in this new blues Heimat and an important exponent of the latter. What he does, he does extremely well. He also tackles it single-handedly. We dropped into Cape Town to check out the Lonesome Whistle Blower of New Blues.

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Andy Santana, Gary Smith and Aki Kumar, Poor House Bistro, San Jose, Sat 22.Jan 2011

Slow down chariot, come down easy

Listen up people. The Good Doctor recently dropped into San Francisco for the winter sales, jumped the Caltrain to San Jose and bagged him a bargain. Three for the price of one, plus a surprise bonus.

What are we talking about? Only a one night stand with Andy Santana, Aki Kumar and the legendary Gary Smith, that’s what. Oh, and a Sunday morning helping of Dave Earl.

Now we don’t make this stuff up. As Andy Santana’s band took the stage, the San Jose Sharks fans were busy fuelling up for their scrap with the Minnesota Wild. It was t-shirt weather (in January for crying out loud) and the local brew was tasting just right. Time for a winter feast of west coast blues harmonica. (more…)

Tip of the Top – Sonoma Chicken Coop, Campbell CA, Sat 27.Sept 2009

Old School’s Cool

TOTT copyright 2009 David Durkee

During its first months on line, Harp Surgery posted a review of Jason Ricci’s show at Biscuits and Blues in San Francisco. The event was a double leap of faith. Firstly we’d never encountered Jason’s radical playing before and secondly we’d never published a live gig review. Since cutting our teeth on both counts, Mr Ricci has become a firm friend and Harp Surgery has accumulated a small library of gig write-ups.

Readers of the Jason Ricci review may recall we forged another important friendship that night in Frisco. Aki Kumar is an honours graduate of the great Dave Barrett’s Harmonica Masterclass. A skillful musician and a true gentleman, Aki’s in high demand on the SoCal blues circuit both as a guest performer and as front man for his own stellar lineup Tip Of The Top. The Harp Surgery caught up with Aki in San Jose and, bearing in mind recent debate concerning old versus new harping, the experience was somewhat poignant. (more…)

Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers – The Railhead, Las Vegas, Thursday 14th January 2010

You just wait till he does his walkabout and gets up on the table

Rod Piazza ©FrankVigil.comThe Good Doctor found himself back in Vegas for the post-Christmas lull. It was strange seeing folks in coats and jackets complaining about the cold in a City that is normally a kiln. But the white tops on the nearby mountains, the absence of crowds and an ill wind blowing through the valley spelt winter in Sin City.

The Doc was in need of something to warm the soul and what better than a Vegas helping of Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers? He jumped a cab and rode out from the Strip to the Boulder Station Hotel and waded across the Casino floor to the The Railhead. Standing in line, he was engaged in conversation by Carol, a regular winter migrant from Michigan. Oh I’ve seen Rod Piazza many times. This your first? she quizzed. The Doc nodded and smiled, showing full British reserve. Oh you just wait till he does his walkabout, gets up on the table and Honey starts playing that piano with her toes. The Doc’s grin broadened. Sounds more like the Cirque du Soleil he thought to himself. (more…)

London Harmonicas

Elwood blows some amateur harpLast Wednesday Elwood the Apprentice attended a year-end performance with London Harmonicas, the informal collective that meets every other Tuesday at The Torriano Pub (7.15pm for beginners, 8pm for intermediates). What he saw was a glorious vision for the socialist future of harmonica. What he heard was a little less glorious…

I’ve attended the London Harmonicas gatherings for the past two months and have really enjoyed it. There’s an excellent mix of players – a few who are navigating their first bends, a few who play real sweet and low, and most of us somewhere in between. There’s no official teacher and no elected leader, but a couple of the advanced players have stepped forward to lead us, Moses-like, to the promised land.

It’s egalitarian, it’s informal, and a fantastic place for any budding player like me to soak up some wisdom from a few seasoned players… and maybe even help a few fellow players out. A few weeks ago, for instance, I taught a guy how to bend his notes. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. (more…)

Monday Blues Jam – Sand Dollar Blues Lounge, Las Vegas 31st Aug 2009

Sand Dollar Blues LoungeAthletes in a cave

Having visited the lights of Las Vegas on a few occasions, the Good Doctor had resigned himself to two sad facts of life. Firstly, gambling never pays unless you’re standing behind the table. Secondly, the jewel of the Nevada desert is not an oasis of live blues. Other than a couple of power harp sessions with excellent rockers Evenflow, his quest for genuine live music of any kind here had been like searching for salt in a sand dune.

Until this occasion people, when the Good Doctor was reminded of a third fact of life. When you go chasing mirages, what you’re looking for is often right at your feet. The Sand Dollar Blues Lounge was there all the time. The Good Doctor’s blues radar just hadn’t picked it up. Mondays at the Sand Dollar is open mic blues jam night. It doesn’t start till 10pm (that’s 6am back home), which is a hard gig even for the locals. But Las Vegas never sleeps, so no excuses. (more…)

Joe Filisko – The Brunswick, Brighton & Hove, Fri 31st July 2009

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go

I am delighted to report that Joe arrived safely into the UK in advance of his residency at the University of Northampton Blues Week. He was hosted in Brighton & Hove by Stuart McKay of the UK’s National Harmonica League (NHL) and Roger Trowbridge, the NHL Chairman.

Hove actually

Stuart engineered a fabulous harmonica-centric evening in Brighton (well… Hove actually… near France), where Joe was welcomed by a groundswell of enthusiasts from near and very far. NHL Chairman Roger was in excellent form. As was Con O’Neill from the NHL’s London Harmonica Group – Con rode all the way to Hove from the M25 by bike and was looking amazingly fit as a result. It was also great to see Ben Hewlett from the NHL’s Bristol community – equally well done for driving all this way Ben. And blues hats off to another supporter who had driven down from Oxford. (more…)