The title of this article is a nod of the head to Jimi Hendrix whose presence was felt aboard the dam ship this past week. We saw Kenny Wayne Shepherd (KWS) paying tribute to Jimi by doing both the ubiquitous ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)’, and the longer, more jammier, ‘Voodoo Child’ on both stages. KWS showed why he has been touring with the country with the Hendrix Experience Tour and was allowed to play Jimi’s historic white strat on several occasions, and partnered with long time vocalist Noah Hunt, Kenny got his Jimi on regularly, even throwing in Jimi’s version of the Earl King classic ’Come On’.
What many may not have heard was Jimi sitting inside of Jellybean Johnsons’ lime green axe. While not blatantly playing Hendrix, JB was channeling Jimi’s tone, effects, and use of chords and triads to evoke a powerful link to Jimi and his sound not just his songs. I spoke with JB about some covers of the funkier songs by Jimi – like from the emergence of the ‘Band of Gypsy’s’ time frame on, or going back to Jimi’s chitlin’ circuit work with Little Richard et al. or even King Curtis. Hendrix was always a strong influence on Jellybean going back to his work with Morris Day & The Time, and his association with Prince, I would love to see JB break out some Jimi in the future.
That’s one form of Soul that powered the MS (Mostly Senior as the initials have been hinted to mean), Eurodam. Another was the Soul that the performers brought to the various stages and venues aboard the ship through out the cruise. We saw Matt Andersen, IBC winner and Maple Blues multi award winner, display his deep powerful soul-filled voice inside the smaller venues. Intimate as they were they became more so when Matt sang in a voice that came from Joe Cocker at times, and softened into begging plaintive wails as he accompanied himself on his guitar. He was just one of the new kids that rocked the boat with their voices and performances. His songs were torn from his heart and experiences and resonated with just about everyone on the boat.
Soul of a different kind was put on display by Big James and the Chicago Playboys. That Funky Ol’ Soul from Chicago. Laced with a horn section that are second to none and some nasty ass bass by Larry Williams the boys from Chi-Town just made it perfectly clear that they were gonna be the funk leaders and just put the groove into the swaying ship which seemed to rock on the 2 and 4 ! Led by Big James on the trombone and lead vocals, he was supported by some sterling players such as Charles Pryor on trumpet, and Michael Wheeler on sweet funky guitar work. Charles was all over the boat, jamming at the piano bar and late night Pro jams.
A young lady was added the cruise line up later than most – Ms. Gina Sicilia – because of the untimely and sad passing of Robin Rogers. Ms. Rogers was scheduled to play alongside Ms. Debbie Davies, but Ms. Sicilia stepped in along with her mate, Dave Gross and filled us all with joy and amazement at her vocal abilities. Robin and Debbie had been playing together the past few years and Debbie and band dedicated their sets to Robins’ memory and covered some of her songs. Robin’s spirit was flying high over the beach at Half Moon Cay the final day of the cruise, as Gina sang and Debbie played and paid tribute to her we could all feel her fly over and smile down upon us.
Often referred to as the reigning Queen of the Blues, Ms. Janiva Magness provided us with another glimpse at Ms. Rogers’ music. Ms. Magness has been nominated for a Blues Music Award in the same category as the late Ms. Rogers (Contemporary Blues Female Artist) and advised us to vote for Robin, since she will never be nominated again. Ms. Magness stopped her show and spoke to all of the cruisers, who paid rapt attention to her and then she broke into Ms. Rogers composition ‘The Plan’. This was repeated at every set (4 of 4) and just shows the love and compassion abounding inside the community when one of their own goes down.
But Ms. Magness exhibited another kind of Soul Power on the ship. One that recalled the tight bands of Stax, Motown and other Soul bands of the past. Her band consisting of Jim Alfredson on B3/keys, Gary ‘Scruff’ Davenport on Bass, Matt Tecu on drums, and Zach Zunis on guitar were tighter than a snare drum’s head. Each note, pause, fill was right THERE ! With Mr. Zunis laying out some serious chops and fills – the likes of which one usually only hears from studio over dubs – and harmonies from Gary and Jim this band showed me why they are one of the tops in the field. The stage play was exceptional, as the boat rocked to and fro, Janiva and Zach would support each other with a back or shoulder, and the sensual interplay between them was dripping like honey from a honey pot. Goodness gracious. Ah, I should mention that at the KWS jam on the last night Ms. Magness hit the stage like a Class V hurricane and shivered the timbers of Mr. Shepherd, Mr. Hunt, and even the usually calm and collected, Mr. Bob Margolin, as she requested ‘Good Morning Little Schoolboy’ for the jam !
The Soul of New Orleans was evident with three outstanding artists from the area. Mr. John Mooney, Mr. Jon Cleary and Mr. Terrence Simien . Mr. Mooney is originally from Rochester, NY – quite far from the Delta. But he was fortunate enough to befriend and learn at the side of the late great Son House. Mr. House resided in Rochester for many years until he moved to Detroit. Mr. Mooney is keeping the sound of Mr. House and the primitive style of Blues music alive as he played excellent guitar and accompanied with vocals and foot stomps. Doing a solo first part of the set, Mr. Mooney was later joined by Mr. Cleary’s band mates on upright bass and drums to provide us with another view of the music of the rural South and New Orleans.
Mr. Jon Cleary utilizes the piano, drums and bass to embody the soul and varying flavors of New Orleans music. Whether it be funk, classic R&B, Soul sounds or tropical he weaves his audience a patchwork of sounds that cross over the artificial lines known as styles or genres. His fingers work such magic as to leave us leaning forward in our seats or dancing in the aisles.
Dubbed the happiest man on the boat, Terrance Simien is a Zydeco master. His band (The Zydeco Experience) and music provides an upbeat look at life, incorporating the familiar music of past Zydeco artists, and songs, with Reggae, Bob Dylan and other popular artists. It is always party time when Terrance hits the stage and his crew are adept at keeping everyone dancing and singing along. One amazing number of his was the cover of ‘Positively 4th Street’, yeh, the Dylan song. Soul of New Orleans being represented on the boat in force.
Speaking of Soul – Ms. Denise LaSalle and her band Black Ice gave the faithful enough of that old time soul music and entertainment right down to some of the best ‘nasty songs’ she ever did. Her first night on the pool deck was so windy it was difficult for her (and band) to hold the stage, but when they came inside – LOOK OUT ! This was not a PG show for sure. Ms. LaSalle treated us to full-throttle soul R&B music that was the perfect remedy for the ever present ‘boat-throat’. Carefully explaining to the wimmen to ‘Drop That Zero’, and offering an incendiary version of “Smokin’ in Bed’ , but recalling how one of her good girl friends cheated with her man in the confrontational tale entitled ‘It’s Goin’ Down’ with it’s refrain of “ … you got an ass kickin’ comin’, so you better come on out that door’ ! Her finale of “Don’t Mess With My Tu Tu’ she kindly explains to the audience what exactly is her ‘tu-tu’, I won’t go there, so you need to check her out when she is in town and be ready to dance yer booty off.
As a standard feature on the Bluescruise, the Gospel Brunch was hosted by the Holmes Brothers – one of the finest group of musicians anywhere. Featuring Popsy Dixon on vocals and drums, Wendell Holmes on guitar & vocals, Sherman Holmes on Bass, this time they were accompanied by Ms. Denise LaSalle, and Ms. Janiva Magness as they brought the spiritual Soul of the Church onto the boat. Appearing with Ms. Joan Osborne in their other scheduled performances the Holmes Brothers provided that same Soul of the church sound expanded to include other aspects of life and survival. Just to show the complete versatility of these artists, Popsy Dixon was out jamming with Mr. Simien on the Frottoir, as seen in the photo.
One might not associate the names Phil Wiggins and Corey Harris with Soul, but that would be so wrong. These two acoustic artists provided us a soul stirring glimpse of how it used to be before the electric guitar and amplifiers for harps created a process of sounds that bear little resemblance to the instruments themselves. Jokingly they say if the power goes out they can still play, and it’s true. But these two virtuoso’s provided enough energy and raw power to push the boat to Antigua and beyond. Mr. Wiggins might very well be the best harp player out there, I am not a harp player, but have heard many of the good/great ones, and the stuff the he does with that piece of wood and metal is way beyond what I have heard others do. While he is busy bending notes and performing intricate hand cuppings to achieve THAT sound, his partner Mr. Harris plays some fine, fine guitar and sings deep blues. These performances were the joining of modern 21st century life with pre-modern, acoustic Blues and I do believe one could hear frogs croaking and crickets chirping in the background.
Inner city Soul was on display as Dion Dimucci entertained us with an acoustic guitar set, and his fine undoubtedly soulfull voice. Dion, yes that Dion, from the Bronx, brought the NYC street soul to the boat and was adored by all who came into contact with him. He also featured his film on the day the music died entitled ‘The Winter Dance Party’ The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame History DVD.
If the voice is the first instrument then we were treated to just how soulful and powerful an instrument it could be. The Music Maker Foundation brought aboard ‘The Sisters of the South’ featuring three female vocalists each different and each stunning in their style and virtuosity. First up, and most impressive, was Pura Fe. When the spotlight alighted upon her as she sat on a stool she explained she was going to sing into a looping recorder and then sing over it – all live – and hoped we enjoyed it. OMG, her voice hushed the crowd and brought tears to my, and many others eyes as she sang accapella with herself on several numbers. I do believe she was the surprise of the boat. After Ms. Fe humbly left the stage, we were treated to Sweet Betty, vocalist from the Atlanta area. With a voice roughly carved from experience and living life, Ms. Betty treated us to a deep gritty vocal experience that was such a contrast to Ms. Fe, but equally enjoyable. The final lady singing the Blues was, Pat ‘Mother Blues’ Cohen. With a blue dress, boa and wig hat on her head (not to mention those eyelashes), Ms. Blues came out and rocked the crowd with a vocal attack exhorting us to get up and dance and hear what it was like to be in a Juke Joint deep in the South.
So while my initial title explanation was a reference to the late Mr. Hendrix it became all too obvious to me that the Power of Soul in all it’s permutations was evident on the ship. It buoyed us high above the sometimes windy seas and brought us to safe harbor on the islands and back home to the United States. Believe me, just because I did not mention some of the other artists does not exempt them from being qualified or included in this story, they – one and all – contributed to this cruise and provided us with the many hues of Soul that it turned out to be.
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Until Next Time
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
photos courtesy of Leslie K. Joseph