by Josef Woodard
L.A., CA BLUES: Like all major cities in America, Los Angeles is teeming with complexities and contradictions, a place of excesses, vanities — especially vanities — deprivation, fragility, and high hopes. It’s as ripe a haven and incubator for the blues as any city, and it houses more high-flying blues musicians than it gets credit for. Much of this unsung blues culture rises out of neighborhoods on inner-city turf, in South Central and areas where suburbanites and show-biz kids fear to tread.
For a hot sampler plate of ur-urban Los Angeles’s blues culture, head to Warren Hall on Saturday, July 29, for the next Santa Barbara Blues Society-sponsored show. L.A. Juke Joint Bluesfest ’06 is a sequel to the 2004 revue assembled by Zack Slovinsky (show biz moniker: Cadillac Zack). The guitarist and blues fan champions, and also records, the real deal heard in small clubs off the Westside radar, where valet parking is not provided, but plenty of good music is.
Most of the musicians on the Bluesfest roster will be making Santa Barbara debuts. Apparently, they hadn’t heard Ball and Sultan’s mantra, insisting that Santa Barbara is, in fact, “the home of the blues.” (Wannabe homeowners know that sad song.)
On Saturday, Joe Kincaid and the Soul Brothers will be the house band. Kincaid is soon coming out as a leader, after being a coveted sideman for Johnny Guitar Watson and others. Other veteran musicians on the bill have found acclaim when and where they could get it. Svelte soulman Reverend Sonny Green cut records in the ’70s on small West Coast labels, and is still going strong as a smartly dressed seventy-something. Another seasoned bluesman, Ray Brooks, sings up a storm and plays guitar with pointed tastefulness.
Southside Slim mixes up blues with rock and R&B, with a strong Isley Brothers influence, a good thing. Slim is presently working on a CD with his friend Terrence Howard, an Oscar nominee for his acting work in Hustle & Flow. From the gospel and female fronts (yes, blues is still largely a man’s man’s world), Joyce Lawson sings powerfully, for the Lord. She preaches and sings in her own church (à la Al Green) in South Central. Needless to say, this blues cavalcade will be a different L.A. story.
FRINGE PRODUCT: A slightly spooky, moving moment greets the listener who slips on the powerful new Johnny Cash album, American V: A Hundred Highways (Lost Highway) and checks out the very last song he wrote, “Like the 309.” “It should be a while before I see Doctor Death, so it would be nice if I could get my breath / I’m not the cryin’ nor the whinin’ kind, ’til I hear the whistle of the 309 … put me and my box on the 309.” The song fades gracefully on a soft, train-like shuffle, like the Man in Black himself from this mortal plane.
Right up to his death in 2003, the mighty man in black was working on this last collaboration with Rick Rubin, Cash’s muse in the last few years of his life. There’s a built-in poignancy to this final chapter of the nearly decade-long Cash-Rubin creative relationship. But this song set is probably the strongest of their discography, between the non-denominational Christian grit of songs like “Help Me” and “I Came to Believe” and the tough love of his cover versions of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” and Rod McKuen’s “Love’s Been Good to Me,” which sounds deeper than it ever did in the clutches of Cash’s low, wise purr of a voice.
Had he lived a few years longer, Cash would have seen his public profile ascend higher than it had in years, from a quite decent biopic on his life, Walk the Line (thanks largely to Joaquin Phoenix’s deep and cool performance) and also his first number-one record in decades. (Got e? email@example.com.)