Further on Down the Road

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

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
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
, sings up a storm and plays guitar with pointed

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
, 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
(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

Right up to his death in 2003, the mighty man in black was
working on this last collaboration with Rick
, 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? fringebeat@aol.com.)


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