Of the many musical genres and subgenres springing back to (almost) post-pandemic life on the local live music scene, blues has been slow to reemerge. We did get a hardy, jammy dose of Hot Tuna’s special psychedelic blues at the Lobero recently, and the public airspace has been nicely blues-wafted by the rich homegrown blues scene, including the stalwart Morganfield Burnett and Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan up at Cold Spring Tavern on Sunday afternoons.
Still, the blues concert scene has been wanting, and that’s about to change. The Santa Barbara Blues Society rightly touts its status as the oldest continuous blues society in the nation and has made our town safe for blues of a high order for years. It’s been a quiet time in Society life, but the organization soon breaks out of its pandemic dormancy (pandormancy?) with a show at the Community Arts Workshop on Sunday afternoon, September 25. On the bill are the bands Paradise Kings, East Valley Road, and Rent Party Blues Band, with proceeds benefiting the families of two towering blues-linked musicians from Santa Barbara who recently passed — Byl Carruthers and Tom Murray.
This week’s pressing blues news comes in the form of a living legend, Tab Benoit, poised to shake the Lobero Theater rafters on September 2. Benoit brings along his distinctive, Louisiana-spiced and Delta blues language to his music as a whip-smart guitarist and solid singer, along with the acclaim embedded in an award collection, including two B.B. King Entertainer of the Year plaudits from the Blues Music Awards.
B-3 Master’s Voice Is Silenced
News of master organist Joey DeFrancesco’s passing last week at age 51 is a major blow to jazz organ culture, specifically, and the jazz and music world, generally. A soulful virtuoso and next-generation reviver of the Hammond B-3 organ flame, DeFrancesco was a monster musician blessed with technical prowess but also a deep and abiding musicality. He had powerful magnetism too, as I was reminded the last time I saw him, attracting a bulging swarm of admirers at June’s NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention at the Anaheim Convention Center.
A precocious phenom who played with Miles Davis when in high school and later formed a power trio with John McLaughlin and Elvin Jones (among myriad other projects), DeFrancesco charged forward but always respected his heroes, especially veteran Jimmy Smith, a fellow Philadelphian jazz organ powerhouse. I was assigned to write about DeFrancesco and Smith by DownBeat magazine in 2005, timed with their joint album project Legacy. I was a fly on the wall at Temple Studio in Phoenix, Arizona, scene of the reunion. Smith, close to his passing that year, was infamous for his harsh, cantankerous humor — upon being introduced, he denied me a handshake, sniffing, “How much you gonna charge me?” Later, in an interview, Smith twisted the knife differently, saying, “How much you gonna pay us?” DeFrancesco deflected the tension, adding, “See, he’s a comedian.”
To be in the close quarters of the recording session was thrilling, as the organists traded riffs and upped each other’s antes on “Corcovado,” “St. Thomas,” and “I’ll Close My Eyes.” As I wrote in the article, the session was “a love fest and a long-awaited summit meeting” between two reigning heroes of their noble and underrated instrument.
In our interview, DeFrancesco explained his mission with this passionate tribute project. “I wanted him to stretch out and get to do all the things that I know he does better than anybody. He’s the man. He’s still kicking asses all over the place.” DeFrancesco was, in his own way, also “the man,” kicking ass all over the place and setting a high bar for what could be done on what he called his “furniture.”
Ample recorded evidence validates his importance, but what we are now deprived of is the unique, sometimes epiphanic joy of hearing him going off on his special-order tangents in real time.
TO-DOINGS: At the Bowl this week, check out Goo Goo Dolls (Sat., Sept. 3) and an artist vying for the “most often booked at the Bowl” award, semi-Santa Barbaran Jackson Browne (Wed., Sept. 7).