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EVOLUTION OF THE BLUES XI

Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa, CA

February 19, 2004
By Rolf Olmsted

The Burbank Auditorium at Santa Rosa Junior College looked as inviting as always as I rushed up the steps, got my ticket and went down front.  Jami Jamison and Dennis Cordellos were in the second row so I had the pleasure of sitting with knowledgeable friends.

We were welcomed to The Eleventh Annual Evolution of the Blues Concert by Joel Rudinow.  Joel then introduced Bill Bowker, who introduced the Lara Price Band.

Lara Price is a tremendously cute dynamo on stage with a big sultry voice.  Her band plays all out.  In a tightly packed set she showed a lot of stage presence and a lot of desire to get across to the audience.  I was sitting on the side the keyboard player was on and I was able to hear him and the drummer, but couldn't hear the bass player and the guitarist as well. 

The band plays with full out intensity to the point that they lacked dynamics.  The greater variation, loud and soft, needed in theatre shows is hard to learn in bars where the band has to overcome talking and partying.  Theatre shows demand more variation up and down.  The keyboard player played so fully the whole time that I had to mentally shut him out.  Since guitarist Debbie Chavez was really playing nicely on her solos, I really had to concentrate.

Almost everything was up-tempo and jumping.  Cuteness overwhelmed one song.  Lara is writing her own songs which are pretty good; I didn't always get the continuity of the words.  Combined with the non-stop full out quality of the band, it was sometimes hard to follow the songs.  The band is trying to be a show band.

The blues is tough, it looks simple but isn't.  It takes years to learn the nuances.  Lara Price is going to be a real monster in time and is really good now.  I'll be watching for Ms. Chavez too.

The second set was the Mighty Mike Schermer Band with Mike on guitar and vocals, Steve Ehrman on bass, Austin DeLone on keyboards and Rob David on drums.  Mike Schermer is a great guitar player with wonderful chops.  And he has a vocal style all his own.  Not one of the great shouters or testifiers, he happily sings tenor in the voice of a smurf on helium.  It really works for him and is an original take on the blues.

Schermer's guitar playing is really fine.  He's got both fire and feeling, able to play both slow and fast.  His band gives him big space and Schermer can fill it with ease.  He has simple power in his licks; he paid dues learning from masters of simplicity like Albert Collins.

Bass player Steve Ehrman is a groove master with control of big space.  A warm friendly presence on stage, it's good to see someone who likes what they're doing.

Austin DeLone on keyboards is a kick.  I've seen him before and wasn't surprised at his total inability to keep from writhing all over the place while he played.  And he plays superbly, with accompaniment licks reminiscent of the great Otis Spann and fine solos.  All the while he is constantly getting into odd awkward physical positions.  He's a hoot.

The whole band is a trip; they are totally comfortable and unaffected on stage.  And they really bring it.  I want to see them again.

Maria Muldaur and me go way back.  I've seen her over the years and I have her records all the way back to The Even Dozen Jug Band in the 60s.  She's veteran performer who knows how to work a crowd, and she has no trouble with stage presence.  Mike Schermer was on guitar sounding good (Maria: "I time-share Mike with Angela Strehli"), Chris Burns was on keyboards (Chris is one of the top keyboard players in the Bay Area and deserves to be much better known).

Among the highlights was Maria?s rendition of Memphis Minnie songs, especially ?Chauffeur.?

"Want you be my chauffeur
Want you be my chauffeur
I wants him to drive me
I wants him to drive me downtown
Yes he drives so easy I can't turn him down

But I don't want him
But I don't want him
To be ridin' his girls
To be ridin' his girls around
So I'm gonna steal me a pistol, shoot my chauffeur down

Well I must buy him
Well I must buy him
A brand new V8
A brand new V8 Ford
Then he won't need no passengers, I will be his load

Wanna let my chauffeur
Wanna let my chauffeur
Drive me around the
Drive me around the world
Then he can be my little boy, yes I'll be his girl"

All during the show a fine bass line was playing---but no bass player could be seen.  Lead guitar player Dennis next to me was muttering "Where's the bass player, he must be off stage."  Having seen Chris Burns before I knew he was a truly fine keyboard player with fully independent hands and the keyboardist's ability to think of two lines at once.  Dennis didn't seem convinced of this, ?I can see his left hand up in the air, he can't be playing a steady bass line.?  Maria introduced him as her piano and bass player.  Dennis gave me one point.

Maria had a fine time with the audience and seemed to enjoy herself.  Doing a mix of blues and New Orleans style R&B, her show was a lot of fun.  She did ?Midnight At The Oasis? toward the end saying, ?It's not blues, but it?s been very, very good to me.?

Thanks to Joel Rudinow for a good Evolution of the Blues Concert.  I look forward to other more varied concerts in this series.

...Rolf Olmsted

Rolf Olmsted was born on the banks of the Mississippi River and had a dog and played his father's mandolin. He was exposed to the blues at an early age which accounts for it. Among his accomplishments are reproduction, a collection of cheap guitars, and computer semi-literacy. He's guilty of attempted guitar and mandolin playing.