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22013 San Diego Blues Festival

The Blues Are Alive and Well
In Southern California…

By T.E. Mattox

f the 2013 San Diego Blues Festival is any indication of the current state of Blues music in Southern California then we're just fine, Thank You. This annual event has taken on a life of its own and not just for the music but the expression of love and caring from an entire community. The daylong Festival has corporate sponsorship in the form of and SONY among others, but its bottom line is to benefit the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank. And judging by the size of the crowd, benefit it… it did!

Billy Watson and the Submarine Trio at the 2013 San Diego Blues Festival
Having some real fine fun with Billy Watson and the Submarine Trio.
Photo:T.E. Mattox

Billy Watson performing at the 2013 San Diego Blues Festival grounds
A little blues 'blow back' courtesy of Billy Watson.
Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

The show started before the gates ever opened. Approaching the Embarcadero, you could already hear the blues bouncing across the Bay. Oceanside's own Billy Watson and his Submarine Trio that included guitarist, Pete Fazzini and drummer Marty Dodson welcomed the blues faithful with both traditional and amplified greetings. It wasn't until they were wrapping up their blistering, fun-filled set that I suddenly realized the gates to the venue had been open for about 20 minutes.

The Tighten-Ups took the stage right on time. Based right here in San Diego this brassed-up combo reminded me of one of my all-time favorite bands back in L.A. in another lifetime, called Jack Mack and the Heart Attack. That's exactly what I was thinking when they cranked into the Ides of March classic, 'I'm Your Vehicle!' And what I would've been thinking when they fired up the Family Stone's 'Wanna' Take You Higher' had I not been blown backward and completely off my beach chair. Between vocalist Laura Jane Wilcock and that blast o' brass section, not one early attendee was stationary through their rollicking 'Rollin' on the River.' Boom Shaka Laka… Boom Shaka Laka! And my only thoughts are… there are EIGHT more bands.

The Tighten-Ups performing 'MORNIN' at the 2013 San Diego Blues Festival
The Tighten-Ups with a jolt of 'MORNIN' San Diego!' Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

Another San Diego-based band, The Fremonts made their intentions known with a rousing tribute to fellow headliner, Billy Boy Arnold and a wonderful version of 'I Wish You Would.' Front man Mighty Joe Milsap and a straight-up blues unit featuring harp virtuoso, Troy Sandow gave the crowd more than its share of Slow Blues and Hip Shake. Everyone wanted more of this great blues band.

The Fremoonts performing at the 2013 San Diego Blues Festival
The Fremonts break it down. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

If you live in or near San Diego you know the name Bill Magee. The Bill Magee Blues Band elevates good rocking blues to whole new levels of excellence. But then what would you expect from a guitarist who back in the day, played with legendary sax man King Curtis and ran with fellow guitarist, Jimmy James. Of course you and I would get to know Jimmy James much better after he changed his name to Jimi Hendrix. Bill Magee has played with the best and in my mind, simply IS the best.

The Bill Magee Blues Band at the 2013 San Diego Blues Festival
The Bill Magee Blues Band tore the place up, enough said.
Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

Where Rock and Roll Roots Meet Rhythm and Blues

Nikki Hill's latest on Deep Fryed Records

Until the Festival, the only thing I really knew about Durham, N.C. was that it is the home of Duke University. I know now it's the home of Nikki Hill. This band IS the intersection of Rock and Roll roots and Rhythm and Blues. Hill and husband Matt, combine husky and sweet R&B with early Rock and Roll and confirmed once and for all that the dictionary had it right all along... 'The Blues: short for Blue Devils.'

While cruising around the festival I began to notice that almost all of the local Southern California blues playing community was in attendance. Guitarists Nathan James and Phil Gates, Mercedes Moore, Michele Lundeen, plus early risers Billy Watson and Pete Fazzini were all enjoying a full day of blues on the Bay.

Fazzini, who helped jump-start the program told me, "the opportunity to play with one of the best harp players/frontmen on the West Coast was probably the highlight for me. Marty Dodson, our drummer is no joke on the kit, either. That trio was comprised of two world class players and me… and I was very thankful to be a part of it and to represent the San Diego scene. Another highlight," he added, "was seeing Matt and Nikki Hill. They floored me. As another guitar player, it was really enjoyable to watch Matt. The dude really channels something when he's on stage. And the chance to see blues legends Jody Williams and Billy Boy Arnold was fantastic too."

I couldn't have expressed it any better myself. Arnold and Williams had to be THE highlight for everyone in attendance. These two legendary blues Hall of Famer's now in their late 70's, have 'been there and done that.' Yet both continue to tour and play with an unequaled enthusiasm that still brings people to their feet.

If you're unfamiliar with the name Jody Williams' I'm not surprised. He was the 'go-to' session guitarist in blues studios of the 1950's. But his distaste for the cutthroat attitudes in the music business compelled him to work outside music for more than a quarter of a century. But if you go back and check out your early blues vinyl you'll immediately recognize Williams, the guitarist. His signature sound can be heard in the classic recordings of the era; songs like Bo Diddley's 'Who Do You Love?' Billy Boy's hits 'I Ain't Got You' and 'I Wish You Would,' and Howlin' Wolf's 'Forty Four.'

Billy Boy Arnold and Jody Williams
Old friends backstage – Billy Boy Arnold and Jody Williams.
Photo: T.E.Mattox

Billy Boy Arnold has always been one of my favorites and he was kind enough to spend a few minutes after he came off stage. Surrounded by friends, fans and well-wishers, he sat down to talk.

Some of your family also played music, your brothers? "One of my brothers, Jerome… he used to play with Paul Butterfield, bass player." Did you ever play together? "Oh yeah, he used to play in my band, yeah."

Your connection with the first Sonny Boy, 'John Lee' Williamson is legendary, tell us how it began? "Well, the first time I heard his records I was seven years old. I didn't know who he was, I didn't know none of the blues singers. I heard those records, I loved those records! Then when I was eleven years old, I heard another record from Sonny Boy Williamson and at that time in 1947 they (record labels) would put Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Williamson, blues singer with harmonica. So I knew he was playing harmonica. Bill Broonzy, guitar, Blind John Davis, piano… it was on the records.

I was just fooling around with the harmonica and I said, 'I sure wish I could do that on the harmonica.' And my mother said, 'You have to have a gift for that.' So one day my father came home and said, 'That guy came in Club Georgia. And say all the people holler, Hey Sonny Boy! Hey Sonny Boy! throwing money at him.'

So I found out that he lived in Chicago and I was working at my uncle's butcher shop on 31st and Giles and a guy passed with a guitar and I ran out and I say, 'Do you know Sonny Boy?' He say, 'Yeah, Sonny Boy lived at 3226 Giles. So I ran in the store and wrote the number down and I got my cousin that Saturday, went by his house and rang the doorbell. Didn't know what he looked like. Me, my cousin and another kid, we was all twelve years old.

A well-dressed man came to the door and he say, 'Can I help you?' I say, 'We wanna' see Sonny Boy.' He say, 'This is Sonny Boy.' I say, 'We wanna' hear you play your harmonica.' He say, 'Come on up, I'm proud to have you.' And Johnny Jones the pianist was his guest… and a young lady. That's how I met Sonny Boy."

"And that's how it started. I didn't want to be a professional, but Sonny Boy's music was so great, he was the greatest of all. He was better than Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf… all those guys! And he was only 34 years old. He had started recording when he was 22, and his first record was a smash hit, 'Good Mornin' Schoolgirl.'"

There were so many rumors on how he died. "Everybody knew how he got killed! Muddy Waters, all those guys knew what happened, but they didn't… they wouldn't say nothing. And nobody ever found out who killed him, but he was murdered."

the writer and Billy Boy Arnold
Billy Boy Arnold and a fan. Photo: Phil Gates

The list of performers you've played with and bluesmen you've known over the years is incredible. "I went out of my way to meet these people 'cause I wanted to be a blues singer… like Sonny Boy."

Chicago had so many music venues, clubs, bars and of course, Maxwell Street. "I never played on Maxwell Street. That was before my time. But I played on the street corners with Bo Diddley and Jody Williams. Me and Jody was fifteen and Bo Diddley was ahh… 23. And we had a washtub player and it was called, 'Ellas McDaniels and the Hipsters.' Every Saturday we'd play up and down the street and draw a crowd and then we'd go to another corner and draw a crowd… that's how we made the money."

Billy Boy played on the recent Blind Pig Tribute to Little Walter that incidentally was recorded right here in San Diego, and remembers Jacobs well. "I co-starred with him at McKee's Disc Jockey Show Lounge. Me, Little Walter and Junior Wells co-starred together in 1959."

Did you stand shoulder-to-shoulder like some of the legendary harp battles? "No, we each went up and played three or four songs, you know Walter was the greatest, so you know…? He smiles, "But me and Junior could beat him singing."

At just 15, Billy Boy played with the Johnny Temple Band. "He lived next door to Blind John Davis' mother's house and he needed a harmonica player, so I went on a gig with him." He also found work with Johnny Shines and Otis Rush. "I played with Otis Rush one night because the harmonica player got drunk!"

Billy Boy Arnold performing onstage at the 2013 San Diego Blues Festival
Billy Boy with a request 'Come Back Baby, I Wish You Would.' Photo: T.E. Mattox

There were some notorious clubs in the Chicago area. Some often referred to as a 'Bucket O' Blood.' "Well they had a few of them they called 'Bucket's O' Blood… but those people in those clubs drank hard liquor. 'Old Crow,' 'Old Grand-dad,' 'Old Forester,' that hard 100 proof whiskey, and when they get drunk man, fights would break out all over the place."

What was the craziest bar or club you ever played in? "A place called the 'Happy Home.' Me and Jody Williams was playing there in 1957-58, before Jody went into the Army. And every night, four or five fights would break out, and everybody would run toward the bandstand. That was the roughest club, 'the Happy Home Lounge,' that was on Madison Street."

You wrote and had blues hits with some great songs. Songs musicians to this day continue to play and record. "That's a compliment to me, I'm glad. I liked all of them because that's the greatest compliment you could receive. When Eric Clapton, David Bowie and the Animals, all of them did… 'I Ain't Got You' and 'I Wish You Would,' that was a great compliment."

Your music and those songs specifically have such great longevity; did you think they would be so popular? "I started writing…I knew that if I was going to be a harmonica player like Sonny Boy I had to sing and I had to write songs. So I started writing songs when I was about 14 or 15 and I made my first record when I was 17."

'I Ain't Got You' always gets people on their feet, that's got to bring a smile to your face. "I love it, I love it! And see a lot of people have heard those songs, at least 'I Ain't Got You' they don't know I was the first guy that did it, 'cause all the rock guys got it from me. That was a great compliment."

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Eden Brent
Eden Brent. Photo credit: Julia Bailey

The blues don't really get more down in the Delta than Greenville, Mississippi. After all, it gave us both Nelson Street and for the past 36 years or so it's been the home of the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival. It's also happens to be the home of Eden Brent. At this year's San Diego Fest Ms. Brent gave Southern California a little taste of why she's a three-time BMA winner. That includes the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year. To describe her voice; it's smoky but with texture, kind of like 'three fingers of Four Roses. And her performance is a whirlwind… a barrelhouse of boogie woogie that won't let you look away. This woman is having fun and you don't want to miss a note of it. Like the song says, she's got 'Blues All Over.'

Lucky Peterson

The man was born in a blues club. His first studio recording appearance was at the ripe old age of FIVE! …. WITH WILLIE DIXON!!! The only thing I can say about his performance at this year's festival is that no one walked away during his set. After the final chords, everyone staggered away! Everyone! Sorry if you missed it.

the writer and Lucky Peterson
Lucky Peterson and lucky me! Photo: Phil Gates

To be honest, I've been a Blasters fan since Bob 'the Bear' Hite told me about this LA rockabilly collective some 35 years ago. And I'm never disappointed when I get to see any of their assorted offshoots, discover new projects or hear individual recordings. Dave Alvin's Downey Blues Allstars played an inspired set at this year's event. There's always that sense of appreciation in the music they play. A love and respect for the originators of blues and early rockers. For some reason I remembered a poem Dave Alvin wrote not long after the passing of one of his friends and mentors; Big Joe Turner. I can't quote it, but to me it simply said all the good things that revolve around our life and times, those very special moments… were now at rest in the ground in Gardena. That got me.

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What does one say about the amazing Charlie Musselwhite? My friend Billy Watson; an outstanding harp player in his own rite probably said it best. "My favorite moment at the blues festival was seeing Charlie Musselwhite. He could do no wrong and I enjoyed the energy the crowd gave him. It was pure to experience it so close. The energy exchange was so positive and natural. I wish all artists could feel that."

I think that comment pretty much sums up the entire blues festival. Well Done Michael Kinsman, a hell of a party and a wonderful day of Blues in San Diego. If rumors hold true, next year's festival may expand into two full days….??? If true, get some rest Michael... You're going to need it. And well done San Diego, I know you made a big difference for the Jacobs and Cushman San Diego Food Bank.

Related Articles:
2011 San Diego Blues Festival; Charlie Musselwhite; Little Walter; The Blues and Lives Well-Lived; Ode to Little Walter; Blues Storytellers; Pinetop Perkins; Willie Dixon; Otis Rush; Bob "The Bear" Hite

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Let Tim know what you think about his traveling adventure.

I was there at the Shrine to see Bob come in riding on a baby elephant. He says in the interview it was either '68 or 69: it was both – it was New Year's Eve (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Debbie Hollier, Nevada City, CA

* * * *

Who else played with Canned Heat and Deep Purple at the Shrine in '68?

Bill, LA

I think the Shrine show on New Years in '68, where Bob Hite rode out on the elephant, also featured Poco, Lee Michaels, Black Pearl, Love Army and Sweetwater. Don't know that Deep Purple was booked on that evening.

Bill, maybe you're thinking about the International Pop Fest in San Francisco a few months earlier that featured these fine folks... Procol Harum, Iron Butterfly, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Rivers, Eric Burdon And The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grass Roots, The Chambers Brothers, Deep Purple, Fraternity of Man & Canned Heat or possibly the following year in Jan of 1970 when Deep Purple appeared with Canned Heat and Renaissance on a triple-bill in London at the Royal Albert Hall.

One final note: The current Johnny Otis piece didn't mention it, but it was Mr. Otis that took Canned Heat into the studio the very first time to record in 1966. Small world, ain't it?


* * * *

Thank u for posting it! Bob is still boogin' around!! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Stefano Di Leonardo, Fisciano (Salerno, Italy)

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Great Read! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite) I will post it on Bob "THE BEAR" Hite Official Facebook Page,

Dave Tohill, Brandon, UK

* * * *

Hello Tim, thank you so much for letting a huge Canned Heat fan check out this
interview with the Bear. I really enjoyed it.

Best regards,

Rick Caldwell, Fairfield, Ohio

* * * *

I knew Bob Hite in the 60's. Canned Heat played at our high school prom 1966 Rexford High. The Family Dog, Chet Helms, Skip Taylor.

Max Kalik, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Tim,

I just discovered you from an email I received from Preston Smith disclosing his next event. I wanted to tap into his website Prestonsmithmusic but it would not link from your site for some reason. I have to say Preston really is a genius and I met him in Glendale at a jazz club about three years ago, after a fatal accident. By chance, I was invited to spend time hanging out with Preston and some friends after his gig. He is everything you say and I will never forget his amazing creativity and his positive influence in my life.

Janelle, Palm Springs, CA

Love the article! (on Lowell George) Lowell was my father.

Forrest George, Warren, Vermont

This Bob Hite interview is the most interesting thing I have read concerning Canned Heat. I have Fito's book, but I always was interested in learning more about Bob Hite. You did it here my friend...great interview!!!!!

Tony Musto - Pittston, PA

Hey Tim, Great article on Preston! I really enjoyed it and you did your homework. I'll probably catch PS this weekend.


Dave - Northridge, CA

* * * *

Hello, what a great article on Preston Smith! I actually met Preston one evening after an Acoustic set of my own at the Prestigeous Carlton Hotel here in Atascadero, Ca. We were loading up and he happened to be walking down the sidewalk and stop to say hello. I must say that he is a truly interesting and talented man that NEVER forgets to let me know when he is playing around the Central Coast where I live. It was so fun to read about who he truly is...(as if you don't know him the first time you meet him)! My adventures have only just begun as I recently returned from Nashville recording my self titled debut EP. I can only hope that my adventures down the road are as enlightening as Preston's and that I have the honor of a great writer such as yourself to share them with the world. Thank you for doing just that, sharing "Preston Smith" with the world.


Amy Estrada - Atascadero, CA

Hi Tim,

My name is Bert, I'm from Italy and I'm a blues harmonica player...I read your article and it reminded me of the two trips I made in the Delta, in 2008 and 2009. I love Frank's music and I think it's a shame people don't really know his work. It's important that people like you write about him. Thank you! In the Delta I was only a "stupid" tourist, but it was a great, unique experience I consider one of the most important in my life: driving on the highways, Listening to the blues everywhere, jamming in places like Red's and ground Zero in Clarksdale or the Blues Bar in Greenville... are priceless things, something I will keep in my heart for the rest of my life. I met a beautiful, lovely woman there too (named Hope), but I behaved like a stupid kid and I lost her... Alas! I will never forget that days and the chance I had to find happiness...Well, I also wrote something about Frank on a website, but it's in Italian... I give you the link of the first part (the second will be published in the next weeks) anyway if you know some Italian or somebody who can understand it... Even if I'm thinking of making a translation


Bert - Pavia, Italy

I wanna be Tim!

Brent, Seattle, WA

* * *

Those pictures give you an idea of what the Rockin' Pneumonia actually looks like and it looks BAD! But the man can still play! Enjoyed the article - give us more TRAVELING BLUES BOY!

Steve Thomas - NA, INDIANA

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Good Stuff, Tim. Having been a Johnny Winter fan since the first time I heard Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo, it was great hearing his take on some his highlight moments that defined his blues career. His affiliation with Muddy Waters was particularly interesting. Kudos for bringing that out. Thanks to your dedication to covering the blues scene, this "one of a kind" music still lives for servicemen & women around the world. Keep it Up!

Brandon Williams, Moreno Valley, CA

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Impressive! What a legend and how cool that you got so much time with him, Tim.

Don, Louisville, KY

Tim - Great article, enjoyed Little Feat/Lowell George story, really brought me back in time. Did not know he was a fishin' man! Wonder what surfaces out of the abyss of your memory next?

Steve Thomas, New Albany, IN

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I really liked your travel back in time with Lowell and Little Feat. As a long time Feat fan (mostly the stuff with Lowell) it was cool to read. I learned several of their songs back in the day and they still stand up today when played live. Another singer I really liked from back then is TimBuckley. Thanks for the article.

Chet Hogoboom, Arroyo Grande, CA

Loved your last issue of TB, especially the Mayall piece. I want that guy's job!

Brent, Seattle, WA


This is a great write up. Has it been printed in any magazines? It's better than a lot of things I read in my guitar magazines, so props for that.

Caejar, Moreno Valley, CA


I can tell that you have this passion for jazz. I wonder if you yourself play any instrument. Or are you just a groupie like most of us?

I talked with a mid-aged flute jazz artist a few weeks ago and he lamented that despite his talents (and he is extremely talented) he says that the industry hasn't been kind to him. He said jobs are few and far between. He said the music industry is combating piracy and competition due to technology being readily available to private homes and that they are not as profitable as before. So they are replacing live talent for synthesized or digital instruments.

Do you see the same trend in your relationships with your music network?

Bob, Pasadena, CA

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