On February 11, Bobby Rush headlined a show with Denise LaSalle, Latimore, and Theodis Ealey at the VBC in Huntsville, Alabama. The show was well-paced, unlike some of these festivals where it takes forever to change band set-ups. Theodis Ealey led off, and I must say that he stole the show. His band sounded great, with the addition of two members from the recently-deceased Marvin Sease's band. Both Marvin and Theodis are among the more polished of the southern soul singers, with Theodis being a bit more pop and novelty oriented, now resting precariously on his "Stand Up In It" laurels. Denise LaSalle, at 72, still sings with a powerful, blues voice, but all too often relies on her more raunchy material to keep the audience envolved, when she really doesn't need to. Latimore always sounds good and always boasts a solid, Miami-based ensemble. Some of his new material is quite strong, but he has to sing the hits--and you just have to wonder how many times he has had to do "Let's Straighten It Out." Bobby Rush remains Bobby Rush--thank goodness. There are still the sexy dancing girls, "Sue," the giant panties, and Bobby's constant jiving--a modern day Cab Calloway, commanding the stage with an ever-present double entendre smirk.
On February 26, it was on to Nashville for the Nashville Blues Festival downtown at the Municipal Auditorium. This was one of Julius Lewis' "The Blues Is Alright" productions that carries a revolving stable of southern soul perfomers as it tours around the country. Like all Lewis shows, this one was well-run and fast-paced, sometimes too fast, as it seemed performers barely had a chance to warm up before they were unceremoniously repladed by the next act. This becomes frustrating after seven bands, but that's the nature of the festival format, so...we continue paying to hear a very few hits from a lot of stars. Sheba Potts-Wright did a good job of warming up the audience. Yet to break out with a really big hit, she continues to provide sold blues and true southern charm. Theodis Ealey was the only performer common to both the Huntsville and Nashville shows, and, as in Huntsville, his was one of the more entertaining acts of the evening. Mel Waiters kept the heat on with his sing-along brand of party songs and a tight band, but I do wish he would give up his preaching rant at each show. As someone behind me yelled, "Save it for church, Mel, we came to hear the blues." O.B. Buchana has always been one of my favorite young southern soul artists, but he's best in a club setting where he can work the audience slowly into a frenzy. He just didn't have enough time to do that in this short set. Sir Charles Jones is another younger southern soul singer, often leaning over the line into smooth R&B. The ladies seem to like him, but I've never been enthralled. For some reason, his performance was cut even shorter than the others, so the ladies didn't have a chance to get too heated up this evening. Shirley Brown remains one of the sweetest voices, male or female, in southern soul music, and she still sounds great singing her big hit "Woman to Woman" for the thousandth time. The show was headlined by the soul legend Bobby "Blue" Bland--"the world's greatest blues singer," according to band leader Joe Hardin's enthusiatic introduction. At 82, the power and smoothness of his voice have diminished, of course, but not the timing and charm of the performance. The band, under Hardin's continuing direction, was, as expected, well-rehearsed and sharp, with Bobby's son Rodd driving them on with his powerful and proficent drumming. Several of the big hits were sung, to the audience's delight, despite Bobby occasionally forgetting phrases or dropping band breaks. A scary moment occurred backstage, after most of the audience had exited the hall and the band was leaving the stage. Bobby slipped and fell a few steps down the stairs from the bandstand. His valet quickly righted him, and the valet, Bobby's wife and son hurried to help him, shakened but apparently not injured, into his wheelchair and back to the waiting tour bus.