Paid a welcome return visit to Lucerne the city of Lights, a charming city centrally located in the heart of Switzerland, gifted by unique and fascinating towering high snow capped mountains on the banks of the beautiful Lake Lucerne with wonderfully restored features of its 800 year old heritage and tradition, super friendly restaurants like our regular haunt Café Rex and its appreciative proprietor Peter, who nourished us after each day’s sightseeing through wonderful streets and museums on offer and before each night’s marathon blues performances in the Grand Casino.
The Swiss city of Lucerne has got it all, rustic and relaxed, elegant and exotic, unforgettably enthralling walks through the cobblestone streets, old wooden bridges, elegant boutiques and events to suit all tastes all year round making it a city that really has to be seen and experienced.
This year I walked along the ring wall with its nine high towers that protected this ancient city in day’s gone by, first mentioned in 840 AD and visited the wonderful Culture and Congress Centre, Picasso Museum, the Natural History Museum and on Sunday morning the magnificent baroque edifices and atmosphere of the Hofkirche Church where a young boy played Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore on a glistening Tenor Sax almost as big as himself during a Baptism ceremony.
The highlight of course each day was the Lucerne Blues Festival, which has become famous amongst local and international Blues Fans in the past 12 years as one of the world’s foremost, important and primary Blues Festivals in Europe, showcasing top quality performances from the finest Blues Musicians on tour from the American and European Blues circuits.
This year’s event was yet again a magnificent occasion with wonderful performances taking place among the breathtaking surroundings bringing together ardent Blues fans from all over the world.
Seven hours plus, of the finest world class blues live every night for a week every November in the elegant and excellent sound stages of the Grand Casino in Lucerne with Sunday brunch performances in the plush and stylish Hotel Schweizerhof.
This is a well run professionally organised Festival that has gone from strength to strength because of its uncompromising commitment to providing a focus on real bluesmen, providing a stage for masters of the craft, exciting and revered legendary performers treading the famous blues stages of Chicago, Memphis, Californian and the other Blues States of America.
The spectacular line up of performers for each Lucerne Festival for the past twelve years is credited to the superb selection process of Guido “Mojo”Schmidt, Martin” Kari” Bruendler and the administration committee who spend the months leading up to each years Lucerne Festival visiting blues performances around the world to assemble each years world class line up to provide 14 exciting acts for the exquisite nightly performances throughout the week.
The organisation driving this festival is superb with every detail attended to in precise Swiss fashion creating a specialised atmosphere around the performances that makes it a pleasure for music travellers, with a staff that demonstrate a rare and wonderful courteousness, efficiency and professional attention to every possible detail including an opportunity to meet and greet the Artists after each performance, get CD’s autographed and pictures taken.
I set off from Dublin Airport on this years blues pilgrimage in the company of veteran Irish blues travellers, Charlie “Bluestrain” Hussey, presenter of my favourite weekly blues radio program Bluestrain, now beaming into cyber space on the internet at www.dublincityfm.ie or 103.2 FM every Sunday night 10pm to midnight, Southside Pat , Southside Eddie and Sean “Sonny Boy” Williamson with Northside Eddie and Black Hat Gerry following the day after and local Lucernian Flavio Ceresa whose got the best Dublin accent in Switzerland having spent some of his formative, impressionable years in Dublin’s fair city .
At this calibre the artists all have immediately recognisable blues styles; they not only speak the language fluently but also can master the grammar book as well with conviction, articulating their passion and personality through the
language of the blues effortlessly and naturally and there is the much acknowledged Lucerne factor that which brings out the best in these great
musicians that come to present there wares on stage.
Someone shouts “ Its Star time, like Father like Son, the one and only” and The Chicago All Star Band started proceedings off for us on the Wednesday night with Lurrie C Bell & Carey Bell feat, Eddie Taylor Junior, Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith and he tall man Joe Thomas.
Watching the empathy of father and son trading licks on stage is to witness the magic of Chicago Blues performance with Eddie Taylor Junior on rhythm and lead guitar playing a Gibson 335 just like his father did on those legendary Jimmy Reed records, Kenny “ Beady Eyes” Smith playing drums with finesse and inventive flourishes just like his father Willie Big Eyes Smith and the tall laid back Joe Thomas on bass laying down the subterranean low down groove on bass shaking the boards beneath our feet on the Casineum Stage.
Lurrie C Bell is a master of the blues guitar on stage, wringing every drop of blue out of every solo, having paid his dues behind the likes of Willie Dixon, Koko Taylor and S.O. B. Sons of the Blues, playing the spinechilling notes on his Dupont guitars with his thumb and fingers, seldom even looking at the fretboard this gifted guitarist shapes each song into a molten hot Chicago blues classic performance with his guitar lines and Carey’s harp bleeding and blending into each other seamlessly on favourites like Five Long Years, Sweet Little Angel and I’m Ready, Got My Mojo Working and The Sky is Crying.
The following night we were treated to an Acoustic performance on the main stage with just father and son playing pure magic on versions of Key to the Highway,Little Red Rooster and Every Day I Have the Blues. This was pure down-home blues on acoustic guitar and good old fashioned blues harp, hot and steamy long and satisfying blues by the bucketful.
Lurrie C Bell, Eddie Taylor Junior, and Joe Thomas hit the stage later backing up Big Jesse Yawn for another storming blues set from the man from Baltimore whose vocal talents have been rediscovered in the 90’s giving us an insight into the man who shared stages with Albert King, George Benson, Jack Mc Duff and Grant Green and Robert Ward whose guitar on I Found A Love is a perennial favourite of mine.
Big Jesse Yawn is a gentle giant of a man with a huge loyal following in his resident Baltimore/Washington area and his set in Lucerne, revealed a man oozing with passion and love for the music he was making on stage.
The line up this year was varied with a mixture of acts from both sides of the Atlantic with two local bands Bluecerne and Blues Rooster who both delivered sets that were a revelation and well received by the good spirited audiences in attendance with Little Rooster in top form on standards like Bad Boy.
One of the great highlights of this years event was Sweden’s Sven Zetterberg, Knock- Out Greg & Blue Weather who delivered two excellent sets at Lucerne full of soulful vocals and Chicago Blues class experienced on a lifetimes devotion to Chicago blues music in his native Sweden and tours with Jimmy Rodgers, Sunnyland Slim, Luther Allison, Eddie C Campbell
and Big Moose Walker.
Sven comes over as a very friendly and personable bluesman and was on fire looking like a rockabilly king with the slick back hair and his vocals were emotive and exciting performance backed up by a tight and tough sound on stage of Sweden’s finest Knock- Out Greg & Blue Weather.
He proclaimed his first idol as Ann Peebles and has some great soulful tunes in his repertoire like “Big Big Woman with a Short Short Skirt” and a rousing
version of Jackie Wilson’s classic Higher and Higher with the Blue Weather
horns right on the money.
Dust to Dust
Mess With My Woman
I’m gonna hurt you fast”
One of my favourite performances this year came from the eagerly awaited Nick Moss & The Flip Tops playing straight ahead, no nonsense, no frills Magic Slim meets Freddie King style Chicago Blues and Nick who keeps his foot on the pedal all the way and is something special to witness on stage with great house rocking stage presence and confidence and a fantastic band on stage in Willie O Shawny on Keyboards, Gerry Hundt (Utility Man) on everything required, including Bass, Rhythm Guitar, Harp and Mandolin and veteran Bob Carter on Drums.
There is a superb, raw, exciting and tough cutting edge to Nick Moss & The Flip Tops performance and they took Lucerne by storm this year and when Willie O Shawny straps on the Bass and Gerry takes over on the second Fender Jaguar it is easy to see why they are the most exciting high energy Chicago Blues bands on the planet at the moment.
Nick Moss & The Flip Tops blitz the audience, cranking out rough raw edged Chicago blues night after night with a combustible blend of grit and spontaneity, cut to the bone. Nick’s tone stings, his heart and soul are right on the money and his band, Gerry, Bob and Willie are Ziplock tight behind him. There is a palpable collective understanding as each member on stage encircles and entwines each other In the warm Chicago Blues making it all look so easy and entirely absorbing.
Nick’s gritty Chicago blues guitar style is distinguished by it timing and phrasing subsuming the classic styles of the genre into a dynamic signature of his own and can play does bread and butter shuffles till the cows come home. There is a nice little foray into some mandolin blues from Gerry, which I have really got into thanks to Billy Flynn’s tasteful efforts in recent years.
The showstopper for me on the main stage performance was “Down in Virginia” which reminded me of a 400 mile drive and a ferry across the Irish Sea, to the Bishopstock Blues Festival in the South of England on the May Bank Holiday back in 1999 to see the great Magic Slim and The Tear Drops put on the ultimate Chicago Blues powerhouse performance.
The Lucerne audience was overjoyed and rapturous in its appreciation and got a special treat on Saturday nights show when Nick’s wife Kate joined The Flip Top’s on stage for several numbers having flown into Switzerland
with their little daughter Sadie Mae to link up with Nick on the Lucerne dates of the European Tour. This pure old fashioned Chicago magic, sizzling live blues energy picked up a lot of new fans over the two blistering jaw dropping performances at Lucerne this year.
“It was late in the evening
When she caught my eye
Its was late in the evening
When she caught my eye
And you better check my pulse
Make sure I am still alive”
Detroit was represented this year by Little Sonny Willis who electrified the Lucerne audience with his hard driving harp and tight family orientated band. Deriving his nickname from the great Sonny Boy Williamson and moving through a fast paced energetic set this 74 year old veteran of the blues scene is supported on stage by two multi talented son’s Anthony and Aaron Junior who display a flair and grasp for blues, soul, funk and jazz and a razor sharp professionalism. Little Sonny started off working local Detroit joints with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Baby Boy Warren and Washboard Willie going on to release his modestly titled New King of the Blues Harmonica on the Stax’s label circa 1970.
Little Sonny told the audience “its taken us a long time to get here” but everyone felt like old friends as the performance progressed through classic’s like Stormy Monday and a tribute to Eddie Taylor Juniors Dad in Honest You Do.
Little Sonny and The Detroit Rhythm Group put on a first class performance and his vocal is sock it to them soul embroidered with his mastery of Harmonica, Rhythm, Blues and Funk styles allowing his boy’s to showcase their own proficiency by breaking into some instrumental James Brown
“Its hard going up but twice as hard coming down”
A man who has known the best and the worst of what life can have in store is Howard Tate a man with a voice Elvis Costello described as being somewhere between Jackie Wilson and Al Green who has made a return in recent years to the music business after dropping out in virtually every sense for 30 years.
Howard Tate warmed the audience with faithful renditions of some of his classic cuts with Jerry Ragavoy like Stop and Part Time Love and it was good to see this legend of the sixties who got burnt badly by mismanagement shine again on stage in Lucerne in 2006. First time I heard Stop was on a James Gang LP featuring Joe Walsh and its always a delight to see how some songs can provide a ripe harvest time after time in the seasons of our musical appreciation providing a soundtrack in a retrospective of events and listening experiences in our lives over the years. Howard Tate’s vocal on Everyday I Have The Blues is golden soulful magic, it makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and do a Mexican Wave from the tip of your toes to the top of your head.
This year I set up base at the luxurious Hotel Schweizerhof built back in 1845 and is steeped in class with all the comforts a guest could desire available in the sumptuous breakfast buffet on display each morning washed down with a glass of Italian Prosecco Champaign delicate and fresh on the palette just like sound of Leon Blue on the Piano tinkling the ivories with passages from every genre of music flowing spontaneously from his fingertips. The beautiful lakeside view and the snow-capped mountains glistening in the distance make it a scene from Hollywood movie as staff like the cheerful Vera Louise, attend to each guest’s requirements with care and attentiveness to every detail. There is so much on offer in this delightful place that it proves to be a time pressured experience trying to cram it all in and get back to the Grand Casino each night for the 7pm kick off, which is why I unfortunately clipped the start of my next live performance.
Craig Horton is a towering figure on stage, a great singer with a direct and
impassioned style, a stinging guitarist with the sweat dripping from this man’s brow effusively from the stage in the Grand Casino, a man who prides himself on not playing with a net. Craig has played with Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Freddie King and played lead guitar with Sam Myers & The Mississippi Delta Blues Band on their tours of Europe in the 80s. Craig Horton accompanied by the excellent Rusty Zinn for the Lucerne date serves up a catchy soulful perfectly ordered blend of Chicago Shuffle and traditional Soul with his guitar lines sizzling in the mix of tales of life and love going through the mill in songs like 3 Days and 3 Nights.
I got to meet both Craig and Rusty later on and it was great to meet two very down to earth talented guys just taking their music from place to place and giving it ll they got on every opportunity commanding the audiences attention with pure personality and style. With credentials like playing guitar in Little Walters Band to The Dells on top of everything else this man stands on stage
demonstrating individual brilliance and had the crowd beaming in a state of
high excitement with his performance this year in Lucerne. His deep gutsy vocal comes from a man who created the template, its real deal territory from a man who has paid his dues over the past five decades and was awarded Blues Guitarist of 2004 by the Bay Area Blues Society.
There are few artists walking on stage these days that can boast of a 60 year recording career and such was the case when the living legend Jimmy Mc Cracklin arrived on stage in Lucerne.
Spanning a daunting career that began back in 1946 when he formed The Blues Blasters hitting the big time in 1958 with his famous hit The Walk and co writing The Tramp with Lowell Fulson a hit for Otis Redding in 1967. Jimmy sits behind the keyboards in the middle of the stage and orchestrates the big band with vigorous determination and 60 years of stagecraft charisma.
This is big band class with horns and related soul sisters on lead and back up vocals all seamlessly grooving along at the behest of their legendary ringmaster with a razor sharp left handed guitarist and bass player locked into the groove.
Chain of Fools, Mustang Sally and Kansas City were some of the classics that got the Jimmy Mc Cracklin touch of class on the night.
Jimmy Mc Cracklin fully reinforces his reputation of being a solid hard working band and he controls the soulful brand of good time music with everybody looking sartorially pretty sharp and as professional as the music pouring off the stage with the talent and professionalism that we had come to expect from this living legend in his own time .
Representing the young guns and someone who looks set to have a bright future is Anthony Gomes who certainly pleased the ladies in the crowd. Displaying amazing skill on the guitar with right and left hand techniques that are astonishing as he blazed his way through his performances consisting of storming blues, classic rock and big ballads topped off with a powerful R&B vocal.
This extremely adept long haired six string gunslinger with the equally amazing Biscuit Millar on Bass had the Lucerne crowd in the palm of their hands with stellar showmanship and musicianship stopping the show at one point to dedicate a number specially to Martin “Karl” Bruendler who as master of ceremonies was on hand for the start and finish of every performance that took place.
Guitar classics like Heartbreaker, Voodoo Chile, Hey Joy allowed Anthony to take his sound into the stratosphere with notes wailing and screaming for mercy into the late hours blending U2, Led Zep and the Blues effortless into a funky stew.
This is high energy rock solid breathtaking guitar mastery and technique and Anthony takes no prisoners with his six string lightning fast technique creating a vibrant masterwork of contemporised blues based soul, rock and r&b as his new CD Music is the Medicine demonstrates with a William Shakespeare motto driving his vision.
“This above all, to thine own self be true”
One of the performances that I cherished dearly at this years event was from David Lee Durham & The True Blues Band a gentle giant of a man, sartorially elegant and from the heart of the Mississippi Delta who steps back in time with a voice that’s pure blue and a multi talented group of musicians on stage who weaved a delightful musical landscape behind David’s living master style.
David Lee Durham grew up picking cotton in the hot Mississippi Delta sun and at the age of fourteen climbed up on an old oil can at the local juke joint and looked in the window at the great Howling Wolf and went home and thought himself to play on a homemade broom and wire guitar. David Lee worked the circuit alongside of musicians like Clarence Carter, BB King, Blues Boy Willie, Ray Charles and Bobby Rush and his seated finger picking guitar playing was hypnotic and unforgettable on songs like the title Struggling and Straining.
I was very impressed by the distinctive style of his musicians and in particular the multi instrumentalist Leven Lortkipanidze from Georgia in the former Soviet Union whose contribution on flute was superb and brought back memories of some of my early Jetro Tull LP’s especially the early blues based material Ian Anderson danced around the stage on one leg to in the early 70’s.
Leven was voted Mississippi Delta Blues Musician of the Year 2004 and was in fine form with the wonderful Alphonso Sanders on Sax, former Albert King drummer Frank Vicks and a distant Irishman and great character Chaz Monaghan on bass whose ancestors moved from Co Monaghan in Ireland back in the bleak famine period on the mid 1800’s and is nursing an aspiration to someday return to his ancestral home in Ireland, meet a nice Irish Colleen, settle down, play music and work the auld sod.
Bringing this years event to a close for me was a real treasure and a live performance you have to witness to truly appreciate from the best female blues singer I have seen so far Diunna Greenleaf and the amazing Blue Mercy Blues Band. I was fortunate enough to secure a much sought after ticket for the Sunday Blues Brunch performance in the Hotel Schweizerhof thanks to reservations manager Dunja Speck and it gave me an additional opportunity to witness another polished and confident presentation on stage from the fantastic Queen of the Texas Blues, Diunna Greenleaf & Blue Mercy featuring sensational guitarist Jonn Deltora Richardson, a favourite of mine Leon Blue on Keyboards, Fred Arceneaux on Bass and in fine form all week
on drums Kevin Berry.
Diunna Greenleaf was loved by everyone all week long, the woman is beaming with charisma and this winner of the 2005 Blues Challenge is an amazing vocalist with an equally amazing band behind her such as the winner of the Albert King Best Unsigned Guitarist Award 2005 and is a fleet fingered joy to watch on the fretboard who unravels fiery guitar breaks with precision, restraint and grace.
This was a Texas Blues performance full of soul, passion and remarkable
interaction between Diunna and her musicians in the luxurious comfort of the Hotel Schweizerhof, while spoiling myself with rich wine and cuisine of the finest order in the company of the Lucerne social elite all served by the wonderful, commendable and professional Schweizerhof staff. Diunna Greenleaf is one of those rare singers who can take a song and render it superbly soulful giving a chilling a cappella performances of Amazing
Grace and Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Summertime, that left us all speechless in awe. The Blue Mercy arrangements percolate pure Texas Blues for this larger than life troubadour on songs like Jimmy Mc Crackling’s, “Double Dealing” and the raunchy Tribute to John Lee Hooker was a viable musical organism.
Again and again Jonn Deltora Richardson’s guitar genius prevails with emotive stinging axe work riding shotgun with effortless ease complemented by sturdy rhythm support from the ultimate sidemen in Kevin, Fred and Leon.
Diunna Greenleaf is a big lady with a blues soaked voice as big as Texas and a
magnetic stage presence with Blue Mercy arrangements that are simultaneously polished and orgasmic blending seamlessly with the incredible guitar performance of Jonn Deltora Richardson, it’s a marriage made in Blues Ville Avenue Paradise and she rounds the 2006 Lucerne Blues Festival off in fine style, clearly enjoying herself immensely.
“Take a pause for the cause”
Again two years in a row for me and my fellow Blues Travellers from Dublin Ireland, everlasting credit is due to The Lucerne Blues Festival committee for organising this marvellous, splendid and appreciated presentation of deserving talent old and new, superior examples of the character and fervour
of the great Blues Music tradition without sacrificing good taste or quality.
They say that vision isn’t enough unless its combined with venture and it’s a truth that not only do performances of this calibre make you stop and stare at the steps, they help the spirit, to step up the stairway to a musical high. These musical troubadours harness the power of good rhythm, riding it on the spine chilling crest above the waves of rhythmic energy, swimming in tune
with the currents of time and tradition, helping us to synchronizing our
personal desires with a refined attuned, contentment and joy to the natural blues around us.
“Everyday, everyday I have the blues
Oh everyday, everyday I have the blues
When you see me worrin’ baby,
Yeah it’s you I hate to lose”