Willie K’s BBQ Blues Festival
Willie K’s first BBQ Blues Festival was one of the highlights of 2013, and it looks like the second annual event coming up on Jan. 11 will be even more memorable.
Featuring headliners Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top and Mississippi blues legend Robert “Wolfman” Belfour, along with some of our island’s finest musicians, the festival will be presented outdoors at Maui Tropical Plantation’s new Field of Dreams amphitheater.
ZZ Top’s Gibbons is one of the finest blues-rock guitarists to emerge from Texas. “Ever since I was a little kid and first heard Jimmy Reed’s ‘Honey, Don’t Let Me Go,’ the blues has been in my blood,” Gibbons told Music Radar. “I’ve definitely been an avid student of the genre my whole life.”
Receiving his first guitar as a Christmas present in 1963, Gibbons taught himself how to play, listening to records by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and Little Richard. Before forming the “little ol’ band from Texas,” with Frank Beard and Dusty Hill, Gibbons played with the group The Moving Sidewalks, which opened for Jimi Hendrix on his first U.S. tour. Hendrix was so impressed with the Texan, he once hailed him as America’s best guitar player, and gave Gibbons his pink Stratocaster as a gift.
After forming in 1969, ZZ Top’s third album, “Tres Hombres,” earned the trio their first Top 10 hit. Sold-out concerts followed, and subsequent albums went on to cement the band’s popularity.
In June of last year, the band released the 10-disc box set, “ZZ Top: The Complete Studio Albums (1970-1990),” which traced their development from a raw blues club act to a groundbreaking, hit-making powerhouse.
When it comes to living icons of blues, Belfour is the real deal. Raised in Mississippi’s rural north, Belfour plays what he calls “Mississippi hill country music.”
A Variety magazine review of his concert at the House of Blues hailed him as “the first great blues discovery of this century.”
Born in 1940, Belfour had a sharecropper father, who played a resonator guitar in a style similar to Charlie Patton. When Belfour was 13, his father died, and he had to work to support his family. He got into blues by listening to some of the giants of the genre. He also learned different guitar tunings, including the “Spanish” open tuning variety, a popular option for slide guitar playing.
“I taught myself as a boy by ear,” Belfour explains. “I’d hear records they’d play on the radio. I kept going, and I just got to where any song they played on the radio, I knew the chords on the guitar. Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker inspired me more than any others.”
Sounding like some raw, rare unearthed treasure, his music is characterized by percussive, repetitive riffs, a droning syncopated driving beat, and overt African rhythms reminiscent of Malian guitarists such as Ali Farka Toure.
Widely acclaimed in Europe as one of the original American roots blues players, he was first “discovered” by Dr. David Evans, a musicologist at the University of Memphis in Tennessee. “Dr. Evans first recorded me and it came out in Germany,” he continues. “He asked me, ‘How did I learn how to tune in Spanish?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, it just come to me.’ “
Living since 1968 in Memphis, where he worked construction for 35 nearly years, Belfour only began playing publicly in the early 1980s. Encouraged by his wife, he began performing in one of the city’s parks and soon became a fixture in Beale Street’s blues clubs.
“I would just sit around at home playing,” he recalls. “I told my wife I ain’t playing for no money. But I finally made up my mind to do that, and I played in Handy Park on weekends. People would put money in the bucket.”
This extraordinary musician eventually came to the attention of a Mississippi record label, Fat Possum, which specializes in living music from this region. By 2002, Belfour had recorded his first domestic album, “What’s Wrong With You,” and its reception was so favorable that “Pushin’ My Luck” followed.
Both were widely acclaimed. PopMatters raved, “Belfour produces stunning blues laments fueled by his sophisticated and clear guitar chops.” And an Allmusic review of “Pushin’ My Luck” concluded, “this record is amazing.”
“People who have heard me have said they’ve never heard anybody play like that,” he notes.
Willie K is especially thrilled that Belfour will play his festival. “I listened to his songs and I said, ‘This is what a blues festival in Hawaii needs,’ ” Willie enthuses. “His style reminds me of Gabby Pahinui for Hawaiian music fans. We offered him a vacation on Maui for a week, but he said, ‘I can’t do vacations because I’ve got to do my gigs.’ He’s 74. He said, ‘I’ll play but I’ve got to leave the next day.’ That’s a blues man. It’s going to be a real-deal blues festival.”
A benefit for the Montessori School of Maui brought out Willie Nelson and his sons for a marvelous night of music last Saturday at the Maui Tropical Plantation.
With Lily Meola opening, the evening was packed with highlights including guitarist Lukas Nelson unleashing a ferocious version of Hendrix’s “Pali Gap,” along with his band, Promise of the Real. And as well as serenading the sold-out crowd with many of his classics, Willie (on electric guitar) traded solos with Lukas and Tom Conway on a powerful take on “Texas Flood.”
For blues fans not heading to Waikapu for the next concert, Stella Blues Cafe in Kihei on Jan. 11 will present a great evening of music with Delbert McClinton, Marcia Ball, and Johnny Nicholas and Hellbent, featuring steel guitar ace Cindy Cashdollar.
Although he is known primarily as a roots musician, Texas legend McClinton has played behind such giants as Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and Chuck Berry.
Born in Lubbock, Texas, in 1940, he initially became an accomplished harmonica player and was prominently featured on Bruce Channel’s 1962 No. 1 one hit, “Hey! Baby.” Joining Channel on his subsequent tour of England, McClinton wound up giving harmonica lessons to John Lennon.
Over the years, his songs have been covered by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Wynonna Judd, Vince Gill and Martina McBride. A duet with Bonnie Raitt on her 1991 album, “Luck of the Draw,” earned McClinton his first Grammy for Best Rock Vocal, Duo or Group.
Most recently winning a Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammy for his 2005 CD, “Cost of Living,” McClinton mixes country, rock, soul and blues into a unique, personal sound.
McClinton refers to a performance by Ball as “watching the truth.” Influenced by the New Orleans style piano playing of Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and James Booker, Ball is acclaimed for her passionate singing and piano playing. The Boston Globe praised her music as, “an irresistible celebratory blend of rollicking, two-fisted New Orleans piano, Louisiana swamp rock and smoldering Texas blues from a contemporary storyteller.”
Austin-based Dobro and steel guitarist Cashdollar has performed with many leading artists including Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Van Morrison. A Frets Magazine review raved: “Cashdollar is a master of bluegrass, gutbucket blues, honky tonk, swampy R&B, and Western Swing.”
* The musicians will perform two shows at Stella Blues Cafe on Jan. 11. The dinner show costs $65. Meal is at 5 p.m., show is 6 p.m. Show only is $35, with seating at 5:45 p.m. The second show begins at 8 p.m., with a cost of $35. Call 874-3779 for reservations.
Colorado’s contemporary bluegrass band Leftover Salmon arrive on Maui for a brief club tour, playing Stella Blues, Charley’s and Casanova. Formed in Boulder, Colo. in 1989, it offers an exuberant blend of bluegrass, rock, country and Cajun/Zydeco. Called Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass, it has made them favorites on the jam band scene.
“We just said, let’s take bluegrass, crank it up, add drums, and that will be Leftover Salmon,” co-founder Drew Emmitt recalled in an interview. After a lengthy hiatus, the band reformed in 2007. Leftover’s most recent studio album, “Aquatic Hitchhiker,” captures its trademark jamgrass sound.
* Leftover Salmon plays Stella Blues at 10 p.m. Wednesday and Jan. 9; Charley’s at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 10; and Casanova at 9:45 p.m. Jan. 11. All tickets are $25.