Sunday, November 20, 2011
College Park Blues
The man facing the audience in cowboy hat and sunglasses sang and played with all of the experience one would expect from an 81-year-old man who had been performing in front of an audience since childhood. But the guitar licks and singing that cut the air that night had the energy and drive expected from a much younger man.
Warner Williams was playing the Fourth Annual College Park Blues Festival, held November 12 at the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum.
As the opening act, he was the perfect performer to set the bar for an evening of blues that would later feature Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner, the D.C. Blues Society Band with singer Ayaba Bey and guitarist Tom Newman and his band.
One of only nine people this year to win the National Endowment of the Arts’ National Heritage Award, Williams can arguably be seen not only as an American musical icon, but a piece of musical history. The National Endowment of the Arts describes him as a performer of “Piedmont Blues,” a storytelling style of music found in the region between Maryland to Georgia and west to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Williams, who said he likes to play blues and spirituals, playfully calls it “front porch music.”
That evening, the rapt, almost reverential attention he received from the audience seemed to recognize his status. Hardly anyone was talking, and few were looking at anything else in the room other than Williams as he played a set that acknowledged the Veteran’s Day weekend with an instrumental of “God Bless America” and also included his version of “Blueberry Hill,” the classic made famous by Fats Domino.
You can almost feel what I’m talking about in these videos of his performance. Here’s “Blueberry Hill:”
And this segment includes the instrumental I mentioned, plus other gems:
Up next was Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner, who will represent the D.C. area in January-February 2012 at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Turner, who plays bass in addition to guitar, first learned to appreciate the blues from his father’s collection of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters records. He started playing guitar at the age of eight and was playing clubs in the D.C. area by his early teens. Starting in his early 20’s, he dropped out of music for more than ten years, but eventually returned to the blues—and performing.
His band at the festival included Sean Graves on drums, Dave Satterwhite on bass, Avon Dews on harmonica and Chuck Pearson on keyboards/organ. Here they are with “She’s 19 Years Old:”
Then came the D.C. Blues Society Band with Ayaba Bey, who had previously performed at the 2011 D.C. Blues Festival. The band includes Sam’I Nuriddin on guitar, David Harris on harmonica, David Jackson on bass and Joseph Thomas on saxophone. Catch the solos by Harris and Thomas as the band plays “I Want to Make Love to You:”
Here they come back with “C.C. Ryder:”
The show ended with guitarist Tom Newman, who started performing professionally at age 16 and began teaching at age 18 while a student at Howard University. At Howard, he recorded the hit record “Let’s Do the Latin Hustle” with Eddie Drennon and the BSS Unlimited Band. Over the years, he has played with Stanley Turrentine, Roy Ayers, Lloyd Price, Wilson Pickett and others.
As you can hear in the following video, in which he plays “Hideaway,” there is a jazz flavor to what Newman does:
As we said before, Newman played with Wilson Pickett. Here he is with his version of “Funky Broadway:”
SHOUT OUT: By the way, the gentleman with the fancy dance steps shouting “Go ‘head” to the bands is Jeremiah. He is a big fan of the blues here in D.C. and the concerts would not be the same without him.