This is it. This is the one: OC's best blues fest of the year, hands down. That it takes place in an all-but-inaccessible locale crawling with filthy yuppie turds should deter no one because this year's DOHENY BLUES FESTIVAL features one of the most scorching, eclectic lineups ever.
Over the course of the weekend, we've got three Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees (inducted in the days before they started letting in the likes of Billy Joel and his simpering ilk) in WILSON PICKETT, ETTA JAMES and BO DIDDLEY; the winner of the 1999 Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammy (we won't hold it against him too much, though) in KEB' MO'; and a host of veterans, up-and-comers, in-betweeners and local heroes who lay down the best that blues has to offer, over, under, sideways, down.
Yeah, well, except for the inexplicable inclusion of neo-lames INDIGO SWING, who for some perfectly stinky little reason are headlining over trailblazing blues hero JOE LOUIS WALKER. That's my only complaint, and it's a small one in the face of so much undeniable class, I suppose. But it still pisses me off to see Walker dissed in his own domain.
Get there early on Saturday to check out OC's BARRELHOUSE on the Hennessey's Tavern Stage at 11:45—as in ay-em, folks. I've been writing about these boys' excess bitchenness for some time, and although it'd be nice if they didn't have to play at such an ungodly hour, I am heartened nonetheless that someone has finally, belatedly, given Barrelhouse a high-profile gig.
Park your ass until 2:45 p.m., when you can catch the Bay Area's TOMMY CASTRO, a blue-eyed soul puppy similar to Barrelhouse whose recent Right As Rain on Blind Pig Records is a solid candidate for album of the year.
The aforementioned Walker—one of the few guys who bends the limits of what comprises blues songwriting without sounding like he's trying too hard and is one mean mutha of a shred-cookie guitar picker—takes the Hennessey's stage at 4:45 p.m. Stroll over to the Doheny Stage at 5:45 p.m. to catch popular acoustic-fingerpicking dynamo Keb' Mo'.
Then at 8:30 p.m., get ready for the undeniable highlight of the night: the man who breathes shit, grit and mother wit, one bad extra human bean who's as funky as a pot of greens bubbling in bacon greeze—ladies and gentleman, the slick 'n' wicked . . . (Michael Buffer voice) . . . WIL-sonnn PIIIiiicket!!! Pickett, of course, is the shrieking demon responsible for such in-your-face pre-funk soul classics as "In the Midnight Hour," "Mustang Sally," "Funky Broadway," "Ninety-Nine and One-Half (Won't Do)," "Land of 1,000 Dances" and "634-5789 (Soulsville, USA)." With dangerously high energy levels, sweat-drenched presentation to rival James Brown and pipes that shred till they bleed, Pickett is living history who still performs like he doesn't know he earned his gold watch years ago.
Also performing Saturday: LITTLE FEAT, ANGELA STREHLI, STEVE COPELAND & RAGING SUN, BUBBA & THE BIG BAD BLUES, MAMA'S BOYS, and BLACK KAT MOJO.
Sunday's earliest highlight is up-and-coming guitar god ERIC SARDINAS, who plays the Doheny stage at 1:30 pee-em. Saunter over to the Hennessey's stage at 4:30 p.m. to catch THE ROLLING FORK REVUE, which is composed of Muddy Waters' boy-child BIG BILL MORGANFIELD, who recently made his recording debut with Rising Son, and Waters band alumnus Willie "PINETOP" PERKINS and BOB MARGOLIN, who both record as front men in their own right these days and played with Morganfield on his debut.
Be back at the Doheny stage by 5:45 p.m. to catch rock & roll founding father Bo Diddley, who—let's face it—ran out of steam years ago, if his recent albums on Triple X Records are any indication. But since all he's gotta do is play his trademark chunka-chunka-chunka-CHUNK-CHUNK lick and yell a little to get some fireworks going, Bo oughta be worth catching anyhoo. Let's just hope he tunes his guitar better than fellow patriarch Chuck Berry has in recent years.
Closing out the Doheny stage at 8:15 p.m. is Miss Peaches, Etta James, soul diva supremo. James can be an aloof, disappointing performer when she's bored, but she can tear the roof off the sucka when she's inspired. The guess is that singing for thousands of screaming fans under a blazing sunset on the beach will spur the grand old lass on to amazing heights, so don't miss out.
Also performing Sunday will be the excellent West Coast blues jumpers ROD PIAZZA & THE MIGHTY FLYERS, plus MARCIA BALL, THE FREDDIE BROOKS BAND, KELLY RYAN, COREY STEVENS, 2000 LBS. OF BLUES, LARRY HORNE AND SMALL CHANGE, and THE BOOGIE MEN.
There's nothing you can do to prepare yourself for LINK WRAY, who plays the Coach House on Wednesday and the Foothill on Thursday, May 27. Spend an hour watching this evil old coot, and you'll be ready to hack at yourself with a butcher knife, rape the nearest dog, drink a gallon of gasoline, and pledge your soul to Satan.
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Wray's snarling, howling guitar and vocal work are servicemen to malevolence; last year's Shadowman album may be the scariest piece of work he has ever released. This accomplishment is astonishing when you take into account that Wray is nearly 70 years old and has functioned on one lung since the Korean War—shades of Dorian Gray and a Faustian bargain if there ever was one. The very idea that these ferocious, rebellious sounds emanate from a guy born more than 40 years before the Sex Pistols surfaced is mind-boggling. But then, Wray's legendary "Rumble," which was recorded in 1954 (but didn't hit the charts till '58), was almost inarguably the first punk single, a threatening, snot-nosed summation of bad attitude woven into two and a half minutes of instrumental-guitar mayhem. Wray poked holes in his amp's speaker to achieve a primordial distortion and attacked his strings like a school of hungry piranha on a bloated carcass. Ward and June did not approve.
Wray followed "Rumble" with even cooler slices of juvenile-delinquent swagger, songs with titles like "Jack the Ripper," "The Black Widow," "Big City After Dark," "Run Chicken Run" and "Switchblade." In recent years, cult directors like John Waters and Quentin Tarantino have used Wray's music in their films to great effect (who can ever forget the sight of Divine performing all manner of atrocities to Wray's "The Swag" in Pink Flamingos?). Meanwhile, Wray backed up rockabilly crooner Robert Gordon for a time in the late '70s and released the occasional solo album before moving to Denmark in the '80s, disappearing from sight on these shores until only the past few years.
Wray's return is a homecoming for all lovers of real rock & roll: his music is a reminder to the current crop of punk poseurs that the old man who raised them might be frail-looking, but he can still kick the living shit outta their pea-green asses if they cross him. Bonus: Long Beach's sublime hot-rodders DEL NOAH & THE MT. ARARAT FINKS open the Foothill show.
Doheny Blues Festival at Doheny State Beach, 25300 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Dana Point, (949) 262-2662. Sat.-Sun., 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. $22-$38; Link Wray performs with the Graveyard Farmers and Dick Smiley at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930. Wed., 8 p.m. $16.50; and at the Foothill, 1922 Cherry Ave., Signal Hill, (562) 494-5196. Thurs., May 27, 9 p.m. $17. 18+.