Let’s get back to music this week with a fun show at Relix Theatre Thursday night. BB King died just about a year ago and I missed a tribute concert held afterward at Relix Theatre and really regretted it. When I heard there would be a round two on or near the anniversary date, I thought I might go. I watched a video of one of the musicians schedule to be there, saw who the house band would be and decided I couldn’t miss it.
Before the music, however, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge some people who don’t make their living playing music, but who make a big difference in the local music community. Immediately springing to mind are Rusty Odom who owns Blank Newspaper, Wayne Bledsoe, many-year music critic for the News Sentinel, Steve Wildsmith, music critic for the Maryville Times and Scott and Bernadette West who, no doubt, book more musicians than anyone else in the city.
And then there is Michael Gill of Bluegill Productions. Any conversation about the biggest supporters of music in Knoxville has to included Michael. You may know him best by his Alive After Five series at the Knoxville Museum of Art. As it turns out, he also has produced shows in quite a variety of other venues, including Relix. The BB King tribute concerts were his productions and the hundreds of people who attended were a testament to how trusted he has become as a curator of fine music and, particularly, of blues music.
And a word on the blues, if I might. I’m not sure the blues have ever been the most popular form of music in Knoxville, but we definitely have kept our toes in the genre over the years. A listen to the St. James Sessions reveals Knoxville was home to a number of singers who could fit the early definition. Probably our most famous blues native son is Brownie McGhee who, often in tandem with Sonny Terry, popularized the Piedmont Blues.
In more recent decades, Knoxville has hosted a number of well-known blues artists. I met John Lee Hooker at Ella Gurus in 1988. In 1990 I saw, and met both Clarence Gatemouth Brown and Odetta there. During that era and for several years after we enjoyed a pretty steady stream of some of the finest blues artists. The Bijou, particularly, presented a number of these shows. I saw Koko Taylor, Bobby Bland and others there.
We also had a pretty good run on the World’s Fair Park. In the amphitheater there I saw a double bill of KoKo Taylor and Buddy Guy. I also caught Buddy Guy a few years later for Hot Summer Nights. Of course, BB King himself made a number of appearances here over the years and I saw him three times, as best I can remember.
Then, there is the local scene. We’ve had a number of bands over the years focusing mostly or exclusively on the blues. Jenna Jefferson and her various collections of cool friends comes to mind in recent memory, along with Devan Jones and the Uptown Stomp. We also have a group of people locally who celebrate the blues via the Smoky Mountain Blues Society. They host a number of events related to the musical form, such as the wonderful Blues Cruises.
All of which brings us to Relix last Thursday night. The various artists played BB King songs as their turn on the stage presented itself. Devan Jones and the Uptown Stomp, that house band I mentioned earlier, started the night with what he said he hoped was an obscure BB King song, though a few audience members indicated they new it. The rest of the night rotated artists along with better and lesser-known tunes.
Jenna, the first up in the rotation, blew the roof off, as is her style. Michael, himself, gave a solid rendition of a song I did not know. The first half of the show ended with a local blues singer previously unknown to me: Cal Robbins who sang an excellent short set.
The second half of the show began with another number or two by Devan Jones and crew before they were joined for a brief set by Larry Blair of The Blair Experience. Posturing like a young Dean Martin with a drink and cigarette as props, he delivered a fine set of songs and offered the crowd more than a little fun.
The night ended with Jody Sherman electrifying the crowd with his growling vocals and edgy guitar. It was a very, very good performance and I’ll look forward to hearing him, again. I’m going to leave you with a video sample of his work from a video recorded by Loretta Trisler Wood during a recent show at the Open Chord. Enjoy.