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Long Live the King

[whitespace] King Ernest helps JJ's celebrate the blues

By Nicky Baxter

People don't call Ernest Baker "King" for nothing. In his younger days, the bluesman was so wild and crazy, it just seemed like a natural fit. Now 59, King Ernest may not be able to out-dance prime-time James Brown, but he's still manages to keep audiences riveted with his soul-singed blues shouting.

Baker's been around the block and back again. He started out as a rhythm & blues shouter in the late 1950s, quit to play cop for 14 years, only to hang up his holster in exchange for hot flash of the blues floodlights.

Though he's performed in such exotic locales as Sweden, Belgium and Holland, Baker is only now garnering the kind of props that prompted a record company head to dub him "King" Ernest more than 30 years ago

As a kid, he played sidekick to his dad, who would play twangy country music at Louisiana hoe-downs one night, black blues at juke joints the next. After moving to Chicago in the late 1950s, King Ernest came under the influence of blues great Bobby Bland.

It's not difficult to detect the connection on King Ernest songs like "I'm So Tired," the kick-off track from his long overdue 1997 debut, King of Hearts (Evidence). Baker cries a mighty river without drowning in it; this is vintage Peacock/Duke wailing. Behind him, Baker's band does its best to recapture Eisenhower-era blues, complete with a horn section just this side of slick. The only miscue is some obtrusive piano pounding. On other tracks, particularly the "I'm Not the One," King Ernest sounds like a Pentacostal preacher casting out evil spirits.

In fact, whenever he gets a chance, Baker can be found in church singing to save souls. He refuses to distinguish between the blues and gospel. After all, they stem from the same source. He may be just about ready to receive Social Security checks, but King Ernest is far from ready to abdicate his throne.

King Ernest appears Feb. 27 at JJ's Blues in San Jose. Tickets are $10. (408.243.6441).

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Web extra to the February 25-March 3, 1999 issue of Metro.

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