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The Blues Line

[whitespace] Gregg Allman & W.C. Clark
Jeff Dunas (left), Scott Newton

Blues in the Face: Gregg Allman (left) and W.C. Clark play the blues at the SC Blues Festival this weekend.

A collection of mighty blues players come to Aptos Village Park

By Nicky Baxter

THIS WEEKEND'S Santa Cruz Blues Festival boasts a lineup that packs a mighty wallop. The bill includes the Brit-styled blues of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, the blues-rock of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters, as well as the fancy fretwork of local guitar hero Chris Cain. Funk and soul are well represented by the Boneshakers and W.C. Clark, respectively. Jimmie Vaughan (Saturday) and Gregg Allman (Sunday) headline the event.

Years before little brother Stevie Ray was anointed the savior of blues-rock, Jimmie was demonstrating a scythe-sharp mastery of the guitar. Relatively unheralded, however, is the Texan's sensuous vocal style and songwriting acumen. While Stevie Ray approached his craft with an almost grim determination, Jimmie informed his tunesmithing with wry wit. When the two faced off on Family Style, just prior to Stevie Ray's tragic death nine years ago, it was rightly considered a triumph. The album shows off the Vaughans' twin-guitar attack on tracks like "D/DW" to awe-inspiring effect. Jimmie Vaughan's smokey blues vocal is particularly effective on the humorous "Good Texan."

Out There, released last summer, flaunts some of Jimmie Vaughan's finest work to date. Supported by Hammond B-3 organ player Bill Willis and a crisp rhythm section, Vaughan rocks his way through a batch of blues and R&B-derived numbers, simmering on "Like a King," cooking on "Can't Say No," burning on "Lost in You."

The title track sounds like it was recorded in a Holy Roller tent revival with B.B. King on guitar and the Dixie Hummingbirds on vocal harmonies. On "Motorhead Baby," Vaughan's drawling vocal tips off an affinity for Charles Brown's West Coast blues. On "Like a King," Vaughan and company get downright funky. Jaunty B-3, ringing guitar and Peter Green-like vocals skate along a laid-back pulse; hand claps and frat-house shouts reinforce the party-time atmosphere. Expect Vaughan to swing as relentlessly as a pendulum at Aptos Park.

Gregg Allman, Sunday's headliner, is in the unenviable position of having his solo work compared to that of the original Allman Brothers Band. Even a cursory listen to classic-era Allmans--say, Beginnings--makes any comparison grievously unfair. That album showcased the prodigiously gifted singer at an early peak.

The brooding, atmospheric blues of "It's Not My Cross to Bear" and "Midnight Rider" remain unmatched. Still, Allman's whiskey-ravished growl has deepened and matured over the decades as if in defiance of his star-crossed life: the death of brother Duane, drug addiction ... Cher. Searching for Simplicity, Allman's first solo recording in a decade is well worth the wait.

W.C. Clark, who also appears Sunday, is one of Austin, Texas,' most highly regarded musicians, and he has influenced several blues-rockers, including the Vaughan brothers. In fact, Clark co-wrote one of Stevie Ray's biggest hits, "Cold Shot." He is a vocalist whose style possesses the kind of aching soulfulness of a presanctified Al Green. Clark's guitar playing is spare and to-the-point, bearing the stamp of Memphis players like Steve Cropper. Clark is a commanding performer without resorting to grandstanding. Of course, when one is blessed with a voice like Clark's, theatrics are beside the point.

The Santa Cruz Blues Festival will be held May 29-30 beginning at 11am both days at Aptos Village Park. Tickets cost $26/$16 children. For info, call 479-1854.

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From the May 26-June 2, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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