CKUA's BLUES DUO KEEP THEIR FINGERS ON THE PULSE OF THE MUSIC
It is a given that the CKUA Radio Network has the strongest one-two punch in the land when it comes to broadcasting the blues.
I speak of course of the combination of Cam Hayden’s Friday Night Blues Party
, heard weekly from 9 until midnight, and Holger Petersen’s Natch’l Blues
which has been rolling along for more than 40 years on CKUA. The show has been cemented in the 3 through 5pm slot on Saturday afternoon for some time now.
Not only are these two seasoned and knowledgeable on-air personalities cornerstones of roots music broadcasting, Hayden and Petersen are major players in the blues world on an international level.
Petersen’s Stony Plain Records
, and Hayden’s Labatt Blues Festival
, have been singled out by their peers, blues fans and musicians, as operations that present music in the classiest of settings and formats.
Traveling the continent, catching up with associates and keeping an ear out for both emerging musicians and veteran players who are on top of their games, is an activity these two CKUA favourites enjoy on a regular basis.
The payoff, for passionate blues fans who regularly dial into Friday Night Blues Party
and Natch’l Blues
, is being routinely informed and updated on what is happening on the regional, national, and international blues scenes, with an insider’s perspective.
Hayden, along with Labatt Blues Fest co-producer Carrol Deen, recently hit the road with their vehicle pointed toward Helena, Arkansas with the intention of attending one of the major blues festivals in North America, and one that has been mandatory on the couple’s itinerary since 2004.
“For starters, the longtime organizers of the festival have reclaimed the name 'The King Biscuit Blues Festival' from the radio conglomerate that had taken control of it for a few years. That’s a good thing,” says Hayden who watched legendary disc jockey Sonny Payne, host of the King Biscuit Time radio show on Helena’s KFFA since 1951, take the stage and usher in a new day for the festival. Festival organizers also loosened the purse strings a bit and booked additional headliners, to go along with a host of superb veteran acts and rising stars on the blues scene.
“It was butter on the biscuit having B.B. King close the opening night, with Dr. John following on the Friday and Taj Mahal headlining Saturday, and a weekend pass is only $25. Charlie Musselwhite, who played as much guitar as harp during his set, which is rare, was also in fine form.”
From Arkansas it was on to the town of Aberdeen, Mississippi for an event Hayden described as “a cool little community festival.”
“The setting was perfect, down on a waterway, for what is called the Bukka White Festival, as the great bluesman was born in Aberdeen in 1906. Our friends Lightnin’ Malcolm and Cedric Burnside, whom we presented at the Labatt Festival in 2009, were headlining. Then Carrol and I caught Michael Burks at Hopson Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi and he was certainly winning his audience over,” said Hayden, who had Memphis pinned on his radar as his next stop.
Memphis served up a number of memorable performances, one from Reba Russell, who in Hayden’s words, “is an incredible blues and soul singer.”
While the festival co-producer is not about to divulge who may be coming to the 2011 edition of the Labatt Blues Festival, this is the time of year when the offers to headliners are served up. CKUA listeners will, however, be on the receiving end of Hayden's serving up some fresh sounds he was recently introduced to on his weekly show.
“I really like the new Lynnwood Slim album Brazilian Kicks, where he is collaborating with a Brazilian-based group, The Igor Prada Band. I’ll also be playing music from Studebaker John’s new album for Delmark Records and the new Kat Danser album Passin’-A-Time, which is a real step up for Kat. We bumped into Kat some time ago on one of our trips to the southern states and she was doing research and wood shedding, sort of getting her mojo working, and it’s really paid off for her.”
Meantime, as a judge for the Blues Music Awards which are held in Memphis in May, Hayden is also going through “hundreds of submissions as part of the nomination process”, and CKUA listeners are likely to hear a few nuggets culled from that massive pile of recorded material during upcoming installments of Friday Night Blues Party
As for Petersen, he’s recently returned from Toronto, where he sat in on sessions where guitarists Harry Manx and Kevin Breit recorded a fresh batch of material for Stony Plain Records.
“Harry and Kevin put down 11 tracks while I was there. It was very interesting listening to them as they brought in skeletons of pieces to the sessions and then started building on them. It’s as though they come up with all these pieces to a puzzle,” says the executive producer of the project that will be the follow-up to In Good We Trust, which Breit and Manx released in 2007.
Both guitarists are known as adventurous improvisers and brilliant technicians, so the forthcoming disc, which is slated for release in spring of 2011, will be a much-anticipated affair by those who have enjoyed not only their duo offerings, but their solo discs.
Breit continues to be a “hired session gun” thanks to his associations with Blue Note Records and Norah Jones. The Toronto-based instrumentalist recently participated in sessions in Los Angeles with actor Hugh Laurie of House and BlackAdder fame. Laurie is apparently a fine New Orleans style piano player.
Another Stony Plain project on the release sheets for early next year will come from Rory Block, who once again worked within a thematic framework while hunkering down in the studio earlier this year. Block’s follow-up to Blues Walkin' Like A Man: A Tribute To Son House, focuses on her love of the gritty and hypnotic sounds of Mississippi Fred McDowell.
“I don’t think anyone will be surprised with Rory’s charged interpretations of McDowell’s songs,” says Petersen, “but I think the icing on the cake is that she wrote a couple of originals for the set, one that gives us a biographical look at Mississippi Fred McDowell and another that shows her appreciation for his music.”
We’ll finish this posting with a reminder that Stony Plain recording artist Duke Robillard, who has released over a dozen discs with the label, and produced a number of other sessions for Stony Plain, plays a fundraiser/dance party for the Calgary International Blues Festival on Friday November 26 at Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Hall, and a concert at Festival Place in Sherwood Park on Saturday November 27.
And don’t forget that you can hear artists the calibre of Robillard on Natch’l Blues
and Friday Night Blues Party
every time you tune in.