Longtime residents of the Third and Fifth wards can testify directly to a legacy now finally being appreciated by others: Houston is home to some of the best blues ever made. From the late '40s through the '60s, many of the genre's most influential clubs, artists and business enterprises were based here. Upscale venues such as the Eldorado Ballroom and the Bronze Peacock regularly hosted the likes of T-Bone Walker, while smaller clubs and street corners provided worthy forums for Lightnin' Hopkins and other acoustic troubadours. In the meantime, entrepreneur Don Robey -- assisted by Evelyn Johnson of the Buffalo Booking Agency -- was busy assembling the Duke/Peacock empire, the largest black-owned recording company in the pre-Motown nation. Such is the rich history that informs much of contemporary Houston blues.
In 1997 and again in 1998, Living Blues magazine extensively documented that surviving tradition in two special issues. Then and now, the Houston Blues Society responded with reunion-style showcases honoring artists profiled in the magazine. The 1997 gathering at Billy Blues offered an unprecedented opportunity to witness Big Walter "The Thunderbird," Trudy Lynn, Jimmy "T-99" Nelson, Texas Johnny Brown, Luvenia Lewis, Milton Hopkins and about 20 others perform on the same stage. The only problem: Many fans were turned away because of overcrowding. So for this year's encore event, Houston Living Blues Bash II, Aerial Theater will be configured to seat 1,900 people.
Headlining the evening, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Sherman Robertson and the duo of Carol Fran and Clarence Holliman will all do sets with their respective bands. Likely to sit in on a number or two are approximately 25 other local artists, including Calvin Owens, Rayfield "Guitar Slim" Jackson, Conrad Johnson, Pearl Murray, Oscar Perry and Eugene Moody. Many other special guests -- including the entire lineup from last year's inaugural bash -- have been invited to help celebrate. Who knows the sort of unforgettable jams that might ensue?
-- Roger Wood
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Houston Living Blues Bash II is scheduled for Friday, September 25, at Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $16--$25. For info, call 629-3700.
B.B. King Blues Festival -- There's not a damn thing to be depressed about with this lineup: two bona fide legends, an eclectic keyboard genius and an up-and-coming wailer. The ticket price may be a little steep, but considering the talent, it's a bargain. The 73-year-old King is one of the few giants of the golden age of the blues left still standing, much less performing. And when tour organizers announced that hot teen prodigy Jonny Lang would be replaced by Buddy Guy, it became that rare situation in which the understudy easily outshines the announced lead. The fiery Chicago guitarist and singer, whose influence was readily admitted by Hendrix, Clapton, Jimmy Page and Stevie Ray Vaughan, recently released Heavy Love, his best release in a generation. Celebrated Louisiana eccentric Dr. John has also put in one of his better recorded efforts with the new Anutha Zone. For her part, relative newcomer Susan Tedeschi is equal parts young Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin. On Thursday, September 24, at the Houston Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway. Showtime 7 p.m. Tickets $55 and $60. 981-2700. (Bob Ruggiero)
Son Volt -- Never mind that Son Volt's last appearance in town was as stale as week-old mini-mart danish. Or that its upcoming release, Wide Swing Tremolo, is about as formulaic a "concept" album as they come (unless you're of the opinion that echoey instrumentals, atonal harmonica passages and Jay Farrar snarling into a megaphone like a man possessed by Michael Stipe's Monster-era demon constitute real growth). But none of that really matters, seeing as Son Volt has graciously picked Houston as one of the few stops on a small club tour previewing the material on Wide Swing Tremolo, due out next month. Which means one of two things: Either they really do like us, or they know we're major pushovers. On Thursday, September 24, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Doors 8 p.m. Tickets $10. Josh Rouse opens. 869-COOL. (Hobart Rowland)
Roberta Piket -- Since quitting a career in computer engineering to pursue a less foolproof profession as a jazz pianist, Roberta Piket has spent the past decade honing her skills in the New York City club circuit. A recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the second-place finisher in the 1993 International Thelonious Monk Competition, Piket has already done stints with jazz legends Benny Golson and Joe Williams. Her debut CD, Unbroken Line, proves she's a capable leader who is drawn to the expansive and sometimes dissonant styles of Chick Corea and Richie Beirach. On Friday and Saturday, September 25 and 26, at Ovations, 2536 Times Boulevard. Showtimes 9 and 11 p.m. Tickets $10. 522-9801. (Paul J. MacArthur)