CAMMIES: Blues, Jazz, Country

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Blues is the most pure and primal of all musical forms, born out of painful necessity in the form of the call-and-response “field hollers” of plantation workers in the late 19th century. There will always be a need for the blues, the need to sing away the trials of life, to squeeze those notes just a little harder.

“I get to a point where I grab my guitar almost without knowing it and catch myself wailing a painful blues song, sometimes for 30 minutes before I … well, wake up from it,” explains three-time CAMMIE-award winner Maurice Huffman, better known as Big Mo (and the Full Moon Band). “That is why the blues is still important for all of us today—it relieves the pain and helps with the joy.”

Of course, the blues has influenced just about everything in your music collection, save for maybe those old techno discs from your rave days. And while this year’s nominees picked up instruments after hearing old records from the greats—Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy—each has incorporated a number of styles to create their own brand of blue-eyed blues.

It’s all about flawless musicianship here. Norton Buffalo brings the most recognizable name to the CAMMIES, having lent his fiery harp skills to the recordings of everyone from Steve Miller to Bonnie Raitt while still playing out and making his own music.

Members of Rube & the Rhythm Rockers, Bawl ’n’ Chain and Sapphire Soul formed through the tight-knit group of musicians trading licks at jams sessions like those of the local Midnight Blues Society. In each of these outfits you’ll find a little funk, some swing and even straight rock ’n’ roll, all floating above the bedrock of blues.

As Kathy Williams of Bawl ’n’ Chain puts it: “[The blues] is one of the most soulful and expressive genres; truly the people’s music.” And with the looming recession, and unemployment creeping to frighteningly high numbers, we may need the blues now more than ever.


Like the blues, jazz is as much a musical style as it is a long chapter in our country#&8217;s history book—not the boring U.S. history you took in school, but the cool Ken Burns kind of history lesson.

Music was the bright spot that came out of some of our country’s darker periods. And there’s still something about the image of a jazz quartet in crisp suits ripping it up inside a smoky club … say, Small’s Paradise in New York’s Harlem circa 1930. It was never background music—people paid full attention to what the players were doing on the stage.

In Chico, jazz has notoriously been relegated to background music, a mere side order to the filet mignon. It’s a shame, too, considering the caliber of players in this town.

This year’s jazz nominees include many familiar faces. Holly Taylor & Eric Peter’s scat-and-jazz stylings got them a CAMMIES award in 2008, not to mention four nominations in the same number of years.

After spending months in Canada and Japan with her professor husband while he was on sabbatical, pianist Shigemi Minetaka has returned to the Chico jazz fold with her partner in crime, upright bassist (and CN&R staff writer) Christine LaPado. The former NewmanAmiYumi members have started a new chapter of cool jazz in the vein of practitioners like Miles Davis (early years) and Bill Evans.

“We’ll do some medium and really fast stuff, too, but the big difference is the really slow, harmonically complex, moody stuff,” explains LaPado. “No drummer, no horn player—really opens things up to be creative.”

In keeping with jazz tradition, almost every player in Chico likely has played with one another at some point. LaPado returns as a nominee with Groove Diggers, a blues-and-jazz quartet made up of some of the finest players in town, including guitarist Larry Peterson, keyboardist Jim Schmidt and Rick Gibson behind the kit.

Minetaka is also tickling the ivories with first-time nominee Beans N’ Rice Experiment, which incorporates elements of Latin music and even hip-hop.

Guitarist/bassist Dave Elke and multi-instrumentalist Greg D’Augelli represent another set of familiar names, having played everywhere and with everyone while taking jazz to a more funk-friendly place.

The CAMMIES Jazz showcase will offer a rare chance to actually watch the musicians, not a dinner plate. Take advantage.


Thinking about the current state of country music is a sad, sad thing. Sad, I tell you. Most modern groups considered “country” are influenced more by Winger and Firehouse than Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.

And that “alt-country” thing lasted about four days. Sad. There are plenty of artists still exploring the grittier (i.e. good) aspects of country music … you know, love lost, losing sleep, losing faith, losing your dog. And Chico has enjoyed a bit of a country music renaissance over the past few years (remember Flash Flood & the Dikes? Anyone?).

More recently, Aubrey Debauchery dropped the acoustic guitar and picked up an ass-kickin’ country-punk band with a memorable name in the Puke Boots (I still want a visual explanation of what a puke boot is). Pals from La Fin du Monde and The Ugly Stick formed Ol’ Yeller as a way to release their inner hillbilly. The result? It’s a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll, and a whole lotta PBR.

The Cheatin’ Hearts have poured their stripped-down outlaw country on to three self-produced records. It’s about as close to Waylon and Willie as you’ll get in this town, and you can see the band often at Honky Tonk Night on Mondays at The Maltese.

Of course, 2007 CAMMIE-award winners Three Fingers Whiskey are the vets, having formed way back in 2001. The band plays (a little noisier) classic country everywhere from clubs to rodeos.

Bluegrass and Americana are thriving in pockets all over the country as artists shirk tradition in a more respectful manner. Sid Lewis, flatpicking champ of the great state of California and creator of his Acoustic College

(he’s been playing banjo for 25 years), brings hillbilly stomp to his group Crazygrass.

“You put a banjo and some square dance tunes to a rock beat with electric bass and heavy metal drum kit, and you get Crazygrass,” Lewis says.

That’s why it’s always a good time, and it’s why Sid and the boys are always invited back to bluegrass festivals like Strawberry and High Sierra.

If traditional grass is what you seek, Mossy Creek delivers. The seven-piece is highlighted by the one-two punch of harpist Bob Littell and vocalist Erin Haley, the latter of whom has a not-so-traditional secret to share with Mossy Creek fans: “One group I like that may surprise MC fans is Linkin Park. I wonder how many of our fans know who Linkin Park is!”

You heard it here first.

Oh yeah, dobro player Dean Mott also sings, his voice adding “dimension to the band’s diaposonics.” The fact the group uses the word “diaposonics” in its bio assures you that the members’ musical prowess—Linkin Park fan or no—goes well beyond human understanding.