Rip it up

Bay Area Blues Society’s Caravan of All-Stars Sierra Nevada Brew Pub Monday, Oct. 27

It was a good night for blues and a great night for brews as the Bay Area Blues Society’s Caravan of All-Stars entertained a couple of hundred folks at the brewery’s release of its annual Celebration Ale. Led by guitarist/vocalist Ronnie Stewart, the Oakland-based revue opened its first lengthy set with not just a couple of instrumentals but a full 45 minutes’ worth before bringing on vocalist Teddy “Blues Master” Watson.

BABS is an organization dedicated to keeping alive the spirit of West Coast blues, with a special emphasis on Oakland’s contributions. Thus it was only fitting that, after Grover Washington’s “Mr. Bill” (huh?) they played Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp,” which featured good solos by Stewart, tenor man Carl Green and “the white” Jimmy Smith on organ.

Watson, a show biz vet with 50 years of experience, quickly got the crowd going with his animated performance of mostly B.B. King songs. After a 30-minute break, during which half the crowd left, the band returned and really got down with the blues on the Bill Doggett classic, “Honky Tonk,” followed by Jimmy McCracklin’s “Think,” sung by the drummer, Michael Skinner (good job, too!), which segued into a roaring “Mustang Sally” that packed the dance floor.

So far so good, but then Wylie Trass took his turn on stage and sang “Stand by Me"—a nice song but not the blues we’d been led to expect. In fact, I was disappointed, especially when the energetic Trass did a rock-'n'-d roll medley that included Elvis’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” a stupefying example of a black man imitating a white man imitating a black man. Between doo-wop and James Brown funk, the blues came in last. All in all, a very mixed bag of music; however, the group’s CD, The Music They Played on 7th Street, is all blues.