In our music feature this week, we profile local roots musician Valerie June, who is following up a Memphis show on October 5th with a two-day appearance Thursday and Friday at the Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival in Helena.
June won't be the only Memphis performer heading south for the festival, which is celebrating its 25th year by showcasing an amazing selection of blues heavyweights. The festival runs Thursday, October 7th, through Saturday, October 9th, at the Cherry Street Pavilion on the banks of the Mississippi in historic downtown Helena-West Helena.
Long a free festival, the Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival is now a ticketed event, with a $25 admission supplying entrance to all three days. This year's lineup looks well worth the price.
Thursday night, the festival is headlined by B.B. King, with an undercard that includes Tupelo songwriter Paul Thorn and Memphis mainstays the Reba Russell Band.
On Friday, the festival expands from one stage to three, with bravura dual headliners: New Orleans R&B institution Dr. John and chitlin-circuit king Bobby Rush. Artists preceding Dr. John on the Sonny Boy Williamson Main Stage include barrelhouse piano queen Marcia Ball and blues guitar legend Hubert Sumlin. The Memphis connection includes June on the Emerging Artist Stage and Greenville, Mississippi's Eden Brent, a pianist/vocalist whose terrific new album, Ain't Got No Troubles, was released by Memphis label Yellow Dog Records.
On Saturday, the main stage welcomes a back-to-back pairing of Memphis native and harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite, whose new album, The Well, is his first collection of entirely self-penned songs, and the versatile Taj Mahal. Other likely Saturday standouts include piano legend Pinetop Perkins with guitar ace Bob Margolin. Memphis representatives include Beale Street vets Preston Shannon and Don McMinn.
See bluesandheritagefest.com for more information.
Back in 2003, bandleader Eldorado Del Rey authored one of the more unexpected passages in recent Memphis music. The frontman for a loose, energetic garage punk-blues band, the Porch Ghouls (which also featured ex-Grifters guitarist Scott Taylor), Del Rey met Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry during the Memphis musician's day job as a Sun Studio tour guide. Intrigued, Perry listened to the Porch Ghouls demo, became smitten, and signed the band to his then-new Roman Records label. Soon, the Ghouls' debut, Bluff City Ruckus, was getting major-label distribution, and the band was opening for Aerosmith and KISS on tour.
It was too much too soon: The record didn't take, and the band didn't last. But Del Rey regrouped to form a new band, El Dorado & the Ruckus, which released two albums, 2005's Planet of the Vampires II and 2006's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. By 2007, Del Rey had drifted back to his native Florida.
But Del Rey couldn't stay away. Since returning to Memphis — and Sun — Del Rey has re-formed the Ruckus, which now includes Matt Ross-Spang and Jason Freeman on guitar and Daniel Farris on drums. Del Rey is simultaneously releasing two new albums, The Hidden Fortress and Duck, You Sucker!, the former recorded before his exit from Memphis, the latter since his return, both at Sun. Both albums also feature a film theme of sorts.
The Hidden Fortress is named after the Akira Kurosawa film that helped inspire Star Wars. The opening song, "Yojimbo" (fun chorus: "Yojimbo! Yojimbo! Yo!"), is also named for a Kurosawa film and features the electronic sounds (in this case, an agreeable blend of hip-hop and Atari 2600) that Del Rey dabbled in immediately after the Porch Ghouls. The more recent Duck, You Sucker! is a westerns-themed album named after a Sergio Leone spaghetti western (better known by the alternate title, A Fistful of Dollars). The album is somewhat of a return to the more rootsy, guitar-driven sound of the Porch Ghouls.
El Dorado & the Ruckus will celebrate the release of both albums at the Hi-Tone Café Friday, October 1st, with opening bands the Dirty Streets and the Gunslingers. Showtime is 10 p.m. Admission is $5.