Sonoma Music - Mike Hyland


Blues, broads and a Hooker (Jr.)

Take four incredibly powerful female vocalists, put them together with a kick-ass band, and then decide to record them.  So, do you take them into a studio and spend hours and hours to get just the right take?  Hell no, put them in the 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, turn on the tape machines, and let these four ladies of song do their thing!  And what a brilliant decision it was. In addition to making a live recording, the show was also videotaped for a DVD that accompanies the CD in the package that was released by Delta Groove Records just a few weeks ago.

Tracy Nelson, Dorothy Morrison, Annie Sampson and Angela Strehli are The Blues Broads.  With more than two centuries of collective experience in blues, country, gospel, and rock, this group is nothing less than a roots music super group of the first order.  The CD/DVD contains a few familiar songs that are associated with their respective careers as well as a few newly written tunes that highlight the talent and creative might of these women.  Each brings a unique perspective and history to the group that came together in early 2011 under the aegis of Bob Brown, the album’s executive producer and whose Rancho Nicasio venue serves as the Blues Broads’ unofficial home base.

The DVD was directed by John Korty who won both an Oscar and Directors Guild Award for the documentary “Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?”  Korty also won an Emmy for “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.  He called the Blues Broads “living testimony to the persistence and longevity of musical talent, proving the value of life experience in making art.”

So let’s delve into the history of these four women.  I would guess that Tracy Nelson is perhaps the most famous of the four.  Her career dates back to the mid 1960s when she recorded an album of acoustic blues tunes, with Charlie Musselwhite’s backing, for the Prestige label.  After moving to San Francisco, she founded Mother Earth and rose to the front ranks of the era’s great female singers, sharing stages with Janis Joplin, the Dead, Jimi Hendrix and many others.  She moved to Tennessee, just outside of Nashville many years ago, recorded with Willie Nelson and turned out a steady stream of blues and country-rooted albums.  Her most recent solo release is the critically acclaimed “Victim of the Blues” which received a Blues Music Award nomination for Traditional Blues Album of the Year.

Even if you don’t know her name, you know her voice.  Dorothy Morrison rose to international renown as the lead vocalist on the Edwin Hawkins Singers hit “Oh, Happy Day,” the biggest selling gospel recording of all time that was released and topped the charts in 1969.  Ms. Morrison was a member of the singing Combs Family early on and rose to prominence in East Bay church circles.  She has worked with artists such as Van Morrison, Boz Scaggs, Delaney & Bonnie, Rita Coolidge, Merry Clayton and even Simon & Garfunkle – she is heard on “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Angela Strehli had been one of Austin, Texas’ most highly regarded female vocalists prior to her move to the Bay Area in the 1990’s.  She was a fixture at Antone’s in Austin where she played a key role in that club’s development.  At Antone’s, she was mentored and encouraged by many of the artists she booked including Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughn, all of whom helped her transition from the back office to the stage of the famous music club.  Her collaborations with Lou Ann Barton and Marcia Ball were, in some way, a forerunner for the Blues Broads concept.

Annie Sampson sings rock, gospel and a theatre background to the Blues Broads.  She played one of the leads in the original San Francisco production of “Hair” in the late 60’s and would go on to be a founder of Stoneground, the communal rock band that included Sal Valentino of the Beau Brummels in its line up as well as Cory Lenos, Steve Price and David Jenkins who would go on to form Pablo Cruise.  Annie, like Dorothy, comes from a church background and has recorded and performed with notables like Maria Muldaur, Taj Mahal, Journey, Eddie Money, Elvin Bishop, Elvis Costello, Jerry Garcia and many more.

For a splash of real musical talent, The Blues Broads are playing at the Last Day Saloon in Santa Rosa on Friday night, October 12.  Tickets are $20 in advance and $22 at the door the day of the show and available at Lastdaysaloon.com. Opening the show is The Coahoma To Sonoma All Stars featuring Sarah Baker, Gary Silva, Donny Mederos and Steve Pile.  The show begins at 8 p.m. with doors opening at 7:30 p.m.

Another show worth seeing this weekend is at Biscuits & Blues in San Francisco.  Saturday’s show (October 13) features multiple Grammy and Blues Music Award nominee John Lee Hooker, Jr.  Hooker recently released his latest CD “All Hooked Up” on his own Steppin’ Stone Records label which was produced by Larry Batiste and recorded at Pajama Recording Studios in Oakland.  The album showcases the versatility of the singer on a dozen original songs that demonstrate his roots in blues as well as soul, gospel, funk rock and even a touch of jazz.

Born in Detroit, John Lee Hooker, Jr. was weaned on the blues at an early age by his famous father.  By the time he was eight years old, the younger Hooker was already performing on local radio stations, and when in his teens, he was touring with his dad.  Exposed to blues greats such as Jimmy Reed and local Detroit heroes Washboard Willie and Boogie Woogie Red, young Hooker became a regular at such prestigious venues as Detroit’s Fox Theatre as well as a variety of upscale Motown clubs.  At 18, he was recording with his father, most notably on senior’s landmark “Live at Soledad Prison” on ABC Records.

This show also doubles for his CD release party for “All Hooked Up” that was released a few weeks ago.  There are two shows, at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. and tickets are $22 per person at Biscuitandclues.com. Oh, and the food at Biscuits & Blues is very good as well.

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