Big Al Groth, left, and Rev. Raven commune with
the audience during the annual Paw for the Blues show
at the Terrace Bay Inn.
By STEVE SEYMOUR
Rev. Raven knows how to get a party going, whether in person or by way of his recordings.
As evidence, the Milwaukee-based bluesman thrilled a packed house at the Terrace Bay Inn last Saturday during a charity event also billed as a CD release party.
Along with the Chain Smoking Altar Boys, Raven fired up the crowd with tracks from the new "Shake Your Boogie" album as well as concert favorites.
Proceeds from the show, sponsored by Wendy Pepin's Paws for the Blues, will benefit the Delta County Animal Shelter's spay, neuter and adoption fund.
The annual concert series was launched in 2006 in memory of well-known local musician Jim Lewis, who had a great love for animals and the blues.
Raven was backed by his crack band comprised of Big Al Groth (saxophone), P. T. Pedersen (bass) and Bobby Lee Sellers (drums and vocals).
They performed half a dozen songs from the new disc including "Looking for Love," a catchy Raven composition. The song is being "played on the radio all over the world," Raven kidded the audience.
To end the first set, Raven left the stage to wander through the crowd, playing his Gibson six-string up close and personal, as is his tradition.
The band entertained an enthusiastic audience through three sets, playing a mix of original tunes and cover songs.
Some of the evening's memorable songs came from Raven's first three albums, including "They Call Me the Reverend," "Bee Hive Baby," "Louise," "I'm Your Honeyboy," and "She's Movin' On."
With the clock nearing midnight, Raven and Groth performed from the audience while standing on chairs side by side, sending fans into a frenzy.
Fans showed they were out for a good time too, filling the dance floor from the start and never leaving it empty.
Wearing his trademark sunglasses, Raven urged the audience to purchase the band's compact discs, t-shirts and hats. "Help me fight my personal battle against poverty," the bluesman said.
Acording to his biography, Raven was born and raised in Chicago. He started playing the blues after he saw Texas-blues legend Freddy King play in 1971. Following a 15-year stint in the U. S. Navy, Raven decided to give the blues his full-time attention beginning in 1990.
Raven has met with a large measure of regional success and has been recognized with Wisconsin Music Industry awards many times, including this year when the band was honored as the best blues band and given the People's Choice Award.
Although Raven is stacking up annual awards, he has been a bit slower to get new product released.
Since his "Slow Burn" debut with the Chain Smokin' Altar Boys in 1998, Raven took his time to issue "Live at Blues on Grand" in 2004, while "Big Bee" arrived two years later.
Prior to the recent Terrace show, I spun "Shake Your Boogie" a few times to get a feel for Raven's latest CD.
The fresh disc features an hour-long program of well-honed original songs and a hot batch of lesser known covers.
Raven put the disc together from two live shows--performed years apart-- at Milwaukee's Miramar Theater.
The older recordings spotlight Madison Slim (harmonica and vocal), Andre Maritato (bass), Spencer "Kid" Panosh (drums) and the late Mickey Larson (keys) putting their all into four cover songs, including a terrific version of "She's Murder."
Current Chain Smokin' Altar Boys (Groth, Pedersen and Sellers) demonstrate their prowess on the originals, penned by Raven and Chicago-area songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gerry Hundt.
Raven opens the disc with his own "Looking For Love," before tackling Hundt's "Stomping And Shouting."
The singer and guitarist follows with another original, "You Didn't Even Say Goodbye," with a lyrical surprise at the end.
With drummer Sellers taking lead vocals, the band puts an insistent groove on Little Milton Campbell's "Count the Days," augmented by keyboardist Danny Moore.
Madison Slim combines harmonica playing with singing on St. Louis Jimmy Oden's "She's Murder," also known as "Murder in the First Degree."
Sellers returns to sing Robert Nighthawk's gritty "Bricks In My Pillow."
Slim takes on Sonny Boy (Rice Miller) Williamson's "Like Wolf," delivering an awesome vocal along with tasty harp breaks.
Raven delivers the vocals for "The Woman I Love," apparently adapted from "She's Gone," the opening track on Hound Dog Taylor's first album.
The lead guitarist continues with the original, "I Can Do You Right," pleading: "Honey, you said some man done you wrong, well I can do you right."
Next, the band shines on the instrumental work-out "P.T.'s Home Cooking," credited to Pedersen.
Then, Madison Slim makes another appearance to lead the band through Slim Harpo's "Mail Box Blues."
Midwest bluesman Gerry Hundt also composed "Walking to Chicago," which Raven sings with conviction.
Raven's blues get-together concludes with an exhuberant rendition of the title song, "Shake Your Boogie," which starts with Slim's harmonica. The band cooks on this country blues song written and recorded by Big Joe Williams in 1965.
The CD runs seamlessly despite alternating between the two different line-ups and three different singers.
Long-time band cohort Bill Stace engineered the sessions for the new CD, which were done without an audience, and with minimal overdubs.
If you want a blues party, go to a live Rev. Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys show like hundreds of fans did last weekend.
Or, pick-up up "Shake Your Boogie" or one of their other CDs.
You'll have fun either way.