Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Blues shows aid local charities

Iowa's Avey Brothers will headline a Blues
for a Cause charity show at the Terrace Bay Inn
on March 12.


A series of blues concerts over the last five years raised more than $25,000 for local charities, a tally shows.

Organized by Escanaba resident and blues enthusiast Wendy Pepin, the 13 shows have been held under the banners Paws for the Blues and Blues for a Cause.

The shows debuted in 2006 with a tribute show in memory of Jim "Smiley" Lewis, a well-known local guitarist, singer and songwriter who died a year earlier at age 57.

Hundreds of people, including dozens of musicians, attended that event headlined by the Lark Brothers and "Big Al" Ek, who had worked with Lewis in the Shuffleaires.

One fan likened the show to a class reunion "with all the people you like." Besides live music, the event featured the release of Smiley's 1991 album "No Explanation Necessary" on compact disc.

Building on that success, a second Paws for the Blues show was held the following year, again featuring Smiley's musician friends. The ten-hour marathon show was headlined by Ek, who flew in from Las Vegas for the occasion.

After skipping a year, a third Paws for the Blues event was on Nov. 7, 2009. The tribute show ended with Steve "Doc" Yankee and the Lark Brothers performing a powerful version of "Bad Dream Blues," a track from Smiley's "Rebel Without Pause" CD, then just issued.

Proceeds from all three shows aided the Delta County Animal Society.

The most-recent concert in the series, an appearance by Milwaukee's Robert Allen Jr. Band in January, raised nearly $2,400 for the spay/neuter/pet adoption program at the Delta County Animal Shelter.

Other concerts benefited Northwoods Air Lifeline, Carefree Dental Clinic, U. P. Diabetes Outreach Network, Delta County Cancer Alliance, Delta County Search & Rescue, Perspectives Adult Day Care and local food pantries.

Rev. Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys have been featured at four of the concerts, including one at Hereford & Hops Steakhouse & Brew Pub in downtown Escanaba.

Most of the concerts have been headlined by regional acts, but two have featured big names in blues music.

Nationally-known blues band the Nighthawks performed a show in 2009 and returned in 2010.

Veteran bluesman John Hammond, meanwhile, gave a memorable acoustic concert last winter.

Hammond has had a wide fan-base since 1962 when his self-titled debut album appeared on Vanguard Records.

In the follow decades, Hammond has issued more than three-dozen studio albums, including "Rough & Tough," released in 2009.

Playing acoustic guitar and harmonica at his local show, Hammond performed blues classics and original material, earning a standing ovation at the end of the evening.

Founded in 1972, the Nighthawks have been hard-working road warriors for nearly four decades.

Although they've played thousands of gigs they ventured from Washington, D. C. to the Upper Peninsula for the first time in 2009.

Harmonica player and lead vocalist Mark Wenner remains from the original line-up which also featured guitarist Jimmy Thackery before he left to go solo.

The first Nighthawks show included long-time drummer Pete Ragusa who retired months later to be replaced by Mark Stutso.

Chicago area blues acts Joe Moss and Bill Lupkin also staged shows during 2010.

A veteran of the Windy City blues scene, Moss earned his chops as a sideman with many of the metropolitan area's best blues bands, including Buddy Scott's Rib Tips.

During his gig at the Terrace, Moss showed his considerable prowess on lead guitar, backed by a three-piece band. They tore through songs by B. B. King and Freddie King along with a number of original tunes.

Moss is the older brother of Nick Moss, who fronts the Flip Tops, another band gaining recognition nationally.

Harmonica player Lupkin also backed some of Chicago's blues greats, including Jimmy Rogers, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.

During his U. P. engagement, Lupkin told the audience about his encounters with many of the genre's top stars and played songs to illustrate his stories.

While all 13 blues shows have drawn enthusiastic crowds, the most-popular has probably been Rev. Raven.

The Milwaukee bluesman headlined a pair of shows in 2008 and two more in 2010. For the the first of those concerts, Raven included harmonica-master "Madison Slim," also known as Mark Koenig in his band.

The most recent appearances had Raven sharing the spotlight with saxophone player "Big Al" Groth. Raven's crack rhythm section is comprised of P. T. Petersen (bass) and Bobby Lee Sellers (drums).

Raven's concert last November was also billed as a CD release party for the new "Shake Your Boogie" album.

According to his biography, Raven was born and raised in Chicago and started playing the blues after seeing Freddie King perform in 1971. After spending 15 years in the Navy, Raven began a full-time blues career in 1990 and has been pleasing fans ever since.

Raven's reputation in the central Upper Peninsula seems to grow with each successive show.

Two more Blues for a Cause shows are already scheduled this spring.

Iowa-based Avey Brothers will bring their show to the Terrace on Saturday, March 12.

A trio based in the Davenport area, the Avey Brothers were finalists at the 2010 International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

The band is comprised of Chris Avey (vocals, lead guitar), Mark Avey (bass) and Bryan West (drums).

The Aveys have recorded two full-length CDs, "Devil in My Bed" and "Preacherman."

Proceeds from the concert will aid the Menominee-Delta-Schoolcraft Community Action Agency "Walk for Warmth" program.

Rev. Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys will return for another show on Friday, April 22.

With the upcoming events area music fans have two more opportunities to enjoy an evening of blues while supporting local charities.

You might say it's a win-win situation.

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