NEAL & BILLY BRANCH (USA)
July 5th, 19.30
Neal - guitar, harp, vocals
Frederick Neal - key
Darnell Neal - bass
Kennard Johnson - drums
Billy Branch - harp, voc
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Play the Blues? Mrs. Neal's son ignites Moe's on Friday.This Bayou blaster
nursed at the bosom of the blues.
If you were fortunate enough to catch the Kenny Neal Band's blistering
BRAVO channel performance recently, you know that this young man may well
be the Great Black Hope for whom blues preservationists have been praying.
The Baton Rouge native's winning combination of Bayou hoodoo and Chicago-style
stomp makes Neal a certifiable candidate for a blues crown.
Neal's BRAVO show emphasized his triple-threat talent. He played guitar
(a slightly less frenzied Buddy Guy with a touch of Otis Rush) and harmonica
(Slim Harpo, who, it happens, gave Neal his first harp) and sang with
the assurance of a guy who not only understands his craft but also has
absorbed its essence.
GQ-handsome, Neal has the look of a matinee idol. As it turns out, he's
already put in some time on Broadway. Five years ago, Neal landed the
lead role in a revival of Mule Bone, a collaborative effort between writers
Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston during the Harlem Renaissance.
Neal's father, Raful, once led a band featuring Buddy Guy on guitar, and
pop's first recording came out a year after Kenny was born. Thus, it was
nothing to see Guy, Slim Harpo and Little Walter in the Neals' living
room, working on tunes and talking trash. "I got a chance to see
and hear some of the greatest musicians ever and listen to their stories.
All of those guys were my heroes," Neal says.
With some half-dozen superlative recordings under his slender belt, Neal,
still in his mid-30s, may one day become a hero himself.
followed a very non-traditional path to the blues. Unlike many blues artists,
he isn't from the South. Billy was born in Chicago in 1951and was raised
in Los Angeles. He first picked up a harmonica at the age of ten and immediately
began to play simple tunes.
Billy returned to Chicago in the summer of '69 and graduated from the
University of Illinois with a degree in political science. It was during
these years that he was introduced to the Blues.He soon became immersed
in the local blues scene. He spent a great dealof time at legendary blues
clubs such as: Queen Bee's and Theresa's Lounge; he learned from such
stalwart harmonica players like: Big Walter Horton,James Cotton, Junior
Wells and Carey Bell.
His big break came in 1975 during a harmonica battle when he beat Chicago
legend, Little Mac Simmons at the Green Bunny Club. He made his first
recording for Barrelhouse Records and began to work as an apprentice harp
player in Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All-Stars.He eventually replaced
Carey Bell and worked with Willie Dixon for six years.
During this time, Billy formed the Sons Of Blues (S.O.B.s) featuring musicians
who where the sons of famous bluesartists. The original S.O.B.s consisted
of Billy, Lurrie Bell, Freddie Dixon and Garland Whiteside. They toured
Europe and played at the Berlin Jazz Festival. Shortly afterward, they
recorded for Alligator Record's
Grammy-nominated Living Chicago Blues sessions, and Billy has been a regular
studio player appearing on over fifty albums.
Billy has recorded and/or performed with an incredible list of Blues legends
including: Muddy Waters, Big Walter Horton, Son Seals, Lonnie Brooks,
Koko Taylor, Johnny Winter, and Albert King. In 1990, he appeared with
three harp legends:Carey Bell, Junior Wells, and James Cotton on W.C Handy
Award winner, Harp Attack! His most recent recordings for the Polygram
label are entitled The Blues Keep Following Me Around and Satisfy Me.
Billy is also passing on the blues tradition to a new generation through
his Blues In The Schools program. He is a dedicated blues educator and
has taught in the Chicago school system for over twenty years as part
of the Urban Gateways Project.
In 1996, some of his finest students opened the Main Stage at the Chicago
Blues Festival which was broadcast throughout the U.S. on National Public
Radio. Blues producer, Chicago Beau has written, "Billy Branch has
become a beacon, and model for his times; as an artist, and social/cultural
activist... Billy Branch is a Bluesman; Billy Branch is the Blues."
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