June Bug Festival Will Rough Up The Blues

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You can play 'em nice and easy, and you can play 'em rough.

At Saturday's Ninth Annual June Bug Blues Festival, vows organizer "Shakey Joe" Harless, the blues are going to be played rough.

"This is going to be a much more high-intensity group of performers than we've seen before," Harless said. "The energy level is never going to drop."

One of the elements adding to that intensity, he said, is a festival focus-switch.

"There won't be any solo performers this year; we have all really aggressive blues bands. Almost every band we've got has a CD out, they're all national ... and they're all gonna rattle the Rim country."

This years rattlers:

The High Rollers Band "These guys, from San Francisco, are kind of legendary," Harless said. "Phil Berkowitz, the band's leader, is a phenomenal West Coast harp player I met through Norton Buffalo of the Steve Miller Blues Band. If Norton gives someone a recommendation, you know they're good and they are. They're a real danceable, powerful, big-sound West Coast 'jump blues' band."

Their influences include '40s R&B, Chicago blues, West Coast blues, and early New Orleans R&B. Tight arrangements, funky grooves and dynamic stage presence are key elements of the band's style, Harless says. The groups second and most recent CD, "High Time,"was produced by Tim Eschelman, producer for Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and Johnnie Johnson.

The Top Cats "These guys have been a Valley favorite for about four years now," Harless said. "One of the founding members, T.C. Dustin, could be the best blues guitarist in the state of Arizona. He's that good. They just released a brand-new CD, and it is shooting up the charts. It's a three-piece West Coast swing blues kind of like Bob Wills on speed."

In addition to their June Bug appearances, the Top Cats have nabbed a number of high-profile Arizona engagements, including a recent engagement as the opening act for the Brian Setzer Band at the Celebrity Theater.

Walkin' Cane Mark Brehm "The self-proclaimed Blue-Eyed King of Soul," Harless said. "He's a white guy, a cross between Joe Cocker and James Brown. He's been touring Europe constantly for two years, opening for Charlie Musselwhite and John Lee Hooker and those guys. Most recently he was hired in Vegas to replace Wayne Cochran, so he may be bringing members of Cochran's band to the June Bug. He plays harmonica while standing on his head and doing flips on stage. Once you see him, you don't forget him. He's a showman."

An Arizona native and Valley resident, Brehm's act mixes raw Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Chicago Blues and a lot of Soul. The great Willie Dixon dubbed Mark, "Walkin' Cane Mark" in 1988 when he was recovering from a crippling car accident.

"He saw me walking around with a cane and knew my name was Mark, one day out of his mouth came Walkin Cane Mark and it stuck," Brehm has said.

Sistah Blue "Two years ago, Sistah Blue an all-women blues band came in second in the entire United States in Miller Lite's national blues-band competitions," Harless said. "They have also been voted the No. 1 blues band in Arizona six times five times by the Valley's New Times Weekly. There's only about 10 major female harmonica players in the world, and Rochelle Raya of Sistah Blue is in that (group)."

The musicians of Sistah Blue were brought together by the annual women musicians' blues jams held at the Rhythm Room blues club in Phoenix. The event was so successful that after the third time, some of the women decided to give it a shot as a steady band and Sistah Blue was born.Since then, the band has played such events as the Blues Blast festivals (1997 and 2001), and opened for the late John Lee Hooker in 1999.

Buzzard Luck "This band just released a new CD about four months ago, and it's on Top 10 lists all across the states," Harless said.

Named for a 1950s Wynonie Harris song about "the downest kind of luck a body can have," Buzzard Luck specializes in what group members themselves have described as "blues, swing, rock, and the whole musical spectrum."

Shri "This phenomenal band tours Europe about three or four times a year. They're all women except the guitarist. The lead singer is the closest thing to Janis Joplin and Big Mama Thornton you're ever going to hear again. She's a torch-blues singer, does a lot of stuff from the 1940s."

Shri (the name is a title of respect taken from Sanskrit) is a nine-member Arizona-based blues group comprised of two guitarists, two vocalists, drummer, bass player, blues harpist, fiddle player and an organ player. Specialty: Mesmerizing and faithful renditions of R&B, Gospel and Delta Blues.

Luther Tatum "A hired gun from Los Angeles," Harless said. "He's one of the hottest studio piano players in the world a boogie-woogie out of Los Angeles. He's on thousands of albums, he plays with every major band there is."

The John Scott Band "This is a local boy," Harless said. "If you like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, you'll like John Scott. He takes care of the blues-rock-guitar-God end of our show this year. He's awesome, and we're lucky to have him in the show."

From noon to 1:30 p.m. as the crowd is staking out their seats, Harless said, a slate of local blues artists will also take the stage including Gary Lust, Landon Fitch, and the Loosely Tight Blues Band.

Tickets are available Saturday at the gate. Group rates for local businesses are available.

For more information, call 474-2448.

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