Odetta at The B.B. King Blues Club

Odetta / Guy Davis Review


B.B. King Blues Club, April 4, 2002:


     I get to the B.B. King Blues Club early, to get a good seat. I am the first person on line, when they open the doors. A friendly staff member shows me to a front row table, nicely centered and slightly stage left. The club is gorgeous with red lights accenting large images of B.B. King himself. The comfortable chairs have musical notes carved in the back of each, which adds a nice touch. There are large screens on each side of the stage to see even better from the rear of the large room. JACKPOT!! I sit there all alone at the table and enjoy a real nice dinner, slowly and pleasurably. An African-American musician joins me near the start of the show. He brings a guitar, which he checks in the coatroom. He just came from a gig and his name is James Carter. We are both eagerly anticipating a night of acoustic music. James raves about Odetta and says, “She is the greatest.”

     The music starts right on time opening with an acoustic blues artist, Guy Davis. He starts off with a Didgeridoo solo. It is very brief but sensitive and tasteful. Guy Davis has an Aria acoustic guitar with harmonica and is accompanied by Mark Murphy on standup bass. The opening tune “You Better Tell ‘Em Right Now” is finger picked with a slide. This 2/4 stomp is lively, interesting, and sets the tone for his style and approach. The second number is a John Estes tune called “What Ya Doin’.” Guy switches to an Epiphone acoustic to perform this slow boogie blues in F#. Guy is relaxed and brings us into his musical stories, which he executes so well. The third song is a narrative story into a slow deliberate blues. Guy tells us about Dodt Ramsey and Juanita and about their lives and times in “Japatown.”


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

     On the fourth musical entry, Guy brings back his fine harmonica playing to augment his acoustic guitar and standup bass. He performs a spirited interpretation of a Robert Johnson tune “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day.”  Guy Davis is a tremendous performer and each song paints a different picture with a quality delivery and at times humorous attributes added for depth. Guy Davis plays a Bob Dylan song, “Sweetheart Like You.” Wow, what an amazing rendition of Dylan’s poignant verse “what’s a sweetheart like you doin’ in a dump like this.” This is soothingly slow and very soulful. The closing tune of his set is a harmonica solo. A spirited boogie song with very funny narrative about a farmer with pigs, named like dogs. He is at times barkin’ and blowin’ his harp very rhythmically. Excellent opening set by Guy Davis!


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

     Odetta comes on stage just before 9:00 P.M. She is greeted by a rousing welcome of applause and verbal greetings from the audience. She immediately pays tribute to Guy Davis and his parents, Ozzie and Dee Dee Davis, who are sitting in the audience. A standing ovation erupts from everyone in the room, to show our appreciation and get a glimpse of the extended family.


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

     Odetta’s musical reputation is well renowned and her strength, love and character emanate from her, in the smile on her face and the truly genuine characteristics of her style and grace. Odetta opens with the gospel standard “ I’m Gonna’ Let It Shine.” She has us all sing along with her in the traditional answer / response song form. This is embracing, spirited and loose, and makes you feel real down home. Song number two is a country blues titled “Careless Love,” featuring piano and vocal only. Her delivery is melancholy, slow and soulful, then evolves into a mid-tempo shuffle and vocal strut.  Jim’s guitar is super tasteful and shows his superior chops throughout the evening. Song number three is “You Don’t Know My Mind,” featuring David Keys on piano. This tune is a shuffle, which is tasty and succinct. The bass player, Mike Merit is featured, as is the drummer, Richard Koose, who plays some of the nicest, most sensitive brush work I have heard in a long time. Song four, “Bourgeois Blues,” is another uplifting spirited boogie with well placed stops and a great piano solo. Jim brings out a vintage Silvertone guitar to play exceptional slide on.


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

     The next song is a tribute to Bessie Smith titled “TB Blues.” This tune is a country blues, a soft shuffle. Song six is “Weepin’ Willow Blues,” a kickin’ shuffle blues. Next is the well known blues tune “Nobody Knows You When Your Down And Out,” which is extremely expressive from deep within Odetta’s soul, succinct and deeply personal. The next tune is from Leadbelly, “Roberta.” Odetta pays deep respect to Leadbelly and he is obviously one of her mentors. This is a tremendous rendition of this great blues song with a fantastic piano solo from David Keys. Odetta showcases her superior vocal talent with strong, soothing and elegant high falsetto notes, complimented with well-timed vibrato.


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

     The next song, “Rich Man Blues” cries out “rich man open up your heart and your mind,” and talks of hard times in the traditional 12 bar blues style. “Sometimes I Feel Like A Mothless Child,” a tune requested from the audience, is done acappella, very slow and deliberate. The band joins in the second verse, playing the tune for the very first time. Another Leadbelly tune is next “Rock Island Line.” We all sing along, encouraged by Odetta to “jump in feet first and don’t be shy.” “Can’t Afford To Do It” is followed by “Ya Gotta’ Know How,” sung very eloquently, with a dynamic interpretive flow.


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

     Odetta is way over her time for the first set as it is almost 10:15 P.M.  AND ?!?! Odetta finishes with the famous Leadbelly traditional anthem “Midnight Special.” We again all sing along, and everyone smiles and sings with passion.


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

     I have heard so, so much about Odetta, and she is everything everyone has always said: tremendous, sensational, inspirational and very, very genuine. What a fantastic show, indeed!!!!!!!!!


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

     James Carter and I are blown away! What a great concert experience. We hug and hope to see each other again. He is appearing at Terra Blues Club on Bleeker Street, near where I work on May 21st as ‘J. Rah.’ I will make a special effort to see his gig there and continue our friendship.

     The B.B. King Blues Club is a fantastic venue to catch a concert, with a friendly staff and great food. You’d be doing yourself a favor to go see a show there sometime real soon. I extend a special thanks to Ariel Publicity for making this all possible.


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A.J. Alfaro