Regardless of the disco comparisons it garners, the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” made Rolling Stone‘s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” for a reason. As the intro’s keyboard motif is established, a harmonica cuts straight through, elevating the 4/4 kick drum beat from toe-tapping to foot-stomping.
That harmonica is none other than Sugar Blue’s, headliner of the fifth annual American Music Celebration. The singer/harp player is known for his work with the Stones, Frank Zappa, Prince, and a slew of other artists. Taking a road not entirely uncommon for blues artists at the time, Blue moved to Europe in the 1970s. It was here he met the Stones, which ultimately led to him playing on a few of their tracks. He released his solo debut Crossroads in 1979. He was later featured on a compilation album called Blues Explosion, a 1985 Grammy winner.
Blue makes a stop in the Lowcountry this Sunday in support of his recent album Threshold. The collection serves as a good introduction to Blue’s career, showcasing his vocals and blues harp skills. Styles vary between blues and jazz, with a lyrical focus on everything from the lighthearted to post-Katrina New Orleans.
“Ramblin’,” a two and a half-minute track of layered harmonica solos, is the best showcase of the harpist. Elements of fusion are peppered throughout the album, notably the keyboard runs on “Tonight,” and the sounds of explosions on “Stop the War.” Blue and his band cover traditional blues ground with renditions of Elvis Presley’s “Trouble” and Junior Wells Blakemore’s “Messin’ With the Kid.”
Opening for Blue are R.J Spangler’s Blue Four and locals Freddie Vanderford and Brandon Turner. Vanderford, a blues harpist taught by legendary blues showman Peg Leg Sam, will match his skills with Turner’s acoustic, wall-of-sound guitar playing. Vanderford was recently awarded the S.C. Folk Heritage Award for his helping hand in the S.C. traditional music scene. Being taught by Peg Leg Sam, one can expect an emphasis on showmanship, as well as the duo churning out an immense amount of sound for a two-piece.
Blue will be joined by a full band this week, culling tunes from Threshold and the rest of his catalog.
Veterans of the Motor City music scene, R.J. Spangler’s Blue Four will share the stage with renowned keyboardist Bill Heid, who just returned from an eight-month stint in China. The group plays a special brand of Detroit swing, with Spangler manning the skins, plus accompanying bass and sax.
Thanks to the Kiawah Island Accommodations Tax Committee, the event is free of charge. “It’s a great chance to experience both the real Lowcountry and a great day of world-class music,” says organizer Gary Erwin (a.k.a. Shrimp City Slim), who booked the acts for the show.