Bill and Eli Perras, Florida Folk Musicians Extraordinaire

Bill and Eli Perras, Florida Folk Musicians Extraordinaire

I’ve had two great musical partnerships in my life. One of them is on the acoustic or folk side of the musical universe; it’s the work I was privileged to have done with husband and wife duo Bill and Eli Perras.

They invited me into their musical world many years ago when they were still billing themselves as “Bluesgotus!” Those were the days! Yeah, lots of folks thought it was “Blues Goddess” and tried to find the site on the world-wide web! If the latter name for the delightful, amazing, blues-soaked couple had been for real, one wonders what a proper role for Bill might have been! Well, playin’ the guitar, of course!

At any rate, they’ve paid their dues, many times over and they’re known–very well known–simply as Bill and Eli Perras these days. And they’re still out there after many years, writing, singing, playing and traveling. Bill is one of the best finger-picking guitarists around and Eli’s original songs are a treasure. Together they’re as good and as real as it gets in the Sunshine State.

If you’d like to know more about this “dynamic duo” of authentic folk and blues music, visiting their home page would be a good start. Note well what the critics and other artists have said about them. Although they’re not traveling as much as they did for the last two decades, you can still book them and see why they’re thought of so highly by others in the folk community here in Central Florida and beyond. And tell ’em Bulldog sent ya!

Fuel, the new barbecue joint next to The Alley in Sanford

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If you’re into bars in Sanford’s historic district and like live music, you probably know about The Alley. They’ve been around for about twelve years now and everyone who’s anyone has played there. In addition to the killer music, they’ve got cold beer, a full bar, good help and loyal customers. What more could you ask for? Yeah, you’ve got it: good chow.

Along came Fuel. This new barbecue joint is on the south side of The Alley, in the new addition that came from the major renovation and expansion completed about six months or so ago.

I had heard quite a lot about it from friends and had to go check it out. I’m glad I did. The design is suitable for any good barbecue joint, looking not too “uptown” but not looking like a dump either. Not always an easy balance to achieve, but they did well with this addition.  I imagine it took at least three expert carpenters with massive tool belts and beat up pick up trucks to pull it off! Seriously, the perfect “feel” for an eatery of its type.

And the food is quite good. My pulled pork dinner was tasty, the sides were filling and as good as any I’ve had. And I’ve had them all. There was gobs of pork in the baked beans–as there should be–and they were not too sweet. Sugar is a common ingredient in baked beans, but they didn’t get carried away with it at Fuel.

The green beans really got over with me. I honestly have never tasted better. Those alone would have me coming back! And I enjoyed the collard greens as well, could have eaten them all day.

Anyone who knows me knows that I really focus on side dishes in a barbecue joint. Theirs at Fuel are way better than most and are served in ample portions. Service is a really big deal, too and the crew at this new spot in downtown Sanford was friendly, helpful and efficient. What’s worse than a place with good chow, staffed by an indifferent, poorly-trained staff? Few things I know of!

The patio seating on the south side is so cool. A really nice ambiance, especially if you’re dining after dark. If you like blues music and good barbecue, Fuel at The Alley is heaven-on-earth! Park Ave between 1st and 2nd Streets. Hope to see your face in the place soon!

 

Photo credit Benjamin Lawrence Basile

Harp god James Cotton turns 81 today!

Harp god James Cotton turns 81 today!

July 1, 2016

Blues harmonica legend James Cotton turns 81 today. James is the real deal, having grown up in Mississippi under the tutelage of Sonny Boy Williamson. James ran away from home at the age of seven and was deeply immersed in the blues from that time on. No one else has that kind of amazing blues pedigree; it’s a seriously over-worked phrase, but Mr. Cotton truly is one-of-a-kind.

I had the privilege to meet James after a show at the now-defunct Disney Institute back in 1996. (The D.I. has since been transformed into a massive Time Share Resort.) The back stage meet and greet had been arranged for me by my friend David McElroy who was the Director of the Theater project there. I’ll always be grateful for David’s consideration; the conversation I had with this living legend of the blues is one of the best moments of my musical career. A wonderful time in many ways.

James had been an able vocalist for his whole career and so we were taken aback when he struggled mightily to sing; it was shortly after that performance that he had to permanently stop singing because of serious problems with his vocal cords.

I just had to post tonight and wish Mr. Superharp a very happy 81st birthday. James was known for playing, recording and touring like a madman since 1953 but has now downshifted just a bit. I wish him good health and continued success on his day today.

 

The Death of Singer Christina Grimmie

Rising star Christina Grimmie made a name for herself after her run on NBC’s The Voice back in 2014, though she was not a new performer at that time by any means. Her murder at The Plaza Live was shocking and although she was not an artist that I follow, it was chilling to read the news the next morning, as I have been in that Orlando landmark many times; it was one of the venues where many of us in the blues community have played or shown up to support one another or have gone to see nationally-known acts. It was inconceivable that an artist would be shot dead there by an obsessed fan, but that’s exactly what happened.

Because there are thousands upon thousands of places on the net that tell every detail of that sad story, I’ll not rehash the killing. But this piece in Rolling Stone treats the story with a wide-angle lens, talking about that zone where social media, super-stardom,  and obsession meet and what that means for artists and fans.

This is not to down-play in any way the shock and mind-numbing grief that must have ripped through the hearts of her family, friends and fans. But an even crazier and more shocking event was about to play out in Orlando. Our community, the Nation and even the world have been fixated on the this bizarre and heart-breaking story: the massacre of 49 people at Pulse, a nightclub on Orlando’s south side.

Bulldog Ben blows bad, blue notes

Have enjoyed singin’ and playin’ the blues here in Central Florida for the last 21 years. Not quite as active these days, but have some good plans lined up for the short-term future. To see my music page on the world-wide web and sample four cuts from my 1997 CD Mean Ol’ Frisco click here. Many thanks to guitarist Les Canney and musical and tech wizard Jeff Walker. No better musicians to work with.ben-w-chro-harp-darker-cropped-52345987d

Love My Blues with a Little o’ This Mixed In

Love My Blues with a Little o’ This Mixed In

I love to talk about the blues and some of the other genres we often associate with it. I have a fascination with those “cross-over zones” where the blues “come together” with other great genres of American music.

Although I get that music transcends our labels, it’s also true that artists, critics and fans need to throw around some terms to help us make sense of it all.

For some reason this idea of “cross-over zones” has become a BIG deal for me. I think of the “blues-country zone”  and artists like the great Jimmy Rogers, Lee Roy Parnell, his harp-playin’ bro Rob Roy Parnell and others.

In that very cool “blues-jazz” fusion zone, you’ve got people like Joe Williams (not “BIG Joe”, the other guy) Count Basie, and modern ones like Jimmy Witherspoon and Robben Ford. And I must not leave out Billie Holiday or the late Eva Cassidy.

Speaking of modern artists, John Mayer is amazingly adept at fusing, Rock, Pop, Jazz and Blues; I’m not sure if anyone is as good at that as he is.

Mississippi blues man “Little Milton” Campbell was often described as a “soul-blues” fusionist and I’d put Bobby Rush and Bobby “Blue” Bland in that category as well. Seeing Bobby Bland live here in Barnett Park in Orlando was quite a thrill for me. That was back in ’97 if my memory is working.

Then there’s that whole “blues-rock” thing; that zone really sets me off! There are so many greats who have “hung out” in this awesome zone! I’ll name only a few here: Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray, Walter Trout, Joe Bonamassa, Jimmy Thackery, and of course, Jimi Hendrix! What a line-up that is! Stevie Ray also loved jazz, of course and was a BIG fan of jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell.

Having said all that, I probably hang out more in the “blues-folk” zone than any other one! I play acoustic a lot, partly because it’s so easy to do, what with the minimum of gear that’s needed, etc., and partially because here in Central Florida, the “Friends of Florida Folk” are so active and sponsor so many great shows, fests and activities.

Josh White might just be the “best of the bunch” when it comes to artists who had one foot in the folk world and the other one in the blues. Josh Sr., I mean.

His “set list” and mine would have a rather large overlap; he did a lot of spirituals and gospel as well! As many of my friends know, I got my start singing in our family gospel quartet at the age of six and sang in church choirs and youth chorales all the way up until college. (And that’s where the I got bit by the “blues bug”; more about that in a minute.)

Josh White was well-known as a New York folk-blues singer and guitarist who helped “get the blues over” with a fan base that was already “tuned-in” to folk music. Because his work featured liberal helpings of gospel, he was sometimes billed as “Joshua White, the Singing Christian”.

Josh died in New York in 1969 and his son, Josh White Jr., has followed in his father’s footsteps, performing originals and much of his father’s material as well.

In 1973 as was a 17 year old music-lovin’ frosh at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa when Josh Jr. came to campus to play as one of our Student Activity Concerts. My room mate had just begun to introduce me to Muddy Waters, harmonica wizard Little Walter and some of those cats; thanks again, Dr. Carver! I was already into Johnny Winter and had been introduced to the music of Willie Dixon in the same way as so many other white suburban kids, via Led Zep records. So you might say that I was really ready for a life-changing experience, and that’s the best way to describe what happened to me that night in the Dining Commons there in my freshman year! I’ve been a confirmed blues freak ever since and began performing the blues in the mid ’90s.

I do feel as though I owe a real debt of gratitude to Josh White Jr. for the show that night. No doubt I’m only one of many white middle-class kids who may never have “discovered” this most incredible genre of American music if Josh had not been booked to play at our schools. Josh spent years in the ’70s and ’80s playing hundreds of college campuses, a fact of which he is quite justifiably proud. And I and many others today love and support and play the blues because Josh booked so many of those college dates. Thank you, sir!

Josh’s home page has a fine bio, of course, and one on his Dad as well. His site is here.

To have a look at the site for the “Friends of Florida Folk”, the outstanding non-profit org here in the Sunshine State working tirelessly to promote and preserve folk music, click here.

At the end of the day, all authentic genres of music are merely branches off the same tree. These days, we often lump all of it together under the term Americana. I like the term. But until terms and labels which have been in use for a couple of centuries lose all meaning, it’s good-and useful-to break it down, take a closer look and remember why we love the music so well.