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BLUES : For a Finale, the Best of the Bunch

June 06, 1991|ZAN STEWART | Zan Stewart is a free-lance writer who regularly writes about the arts for The Times Orange County Edition.

" Everybody understands the Blues." --American philosopher and blues singer Ray Charles

True enough. We all know what it's like to just feel down. And when you've got that down feeling, partner, you've got the blues.

We say there's no better way to get rid of the blues then to listen to them--or dance to them or shout to them. And there'll be no better place to do one or all of the above than at the finale of the weeklong Benson & Hedges Blues '91 festival at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa this Saturday. beginning at 3 p.m.

The lineup includes the top blues purveyors the art form has to offer: guitarists B.B. King, Johnny Winter and Gregg Allman; singer Etta James and bassist/composer Willie Dixon and his Dream Band--pianist/singer Mose Allison, harmonica player Carey Bell Harrington, guitarist Cash McCall, bassist Rob Wasserman and drummer Al Duncan.

A special treat will be the appearance of Dixon, 75, composer of more than 500 tunes, among them such blues classics as "Back Door Man," "Seventh Son," "I Can't Quit You, Baby" and "Spoonful," which have been recorded by hundreds of artists from Led Zeppelin and the Doors to Eric Clapton and Allison. Dixon doesn't perform often these days, but for the times he does, he's particularly fond of large venues such as the Pacific Amphitheatre.

"When you play for a big house, it makes you feel wonderful because you know the music, and the wisdom it contains, is getting out there to a lot of people," he says.

Dixon--who as part of the house band at Chess Records in the '50s played bass on such rock classics as Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven" and Bo Diddley's "Hey Bo Diddley"--picked his Dream Band mostly from artists who have recorded his songs. Harrington covered "I'm Ready," initially recorded by Muddy Waters, and jazz and bluesman Allison made one of the first recordings, after its debut by Willie Mabon, of "Seventh Son."

Of the rest of the lineup, B.B. King, 65, is perhaps the best known. The renowned blues artist, an Indianola, Miss., native, has one of the most distinctive voices and guitar sounds anywhere.

King was initially drawn to country blues practitioners Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bukka White, but he later felt the influence of jazz guitarist Charlie Christian. He has blended these diverse -- yet not contradictory--forces into his one-of-a-kind style.

King started working steadily in the early '50s, but it was in the mid-'60s that his audience was greatly expanded when noted promoter Bill Graham presented him at such halls as San Francisco's Fillmore West and when King later toured with the Rolling Stones. Since that time, King has traveled the globe consistently, delivering such favorites as "Sweet Sixteen" and "The Thrill Is Gone" to enthusiastic audiences.

Making a guest appearance with King will be guitarist Gregg Allman. Allman gained prominence from his sizzling performances with his late brother, guitarist Duane Allman, in the legendary Allman Brothers Band during the late '60s and early '70s.

Although Allman, 44, a Nashville native, has made forays into rock during his career, he insists that his heart has always been with the blues.

Like Allman, guitarist Johnny Winter came to the forefront of rock in the halcyon days of the late '60s and has long infused his rock-rooted playing with a plenitude of blues elements. Winter's recordings reflect this eclecticism: He's made pure blues recordings--such as his early '80s "Serious Business" release on Alligator--and more rock-tinged material such as the dozen LPs he recorded for Columbia in the '70s. He is regarded for fiery performances that showcase his exceptional instrumental command.

The best known singer on the program is Etta James, 53. The blues artist broke into stardom with her mid-'50s hit "Roll With Me, Henry" (co-written with Johnny Otis), and she also has had an extensive, rewarding career. Her early successes were followed in the '60s by hits such as "Tell Mama" and "I'd Rather Go Blind."

She has become a regular on programs at blues and jazz festivals. Her alternately honey-sweet and gruff-and-gravelly voice can also be heard on the film soundtracks of "Back to the Future" and "Only the Lonely," the current John Candy vehicle.

Rounding out the lineup is John Campbell, another impressive blues guitarist whose debut album will be released shortly on Elektra Records.

Shelter Partnership, a nonprofit organization that develops housing and resources for the homeless, will receive $1 from each concert ticket.

What: Benson & Hedges Blues '91 festival.

When: Saturday, June 8, at 3 p.m.

Where: Pacific Amphitheatre, 100 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.

Whereabouts: San Diego Freeway to Fairview exit, then go south.

Wherewithal: $27.50 and $25.85 for reserved seats, $19.95 for lawn seats.

Where to Call: (714) 634-1300.

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