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BLUES : Long Beach Festival Plays Familiar Notes

September 16, 1993|FRANK MESSINA | Frank Messina is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition.

Last year, the Long Beach Blues Festival moved into a new neighborhood, both musically and geographically.

Some blues purists shook their heads when 1992 headliners James Brown and Chuck Berry were announced, although both had drawn on blues roots to blaze their own trails in the '50s and '60s. The blues festival itself was in a new place, a park on the Long Beach Harbor.

This year, both the venue and the music are back on familiar ground. The weekend festival has returned to its traditional site on the Cal State Long Beach campus, and tributes to Delta blues and the legendary Muddy Waters are on the program.

The tributes are giving festival producer Ken Poston a chance to retrace the great postwar blues migration of rural Southern musicians to Chicago. He has tried to put together a living history lesson on the seminal acoustic Delta sound and how it changed to the rollicking, electrified big city blues.

The Delta tribute on Saturday will feature performers who were born in Mississippi and who played there in the '20s and '30s with other blues pioneers.

Headliner John Lee Hooker (from Clarksdale, Miss.) is by far the best known of the group but nobody's blues credentials are more authentic than those of Robert Jr. Lockwood, who hoboed throughout the South with his stepdad, none other than the great Robert Johnson.

Pianist Pinetop Perkins, who learned his trade in Mississippi juke joints, will join Lockwood on stage.

Others on Saturday's bill with Delta roots: James Cotton and Rufus Thomas. John Hammond is a younger acoustic guitar soloist and singer from New York City whose work carries on the Delta tradition. Also playing on Saturday: KLON's national talent search winner, the Preston Shannon Band, from Memphis.

Muddy Waters--real name: McKinley Morganfield, of Rolling Fork, Miss.--wasn't the first Delta bluesman to seek his fortune in Chicago, but with such hits as "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Mannish Boy" he became the best known blues musician to emerge from the South.

Waters died in 1983, but this weekend will bring together several of his old band-mates, including singers Jimmie Rogers and Big Daddy Kinsey, Luther (Guitar Jr.) Johnson, harpist Carey Bell and pianist Perkins.

Their tribute will close the festival on Sunday.

Other acts on Sunday will include Little Milton, Denise LaSalle, Charlie Musselwhite and the gospel singing Five Blind Boys Of Alabama.

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