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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND : ROCKTALK : Many Shades of Blues Brighten Ventura Scene : Buddah Heads and four other artists showcase a variety of approaches to the genre over the weekend and Monday.

October 19, 1995|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The 13th annual Ojai Bowlful of Blues may be over, but plenty of residual blues will be hovering over Ventura this weekend like some sort of danceable fog. Beginning with the Buddah Heads on Saturday night at Nicholby's, the blues continue with a pair of guitarists Sunday--John Hammond at Joe Daddy's and Jackie Lomax at Cafe Voltaire--and with Harmonica Fats and Bernie Pearl on Monday, also at the Voltaire. Each has their own take on those blues.

The Buddah Heads, once B. B. Chung King & the Screaming Buddah Heads, shortened their name during a tour with blues god B. B. King after the headliner not so subtly asked them to drop the too familiar portion of their name. Contracting those blues as a kid from a Jimmy Reed record, Alan Mirikitani is the fiery guitarist-singer-songwriter and chief instigator of those rockin' blues. He once described his take on the genre thus:

"Our goal is not to modernize the blues, but rather to play with a contemporary style. Cream played some blues that were contemporary for their time, but some of their songs were by Robert Johnson. Bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead played the blues, but psychedelic blues. Our music is nothing new. I'm just a pop artist."

John Hammond's blues precede the Buddah Heads' by a few decades. His first album came out in 1962, a year Kennedy was trying to figure out Khrushchev, Beaver Clever was trying to figure out the opposite sex, and girls were trying to figure out how to meet Elvis. After 30 or more years of experience and a billion miles on that endless blues road trip, Hammond has nearly three dozen albums and a vast repertoire.

Hammond is the son of a famous record company executive, John Henry Hammond, who figured prominently in the careers of Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The younger Hammond discovered John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf while rooting around in his dad's serious record collection. Now, he too is one of those travelin' blues guys.

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Hammond's bio reads like a "Who's Who" of rock 'n' roll. Over the years, he has played with the likes of Duane Allman, Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson of the Band, Charlie Musselwhite, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and a zillion others. But despite all the collaborations, Hammond remains a solo act--just a guy, a guitar and a road map.

"I just don't make enough money to support a band, so being a solo artist has always been my strong suit. I feel I've got a unique spot out there. I'm just playing electric blues as I've always done. Some people think the blues are sad. It's not. Blues is just a real take on life."

Jackie Lomax has at least as many stories to tell as Hammond does. They both started playing about the same time, except Lomax began playing in his native Liverpool with his band, the Undertakers. They played at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and the Star Club in Hamburg many times with the Beatles.

Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager, signed Lomax, but Epstein died before the album was completed. Next, John Lennon hired Lomax as a songwriter, then George Harrison offered to produce an album after he heard some of Lomax's tunes. The resulting album, "Is This What You Want?" featured Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and Harrison as a not-too-shabby backup band.

Lomax later relocated to New York, then Hollywood, making more albums and playing basically with everyone. He ended up in this area a few years ago. Now, he plays the local club scene at irregular intervals. Lomax has his own take on the blues.

"It's definitely influenced by early American R & B, and the Motown and Stax stuff, but I'm not into that nostalgic stuff of 25 years ago. If you're going to pay, I'll do some of the old stuff, but I have to do new stuff too. Music is supposed to be progressive, and I'd like to think I've progressed more than 25 years ago."

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Monday evening in the courtyard at Cafe Voltaire, starring guitarist Bernie Pearl and Harmonica Fats, it'll be a viable alternative to Monday Night Football. They fairly packed the place three months ago. Once again, they won't be scaring the neighbors--they play acoustic blues, which is fine with Pearl.

"Acoustic blues sort of fills a niche," he said. "There are not too many people doing that stuff right now. A long time ago, I started out acoustic, but then I had a band. The duet with Fats was just accidental; now we're having a ball. Fats is a combination of country blues and soul music. He's a unique artist, a real showman, sort of like an old-time medicine show."

So why play music that for many is associated with lost love, chain gangs and suicide? Because it is not that way for Pearl.

"Blues is social music," Pearl said. "Most of it's about sex, too much or not enough. It's about dancing and partying, not getting together to cry in your beer."

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