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ROCKTALK

MUSIC : Blues Man Brings Roots of the South Out West : Smokey Wilson, who appears at B.B. King's Blues Club, says the cotton fields and juke joints of Mississippi are still with him.

December 21, 1995|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Blues man Smokey Wilson doesn't just talk over the telephone, he testifies.

"When people talk about the real deal, I AM the 'Real Deal,' " Wilson reveals. "Oh yes, Lord, I've been there."

Wilson, who appears tonight at the B.B. King Blues Club, learned to play the blues by watching legends such as Elmore James, Little Milton and Howlin' Wolf play tiny roadhouses and juke joints in his native Mississippi.

One club, Ruby's, was owned by B.B. King's mother-in-law and that was where Wilson first began jamming with some of his heroes when he was only 17. For many years, Wilson had to work day jobs as a truck driver, mule skinner, cotton picker, or whatever to keep body and soul together, restricting his performing to the weekends.

Born in 1936, Wilson claims the 1950s Southern lifestyle has never left him. He says that wherever he plays now, he brings the smoke and grit of the cotton field and the juke joints with him.

"This old man's been there," says Wilson. "Pickin' that cotton. Rippin' those peas. You know it, baby. Pickin' that nasty cotton."

Wilson moved to Los Angeles in 1970 and operated the Pioneer Club in Watts for almost 20 years. Blues greats such as Howlin' Wolf, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, Percy Mayfield, Albert Collins and others were featured there. Wilson, who was the club manager by day and the house band's guitarist by night, developed his own style, which has been described as intense and jolting.

Wilson is currently performing around the country promoting his new CD on Rounder Records. Titled appropriately enough "The Real Deal," the album features nine original tunes, plus covers of Muddy Waters' "Feel Like Goin' Home" and Eddie Taylor's "Bad Boy."

* Blues singer and guitarist Smokey Wilson performs tonight at B.B. King's Blues Club, 1000 Universal Center Drive, Universal CityWalk. $6 cover. Call (818) 622-5464.

*

Tonguing & Grooving: Steve Mercer, the lead singer of Tongue & Groove, a band playing at Bourbon Square on Friday, used to work in a backup band for Hollywood celebrity Angelyne.

And although he claims he learned a lot from L.A.'s billboard queen, he lists his musical influences as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Tom Petty.

Tongue & Groove has released a tape single of two of its originals, "The Word Is Out" and "The Ride of Your Life," and it's easy to hear the influences.

"It's rock 'n' roll. Even though it's raw, it's melodic," Mercer says. "People I've met, I write songs about--girlfriends, high school antics--they all make great stuff for songs."

The band has been doing the local club circuit and a video is in the works. Besides Bourbon Square, the band also performs regularly at FM Station in North Hollywood and Mancini's in Canoga Park. All the guys in the band are music veterans in their 30s.

For Mercer, who works a day job as a carpenter, the name Tongue & Groove has a double meaning. One, the woodworking technique and the other referring to the two original members of the band, Mercer and drummer Mick Walker.

"Mick is the groove, and I'm the tongue, . . . the lead singer," Mercer says. Other band members are Lou Zonko and Jay Rowe.

* Tongue & Groove plays at 11 p.m. Friday at Bourbon Square, 15324 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys. $5 cover. Call (818) 997-8562.

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Country Confusion: When they mailed out their schedules for this month, both the Crest Country Lounge and the Cowboy Palace Saloon had local country favorites Larry Dean & the Shooters slated for this weekend. Since Larry and the band have yet to defy the laws of physics, it was pretty certain that one place would have to reschedule.

Owner Bob Rustigian of the Cowboy Palace Saloon says the club is going to present some relative newcomers to the local club scene, the band Coolwater Country.

"They auditioned on Tuesday, and everyone liked them," Rustigian says. "So, we're trying to get them back in as soon as possible."

* Coolwater Country plays Friday and Saturday at The Cowboy Palace Saloon, 21635 Devonshire St., Chatsworth. No cover. Call (818) 341-0166.

* Larry Dean & the Shooters play Friday and Saturday at Crest Country, 6101 Reseda Blvd., Reseda. Call (818) 342-1563.

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