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VALLEY WEEKEND | ROCKTALK

Artists Play Varying Versions of the Blues

Ray Bailey of Watts who cites Jimi Hendrix as a big influenced, and veteran Texas performer Sonny Rhodes will perform this weekend.

September 05, 1996|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The soundtrack for the Valley will get decidedly blue this weekend with the arrival of two nationally known blues men in two of our local clubs. One's a slick veteran originally from the cotton fields of Texas and the other is a younger man from Watts.

Ray Bailey, who performs at Cozy's on Friday, comes from the streets of Los Angeles, and his music reflects the city.

Although his first CD, "Satan's Horn," was honored as the best debut album of 1993 by Living Blues magazine, it received limited airplay. After two years, the recording came to the attention of Zoo Records Vice President Brad Hunt. The label wanted to sign Bailey, but the two sides could not come to an agreement.

"I don't have a problem with being exploited," Bailey says. "I just want to get paid. I want to share in the profits as well."

Hunt was quoted by Billboard as saying Bailey was an artist worthy of more exposure regardless, and the label then bought the master of "Satan's Horn" and re-released it worldwide anyway.

Bailey's recent performances have included stints at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, Buddy Guy's club in Chicago and the Berne International Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

Still unsigned, Bailey released a self-produced CD, "Blue Street," that contains alternate recordings of some of the same tunes on "Satan's Horn" plus some other originals.

Originally from a jazz background, it was the music of Jimi Hendrix that inspired Bailey to switch from trumpet to guitar. Hendrix's influence is apparent in Bailey's vocals as well.

Bailey's easy vocal quality belies a smoldering intensity as he sings of contemporary urban life. The "Blue Street" recordings have a raw, unpolished power. The dichotomy of Bailey's easy manner and the things he sings about is at times jarring, and definitely blue.

"My theory is that if the blues is going to survive, it's got to come into now," Bailey says. "It's got to come into the future.

"I try to be as natural and from the heart as possible. And to be from where I'm really at and not some contrived thing."

* Ray Bailey performs Friday night at Cozy's Bar & Grill, 14058 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. $5 cover. Call (818) 986-6000.

*

Texas Blues: In contrast to the rawness of Bailey's CD, Sonny Rhodes' "Out of Control" on King Snake Records is polished product, featuring the veteran blues singer and lap steel slide guitarist performing 13 of his original compositions.

"I write what I feel and feel what I write," says Rhodes.

The 56-year-old Rhodes, born Clarence Edward Smith, hails from Smithville, Texas, a small town about 40 miles outside of Austin, where he worked as a cotton picker in his early days.

Early on, he fell in love with the sound of lap steel guitar. The artist who inspired him was not a blues man, but Leon McAuliffe, the steel guitarist of the Western swing big band, Bob Wills' Texas Playboys. As a boy, Rhodes carried the Playboys' equipment for a chance to see McAuliffe play.

"I was fascinated by what he could do with it," Rhodes says. "He was special to me 'cause I had not heard anything that sounded so tragic. It sounded like a dream."

Rhodes came to master the lap steel--plus regular guitar and bass--and soon started playing professional gigs. Once he played his first professional music job, he knew he had found his career. "I knew that this was it," he says. "It was much better than pulling the cotton sack."

During the late '50s, he worked as a bass player for Freddie King and Albert Collins. He made his first record in 1961. He resided for 25 years in Oakland--he's now settled in New Jersey--and was instrumental in starting the San Francisco Blues Festival. During his career, he has been honored with two Handy Awards, the blues equivalent of an Oscar.

A self-described disciple of the blues, Rhodes strikes an imposing figure on stage, clothed in a red jacket and crowned with a red turban. He's quick to point out that the turban is a costume with no religious or political significance.

"I didn't want to go bald with nothing on my head," Rhodes says. "I want God to see what he's done to this beautiful man."

* Sonny Rhodes plays at 8 tonight at B. B. King's Blues Club, Universal CityWalk, 1000 Universal Center Drive. $6 cover. Call (818) 622-5464.

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