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VALLEY WEEKEND | ROCKTALK

Blues Was Just the Beginning for Pair

The King Brothers were influenced by Jimmy McCracklin and his Blasters. But they've gone on to play funk, disco and soul.

December 26, 1996|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lee and Sam King, who are playing Saturday at Cozy's, grew up in Richmond in Northern California in the early 1960s. At that time, Lee King says their musical options were somewhat limited.

"In the black community, there was church singing, and everything else was the blues," he remembers. "You were either singing about Jesus or you were singing the blues."

The King brothers did both--first with their mother at the local Pentecostal church and, later, with Lee on guitar and Sam on drums when they formed their first bands. Although blues man Freddie King was a distant cousin, it was another blues artist who was an early major influence on the young men.

Singer Jimmy McCracklin lived across the street and rehearsed with his band, the Blues Blasters, in his garage. McCracklin and his side men, who had a hit with "The Walk" in the mid-1950s, influenced their wardrobe as much as their music.

"They had shiny patent leather shoes, iridescent suits," Lee King says. "We tried to emulate those guys."

Well, those iridescent suits are long gone, but the King Brothers have been playing music together for over 30 years. During their career, they've worked with the likes of Ike Turner, Big Joe Turner, Freddie King, Albert King and many others. They've played a variety of styles--straight blues, funk, disco, soul.

In 1994, they released their first album, "Turnin' Up the Heat." Their music is blues with distinctive rock, funk and gospel flavorings. The brothers have just signed a new record contract with Vent Records and are going into the studio to record a new, as yet untitled album in February.

"Most artists follow the blues orthodoxy established in the 1940s and '50s," Lee King says. "We're going to push the envelope as far as we can. We try to keep it exciting, keep it upbeat and danceable.

"We're just goin' to have fun with it."

The King Brothers play Saturday night at Cozy's Bar & Grill, 14058 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. $8 cover. Call (818) 986-6000.

How Blue Is My Valley? Very.

1996 was the year when the Valley became the blues center of Los Angeles, north of Sunset Boulevard.

The Valley sports four clubs--B.B. King's, Cozy's, Smokin' Johnnie's and The Classroom--that feature blues music almost exclusively.

But more than that, these clubs are not featuring local bands so freshly out of the garage that their members still have motor oil on their Reeboks.

Instead, they're presenting some national touring acts that previously would have only played over the hill: Big Daddy Kinsey and the Kinsey Report, Sue Foley, Rory Block, Paul de Lay, Sonny Rhodes, Howard and the White Boys, the Radio Kings, Lonnie Brooks, Guy Forsyth and Long John Hunter.

I can't recall another time when the Valley has seen so many national touring acts so regularly, with the possible exception of the 1960s and '70s, when the Palomino Club was a regular stop for major country-music artists.

And many of these blues clubs are presenting L.A.-based acts that during the years never made it over the hill, including Roy Gaines, Coco Montoya, Johnny Dyer, Gashouse Dave and Smokey Wilson.

The Valley definitely has a case of blues fever and it seems to be spreading. Some blues-oriented artists are gigging at night spots not usually associated with the 12-bar form.

B.J. Sharp, a comedian and blues singer, crosses with ease from jazz supper clubs such as Monteleone's and Chadney's to Cozy's or B.B. King's. Preston Smith is holding down Sunday nights at Jax, up to now a straight jazz stronghold, and also doing occasional gigs at Monteleone's and other jazz clubs.

But while the blues is hot right now, who knows what will be popular in 1997. There are a variety of musical genres that are alive and kicking locally.

Although the Palomino remains closed, country music performed by local bands can regularly be heard at the Cowboy Palace Saloon, Crest Country, Cinnamon Cinder and other clubs.

Boogie Knights Inc. continues to provide canned disco hits to the delight of throngs of patrons of several clubs in the area, including FM Station and the Rock.

Each of the 10 (at last count) Boogie Knights ensembles is less a band than a professional karaoke act--people in costume singing to a taped accompaniment. Audiences are eating up this stuff and who am I to dispute the wisdom of anyone's diet.

Original local L.A. rock bands can be heard at the Blue Saloon, FM Station, Bourbon Square, the Rock, Mancini's and many other smaller clubs and coffeehouses. For some, it is the first stop on a road that leads to radio and even MTV.

For others, it is a moment of glory and traces of motor-oil footprints left on stage.

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