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CENTERPIECE: Ventura County

Fresh Dose of the Blues

Festival of 20 acts will gather under the oaks at hill site near Santa Barbara.


The Central Coast Blues Festival was such a hit last summer that it's back again for a second edition--the largest such wingding in the 805 area code. The three-day epic, beginning Friday at Live Oak Camp just north of Santa Barbara, features nearly 20 blues acts on two stages, with each band showcasing its particular take on American music.

Last year, the gig was held in a canyon near El Capitan State Beach. This year, the surf will be down, but Live Oak Camp has its own attractions: Rolling hills and huge oaks, plus a view of the Santa Ynez Mountains, make for an idyllic setting.

Famous, touring blues acts include Son Seals, Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets with Sam Myers, Mike Welch and Deanna Bogart as well as Roy Rogers & the Delta Rhythm Kings and Cajun boogie from Chubby Carrier.

The West Coast is well represented by the Holmes Brothers, Paul deLay Band, Junior Watson & the West Coast Playboys, the Bonesharks, Red Beans and Rice, Little Jonny & the Giants and the Walter Trout Band.

The local scene will contribute several acts, including acoustic blues virtuosos, Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan from Santa Barbara and Valerie Johnson & the Blues Doctors from San Luis Obispo. Tall Paul & the Brazos Blues Band won a blues battle of the bands a few weeks ago at the Brickyard in Santa Barbara, and will play Friday.

In addition to these acts, there will be numerous workshops. An all-star guitar workshop will feature Seals, Trout, Sultan, Funderburgh, Welch and Watson. Rogers and Little Jonny will present a slide-guitar seminar; Carrier is the accordion virtuoso, and Carl Sonny Leyland and Bogart will demonstrate boogie-woogie piano playing. This year's harmonica workshop will feature Myer, deLay, Ball and others. For a schedule of workshops, call (209) 533-3473.

There may not be any mega-stars at this year's event, but the lineup is solid. For example, headlining Friday night will be Roy Rogers, not "king of the cowboys," but the noted NorCal slide guitar-playing blues man. Rogers has been performing the blues for around 30 years, releasing seven albums, and a new one just out, "Pleasure and Pain."

"On this one," said Rogers in a phone interview, "the songs are more acoustically oriented and I co-wrote half the songs with other people, which I found to be very enjoyable. Before that, my chief claim to fame was that I co-wrote 'The Healer' with John Lee Hooker."

When Rogers was a youngster, many of the famous old blues guys were still around and doing that endless, relentless blues tour. Rogers saw enough to change his musical outlook forever.

"As a kid in the early '60s, I was a little rock 'n' roller until I heard the blues. I used to go to the old Fillmore all the time and I got exposed to John Lee Hooker, and I saw guys like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and I heard Robert Johnson records. Blues just has that feeling--that's the one thing I aspire to reach. There's all sorts of blues--whatever you want to call it--but the thing about the blues is how it feels. It's like Hooker says, 'It just moves you.' "

Rogers was in various bands until 1976, when he formed an acoustic duo with harmonica player David Burgin. In the early '80s, Rogers spent four years touring with John Lee Hooker's Coast to Coast Blues Band. In 1986, Rogers formed his own band, the Delta Rhythm Kings, and later formed another duo with harmonica player Norton Buffalo.

Since then, Rogers has been nominated for a couple of Grammys and toured consistently, including several trips to Europe where he remains a popular attraction on the blues festival circuit.

"There's no question that blues and jazz are strong in Europe. They can feel the power of the music when they see and hear people singing from their soul. If it's real, they can feel it whether they can understand the words or not. It's the heart and soul of the music."

So it looks like more of the same for Rogers, who seems in no danger of quitting his night job. And unlike most blues men, Rogers no longer does 200 gigs a year.

"These days, I divide my time between producing and playing. I have a family now--a 22-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. I'm just going to keep playing and recording the music I like to play. I'll be producing another Ramblin' Jack Elliott album, and I just finished my first soundtrack for a movie called 'Men in Scoring Position.' I can't imagine what I'd be doing if not for this--selling hot dogs maybe."

Maybe at a Giants game because baseball is one of the few things as important to Rogers as music.

So how did Rogers, a Giants fan, get along with hard-core Dodger fan John Lee Hooker for all those years?

"I remember one time the Giants honored him at a game, and they gave us special press box seats, but John's always been a Dodger fan. We never argued about baseball, but I'll tell you this: There was many a time on the road when we were late to gigs because the Dodgers were on and he just had to watch one more inning."



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