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Blues Season

If it's fall, it must be time for Bowlful festival at Ojai's Libbey Park.

October 01, 1998|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The weather in Ventura County this time of year doesn't offer much of a clue to seasonal change. But a sure sign of fall is the annual Bowlful of Blues at Libbey Park in Ojai, which takes place Saturday from 2 to 10 p.m.

In its 16th year, the show will feature a lineup consisting of Mighty Mo Rodgers, Cafe R&B, Home Cookin' featuring Brenda Boykin, the R&B Bombers, Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan, JoDanni, Morganfield Burnett & Da Blues and special guests Julie Christensen, Jackie Lomax and Jerry Pugh.

This year's festival is dedicated to the memory of the late Rudy Ruiz, a longtime local promoter and musician.

Apart from the lineup and the calendar, everything else will be pretty much the same as years past. There's plenty of room to dance in front of the stage, with ample bench seating under the big, old oaks and festival seating on the lawn for the less energetic.

Lowback chairs, picnic baskets, cameras, coolers and blankets are OK. Recording equipment, guns, dogs, knives and bad attitudes have been historically absent from this event.

There's plenty on which to spend your money, including CDs and T-shirts. This year's munchies will be provided by Smith & Smith Salsa, Bedrock Cafe, the CartGirls' all natural sorbet, Ojai orange juice and Cafe Altura.

As old as the festival but young for a blues man is 16-year-old guitar whiz Corby Yates who hopes to approach the monetary success of other precocious rockers such as Johnny Lang, Mike Welch and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

Yates has a good start: At the recent Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Competition and Festival, he won top honors for the under-17s.

Another highlight of this year's festival is Home Cookin', featuring powerhouse singer Brenda Boykin. The Oakland native is best known for her work with the Johnny Nocturne Band, and she won a Bammie in 1997 for Best Female Vocalist. The latest Home Cookin' CD features mostly well-chosen blues classics plus a few originals, all delivered with Richter Scale intensity.

Santa Barbara acoustic blues wise-guys, Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan, are also guaranteed to create some smiles. They've been around for more than 15 years and have recorded half a dozen albums, mostly obscure and often hilarious blues songs by dead guys you've never heard of.

"Who Drank My Beer When I Was in the Rear" will be extra ironic since alcohol is prohibited at Libbey Park, making this perhaps the only dry blues festival anywhere.

But probably the best reason for checking out this year's event is the debut appearance of Cafe R&B. This is not something for the stomach, but for the ears, and also one of the hottest blues bands in Los Angeles.

Cafe R&B is fronted by the one and only blues-belting Roach, while the tight band is led by her guitar-playing husband, Byl Carruthers, a fine musician but a man with few spelling skills.

Cafe R&B started playing in Santa Barbara about a year ago at Roy, that eclectic restaurant off State Street, but quickly outgrew the scene. The band graduated to the 350-person capacity Victoria Hall, which it twice filled and sold out. The group's debut CD, "Black & White," has been out for a few months and will be on sale at this show. After work one day last week, Byl and Roach Carruthers discussed their favorite band.

*

Why are you a Cafe and not a Band?

Roach: Byl and I always thought it would be a great idea to have our own restaurant. One time we invited 30 people over, but it was way too much work for me.

Byl: We always thought we'd name the band after a restaurant.

*

How's the blues scene in L.A.?

Byl: L.A. is a real tough market. But I am psyched about these young guys making it--Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mike Welch and Johnny Lang--that helps keep blues popular. We play all the blues clubs like B.B. King's, but we also play the rock clubs such as the Roxy and Troubador.

Roach: There's a huge blues audience in L.A. Every year the Long Beach Blues Festival is packed.

*

Why is this a blues band and not, say, a polka band?

Roach: Evolution. We grew up listening to the blues, but we both had rock bands. I guess we just went full circle and came back to the blues.

Byl: Yeah, we're just getting back into it. We all still get up and go to work in the daytime. We're a blue-collar blues band. We only do about eight dates a month between L.A. and Santa Barbara. We also do Chicago sometimes because Buddy Guy was cool enough to let us play his club, plus we play a couple of other smaller clubs.

*

How would you describe your version of the blues?

Byl: We've stripped our stuff down to the strongest, barest essentials. We both grew up in the rock era of the '60s and '70s and were both in rock bands. To get work, you have to play all kinds of stuff so you get different influences. So, I think we combine blues and rock.

*

Why is one of you Roach, and why can't you spell "Bill"?

Roach: I really got that nickname when I was 12 years old, and it just sorta stuck. Now, I kinda like it, and it's easy to remember. But I have to say that my parents hate that name.

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