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Pop Music Review

Carrying the Scorch

It's the blues flame that burns the hottest, as Bo Diddley, Etta James and the next generation prove at Doheny festival.


The blues will always be with us. And on Day Two of the Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point on Sunday, fans were treated to multiple generations of the eternal musical genre, from R&B veteran Etta James to Big Bill Morganfield, son of the great Muddy Waters.

Morganfield is 42 but only this year released his debut album, a collection that recalls the raw, fiery blues associated with his father. Until recently, Morganfield paid the rent as a college professor but on Sunday demonstrated a genuine ability with the classic sound.

Morganfield sang "I Just Keep Lovin' Her" with a deep, throaty wail, vocals that were fittingly raw. With a solid blues trio that included former Waters guitarist Bob Margolin, the black-garbed Morganfield sang of love gone sour, but with a stage presence that was undeniably joyous.

He was followed by pianist Pinetop Perkins, a 12-year veteran of the Waters band. Sounding loose and genuine behind his electric piano, Perkins also sang of the timeless struggles of bad love and paying the rent. He even seemed amused by his own suffering, smiling as he sang, "Baby, do you hear me calling you?"

And when he declared, "I am the blues," it wasn't about ego, but simply statement of fact.

Headliner James could easily make the same claim. She and her nine-man band crafted the most sophisticated blues of the day, making music both smooth and fiery.

James sat center stage, singing "Come to Mama" and other fitting anthems with a roar painted with hurt and vulnerability. She was often overcome with passion, closing her eyes, clutching her breast and reaching for the sky.

Rock and blues pioneer Bo Diddley offered the most unpredictable set of the festival. The true pop eccentric's repertoire stretched from straight blues to rap to a strange, funked-up reggae tune. He sang: "They say old folks can't rap / I'm Bo Diddley, and I ain't taking no nap!"

The set might have frustrated hard-core traditionalists, but when Diddley finally charged through his "I'm a Man," the sound was as hard and focused as that of any blues men playing on Sunday.

Though supported by a solid quartet, Diddley was his own best asset on stage, picking and strumming at his trademark square-bodied electric guitar. His weird attempts at a contemporary sound didn't cloud his abilities with the blues or his sense of humor. He sang: "Baby, where'd you get that Oldsmobile? / Now don't you mess around and get somebody killed."


More content with tradition was Rod Piazza, with his Mighty Flyers, who also appeared at last year's Doheny concert. Looking like a smooth operator in his two-tone suit, leader Piazza was not a terribly memorable vocalist, but when he blew his harmonica it was like hearing a foundry at full bore.

The quintet brought new energy to the Waters standard "Please Don't Go," as Honey Piazza, Rod's wife, pounded a keyboard into raucous boogie-woogie rolls and guitarist Rick Holmstrom bridged the gap between Eddie Cochran and Steve Cropper. It was a welcome mix of blues power and finesse.

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