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No Escaping the Blues

Paul Sinegal will be among the legends at a festival at Lake Casitas.


The 18th annual Ojai Bowlful of Blues has left its ancestral home in Libbey Park in Ojai to a new site at Lake Casitas, where the two-day epic music event will unfold this weekend. Once again, the Bowlful will provide a viable alternative to the end of baseball and the beginning of college football. The menu Saturday is mostly blues, while Sunday the soundtrack will be mostly jazz.

Plenty of Louisiana style food will be on sale as well as veggie dishes and a vast variety of beverages, including, for the first time, beer and wine. Picnickers are welcome, but their pets are not. Low-back lawn chairs are OK, as are blankets. As usual, dancing is expected to break out in front of the stage at this long-running and very mellow family event.

Headlining on Saturday will be the nationally touring blues group Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers, winners of the W.C. Handy Award as "Best Blues Band of 2000."

Other bluesmen of note include Roy Gaines, Robert Lockwood Jr., Paul Oscher and tenor sax legend "Mighty Joe" Houston & the Defrosterz. The locals will also be out in force, including the Jimmy Calire Bowlful All-Stars featuring Mitch Kashmar and Mahli McGee. That funny acoustic blues duo, Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan out of Santa Barbara, will be making their 16th appearance at this event.

One of the highlights of the gig will be an appearance both days by Paul "L'il Buck" Sinegal, a member of the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame and one of the top zydeco and blues guitarists in the business. Sinegal earned fame and fortune and piled up plenty of road miles with zydeco legends Rockin' Dopsie and Buckwheat Zydeco, in addition to doing a 12-year stint with Clifton Chenier.

An accomplished sideman as well as a session man for years, Sinegal is out on his own now, having released an album last year, "The Buck Starts Here." One of Sinegal's famous bandmates, C.C. Adcock, called his friend the "greatest nationally unknown guitar player alive. And when I say greatest, I mean he's not just a hometown hero. He's on the level of B.B. King, Albert Collins and Albert King."

Sinegal discussed the latest during a recent phone interview.

When did you decide you wanted to become a guitar player?

Oh, man, 40 years ago. My mother used to play and I guess I got it in my genes and my blood and I just started playing. I play blues guitar, but I play zydeco, too.

What was your first gig like?

Scary. I was playing with some guys that had been playing, you know, and when they called me up there, I was maybe 16 years old, but I made it, man.

What did you learn playing with Chenier all those years?

When I started playing with Clif, I learned a whole lot. Number one, don't learn how to play in just one key because with Clif, we may play in an F chord tonight but don't grab an F chord tomorrow because the cat may be in C. So you got to keep your ears open all the time. He never played the same song in the same key, never.

What's the hardest thing about your job?

Oh no, it's not hard. I love it, man. I've been traveling all my life. I just like to get out there and make people happy and enjoy playing, then I'm satisfied. It's easy getting jobs around Louisiana, but I want to stretch out, even though I'm getting old. I think you should be respectable and make the people love you.

So how's the new album doing?

It's doing good. Allen Toussaint produced it and he wrote three of the songs and that was a big help. Everyone around Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas knew me and knew I could play the blues, but the record got me up to New York and overseas. It came out last year and a new one should be out in May.

Why do you think Europeans appreciate American music perhaps even more than Americans do?

I think they study more about it. They're more into blues and zydeco--it's not just a pastime for them, but something they care about and they love. As a matter of fact, I'm going to the south of France on October 17.

So you've played on over 300 different albums?

Oh man, it's been since 1958 along with Katie Webster, remember her? They used to call her "The Swamp Boogie Queen." Do you remember Excello Records? I did tunes when I was still a teenager and his studio was in his house.

Do the blues guys have to work harder than the rock 'n' roll guys?

Oh, no, I wouldn't say we work harder, but for the blues, it looks like they work harder 'cause they feel it more. That blues, once it gets in your blood, you're in trouble.


Bowlful of Blues at Lake Casitas, 11311 Santa Ana Road, Oak View, 2-10 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday; $23 in advance and $25 at the gate Saturday, $15 in advance and $17 at the gate Sunday, two-day pass $35, teens and seniors half price, children free; 646-7230.

The complete lineup: Saturday: Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers; Roy Gaines; Robert Lockwood Jr.; Paul "L'il Buck" Sinegal with Fernest Arceneaux, Mitch Kashmar and Mahli McGee; Paul Oscher; Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan; and Jimmy Calire Bowlful All-Stars with special guest Joe Houston.

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