HPU hosts blues blowout at Crossroads
BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / firstname.lastname@example.org
A lineup worthy of a full-blown blues festival is dropping into town to benefit music lovers on the rock.
HPU BLUES BENEFIT CONCERT
Featuring Delbert McClinton, Marcia Hall, Johnny Nicholas and Hell Bent with Cindy Cashdollar
» Where: Crossroads at Hawaiian Brian’s, 1680 Kapiolani Blvd.
The headliner: three-time Grammy winner Delbert McClinton, a real-deal legendary singer, guitarist, harmonica player and pianist who influenced the Beatles, not to mention the Blues Brothers, with his blend of honky-tonk, soul and swampy blues rock.
An inveterate tourer, McClinton is on fire: His 2013 album with Glen Clark, “Blind, Crippled and Crazy,” was named to several best-of lists for the year.
Hot on his heels is Marcia Ball, a grande dame of bayou blues who was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and has created a trademark melding of the two states’ country-blues and Cajun musical traditions as a singer and pianist.
Ball has taken home 10 Blues Music Awards — also known as the W.C. Handy Blues Awards, a top national honor for roots musicians — and is a five-time Grammy nominee.
The “house” band is Hell Bent, a supergroup in its own right topped off by Johnny Nicholas, a former lead vocalist with famed Texas band Asleep at the Wheel. He’s joined by Bruce Hughes, Scrappy Jud Newcomb and John Chipman.
The band features the globally admired steel-guitar work of Cindy Cashdollar, also a former Asleep at the Wheel member whose talent can be heard on albums by Ryan Adams, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Dave Alvin, Rod Stewart and Leon Redbone.
The whole shebang adds up to a rare treat for fans and followers of these stars. Luring such artists to Hawaii, particularly all in one sitting, might have been out of reach if not for a private Maui event that brought them here.
It’s the first time in Hawaii for Ball, and she’s got something to prove.
“This is the realest you’re gonna get,” she said. “Delbert, Johnny and I, I tell you what: I came up listening to Delbert, and I know Johnny did, too. And Johnny was a pioneer of big band and rhythm ‘n’ blues. … We all have that music in common, and we’re going to bring all of that out.”
The musicians on this bill play with each other frequently. “We’ve done all kinds of combinations,” Ball said.
Appreciation for “essential roots music” — the music McClinton, Ball, Nicholas and Cashdollar deliver, drawn from the rock and soul pioneers and innovators who surrounded Ball as she came up — is on the upswing, Ball said.
She’s seeing a surge of young fans at roots music concerts as musicians such as Gary Clark Jr. and Americana acts draw new followers. “I think that’s good for us,” she said.
Ball, a longtime resident of Austin, Texas, is a regular on the showroom circuit there, but said the Texas city can treat her like “family”: “They take you for granted in a way,” she said, laughingly.
Nonetheless, she’s a familiar sight in Austin. “I’m tall and hard to miss, and I don’t hide out. … But we do have fun when we play.”
Ball also has been writing new songs.
“It’s cool. I’m way ready to have some new material,” Ball said.
For inspiration, she’ll listen to old jazz and blues, and always, Slim Harpo.
“I wait till late at night. I shut myself in with my piano,” she said. “And sometimes, songs just pop into my head.”
Ball said she’s likely to include one of her “instructional songs” on a new album. “I tell you what you ought to do,” she said, laughing, with a song like “Look Before You Leap,” which was a track on her last record: “Chances will be taken / It’s easy to go too far / The more you think about it / The better off you are.”
THE BLUES CONCERT benefits Hawaii Pacific University’s Student Success Fund. It’s the brainchild of HPU professor and Department of Communication chair John Hart, who presides over the long-running Dr. J’s Blues Review on Sundays at Anna O’Brien’s.
While Hart is well known in Hawaii as an academic and commentator on current affairs, music and entertainment run deep in his history.
Hart grew up listening to Elvis and other early rock-and-rollers, and said he eventually followed that music back to its roots — the blues — developing a lifelong love for the genre.
While studying in Houston in the 1970s, he discovered blues guitar hero Stevie Ray Vaughn, and the two were friends up through Vaughn’s death in 1990. That association in turn deepened Hart’s connection with blues and rock musicians on a nationwide basis.
His take on the headliners? They are among the best in their class and not to be missed.
“Delbert’s a great Americana singer,” Hart said. “He stands at the crossroads of blues, of funk, of rock, of country — and he can do it all.
“Marcia kills it. She’s got a great voice; she’s a wonderful piano player, with that mix of blues and Louisiana country.
“Cindy Cashdollar is the premier steel-guitar player on the mainland. There’ll be a lot of local musicians who say, ‘I know her. Who are the others?’”
Because these roots musicians want to jam with Hawaii artists, Hart said slack-key musician Jeff Peterson and steel guitar player Greg Sardinha will be sitting in on this show.
“The band said, ‘We want to hear good local musicians and we want to back them up,’” Hart said. “That’s really going to be special.”
If successful, Hart said the fundraiser may support a media contest to honor longtime Honolulu magazine editor, food writer, educator and raconteur John Heckathorn, who died in 2011.