Saturday, December 27, 2008

RIP, Eartha Kitt and Rick Darnell

Eartha Kitt, a sultry singer, dancer and actress who rose from South Carolina cotton fields to become an international symbol of elegance and sensuality, has died, a family spokesman said. She was 81.

Andrew Freedman said Kitt, who was recently treated at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, died Thursday in Connecticut of colon cancer.

Kitt, a self-proclaimed "sex kitten" famous for her catlike purr, was one of America's most versatile performers, winning two Emmys and nabbing a third nomination. She also was nominated for several Tonys and two Grammys.

Her career spanned six decades, from her start as a dancer with the famed Katherine Dunham troupe to cabarets and acting and singing on stage, in movies and on television. She persevered through an unhappy childhood as a mixed-race daughter of the South and made headlines in the 1960s for denouncing the Vietnam War during a visit to the White House.

Through the years, Kitt remained a picture of vitality and attracted fans less than half her age even as she neared 80.

When her book "Rejuvenate," a guide to staying physically fit, was published in 2001, Kitt was featured on the cover in a long, curve-hugging black dress with a figure that some 20-year-old women would envy. Kitt also wrote three autobiographies.

Once dubbed the "most exciting woman in the world" by Orson Welles, she spent much of her life single, though brief romances with the rich and famous peppered her younger years.

After becoming a hit singing "Monotonous" in the Broadway revue "New Faces of 1952," Kitt appeared in "Mrs. Patterson" in 1954-55. (Some references say she earned a Tony nomination for "Mrs. Patterson," but only winners were publicly announced at that time.) She also made appearances in "Shinbone Alley" and "The Owl and the Pussycat."

Her first album, "RCA Victor Presents Eartha Kitt," came out in 1954, featuring such songs as "I Want to Be Evil," "C'est Si Bon" and the saucy gold digger's theme song "Santa Baby," which is revived on radio each Christmas.

The next year, the record company released follow-up album "That Bad Eartha," which featured "Let's Do It," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "My Heart Belongs to Daddy."

In 1996, she was nominated for a Grammy in the category of traditional pop vocal performance for her album "Back in Business." She also had been nominated in the children's recording category for the 1969 record "Folk Tales of the Tribes of Africa."

Kitt also acted in movies, playing the lead female role opposite Nat King Cole in "St. Louis Blues" in 1958 and more recently appearing in "Boomerang" and "Harriet the Spy" in the 1990s.

On television, she was the sexy Catwoman on the popular "Batman" series in 1967-68, replacing Julie Newmar who originated the role. A guest appearance on an episode of "I Spy" brought Kitt an Emmy nomination in 1966.

"Generally the whole entertainment business now is bland," she said in a 1996 Associated Press interview. "It depends so much on gadgetry and flash now. You don't have to have talent to be in the business today.

"I think we had to have something to offer, if you wanted to be recognized as worth paying for."

Kitt was plainspoken about causes she believed in. Her anti-war comments at the White House came as she attended a White House luncheon hosted by Lady Bird Johnson.

"You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed," she told the group of about 50 women. "They rebel in the street. They don't want to go to school because they're going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam."

For four years afterward, Kitt performed almost exclusively overseas. She was investigated by the FBI and CIA, which allegedly found her to be foul-mouthed and promiscuous.

"The thing that hurts, that became anger, was when I realized that if you tell the truth — in a country that says you're entitled to tell the truth — you get your face slapped and you get put out of work," Kitt told Essence magazine two decades later.

In 1978, Kitt returned to Broadway in the musical "Timbuktu!" — which brought her a Tony nomination — and was invited back to the White House by President Jimmy Carter.

In 2000, Kitt earned another Tony nod for "The Wild Party." She played the fairy godmother in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" in 2002.

As recently as October 2003, she was on Broadway after replacing Chita Rivera in a revival of "Nine."

She also gained new fans as the voice of Yzma in the 2000 Disney animated feature "The Emperor's New Groove.'"

In an online discussion at in March 2005, shortly after Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman won Oscars, she expressed satisfaction that black performers "have more of a chance now than we did then to play larger parts."

But she also said: "I don't carry myself as a black person but as a woman that belongs to everybody. After all, it's the general public that made (me) — not any one particular group. So I don't think of myself as belonging to any particular group and never have."

Kitt was born in North, S.C., and her road to fame was the stuff of storybooks. In her autobiography, she wrote that her mother was black and Cherokee while her father was white, and she was left to live with relatives after her mother's new husband objected to taking in a mixed-race girl.

An aunt eventually brought her to live in New York, where she attended the High School of Performing Arts, later dropping out to take various odd jobs.

By chance, she dropped by an audition for the dance group run by Dunham, a pioneering African-American dancer. In 1946, Kitt was one of the Sans-Souci Singers in Dunham's Broadway production "Bal Negre."

Kitt's travels with the Dunham troupe landed her a gig in a Paris nightclub in the early 1950s. Kitt was spotted by Welles, who cast her in his Paris stage production of "Faust."

That led to a role in "New Faces of 1952," which featured such other stars-to-be as Carol Lawrence, Paul Lynde and, as a writer, Mel Brooks.

While traveling the world as a dancer and singer in the 1950s, Kitt learned to perform in nearly a dozen languages and, over time, added songs in French, Spanish and even Turkish to her repertoire.

"Usku Dara," a song Kitt said was taught to her by the wife of a Turkish admiral, was one of her first hits, though Kitt says her record company feared it too remote for American audiences to appreciate.

Song titles such as "I Want to be Evil" and "Just an Old Fashioned Girl" seem to reflect the paradoxes in Kitt's private life.

Over the years, Kitt had liaisons with wealthy men, including Revlon founder Charles Revson, who showered her with lavish gifts.

In 1960, she married Bill McDonald but divorced him after the birth of their daughter, Kitt.

While on stage, she was daringly sexy and always flirtatious. Offstage, however, Kitt described herself as shy and almost reclusive, remnants of feeling unwanted and unloved as a child. She referred to herself as "that little urchin cotton-picker from the South, Eartha Mae."

For years, Kitt was unsure of her birthplace or birth date. In 1997, a group of students at historically black Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., located her birth certificate, which verified her birth date as Jan. 17, 1927. Kitt had previously celebrated on Jan. 26.

The research into her background also showed Kitt was the daughter of a white man, a poor cotton farmer.

"I'm an orphan. But the public has adopted me and that has been my only family," she told the Post online. "The biggest family in the world is my fans."


Blues anthem writer Rick Darnell dies - Published: December 27, 2008

A bad breakup for Rick Darnell led to a great song.

The end of a relationship would prompt Mr. Darnell to co-write one of the best-known blues songs, the B.B. King standard "The Thrill is Gone," said Carl Eggleston, a friend of Mr. Darnell's and owner of a Farmville funeral home.

Mr. Darnell died Christmas Eve after a brief illness. The family will receive visitors from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Carl U. Eggleston Funeral Home.

Mr. Darnell co-wrote "The Thrill is Gone" with Roy Hawkins in 1951. Hawkins' release became a minor hit. After King released his version in 1970, it became a classic and turned into King's signature song.

The song has since been performed by the likes of country musician Willie Nelson, R&B artist Roberta Flack and opera legend Luciano Pavarotti, said Alicia Darnell of Mechanicsville, one of Mr. Darnell's three daughters.

The song has also been sampled by rappers 50 Cent and Lil' Kim, she said.

Alicia Darnell said her father never tired of his association with the song or being asked about it, but he continued to collaborate with various artists.

Mr. Darnell was born in Galveston, Texas, but his involvement in music prompted him to live in places across the country. He moved to Farmville in 1987 after purchasing radio station WPAK-AM, Alicia Darnell said. Mr. Darnell sold the station in recent years, his daughter said.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Darnell is survived by his wife, Lula Mae Darnell of Richmond; and two other daughters, Pearlina Cockran of Williamsport, Pa., and Tanya Rachels of Farmville.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tom Hunnewell Photo Gallery

Among the many marvelous folks who do a lot of nice things for us and the blues community, is our friend Tom Hunnewell. He's a fantastic photographer and a true supporter of blues music and culture. He keeps a low profile while amassing an impressive collection of photos which capture the look, feel, and essence of being inside a blues club. Here are just some of the shots recently given to us by Tom:

Becki Sue & Her Big Rockin' Daddies, Nov. '07

Tommy Castro, November '07

Devon Allman & Honeytribe, August '07

Duffy Bishop, June '07

G.C. Cameron (Spinners, Temptations), December '07

Hans Ipsen Benefit, December '07

The Insomniacs, October '07

John Nemeth, March '07

Charlene, Debbie Davies, & Ed Maloney, August '07

Junkyard Jane, December '07

Kevin Selfe, January '08

Lady A & the Baby Blues Funk Band backstage, June '07

Lady A on stage, June '07

Larry McCray, February '07

Little Bill & the Blue Notes, October '07

Lloyd Jones Struggle, December '07

Lydia Pense & Cold Blood, September '07

Maria Muldaur & Craig Caffall, February '07

Mark DuFresne, March '07

Mem Shannon & the Membership, September '07

Patti Allen, Raven, Randy Oxford @ Jam For Cans '07

Terry Evans, May '07

Tim Sherman, October '07

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Delta Roadhouse Showcase

We are so fortunate to host as many cool shows as we do. I mean, we work hard at everything and they say you create your own luck, but we still find ourselves delightfully experiencing an increasing number of "holy crap!" moments. One thing we try to do, above and beyond the normal business of booking good shows and providing a good environment for music, food, and beverage, is putting on special shows - shows with themes, concepts, and purposes that are unique to anything else, with multiple artists playing in unique combinations and settings. Our friend, resident artist and Northwest Americana treasure JD Hobson recently approached us with this wonderful idea to put a bunch of blues & roots oriented guitarists on stage for an evening of Mississippi Delta style acoustic music. There was Alice Stuart, whose career goes further back than she'd want you to know 'cause she's, like, seventeen-goin'-on-somethin'... There was Orville Johnson, veteran of the St. Louis scene and whose music has been heard on more than a hundred (literally) albums as well as the Tonight Show, PBS, and various soundtracks. There was Terry Robb, one of the West Coast's top acoustic blues guitarists - um... TWENTY-time Muddy Award winner for Best Acoustic Blues Guitarist - who has toured with Buddy Guy and Steve Miller and whose mantle includes some Grammys and Emmys; add Mark DuFresne on harp, and we've got the Delta Roadhouse Showcase! Here on the blog, we try to give some off-the-cuff recaps of some of the happenings here at the club, and the quality of the photos and video that garnish the posts will vary. Mostly, they come from our digital cameras. We're still waiting for MTV to return our call. On that note, here's a little slice of the Delta Roadhouse show:
Okay, we can't figure out how to upload this video for the blog, but you can watch it - all you gotta do is CLICK HERE

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Guns N' Poses Variety Show

On the third Wednesday of every month, Purty Mouth brings its special brand of "countrypolitan camp" to Highway 99. In recent months, they've gone above and beyond what most bands do, especially on mid-week gigs when not as many folks go out for live entertainment and the adult beverages that normally accompany a night out. So rather than throw in the towel and consider their Wednesdays a "paid rehearsal" (note to bands: never use that term when talking to a club owner!), Purty Mouth puts together a variety show by bringing other bands and entertainers, they produce a new showbill and flyer every month, they even give each show a different name and theme - they take what most bands are inclined to treat as an ordinary weeknight and turn it into a unique and exciting event. Their monthly show consistently offers new and interesting performances, and it's always a blast. The other night, it was the Guns N Poses Variety Show with hostess Rebecca M. Davis, the two-step honkeytonk of The Rainieros, and the lovely ladies of Heavenly Spies Burlesque, who performed on their own as well as on stage with Purty Mouth. What a marvelous show!
Country + Burlesque = Fun!

The Heavenly Spies!

Purty Mouth & James Blonde in a patriotic performance:

The Rainieros take things down to a nice respectable level:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Duke Robillard, Sonny Rhodes

Last week was another special one for us. In addition to the packed house on Saturday for the CD release party with the Red Hot Blues Sisters, we enjoyed three touring artists making their Highway 99 debut: Roomful of Blues founder, former Bob Dylan and Tom Waits guitarist, Grammy and BMA winner Duke Robillard hit the Highway on Wednesday; on Thursday, it was Delta Highway from Memphis; ; and on Friday night, Sonny Rhodes came in from from California by way of Texas. We had remarkable experiences with them all, and we hope each of them will visit and grace our stage with their music again soon!

Duke Robillard plays a delicate ballad:

Sonny Rhodes and his band rock the joint:

Video of Sonny singing Goodnight:

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Joe McMurrian Quartet, August 30

Below - photo and video from the club debut of the Joe McMurrian Quartet, a fine group from Portland with monster chops and a fresh, musically sophisticated, jazzy take on Delta blues. Great guys with a great sound.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Janiva Magness, 8/10/08

Our webmonkey has been on vacation for a couple weeks, so we don't have a bunch of notes and content at the moment. We do have some nice photos of the Janiva Magness show from August 10, courtesy of our main man, Jef Jaisun.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Jason Ricci, New Blood, Nathan, Ben, + the Devil Boy

What a fun week we just had! It jumpstarted in a rockin' way on Wednesday with the latest installment of the Dudley Taft Blues Overkill. Then we had the pleasure of hosting the Highway 99 debuts of two oustanding, internationally-touring, critically-acclaimed and highly-respected artists: Nathan James & Ben Hernandez, winners of the 2007 International Blues Challenge and a couple o' really nice guys. Friday marked the debut of Eddie "Devil Boy" Turner and holy crap can that guy PLAY.
(below, photos of Eddie on stage and at the bar with Highway 99 Blues Club proprietor Ed Maloney)

On Saturday, our old friend Jason Ricci was in town to play with his band, New Blood. We love these guys. Jason is from Maine, and as the Maloneys are from Boston, we became fast friends a couple years ago when he first played the club. Last weekend, Magic Dick asked us to call and let him know how Jason did, as Magic appreciates Jason's playing. Our report back to Boston is a knock-down, drag-out rave. Jason & Co. always blow the roof off the joint, and every show is the best one we've seen. He's such an engaging frontman, dazzling us with his harp and riveting us with his stories.
(Below: photos & videos from Jason's first set)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Harmonica Houseparty!

(photo L-R: Jeremy Kidder, Tim Gonzalez, Magic Dick, Lee Oskar, courtesy of Shoji Onozawa)

As a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Lee Oskar Harmonicas, and in conjunction with Lee's monthly residency at the club, we threw The Harmonica Houseparty which featured an all-star cast of harp players including (of course) Lee Oskar, Magic Dick, Tim Gonzalez, and Jay Maybin. Our friend and esteemed harp player & author Kim Field also sat in. They were all backed by a house band of Andrew Cloutier (drums), Eric Bryson (bass), Jeremy Kidder (guitar), Scotty Harris (sax), and Telvis Ward from the Lowrider Band (keys). What a show. What a night. Thanks to Lee for getting such great harp players on the bill, especially Magic Dick, of whom we've been a fan since our earliest memories as kids growing up in Boston, worshipping the mighty J. Geils Band. Magic was in town for a few days and we enjoyed our time with him very much. He is as nice a guy as he is a tremendous musician and we only hope to have him back at Highway 99 anytime he's up for it. Tim Gonzalez, still in town on Sunday, showed up to sit in with the band on the Sunday Blues BBQ jam, while Lee and Magic came down for some dinner and to cheer him on. Later, the three harp surgeons ended up taking some harmonicas apart to share some reed grading and alteration tricks of the trade. If Friday was the Harmonica Houseparty, Sunday was definitely the Harmonica Geek-Out.
Below: Magic Dick playing his signature song, "Whammer Jammer"

Also this past weekend, the Robbie Laws Bigger Blues Band played on Saturday night, and Lloyd Meadows of the Zydeco Flames came up from Oakland to stir some s**t up with his squeeze box. Earlier in the week, the Johny Broomdust Trio returned on Wednesday, and Brian Nova's Felonius Funk Orchestra played on Thursday.
Below: Steve Sarkowsky (drums), Robbie Laws (guitar)

Below: a clip from the Harmonica Houseparty grand finale jam

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bobby Rush

Here it is, the maiden voyage of Hit the Highway, the online blog for Highway 99 Blues Club. We'll try to update this every week or so with photos and notes of what's been happening down at the club. The photos in this inaugural entry into the blogosphere are all courtesy of Jef Jaisun, a great blues shooter, friend and regular of the club, 2007 winner of the Blues Foundation's Keeping the Blues Alive award.

On July 20, we had the honor of hosting two shows with one of the great all-time rhythm & blues legends, Grammy nominee and multiple Blues Music Award winner, Bobby Rush. You may recognize the fellow on stage with Bobby in the top two photos - that's our friend Lee Oskar, who plays the club on the last Friday of each month.

The fourth photo is Bobby gittin' down with the Big Booty Dancers. The shows were tremendous. Bobby is as charming and engaging a performer as a B.B. King, as captivating and sweaty as a James Brown. Everyone in the room, audience and club staff alike, were eating out of his hands at every moment. The music ranged from funk, rap, and r&b, to straight ahead Chicago-style blues. The content was at times racy and R-rated, but in a classy way that probably wouldn't offend anyone from Mrs. Rush to the Man Upstairs. He worked the crowd like a dignified gentleman hosting a dinner party. In fact, at the end of the late show, he walked off the stage and into the audience, where he shook hands and said Hello to everyone in the room before saying Goodnight and hitting the showers.