Jimmy Vivino, the man responsible for any number of great bands over the years—Fab Faux, (Conan O’Brien’s) Basic Cable Band, Prisoners of Second Avenue, the Black Italians and the Levon Helm Band, to name a few, called up various blues pals to raise some dough—and the roof—at B.B. King’s Blues Club in New York. Greg Williamson produced the complex event which benefited the Blues Foundation.
The backing band drew heavily from familiar faces on TV: bassist Will Lee (Late Show with David Letterman), drummer Shawn Pelton and keyboardist Leon Pendarvis (Saturday Night Live), Bette Sussman (One Life to Live, As the World Turns), and on horns, brother Jerry Vivino (Late Night with Conan O’Brien), to name a few. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian (theme song from Welcome Back Cotter) slid in under the TV wire, too. The headlining guests, however, were hard-won blues successes like Bob Margolin, Ruthie Foster, Catherine Russell, Bill Sims, Shemekia Copeland, William Bell and the great Sam Moore, of Sam and Dave. Gary Clark Jr. came in for a couple of tunes, and I’m sure a few people in the audience had tickets to see him—though not nearly so up-close and personal—at Madison Square Garden the following night. Rock legend Dion, whose last two albums were blues, not pop, closed out the night.
Glitches are usually part of the deal when shows have so many disparate acts, but from the audience’s perspective, this one went off without a hitch, with the performers and their many instruments rolling on and off stage like a well-oiled Timex. Overcrowding onstage proved to be the only problem, if you can call it that, and unlike Woodstock, it started on time and ended on time on a weekday, a blessing the day-job set. Making it look easy ain’t all that easy.
Highlights for this writer included a surprise performance from King Solomon Hicks, a youngster Vivino caught at Lucille’s, the smaller room at B.B. King’s, and from the way Will Lee levitated on a few of his licks, I wasn’t the only one who was thrilled. Marcus King, another newer name on the scene, did an incredible cover of Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby,” with a one-two guitar-and-vocals punch that can only come from a Real Deal bluesman. I look forward to seeing more of him. Sam Moore’s poignant version of John Lenon’s “Imagine” made everyone not only pay attention but think, while Chris “Bad News” Barnes’ raucous “I’m Gonna Get High” made everyone hoot and holler.
One of the all-time great vocalists (and a damned good guitarist, though that goes largely unnoticed), Dion knocked us upside the head with “King of the New York Streets,” then into “Gangster Love” with Jimmy Vivino, who Dion called “my favorite guitar player on the planet.”
The encore put a cherry on the whole show, with everyone coming out to perform the very moving Stevie Ray Vaughan tune, “Texas Flood,” in support of Hurricane Harvey victims:
Well there’s floodin’ down in Texas
All of the telephone lines are down
And I’ve been tryin’ to call my baby
Lord and I can’t get a single sound
By adding references to current disasters, practically on the fly, we witnessed a perfect ending to a perfect night. Like I said, making it look easy ain’t all that easy, but they sure got ‘er done that night at B.B. King’s.