Boz Scaggs assembles band for benefit
Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Correspondent
September 30, 2009
Boz Scaggs allowed himself a gratified smile. He had just played the Jimmy Reed blues tune, "Honest I Do," for about a half hour to open his first rehearsal with this year's Blue Velvet Band.
"I think we found a groove in there somewhere," he said.
Surrounding the lanky Texas transplant on the stage at Studio Instrumental Rentals this week was a select squadron of hired guns. Guitarist Jimmie Vaughan was in from Texas, along with second guitarist Derek O'Brien, also from Austin. London's Nick Lowe was playing bass. Chicago blues tribal elder James Cotton, seated in the chair of honor center stage because, at age 74, his knees are giving out, tootled the trademark Jimmy Reed harmonica lick flawlessly over and over.
Midway through the number, Nashville guitarist Buddy Miller showed up and plugged in. That made for eight musicians on the bandstand and drummer Wes Starr was not expected (he was being replaced for the first rehearsal by a tape loop). Lowe can be forgiven for thinking he was part of a six-piece band- he didn't really know how many there were until they all took the stage.
Scaggs and his Blue Velvet Band are in town rehearsing for the only two shows the band will ever do - a benefit Thursday at the Great American Music Hall and a set on Saturday at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, where the sometime aggregation debuted two years ago. Hardly Strictly patron Warren Hellman also happens to be a partner in Scaggs' nightclub operation, the Slim's/Great American Music Hall chain, which, in turns, produces the annual free-for-all in the park.
Not to be left out of the fun, Scaggs donned a cowboy hat and threw together a band two years ago that featured New Orleans pianist Jon Cleary and guitarist Buddy Miller, who is something of a regular at Hardly Strictly, both as a member of Emmylou Harris' band and with his solo performances.
In addition to performing at the free festival in Golden Gate Park (2:30 p.m. Saturday, Rooster Stage), Scaggs and this year's Blue Velvet Band will also appear in the third annual fundraiser by for the Richard deLone Special Housing Project, organized by Richard's dad, Mill Valley piano player Audie deLone, who is handling keyboards in this year's Blue Velvet Band. Lowe also played at last year's benefit with guitarist Ry Cooder.
"Boz is very organized," Lowe said, "unlike Mr. Cooder."
Scaggs supplied the musicians with CDs of the repertoire, leaning heavily on bluesman Reed's songbook. Customarily a fastidious musician and punctilious bandleader, Scaggs will spend this week in the middle of a grizzled posse of old hands who have seen it all and done it before. Vaughan was supplying the missing cymbal crashes by going "Sssshhh" in the mike.
DeLone's son Richard suffers from the rare Prader-Willi syndrome, which leaves its victims perpetually starving. His father, a journeyman utility keyboard player (and Harvard dropout), has made a living for years as a sideman recording and touring with musicians like Scaggs or Elvis Costello, who played the first deLone benefit three years ago. DeLone and his wife, Lesley, have been able to persuade some of his talented friends like Scaggs to back his plans for a home he wants to build for kids with Prader-Willi who need round-the-clock supervision.
But at the rehearsal hall, the blues was the subject at hand. Lowe wondered what he was going to play on all those Jimmy Reed songs that didn't have bass on the original records. Second harmonica player Jack "Applejack" Walroth sat on the side of the stage, looking like any other fan but with a better seat, while he watched Cotton play harmonica. On keyboards, Audie deLone was cautiously trying to find room for a chord here and there, although there were no pianos on Jimmy Reed's records either.
"When we get to the boogie-woogie part of the program," he said, refilling his cup with the overheated coffee that is an inevitable centerpiece of the rehearsal hall commissary, "I'm all over that."
Richard deLone Special Housing Project Benefit: Boz Scaggs and the Blue Velvet Band (Jimmie Vaughan, James Cotton, Buddy Miller, Nick Lowe, Derek O'Brien, Austin deLone, Wes Starr and Jack "Applejack" Walroth) appear at 8 p.m. Thursday and 9 p.m. Friday. Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell St. Opening set by Buddy Miller. Tickets: $100. Call (415) 885-0750.
©2009 Hearst Communications Inc.