Blues People Light Up the Room

The February edition of Reckless Steamy Nights featured the Blues People, fresh off their run to the semi-finals at the IBC in Memphis. With Kelton Cooper on guitar and vocals, Mike Griot on bass and backing vocals, Victor Burks on keyboards and backing vocals and Tony Lewis on drums, they proceeded to put on one of the best blues shows this room has seen.

Blues People Reckless Steamy NIghts performance 202402

I’ve known Mike since his days with Michael Hill’s Blues Mob, and he has been playing locally and in NYC, as well as promoting shows and festivals, for many years. He has told me he wants this project to rise to another level; based on this performance, musically they already have.

The first set consisted of what Kelton characterized as obscure covers, but done in the band’s unique style they were really brought to life. “Black Night,” a tune penned by Charles Brown in 1951, kicked off the night with some excellent fret work and vocals by Kelton, supported by a band that anticipated his every move. Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used to Do,” a song that was originally arranged and produced by a young Ray Charles, slowed down the pace but not the intensity of the band, as they made this diamond shine.  Another little-known number, “Cryin’ for My Baby,” was written by Little Junior Parker, who is best known for the song “Mystery Train”. This up-tempo number was highlighted by Kelton’s vocals, especially on those “awhahoo’s”!  The band slowed things down for James Cotton’s “Baby Please” which featured a scintillating solo by Victor on keyboards, as well as some inspired riffs by Kelton. The set came to a close with two more familiar tunes, the blues totem, “Black Cat Bone” by Hop Wilson and “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” made famous by Big Joe Turner. Both songs were filtered through the sound of a band that made them uniquely their own, with Tony providing an inspired drum solo to end the set.

The second set was a showcase of songs from their recently released first CD, “The Skin I’m In”. The opening number, “Amnesia,” a slow blues lamenting a troubled relationship, featured some fine keyboards by Victor which complemented Kelton’s pained vocals and crying guitar. Next up was the title cut, “The Skin I’m In,” one of several cuts that comment on the social issues facing minorities in our country. Set to a funky beat with a great bass line, the lyrics underscore the frustration of living in today’s world, punctuated by Kelton’s searing guitar attack. “Hey Joe: Revisited” begins with the familiar licks made famous by Jimi Hendrix and updates the lyrics to reflect the all too familiar scenario played out when a person of color is pulled over by the man. A powerful song as done live here, the audience got the full impact of the words, driven home by the music. This was followed by a swinging tune, “I Was Always There,” that had the room swaying in their seats with Ned and Carol dancing in the next room. “Troubled Times” is a title that needs no explanation; this ballad cries out for change in a broken world, with impassioned vocals by Kelton and beautiful harmony behind him. The last song, ”Knee Off My Neck,” talked about an incident, that unless you have been on another planet, was a defining moment in post-pandemic race relations. The lyrics say it all in the refrain, “Take your knee off my neck and give me some respect.” This is music with a social conscience, not unlike what Michael Hill’s Blues Mob did a generation ago. Sadly, not much has changed. 

Well, at this point I was about to thank the band for a great night of music, but the audience would not have it! They called out for more and got a version of Muddy Water’s “Got My Mojo Working” that sounded like no other, and I mean that in a good way. The icing on the cake was Kelton’s instrumental coda at the end, paying homage to the great Jimi Hendrix, and I couldn’t help but think Jimi was smiling down on the band tonight. Thanks for a memorable show.

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