The Carolina Blues Fest from the top down

by Ryan Snyder


As the founder of the preeminent label in contemporary blues, Alligator Records boss Bruce Iglauer has impeccable taste for the sound. When he brought the vaunted Texas duo of Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King into the fold, it gave him the opportunity to work with a truly rare animal in his world: the eponymous twin lead guitar. Iglauer wasted no time in working out his new catch. He co-produced their 2008 album Blood Brothers, which turned out to be the more purely blues-centric album of their 20-year partnership, and its successor Have Blues, Will Travel. It did retain a nod to their roadhouse-rock beginnings via jumpy piano textures on songs like “Midnight Crisis, Midnight Flight,” but the album as a whole is a torrent of gorgeous solos, familiar lyrics and matchless chemistry by two old pros.

It would be a shame for their headlining set to go by without a lengthy nod to their recently departed labelmate Michael “Iron Man” Burks, who passed away on the way home from a gig on May 6. Burks’ official memorial is set for the day after the Carolina Blues Fest, so it’s reasonable to expect that Kubek and King will pay early homage to a great bluesman whose reputation was staked on a true blue-collar approach to performance.

Essential listening: “Stop Drinking” — Blood Brothers (2008)


It was only two-and-a-half months ago that Eric Gales was in Greensboro as a part of the Experience Hendrix tour, but the southpaw shredder returns to town this Saturday where he will once again be among an allstar lineup of guitarists. The Carolina Blues Festival’s talent philosophy tends to be rather insular in regards to things like widespread artist name recognition, preferring hot licks over cold indie cred, but Gales arrives with a sort of a musical (and personal) double life. The Memphis native has helped pen some of the most infamous weed rap anthems to come out of the River City, including Three 6 Mafia’s “Weed Is Got Me High” and Prophet Posse’s “Get High.” Listen closely to the latter and you’ll hear Scarecrow shout out Gales in the chorus, saying “I get high with the EGB,” not coincidentally over one of Gales’ juicy licks.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, however, that hanging with Juicy J and DJ Paul is going to have consequences. Gales has been pinched on various drug and weapon charges, including probation violations which led to him serving a turn in 2009. He kept his chops up playing in a prison cover band (cruel and unusual?), eventually returning with Relentless, the album that would earn him the nod of Blues Player of the Year by Guitarist magazine.

His hip-hop forays aside, for Gales, blues is in the heart. He’s an uncanny interpreter of blues-rock pioneers like Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, falling even farther down the psychedelic end of the spectrum with a strapping execution of that heavier style on his 2011 album Transformation.

Essential listening: “Railroaded” — Transformation (2011)


Lyricism is a tool that’s too often pushed aside in the blues in favor of fretboard pyro, but EG Knight is one of the trade’s more skilled craftswomen despite being a slightly obscure footnote in the encyclopedia of blues. She abides by one of blues’ unwritten rules of being topically universal — working hard, love won and lost, and the occasional travelogue.

Despite all this, she leads with her outstanding repertoire of cover songs. John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and Ruth Brown’s “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean” all have a place within her sets, though her latest album Lip Service features all original works with excellent keyboard playing from Randall Bramblett. Bob Margolin played on her previous record It’s Hot In Here, so look for a guest spot for her mid afternoon set.

Essential listening: “Stormy Weather” — Southern Comfort (2003)

wanna go?

YES! Weekly will present the 26th Annual Carolina Blues Festival, Saturday, May 19, 2012 at Festival Park, downtown Greensboro.