On this week’s Beale Street Caravan, we hear from Memphis’s own Reba Russell in a set from The King Biscuit Festival in Helena, Arkansas. Later, we catch a smoking hot set of rock and blues from Big Head Todd and The Monsters aboard the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise. Then, guest host Poppy Tooker tells us about Food and The Blues.
About the artists:
Somewhere between the full throated, gospel charged firepower of Bonnie Bramlett and the gentle, seductive soul of early Rita Coolidge, you’ll find Memphis singer songwriter Reba Russell sitting pretty. Like Coolidge and Bramlett, she’s made her name as backup singer providing aural ammunition for acts ranging from Jimmy Thackery, Johnny Cash and U2, to Tracy Nelson and Walter Trout. So, after taking part in hundreds of productions together with eight solid solo records of her own, the fact that she’s learned a thing or two along the way is self-evident. Subtlety and the school of less is more is a lesson learned from friend and Memphis-based mentor Jim Dickinson. The guys backing her up collectively may make the best group in the business. Led by the astonishing (and equally tasteful) guitar work of Josh Roberts and the smartly layered keyboard and harp of Robert Nighthawk Tooms, the group creates a powerfully supportive platform to showcase Russell’s vocal chops and charisma.
During the late ’80s and early ’90s, Big Head Todd & the Monsters (the Colorado-based trio of guitarist/keyboard player Todd Park Mohr, bassist Rob Squires, and drummer Brian Nevin) built their audience through constant touring, playing college towns across the country. With these tours, they built a solid fan base before they had even signed to a major label. Although they released a number of records, they weren’t quite able to transfer the live appeal of their laid-back, slightly jazzy blues-based pop to disc. Nevertheless, each of their records contains many fine moments, and 1993’s Sister Sweetly, which went gold and stayed in the charts over a year, showed that they were continuing to improve their songwriting as well as their playing. It was followed by their second major-label album, Strategem, in 1994; Beautiful World appeared in 1997, followed a year later by Live Monsters. Big Head Todd & the Monsters were dropped from Warner after Live Monsters and the band took four years to regroup and release Riviera in 2002. Crimes of Passion followed in 2004 on the Sanctuary label. The group released one more record on Sanctuary — Live at the Fillmore — before departing the label for their own Big Records, releasing All the Love You Need in 2007 and Rocksteady three years later.