By Martine Ehrenclou
When Blues promoter, Cadillac Zack puts together a live blues show, you can expect some of the best musicians around. Enter Joe Bonamassa, Jimmy Vivino, Paulie Cerra, and more, at “Cadillac Zack’s 11-Year Anniversary Blues Bash” at the Maui Sugar Mill Saloon, Tarzana, CA, August 27.
This five-hour show was a veritable musical feast with not just Joe Bonamassa, (although that would have been plenty!) but Jimmy Vivino (Conan) Paulie Cerra (sax player) RJ Mischo (harmonica) Mike Merritt (bass) James Wormworth (drums) Celso Salim (Brazilian guitarist) Café R&B band, and others.
The musicianship was nothing short of extraordinary and to see these players up close and personal in an intimate setting, is something I won’t soon forget.
At our seats, a few feet from the stage, we were elbow to elbow with blues music connoisseurs. Seated next to me was a guy who told me that he and his wife had driven from Modesto, CA just to see this show. That’s over 300 miles. This gives you an idea just how special this night was and everyone, from the musicians performing on the small stage to the audience, were grateful to Cadillac Zack for pulling it all together.
Kicking off the evening, Brazilian guitarist Celso Salim, a first rate guitarist with several albums to his name, jammed with Dave Melton on guitar, Rick Reed on bass, Vince Fossett on drums, and RJ Mischo on harmonica. This talented opening act wasted no time blasting the doors off the Blues with stellar artistry. Salim wowed the crowd with pristine and soulful guitar licks and harmonica player Mischo, an absolute pro, set the bar for an evening with the musical elite.
The ferocious Café R&B band then took the stage and rockin’, powerhouse singer, Roach, and guitarist Byl Carruthers, ripped some blues-rock, traditional blues and R&B like few I’ve seen. This is a band to see live as Roach is some kind of singer and frontwoman who knows her way around the stage and how to wrap an audience around her finger. The entire five-piece band was electrifying with songs from “Born Under A Bad Sign” to the Junior Wells tune, “Snatch It Back and Hold it.”
After a short break, Joe Bonamassa, Jimmy Vivino and members of his Basic Cable Band from the nighttime talk show, Conan, appeared on stage as if this was their living room. Vivino, a renowned bandleader, musical director, guitarist, singer, producer, took center stage and shared that he and Bonamassa had decided to do a musical tribute to John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, mentioning Mayall’s health.
Bonamassa, Vivino and the band launched into a blistering set of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers’ tunes with Bonamassa and Vivino sharing vocals and trading guitar solos. Paulie Cerra (sax player for Joe Bonamassa and a musical pedigree that would blow your mind) was brought on stage for a couple of numbers as was RJ Mischo on harmonica, also a famed musician. Everyone on that stage were top notch players with street cred galore.
What I noticed at first, especially on the Mayall/ Bluesbreakers song, “All Your Love,” was the chemistry between Vivino and the band who have worked together as a tight unit for years. There was also a bond between Joe Bonamassa and Vivino, who have a long history together. That makes for pretty amazing impromptu performances. “Pretty Woman,” a slower blues tune, allowed Vivino to take a stellar guitar solo, one of many that night.
After Paulie Cerra played beautiful sax runs, Joe B. took the time to thank the evening’s host and said, “Zack is the Blues of Los Angeles County.”
This was music royalty. The quality of the musicianship was so outstanding, it was hard not to be blown away by it, maybe even a little overwhelmed. Huddled together, the crowd whooped and hollered for the better part of the set, and the same guy from Modesto said to me, “This is better than any concert at a big venue.” I had to agree.
The titan of blues-rock and the band leader for one of the best bands on TV, performed guitar riffs in unison on “My Little Girl” (Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton). The audience went wild and leaned further in to capture more of the magic.
Joe Bonamassa’s voice seems to get better all the time, just as I remembered from seeing him live at a much bigger venue a few weeks before. Intermittently through the set, he sang beautifully, with tone and feeling. And just as you’d expect, his guitar solos were stunning.
The entire band was so tight, so on fire, much of this due to the tremendous bass playing by Mike Merritt and drumming by James Wormworth. Besides, both looked like they were having the time of their lives.
Harp player, RJ Mischo, replaced Cerra and jammed with the band on the closing number, which I believe was a Lazy Lester tune, “Sugar Coated Love.” What a way to end the night.
It’s rare to see this caliber of musicians all play together in an intimate setting. The energy on stage with all three sets of musicians was indescribable, partly perhaps, because of the small stage and the small room. It was almost as if we were part of the show. There wasn’t one person there who wasn’t taken by this special and unique opportunity.
The show ended at midnight and we left with plenty of people still there. What a night.