Black and Blue

The blues people receiving West Coast Blues Hall of Fame awards aren't young and cute. Think "influential."

When the inductees at the 2005 West Coast Blues Hall of Fame Awards Show take the stage at Oakland’s Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center Saturday night (7-11 p.m.), they won’t necessarily be the same faces you’d see at one of California’s heavily promoted blues festivals. More like it, they’re the ones who influenced the Jonny Langs and Tommy Castros of the showbiz world. Not to play the race card too much, swears Ronnie Stewart, executive director of the Bay Area Blues Society, but: “If you’re old, if you’re black, it’s hard. The average blues musician today makes less than if he worked at Jack in the Box. We honor a lot of guys who don’t have the luxury of playing the San Francisco Blues Festival.”

Guitarist-turned-historian Stewart, who incidentally just returned from playing a blues fest in Koh Samui, Thailand (“We were there the day after the tsunami”), has given out a lot of recognition in the twenty years he has been putting on shows for the Blues Society. The roll call of inductees for Saturday’s event reads like a thumbnail history of overlooked, underappreciated African-American blues music around the Bay. Among them: B-3 organist and Grateful Dead collaborator Merl Saunders; ’50s-era folk singer Stan Wilson, who worked the old hungry i; club owner Freddy Herrera, founder of SF’s Keystone Korner jazz club and the Stone in Berkeley; organist and trumpeter John Turk, an original member of Sly Stone’s Family, now choir director of SF’s Glide Memorial Church; the West Oakland-bred Pointer Sisters of “Yes We Can Can” fame; and Ms. Joe Gibson, former owner of Al’s House of Smiles, an Oakland blues incubator. “It’s the people who would never get credit from the Grammys and other awards groups,” Stewart says. “We’re coming from pure devotion to the art and how it influenced people.”

Entertainment at the awards show is pretty spontaneous, with a few scheduled acts but plenty of walk-ons. Laughs Stewart: “It’s just like the blues. You go to a hole-in-the-wall blues club and you never know if you’re gonna see a fight or B.B.’s gonna walk in.” For more details, visit n

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