Back in the good old days of rock 'n' roll, blues, and soul music, "revue" styled groups of singers and musicians travelled from town to town. A typical tour line-up might include four or five performers, cherry-picked for their individual style and headliner status, backed by a common band. For a teenager during the 1950s and '60s, it was a cost effective way to see your favorite singers, and maybe discover some new talent.
Sadly, the "revue" roadshow pretty much went the way of the Edsel during the 1970s as arena-rock bands stumbled and stammered across the landscape. It was a rough time for both the blues and soul music as labels fell by the wayside, radio stations that once blasted James Brown and Muddy Waters jumped formats, and R&B not-so-quietly evolved into dreaded disco.
The Blues Cruise
Thanks to the efforts of Roger Naber, one of the movers-and-shakers behind the twice-yearly Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, blues and soul music fans can take a trip back to yesteryear and enjoy a dynamic "revue" styled performance in their hometown. For this musical circus, blues guitarist Tommy Castro is the ringmaster, and his band backs up the talents of the beautiful Deanna Bogart, legendary harpist Magic Dick, and Chicago blues star, guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks.
"We came up with this idea on the Blues Cruise," Castro says of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue. "The reason for it was because of the big jam sessions that happen on the ship every night. It's an amazing thing," he says, "it's not something that you can really explain. There's a full day of blues from all of the national blues acts, all the main characters in the blues will perform during the day and throughout the night."
"So you have this beautiful day of music," says Castro, "everybody performing their own sets, and at the end of the night, people wanted to keep the music going and they'd just jam all night. Somebody would join in, somebody else would come up, so there'd be this jamming going on until five or six 'o clock in the morning. It was amazing!"
The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue
"What happens is that Tommy Castro often leads certain jam sessions on the cruise," adds Magic Dick. "I got to meet Tommy and jam with those guys, and I also met Deana Bogart and Ronnie Baker Brooks. As a result of the great musical success that we had jamming on the ship, we decided to do a land tour. It's just gone so great, as far as audience response to what we're doing, that we continue to do it."
"That's what gave me the idea," says Castro, "I thought, 'man, we've got to do something like this on land.' The closest thing that I could think of was to gather a group of players to come with me and the band, feature each artist doing their bit, and then at the end come together and jam, to do something similar to what we do on the cruise."
To this end, the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue's tours have been successful. "We really have created the same sort of excitement and energy," Castro says. "You have players like Ronnie Baker Brooks, he's the kind of guy you can throw into any situation and he's going to come out on top. He has that old Chicago schooling, and he's been playing blues guitar since he was three years old. He's very accomplished, and sharp as a tack."
Tommy Castro, Deanna Bogart, Magic Dick & Ronnie Baker Brooks
Castro is equally as complimentary of his other Revue bandmates. "You have somebody like Deana Bogart," he says of the talented vocalist and blues pianist, "she is just not afraid to try anything. The girl blows my mind! As long as it's creative and fun and spontaneous, and has an element of risk involved...she's a saxophone player as well, and sometimes we put her over with the horns and stuff happens!"
Blues harp player Magic Dick rounds out the Revue line-up. "Magic Dick was one of those guys, bigger-than-life when I was growing up," Castro says, "so having him play with us on this tour is amazing. His concept about playing the harmonica is not the same as most, he's a really good blues harpist, comes from another place on that thing. He treats the instrument like it's a concert instrument, he's well-seeped in the blues, guys like Little Walter, Sonny Boy, but he also listens to all these jazz trumpet players. You listen to some of the licks that he plays; they're not the kind of licks that other harmonica players play!"
"It's gratifying, a lot of fun to play with these people," says Magic Dick. "They're fantastic musicians and great people to work with...you can't ask for much more than that. We have a natural simpatico with each other because we all love blues."
"When we do our show, since it's in a "revue" context, that means that Tommy Castro starts the show, he does about a half hour," says Magic Dick. "Then Deana does her set, then I come out and do my thing, and then we have the guy we call 'The Closer,' Ronnie Baker Brooks. We take a break, go out and meet and greet everybody, after a bit we go back onstage and play a pretty extensive jam. Sometimes we have some local talent come up and jam with us, too."
"It's exciting, because we do a wide range of material, in terms of blues and rhythm & blues," says Magic Dick. "From my perspective, you have to understand, that I have a certain job to do onstage. For me, that means bringing a certain focus to what I'm doing that fits in with this band, as compared to what I might have done with my own band, Bluestime, or with the J. Geils Band. Each one of these situations has its own demands that are based upon what is actually happening on the stage."
"I'm just the orchestra leader up there," says Castro. "I just stand back and watch and listen myself. I throw my licks in, too, but I'm having more fun watching everybody else do what they do, and I sometimes hesitate to join in because I think I'll screw it up."
For those of you who can't get out to catch this amazing collection of musicians, Delta Groove Music released Command Performance, a live album featuring choice performances from the first Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue tour.