Biography Omar & The Howlers

Austin, besides being the Texas state capital, is home to much of the best in American roots music. Since the 1970s, ballsy blues players, renegade country pickers, and raw-voiced rockers have mixed & matched their musical styles in Austin's thriving club scene. And that's where Kent "Omar" Dykes holds court too. And it's also where he's recorded his latest Ruf album, Boogie Man, working with some of his adopted hometown's most famous songwriters and musicians.

He hails from McComb, Miss., a town with the curious distinction of being home turf for both Bo Diddley and Britney Spears. It's well established that Omar started playing guitar at seven, took to hanging out in edge-of-town juke joints at 12, joined his first band at 13 - the next youngest player being 50 - and played the sort of music where somebody bustin' a cap at somebody else was just added percussion.

He was still Kent Dykes in those days, but by the time he hit 20 he had hooked up with a crazy-assed party band, called the Howlers, who specialised in playing frat parties. Looking back, he says, "We had two saxophone players on baritone and tenor who wore Henry Kissinger masks. They were called the Kissinger brothers. Not on every song, mind you. Sometimes it was Dolly Parton playing saxophone. Or Cher. And we had these cardboard cut-outs from record stores for skits." They even did fake ads for Sunshine Collard Greens and Howlers' Fried Chicken - "for that old-fashioned taste that tastes just like Grandma."

It was a crazy time, but a helluva lot of fun too, with the rough & tumble Howlers playing R&B, R&R and even the occasional polka and western swing tune. A decade earlier and 250 miles north of McComb, Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn had learned their chops exactly the same way as members of the Memphis party band the Mar-Keys.

But Kent Dykes mostly just wanted to play blues. And by then the other Howlers had taken to calling him "Omar Overtone" because he tended to let his guitar feed back on stage while he dropped to the floor to spin on his back in a spontaneous, Big & Tall Store take on break-dancing. As he says, those performances were "sometimes fueled by, a-hmm, alcohol."

By 1976, the Howlers decided they were ready to bust a big move and relocate to Austin, where such clubs as the Soap Creek Saloon, the Broken Spoke, the Armadillo World Headquarters and Antone's had created a haven for renegade music. "We worked out of Austin for about a year," Omar says, "but a lot of the guys decided they weren't cut out to play music full-time for the rest of their lives. They headed back to Mississippi and Arkansas, and I decided to keep the name. Nobody objected." And as Dykes says, Omar & The Howlers works better than Kent & The Howlers. Of such decisions are careers made.

Fronting a new line-up, Dykes honed a band capable of the sort of raw, rowdy, rambunctious blues that made Howlin' Wolf and Hound Dog Taylor legends and inspired Don Van Vliet to become Captain Beefheart.

By then the Fabulous Thunderbirds were also getting started in Austin and T-Bird member Jimmie Vaughan's kid brother, Stevie Ray, had formed Triple Threat with Lou Ann Barton, future Double Trouble-r Chris Layton and Jackie Newhouse (LeRoi Brothers). The T-Birds were the first to record, cutting their debut in 1979, but Omar wasn't far behind with "Big Leg Beat" in 1980. His second, "I Told You So", in 1984 made them the big men on the block - or at least along Austin's famed Sixth Street - earning them consecutive Austin band-of-the-year awards in 1985-1986.

The following year Omar signed with Columbia Records and cut "Hard Times In The Land of Plenty" (1987), which sold in excess 500,000 copies, and "Wall of Pride" (1988). Since then there have been another dozen albums, all of them featuring Omar's guitar and baritone voice, which reviewers describe as a cross between Howlin' Wolf in his prime and the warning growl of a large primate. Hyperbole aside, the big man's talents have earned an international following, prestigious awards and induction into the Texas musicians' Hall of Fame.

For "Boogie Man", his newest release on the Ruf label, Omar has brought in some of the songwriter friends he's made in the 27 years since he left Mississippi for Texas. Ten of the 11 tracks on the 55-minute disc are collaborations. "Co-writing at this point in my life is a lot of fun. To me it's like free songs. These are ones that I wouldn't have had the patience to sit down and write on my own. But when you get with friends and drink coffee, tell jokes and stories, and then write something, it always turns out to be something different than what you might have done on your own."

Plus it's not exactly heavy lifting to work with such Texas icons as Ray Wyle Hubbard, Darden Smith, Alejandro Escovedo and Stephen Bruton. "Some of them I hadn't seen for a while," Omar says, "because like me they're in bands and on the road. So when we got together, we end up reminiscing a lot. For instance, I've known Ray Wyle off and on for 20 years - acquaintances for a long time but pretty good friends now. In the old days, he was busy drinking and partying on his own, and I had my own party going on too."

Besides the songwriting collaborators, Omar also brought some friends into the recording studio, including guitarists Chris Duarte and Jon Dee Graham (True Believers), Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble, George Rains (Sir Douglas Quintet and house drummer on scores of Antone's label releases) and his frequent running-mates Terry Bozzio (Missing Persons, Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa) and Malcolm "Papa Mali" Welbourne.

About the recording process, Omar says, "I played out for seven and a half months, with only a few days off, and I'd spend those cutting in the studio. I would have liked to take the time off to relax, but it was a lot of satisfaction writing and recording with my friends too. This was an album I've wanted to do for a long, long time."

As for future plans, Omar says he'll be back on the road soon. "I still do 150-160 shows a year, and with travel days that adds up to a lot of time away from home. It always seems like we're on a plane headed somewhere."

Or as he sums things up in "That's Just My Life": It's a long way from Pittsburgh down to Knoxville, Tenn.. But I'm in it for the long haul, and that's all right with me. Nighttime keeps me in the roadhouse, daylight's burning up the miles, the blacktop goes forever, I was born a highway child.

Omar & The Howlers

Biography Coco Montoya

Born October 2, 1951, Coco grew up in Southern California during the late 1950's and early 1960's, Montoya was immersed in music at an early age. Whether it was his father's big band records or his older brothers and sisters rock and roll records or the early rock and roll and doo wap that flooded AM radio, Coco took it all in with open ears. At the same time, English musicians like John Mayall and Eric Clapton were developing blues styles. "When I first heard Eric Clapton doing "Hideaway," was my re-education into the blues."
As a teen, Montoya discovered the guitar as a way to voice the inner feelings that needed expression. "I remember being young and having a hard time expressing myself. When I found the guitar, I found the way to express my heart." But it was as a drummer in local rock bands that first put Coco on stage.
Then seeing Albert King showed the youth how to play the blues. "I went to see Iron Butterfly and Creedence Clearwater and a guy named Albert King was playing in between them. He picked up his guitar, did "Watermelon Man," and changed my whole life. That was the first time I heard music that came from the heart."
Montoya is a self taught guitar slinger who plays with an emotional intensity few string benders possess. Playing left-handed and up side down like Albert King, Montoya learned his guitar techniques from his years with Collins. "I never had a lesson in my life. "I would watch other guitar players to catch what they did. I would wait for that one moment when they would do it, and just stare at them and try and remember where their hand was, where their fingers were.
"People ask, 'Did you take lessons from Albert?' It's more from just hanging out in the hotel rooms. He would grab his guitar and I would pick up one and we'd play I just learned by listening, all by ear. I just play it the way I hear it. He was always saying, 'Don't think about it, just feel it.' He taught me to tap into an inner strength. I don't know all the licks in the world, but I know the ones I can express happiness or sadness or emotion."
From 1976 until 1984, Montoya had lost some of the feel for music and worked bartender jobs to survive. In 1984, his second mentor, John Mayall, was celebrating his birthday in a bar where Montoya was performing. Montoya's from the hip version of "All Your Love" caught Mayall's ear and Coco was asked to pack his Strat and follow previous Bluesbreaker guitarists Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor in the Bluesbreakers. "I would never be doing what I'm doing now if I hadn't gotten the phone call from John Mayall."
After three records with Mayall as a member of the Bluesbreakers, Coco decided in 1993 it was time to take the lessons from his two musical fathers and begin to sculpt a solo career. In the early 1990's he was signed to Blind Pig Records and released three critically acclaimed discs, Gotta Mind To Travel, Ya Think I'd Know Better, and Just Let Go.
In the middle of his Blind Pig days, Coco also received national recognition when he was named the Blues Foundation's Best New Blue Artist at the 1996 Blues Music Awards.
In 2000, Coco took his music up a notch and signed with Alligator Records, the country's top blues label. In his seven years with Alligator, Coco released three more outstanding records, Suspicion, Can't Look Back, and 2007's Dirty Deal.
Today, in 2009, Coco Montoya has found a new home in the old world. Europe's premier blues label, Ruf Records, signed the guitar giant and is poised to bring Coco Montoya's heart to a world audience. I Want It All Back is the first step in that commitment. Now, in 2014, he releases his first live CD set Songs From The Roads.

Biography Meena

Meena was born 1977 in a small catholic upper austrian village as the third child of a master electrician and his wife, a woman with a suprior altruistic attitude towards life. In summer she walked around barefoot, sheltered among cows, meadows, trees and proud of her scratched knees. When she was three Meena had her first encounters with ski, being pushed down the hill. "My people successfully tried to get me into church which was easy because I liked the sound of the organ. And later, I was enamoured in an altar server. My mother taught me a lot during my girlhood. The world is big, she said. And my dad told me to look for a safe place on earth.
When Meena learned to speak she immediately was taught how to sing. Grandpa played the zither, mother and sister sang together with her. Good old folk from upper austria, you know. So I learned - among other things - musical harmony and polyphonic singing from early on. I wrote my first songs being seven years old. Music was something quite natural in our everyday life and far away from commercialism. Just like eating and sleeping, music was part of our life."
Meena was eleven when her brother died. He was only seventeen. "And I still miss him so much, especially as he gave me my very first audio tape. A compilation of music from the Seventies. And there was Jimi Hendrix who casted his spell over me with ´Voodoo Chile´."
As she was fifteen, Meena founded her first band in company with Chris Fillmore. "We were a psychedelic rock band in those days and we were lucky to play many wild shows. And every song we'd played, had a length over 20 minutes.
I was a quite normal, pubescent, school denying teenager with a liability to rebellion and a star-eyed little idealist who wanted to improve the world. This is why I went to Mozamique after having finished my degree. I worked there at a women´s refuge. Then I traveled through Europe and northern USA where I fell in love with Chicago. But Chicago was one thing, then came Vienna. In Vienna I entered my name under my first managment contract."
In the meantime word had got around. Meena´s naturalness and power on stage, her authentic voice had aroused interest. My approach to music and singing was and is something special, powered by my desire to deliver my art, driven by my desire for freedom. "It was more than a wish, there was an inner force in me to become a musician. Singing is my vocation, but my parents still don´t regard it like that."
The first thing she did was putting a band together. She worked on stage with locals and musicians of international reputation as well, she played low paid and well played gigs. She met producers and managers, booking agents, co-producers, publishers and label bosses. "Somebody tried to make a pop singer of myself, a rock queen, even a Tina Turner or a Janis Joplin double. As a matter of fact, I was asked to learn the corresponding show routine. To no avail. It would have been easier to tame my wild curls. And then, at the end, then Thomas Ruf entered the place. He decided - against the regulations of the mainstream music bizniz - to take me under his wings. Me, a rough bluessinger. A singer just sledded down from the mountains on to the shaky ground of the record industry." Ruf flew Meena across the pond right into the Mecca of the blues - Memphis, Tennessee.
"He brought me and my guitar player Chris Fillmore to Jim Gaines in Memphis for recording our first official CD. From that moment on it felt for me like coming home. As if my life in 1977 could have begun right here in Stantonville."

Biography Erja Lyytinen

In the past few years, Erja Lyytinen has taken the international music scene by storm. She's a young, talented singer/songwriter and exceptional guitarist who plays everything from dobro to slide guitar. "But the guitar - or any instrument for that matter - is there just to support the story that I'm always trying to tell with a song", she says.

Erja was born to a musical family in Kuopio, a little town in the middle of Finland. At the age of 15 she was performing with her parents - singing and at first playing the violin and later the electric guitar. "People always wonder how a girl picked up the guitar. But being from a musical family - my mother is a bassist and my father a guitarist - I don't think that's a far stretch," Erja laughs.

Erja's second album Wildflower (Bluelight Records), which she also co-produced, was officially released in June 2003 at one of Finland's biggest festivals, Puistoblues. "It was great," Erja enthuses. "We got to open for Koko Taylor and Bonnie Raitt. They've both had a huge influence on me." Erja has often been compared to Raitt and the Finnish magazine Blues News once hailed her as the Bonnie Raitt of Finland.
"I think the main reason why some people compare me to Bonnie is that we both are women and play slide guitar. But naturally, it was fantastic when I finally got the chance to meet her. She turned out to be a really nice person."

In 2005, Erja signed with Ruf Records and promptly flew to the USA to collaborate on a project with British blues artists Ian Parker and Aynsley Lister. The resulting album, Pilgrimage, was a huge success and led to subsequent tours in the United States and Europe as well as the live DVD Blues Caravan 2006 - The New Generation. One of the songs Lyytinen wrote for the Pilgrimage session, "Dreamland Blues," also appeared on the CD Blues Guitar Women compiled by award-winning Canadian blues artist Sue Foley.

Erja returned to the U.S. in 2006 to record her first solo album for Ruf Records, Dreamland Blues. Teaming her up with David and Kinney Kimbrough (sons of the late Junior Kimbrough, a Mississippi hill country legend) and long-time musical partner Davide Floreno, Lyytinen's latest CD digs even deeper into the gritty blues sound she has now identified as her own. She still integrates a range of other influences such as jazz, pop, R&B and country into her songs. But as Ian Parker puts it: "Erja has now discovered her true musical home - the blues."

After hearing Lyytinen on her first tour of Germany, one critic wrote: "Not only does the lady have a fantastic voice ... she is also an excellent guitar player. Hot sounds from the great white north!" As she continues to pound the road in the years ahead - burning up the fretboard with her slide, flashing that million-dollar smile - Erja Lyytinen is sure to keep winning over the hearts of fans everywhere.

Biography Louisiana Red

RED'S VISION

The current blues scene in the U.S. and Europe is characterized by a wide variety of styles and musicians. However, as the years go passing by there are fewer and fewer artists left that were active during the formative years of blues music, those who participated in the development of the music.

Thus, it is all the more important and cause for celebration that there are still artists such as Louisiana Red.

Louisiana Red has lived the Blues. And Louisiana Red not only plays the Blues, he lives it through his guitar and his singing. Strongly influenced by Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins and Arthur Crudup, he has long ago found his own voice, his own style, his own form of expression.

When Red performs, the songs are often only launching pad for expressing his immediate feelings in the almost lost tradition of spontaneous composition that goes back to the original Delta Blues artists an even further to the West-African griot bards.

In a career spanning over half a century, Louisiana Red has played with just about every major bluesman you can name, some of the most memorable encounters being his jams with B.B.King and Muddy Waters.

But it doesn't matter who he plays with or where he appears - Louisiana Red brings the same intensitiy and enthusiasm to every stage he appears on, whether in front of 10,000 people at a festival or 100 people in an intimate club.

Louisiana Red's albums have been called masterpieces by critics, and in 1983 he won a W.C. Handy Award as best traditional blues artist. After living in Germany for 20 years, he has made a several triumphant comeback tours in the United States.

But if you ask Red about it, he won't tell you much about his success. He'll much rather talk about his latest CD project, about a new song or a new guitar lick. Because Louisiana Red is constantly creating, always searching für another expression of his blues. For once, the hyperbole ist justified: Louisiana Red is the Blues

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