In his book A Man Without a Country, Kurt Vonnegut quotes his friend, the writer Albert Murray, as claiming that the blues may not be able to drive depression clear out of a house, but can drive it into the corners of any room where it’s being played.
The Reykjavik Blues Festival will be celebrated from March 23. to March 28, sure to drive any depression to the furthest corner.
Eh? What's that? Icelandic blues? Indeed. One of the greatest gifts America has given the world is the blues, and the torch is carried widely and proudly, as the feeling and need for expression is universal. The festival yearly has excellent local and international artists playing in the city. You can check out the festival's homepage and its schedule here.
This year's international highlights are Guitar Shorty and the couple Lucky and Tamara Peterson, all hailing from the United States. Guitar shorty is a legend the blues world, well rooted in traditional old school blues and credited with influencing both Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix (you may have heard of him) and famous for his incredible molten guitar playing, psychadelic solos and fierce vocals. He's also played with such greats as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, B.B. King and T. Bone Walker.
Lucky and Tamara Peterson are considered some of the hottest blues artists today. Lucky plays contemporary blues, fusing soul, R&B, gospel & rock and roll and plays guitar and keyboards. He is known as a searing lead guitarist, a great organist and singer. His wife Tamara has further been lauded for her throaty and soulful vocals and together they make a dymamic duo.
Among great local artists are the excellent Vinir Dóra, where special mention must go to the fantastic guitar player Guðmundur Pétursson or 'Gummi P', one of Iceland's all-time greatest guitarists. Andrea Gylfadóttir (of Todmobile fame) and Ragnheidur Grondal are some of the best Icelandic female vocalists in the blues and beyond. Other greats include Björn Thoroddssen, Sigurður Sigurðsson , Mike Pollock, Ásgeir Óskarsson, Langi Seli og Skuggarnir, Sigurður “Kentár“ Sigurðsson and Berglind Björk Jónasdóttir.
A few first generation-blues artists have performed at the festival. David Honeyboy Edwards, a great artist who is furthermore famous for having played with Robert Johnson, had a concert in Iceland a few years back. Sadly it got sold out before I could get a ticket. I did however get to see the legends Pinetop Perkins and Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith perform. Pinetop Perkins was simply a superb pianist that played with some of the most influental artists in rock and blues, among them Muddy Waters. Though he may have been slightly past his prime when he played in Iceland, he was really really good for a guy in his nineties, and would even flirt with the ladies, while old enough to be the great-grandfather of some. He cut one album with the great Chigago Beau and the excellent Icelandic blues band Vinir Dóra (a.k.a. The Blue Ice Band) in the 90's and is reported to have claimed it to be one of the best albums he's performed on. Willie is most well known as the drummer for Muddy Waters' band but here he also sang and played the harmonica, and was utterly charming. Zora Young, Ronnie Baker Brooks and Deitra Farr were also great. Has it been seven years already? Time certainly flies.
As for memorable Icelandic artists I've seen at the festival, along with Vinir Dóra and Andrea Gylfa and Her Bluesmen, I must mention KK, who's simply excellent. His great songs, superb guitar playing and soulful soft/husky voice are a constant treat.
Below are few songs by some of the artists.