BLUE MOTHER TUPELO: The Best Blues Band You’ve Never Heard Of!!!
Writing and Photos by Ray Proetto of Blues Power Photo – March 13, 2014
As a blues writer and photographer living in Central Florida, my local friends have not been exposed to one of my favorite bands. Blue Mother Tupelo has a standing gig each year at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale Mississippi. Held the second weekend in April, it’s a special event with intimate performances from over one hundred blues acts! Blue Mother Tupelo plays Friday night at the Delta Amusement Café. Each year they put on one of the best performances at the festival!
What kind of a band is Blue Mother Tupelo?
Not one that easily fits into the clearly defined genres promoted by the record industry. You could say they are a Blues band, a Country band, a Rock band, even a Gospel band. They are not strictly any of these categories yet all of these at once.
Blue Mother Tupelo consists of the husband and wife team of Ricky and Micol Davis. They are long on substance and short on flash. The couple always dresses casually with Jeans or overalls and a shirt as their usual fashion. Ricky sports a derby cap and a blondish beard. Micol has long reddish hair and is the epitome of the beautiful blue eyed flower child. They typically perform as a duo although they have been known to play with a drummer and other musicians at times. They share the vocal duties with Ricky playing acoustic guitar and acoustic hollow body steel guitar. Micol plays tambourines most of the time and occasionally sits at the keyboard for some of their quieter numbers. Have I given you the impression a Blue Mother Tupelo show is a mellow civilized affair? Nothing could be further from the truth.
Hard Driving Soulful Blues with Backyard Country Flair
This is the best descriptive phrase I could create to describe Blue Mother Tupelo. Their shows are anything but mellow. With just guitar and tambourine (some might call that an instrument and a half), their shows explode with power and energy more than most bands with four or more musicians.
How do they accomplish this? With few exceptions during their live shows, each song builds slowly and then explodes with guitar driven power and passionate vocals. The energy of the band flows primarily through the high octane power of Ricky Davis’ rhythm guitar playing. His playing sets the tone and feel of each song in such a way that you would follow him to hell and back. Lucky for us, his jet propelled rhythms are not his only talent on guitar. Ricky Davis can play hard driving rockers, gentle finger picking, slide guitar and jam with the best of them. I especially appreciate his slide guitar playing which helps the band achieve much of its bluesy feel. Ricky Davis says blues are at the core of all their music.
The other unique characteristic of this band is their impressive use of vocal skills. Ricky and Micol’s use of vocal harmonies are exceptional. They weave through a song together and
separate their voices at crucial moments to complement each other. It’s a joy to watch their chemistry as they turn each song into a personal statement. Whether one is taking the lead vocals, they are alternating lead, or simply singing in beautiful harmony, this couple has developed a unique vocal style all their own. As effectively as Ricky uses his guitar to build and launch the intensity of their songs, their vocals are just as crucial in achieving the anticipation and explosion of energy so common in their music.
Don’t let Ricky and Micol’s appearance fool you. This is not your typical modern country band. Their live shows include beautiful harmonies, blues powered rockers, straight up blues, a capella gospel, and back yard country fun. They stretch out with extended jams and improvised singing. Pick up their CDs and you can add psychedelic electric guitar solos to the list. Although I thoroughly enjoy their CDs, you can understand why this is one band you want to hear live. Below is a description of their 2013 performance at the Juke Joint festival.
BLUE MOTHER TUPELO: LIVE AT THE DELTA AMUSEMENT CAFÉ – JUKE JOINT FESTIVAL – Clarksdale Mississippi, Friday April 13, 2013
The Delta Amusement Café in Clarksdale is not a large establishment. It is basically divided into two long rooms that are at most twenty feet wide and separated by a wall that does not extend the length of the room leaving openings on either end. The show was in the “back room” of the two where there was a small bar and rows of folding chairs facing the end of the room where the band set up on floor level. There was also a small area of floor space just in front of the band with room for a few to dance. The place was packed with diehard fans who were hooting, hollering and cheering this husband and wife team.
Each of them stood at separate mics; Ricky with guitar and Micol with her tambourine(s). The show opened with a beautiful yet powerful and bluesy version of the Paul Anka song, “Put your head on my shoulder.” Ricky kicked it into gear with some high energy slide guitar. They alternated singing the lead lines and the song rose and fell repeatedly from intense energy to quiet beauty and back again until it finally ended on the soulful notes of Micol’s singing.
Throughout the show, as each song really took off, Micol danced all over the small stage. Playing tambourine with her long hair flying in and out of her face, she seemed possessed by Ricky’s hard driving guitar. Sometimes they shared a mic and sometimes they each stuck to their own. When Ricky’s jamming built to a crescendo, they met in the middle of the stage. Micol danced and played her tambourine right in front of him as he thrashed out the rhythm and wailed away at his guitar solos.
After the first song was over the crowd roared with approval. Next up was a song written by Will Kimbrough on the band’s latest CD entitled “Only Sunshine.” The song, “Peaks and Valleys” is a slow, sad sounding ballad sung in harmony by the couple. It’s about the struggle for balance in a relationship while trying not to get burned again. The chorus ends with “Peaks and valleys for us all.”
Moving onto another song from the new CD the band played “Comfort for my Soul.” It begins with a blues shuffle and continues as the couple moans… “This world’s in a world of trouble.” The song slowly picks up the pace as they lament together about the world of greed and hunger. Ricky hit the rhythm guitar and some slide guitar solos hard as the lyric changed to the repeated wail of “I need some comfort for my soul.” Gradually, it slows and quiets down as the couple repeat the verse until Ricky’s voice and guitar drop off… leaving just Micol singing gently without another sound. By now you could hear a pin drop in the room as she sings one last time. “I need some comfort for my soul.” Just beautiful!
The couple shifted gears again to a love song, “You will Accompany Me.” It starts out with Ricky singing over maracas as Micol just groans into the mic. They sing together, separately and use their voices to play off of each other again and again. Ricky’s deep bass of a voice creates a striking contrast with Micol’s higher pitched notes. The result is a stunningly beautiful sound. Gradually the beat picks up pace as Micol sings and moans ending the song.
“Hand in Hand” was next and could easily be a country music hit with its profession of love bringing each of them from lonely to “hand in hand.” It’s got the best chorus hook of any song they have written and leaves you feeling their love as they sing to each other.
Up next and out of the blue was a lighthearted R & B classic from Otis Redding. It’s the “Fa Fa Song” and Ricky took the lead vocals through most of it with some support from Micol.
Once again the pace changed as the band blended a medley of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Kokomo Blues” and “Highway 61” turning the two songs into one riotous jam! “Kokomo” began the jam with some medium paced slide guitar and Micol banging a drum beat on her tambourine as they sang the verses. They shifted into high gear for a fast paced “Highway 61” that had Ricky pushing his slide guitar playing to a frenzy. Later they shifted back to “Kokomo” but never let up the intensity driving the song hard. Finally, it all deteriorated into a furious jam as Ricky thrashed and slashed his guitar and Micol danced around wildly pounding her tambourine.
After the jam crashed to its conclusion, Micol began singing “I wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down.” Only the tambourine was played as she sang the notes louder and more powerfully than the recorded version. Ricky accompanied her in the background with vocal bass notes to counterpoint her high pitched singing. This time she literally blew the roof off with this version of the traditional gospel song. It’s well worth the time to see them just to hear this song alone. Incredible!
“Mississippi Mud” was next and started out with a medium paced blues shuffle and ended with a much faster pace. The end of the song somehow continued the blues feel of Ricky’s slide guitar as it transitioned into the powerful beat of a gospel jam.
The next song up was one of my favorites. Before it began, Ricky slowly picked out blues notes and then used his slide for some more tasty blues as he talked to the audience telling them he’s going to tell the story of the great depression of the 21st century. Then he jumped into the infectious blues riff of “Give it Away” and the crowd erupted! The song ended like many of theirs with some wild pounding guitar and the couple belting out together… “I’ve got to give it away.”
The final song of the evening was yet another wonderful surprise. Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do?” Instead of trying to evoke Etta James, they covered this one with quiet tasteful guitar playing, beautiful singing with alternating lead vocals, and ended with the couple singing in harmony. Rather than picking up the volume with his guitar, this time they did it solely with their voices. Ricky and Micol transformed this heavy handed blues classic into a soulful event.
If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you are now trying to find a way to see this amazing couple perform. The best part about catching them at the Juke Joint Festival is that you’ve got 100 other acts to experience in the same weekend!
What can beat that?
See you in Clarksdale.