Guest Author - Chris Curtis
On April 30th, 2005, Blackstone River Theater hosted The Ken Lyon Band with a wonderful acoustic folk and blues set. Ken was joined on stage by Bob Drouin playing bass guitar, banjo and fiddle and Richard Colitri on Mississippi Saxaphone (harmonica). Ken has been called the Rhode Island's Grandfather of the Blues.
I have seen Ken many times as an integral part of Pendragon, a Celtic Folk band whose home base is the Blackstone River Theater. Ken is gifted with a remarkable voice and the set selection was a perfect fit for Ken's powerful vocals. During the entire performance, his voice was sharp and clear – like a fine tuned instrument. Complimenting Ken's vocals, Bob Drouin, also a Pendragon band member, provided the melody on bass guitar while Richard Calitri blew a mean harmonica throughout the entire set adding a jazzy upbeat rhythm. The mood was far from somber or mellow, but rather light and fun filled.
Ken set the tone early and it was clear he was there to entertain. He, undoubtedly, was in his element and simply enjoying himself. He started by explaining that BB King had a name for his guitar, "Lucille" and that he did too. He introduced his 12 string guitar as Black Betty and his blond, six string as Marilyn; raising a hearty chuckle from the audience. The set began with a wonderful upbeat rendition of the traditional folk piece "Walk Right In" immediately followed by Ledbelly's "House of the Rising Sun". Hearing this version of an old classic brought new understanding as to the meaning of the song to this child of the 60s who grew up with Eric Burdon's version of the song.
Before taking an intermission, Ken mixed it up with a little bit of blues, a little bit of ragtime, and a little bit of folk including a Robert Johnson Classic – "Sweet Home in Chicago", and a Bo Diddley tune. Just before intermission, Ken appropriately dedicated the song "Love Letters" (straight from the heart) to all of our veterans and all veteran's widows; then, he wrapped up the first half of the performance with Muddy Water's "Mojo Working."
Returning to the stage after a 15 minute intermission, Ken continued to deliver a diverse selection of music. This time, he solicited more audience participation in the refrains of several of the 12 tunes that made up the second half of the performance. Just before the third song, Ken explained that having been in the music business more than 30 years, he'd been in many bands with a variety of names, most notably the Tombstone Blues Band. Jokingly, he said he had tried on different names for the current band and had come to settle on Ken Lyon and the Skeleton Crew. He then prompted his band mates to take the Skeleton walking sticks hidden in the corners of the stage in hand as he launched into the working tune "Columbus Stockade." The audience giggled throughout the entire song as Bob and Richard kept beat and played with their skeletons quite humorously.
Keeping the spirit high, next came an lively rendition of "The Battle of New Orleans" During the 2nd half another Ledbelly and another Bo-Diddly tune was sung before Ken delivered a mesmerizing, soft and beautiful "How Long Blues" accompanied by Bob Druin on Fiddle. As he began the song, he pointed out that he would have normally used his 12 string for this piece but, he explained "My 12 string is having a mid-life crisis," so he proceeded with his 6 string guitar.
The band wrapped up the second half with a rocking version of "Polk Salad Annie" then left the stage while Ken remained on stage. Again joking with the audience, stating that at his age (64), it was too much work to leave the stage and come back for the encore so he asked us to pretend he left and came back. He ended the evening with a gospel tune that he wrote and recorded on his "Old School" CD- "Holy Land." A son of a preacher man, gospel is second nature to this amazing performer.
Before leaving the stage, Ken announced that the evening's performance had been recorded live with the expectation of producing a new CD. Watch for this new release on Ken's web site, as it's sure to be played over and over.