BLUES POWER

It was at the post-festival jam at Mojo Kitchen (after a Springing the Blues Festival years ago) where an incident occurred that set an upcoming event in motion. “I had just jammed with [the late] Michael Burks on stage when a man approached me and said he was from Chicago and didn’t think women belonged in the blues, but ‘you’re OK I guess’,” says Kim Reteguiz. As if calling the Windy City home somehow inoculates the ass with opinion cred where the blues is concerned. Rather than puzzle on whether to demurely thank this backhanded ignoramus or make an obscene gesture, Reteguiz opted to plan a night in the near future for a showcase of women blues performers. So calling on Mama Blue and Cat McWilliams Band to host Women Who Rock Show: The Blues, Reteguiz (and her band, The Black Cat Bones) took the path of least resistance whilst garnering some optimum visibility.

To even the most casual listener, the blues idiom has never been the sole province of the male performer. Some of the blues’ greatest have been women, going back to the earliest recordings.

Indeed, if there is a pure strain of the inward struggles, worldly weight, and deep longing that one associates with the blues experience, it emanates from the female performers. Contrast this with the now-ribald image of the blues male, strutting his stuff, extolling on his prowess or his lady count, all the while feeling the pain of his own foot on his prick.

“We’re not as afraid as men to take chances. We don’t hold anything back; the emotional content when a woman sings actually makes a feminist statement. You’re gonna feel it,” says Reteguiz.

Co-headliner Mama Blue explains, “They called to asked me to be on with them, I said yes and the next day I was on a poster.” “For the music, well, I share my condition, I don’t know nor care if I am going to be the next Aretha or whoever, and the audience will know that I will relate to them. I feel it’s the human condition that connects us all,” Mama Blue declares.

This certainly goes in on that rare release that’s found in both performer and listener and given backstage eloquence in the words of Ray Charles: “When we feel bad, we want music that makes us feel worse.” (I know of no better definition of this music).

Guitarist/vocalist Caitlan McWilliams is one of the few women lead instrumentalists in the community. After her former group, Yankee Slickers, disbanded, she formed her own, The Cat McWilliams Band, who make their debut at the show. “Kim and I came up with the idea for the show at dinner one night. We were about to go see Jason Isbell at The Florida Theatre. Kim has been a huge support for me as far as the business aspect of the band goes. She threw out the idea to put together a show to sort of showcase the female talent around town and provide a stage for me to debut my new band. The Women Who Rock Show will give ample opportunity to strike out for self-sufficiency,” McWilliams says.

I should make mention of the male performers on the bill — local blues classicists Smokestack will open and close the show and provide intermittent backup throughout the evening. Smokestack has found a permanent home at Jaxon Social in Jax Beach, hosting the best Tuesday night in town, wowing purists and onlookers alike with one of the few regular blues jams in Northeast Florida.

In a scene that’s predominantly male and — let’s face it, readers — white, Reteguiz makes a point of venting her frustration with the audience. “I don’t know what decade these people live in, not even accepting the 1968 version of Santana, or telling me that what I do isn’t blues,” says Reteguiz. “Hey, I’m Puerto Rican and was raised on Fado and it’s emotional and I-IV-V” [i.e., of the same harmonic structure of traditional blues]. “Since we’re not as afraid as men to take chances, I really see women as pointing to the future of the blues.”

At this moment in time, however, Mama Blue probably says it best. ”We don’t see this as man vs. women, really, we’d rather debate Janis vs. Bessie,” she believes, referencing blues goddesses Janis Joplin and Bessie Smith.

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