As a kid, I never heard the blues on the radio. In fact, my introduction to the genre was through Robert Crumb's Heroes of the Blues trading cards and its depictions of artists — with names like Memphis Minnie, Blind Willie Johnson and Sleepy John Estes — that I'd never heard about, much less heard.
From there, it was on to the San Francisco Blues Festival, where I'd see John Lee Hooker, J.C. Burris and other musicians I still knew next to nothing about. But while those artists grew up in a very different world than mine, their words and music resonated in a way few genres have. Seeing is believing, and that live experience is still the best way to feel the connection between artist and audience.
Which brings us to this coming Saturday's eighth annual Blues Under the Bridge Festival, with headliner Sugaray Rayford. (Our story begins here.) The towering Texas-born bluesman was 4 years old when he began singing gospel music at church celebrations where soulfulness and showmanship go hand-in-hand.
There's no denying that Rayford has taken his music in a more secular direction than past headliners who've appeared in our pages, specifically the Holmes Brothers and the Slide Brothers. But it's also worth remembering that gospel and blues traditions are ultimately about transcending the traumas of everyday life, if only for a few moments. And that's as important as anything you'll find on your radio today.