My advice to Northern California blues fans is straight-forward — skip the New Year’s Eve festivities and save the money and energy to fully appreciate Lucky Peterson’s weekend run at Biscuit and Blues in San Francisco.
I first caught Peterson in concert a few years back at the Monterey Jazz Festival and was impressed by the degree to which his live set transcends the ferocious passion so evident on the studio albums. There’s more than a little Buddy Guy in Peterson (they share a penchant for wandering into the audience) but Lucky uses the Chicago/Texas templates to chart a musical course of his own. The result is a bracing blues, muscular in its playing and attitude, rooted in tradition but anything but hidebound. For evidence, look no further than Peterson’s latest release, “The Son Of a Bluesman” (2014), on Jazz Village Records.
Peterson come to this passionate playing honestly. Indeed, he was born into the music, a genuine blues prodigy.
Peterson’s father, bluesman James Peterson, owned a nightclub in Buffalo called The Governor’s Inn. The club was a regular stop for fellow bluesmen such as Willie Dixon. Dixon saw a five-year-old Lucky Peterson performing at the club and, in Peterson’s words, “Took me under his wing.” Months later, Peterson performed on “The Tonight Show,” “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “What’s My Line?” Millions of people watched Peterson sing “1-2-3-4”, a cover version of “Please, Please, Please” by James Brown. At the time, Peterson said “his father wrote it.”
Around this time he recorded his first album, “Our Future: 5 Year Old Lucky Peterson,” for Today/Perception Records and appeared on the public television show, “Soul!” As a teen, Peterson studied at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, where he played the French horn with the school symphony. Soon, he was playing backup guitar and keyboards for Etta James, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Little Milton.
Peterson first caught my attention 25 years ago when he recorded the near-classic collections “Lucky Strikes” (1989) and “Triple Play” (1990) for Alligator. Peterson released four albums on Verve — “I’m Ready” (1992), “Beyond Cool” (1993), “Lifetime” (1995) and “Move” (1998) — in the coming decade before moving on to Blue Thumb. His two releases there — an eponymous 1999 album and 2001’s “Double Dealin’,” the latter a Grammy nominee — are the best of his acclaimed career. I cannot recommend them strongly enough.
Peterson lives in Dallas these days and, as is far too often the case, only rarely gigs on the West Coast. (You can also catch him February 26 at Yoshi’s.) His dates this weekend, then, offer the unfortunately rare opportunity for Bay Area bluesphiles to catch one of the genre’s top artists in concert.
Peterson — by birth, raw talent and creative outlook — is the real deal. Expect blues in all its gritty glory, shorn of the watered-down, blues-rock nonsense that Northern California blues fans often must settle for.
We are Lucky to have Peterson in town to kick off blues year 2015.