The Fox Theatre brought the ‘Take Me To the River Tour’ to Tucson on October 5. It is a collaborative effort by legendary blues artists Charlie Musselwhite, William Bell, and Bobby Rush performing the music of Memphis produced by Stax and Hi records in the 1960s and 70s. However, that is an oversimplification of what this tour is about. A more accurate description would be that it is a meeting and a blending of classic rhythm and blues with modern hip hop and rap music. It is an adaptation of the documentary movie “Take Me To the River” released in 2014. The performers on the tour are also in the movie.
Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, son of the late Willie Mitchell, served as the master of ceremonies for the evening. He also was a musician in the band. Two of the original sessions musicians were playing in the band on the tour. From the “Hi” rhythm section, Charles Hodges on organ and Leroy Hodges on bass played in Willie Mitchell’s original recording studio. Mitchell explained, “They played on 26 gold and platinum records in a month. Both were recipients of this year’s Americana lifetime achievement award.” Memphis churned out hit records for Al Green, Otis Redding, Ann Peebles, and Ike and Tina Turner to name a few.
The fast-paced show started with the band performing a Willie Mitchell instrumental, “20-75.” Sharisse Norman followed by Ashton Riker sang hit songs by Al Green and Otis Redding. Riker is a recent graduate of the Stax Music Academy and the Berkley Music Academy in Boston. Riker’s vocals were very silky smooth and true to the original performances. The songs were very familiar tunes that are still relevant to this day. Rapper Frayser Boy joined Riker for a duet on “Sitting On Dock of the Bay.” It was a surprisingly seamless collaboration.
Rapper, Al Kapone took command of the stage with his “New Jewelry.” The band and the background singers backed up Kapone, It gave his rap the lush Memphis sound groove. Master showman, Grammy winner, and harmonica wizard, 84-year old Bobby Rush brought the house down with his three-song set. He reminded the crowd that he has been recording for 66 years. Fans who are familiar with Rush, expect nothing less than a riveting set. The only thing missing was his classic jump.
Harmonica guru, Charlie Musselwhite, kept the uplifting vibe going with his three-song set. He had his metal case filled with harps in front of him. His finesse and creativity with the harmonica is spellbinding. One of the highlights of the show was near the end when Musselwhite and Rush had a harp competition. It was an amazing a treat to see these legends at their best.
William Bell was the first male vocalist signed to Stax Records in 1961. He is credited with the hits “You Don’t Miss Your Water” and “Born Under a Bad Sign.” He has inspired everyone from Snoop Dogg to Melissa Etheridge. Bell displayed that charisma that has dubbed him the ‘love man.’ The energetic three-song set included “I Forgot To Be Your Lover.” Al Kapone returned to the stage to perform the song with Bell. He is indeed the last standing original soul man of Memphis.
The finale of the show consisted of everyone returning to the stage to perform “Take Me To the River.” This was a great evening of “passing the torch.” For a complete set list, click here.