The Ventura County Blues Society held its annual blues festival on Saturday, April 28th at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo. This year’s installment was dedicated to the memory of long-time member Mickey Jones. Jones, a 40 plus year resident of Simi Valley, passed away earlier this year. Jones’ professional pedigree in music reaches back almost 60 years. Jones had stints as a drummer for Trini Lopez, Johnny Rivers, Bob Dylan, and The First Edition. Jones also recorded on numerous rock hits before turning his professional talents to the acting world. Although he had 136 acting roles to his credit, his love for music never waned. According to his wife, Phyllis Jones, “He had emceed the event for nine straight years, until his declining health made that no longer possible for him.” The stage for this year’s event contained a memorial on its right side, with a photograph of Jones printed on canvas, and a director’s chair with his name on it.
Whereas this year’s event was a tribute to Jones, each and every year it is a tribute to blues music. The foggy Camarillo sky cleared by the time the first of the five bands on the bill, Sandy Scott and Blues to the Bone took the stage. Blues to the Bone kicked off a contradictory, beautifully sunny day of blues music. Scott and her six-piece ensemble, who are locals to Ventura County, delivered a 40 minute set of songs from a logically female perspective. Second on the docket is Los Angeles based blues outfit The Alan Wright Band. Wright and company, a quartet also played a 40 minute set of roots laden blues, with an emphasis on Wright’s smooth guitar solos. The next band to impart its version of musical melancholy on to the sprawling plots of lawn chair inhabitants is Deb Ryder. The Southern California singer/songwriter and her eight piece troupe includes a saxophonist and trumpeter and played around an hour-long set. The set is accentuated by an appearance by L.A. based, award-winning blues guitar man Joey Delgado. Delgado and his white Les Paul accompany the band on a few songs in the middle of the set and for two numbers in the finale. Event co-emcee and singer Big Lou Johnson, host of Sirius Radio’s B.B. Kings BluesVille also joined in on one tune.
As the afternoon progressed, John Nemeth and his band ascended to the stage. A red jump suited Nemeth blew his harmonica and crooned his way through an hour’s worth of blues tunes. His backing trio provided solid backdrop to his blues organ prowess. The last advertised act was Earl Thomas. Thomas brought a seven member supporting cast, including two keyboardists, a trumpeter and trombone player. Thomas’ set was 60 minutes of rhythm and blues mixed with a bit of soul. Nemeth joined Thomas’ band for three numbers, because as Thomas jokes, “No more than three songs, otherwise I have to pay him.”
An unannounced artist for the day’s festivities is legendary rock singer/guitarist Johnny Rivers. Rivers, a performer at a previous Blues Festival, asked to be involved in this year’s event as a tribute to Mickey Jones. Rivers and Jones had remained close friends right up until Jones’ death, even though their professional roads diverged over 50 years ago. Rivers and his band play three tunes, The Seventh Son, Secret Agent Man and a cover of the Ben E. King classic Stand By Me. Last is a Blues Society jam session, and the 2018 Blues Festival is in the books.
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