June 4, 2020

The 25th Annual Topanga Blues Festival


What better way to kick off summer than spending a Saturday in the natural beauty of a picturesque amphitheater in Topanga Canyon, and immersing yourself in the blues? Friends and family alike will gather together on Saturday, June 16, at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum at 1419 Topanga Canyon Boulevard to enjoy the 25th Annual Topanga Blues Festival - an entire day of world-class blues and roots music in this beautiful and serene setting. The festival is a family-friendly event, featuring a variety of activities for the families and children, such as a harmonica workshop and face painting, plus a wide array of food options as well as a beer garden to quench your thirst in the sun.

Sponsored for the past 25 years by the Southern California Blues Society (SCBS), a non-profit organization established in 1982 and dedicated to the perpetuation of the blues as a uniquely American music form, the annual Topanga Blues Festival is the only event of its kind put on by the SCBS. The purpose of the festival is to "sustain the basic root of all music, a genre that effortlessly conveys the emotions associated with human experience," says festival spokeswoman Kelly Davis. "Blues music is the spirit of humanity that shines through regardless of how dark and oppressive the times can be. The annual Topanga Blues Festival provides an outlet for families and friends all around to come and enjoy the music, the setting and the spirit of others. It gives everyone a chance to forget about their everyday worries and enjoy an entire day of celebration of life," Davis adds.

Music lovers, blues fans, and families and friends just looking for a great way to spend a beautiful summer Saturday will gather from throughout Southern California, Topanga Canyon, Malibu, Santa Monica, surrounding beach communities and the San Fernando Valley to enjoy an entire afternoon of some of the finest blues music available today.

Past performers at the festival have included legendary blues artists Etta James, Willie Dixon, Otis Rush, Big Joe Turner, Lowell Fulson, Junior Wells and Pee Wee Crayton. The stage has also featured numerous winners and finalists from over the years at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee.

This year's festival promises to be bigger and better than ever, says Davis. The doors open at 9 a.m., and the entertainment kicks off at 10 a.m. with Donnie V, a local to Southern Californian who has previously opened for such acts as Jimmy Vaughan, John Mayall and Canned Heat. He will be followed by the Teddy Lee Hooker Band, whose frontman, Teddy Lee, received his first guitar from the late blues legend John Lee Hooker. The lineup also includes the Ozzie Blues Band, followed by the Catherine Denise Band, leading up to this year's headlining act - none other than the internationally-renowned Mannish Boys Blues Revue.

The current edition of The Mannish Boys features a veritable one-band blues festival of talent. Veteran front man Finis Tasby is recognized by music fans world-wide as one of the most soulful and dynamic blues singers working today. Tasby shares the vocal duties with Johnny Dyer, who is widely acclaimed as one of the last keepers of the old-school Chicago-style blues flame, with his deep, soulful vocals and full-toned blues harp. Kid Ramos, nominated for 2007 Blues Music Award for guitar instrumentalist of year, tears it up on lead guitar. Ramos, formerly with the James Harmon Band and The Fabulous Thunderbirds, will be accompanied on guitar by blues veteran John Marx, who has previously played with many of the greats, including Lightning Hopkins and Floyd Dixon. Leon Blue, best known for his work with the "Three "Kings" of blues music - Albert King, Freddie King, and B.B.King - and veteran of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue in the 1960s and '70s, will be handling the piano. R&B veteran Tom Leavey lends a rock steady backbone to the band on bass, and is joined by legendary drummer, James Gadson, who has played with everyone from Paul McCartney to B.B. King. The latest addition to The Mannish Boys is singer Bobby Jones, a veteran of the Chicago blues circuit from the 1950s and '60s, who proves beyond any doubt that he's still one of the most powerful and vibrant blues singers in the country. Finally, impresario / emcee Randy Chortkoff is not only the "man behind the curtain,"he's also a superb blues harmonica player and singer in his own right, who led his own bands for many years before masterminding the assembling of the extraordinary blues revue now known around the world as The Mannish Boys.

The Mannish Boys

The Mannish Boys are being universally praised as one of the most exciting blues projects to come along in years, featuring some of the most dynamic blues talent in the world today, assembled from the cream of the crop of West Coast blues veterans and young bloods. They have received virtually unanimous rave reviews from both the blues specialty press and general entertainment reviewers.

The steady core of the band has featured a flexible and rotating cast of starring characters who keep things interesting and fresh. Most of the members either lead or are integral members of other successful touring and recording bands. They've honed their blues to a brilliant edge through appearances before sold-out crowds and on festival stages in the U.S., Canada and in Europe.

In 2005, The Mannish Boys played to a sold-out crowd at Edmonton's Labatt Blues Festival. With the venue packed well beyond the 3,000 person capacity, The Mannish Boys made quite an impression on Edmonton Journal's Roger Levesque who wrote that, "it was the Mannish Boys who really pulled out the blues by the roots and shook off the earth. The all-star collective of southern-bred, multi-generational blues vets used up their 90-minute set as M.C.-singer-harpmeister Randy Chortkoff gradually brought out each member for his own cameo, leading towards a collaborative finale with the crack backing band."

Finis Tasby

Powerhouse blues vocalist Finis Tasby was born in Dallas, Texas in 1940, and grew up immersed in the vital Texas blues tradition. As a teenager, Finis got his first professional music experience as drummer with the swinging local combo The Blues Blasters. By the early 1960s he'd switched instruments, and was playing bass and singing backup with local legends The Thunderbirds, working regularly with Z.Z. Hill, and also backing Clarence Carter, Lowell Fulson and Freddie King on regional tours.

In the late 1990s Finis began his alliance with Randy Chortkoff, when Randy independently produced Finis' CD Jump Children, which was released to wide acclaim on the Evidence label. (Finis also recently released the CD Tribute To John Lee Hooker on the small Kon Kord label.) Finis and Randy have worked closely since then on several other recording projects and numerous live performances, culminating in the formation of The Mannish Boys.

Johnny Dyer

Johnny Dyer is one of those guys who is so steady and has been doing what he does for so long that he's sometimes overlooked. But don't take Johnny for granted - he's one of the truly great harp players of his generation, which is to say, the generation that came out of heyday of the blues harp. Born in Mississippi in 1938, and having spent some of his formative years on Stovall's Plantation in Rolling Fork (also home of Muddy Waters), Johnny has the subtlety of phrasing and gently swinging chops that are at the core of all the great blues harp players.

These elemental qualities were ingrained so early that they're completely automatic and natural in Johnny's playing, but often take later generations of harp players a lifetime of study to get a handle on - if they can grasp them at all. Add to that a voice as rich as Mississippi mud, and you've got a bluesman who is about as heavy as they come these days.

Even with these deep roots and surplus of natural talent, Johnny has spent most of his life as a stric