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2/7/11 Memphis We were the winners of the Houston Blues Society's contest last fall to determine an entrant to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis last week. One hundred and ten bands from around the world showed up, each of them a winner in their own region. Tuesday night a special showcase was presented before the contest started Wednesday that allowed bands from foreign countries to play a song or two; this was mostly amusing because their performances sounded so authentic, but their in-between-song patter was in their native dialects. Among these bands was the winner of the Norway national contest, the Urban Blues Band, who specialized in Texas blues, playing mostly SRV, Thunderbirds, etc.
Wednesday and Thursday were the first round of judged contests. We were very lucky to be assigned to B. B. King's club, the most prestigious on Beale St. One of our competitors was the band from Norway. Eleven clubs hosted ten bands each; each band played a twenty-five minute set; each band played the same club both nights, but at different times, and to different judges. We were unlucky enough to have to be the first band to play at B. B. King's on Wednesday night, but drew the seventh spot on Thursday night and brought the house down.
Friday morning, the bands picked from the first round to compete in the semifinals that night were announced. We had made the cut (!), and were assigned to play at the Hard Rock Cafe, which unlike the one in Houston, has a beautiful permanent stage and sound system. Unfortunately, we drew the first slot again in the lineup! This meant we played at 5:20 to a thin house consisting of mostly Houstonians in attendance at the festival (a surprisingly good turnout) and the other musicians waiting their turn. In spite of our highly-praised performance, we were not picked to be the band from that club to go to the finals. The winner from our club, who played late in the evening to a packed, enthusiastic house, went on to win third place in the finals, with their leader winning the Best Guitarist award.
Facebook postings allowed us to maintain constant contact with our followers back home. We posted updates, and they cheered us on with many, many encouraging postings throughout the days and nights. Weather during the contest time was bitterly cold, but not the paralyzing situation they were enduring back in Houston.
Walking around town during the week we were amazed at how many people attending the festival had apparently seen us, and made a point of complimenting our show. Virtually every waitress who served us, knew who we were and loved us, and every hotel elevator ride resulted in a compliment from the other people on board! Several groups were following us from night to night, and said they had bought our CD. (The CD sales were coordinated by the festival in a central location, and we will find out in a few days how many we sold.) This was our first opportunity to step on to the national stage, and apparently we made the most of it.
Our Solo/Duo companion act from Houston, the Mighty Orq, was also highly praised, and made it to the Finals, an incredible accomplishment among about 80 acts in that category. The Finals were held Saturday afternoon for the bands, and Saturday night for the Solo/Duos at the historic Orpheum Theater near Beale Street, and consisted of eight in each category. The winner in the band category was a group led by the 2008 Solo/Duo winner. Complete listings of the contest rankings can be found online at www.blues.org.
We owe a lot to the volunteers of the Houston Blues Society for their many hours of work that raised the money for our expenses, and for their encouragement and support throughout the contest.
8/15/08 Ecuador! It's been about a week since we got back from Ecuador, and I'm just now getting around to putting down my thoughts and feelings about the trip, and I do mean TRIP! On Thursday morning, July 31, we went to the airport at the crack of dawn and spent the whole day making our way to Guayaquil, Ecuador, arriving about midnight. When we passed through Miami we hooked up with the other two bands and joined them on the next flight. Both of them had been there before, so we felt well-taken care of at every point. The largest city in the country (pop. 3 million) Guayaquil is a true sister city of New Orleans in every sense of the word. As you drive through town, it looks exactly like the French Quarter. It's next to a huge river like the Mississippi (the Guayas river) that has chucks of vegetation floating by from the Amazon jungles. Right after Hurricane Katrina, local bigwigs in Guayaquil staged a Katrina Relief concert with New Orleans bands, and they've been doing the same thing every year since. Now that most of the New Orleans bands no longer live in that city, it was easy for us to slip in unannounced and play some "real" New Orleans music for the Ecuadoreans. We spent Friday doing press conferences and making appearances in shopping malls to promote the concert the next night. The promoters of the event shuttled us all over town in a charter bus, taking us to lunches, dinners, and club districts. When I woke up Saturday morning, I found a copy of the local newspaper outside my hotel room door, with a picture from the press conference on the front page that included me in the aggregation of musicians! Further story and pictures on the inside of the paper featured a picture of Damon, Nancy, and Rachelle jamming away. After a hectic sound check done at the last minute before the concert, it was time for the big show. The setting was a giant pier on their riverwalk where a full-blown concert stage with giant video screens and been set up, along with about 3000 blue plastic chairs for the audience. After a short concert by a local youth orchestra, we took the stage. Miraculously all our equipment worked as the announcer, a local TV anchorwoman, turned it over to EC and The Works. I had been advised by our US promoter to start off the show alone to establish some piano credentials, so I played my usual boogie-woogie solo first. The band drifted onstage as I wound up my solo, and we kicked it up a notch with Red Beans. The weather had turned cool as the sun went down, and a breeze off the river behind us set the scene for a glorious concert. We ran through about 45 minutes of our best stuff, and left the stage to a standing ovation. After the other two bands played their shows we joined them for the traditional Saints Go Marching In blowout that left the audience completely satisfied that they had heard the best New Orleans had to offer. From Lafayette, Huntsville AL, and Houston. The Video we received from the concert promoters is spectacular, and we hope to release it soon as a DVD. A section is viewable on YouTube now by clicking HERE.
5/2/08 I found myself in Indianapolis this week, looking for action. Being there for three days to attend a music conference, I quickly learned that the only game in town was The Slippery Noodle, a blues club that is housed in the oldest building in downtown Indianapolis. It’s been some kind of a bar or tavern since 1880. I found out that Wednesday night was a blues jam, so I showed up early. I quickly spotted a guy with a keyboard, and asked him if I could use it to sit in. He replied that he “had to get up at 5:30 the next morning,” but he agreed that I could use it after his turn. The Host Band was on stage and ran through a 30-minute set of nothing but Texas Blues! They did Stevie Ray songs, they did the Fabulous Thunderbirds, they did Freddy King. My friend with the keyboard got up next in an aggregation fronted by a guy who looked like comedian Bill Maher. He tried to get through something he had just written down on paper in the bathroom that was topical and political, since the whole town was buzzing about the Hillary-Obama primary vote that week, something about having to be drunk to cast a vote. When they finally ended their stint on stage, I spotted Keyboard guy talking to the Jam-master, and I knew what he must be saying: Let this guy from Texas on next so he can use my keyboard and I can go home! I jumped on stage and held a quick conference with my drafted drummer, guitarist, and bassist, all of whom turned out to be very good musicians. After quickly letting them know I was going to do all the singing, and just to follow me, I launched into “Put The Blame On Me.” In spite of the fact that it is an original song, I have found it to be very do-able in a hopped-up jam, and, true to form, it sounded pretty good. Plus I had figured out from everything I had heard up until then that the denizens of this club weren’t used to hearing experienced vocalists, and that was apparent in their response to this first song. Noticing a segment of Black audience members near the stage, I then led the boys into Down Home Blues. This is a song that apparently Black people don’t think White people know about, and are always thrilled as soon as it starts. They moved to the front of the stage and handed up to me a pair of Ray Charles shades that I obligingly put on. Switching the dinky keyboard from tinkly piano sound to organ, I concentrated on wailing a lead solo that let the rhythm section carry the song while I just added the icing on top. I had really planned to quit after two songs, but the audience wouldn’t hear of it, so I got the drummer playing a funky beat that I sang to him, and started the intro to Got My Mojo Working. By the end, I was feeling my oats, and pulled out my whole audience sing-a-long routine, finally winning over even the diehard holdouts in the back into answering the Mojo thing. At the end, I looked back over my shoulder to see the Jam-master moving up quickly to make sure we knew we were finished, and he’d get no flack from me. I handed the keyboard off to Mr. 5:30 AM, who was very complimentary, seemingly stunned at the amount of music that he’d just heard come out of his $1.98 machine. Offstage, I was quickly surrounded by the local Indianapolis music community, who all seemed to be saying the same thing: “We’re SOOO glad somebody as good as you has moved to town!” (Click HERE to watch a little cell-phone video of this event!)
10/2/07 We won second place overall. Last Sunday (9/30) we competed in the finals round of the Houston series leading to the International Blues Competition. The winner the judges selected was Thrill Hill and the Real Deal, a very talented, traditional blues combo, while they named us runner-up. We are excited by this first step in our efforts to remind everyone that we are a blues act. We have a long road ahead of us, but in the near future we have other equally important opportunities, including our selection to appear on the Charles Brown Tribute concert in Texas City Nov. 3, along with Texas Johnny Brown and Marcia Ball. Interestingly enough, the Houston Chronicle Zest magazine this same Sunday last ran a series of articles about Texas Blues. In their attempt to define Texas Blues, they went to a quote by the late Albert Collins, who should know what is is: " ...mostly a big-band horn sound with electrics. We didn't have no harp players and slide players." No mention of piano in there, but I remember reading once that boogie-woogie was originally called "Texas-style piano." I felt great acceptance Sunday from the members of the Houston Blues Society, all volunteers who worked so hard to put on this contest, and from the members of the Houston blues community who were there watching and nodding. My personal thanks and congratulations to all the members of the band and crew who put everything they had into our performnance Sunday and "left it all on the stage."
9/24/07 We won the first round! Yesterday we played at the Big Easy in a preliminary round of the Houston Blues Society's local contest to determine which band will represent Houston next January in Memphis. The final round will take place Sunday afternoon (Sept. 30) at the Continental Club, with the winner there going on to Memphis. The International Blues Competition in late January pits 21 blues bands from around the country in a club marathon that goes on for three days during the Beale Street Blues Festival. It is a real gamble for an established act like us to enter what is essentially an amateur contest, but we weren't the only old-timers in it! We did it because we need to correct what we perceive as a public mis-impression about our music in Houston. Everyone is familiar with our name, but most people have no idea what our music sounds like. When we played in the first round contest, the Big Easy was packed, but I estimated 80% of the audience had never seen us play, and had no idea we were a blues band! Admittedly, the blues is only one facet of the many-sided musical kernel that we have created, but it's the biggest part. Even if we don't win the next round, we have made a statement about who we are and what we do. 9/18/07 Interesting Fan Letter from Hong Kong About three montths ago I got an e-mail from an Australian guy living in Hong Kong who had owned a copy of my rare rockabilly CD for years. One day he decided to Google "Ezra Charles," and much to his surprise (he said) he found an unexpected history of what I had done since it came out in 1983. It cost him about $200 to orrder everything in our present catalog and have it FedEx'd to him. Yesterday I heard from him again:
From: Roger Barnett
Im not sure whether to address you as Ezra or Charles, but I just want to
thank you again for the CDs and DVD.
When I am in Hong Kong, I have to listen to music through headphones. That’s one
of the problems living in high-rise apartments here. I managed to get home to
Australia a couple of weeks back and there I can listen with speakers at
a proper volume. My wife couldn’t get away, so I had a week of
listening to music without much else imposing on my time. I actually listened to the complete set
plus the Rollin’ Rock CD and the DVD – one mammoth session only
interrupted by hunger pangs and other bodily needs. It’s a
testament to your artistic ability that I did that and just got totally absorbed in the
You have captured the styles perfectly. There’s those New Orleans,
Professor Longhair touches, the Louisiana “swamp pop” sounds, blues and some hot rock'n'roll, plus neat
lyrics. I thoroughly immersed myself in the music and I hope we’ll get
over in 2009 to see you perform.
I’m still a rock’n’roll fanatic, so the uptempo numbers were the ones
that had instant appeal. “Knock On My Door”, “Skinny Little Girl”, “So
Many Women” are spot on for me. “House Of Blue Lights” is one of the classic songs that
provides a benchmark for any performer tackling it. You nailed it for
me. “Hot House Flower” is beautiful and I was surprised how that one
grabbed me. “Girl Who Wears My Ring” has those riffs which instantly became
embedded in my brain. I loved “Wear It Proud”, numbers like that
win me over any time.
You obviously love and respect the music. The echoes of masters
such as Eddie Boyd and Professor Longhair give your music depth while
your own touches make it excitingly fresh.
After all these years of just having the Rollin’ Rock CD, it was a
revelation to realize what had happened since. That first CD had no
information and I am still amazed that I was fortunate enough to
discover the website.
Thank you again for the great music.
If you check out the website of Kenny Kidd, there is a picture of one of your grand pianos.
All the best,
A letter like this can easily push back my retirement plans by a decade.
6/15/07 Big Weekend for Ezra Charles and The Works! This weekend we are celebrating two big events in EzraWorld: Twenty Years of the Band, and Who Knows? how many years of Ezra! Saturday night at the Howling Coyote, we will honor the friends who contributed to 20 Years of Music by Ezra Charles and The Works, That's right (hard to believe!) it's been 20 years since we started using the name "and The Works" in 1987 to describe the Ezra Charles bands, and, come Saturday, it's Reunion Time. Many of the important musicians who created the band's sound will be on hand to join the present band on stage for a Monster Performance guaranteed to make our previous years' Saxstravaganzas look lame. We hope to have about twice as many players as usual on stage, all playing, all night long. Among the notables will be master guitarist Joe Gavito who created the band's guitar parts on Modern Years and Drive Time; Jennifer King, the very first girl trumpet player; Scott Krchnak, the wild man on the tenor sax from the Swing Era; and Billy Cohn, not only the first trombone player from the Design For Living Era, but the guy who supplied the original horn section that changed the band's sound forever. Many more invitations are out there, and there's no telling who else will show up. This will be a night never to be forgotten. On Sunday afternoon, we will be playing 5-9 at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels to celebrate the official, real, genuine Ezra Birthday. Rumor has it that an announcement from the stage will reveal Ezra's actual age, as verified by Carbon Dating. These Sunday afternoon shows are a hoot, filled with tourists from all over the country who have no idea that such music exists until they hear it, and then they go wild. There's no cover for these shows, and they end early enough for out-of-towners to easily make it home.
4/14/07 Leaving Sambuca the other night, I handed my ticket and a ten to the guy at the valet stand and settled back for the long wait for them to bring a car around. Fidgeting on one foot and then the other, I caught sight of a shoeshine man on the other side of the Rice Lofts entrance area. He waved at me to come over, and I pointed at the valets to silently say my car was already on its way. "I'll do it before they bring it," he insisted, so I walked over and sat down on his chair. I had actually been thinking of shining these shoes on my way out of the house, so I knew they could use it after a day of slogging around in sheetrock dust inspecting my new house under construction. "When I started shining shoes, I got a nickel a pair." said the old Black man as he started slapping on polish with his bare fingers. "Yeah," I replied, "but that was when a Coke was a nickel. A Coke's a dollar now, and I know you're getting a lot more than a dollar a pair !" I started telling him all my fond memories of how my late father used to line up everybody's shoes in the living room on Saturday night and polish them in front of the TV for church the next morning. I saw my car pull up in the line at the curb, but I didn't flinch as the shoeshine man started into the spit-shine finish with a spray bottle and a classic rag technique. "What's the most you ever got paid for a pair of shoes?" I asked. "TWENNY DOLLAHS!" he said, as he flashed my a big gapped-tooth smile as wide as Texas Avenue. For some reason I thought about one of my fans at T-Bone Tom's who makes it a habit at every show to slip me a hundred-dollar bill when he requests Bolivar Ferry . As I stood up to leave I slipped him a folded-up new bill. "The next time somebody asks you that," I said, "You'll have a new story to tell, " and I walked away. After I got in the car I looked back over. He was still standing there stunned, but he gave me a salute and a smile of camaraderie as he clutched the C-note in his hand.
1/5/07 Convention Bureau Invitation We have been enormously honored by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. It seems they have to go to New Orleans on Jan. 23 and make a presentation to people from all over the country who decide where to have conventions. We want them to decide to come to Houston, of course, and the nice folks at the Houston Convention Bureau have decided they would be swayed to come here if they heard a little music from EC and The Works! The presentation, or as we call it in the biz, "the dog and pony show" will take place at a luncheon attended by about 1700 people! Apparently the bureau people think we're "Houston's Band" too! You can be sure we will be trying our best to make some believers out of those audience members as well.
11/19/06 Church with Lyle Lovett! I was surprised to receive a phone call from Lyle Lovett's assistant last Wednesday asking me if I would be available to play with Lyle on Sunday at his church in Klein. It seems he had decided to perform to help his church with their annual pledge drive, and was needing a gospel-style piano player to accompany him with a group of five singers he was flying in from Nashville. What a rush! After a rehearsal Saturday night in the church, we showed up Sunday morning at 7 AM and rehearsed again before playing three songs at each of three services, 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00. Two of the songs were rave-up original numbers from his CD's ("I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord" and "I'm Going to the Place" from his most recent CD.) The other song was a gospel number, "Pass Me Not O Gentle Saviour," he originally recorded with George Duke on piano for the Steve Martin movie "Leap of Faith." During the services, I actually sat next him on a pew and sang the hymns during the services. Unfortunately, due to a bad cold, I was hoarse and could barely talk, let alone sing! Lyle and I have had a passing-acquaintance friendship for years, but after going out to eat Sunday dinner with him, his mother, my mother, his lovely fiancee April ( that "San Antonio Girl") and the preacher and his wife, I can say we have become real friends. Check out the photos in the Live Shots Section!
11/12/06 New Year's Eve is all set up! The beautiful Steamboat House will be the setting for one of our best New Year's parties ever. Opened just recently, the Steamboat House is named for the home of Sam Houston in Huntsville and dedicated to Texana of all types. You could spend hours checking our the museum-quality exhibits throughout the place. It's located on the Beltway very near the racetrack and easy to find - just look for the 23 foot-tall statue of Sam Houston, made by the same artist who did the one in Huntsville. The main room in the restaurant is the size of a hotel ballroom, and will be the perfect facility to dine and dance away 2006.The evening will start with a splendid menu selection of steaks and other entrees included in the ticket price. A large dance floor will satisfy our dance crowd, and an additional dining room will handle the overflow (hint: make your reservation early, and get in the main room!) This is a prime-quality dining experience anytime you visit, as evidenced by the extensive wine list and superb service from the waitstaff, but New Year's Eve will feature the additional treat of live music: Ezra Charles and The Works lighting up the night. The price is $90 per person, and reservations are now being taken at 832/912-1845. Ask them about the two hotels adjacent to their parking lot if you think you might want to spend the night there as well. Visit their website at steamboathousetx.com to see how unique this place is.
10/10/06 This is the week we've been waiting for! Our first new CD since 2001, Blues Lover, will come out this weekend in a series of gala concerts. At each show we will have T-shirts for sale commemorating the event:
Plus we will be giving away bumper stickers: Check the Calendar page for show details. See you there!
9/3/06 We were devastated to get the news last Tuesday that two of our favorite fans were killed in an accident leaving our show at T-Bone Tom's on Friday August 25th. Audrey and Gordon Richards had been coming to see us there for years, never missing an appearance. They had become especially close to my mother, and had been among the first friends she made after she moved to Bellaire last summer. When they went on a vacation to Hawaii last November they brought both her and me Hawaiian shirts, and last Friday were checking our sizes again, since they were going back soon. Gordon had recently been hospitalized with heart problems, but had been released and pronounced well. Leaving T-Bone Tom's, he apparently suffered a heart attack at the top of the big bridge. Unbuckling her seat belt to reach over in their big Lincoln, Audrey tried her best to control the car, but swerved and flipped it over, off the roadway and into the marsh. Rescuers were on the scene immediately, but found Audrey dead already, and Gordon soon succumbed to his heart attack. At their funeral last Wednesday, Damon and I were honored to be invited to perform, and played "The Other Angels" and "Bolivar Ferry," two of their favorites. Their many children from previous marriages were united in their sentiments that they were so grateful that their parents spent their last night together doing what they loved so well. The Houston Chronicle featured a half-page article about them last Sunday which you can read at this link: Their poignant love story ends with tragedy.
8/20/06 I once read about guitar god Les Paul having a steady gig every Tuesday at a small club in Manhattan. This has had me wishing for a similar opportunity for many years, and my wish finally came true. Recently the nice folks who have run Kelley's Florist in Bellaire forever decided to diversify, since their floral business was suffering from constant incroachment by internet ordering. About a month ago they opened Mojo Mama's Coffee Hut adjacent to their flower shop, and it was an immediate success, becoming overnight the focal point of the busy Bellaire nightlife scene. Okay, that's not true; they roll up the sidewalks here in Bellaire at dark. Nonetheless, we struck up a deal for me to be able to come in every Tuesday from 7-9 for a little jam/show. Damon brought his sax for the first one last week (8/15) and it was a blast! The place was packed (maybe 30 people), but it's a wonderful spot for this sort of thing, so look for me to do it till they run us off. They have wonderful pastries and desserts, and of course, coffee, which makes it a great place to drop by after dinner. They actually serve food, too, (sandwiches and the like), and are awaiting a license to turn into a Wine Bar. There's no cover, so drop by the intersection of Bellaire and Bissonnet and visit some Tuesday.
8/14/06 We Are HARD AT WORK on our new CD. BLUES LOVER. As we get down to the final phase of finishing our latest for you, it seems like every day is two steps forward and one step back, but we want it to be perfect. Just a preview: the new CD contains ten songs. Three are new Ezra Charles compositions, including one we have never played live (cause we don't know how yet!) Three songs are new versions of songs that originally appeared on our first CD, now out of print, including a live recording of "So Many Women" from the last Saxstravaganza with all four sax players playing solos. The other four songs are classic blues numbers that have been part of our show for years and have been heavily requested by fans coming up to the CD table at gigs (See, we do listen to you!) The release date is set for October 1, and we will be having two CD release parties in different towns to celebrate our first new CD in five years. Trust me, it's going to be worth the wait.
7/29/06 Our Show at Club NASA has been postponed. We were offered an opportunity to play something else that we couldn't pass up, and hoped to get this show re-scheduled as soon as possible. Club NASA has merged with the Bikini Beach Club chain, and will soon be changing its name and remodeling. We'll check back with them after the dust settles!
What a night! It was the greatest birthday present I ever received: all four of the Works' saxes returned for another Saxstravaganza, this time at the Howling Coyote Club. Club owners Mit and Laura Truax couldn't have been nicer, at one point bringing out a giant birthday cake decorated with the band picture. This year we had the foresight to record the entire evening, and our new CD, which should be out shortly, will feature a song from that night. Take a look at the picture in the LIVE SHOTS section.
One of the greatest reviews of the band we ever received comes not from a newspaper but from an individual's blog! After we played a wonderfully satisfying concert at Market Street Square in the Woodlands on May 25, a member of the audience named Kenne Turner posted the following blog entry: Kennetu Check out his weblog entry for May 26th, entitled "Ezra Charles Turns Thursday's Jazz in the Park into Blues in the Park." Thanks, Kenne. Now if we could just get somebody in the press to take a serious listen to us! On the other hand, with talented blog writers like Kenne, who needs 'em?
When the band plays out of Houston we occasionally get very interesting articles in newspapers. These articles are now available for everyone to read in our section called Press Clips. A new article was just posted that ran in the Conroe Bulletin about the Montgomery County Friends of the Blues Lecture Series that Ezra participated in. Click HERE to go to the articles.
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