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  Best Blues Ever!   [from Austin, Texas]
          -  J.K. Forssell, Radio Staplus, Tampere, Finland


Blues fans cheer when Lightning Red strikes

   You could say Lightning Red did his early schooling in Chicago, then moved on down to Austin, Texas, for extensive graduate work. As the moniker might tip you off, Red is not your everyday professional. He's a blues musician who was born Wayne Bak and dubbed Lightning Red in his high school days when he tried to play guitar faster than anybody else.

Red figures he has spent three-quarters of his 46 years playing the blues. With a couple of years under his belt now, Red said he is glad he made the move from Austin to Maine. And blues fans should be glad too. Red offers an authentic slice of Texas swing, playing the gritty shuffles and string-busting solos made popular in the '80s by the brothers Vaughan- Jimmie Lee and Stevie Ray. In the Northeast's fertile blues scene ruled by horn bands a la "Roomful of Blues" and Chicago-style players such as Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson, Red sees himself as offering something different.

"Because I'm doing something different [than the standard blues offerings in New England], that benefits me. Right after we play a couple of bars of music people get up and start moving," he said during a recent interview.

Lightning Red puts his theory to the test with a show Thursday night at the Plantation Club, 151 Plantation St., Worcester. Red will be joined by drummer Tommy Narciso and bass player Craig Whitaker. This is the warm-up date to a tour that courses through the Northeast starting in January. Plans are firming up for a string of European dates in February. Having toured Europe once before, Red said his move East was made in part because airfair across the Atlantic is cheaper from here than Texas.

But things in general, he said, were starting to sour in his home base of Austin, after an 19-year stint there (broken up by a few years spent in Houston). Stolen guitars, burned-down clubs, shattered record deals had Red citing the old blues mantra, "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all."

He did have the good fortune, though, of making Red's Blues in his adopted home before leaving. The 11-track disc makes a strong argument for the singer/guitarist, particularly the electrifying "East St. Louis" a seamless blending of Red's Chicago and Austin influences. Imagine Howlin' Wolf backed by the Fabulous Thunderbirds and you get the idea behind "East St. Louis." Red covers Willie Dixon's "Let Me Love You" on the disc, while the rest of the material is original. The writing is clever and contemporary, but all the while steeped in a scrappy Texas tradition.

Fondly recalling his stints listening to the Vaughans and other Texas legends Lou Ann Barton, Omar & the Howlers and Charlie Sexton, Red said Austin is a city with lots of fine musicians but virtually no music business. For all the mythical stature accorded the city, there are not that many clubs or radio outlets for the blues. In fact, he said, New England radio has given Red's Blues more support and the list of potential places to play is considerably longer, he said.

Shortly after making Red's Blues, one of his band members, bassist Dan Hall, began extolling the virtues of his native Portland, Maine, and Red's wife received a job offer from Southern Maine. In other words, the writing was on the wall.

"I've had some barriers to break down, and there is definitely an attitude here about taking care of local people first, which is fine," he said. "I'm not just setting my sights on New England. I consider myself an international artist. If I have 15 fans in every country buying a CD, I'm set."

Red's road to world domination -- or at least world representation -- began outside of Chicago where he was raised. "In the '60s I'd drag my friends to the theaters in the city to hear Albert King, Paul Butterfield and Johnny Winter," he said. "I ran into Luther Allison and ended up playing with him. Then he went and played with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, and what those guys were doing was a big influence on me."

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DELTA SNAKE BLUES NEWS  San Jose, California

Red's Blues

Lightning Red is a singer/guitarist from Austin, Texas, and a credible bluesman with an attractive gritty and downhome sound. His voice is strong, earthy and very deep, and moves easily up into the high range. An expressive and flexible voice.

The sound is basic blues; a driving guitar based quartet with an eclectic range of styles. So, while the basic sound is the same, it comes off to the ear as being varied and interesting.

The set opens with "Like An Angel," a loping shuffle that has a good bottom-heavy sound. A Hookerish boogie follows, "East St. Louis blues", followed by a rocking "Let Me Love You." The band does a blues rhumba next, "Irene", which stays in a low-key mode, and then drops down into a Texas-style "Austin Boogie."

A double punch comes next; a hard shuffling "Red's Blues," and a rocking "One Man's Heaven." A languid and simmering blues is next up, "If You See Me," sporting a Clapton'ish vocal, which moves on to another medium tempo blues, "Big City Blues." The pace is changed with a swinging "How Much," and the CD ends with the very electric, hard funk rocker "Got The Power".

These days just about everyone plays some blues, but Red is one of those who sounds like he always has, and always will.

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Houston Press  Houston, Texas

Red's Blues Sparks!

Lightning Red combines the blues of Chicago and Central Texas to create an energetic and gut-level sound. He has been recording and performing for two decades with such artists as Luther Allison and Milton Hopkins. His current CD is Red's Blues on Heroic Records. Look for Lightning Red and Thunder Blues around town.

One strength of a tradition as rich and deep as the blues is its accessibility. Anyone with a three-LP collection and an interest can pretty well take a stab at the vein and come up with something that more or less sounds like the blues.

From a consumer standpoint, it's also the genre's weakness, and you can see it manifested in dime-a-dozen players seven nights a week at blues jams all over the world. Image, unfortunately, is often the difference between who gets called a bluesman and who doesn't.

In the wake of Stevie Ray Vaughan's death, the Strat-slinger-in-a-poncho is in unfortunate vogue. Lightning Red's been playing different sort of schtick -- the part of the gimmickless itinerant bluesman. This disk lives up to the stripped-down image and comes across as appealingly genuine in the process.

Red's voice is a gruff instrument all its own, and when he applies it to songs like the Willie Dixon classic "Let Me Love You (Baby)", he comes up with a more convincing take than anyone has a right to expect. Originals make up the rest of the disk, and "East St. Louis" and "Austin Boogie" are just two standouts.

As a guitarist, Red plays in a Chicago-via-Austin vein that chugs and boogies and occasionally steps into the limelight with authority. Nobody ever claimed that a record can capture the essence of the live blues, so the best you can really ask from a disk is a sense of promise - some spark that drives you to the club to check out the real thing.

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Portland Press Herald  Portland, Maine

When Lightning Strikes, You'll Want To Be There

If you want to take in a whole weekend of music this week, start tonight. Christmas Eve, few bands will be stirring; most clubs will close early.

Stratocaster-slinger Lightning Red & Thunder Blues will slide into Morganfield's tonight for an evening of Chicago shuffles and Texas-style boogies. Many blues players divide themselves in Chicago and Texas blues camps. But Lightning Red draws evenly from both traditions.

He spent his youth in Chicago watching Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. He moved to Austin in 1975, when Stevie Ray Vaughan and his brother Jimmie were playing to an empty room at Antones. A self-proclaimed Chicago blues purist at the time, Lightning grew to like Stevie Ray, and the Texas Sound.

But he never made it as big as Vaughan. His favorite axe was stolen, and the clubs he was scheduled to perform at burned and went out of business. Lighting kept playing though. His CD, Red's Blues, got rave reviews in Texas and helped the Chicago transplant achieve more farflung notoriety.

Red's Blues was played by radio stations in Scandinavia and Russia. In March, Lightning Red and Thunder Blues plan to tour Europe. Lightning has played in Maine several times, and tonight's show is a return to Morganfield's.

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Interview with Leslie Ann Knight
  Cupertino, California

Austin, Texas blues man Lightning Red
releases Red's Blues, an all original debut CD

LK: When did you become interested in playing blues?

LR: I'm originally from Chicago. In 1971 I hung out with Luther Allison so that's what peaked my interest in blues.

LK: Are you a full time musician?

LR: Yes, I've been based in Portland, Maine for a few years and have toured all over the East Coast and Southeast this year. I'm now ready to head toward the West Coast and have a band in Maine and one in Austin, Texas.

LK: You're a wonderful songwriter. Tell me about the development of a new song for you.

LR: The hardest thing to do is write original blues. When you listen to a lot of blues, you'll often hear the same old melody with new lyrics. Writing totally original blues doesn't come easy to me. I work at it. When I write a song I want it to stand the test of time forever. That's more important to me than commercial success.

LK: What motivates and inspires your compositions?

LR: My life experiences and stories I've heard or read in the newspaper.

LK: Tell me about living in Austin, Texas.

LR: Austin was a hot bed of every political, sociological, musical influence you can imagine. I used to watch Eric Johnson and Roscoe Beck when they were doing progressive jazz-rock as The Electromagnets. I knew Kent (Omar and the Howlers) when he was fronting a six-piece horn band. My wife and I used to often be the entire audience watching Stevie Ray Vaughan warming up for the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Older brother Jimmie Vaughan didn't think Stevie was playing blues and wouldn't let him play his rockin' stuff too long. I sat in with Omar and the Howlers and Marcia Ball, plus "Little" Charlie Sexton played a few numbers with us when he was only thirteen years old. And on and on it went.

LK: Do you have plans to travel West?

LR: Yes. I'd like everyone in California to hear this CD. I'd like to play live on a tour, and soon. I'd also like to go back to Scandinavia and tour continental Europe. Then maybe I'll go back home to Texas. There's some hard work and road miles to go yet.

LK: Can you describe your music?

LR: Well, Red's Blues isn't Chicago blues and it's not purely Texas blues, but a good combination of both. I write everything funk to boogies and even some progressive jazz. I score music plus I write arrangements. I also composed a three movement classical piece for the Austin, Texas Symphony Orchestra.

LK: What's the music scene like in Maine?

LR: People are pretty devastated financially in the Northern part of the East Coast. Blues clubs are closing left and right. Portland, Maine had a terrific uptown styled venue known as Morganfield's. The venue opened about a year ago, then it closed down. The up side for me is that down the East Coast, audiences at the most respected clubs love what I do. Venues such as the house of Blues in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Chicago B.L.U.E.S. in New York. The Southeast received my music very well; Charleston, WV, Louisville and Lexington, KY, Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina (they went nuts for us in Washington, D.C.), Virginia, Florida, everywhere we went the folks really dug us and treated us with respect.

LK: Blues means...

LR: Music that makes you feel good. Blues is not music that makes you feel bad. The average guy on the street thinks blues is a sad music, but if you're down in the dumps, the blues'll lift you up.

LK: If you had twenty-four hours to spend with anyone, dead or alive who might that be?

LR: (Red takes a deep breath and pauses for a quiet moment). There's a long list, just one? If I had to choose, I'd say Muddy Waters. He was not only a great bluesman, he was a psychologist, promoter and businessman. He extended himself way beyond music. He was a gentleman.

LK: You included an acoustic tune, Austin Boogie, with some excellent slide work.

LR: The positive response I've had from Austin Boogie and my slide guitar work is interesting. It was pretty much an accident that the tune was included on this CD. I wrote the tune the night before I went into the studio. I had no intentions of using it on the recording, but as it turned out I needed a few more minutes of music so I added the song.

LK: Can you describe your best audience?

LR: My experience in both Chicago and Houston, Texas is that the best response to my music has been from the black community. These people have consistently loved my music and they've supported me. I figured that if my music was loved by people who really understood the blues, I had something worth pursuing. And the CD's getting a great reception all over the planet now. I'm very happy about the way everything is going. And when we perform, it's a real good feeling to see everybody enjoying themselves so much.

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