The King of Beale Street
American Queen Steamboat,
Between Natchez and Vicksburg
9 June 2014, early show
Instrumental intro by the band
Stand By me
Dock of the bay
The streets will love you to death until you leave home (p Shannon)
Too late baby (P Shannon)
The Thrill Is Gone
The Way I Love You (P Shannon)
Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (Elmore James)
It was billed as the blues cruise, but three dates in these were the first African-American musicians, boarding at Natchez for the show. We had heard four different renditions of Down By the Riverside by white performers by this point, and three of Old Man River. Stand By Me had been played twice as an example of ‘authentic blues.’ And was going to be played twice afterwards, including tonight.
The first snap of drums and rumble of bass guitar stamped authority as Preston Shannon’s three piece band warmed up the audience before he came on. However good and professional the boat’s resident backing band were, they were moving from show tunes to trad jazz to soul, and the instant authority of these guys was a dramatic improvement. They are a great band too, and the bass guitarist is stunningly good, using a wide palette of crunchy metallic tones on 5 string bass. I always focus on bass guitar, and this guy is premier league.
I liked the way Preston Shannon arranged his set, and I’ve seen Taj Mahal do similar, getting the audience in with familiar soul songs, before moving on to originals and more blues. 634-5789 was a great opener. Last time I heard it was by its writer, Steve Cropper. Cropper told a great story about writing it with Wilson Pickett, trying out many combinations of numbers until he found one that sounded just right rhythmically: 634-5789. Shannon is obviously a superior vocalist, and the keyboards and bass sang backing vocals. It segued into Sam Cooke’s Cupid, then the Stand By Me riff underpinned the introductory rap before launching into the song. The third time in two days too, but this wiped the floor with all the other versions. Dock of The Bay was taken harder and a tad faster than the Otis Redding original. As time went on, we realized that the heritage of the blues and soul presented for tourists always includes Stand By Me and Dock of The Bay
. This was the point to introduce originals. First up was The Streets Will Love You To Death (Until You Leave Home), which is very seventies soul. Next I had noted as Too Late Baby, though I guess that’s not the title, and while I bought his latest CD, which it is from, I have no facility to play it while travelling. It might be The Feeling Is Gone, though he did B.B. King’s The Thrill Is Gone too.
It was a night of kings: we’d had Ben E. King, Preston is the King of Beale Street, and his fluid guitar playing reminds of B.B. King, who he has supported many times. After playing The Thrill Is Gone with sublime guitar, he told a long and funny story about B.B. King, finishing by playing his Gibson 335 with his teeth, in the style of Jimi Hendrix, or as old blues fans will say, the style Jimi Hendrix learned from Buddy Guy. The Way I Love You was an original, and a great set closer.
These cruise concerts run to time, but he got so much applause for an encore that they had to let him. They did a definitive take on Rollin’ and Tumblin’ which is from the new album, ‘Dust My Broom’ a tribute to the songs of Elmore James, though Rollin’ and Tumblin’ was written by Muddy Waters. Preston Shannon has a definite resemblance to Muddy, a powerful soul and blues delivery and It was a privilege to see him in the unexpected setting, of the Grand Saloon, which is modelled on the Ford Theatre. No one was sitting in the Lincoln box.