In 1995, Blues Fuse emerged on the San Francisco scene as a collaboration between two veterans of the music world: Hammond B-3 player and vocalist Art Harris and trombone player Berisford "Shep" Shepherd. During the 1930s, when guitarists were still considered a rarity, Harris played guitar with Charlie Brantly's Honey Dippers, a band that attracted such phenomenal players as future Cannonball Adderley bassist Sam Jones and a little-known 15-year-old boy named Ray Charles. During the late '30s and early '40s, Harris and Charles toured through the South with a spinoff trio, performing the songs of Louis Jordan, Nat King Cole, and Charles Brown, until Harris was drafted in 1941. Upon returning to the States, Harris played with soulful blues balladeer Percy Mayfield, who was to become one of Ray Charles' most desired songwriters during the '60s. For much of the '70s, Harris devoted himself to secular life with a tailoring business in Miami until he relocated his business to the Bay Area in 1978 and began playing the organ, eventually hooking up with Shep Shepherd, who relocated to the Bay Area during a stage engagement of Miracle on 34th Street. The Honduras-born Shepherd graduated from the Mastbaum Conservatory in Philadelphia and went on to perform with Benny Carter, Cab Calloway, and Duke Ellington, among others, before coming to San Francisco where he performed in the then-world-famous Finocchio's band for nearly 23 years. With Robert Labbe, a relatively young drummer who has been performing jazz and R&B for a mere decade, Blues Fuse has finally released its debut CD. Happy Hour, named for its long-standing early evening shows at the Boom Boom Room, is a tuneful trouvaille, a swaying epiphany of subtle riches. For so many years, I have sought that elegant bridge between early country blues and the contemporary aural world, hoping some young buck would sink his toes into that black Mississippi mud long enough to feel saturated with some of its soul, praying that some old-timer would be compelled by urban eclectic fusion and newfangled lo-fi. The wishing is done. At once sparse and multilayered, Happy Hour opens with a melancholy wash of sound anchored in a humble, haunting guitar line that will make the Palace Brothers ache with the differential left between ability and intent. Harris' voice rises out of the mix, sometimes soft and drowsy, sometimes distorted and depleted, often promising things in a background whisper. He's a dreamy porch-side pastor sighing through a tenement radiator. Soda shops and 16th Street hustlers nestle among jazzy samples and shuffling harmonica; delicate strains of trombone and drum weave through the scratchy Hammond B-3, leaving a dusty carpet for an alleyway tango. It's dark and foreboding, and as comfortable as an old pair of slippers -- blues washed in the flickering glow of vacuum tubes. Though you'd never know it, Happy Hour was recorded live at the Boom Boom Room (even the double take seems expertly placed) and will be easily reconstructed on Friday, May 12, at the Boom Boom Room during happy hour between 5 and 8 p.m. Admission is free; call 673-8000.
Kara Herold's documentary Grrlyshow uses animation, found footage, and narrative to create a visual palette as funny, compelling, and multitextured as the subject it explores: girl-zines like Bust, Plotz, Bamboo Girl, Pagan's Head, Java Turtle, Hues, and the women who create them. This benefit will help put the finishing touches on the film and includes musical performances by the Beth Lisick Ordeal (featured in the movie), Toychestra, and California Lightening, with live readings from Bitch: The Feminist Response to Pop Culture magazine (also featured in the movie), spoken word from Meliza Banales, the debut of Ariel Bordeaux's animated short Tit Chat, and free grub donated by Ti Couz Creperie and Boogaloos. There will also be door prizes donated by Osento, Scarlet Sage, Lost Weekend Video, Good Vibrations, and Hamburger Mary's offered on Saturday, May 13, at El Rio with DJ Cari Cambell opening the five-hour party at 3 p.m. Tickets are $7-20; call 282-3325.