MAUNDY THURSDAY 5TH APRIL 2012
Brenda Boykin is a fine blues and jazz singer who was born March 30th 1957 in Oakland, California and was working in San Francisco by the time I got to know her. The famous blues/jazz critic Lee Hilderbrand once wrote that Brenda had ‘the most authentic creative voice of this generation’. I’m sure we could all argue about that until the cows come home but I have enjoyed her music since hearing her first CD in 1997 on Blue Dot 102, which was named after the band she was working with, called ‘Home Cookin’. A second home Cookin’ CD on Blue dot 103 ‘Afrobilly Soul Stew’ issued in 2004 confirmed my interest. During this time I assumed that she was simply working as a blues singer in local clubs but infact she was also working and appearing at the San Francisco Blues Festival, the Monterey Jazz Festival and the duMaurier Jazz Festival in Vancouver. I then lost sight of her and a chance telephone conversation with one of the Home Cookin Band members informed me of her relocation to Wuppertal in Germany.
A search on the Internet in 2005 revealed that she was now working with the Ulrich Rasch Jazz Quartet and had transformed from a good blues singer to an excellent jazz/ blues singer. I contacted Ulrich Rasch with the idea of booking her together with the band for a Shakedown gig and was sent the bands demo CD which was outstanding and included wonderful ‘live’ renditions of ‘Next Time You See Me’, ‘The Letter’, ‘House of the Rising Sun’, ‘Money’, and ‘Whole Lot of Shakin’. That year saw her appearing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. After this the band fell apart and the Shakedown gig died.
At some point after this she began working with the Nu-Jazz Project issuing Cd’s on Chin Chin Records including her recent interesting solo album ‘Chocolate and Chill’. We managed to get in touch with her and she agreed to come over for a show on Saturday 24th October 2009. What happened then is best described in Dave William’s Juke Blues review:
Brenda Boykin came to Britain for the first time with a list of varied albums to her credit, but nothing on record could have prepared the audience for what they witnessed on this once-in-a-blue-moon evening. The accompanying drums, organ, trumpet and tenor sax were fronted by jazz guitarist Nick Page but from the opening seconds it was clear that the bandleader for the night was Brenda herself. She directed them throughout in such an expert and irresistible manner they were willing to give their all to please her, and the results were just fabulous.
It is very hard to categorise her. While more of a jazz stylist than soul singer she can belt out traditional or funky R&B and soulful blues to the very highest standards. Her opening stop-time jazz funk version of 'Blue Suede Shoes' induced jaw-dropping disbelief and the following blues shuffle version of 'See You Later Alligator' was equally unrecognisable and just as impressive. The lady is blessed with an incredible voice that ranges through octaves as easy as climbing stairs but it is the rhythm, energy and emotion in her performance that transcends everything else. She somehow made 'Eyesight To The Blind' wholly convincing while the band played an approximation of 'Green Onions', yet the proverbial pin would have clattered during 'Sentimental Reasons' with only the guitarist for support and their subsequent duet on 'Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You' was perfection itself. Never letting up she pulverized us with Lloyd Price's 'Where You At' and demanded the band get even funkier on version of 'All Night Long' that James Brown would have been proud of. Then it was back through the gears for a down a dirty 'Brick House In Memphis' and a beautiful version of 'Jole Blon', again with solo guitar. Her vocal dexterity is staggering and backed by just frantic tom-tom drums she wrapped (drop the 'w' if you wish) her vocal chords around 'Crazy Little Mama' that somehow became 'Mystery Train' and in 50 years of listening I have never heard the like before. All three sets were quite magical.
Written description seems totally inadequate and if there were any justice in this world (we know there is precious little) she should already be an established star. A colleague, Ken Major, described her as 'Sachmo meets Marilyn Monroe, Brook Benton plus Billie Holiday and they all meet James Brown' and that is not the half of it. What a sensational evening.
Juke Blues #68