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Our Man in Alabama

Erci GebhardtYears ago, in my hometown of Southampton as I was beginning to start playing harp, I discovered that the area had (what I now know to be) an unusually lively blues scene thanks largely to local legend Bob Pearce. He was a great bluesman (also produced a monthly photocopied fanzine called 'Blues in The South' which was the direct inspiration for this website) and when I first started going to see him his band featured a ferociously talented young piano player by the name of Carl 'Sonny' Leyland.

Carl and I were of a similar age and we played together occasionally but it was clear that he was in a different league. Before long he went to live in New Orleans and began to carve a career mastering a wide variety of piano styles, playing internationally and recording with an impressive selection of the great and the good (check out his outstanding effort on James Harmans 'Lonesome Moon Trance' CD from a couple of years ago). Now living in a small town called New Cuyama, about 2 hours north of Los Angeles, he's agreed to be "Our Man in California"...

Episode 1: Carl introduces hisself and hits the road again
Aug 2007

Hi all, Carl Sonny Leyland here writing to you from sunny Southern California. My old pal Rick Webb suggested that you might be interested in my blues-related activities so here are the pertinent bits from the last couple of months...

May 16th-20th Green Bay Rockin' 50s Fest. Played with a bunch o' folks here... rockabilly, doo wop, etc. One of the most memorable sets was with my good friend Big Joe Louis. I hadn't played with him in about 10 years but he was better than ever. He started the set solo, then brought me up for a boogie woogie style duet. Next we were joined by drummer Peter Greatorex for a version of Roosevelt Sykes 'Rock It'. Finally came Chicagoans Jimmy Sutton, a fabulous bass player, and Billy Flynn, who I had not met before, on harmonica & guitar. Billy is a fine blues man in his own right and I hope to have the chance to work with him again sometime. The set was well received and I must say it was a blast to work with Big Joe Louis once again.

Pianists-eye view of the Del Mar Fair...

June 7th I was in Chicago for the Blues Festival. This being the centennial of boogie woogie great Albert Ammons' birth I was hired, along with fellow Brit Bob Hall and Belgian Renaud Patigny, to play some boogie & participate in a panel discussion with Ammons family members Edsel (Albert's son) & Lila (Albert's granddaughter & a talented jazz singer). We the pianists were asked to speak about Albert's piano stylings and what attracted us to his playing while Edsel shared some wonderful childhood memories of his father. Lila talked about Albert's musical legacy and the shows that she is promoting this year in the hope of spreading awareness of Albert's music (I was fortunate enough to have played on the first of these shows in Pasedena, California). The concert series will culminate on September 22nd, close to Albert's birthday, in Chicago. Lila is in the process of putting up a website:

"So that's... Bread, Beans, Tomatos, TWO TACOS..."
Carl discusses the shopping /
set list with Jr. Watson and drummer Jerry Angel
(Photos Johnny Bazz)

June 14th I played with Billy Boy Arnold at the Del Mar Fair near San Diego, CA. The band featured guitar great Junior Watson, Johnny Bazz on bass & Jerry Angel on drums. Johnny & Jerry are members of the Blasters.

Mojo Buford

June 28th, also at the Del Mar fair I played with ex Muddy Waters harmonica man Mojo Buford. Once again Johnny Bazz was on bass, Bill Bateman (ex Blasters) was on drums & another great player Kid Ramos was on guitar.

Both of these shows were a pleasure to play. I had worked with Billy Boy a couple of times in the past & played on one of his cds. It was nice to be able to spend some time with him again. His classic Vee Jay recordings have always been among my favourites. I found Mojo Buford to be a delightful old guy. I had seen him with Muddy Waters at Knebworth in 1982. As expected he played a good deal of Muddy Waters material in his show & when I turned on some Otis Spann style licks he was visibly pleased.

Well my friends, that's about it for now. I will certainly report again when I come across something that I think may be of interest to you.

All the best,
Carl Sonny Leyland

More about Carl, and some recordings on his website:

Our 2006 interview with Big Joe Louis:

Carl with Lynwood Slim & Kid Ramos...