July 5, 2006 > A city built on the blues
A city built on the blues
by Janet Grant
In the quiet community of Hayward on what is now West Winton Avenue, a farmer named Joel Russell offered black migrants from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi some of his land to settle on. It was post-WWII and a community soon developed near the shoreline, eventually becoming the unincorporated town of Russell City. With the birth of Russell City came a place and a sound that would one day transform the world of blues music.
To commemorate this history, the Bay Area Blues Society and the city of Hayward proudly present the 10th annual Hayward/Russell City Blues Festival on July 8 and 9. This definitive blues fest is an annual production seeking to keep the blues alive and kicking in the community that once served as a vital cog in the American blues scene and the formation of West Coast blues. Created in 1991, the festival strives to bring well-known blues musicians and lesser known local talent together for the entire community to enjoy.
In its heyday, Russell City residents farmed the land and worked in Oakland shipyards by day. By night, they gathered in dirt-floor nightclubs powered by bootleg electricity and created their unique brand of Delta blues. Inside these lively clubs, harmonica-based Southern Delta blues gave way to a California flavored, jazzy, guitar-driven beat. The Russell City stop attracted great blues artists like Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Hooker and Big Mama Thornton. During those long nights of music and dancing in that small community by the bay, West Coast blues laid the foundation for today's vibrant Bay Area music scene.
The roots of latter day rock music reach all the way back to those early blues artists. Ever enjoyed Elvis belting out, "You ain't nuthin' but a hound dog, cryin' all the time?" Well, thank Big Mama Thornton for writing and recording it years earlier. Another of her pieces, "Ball and Chain" carried Janis Joplin to the top of the charts in the late 60s. Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" helped catapult Bill Hailey and the Comets to the forefront of the early rock era.
Gone now is the bayside community of modest homes and small farms, first conceived by Joel Russell, but the echoes of those great blues legends beat on with the festival that preserves their unique contributions. This year's theme is "Ladies and Gents of Russell City," a two-day event featuring many great performers of contemporary blues such as Bobby Rush, Linda Shell, Billy Branch, Kenny Neal, and Carl Weathersby. Local artists will include E.C. Scott, The Caravan of All Stars with Wylie Trass, and Teddy "Blues Master" Watson. Saturday will feature the San Francisco Fillmore Review featuring Fillmore Slim, Bobby Webb, Billy Dunn, and Curtis Lawson, among many others.
For more information, call (510) 836-2227 or visit www.bayareabluessociety.net.
Hayward/Russell City Blues Festival
Saturday and Sunday, July 8 and 9
11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Hayward City Hall Plaza
777 B Street, Hayward
General Public - $15 in advance, $20 at the gate
Two-day pass - $26 in advance only
Students and Seniors (62+) - $10
Group rates 10 or more - $10
Children under 12 - free