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Los Lonely Boys

This blues-rock trio out of Texas has catapulted to stardom so fast that the word "tornado" comes to mind. But the brothers who make up Los Lonely Boys—Henry, Jo Jo and Ringo Garza—seem to have their feet planted firmly on the ground. They've handled near-instant fame and the opportunities it provides—such as playing with heroes Santana, the Rolling Stones, and Willie Nelson—in true "Texican" stride: On the heels of the their second album, Sacred, the Boys, as their fans warmly call them, opened a rebuilt/custom car business with a childhood buddy in their hometown of San Angelo.

Now that's style.

It's been three years since Los Lonely Boys barreled out of the starting gate with the hit single "Heaven" from the self-titled debut album. That beguiling tune (just try not to hum the song after hearing it) introduced a totally fresh sound, but for blues-rock fans, it felt comfortably familiar. With Allman-esque guitar riffs, rich harmonies, and bounding virile energy, you knew instantly that this band had cojones—and a whole lot more to say. A 2005 Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal/Group confirmed that Los Lonely Boys had hit a collective chord among music lovers.

Today Los Lonely Boys is widely recognized as one of the most exciting blues-rock acts to come about in years. Their music has been featured in movies and television shows; and through worldwide tours with some of the above-mentioned legends, they have successfully exported their sound far and wide.

The band's story started far from the limelight, in a dusty West Texas Air Force town where nothing much happened and boys were left to make their own fun. Kicks for the Garza brothers meant music, a passion flamed by their father, Enrique, a conjunto and country musician who performed with his own brothers. While the boys learned the ropes from their dad, playing backup for family gigs throughout Texas' roadhouses and cantinas, it was rock and blues that stirred their souls.

"People always ask us what kind of style we play. I tell 'em it's a cross between Stevie Ray meets Santana, Jimi Hendrix meets Richie Valens, or the Beatles meet Ronnie Milsap," says Henry Garza, who at age 28 is the "elder" of the band.

Sacred, which was released in 2006, shows all of these influences as well as those of Freddy King, Johnny Winter, Chuck Berry, and Jimmy Vaughan among others. And with new hits such as "Diamond" and the rocking anthem "My Way," Los Lonely Boys prove that they are no flash in the pan. This is a band we'll be hearing a lot from in years to come. (Mark our words: Someday you'll be telling friends you saw them here first.)

Hang on to your seats, Santa Cruz. In their debut performance on the Central Coast, Los Lonely Boys are going to blow the tops right off the trees.

Indigenous

It's tricky to qualify a talent like Indigenous' Mato Nanji without making comparisons to another blues guitar phenomenon: Stevie Ray Vaughan. On Chasing the Sun, released in 2006 on Verve, Nanji seems to channel Austin's favorite son like never before. But the growling vocals are pure Nanji, and this first release of a newly configured band leaves no doubt why he remains the driving force in this powerhouse blues-rock outfit.

Indigenous first caught the public's attention in 1998 with Things We Do, which contained the smash hit of the same title. Back then the band's story was as compelling as its fresh take on the blues. Made up of a small family from the Nakota tribe of South Dakota, Indigenous captured the imagination of indie promoters and fans alike. But after a few more albums and five years of touring, including a rocking showcase at the 2002 & 2005 Santa Cruz Blues Festivals, the band split up. While his siblings decided to pursue other musical paths, Nanji, the lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter for the band, kept the name and forged ahead along the blues road he was destined for.

Pairing with Verve in 2006, he emerged a more refined, more serious musician rather than simply an unbelievably talented guitarist. Now officially launched into the league of Johnny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepard, Indigenous is no longer a novelty act. And it shows.

While Nanji's influences—Freddie King, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray among them—are still evident, the music has become decidedly more confident and by extension, more daring. His songwriting shines on songs such as "Fooled Me Again" and his growing ease with his own super talent is apparent in the rollicking blues romp "Number Nine Train." Air guitar fans will still be sated with Nanji's awesome fretwork and explosive hooks, but now, instead of blowing you away, the music draws you in.

As longtime fans of the Santa Cruz Blues Festival know, there are some artists that we feel so strongly about, we want to bring 'em to you again and again. Mato Nanji is one of those artists.

Jackie Greene

Jackie Greene is hard to label. When he first appeared on the music radar in 2003 with Gone Wanderin' (his second album, but the first professionally produced by indie label Dig Music), he was classified as folksy but worldly, reminiscent of early Bob Dylan. With a songwriting talent that belied his age—and that many felt bordered on genius—Greene was instantly embraced into the fold of local purveyor of "really good music," KPIG, and like-minded independent radio stations that value substance above sensation.

Sweet Somewhere Bound, released in 2004, only proved what his early supporters suspected: Jackie Greene was not your typical 20-something with an acoustic guitar. This nod to rustic blues (think Clarksdale, Mississippi) and classic country (Hank Williams, anyone?) showed that Greene was a student of American music from the roots up—and that he was in all AP classes.

Then Greene did something that his fans have come to recognize as uniquely Jackie: he changed his style and (surprise, surprise) he slammed-dunked this new sound. This time the outlet was pure rock & roll and the result was the acclaimed release American Myth.

Produced by Los Lobos' Steve Berlin for Verve, and borrowing Elvis Costello's rhythm section, Greene proves himself as a masterful bandleader who can rock out on electric guitar as well as he finger picks on acoustic. With influences from the Beatles to the Yardbirds, and hints of 1970s California rock, Greene still manages to create music that remains true to his generation. The San Francisco Chronicle flagged American Myth one of the best albums of 2006, and longtime music critic Joel Selvin had this to say: "Who says they don't make classic rock anymore? On his fourth album and major-label debut, Jackie Green lofts one for the ages. Untouched by contemporary trends or post-punk postulations, the 25-year-old rocker from Sacramento has made a timeless album containing an entire world of music. … He is the real deal." We couldn't agree more.

Sonny Landreth

Eric Clapton describes Sonny Landreth as one of "the most advanced … musicians on the planet." It's the kind of compliment that has followed the slide guitarist since his auspicious start some 30 years ago, when he first played with Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier.

Through the decades, this musician's musician has been in demand for performances and recordings by peers John Hiatt, Allen Toussaint, Mark Knopfler, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Gov't Mule, Jimmy Buffet, and numerous others. But it's Landreth's own ingenious interpretations of Louisiana "swamp" blues that brings the Grammy Award nominated artist to the Santa Cruz Blues Festival stage for the second time.

Utilizing his characteristic bottleneck slide, combined with a palm and thumb-picking technique, Landreth achieves an astonishing multi-instrumental sound. Paired with potent storytelling, he creates music that reinterprets the rich cultural gumbo of his Bayou heritage.

His latest recording Grant Street, captures the live sound of Landreth's standout performances. Recorded at the Grant Street Dancehall in Lafayette, Louisiana, it is fueled with the energy of his blazing performances at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Festival International Jazz de Montreal, and Clapton's Crossroads Festival. The album also showcases the acute sound that has made Landreth a preferred musician among musicians and guitar-blues aficionados alike, and features hallmark songs "Congo Square," "Native Stepson," and "USS Zydecoldsmobile."

The second of two of the blues' slide-guitar masters playing on this opening day at the Santa Cruz Blues Festival, Sonny Landreth is going to "plug in" Aptos Village Park.

Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings

As the producer of a bunch of stellar albums—including John Lee Hooker's Grammy Award winning The Healer—and with numerous standout appearances on other artists' recordings (Carlos Santana, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, to name just a few), Roy Rogers could be thought of as a musician's ace in the hole. But his producer and sideman credits tell only part of the story. It's Rogers' own work, including eight albums to date and some of the best slide-guitar playing around, that keeps him buzzing from coast to coast, and from continent to continent, playing festivals and clubs around the globe.

This talent also earned him a W.C. Handy nomination for Best Blues Guitar Artist in 2003, and almost unanimous praise. "Rogers is an exceptionally articulate slide guitarist, either he's scorching Robert Johnson's 'Ramblin' Blues' or taking a lovely, lyrical journey ... or rockin' it out. One of the rare guitar heroes who values feeling over flash," wrote Rolling Stone. _

The Bay Area based Rogers was "turned on" by the rock 'n' roll explosion of the 1960s, but when he was introduced to the sounds of Delta blues artists such as Robert Johnson, his musical fate was sealed. A virtuosity for slide guitar ensured that he quickly moved through the club scene and garnered attention from the who's-who of the blues world, including Hooker himself, who invited the young Rogers to join his band.

After heading out on his own in the late 1980s, Rogers formed the Delta Rhythm Kings, the trio he still performs with today. While his studio recordings, including the instrumental Slide Way (2001), have been well received, it's Rogers' live act—a dynamic guitar tour de force—that gets blues fans giddy with anticipation. What a thrill to have Roy Rogers opening this 15th Santa Cruz Blues Festival.