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Prepared for the September 5, 2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper.

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On Tour Since ’78, Funderburgh’s Rocket Ignites

In the minds of many blues fans, Dallas guitarist

Anson Funderburgh deserves all the recent success he’s enjoyed. In

May, the guitarist, singer and songwriter was internationally

recognized

with a W.C. Handy Award, presented by the Blues Foundation, for his

longtime efforts as a performing and touring musician. He’s been out

on the road, leading his own band, Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets,

since 1978. Funderburgh and his blind harmonica-playing sidekick,

Sam Myers, were recognized in May for "Song of the Year" by

the Memphis-based Blues Foundation. And, as any fan will tell you,

Funderburgh is good to his fans; he’s been around long enough to know

that despite the success of Stevie Ray Vaughan in the late 1980s,

blues music isn’t exactly on the front burner in U.S. media outlets.

Funderburgh, his wife Renee and Myers won "Song of the Year"

for "Change In My Pocket," the title track of their latest

album on the Rounder Bullseye Blues label, released in 1999.

Funderburgh is among the raft of top blues artists featured at this

year’s "Blues, Brews & BBQs Festival" at Six Flags Great

Adventure

theme park in Jackson, on Saturday and Sunday, September 9 & 10.

Funderburgh

appears on Sunday around 5:20 p.m. Canned Heat, Southside Johnny &

the Asbury Jukes, Rod Piazza, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds are among

the other featured bands.

"It was a surprise to us to win song of the year," Funderburgh

said recently, on a tour stop in St. Louis. "Right after the CD

was released in March of ’99, we went straight to Europe, and we spent

the next couple of months in and out of the country, not really

knowing

how it was received. We didn’t really start promoting it until last

summer, and now it’s kind of had an extended life of its own."

"More than anything else, touring helps us sell records,"

Funderburgh explains, "I mean, let’s face it, Time magazine

doesn’t

write about Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets, nor does Rolling Stone.

But we do sell records every place we go."

Like a lot of American blues artists, Funderburgh, Myers

and the Rockets spend a lot of time in Germany, Switzerland, Norway,

Denmark and Great Britain, where, for some reason, American roots

music is held in higher regard than it is States-side.

"Band like ourselves sell records by touring," the 45-year-old

Funderburgh explains, "we get public and college radio airplay

and the local music papers write about us, too. I’m not complaining,

that’s just how it works for us."

As a consequence, Funderburgh, Myers and the Rockets spend upwards

of 200 nights a year on the road — at least as much as B.B. King’s

Orchestra.

"I’m not complaining because we’re interested in making the music

we want to make and we want to play, and it happens to be music that

commercial radio is just not that interested in, for whatever

reasons,"

he continues, "it’s just the way it is right now."

Funderburgh, who was around Dallas and Austin when Jimmie Vaughan

and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan made their rise to prominence —

opening up the flood gates for a lot of other long under-appreciated

blues performers, like Buddy Guy — was raised in Plano, Texas,

where he still lives.

At Great Adventure and at B.B. King’s Blues Club in New York on Sept.

22, Funderburgh will be performing with Lou Ann Barton, a little-known

but absolutely brilliant blues singer from Austin who was raised in

Dallas. Funderburgh and Myers will also be joined by saxophonist Kaz

Kazanoff, one of the busiest recording session men in the Texas

Triangle.

"We’re going to make the most of it and give people something

new to look at, and make it fun for Lou Ann and everyone else,"

he says. Funderburgh says the sets at Great Adventure and B.B. King’s

will be structured so there’s 45 minutes with Lou Ann and 45 minutes

with Myers, who sings and plays harmonica.

"She’s a wonderful singer, man," Funderburgh enthuses. Barton

recorded an album in the mid-1980s with legendary producer Jerry

Wexler,

"Old Enough," that still stands as a model for other women

blues vocalists on their way up, be they from Texas or anyplace else.

Despite the fact that Barton tours too infrequently, she is a star

in Texas, and particularly in her adopted hometown of Austin, where

she regularly draws crowds to clubs like Antone’s blues club, which

recently celebrated its 25th year in the oh-so precarious nightclub

business.

"I think it’s just too hard for her," Funderburgh offers in

explaining Barton’s absence from the national blues club and festival

circuit. "There are so many things that go with being out on the

road: you’ve got to have some sort of vehicle to travel in, and you

have to be willing to do that, and once you have that vehicle, you’ve

got to have a band that’s willing to travel with you. It’s easier

for her to take the bigger dates and just work around the state of

Texas."

Anson Funderburgh, an only child, was born in November, 1955, outside

of the suburban Dallas town of Plano, Texas. His mother and father

were farmers — and yes, they picked cotton — before giving

up farming cotton and corn and moving on to a better life and steadier

incomes in the city of Plano.

Funderburgh got his first guitar in the third grade. "My mother

and dad gave me my first real guitar, but these friends of ours

actually

gave me a smaller, Roy Rogers guitar before that," he recalls.

Recently, his mother discovered a long-buried picture of a

six-year-old

Funderburgh with a toy guitar and a cowboy suit.

"I’ve got this picture of me holding this guitar with this cowboy

suit on," he says. When it’s point out to him that the liner notes

for the Vaughan Brothers’ 1990 release on Epic Records, "Family

Style," also features photos of the two brothers as kids, wearing

cowboy suits and holding guitars, he laughs, "it must be a Texas

thing, cowboy suits and guitars."

Although Funderburgh’s earliest heroes were country and western

people,

by the time he was in fourth grade, he’d discovered the beauty of

the blues. A neighbor had given him a stack of old blues 78s,

including

gems by Freddie King, Albert Collins, Bill Doggett and Jimmy Reed.

"When I heard `Hideaway’ by Freddie King and `Sno-cone’ by Albert

Collins, I said, this is the stuff."

Collins, a Houston-based guitarist for much of his career, had high

profile admirers like Jimi Hendrix, and wrote a lot of ice and

cold-themed

blues instrumentals, songs like `Ice Pickin,’ `Snowcone,’ and others,

perhaps because of the oppressive heat and humidity there for much

of the year.

Funderburgh began writing his own songs and leading his own bands

in junior high school and he knew both Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan

while all three were teenagers around Dallas.

Asked how he met 60-something harmonica player and singer Myers, who

can be an eloquent and charming man on stage but a bit gruff and

cantankerous

off stage, Funderburgh says he knew of Myers’ earlier harmonica work

with Elmore James when they met at the George Street Grocery, actually

a nightclub, in Jackson, Mississippi. Myers joined the band in 1980,

and contributes searing harmonica solos and deep, shouting-styled

vocals to the band’s live performances, to say nothing of his stage

presence, with his 6-foot-2-inch, 270-pound frame.

"Me and Sam once got in a big argument because he claimed white

people don’t pick cotton," Funderburgh says, laughing, "I

told Sam, you’d better not say that around my parents!"

"I said to Sam, `How much cotton have you picked?’ He said, `I

never did pick none of that damned stuff!’ and I said, `Don’t say

nothin’ about pickin’ cotton around my mother and father, ’cause

they’ve

picked a lot of cotton!"

Funderburgh bought his own home in Plano in 1990 and

he and his wife, Renee, recently celebrated the arrival of their first

child, a daughter, Savannah Renee Funderburgh.

Asked to explain his approach to writing songs, Funderburgh credits

his wife, whom he met at Antone’s in Austin in the late 1980s and

married in 1995, with helping out in that department. "The way

Sam and I work together, we tend to write songs on the spot in the

studio together. I’ll start playing some kind of riff, we’ll run a

small tape recorder and we’ll put that down and go back and listen

to it," he says, "we’ll write songs more off the cuff, whereas

Renee will sit down with pen and paper and write songs with just a

melody in her head."

"If one of us has an idea, we’ll get it on tape, and now that

I have a small studio in my house, we can actually demo songs

there,"

he explains.

Asked for his assessment of the current state of the blues scene,

Funderburgh says he and his band have never been busier. Every small

city has their own blues festival, and the summer months up until

October can leave him and his bandmates running ragged, he says.

"On the other hand, I believe there were something like 400 new

blues albums released last year," he says, "so for fans, it’s

hard to sift through all the stuff that’s out there. We actually sold

more records in 1987 and 1988 than we do now, but because there’s

that much more product out there. That’s good for the blues business,

but not so good for me." Ever the gentleman, super-polite Texan,

Funderburgh stresses, "I’m not mad about it, that’s just the way

it is right now."

— Richard J. Skelly

Blues, Brews & BBQs Festival, Six Flags Great

Adventure ,

Route 537, off I-195, Jackson, 732-928-1821. Third annual family music

and food festival in the Northern Star arena inside the park. Advance

purchase, $17.95 includes parking and theme park admission.

Saturday

and Sunday, September 9 & 10, 2 to 9 p.m.

Saturday: 2:20 p.m. NRBQ

3:50 p.m. Little Ed and Blues Imperials

5:20 p.m. Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers

6:50 p.m. Canned Heat

8:10 p.m. Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes

Sunday: 2:20 p.m. Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers

3:50 p.m. Jay Geils and Magic Dick Bluestime

5:20 p.m. Anson Funderburgh/Lou Ann Barton

6:50 p.m. Peter Green and Splinter Group

8:10 p.m. Fabulous Thunderbirds

Funderberg also plays Friday, Septemper 22, at B.B. King’s

Blues Club and Grill, 237 West 42nd St., New York, 212-997-4144.

Blues, Brews & BBQs Festival, Six Flags Great

Adventure ,

Route 537, off I-195, Jackson, 732-928-1821. Third annual family music

and food festival lineup features . Also Sunday, September 10. Advance

purchase, $17.95 includes parking and theme park admission.

Saturday,

September 9, 2 to 9 p.m.

Blues, Brews & BBQs Festival, Six Flags Great

Adventure ,

Route 537, off I-195, Jackson, 732-928-1821. Third annual family music

and food festival lineup features Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac, the

Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers, Jay Gells and

Magic Dick Bluestime, and Anson Funderburgh & Horns. Also Stringbean

& the Stalkers, VooDudes, Billy Hector, and others. Advance purchase,

$17.95 includes parking and theme park admission. Northern Star arena

inside the park. Sunday, September 10, 2 to 9 p.m.


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