Catfish Keith

Forest Arts Centre, New American delta blues and roots singer and master of the bottleneck slide guitar,

Catfish Keith, is always a welcome visitor to these shores. In 23 years on the road, he has toured the UK on no less than 43 occasions, so h e was well known to th e enthusiastic New Forest blues aficionados.

Armed with just three guitars and a stomp board, Catfish delighted the New Milton faithful with two great sets of traditional blues played in the distinctive CK style, drawing on material from acknowledged masters such as Mississippi Fred McDowell, Lead Belly, Bukka White, Blind Willie Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt. Enter Catfish Keith wearing trademark trilby and specs looking distinctly like Benny Hill!

It was soon clear though, we weren’t in for a night of slapstick comedy as the guitar maestro launched into Lead Belly’s On a Monday and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s Tell Everybody In Your Neighbourhood. Surprisingly, there was only one concession to the latest critically acclaimed album HONEY HOLE but Rowdy Blues was a great choice. The artist clearly prefers to satisfy the fans by drawing on material from his 15 albums and acceding to audience requests; Bukka White’s Jitterbug Swing satisfied one happy punter.

I really liked his own Mister Catfish’s Advice; ‘to treat that woman nice’, of course; and Jessie Mae Hemphill’s trance inducing Eagle Bird. The real highlight for me however, was I’m Going To Live That Life, an anthem to the music by Joseph Spence, another from the blues world that has been an inspiration. Catfish slipped in a couple of numbers he hopes to include in a future album; Mississippi John Hurt’s Candy Man Blues and Blind Willie Johnson’s classic Lord I Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes, closing with another Lead Belly favourite, The Gallis Pole, a dark tale of saving one from the gallows, played on the 12 string guitar.

Returning for the inevitable encore, we were treated to one of Catfish’s staples; a medley of Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground and Ben Harper’s gospel masterpiece Bye And Bye I’m Goin’ To See The King, this time switching to the steel bodied resonator; wonderful stuff.

Catfish is one of music’s genuine troubadours who enjoys thoroughly what he does and does it well. It can seem strange listening to a white artist playing delta blues but he delivers the music with such passion and his guitar work alone is worth the admission money. If you missed him this time, don’t worry, he’ll be back. John Roffey www.catfishkeith.com

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