Tuesday, 23 July 2024

CyberSoulMan: Bettie Mae Fikes, live at Ancient Lake Gardens

Bettie Mae Fikes recorded a live album at Ancient Lake Gardens in Kelseyville on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009. Photo by Jillian Billester.

In my previous column, I cryptically referred to a “rightly energized space” in Lake County where Soul Diva Betty Mae Fikes would record a live album last week. I am happy to report that Diva Fikes did indeed cut the album at Ancient Lake Gardens. More on the Gardens momentarily. First, let’s explore a little of the history of Ms. Bettie Mae.

Some of you recall the Konocti Blues Café, not to be confused with the larger venue on Soda Bay Road. Many of us packed the KBC every weekend to hear the uncut funk laid down by a rotating cast of superior players, all recruited by KBC Music director and former Lake County resident Robert Watson. The hardest working man in show business, Mr. James Brown, referred to Watson as the Blaster. Rob Watson was the last guitarist James Brown ever hired.

Watson was responsible for bringing folks like Grammy-winning keyboardist Rodney Franklin, Miles Davis sideman Barry Finnerty, Sly & The Family Stone Bassist Rusty Allen and Volker Strifler to the KBC.

The recording band at Ancient Lake Gardens were all regular players at the KBC. They were Watson on bass, Tony DeWayne on guitar, Frankie J. and Robert Reason on keyboards and Billy Johnson on drums.

All the musicians I’ve mentioned so far came to the Konocti Blues Café to augment the Bettie Mae Fikes experience. It was her showcase, owned by her childhood friend and veteran Civil Rights attorney, Charles Bonner.

Bettie Mae Fikes has a successful career as a singer of blues and gospel. She is from a community called Selma, Alabama, which was a hotbed of activity during the period of 1963 to 1965, a crucial time in the Civil Rights Movement.

In a 2005 interview, Ms. Fikes speaks of her initial involvement with SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee:

“… In the early sixties, I just needed an avenue to get out of the house from going to church so much. This fellow here, Mr. Bonner and my other dear friend Cle, was telling us about SNCC. They got all of their friends involved including me. When The Movement hit, it was like, you went to bed one night and you woke up the next day with a new world order.”

“All of a sudden these people are coming to town and they're talking about voters' rights. I didn't even know that was happening, — that our parents didn't have the right to vote. There were a few black people that were registered, mostly in Selma. Lowndes County and all these [surrounding] counties were unregistered. So these are the things that brought me into the Movement.”

Through her involvement with SNCC, Bettie became a SNCC Freedom Singer which has paralleled her career as a Blues and Gospel singer. To access the above referenced interview with Bettie Mae Fikes and Charles Bonner go to www.crmvet.org/nars/chuckbet.htm .

Freedom’s road brought Bettie Mae Fikes to Ancient Lakes Garden this past Wednesday to record her latest CD in front of a live, enthusiastic gathering of souls.

The event was organized by Monte Black, caretaker of the site. He describes it thusly:

“We are trying to bring some solid cultural diversity to Lake County. It seems that if we don’t create it, we don’t get it. We are trying to put a small, spontaneous venue together here. We’d like to have four to six performances here a year. That’s just a piece of the vision. We want to create a cultural center here with artists and musicians set amid the agricultural environment of the land. We already have a forge here where metal artist Brian Kennedy is creating art that is finding its way out of Lake County into higher end locales. We also have a woodworker here who is an Anthroposophist in the tradition of Rudolph Steiner. It seems as though many people who pay attention to Rudolph Steiner are landing here. We have a beekeeper and a dowser. Simply put we are trying to string together some cottage industries: artisans, crafts persons and musicians in an organic farming setting. As far as developing the music venue, we will need to get a limited use permit to make it commercially viable and we are looking into that. Until then we will keep our events private.”

Bettie Mae’s association with local poet and publisher Carolyn Wing Greenlee led to the recording session coming together quickly. The sound engineer for the project is Dan Worley.

Most of the musicians Robert “The Blaster” Watson recruited for the project hail originally from Vallejo. Watson, Tony DeWayne and Robert Reason have played together since they were teenagers and consequently groove accordingly. Tony Dewayne has tenured as former Tower Of Power lead singer, Lenny Williams’ Music Director. Drummer Billy Johnson was the drummer for Frankie Beverly and Maze. The fertile, funky sound they lay down has its roots in trailblazing funkateers like Sly & The Family Stone and Con Funk Shun who also hail from Vallejo.

Before Bettie graced the stage on Wednesday for the first of two sets, the BMF Band, as they have been known in the past, funkafized Bobby Womack’s Breezin’ and Leon Russell’s This Masquerade, tunes made popular by George Benson.

I’m not going to reveal the set list performed by Bettie. That is a surprise until you acquire the CD. No word on when it will be released, but there are some positively stratospheric monologues that accompany the tunes that are alone worth the price of Bettie’s melodic intuition.

Those in attendance were thoroughly enraptured by Bettie. Folks were moving their bodies and responding to her call. It was a very interesting mix of energy and song and when it’s released, you don’t want to miss it.

Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts.


Upcoming cool events:

Lake Blues All-Stars with Neon, Blues Monday, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Aug. 31, Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Information: 707-275-2233 or www.bluewingsaloon.com .

Open mike night, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Information: 707-275-2233 or www.bluewingsaloon.com .

Will Siegal & Friends, Blue Wing Saloon & Cafe Sunday Brunch, Sept. 6. Brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; music from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Telephone 707-275-2233, www.bluewingsaloon.com .

Labor Day Special In The Garden: Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings plus Gerald Mathis and Starlight. 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 7. Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Telephone 707-275-2233, www.bluewingsaloon.com .

Con Funk Shun, 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5. Cache Creek Casino Resort, 14455 Highway 16 in Brooks. Information: 888-77-CACHE or www.cachecreek.com .

Petaluma Summer Music Festival, through Sept. 13. For lineup go to www.cinnabartheater.org/cinnabar.2009-petaluma.summer.music.festival.html or call 707-763-8920.

T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. Visit his Web site at www.teewatts.biz.

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