Bluesman James Cotton to lead Music Haven’s 25th celebration

“Superharp” bluesman James Cotton: the perfect choice to headline Music Haven’s 25th anniversary gal

“Superharp” bluesman James Cotton: the perfect choice to headline Music Haven’s 25th anniversary gala on Sunday in Schenectady’s Central Park.

Precocious, prodigiously durable, Cotton played with Sonny Boy Williamson at 9, Howlin’ Wolf a few years later, and Muddy Waters at 17. Recording his first singles at 15, he’s released nearly 30 albums and led his own band since the early 1970s. In October 1973, he and his crew, featuring Matt “Guitar” Murphy, nearly levitated, or leveled, Union College’s Memorial Chapel. He leveled me at JB Scott’s a few years later with a tequila-drinking tutorial at the bar that left him unimpaired to rock a second fiery set.

Healed from the illness that had shredded his voice by the time he played The Egg a few years ago, Cotton has Darrell Nulisch at the mic these days, with guitarist Tom Holland, bassist Noel Neal and drummer Jerry Porter. Cotton’s harmonica mastery remains formidable: The Boston Herald hailed him recently as “the finest blues harmonica player alive.” Our own precocious blues guitar man Matt Mirabile opens, at 7 p.m.

All concert seats are free, except those at the front, which are reserved for those supporting Music Haven programs with their $75 donations to the full gala event. The gala begins with a barbecue buffet under the Central Park Pavilion from 5 to 7 p.m., featuring steak or chicken on the grill, seasonal vegetables, salads, desserts, beer, wine and soft drinks. Gala attendees sit up front at the concert, then celebrate backstage after the show. Rain site: Proctors,


The subdudes’ story is shorter than Cotton’s, but complex. They’ll play the next chapter on Saturday at The Egg, the first reunion in 17 years of the original quartet.

Guitarist Tommy Malone, keyboardist/accordion player John Magnie, percussionist Steve Amedee and bassist Johnny Ray Allen (they all sing) made five albums, 1989 to 1997 before their first hiatus. That first incarnation played a New-Orleans-Jazz-Fest-on-the-road tour that lit up Saratoga Performing Arts Center around the time their first album hit and the Empire State Plaza Blues Fest a few years later.

Reunited in 2004 without Allen but with Jimmy Messa and Tim Cook (both playing guitar and bass), they released five more albums and played here regularly, including several shows at The Egg, before splitting again in 2011.

The most restlessly creative subdude, Tommy Malone, formed Tiny Town (with Allen) and several other bands during the first hiatus and released solo albums and formed another handful of short-lived bands during the second, including the Malone Brothers with elder sibling Dave Malone of the Radiators — who have also been on hiatus and off and played The Egg, too.

Enough history. The subdudes, in whatever configuration, are one of America’s great bands. And they’re playing only very few shows in this reunion tour of the four original members. The subdudes reunion tour hits The Egg on Saturday at 8 p.m. $35. 473-1845,


Another extra-fine but under-famous band returns this week: Cincinnati rockers Wussy play tonight at The Low Beat (335 Central Ave., Albany), where they played a stellar area debut in late March.

A rootsy five-piece revolving around the songwriting-and-singing team of former lovers Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker, Wussy plays powerful, no-frills rock, directly from the heart. They rocked with candor, writ loud, about agonizing breakups, exultant reconciliations, ambiguous futures. His voice, like a dump truck, roared big and carried a lot; hers had great grace and grit. Cleaver and Walker held nothing back, claiming their entire emotional history.

Sonically, Wussy charged ahead with the same wild courage, making some of the smartest, deceptively simple-sounding rock around, full of counter-melodies, the melding of syllables with beats and that loose, raw feel that only bands with total emotional unity, and plenty of practice, can attain. It was ferocious, uncompromising and exhilarating.

Bloodshot Bill opens at 8 p.m. $12. 432-6572,


Schenectady’s own supper club, the Van Dyck, fires up the jazz this weekend.

Trumpeter/singer Bria Skonberg plays on Friday at 8 p.m., doors at 7. A British Columbia native, like Diana Krall, Skonberg sang with big bands before adding trumpet to her live sets and albums. The Wall Street Journal reports, “Bria Skonberg looks like a Scandinavian angel (or Thor’s girlfriend), plays trumpet like a red hot devil, and sings like a dream.” $15, advance; $18 on Friday. 348-7999,

On Saturday, the Van Dyck’s Jazz Guitar Summit brings in old-school fretboard giants Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Alden and Gerry Beaudoin for two shows, 7 p.m. and 9:30. At 88, Pizzarelli is playing wonderfully well; those younger guys will do their best to keep up! $18, advance, $22 on Saturday.

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