Blues in the old hometown
Blues harpist-singer Mitch Kashmar, the former local hero turned global blues traveler, returns for a rare Santa Barbara show,, hosted by the Santa Barbara Blues Society.
When: 8 p.m., Saturday (doors open at 7, with Santa Barbara’s Paradise Kings playing)
Where: Carrillo Recreation Center, 100 E. Carrillo St.
Cost: $30 general admission; $10 high school students with student ID; $15 college students with student ID; $40 VIP (preferred seating and a free drink). SBBlues Society Members: $5 off regular admission prices for themselves and up to three guests
Information: 722-8155, www.sbblues.org
Kenny Sultan, of the famed and long Santa Barbara-based country blues duo Ball and Sultan, has joked about his posh, palm tree-lined hometown, exclaiming “Santa Barbara — home of the blues.”
But, all things considered, it’s only a half-joking boast. A strong passion for the blues exists here, as evidenced in the status of the Santa Barbara Blues Society as the “oldest continuous blues society in America,”
In terms of blues artists with Santa Barbara roots, the list includes the legendary Kim Wilson — aka “Goleta Slim,” so-named for his many years cutting his teeth here as he was coming up. Ball and Sultan, possibly the oldest musical “group” in town (barring the Santa Barbara Symphony) sprouted here and continues to have this hometown as a launching point for their travels.
And then there is blues harpist-singer extraordinaire Mitch Kashmar, a Santa Barbara native making a rare return visit to his old stomping grounds, this Saturday at the Carrillo Recreation Center. Fittingly, the show is a celebration the Blues Society’s 42nd birthday.
As any longtime local blues fan knows, Mr. Kashmar spent many years wowing the blues crowds in town with the historic blues band Matts Cats, and then, for many years, fronting the Pontiacs. Apart from establishing its own bold reputation as one of the best bands in town, the Pontiacs offered its services as a backup band for such blues heroes as Charlie Musselwhite, John Lee Hooker, Pinetop Perkins and Big Joe Turner.
Post-Pontiacs, and post-Santa Barbara, Mr. Kashmar headed to Los Angeles and then up to Portland, Oregon. He has gone on to considerable fame in the true blues world, gaining respect and the blues touring life, and the praises of those in the know and in the history books. Mr. Musselwhite effused “your playing and singing are superb,” and John Hammond called him “unbelievable. A great singer, and up there with the best harp players I’ve ever heard. I’m knocked out.”
Local legend-wise, Kim “Goleta Slim” Wilson remembers that “Mitch was only 19 when I first heard him and he sounded good even then. These days, oh man, is he tough.”
Beyond the blues scene, proper, Mr. Kashmar’s resume includes several years as the harp player for War, from 2006 to 2011. In that setting he filled the spot created by original harp player Lee Oskar, whose infectious harmonica melody on the band’s hit “Lowdown” is possibly the best-known blues harp presence on a major pop radio hit.
The Kashmar discography is a gradually growing thing, more or less kicked into a higher gear with his acclaimed 2006 album “Nickels and Dimes.” The list also includes the 2010 reissue by the Delta Groove label of the mid-1980s vintage record “100 Miles to Go,” by the Pontiax (and with such local and tricounties-based players as Jack Kennedy on bass, drummer Tom Lackner, Bill Flores and Jim Claire).
His 2016 album “West Coast Toast” lives up to its title by focusing on West Coast blues lore, mixing originals and covers by the likes of Willie Dixon, Lowell Fulsom, Sonny Boy Williamson, and featuring some tart and tasty guitar work by veteran Junior Watson.
Saturday night’s blues soiree at the Rec Center — a historic space with a spring-loaded dance floor — is officially featuring Mitch Kashmar and his band West Coast Toast. The toasting factor should also acknowledge Santa Barbara, the town from whence he came, and something of a “home of the blues” — at least on humble terms.