Preview: George Bedard & Mr. B Lead The Blues Pack Together


George Bedard brings Match Box Blues to the Ark on August 27.

George Bedard brings Match Box Blues to the Ark on August 27.

Ann Arbor is fortunate to have housed some world class blues musicians with national and international credentials, Peter “Madcat” Ruth, Steve Nardella, and recently Laith Al-Saadi among them.

Guitarist George Bedard and pianist Mark "Mr. B" Braun are at the top of this short but powerhouse list. Though they have infrequently collaborated in other bands as sidemen, they will work front and center for a show at The Ark that should be a blockbuster showcase.

Where Bedard specializes in rockabilly and Mr. B’s expertise lies in boogie woogie, they are directly an offshoot of the historic blues which leads to rock music. Bedard has been presenting a chain of American roots music presentations, of which this concert is the fourth in the annual series.

The title of this show “Match Box Blues,” after the song written by Blind Lemon Jefferson in the 1920s, speaks of the early years of country blues, and the Mississippi musicians who stayed down south or migrated to Chicago, picked up electric amplified instruments, and changed the face of music forever.

There is also the importance of New Orleans and Memphis, along with Detroit, becoming hubs for African-American musicians and giving the blues its different flavors. From the Sun Records stable and Elvis Presley in Tennessee to the urbanized style in the Windy City and combinations of rural and city street diversity in the Motor City, Bedard and Mr. B have taken into account what came before them, inspired by storied train rides to each city telling the tales in days of old.

Carrying on in the boogie woogie tradition of Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis, Mark “Mr. B” Braun came up in the ranks, moving from Flint and attending regular “Blue Monday” shows with Boogie Woogie Red in the basement of the old Blind Pig. Other figures like Little Brother Montgomery, Big Maceo, Leroy Carr, Otis Spann, and local legend Bob Seeley were also figures that loomed large in Mr. B’s development.

Mr. B stands for boogie woogie

Mr. B stands for boogie woogie.

George Bedard also convened in the basement of the Blind Pig, falling for Boogie Woogie Red’s style and substance. The guitarist enjoyed what Braun aspired to be with boogie piano, but also gravitated toward guitarists Robert Johnson, Tampa Red, Scrapper Blackwell, Robert Lockwood, Lonnie Johnson, and T-Bone Walker.

Going beyond roots, Mr. B has collaborated with jazz drummers Roy Brooks and J.C. Heard, bassist Paul Keller and his big bands, drummer Pete Siers, and singer/songwriter Dick Siegel.

Bedard also worked with Siegel, as well as gigging with bands the Vipers, the Bonnevilles, and the Silvertones in the 1970s. Later on, he teamed up with legends like harmonica players Kim Wilson and Big Walter Horton, singer Big Joe Turner, Eddie Taylor, and Bonnie Raitt, and he continues leading his popular veteran band The Kingpins going on four decades plus.

In an e-mail, Bedard spoke of his early days. “It was Steve Nardella who brought us together. I was inspired by Mark’s energy and his love of craft and we bounced off each other very well. Many of our early gigs were at the Blind Pig and it was playing there that we found out we each had spent time scoping out their featured blues artists.”

Mr. B, also via e-mail, chimed in. “Sure enough, I first met George through Steve Nardella. I was a little in awe of him at that time, as I used to hear him play with Steve in the Silvertones as often as possible. George was way ahead of me in terms of the spectrum of styles that he could play with authority. He put in a lot of time when he was young to learn a whole lotta guitar.”

Bedard says the first set will feature Braun in a display of his piano wizardry for famed guitar/piano duets, followed by drummer Rich Dishman (from The Kingpins) and jazz bassist Patrick Prouty joining them to revive tunes from their collective repertoire.

David Roof, master of the slap bass popularized by Slam Stewart, will be featured in the second set playing classic rockabilly material, including the icon Carl Perkins’ version of “Match Box.”

“Mark and I have been talking about doing a blues guitar/piano tribute for more years than we can remember,” said Bedard, “but never had the time. When we discovered we were both going to be in town in August we decided to sit down and actually work on this project.”

“Playing with him now is fun as can be,” Braun added. “We don't do it enough. If you want an opportunity to play an array of blues, jazz, swing and rockabilly material, it doesn't matter how far you go, you're not going to find a guitarist that can work it any better than George. I'm eating my Wheaties!”

"I can feel it already," Bedard concluded, with feeling. "We're going to have one hell of a fine time pulling it off”.

Michael G. Nastos is known as a veteran radio broadcaster, local music journalist, and event promoter/producer. He is a former music director and current super sub on 88.3 WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, founding member of SEMJA, the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, Board of Directors member of the Michigan Jazz Festival, votes in the annual Detroit Music Awards and Down Beat Magazine, NPR Music and El Intruso Critics Polls, and writes monthly for Hot House Magazine in New York City.

George Bedard & Mr. B perform at 8 pm on Saturday, August 27 at The Ark, 316 S. Main Street. Call (761) 1800 or (734) 761-1818, or visit The Ark's website for more information.