Thirty years ago, Billboard magazine, the record industry trade paper, changed the name of one of their sales charts from "Race Records" to "Rhythm and Blues." Since then R & B has influenced every aspect of pop music. But R & B's original flavor -- that always rollicking, sometimes raucous sound -- is largely a thing of the past.
That fact hasn't made much of an impression on B. Willie Smith, though. Appearing last night at Desperado's, the six-piece band behaved as if Louis Jourdan had never left the top 40. With the cleverly choregraphed stage show, it wasn't long before they had the audience convinced of it as well. Saxmen shuffled throughout the house in pleated pants, the bassist swung his guitar high and low, and the vocalist popped his fingers coolly to the rhythms of "I Got a Woman" and "Mack the Knife." It wasn't a sentimental journey so much as it was a vivid and enjoyable reminder of R & B's timeless energy.
Bob Margolin, lead guitarist for the Muddy Waters band, opened the show. Like most alumni of the Waters organization, Margolin is strong enough to stand alone, and his solo set featured some finely crafted slide work and a number of Delta blues.