“Wow…. This band rocks. It's fresh and familiar all at the same time. This band has a sound, Marilyn Woods gives things a whole other sonic thrill, and your guitar player's tasty licks come right on through. I don't say these things lightly, you know me better than that. Congrats on a fine disc.” -Bob Keller, Legendary rock radio host (The Eagle 96.9FM, Sacramento)
If you were to pick a few familiar Americana characters to describe Ray ‘Catfish” Copeland, you might pick a blend of Will Rogers and George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart‘s creation in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Catfish has always loved blues, honky tonk and rock and roll music, playing guitar around Northern California and beyond for the last 35 years. In 2012, he was inducted into the Sacramento Blues Hall of Fame. With the release of Got Love If You Want, his new album on CFish Records, his trademark grin is as wide as his love of the broad sweep of American music.
As a multi-decade loyal employee at the iconic Tower Records, both in retail and at the headquarters in West Sacramento, California, Catfish had an insider knowledge of music and personalities. He was about the only guy who had the internal fortitude to wryly shake his head and smile when that record store giant went south in 2006. “I got more time to play music and enjoy life now.” he said.
His playing path has always been constant--in the mid to late 70s he was in the 1st incarnation of Little Charlie and the Nightcats, then the Nate Shiner Blues Band and with Mark St. Mary's Zydeco Band. Ray toured in 1978 with blues piano legend Floyd Dixon. In 1980, he formed The Blue Flames along with Johnny "Guitar" Knox, and played during the glory years in seven Sacramento Blues Festivals. He also accompanied such blues luminaries as Big Mama Thornton, William Clarke, Luther Tucker, Little Joe Blue and Buddy Ace.
Catfish and the Crawdaddies formed in 1995 and released three self-produced CDs between 1998-2007. His song "Crawdaddy, Crawdaddy" (from 2003’s Venus Blues), written about the Isleton Cajun & Blues Festival (then called the Crawdad Festival) received the “Song of the Year” Award from Blues Unlimited Magazine. Catfish and the Crawdaddies appeared at the Sacramento Music Festival the past 18 years and at all the Isleton Cajun & Blues Festival since 1999.
This new release seems to be a pretty perfect culmination of Copeland’s immersive joy of music, and he has surrounded himself with stellar new players and singers who share that love.
You can see it too in his choice of songs---many of these songs are familiar, but his arrangements are the unfolding pleasure—they are consistently original and allow room for improvisation. From the canon of Dylan to Jagger/Richards to Lennon/McCartney- the band has carved an identifiable Americana sound and flow—hand sown and homegrown on the sunny front porch, in the back 40 swamp by way of Chuck Berry through Creedence Clearwater, to some swirling and gorgeous Clarence White country psychedelia ala The Byrds.
Singer Marilyn Woods started singing in the Pentecostal Church as a child, learning all the spirituals and popular music of the 30s and 40s from her grandmother and mother. Woods’ rich alto is yearning but confident. Her wise interpretations on both “For No One” the delicate Paul McCartney song and “What A Shame,” an early Rolling Stones song, make new womanly meanings possible. And on her wonderful duets with Catfish, (their country-gospel take on Skip James’ “I’m So Glad,” the mysterious Robert Petway’s “Catfish Blues”, Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,”) her tone colors are sometimes reminiscent of Nicolette Larson.
Catfish’s best solo vocal outing is his declamatory mantra on “I Wanna Bop.” With the lines “I wanna bop, I wanna stroll, I really loooove rock ‘n’ roll,” you really know he is singing his truth. Another joyous Dylan gem, complete with some mighty boy/girl freight train yodelin’ is “Freight Train Blues.” His lead and rhythm playing is always tasty, sure and in the pocket.
This is all held together by the genteel all-star groove-minded rhythm section of bassist R.W Grigsby(Mark Hummel & Blues Survivors, Gary Primich, Mike Morgan & the Crawl, Red's Blues, and the bassist on the 2013 Grammy-nominated and 2013 BMA winning CD, Remembering Little Walter.) plus the Grammy-winning Jeff Minnieweather (Curtis Salgado, Jeff Lorber, Joe Louis Walker) on drums. Together, they all allow the secret dazzling guitar genius that is Sacramento’s Steve Randall to fly. His inventive touch on every single song is singularly significant.
Randall specializes in American roots music these days and is known as a Telecaster player doing country, blues, rock and swing--he even toured with a Tunisian band (still country music, just a different country.) He is truly Sacramento’s James Burton—his hybrid picking (rolling his fingers and using a pick at the same time) is fleet and complex, he never runs out of ideas. He's received multiple Sacramento Music Awards, including Hall of Fame notoriety and Critic's Choice Awards for Guitarist two years in a row. His influences are too numerous to mention, but he would say he ended up somewhere between “Richard Lloyd and Richard Thompson if they played a Tele thru a Vibrolux.”
The good time nature of this album surely fits a generation that now listens to classic rock radio, still has our old vinyl and regularly values friends, a good dance floor and a cold one. But the sweet instrumental coda, “A Closing Thought,” credited to the entire band, is witness to how Catfish and this band together elevated great song choices into a distinctly wonderful sound. Bio - © Mindy Giles, 2014
Mike "Pops" Phillips
Ray "Catfish" Copeland