“This is not a concert. This is a P-A-R-T-Y” enthused Sugaray Rayford, onstage at London’s 100 Club where, earlier this year, he and his band thrilled as part of London Blues Week. The recently decorated bluesman was back at the famous venue in the midst of a straight nine-date UK/Germany tour. No day off for Sugaray. Not that he would want one as performing is his life, like for the blues greats such as BB King.
“We don’t do setlists. When you do 200 shows a year you like to keep your band on its toes.” Sugaray’s band wasn’t so much on its toes but levitating three feet off the ground, such was the outstanding power created by this six-strong band of stellar musicians.
To emphasise the point, Sugaray’s band members have played with artists such as Deep Purple, Al Green, Steve Cropper, Prince, Maceo Parker and Amy Winehouse.
On keys was the formidable Drake ‘Munkihaid’ Shining. When drummer Lavell Jones hit the drums they stay hit. Bassist Allen Markel drove the band. Guitarist Gino Matteo thrilled constantly and the British horn section of Aaron Liddard on sax and Giles Straw on trumpet nearly blew the roof off the 100 Club, quite an achievement for a basement club.
Rayford is one hellova performer. His charisma, vocals and personality dwarf his giant 6’5” frame. He owns a stage, exuding warmth, passion and sincerity. His vocal style is reminiscent of the late great Little Milton, in whose band drummer Lavell Jones used to reside.
Opening with the Bill Withers track Who Is He (And What Is He To You) Sugaray stormed into the Albert King classic Born Under A Bad Sign, with powerful guitar backing from Matteo, now back in the Rayford fold.
Don’t Regret A Mile had sweet soul vocals and a funky groove. The bouncy blues Take Me Back rocked the joint with Matteo playing like Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Drummer Lavell Jones had a technical nightmare, needing several attempts between songs to fix his bass pedal. Rayford playfully threatened to replace him with a drum machine. “They say a drum machine has no soul. Well, soul is in the programming!”
South Side Of Town continued the intense soul/blues groove and just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get better a request from the crowd drew Stuck For A Buck, one of the songs of the night.
The slow blues Aha began with extraordinary guitar virtuosity from Matteo and continued with great solos from Shining and Liddard. It built into one of the best blues jams you are ever likely to witness. Wonderful.
Rayford featured several songs from his 2019 album Somebody Save Me. From the sweet soul of You And I to the gritty soul of I’d Kill For You Honey he nails every song he touches. He finished this remarkable gig with the Little Milton classic Grits Ain’t Groceries.
This was a stellar performance from a master of his trade which was a privilege to see. Sugaray commented “Life is too short. You gotta enjoy it every place and whenever you can.” The rapturous reception from the audience showed that everyone enjoyed the time with Sugaray.
Blues shouting, slow blues, sweet soul, funk, boogie. Sugaray does it all. Brilliantly.
Review by Chaz Brooks