THE AFTERNOON light cuts through the crannies of Pinkie Master’s as Eric Culberson, Eric Dunn, and Ray Lundy, over plastic cups of PBR and a Styrofoam plate of Cheez-Its, swap stories about the blues heroes they grew up listening to.
These are tales handed down by word-of-mouth, writing and song. Some are eyewitness accounts, told as fans and fellow players, spun with the joy of a folk tale or a childhood memory.
On October 1, the trio spearhead Blues Trinity: A Tribute to the Three Kings, a salute to blues royals Albert, Freddie, and B.B. King.
Albert was the one with the short temper, always encircled in a cloud of pipe smoke, even while shredding on his Flying V guitar.
“He was the king of the nasty, hardcore blues,” Culberson explains.
“He was the more raw out of the three,” Ray Lundy adds. “They called him ‘The Velvet Bulldozer.’”
“Freddie got real urban with it,” Lundy says. “He got progressive. He made the blues a lot more accessible in the ‘70s to popular music, while remaining a true blues player.”
“Yeah, Freddie did funk, like straight-funk kind of blues,” Culberson confirms.
“Get the album Burglar,” urges Dunn. “When I heard it, I was like, ‘This has gotta be a new recording.’ It was from the ‘70s!”
“He died at 37,” Dunn laments. “If you think about what he did...if you stopped Albert or B.B. when they were 37...Freddie King would clearly be the most badass motherfucker if he’d been given 40 more years to play.”
Then there’s the “King of the Blues” himself, B.B. King. Culberson once met the legend; Dunn opened for him at the Civic Center with The Train Wrecks in 2010.
“B.B. brought class and elegance to the blues,” says Culberson. “Before that, it was drinking and cussing...B.B. never cussed, he never got overtly suggestive about anything. He was always a gentleman.”
In addition to being a tribute to three players who put blues on the map internationally, Culberson, Dunn, and Lundy hope the performance reflects Savannah’s own blues history and music community.
The interconnectedness of the three players is a testament to the comradery of Savannah musicians: Lundy got his start at Culberson’s legendary Open Jam Night, a Lowcountry tradition now in its 26th year.
Dunn’s music career began by gigging with Lundy when Dunn was 18 years old.
“The first time I got paid to play music was with Ray,” he says. “I got a barbecue sandwich, free beer and fifty bucks—I’ll never forget it!”
“And he just kept going ever since,” Ray says with a bellowing laugh. “So I’ll take all the blame!”
According to Dunn and Lundy, Culberson is largely responsible for keeping the blues alive in our town and beyond.
“Eric Culberson is Georgia blues,” Dunn says. “When I went on tour with him up north, people were treating him like Jimi Hendrix!”
“They get a sense of authenticity when they hear someone like Eric play,” interjects Lundy.
“It’s one of the most diverse genres of American music,” Culberson says. “You got country blues, urban blues, Texas swing, Delta Blues...”
“There would never have been any rock ‘n’ roll if it wasn’t for blues music!” exclaims Lundy.
Blues Trinity is a great introduction for anyone who might not be familiar with the genre. Don’t expect an evening of down-in-the-dumps, trudging “woe is me” style songs—blues, as Culberson attests, is so much more, particularly given the Kings’ way of blending genre and sounds to make their own style. You might just find yourself dancing in the aisle.
“If you think the blues is lumpty-dumpty, boo-hoo, crying in my coffee...it’s not, man,” says Culberson. “The blues is everything from the best thing ever to the worst thing ever. It’s every human quality, every human interaction.”
“It’s about the human condition,” says Lundy. “It’s about the day-to-day life. The blues talks about the good and the bad. People say, ‘I don’t like blues.’ Well Buddy Guy says, ‘If you ain’t got the blues yet, just keep on living!’ Stuck in traffic? You got the blues. Can’t make the rent? You got the blues. The blues is originally dance music—this comes from such old roots, but it’s making a rhythm that the folks at the fish fry can dance to and forget their problems.”
After the enormous success of last year’s Life is a Carnival: A Tribute to The Band, in which Culberson, Dunn, and Lundy were all involved, the crew began brainstorming another huge tribute carried out by a diverse array of Savannah musicians.
“We worked really hard on the Carnival show and it was just fun doing stuff together,” Dunn says. “We just really enjoyed doing something cool for the community of Savannah and Savannah musicians, bringing them together—it was a beautiful thing.”
“We were talking about, after Life is a Carnival, ‘let’s do a blues festival, a blues show here,’” says Culberson. “We were bouncing it around, then when B.B. passed, I was like, ‘Let’s do a three Kings show. Now that B.B.’s in blues heaven, we’ll call it Blues Trinity.”
“When B.B. died, it was a perfect time,” he says. “There’s three kings of the blues, and they’re all in the spiritual zone together now.”
As they began assembling a lineup to be reckoned with—Jared Hall, Paul Mazo, Laiken Williams, Jon Murphy, Stan Ray, Anders Thomson, Mike Walker, The Bonaventure Horns, and John Banks—Culberson was struck with an idea.
“Next thing we know, I got B.B. King’s drummer to play!” he exclaims with a slap on the bar. “We were on the same label back in the early ‘90s.”
He hit Tony Coleman up on Facebook; the next day, the iconic drummer was on board.
“Tony said, ‘B.B. fired me five times, but he hired me six,” Culberson laughs.
“I just can’t wait to pick Tony Coleman up from the airport,” says Dunn with fanboy giddiness. “I’m going to have a sign that says ‘BEST DRUMMER IN THE WORLD!’”
The evening will kick off with Albert songs, followed by Freddie and a big B.B. finish. The boys hint toward some surprise guests and numbers, too.
It’s highly recommended to purchase tickets in advance and get there early, as the first 50 attendees will get a free Southbound koozie upon entry.
“We play all the time, so we never get to hang out and hear each other play.” Dunn says. “It’s going to be fun for everybody.”
Blues Trinity: A Tribute to the Three Kings
When: Thursday, October 1 @ 7:30 p.m.
Where: Lucas Theatre for the Arts