Famous Frank Ward's Birthday Bash
" Featuring The Fictitious Otis Cadillac "
Boston's On the Beach, Delray Beach, Florida November 21, 2011

"Many of South Florida's best came out to celebrate Famous Frank Ward's birthday, including the legendary Otis Cadillac. Yes, it's true. Bob Putignano was there to prove it. Read all about the special guests and the fun on the Blues Beat page." Chip Eagle for Blueswax.com

Many of South Florida's best came out to celebrate The Nucklebusters' leader Famous Frank Ward's fifty-fifth birthday. Ward's not only an excellent guitarist, but he's also a piece of work. Here's why: for some time now, Ward announces that the legendary Otis Cadillac will be stopping by at occasional Nucklebuster gigs. But Mr. Cadillac is figment of Ward's imagination and never appears, that is not until this year. Here's the story, Mark Fodera and members of the South Florida Blues Society decided to surprise Frank and assemble a "real" Otis Cadillac band. Ward had no clue, and when he entered Boston's for his birthday bash, the Otis Cadillac band sprang to life!

The Legendary Otis Cadillac Otis' part was played by Joe Fodera, who vocalized admirably. Cutting no corners, it was an eleven-piece band with guitar, bass, horns, harp, keyboards, plus BBG (of the now defunct Blue House band) pounding on drums, while the driving force came from three-piece Seville Sisters as background vocalists (Holly Dougherty, Vanessa Kohornen, and Sista' Mary Beth, who sizzled). In true Cadillac style, the band also called themselves "El Dorados," and rounding out the band was Mark Fodera on spoons, who also played the part as emcee in true Elwood Blues/Blues Brothers fashion Yes, he also dressed the part, too.

Ward was knocked out as this impromptu band (who had several rehearsals) roared through classics like Don Gardner's and Dee Dee Ford's "I Need Your Lovin'," The Mannish Boys' "Educated Ways," Van Morrison's "It Fill You Up," the difficult-to-cover Jerry Butler's "For Your Precious Love," Marva Wright's "It's So Nice," James Harmon's "She's Not Your Baby," and closed with Roomful of Blues' "She'll Be So Fine." Quite eclectic, and it all came off well without a hitch. Needless to say the most surprised person in the room was the birthday boy: Frank Ward.

The next set featured Nicole Hart with Frank Ward on guitar, Sheldon Voss on bass, Tim Kuchta's drums, and Grammy-winning engineer and three-time Latin Grammy-winning producer/keyboardist/organist Ron Taylor. The band opened with a scorching "Higher Ground." Hart looked and sounded great, Ward soared, and Taylor's keys were highly creative. Following was a solid rendition of Hart's "Treasure," where Taylor's keys echoed the fine B3 work that exists on Hart's latest recording of the same name, by her late husband Lance Ong. Midway through the set JP Soars and Terry Hanck joined the fray and fireworks ensued. Ward and Soars traded solos (wildly at times) but were always tasty. There was a bombastic cover of "Treat Her Right," where Hanck really honked. Other memorable tunes included a burning "Baby Please Don't Go," a soulful and funky "Little By Little," and the closer, "Gin House Blues." This set was powerful, all the soloists performed in top-shelf fashion to the delight of the wildly enthusiastic crowd in attendance.

Two sets down, and still one more to go. Terry Hanck and JP Soars led a fine unit that also consisted of Frank Ward's son, Patrick, who was sharp on bass, Ron Taylor stuck around and delighted on keys, Johnny "Cat" Soubrand sang backup vocals and also played guitar, David Shelley also sat in on guitar (as he did with Nicole's segment), and Chris Peet rounded out the band on drums. Their set featured Maxwell Davis' "Whole Lotta Lovin'," Eddie Jones' "Letter to my Girlfriend," a deep-grooved and soulful "Can I Change My Mind," and wrapped up the long night with a rip-snorting "Train Kept a Rollin'." For my ears Hanck has to be one the premiere sax players on the national scene as each and every one of his solos emitted high-energy, plus he possesses an extremely solid and vibrant tone. Soars was also impressive, and really ramped up his guitar and (as well as his vocals) at every chance he got to step out.

All in all it was one hell of a night. Happy Birthday, Frank Ward, may there be many, many more healthy ones in store for you. Which leads me to think, what might the Foderas and the S. FL Blues Society folks have in mind for Ward's fifty-sixth? Should be interesting, and I wouldn't miss Ward's next celebration for all the tea (or beer) in China and/or the world. Note: Since my last springtime visit to Boston's, it's very noteworthy to say that the club has been magnificently renovated with a new stage, and also offers great memorabilia of classic Boston, Massachusetts, photos, some with authentic autographs. If you are in the area, be sure to checkout their weekly Tuesday night blues shows, which by they way is also hosted by Frank Ward along with nationally known special artists and bands. Details at their site

Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com