" Pennsylvania Blues Fest, Blue Mountain Ski Area, Danielsville, PA. "
July 30, 2011

Before the opening notes of the Otis Clay band occurred at Michael Cloeren's Pennsylvania Blues Fest, there was evidence that this was going to be a special performance. Chatting backstage with the legendary Clay, I asked "Otis, what is so special about playing this fest?"

"It's always great to play for Michael Cloeren," answered Clay, "but understand that business is business, but repeat business is better." Clay was referring to the fact that this 2011 performance was not his first for Cloeren, and spoke like a true veteran of the road.

There were an abundance of great performances over the three day fest, but this Clay set was tops for many. Looking and sounding powerful, the 69 year-old Clay sounds like he's at the top of his game. He's the consummate on-stage pro, and his band is tighter than a snug fitting pair of jeans.

Clay's band consisted of Darryl Thompson on trumpet and vocals, Frederick Johnson on trombone and vocals, Clay's son Mark on drums and vocals, Dedrick Blanchard's keyboards, David Anderson's bass, and, subbing for an ailing Hollywood Scott, Ricky Lee on guitar and vocals they all performed spectacularly. Clay and his band-mates started with a powerful "Believe That," from Clay's I'll Treat You Right album, followed by "You're the One (I Choose,)" from his Blind Pig Respect Yourself disc. Bobby Blue Bland also covered "When Hearts Grow Cold," yet Clay delivered the soulful grooves on this classic rendering. Then, Clay and his band tore up Don Robey's "Nickel And A Nail," which is perhaps Clay's most famous song and is considered by many his signature tune.

Though he's not recorded anything lately, Clay does make a cameo appearance on the title track of the latest recording by Memphis' Bo-Keys. On this night, Clay and company really brought down the house when he introduced that Bo-Keys' "Got To Get Back." Clay took us to church early on Saturday night on the gospel-like Joe South gem "Walk A Mile In My Shoes," the title track from the '07 album that earned Clay a Grammy nomination. In similar soulful fashion "Sending Up My Timbers" also brought on that good old-time religion which Clay covered on his The Gospel Truth recording.

The band closed their outstanding set with a nod back to Clay's Hi Recording days on the funky "Trying To Live My Life Without You." But there was more as they encored with "Amen" recited over the bass line of the Otis Redding and Steve Cropper immortal "Dock of the Bay." Eventually that bass-line morphed into a reading of "Dock Of The Bay." It was during this finale where Clay called out to the likes of Redding, Little Milton, Sam Cooke, and others as he sang "A Change Is Gonna Come," followed by the traditional "This Little Light Of Mine." It was an emotional ending that, judging by the sing-along, the crowd thoroughly enjoyed, and the perfect way to end the evening. This performance was grand, yet it was Clay's intense and fervent vocals that consistently lit the fuse and kept the candle burning throughout the night.

Wandering around the camera pit during this performance it was great to see John Nemeth soaking up Clay's set. Nemeth was taking notes for some new ideas from watching Clay's performance. Lil' Ed Williams of the Blues Imperials was also in attendance and just stood there with his famous smile in appreciation of the master, Clay. To get a complete rundown of the entire Pennsylvania Blues Festival, checkout Don Wilcock's coverage at www.Blueswax.com - Bob Putignano

Bob Putignano a senior contributing editor at BluesWax. He is also the heart of Sounds of Blues at www.SoundsofBlue.com. Bob maybe contacted at: bob8003@yahoo.com

Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com