LIVE: Felicia Collins @ the Music Haven, 8/9/15
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Stanley Johnson, Rudy Lu, Andrzej Pilarczyk, Timothy Reidy
“Traveling the world one concert at a time…” That’s the theme of the free concert series that Mona Golub presents each summer at the Music Haven in Schenectady’s Central Park. And after a world-class season of globe-trotting through the marvelous musics of Peru, Spain, Great Britain, India, New Orleans, Mali and Indonesia, it seemed only fitting that the series should conclude its summer-long journey with a richly rewarding homecoming concert.
If you were a regular viewer of “The Late Show With David Letterman,” then you already know what a mega-talent Felicia Collins is. She was a guitarist in the late night talk show’s house band – known as as the CBS Orchestra, aka the World’s Most Dangerous Band – since Letterman switched to CBS-TV back in 1993. And as led by keyboardist/Letterman-foil Paul Shaffer, that band was known for its eclectic nature and uncanny ability to play almost any song imaginable.
So, there was one big question before Collins played the season-closing show at the Music Haven in Schenectady’s Central Park – What kind of music would she play as a bandleader? The short answer is … the blues, but she mixed in some soul and funk during her 85-minute show on a perfect summer evening.
With her trademark braids hanging down below her knees and sporting a blazing red shirt with the words “Music Is Everything” printed across the front, the congenial Collins greeted the crowd as though they were long-lost members of her family – and it seemed as though almost half of the huge crowd actually were family members. Collins grew up in Albany. It’s where she bought her first guitar and graduated from high school (Bishop Maginn). “I’m gonna be here all night – just huggin’ people,” she exclaimed mid-show.
But she did more than just hugging. She came to play, and she made the most of her homecoming concert with a big batch of the blues, stretching from the traditional (a wailin’ rendition of “CC Rider”) to covers (the slow burn of Gatemouth Moore’s “Somebody’s Got to Go”) to original tunes (the saucy, sassy “Mr. Right Now”). Of course, her guitar playing was top-notch, but Collins is also a powerhouse singer, and she held nothing back vocally on such gems as the groove-oriented “Shake the Blues,” the fabulously funky “Always On the Run” and the soul nugget “Some Kind of Wonderful” (which also shined the spotlight on Collins’ CBS Orchestra bandmate Anton Fig for a drum solo).
Her band also featured bassist George Panos, guitarist Mike Muller and a pair of keyboardists – veteran Bette Sussman (who’s played Whitney Houston, Bette Midler and Aretha Franklin, to name just a few) and Local 518 fave Azzaam Hameed.
When she introduced the band members at the end of the show, Collins concluded with “And I’m your homegirl Felicia Collins. Have a great night – I just did.”
Opening the show was Nippertown music scene mainstay Bobbie Van Detta with the Split, a band featuring drummer Chad Ploss, keyboardist Chris Dollard, bassist Ed Tourge, saxman Cliff Lyons (on loan from the Average White Band) and harmonica hero Ted Hennessey. They churned through a bluesy hour-long set that dug into the songbags of Screaming Jay Hawkins, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Van Morrison and others with solid results, hitting their highwater mark with a solidly swinging romp through Wilbert Harrison’s classic “Kansas City.”
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Seated front and center, [Collin’s] mother received endless congratulations from fans, prompting Collins to tell about taking her to a George Clinton P-Funk concert where Collins played as a guest. Some songs in, she said, Clinton came grinning his way across the stage and Collins thought the funk-meister was going to praise her playing. Instead he asked, on behalf of Collin’s mother, whether she needed her hat. Collins was some kind of funk-meister herself, whether remaking such chestnuts as ‘C.C. Rider’ or Gatemouth Moore’s ‘Somebody’s Got to Go’ — a slow blues and her best vocal of the night — or introducing such tradition-inspired originals as ‘Mr. Right Now,’ the first tune she played at Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar to launch her current blues explorations. The show was lively and interactive, and not just because spotting kinfolk or old friends prompted recollections. Bassist Panos suggested they play ‘Somebody’ and Collins eagerly jumped on it, but urged fellow guitarist Muller into the song’s biggest solo. She introduced the wonderful ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ with a dance she’d learned from childhood friend George Hairston at 13 and cued Hameed into a rocking organ solo. Throughout, she sang as well as she played; her band strong and crisp. She could have played the whole show with just Fig laying down the beat, but everybody added color and energy.”