Cathy Lemons and Johnny Ace's critically acclaimed CD "Dark Road" has won them some hard fought for recognition both as song writers and as soulful and expressive blues talents. BLUES REVUE hailed "Dark Road" as "a burnished, scintillating disc and certainly one of the finest debuts from a contemporary female blues singer this year." VINTAGE GUITAR says this of Lemons' vocal style: "She presents an almost classical quality to her voice. A dangerous approach to a tradition? You bet! But Lemons makes it work. The more you listen to this self-produced effort, the more you realize that it is a very individualistic emotional approach." And LIVING BLUES calls Lemons "a skillful and expressive singer" delivering blues "in a wide range of styles" from "dance-floor soul grooves" to "the occasional ballad."
The quality of this CD is strengthened by an all-star line up of blues veterans that back up what Bill Kisliuk of Blues Access calls Lemons' "soulful, knowing vocals." Guest artist TOMMY CASTRO delivers his own firey brand of guitar licks on the Lemons/Ace penned funk "Let Me Be Good" and his wailing and intense solo work on the slow blues "Takin' a Train" (another original) can only be described as electrifying.
RUSTY ZINN plays some raw Elmore James-style licks on another Lemons original "Hard Headed Man" and his "nasty tone and wild note bending" guitar work on the Junior Wells classic "Little By Little' leaves the listener wondering if this young "golden boy" might be from another time and generation of players.
STEVE FREUND really shines as the master of many styles on this CD. Kisliuk writes that Freund "fills in the edges around the snowmelt slow 'Dirty Man' with restraint and aching beauty." DH of Vintage Guitar says that Freund's "Lockwood-style finesse in tone and articulation work perfectly" with Lemons' "delicate style." He plays with beauty and intensity on the title cut "Dark Road," creating a melancholic undertone, which builds as the song progresses. Freund's 20 years in the blues business has indeed made him an exquisite accompanist.
DAVID MAXWELL is the pleasant surprise of this CD. His brilliant, jazz-influenced riffs on the Magic Sam classic "I Need You So Bad" create a richly textured rhythmic flow and his sinuous, Spann-like scales during his solo on the haunting "Worry, Worry" are rendered with magnificent feeling and precision.
JOHNNNY ACE, Lemons' partner and session leader, makes contributions with both bass and back up vocals. Ace's style is simple and direct. He has an uncanny ability to follow Lemons in all her subtlety and zone in on just the right bass line to create a sexy, low-down groove. Ace becomes the very pulse, the very heart beat of the music. Nobody can play blues bass better than Johnny Ace.
So, as Mark A. Cole says of "Dark Road" in his Big City Blues review, "This is an excellent CD in that it combines Texas-rhythm influences with Chicago lead configurations. Lemons vocal work is top of the line ... Definitely a winner! This CD has more talent and depth than you can imagine!"
Cathy Lemons was raised in Dallas Texas-the home of many a blues great. In her early twenties she saw Anson Funderburg and Darryl Nulisch playing blues at a tiny little match box club called Poor David's Pub in Dallas and she became instantly inspired to sing the songs that to her told about life on the dark end of the street. Soon she was performing regularly in favorite Dallas blues clubs and sharing the stage with such luminaries of the eighties Texas blues scene as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Anson Funderburg, Mark Polluck and Robin Syler. She put together a band with David Watson--Anson Funderburg's X drummer --and later made a fine recording with Anson Funderburg and members of his band.
In 1986 Cathy arrived on the Bay Area Blues scene and began working with talented harp player/singer Mark Hummel and guitarist extraordinaire Paris Slim. Cathy attracted the attention of Blues legend and star John Lee Hooker in 1988 and soon became the opening singer for Hooker's touring Coast to Coast Blues machine.
In 1987, Lemons met bassist/vocalist Johnny Ace in a little North Beach club famous for its good times and great music-The Saloon. They became instant friends and played together in a band with San Francisco/Columbus, Ohio blues wiz David Workman for several years before they became a romantic and musical team.
Johnny Ace (not to be confused with the late great R&B singer) hails from New York City and is one of the most respected bassist in the blues profession today. He ws awarded by Real Blues magazine "Best Blues bass player for West Coast" for 2000. Ace was given the nickname "Ace" by fellow musicians such as Paul Oscher and John Leslie--in their opinion he was number one. He never wanted to use the name out of respect for the original Johnny Ace, but as he says "somehow the name just stuck." Ace has worked with some of the great legendary figures in blues-Victoria Spivey, Otis Rush, John Lee Hooker, Eddie "Clean- head" Vinson, Lowell Fulson, Charlie Musslewhite and most recently Boz Scaggs. Not only is Johnny Ace an excellent bassist, but he is also a fine vocalist and band leader. He has a unique and charismatic stage presence with a sense of humor to match every inch of his effusive musical talent.
The Cathy Lemons Johnny Ace Blues Band performs at San Francisco's premiere blues club Bisquits and Blues every Sunday with Danny Caron, who worked for ten years with the legendary Charles Brown and their long time drummer Rick Sanke. The band has also performed as an opening act for The Tommy Castro Band at Slims in San Francisco, CA and The Mystic Theatre in Petaluma, CA. They recently played The Redwood Coast's "Blues By The Bay" festival in Eureka, California and the Sacramento Heritage Festival. They perform regularly in the best Bay Area night clubs and will be touring the United States by the end of this year.