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Wee Willie Walker at Porretta Soul Festival 2018 (Photo: Pertti Nurmi)

  Once again this year was no exception: it didn’t rain on any concert night in Porretta, Italy (  Only one sound-check in the afternoon had to be cancelled due to a passing thunderstorm, but from Thursday through Sunday (19.-22.7.) the audience could relax and enjoy exciting and (blue)soulful music under the clear and velvety Porretta sky.

  I arrived on time to attend the Friday concert, which kicked off with an one-hour set by a guitar virtuoso named Chris Cain (, backed by Luca Giordano Band. 


Anthony Paule at Porretta Soul Festival 2018 (Photo: Pertti Nurmi)

Derrick “D’MAR” Martin at Porretta Soul Festival 2018 (Photo: Pertti Nurmi)

  Next the excellent Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra ( took the stage.  By now you can call Anthony’s ensemble a regular house band, because this was their 4th year in a row in Porretta.  During those three nights they backed almost every artist and played altogether for close to 12 hours!  Besides Anthony in the role of musical director and guitarist, the rest of the members included Derrick “D’MAR” Martin on drums, Endre Tarczy on bass and Tony Lufrano on keyboards.  The horn section consisted of Charles McNeal on tenor sax, Bill Ortiz on trumpet, Derek James on trombone and as a guest Sax Gordon on tenor and baritone saxes.  The background vocalists were Sandy Griffith, Karen Richards and Larry Batiste, and actually the first visiting vocalist during Anthony’s stint was Larry Batiste out of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Not only a vocalist and musician, Larry is also known as a record producer, arranger and songwriter for numerous artists since the late 1970s.  His song on Friday and Sunday nights was Don’t Knock My Love.

Missy Andersen at Porretta Soul Festival 2018 (Photo: Pertti Nurmi)

  Booker “Blues” Brown hit the stage next, but since I’ll write a special feature on him – as well as on Terrie Odabi, Lacee and Spencer & Percy Wiggins – later this year, I won’t go into details of his performance in this article.  The Detroit-born but now San Diego-based Missy Andersen ( has released two well-received CDs – Missy Andersen in 2009 and In the Moment in 2014 – and in Porretta her close-to-an-hour set included such soul standards as Ace of Spades, Stand by Me, Tell Mama, It’s All Right and the addictive Higher and Higher.  In-between she took the tempo down for two bluesy numbers, What Kind of Man (Graziano Uliani’s favourite) and Little Johnny Taylor’s If You Love Me like You Say.  On Sunday night she came back with Ace of Spades and Stand by Me.

Wee Willie Walker and Heikki Suosalo at Porretta Soul Festival 2018 (Photo: Marjo Parinen)


  The next performer was our old friend and a frequent visitor to Porretta, Wee Willie Walker.  Actually based on an interview in Porretta three years ago, I wrote a profound feature on Willie and his career (, did an update last year and now I had a chance briefly to talk to him again just before his Friday night performance.

  Willie: “It’s been quite a year for me.  We’ve been pretty busy... which is why we do this (laughing).  It’s been a wonderful year.  We’ve been to Spain and Germany, done a lot of festivals in the California area, done the rhythm & blues cruise last October and I’ve been busy at home as well” (in the Minneapolis area).

  Willie’s CD from last year with the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra called After a While has been critically acclaimed and it’s been a big success in soul circles.  Just recently the Living Blues magazine critics put Willie at number one in The Most Outstanding Blues Singer category.  “We have new material in the works now, but the CD we just finished last year is still doing a good job for us, so right now it doesn’t need any competition from us” (laughing).  Also the upcoming CD will be cut in collaboration with Anthone Paule, his orchestra and the songwriter - and Anthony’s wife - Christine Vitale.

  “I really pray that the real soul music can make its way back to mainstream radio, so more people can hear it.  Now it’s a big problem, because now mostly only public radio stations that operate on donations play it.”

  Willie’s 50-minute set included two songs from his 1960s Goldwax period – There Goes My Used to Be and the unreleased at the time I Ain’t Gonna Cheat on You No More – and six from his latest CD: Second Chance, Hate Take a Holiday, After a While, If Only, Your Good Thing (Is About to End) and Look What You’ve Done to Me.  On Sunday night, when every performer still appears on stage but usually only do two numbers, Willie still sang – besides After a While - a slow blues number called Romance in the Dark.  Willie: “I’m just overjoyed to be back in Porretta.”


  After Terrie Odabi’s impressive stint – I’ll return to it in my feature on her – the evening was closed by the vibrant John Ellison.  He kicked off with the sparkling Some Kind of Wonderful, self-written song recorded with his group Soul Brothers Six way back in 1967.  His next two numbers were the poppy and beaty Thank You Baby for Loving Me and I’ll Be Loving You.  The tempo came down for the aching What Can You Do When You Ain’t Got Nobody, but was soon picked up again for the joyous Love Line.  After a heartfelt ballad, I Love You, John closed the show with a catchy dancer named It’s Your Lips and a melodic mid-tempo ditty with a Caribbean touch titled If I Had Just One Wish.  The last song was repeated also on Sunday night together with Love Line.  John’s dynamic show ended a magnificent Friday night, one of the best evenings in Porretta in recent years.


Don Bryant at Porretta Soul Festival 2018 (Photo: Pertti Nurmi)

  Saturday evening was opened by the excellent Don Bryant & the Bo-Keys.  Unfortunately they had to leave already on Sunday morning at six o’clock, so I wasn’t able to do an update to my last year’s in-depth feature on Don at

  The opener of Don’s over one-hour-long set was a soul-oozing version of A Nickel and a Nail.  The funky Something about You was followed by two impassioned numbers, the deep I’ll Go Crazy and the inspirational How Do I Get There.  After the funky One Ain’t enough and Everything Is Gonna Be Alright & That Driving Beat, we were treated to a deep soul ballad called I Die a Little Each Day, which Don had written for Otis Clay.  After one more jump r&b (Is There Someone Else on Your Mind) and three funky items – Can’t Hide the Hurt, What Kind of Love, Drive on – one more soul ballad from Don’s mid-60s Hi period, the heart-rending Don’t Turn Your Back on Me, and the obvious I Can’t Stand the Rain closed the show.  It was a truly thrilling hour in music.  Don was in a great voice and – similarly to Wee Willie - a couple of days ago in Living Blues Awards Don won in two categories: Comeback Artist of the Year and Best Blues Album in 2017 – New Recordings (Southern Soul).

  Changing of the guards took place, and Anthony Paule’s Soul Orchestra was in charge for the rest of the evening.  First they backed up a “rock-a-boogie” master named Mitch Woods (, then the honking Sax Gordon (, before guitarist/vocalist Alvon Johnson ( decided to hit not only the stage but the rest of the auditorium as well while doing Let’s Straighten It Out.  Still one of the background ladies, Sandy Griffith (, stepped forward to sing Proud Mary in an Ike & Tina Turner style and a touching version of Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye), made famous by Gladys Knight & the Pips in 1972.  With the exception of Don Bryant, all of the artists above performed also on Sunday night.  The boogie king Mitch Woods even invited the six dancers that he had on stage already on Thursday evening.

Percy Wiggins at Porretta Soul Festival 2018 (Photo: Marjo Parinen)


  Percy Wiggins ( was on next and his 45-minute set comprised of eight soul songs, including the funky Can’t Find Nobody (to Take Your Place), Love Is a Wonderful Thing and a dancer called It Didn’t Take Much (for Me to Fall in Love).  Among the more familiar soul standards there were I’ve never Found a Girl, Bring It on Home to Me and Love and Happiness, but the highlights were two beautiful ballads – Look What I’ve Done (to My Baby) and the immortal Book of Memories - which Percy had cut in the latter part of the 1960s.  On Sunday night we still heard It Didn’t Take Much and I’ve Never Found a Girl with a bit of Groovin’ inserted in it.

  Spencer Wiggins followed but more about him and his performances in my separate feature article.  For Swamp Dogg ( it was his third visit to Porretta, and he started his half-an-hour set with his 1964 Loma recording titled I’m the Lover Man and followed it with probably more well-known songs like Synthetic World, Total Destruction to Your Mind – these two were rerun on Sunday - Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe and (the Bee Gees’) I’ve Got to Get a Message to You.  I was mostly pleased with his melodic, country-tinged ballad called The World Beyond.

Ernie Johnson at Porretta Soul Festival 2018 (Photo: Pertti Nurmi)

  The wonderful and lively Lacee deserves a feature of her own... and shall get it.  After Lacee, it was Ernie Johnson’s turn to finish this almost 6-hour concert.  This Louisiana-born singer, who’s now residing in Dallas, Texas, started recording already in the late 1960s and to this date, I believe, he has released eight albums on such labels as Ronn, Paula, Waldoxy, Phat Sounds and on his own Stairway Ent Records, which has existed for six years.  Some of the blues songs in Ernie’s set included I’m in the Mood for the Blues, You Gonna Miss Me and the jump It’s Party Time, but soul fans appreciated more Dreams to Remember (with some other songs inserted in it) and an easy mid-tempo dancer called Move Along, which we heard again the next night along with a tribute to Bobby Bland named That’s the Way Love Is. 


  Besides the 3 ½ -hour concert still on Sunday night - with its “grande finale” with all the performers sharing the vocals on Bring It on Home to Me - there were a couple of other interesting attractions on that day.  During the concert three painted portraits were presented to Wee Willie Walker, Terrie Odabi and the unforgettable “one more time” MC, Rick Hutton.  Already on Saturday “The Sweet Soul Music Award” was handed over to the founder and editor of Blues Music Magazine, Mr. Art Tibaldi.

  At 11 o’clock on Sunday in a church named “Chiesa dei Cappuccini” a 30-minute, touching gospel concert with Spencer & Percy Wiggins and Wee Willie Walker took place.  Five hours later we saw the world premiere of Marco Della Fonte’s documentary called A Soul Journey about the history of Porretta soul music festivals.  This 1 h 15 min movie will be available on DVD at a later point.

  Once more, thank you Porretta and especially Graziano Uliani for a remarkable soul music festival!

© Heikki Suosalo

Anthony Paule and Derrick “D’MAR” Martin at Porretta Soul Festival 2018 (Photo: Pertti Nurmi)

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