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All the artists and other key people of Porretta Soul Festival 2019 (Photo: Dave Thomas)

† Itís always heart-warming to arrive in Porretta and meet with all the friends not only from Italy, but also from various other European countries and the U.S., who share one common interest: unconditional love for southern soul music.† United by this intoxicating sound, in a cosy and friendly atmosphere weíre all able to spend several sunny days and enjoy real live music created by top-notch musicians and outstanding artists.

Don Bryant at Porretta Soul Festival 2019 (Photo: Dave Thomas)

† I arrived only on Friday, July the 19th, so I missed Don Bryant & the Bo-Keysí performance on Thursday evening, but I watched it on YouTube.† By courtesy of Lepida TV, you are able to watch all the concerts at† Donís 11-song set was almost identical to his song-list last year in Porretta with such deep ballads as Iíll go Crazy, I Die a Little Each Day and I Canít Stand the Rain and funky numbers like Something about You, Is There Someone Else on Your Mind, Everything Is Gonna Be Alright, One Ainít Enough and What Kind of Love, but thereís one song that Don had written for Ann Peebles in 1971, 99 Pounds, which is now added to the list.†

† A painted portrait of Don was presented to him at the end of his set and earlier that evening James Brownís sidekick, the saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, received the Sweet Soul Music Lifetime Achievement Award.


† The first hour of the evening was devoted to the Burundian-born but London-based J.P. Bimeni and the 6-piece Black Belts out of Spain and their mostly funky and danceable music Ė including a nice version of Keep on Running Ė with a couple of ballads thrown in.

Leon Beal at Porretta Soul Festival 2019 (Photo: Dave Thomas)

† The second hour we spent with the impressive Leon Beal (, who was backed by the 7-piece Luca Giordano Band, including one Sax Gordon.† A native of Jasper, Florida, Leon is residing these days in Boston, Massachusetts, and has so far released three full-length CDs and a few singles.† You canít go wrong with Donít Cry No more, if youíre looking for a storming starter, and the dancer called Hole in the Wall didnít let the tempo drop down either.† Slow and churchy readings of None of Us Are Free and The Glory of Love were interspersed with the peppy Keep on Pushing and Cry to Me.† Curtis Salgado shared the vocals on the driving Ainít That Good News, until Leon took it home with inspirational versions of A Change Is Gonna Come and Still Here.† I think that Mr. Beal surprised us all with his truly dynamic show.

Anthony Paule at Porretta Soul Festival 2019 (Photo: Dave Thomas)

† For the fifth year in a row, the magnificent Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra ( was self-evidently appointed the house band, and they played in the same line-up as last year with two additions: Robert Sudduth on baritone sax and Omega Rae Brooks as one of the three background vocalists.† After instrumentals, Anthonyís first vocalist was another background singer and familiar to us from last year, Sandy Griffith, who did Kiss Me like You Mean It and a touching version of Neither One of Us.† The next lady was a young and more contemporary songstress out of Chicago named Khylah B, and she sang Until You Come Back to Me and the Ike & Tina Turner influenced Proud Mary.

Willie West and Annika Chambers hit the stage next, but since Iíll do profound features on both of them later I skip them this time and go straight to two gentlemen out of Memphis, who finished the evening, Messrs Chilly Bill Rankin and Jerry Jones.† They had been on the bill in Porretta already five years ago and now they participated again this 32nd edition of the festival.† Billís guiding star was Otis Redding Ė hence Hard to Handle and Iíve Been Loving You too Long Ė and to a degree Johnnie Taylor Ė Last Two Dollars -, whereas Jerry chose to sing Solomon Burkeís Got to Get You off My Mind, Luther Ingramís If Loving You Is Wrong I Donít Want to Be Right (unfortunately this interpretation was too raw and rough, nuance-free for my taste; see, Iím a big Luther fan) and Sam & Daveís You Got Me Humminí.† It was not only that one song, as actually Bill and Jerry metamorphosed into Porrettaís Sam & Dave for the rest of the evening with hits like Hold On! Iím a Cominí, I Thank You, When Something Is Wrong with My Baby and Soul Man.


Curtis Salgado ( out of Portland, Oregon, entertained us with his four-piece band for the first hour on Saturday evening.† His 11-song package was quite varied ranging from straight blues to the Motown-esque Hard to Feel the Same about Love, to mid-tempo toe-tapping bluesoul numbers like Walk a Mile in My Blues and Both Sorry over Nothiní (by Tower of Power) and to Larry Williamsí stormy rocker, Slow Down.† LaRhonda Steel helped Curtis on two O.V. Wright songs, the slow Nobody but You and the finger-snapping Gonna Forget about You.† Curtisí third tribute to O.V. was the slow and intense Born All Over.

† Another Portland, Oregon artist, LaRhonda Steele (, is no newcomer, as she had been in Porretta already two years ago.† She was backed by Anthony Paulís Soul Orchestra right after three instrumentals (Bring It on Home, Goiní Home and Funky Donkey Time) and after the orchestra had first backed Omega Rae on two numbers (Iím Not Gonna Cry and I Wish) and then the Australian-born but now London-based Georgia van Etten, who Ė besides singing - is really good in creating mouth trumpet sounds.† She sang Your Love Is so Doggone and Sugar.† For starters LaRhonda paid tribute to Aretha Franklin with Rock Steady, Respect and Chain of Fools, then covered pop songs like Love the One Youíre with and Imagine and finished her set with Al Greenís Take Me to the River, B.B. Kingís Rock Me Baby and (again) Arethaís Spirit in the Dark.

WEE WILLIE WALKER Ė a short interview

Wee Willie Walker and Heikki Suosalo at Porretta Soul Festival 2019 (Photo: Marjo Parjanen)

† Everybodyís favourite, Wee Willie Walker (, was on next, but already prior to his performance I had conducted my regular yearly update interview with him.† Willie: ďSo many wonderful things have happened during this last year.† Weíve been working a lot in California and Bay areas, where there are a lot of special festivals.Ē

† ďCurrently weíre working on a new CD, which will be recorded in September.† We plan to experiment with some of the material during the festival here to see what people think.† Iím doing it with Anthonyís orchestra.† Weíre one family now.† Itís nothing like anything Iíve done.† Itís totally different.† Itís still in the soul bag, but now these special backup vocalists are sending things in different directions... but itís still soul.† Also Iím glad to be back in Porretta.† Itís like homeĒ ( †

† Indeed, on Saturday evening Willie tested four new songs.† There was a fine soul ballad called Make Your Own Good News, the mid-tempo What Is It Weíre Not Talking About and another tender ballad named Over and Over and the revived, sped-up version of Willieís 1968 deep ballad, Warm to Cool to Cold.† Rest of the program was familiar with such funky numbers like Feel like Breaking up Somebodyís Home, Iíve been watching you and Read between the Lines.† Add to that still the slow and sentimental I Donít Want to Take a Chance and After a While, and you get one hourís worth of uncompromising soul music.

† The lovely Wendy Moten hit the stage next, but since sheíll get a special feature in the future I jump right over to the last artist of the evening, Tony Wilson, also tagged as The Young James Brown.† Indeed, Tony is a showman with many James Brown steps and acrobatic antics, and it makes you breathless just to watch him do funky numbers like Get up offa That Thing, Cold Sweat, Get on the Good Foot, Soul Power, I Feel Good, The Big Payback, Super Bad, Get Up Get Into It Get Involved and Sex Machine.† There were long solos played by the musicians in the orchestra and for certain numbers Tony invited guests from an Australian group called the Sweethearts and for the impassioned Itís a Manís Manís Manís World a talented violinist named Judy Lei.† If you, like me, have witnessed the master himself at work, you may have second thoughts about this act and his singing, but he seemed to go down well in Porretta and he certainly excited the crowd.


LaRhonda Steele ja Pistoia Gospel Singers at the church concert of Porretta Soul Festival 2019 (Photo: Marjo Parjanen)

† What do good people do on Sunday mornings?† They go to church, of course.† At 11 am in Chiesa dei Cappuccini in Porretta the 10-piece Pistoia Gospel Singers sang some well-known spirituals and LaRhonda Steele joined them for Helen Baylorís slow Music Is the Voice of God and for the massive Edwin Hawkins Singers 1969 hit, Oh Happy Day.

† The entertainers for the first hour on Sunday evening were The Sweethearts, an all-female self-contained group from Australia comprising up to 30 members.† They were formed over thirty years ago and their previous visit to Porretta was two years ago.† Their program consisted of many familiar r&b numbers, but also a few originals.

† When Anthonyís Soul Orchestra took the stage, they first kicked off with three instrumentals (Bring It on Home, Willie Walk and Canít Get the Time of Day) and then backed one of the background vocalists, Larry Batiste out of Oakland, California, on You Met Your Match and a bluesoul ballad called I Donít Know Why.† Khylah B came back for Knock on Wood and What a Man, originally cut by Linda Lyndell in 1968.

† After Willie Westís and Georgia van Ettenís two-song sets, LaRhonda Steele repeated her Rock Me Baby and Spirit in the Dark, before Curtis Salgado and Wee Willie did a duet on Soothe Me and the HIGHLIGHT of the evening, the desperately slow and dramatic Help, which only Willie and Tina Turner know how to do live.† Willie still carried on with the funky If Only, the new What Is It Weíre Not Talking About and Your Good Thing (Is about to End).

† Chilly Bill did a nice version of Clarence Carterís Slip Away, and together with Jerry Jones they returned to their Sam & Dave routine with When Something Is Wrong with My Baby and Soul Man.† After Wendy Motenís two-song set (about that in a separate article), Tony Wilson came on stage to dance to Good Foot and Sex Machine, until it was time for the Grande Finale, started by the irreplaceable MC, Rick Hutton, with all the acts joining in for I Canít Turn You Loose.† (Acknowledgements to Graziano Uliani, Anthony Paule, Dave Thomas and Marjo Parjanen).

© Heikki Suosalo

Pee Wee Ellis at Porretta Soul Festival 2019 (Photo: Dave Thomas)

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