All-star hoedown and fish-fry hyping MCA Records’ “Rhythm, Country & Blues” gathered several duet combos from album while adding a few new faces. Show was promoted as a benefit for Rhythm & Blues Foundation and Country Music Foundation.
Album purports to display relationship between R&B and country music by pairing performers from each category, a conceit followed in the program. Not a precise recreation of the disc, this concert featured some additional performers , missed a few of those on record and featured a few new tunes. Show was being videotaped, filmed and 48-track-recorded by Joel Gallen at Tenth Planet production company, according to MCA, for “archival purposes only.”
Show hit its stride several numbers in, with videotaped duet of late Conway Twitty and Sam Moore singing “Rainy Night in Georgia” from “Rhythm, Country & Blues” album. Moore’s subsequent solo rendition of Twitty signature “It’s Only Make Believe” received first standing ovation of the evening, and Moore subsequently joined house band backup singers Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens as Ronnie Milsap and Patti LaBelle essayed old Sam & Dave hit “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby.”
Several of the country singers turned in surprisingly strong performances: Clint Black kept up with the Pointer Sisters on “Chain of Fools,” Reba McEntire managed to keep a grandstanding Natalie Cole from shouting her down on “Since I Fell for You,” and Ronnie Milsap gave as good as he got from characteristically histrionic Patti LaBelle on “When Something Is Wrong.”
Oddest combo of evening found Tricia Yearwood trying valiantly to harmonize with unannounced guest Bob Dylan on Lonnie Johnson’s “Tomorrow Night”; most appropriate pairings found Glen Campbell trading choruses of “Southern Nights” with its composer, Allen Toussaint, and Mickey Gilley and Ben E. King belting out “Stand By Me,” with which they’d both charted.
Show sort of fell apart at end for group encores of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,””Walking After Midnight” and especially a rendition of Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You,” which has only one verse, repeated endlessly.
House band, under direction of album’s producer Don Was, handled all of this with aplomb. Personnel included Nashville session guitarist Reggie Young, Willie Nelson’s longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael, Tom Petty sideman Benmont Tench, John Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff and several former sidemen in leader’s Was (Not Was) band.
Show was opened by Ted Hawkins, longtime Venice Beach street performer now signed to DGC Records. Joined by harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, the genre-crossing black singer-guitarist opened with his apropos version of vintage Webb Pierce hit “There Stands the Glass.”
Special commendation is due art director John Janaves for the impressive set, reminiscent of a run-down warehouse.