Royal Flush: Those Delta Rhythm Kings

by Mike Somers

"Hey baby!" sweetly shouts vocalist Jill Messing as Those Delta Rhythm Kings launch into another set of high-energy traditional swing and jump blues. Pushed by a solid horn and harp big band sound, the Kings have been spreading the blues message as one of mid-Michigan's most popular live acts. For the fans of traditional blues who like a contemporary edge and confident swagger with their music, Those Delta Rhythm Kings deliver the best of both worlds.

Starting out as a dixieland band in 1978, the Kings have expanded and evolved into one of the most sought after local swing and jump blues bands. In August 1996, the band was voted as the best area blues band in the first annual Capital Area Blues Talent Competition held on the campus of Michigan State University during the Michigan Festival. That honor allowed the band to travel to Memphis, Tennessee to represent Michigan in the International Blues Talent Competition. In addition to this national exposure, the band has been working a variety of blues clubs and benefits and developing a dedicated following of fans.

"We all have our own set of influences which we bring to the material we perform," states Cool Ray Aleshire, who handles the harp work and shares the vocal duties with Jill. Ray's brother, bassist Lightnin' Rod Aleshire, and master guitarist John Davidson share affection for the Chicago blues sound. "Jill favors the Texas and New Orleans sound," says Ray. He continues, "We like the old songs done in the old way. Most of the tunes we do were written in the '50s or sound as if they were. We consider ourselves to be revivalists."

Providing the big blue beat for this group's seven-member cast is drummer Bad Bob Carter. Bob adds exceptional discipline to the band's sound, which allows the Kings to groove and flex while retaining a very professional tightness.

The horn section, named "the dancing saxophones," completes a sound with a combination of the best pre-War Chicago, early Memphis, California jump, and Texas swing. Veteran performer Dennis Cullinan and Chicago native George Hirai, who doubles on bass, provide some tasty brass work which really adds color to the Kings' sound.

A real gem for Those Delta Rhythm Kings is vocalist Jill Messing. "I do some shoutin' to open seats, but the real voice of the bunch is Jill," says Cool Ray. When Jill takes hold of an audience with her graceful strut and strong, clear voice, every ear and eye in the club is drawn in by her magnetic presence and passionate delivery. This is one lady who sho' nuff knows how to sing the blues and sparkle like a star while doing it.

Finding each other over time by placing ads in local music stores and from friends in other groups, Those Delta Rhythm Kings share a common ground firmly rooted in the blues. Rehearsal time every week in between club dates allows the Kings to work on original material. One local blues club, Capitol Hill Station, plans on recording a live CD which will include the band. Club owner Richard Baibak says, "The blues are the rules here, and the Kings are one of our most popular local acts." Watching a live performance of Those Delta Rhythm Kings is currently the only way to appreciate the feel and respect these musicians have for the material which has thrilled and exposed audiences to a very wide variety of traditional swing and jump blues. With club dates lined up in Lansing, Owosso, Grand Rapids, and Detroit, Those Delta Rhythm Kings will be expanding their kingdom throughout 1997. Great Googly Moogly!

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