Bonnie Raitt, Sippie Wallace and Steve Nardella – Royal Oak Music Theatre, Royal Oak, Michigan
By ERIC MOBEY
There was something for everybody Friday night at the Royal Oak Theatre. The featured artist, Bonnie Raitt, shared the bill with Steve Nardella and the sensational Sippie Wallace. A lesser artist would have been threatened by the lively sets of Nardella and Ms. Wallace, but the confident Bonnie Raitt was unwavered.
Ann Arborites Steve Nardella and his band started the show on a lively note. Their set featured an array of styles from Blues and Rockabilly to straightahead, vintage Rock and Roll. Their performance was admirable for an opening act and helped to set a good tone for the rest of the evening.
Eighty-one-year-old Sippie Wallace followed Nardella in a most memorable appearance. Blueslady Wallace charmed the crowd with her Depression-era ragtime blues.
Sippie is a favorite of Bonnie Raitts’ and she gave her ample room to steal the hearts of the receptive audience. Backed by the tuxedoed Easy Street Jazz Band, Sippie worked her way through 11 songs.
Ms. Wallace suffered a stroke five years ago and was confined to a wheelchair. However, you can’t keep a good woman like Sippie down for long and she has recouperated to where she can stand on stage once again.
SIPPIES’ HUMOROUS song introductions and down-right assertiveness added to her still-strong vocals. She received appreciative applause every time she queried the audience with “how am I doin’?” Everytime she was ready to deliver a song, she would nod to her keyboardist with a demonstrative “Maestro, if you please” or “okay, maestro.”
Bonnie Raitt joined Sippie and the Easy Street Jazz Band for the last two songs, closing the set with a roof-raising version of “Women Be Wise.” This song showcased the fine band with solos from all members. Sippie had let her fellow Detroiters know that this lady can still sing the blues.
Finally, after a brief intermission, Ms. Raitt took the stage and proceeded to rock the socks off all those in attendance. Her raw energy and strong vocals are not for the meek or laid-back. Unlike other female vocalists, who sometimes appear fragile alongside their all-male bands, Raitt steps right in and plays along.
HER ABILITY ON electric guitar adds greatly to the performance. Not one to play into the helpless female role, Railt moves and plays in a style that would appear contrived by most female rock singers. Yet Raitt does not come off like the women in Sippies “Hard Boiled Mama.”
Ms. Raitt seemed especially pleased to have Sippie Wallace along on this outing. Her admiration for Sippie was verbalized throughout the evening. While other teen-agers of her generation were influenced by pop music of the day, Raitt was sampling Sippie’s old records. This seems odd when you consider her father is Broadway slnger-actor John Raitt. Personally, I’m glad she didn’t get in, say, “Oaklahoma.”
The concert was a good mix of several styles from Sam and Dave’s “And I Thank You” to a different version of Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” She was particularly striking on ‘Three-Time Loser” with low-down blues vocal that was punctuated with a great saxophone solo.
In fact, horns were predominant throughout the evening. This fine musicianship lifted both Sippie and Bonnies’ performance. On “Give It Up,” Bonnies’ band was joined by two members of the Easy Street Jazz Band. The combined force of trombone, two clarinettes and Freebo’s tuba augmented Bonnies’ vocal tremendously.
One seldom sees this abundance of talent and professionalism in one show. In these inflationary times performances seldom equal the hefty ticket prices.
I’m reminded of Sippie Wallaces song with the line: “You can make me do what you want me to, but you gotta know how to do it.” I don’t know what this show did to get Nardella, Sippie and Bonnie to do what they did, but they did know how to do it.