Sights & Sounds: Howlin Mercy Returns to Homecoming
Blues band Howlin Mercy will perform at the Dearborn Homecoming at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
After a few years away, Howlin Mercy will be returning to the Dearborn Homecoming on Saturday from 5-6 p.m. to perform at the Food Court Stage at Ford Field. They last played the event in 2008, and the blues band is eager to return.
“We're excited to come back,” said Andrew Johnson, lead singer and trombonist. “The crowd's always been so appreciative.
“For me, the blues–especially at Homecoming, you can have a crowd out there from 8 years old to 80 years old–and the crowd can really appreciate it from that wide age span. That's the great thing about the blues–it really can cross a lot of generations."
A long-time blues aficionado, Johnson gained tremendous respect for the genre and its range of styles and influences that stretch through the Mississippi Delta and reach down south to Texas and New Orleans, going as far back in time as Memphis in 1912 and the urban streets of 1930s Chicago, as popularized by Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home, Chicago.”
That appreciation is evident in Mercy’s cover version of “Chicago,” which pays tribute to the classic bluesman by interspersing the lyrics with historical anecdotes about Robert Johnson’s life. Although the blues man only made a few recordings, he left behind a legacy of style that has inspired numerous musicians since his death in 1938, including modern rock legends like Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Robert Plant and Eric Clapton.
“Robert Johnson was one of the originators of the blues,” Johnson said. “He only recorded a handful of songs before he died, but his influence has really been an edict to the real bedrock of classic rock and blues.”
Howlin Mercy, on the other hand, has been a Detroit staple for more than 15 years.
Formed in 1994, the band is based in Flat Rock and makes regular appearances at Detroit-area blues clubs like Memphis Smoke in Royal Oak and Nancy Whiskey in Corktown. Fronted by Johnson, the group of mid-40s musicians is rounded out with Mike Kobylasz on guitar, Paul Gorman on bass and Dave Flanigan on drums.
Their CD, Bayou, was released in 2009 and includes original material written by Johnson. Inspired by his visits to the French Quarter of New Orleans and its rich history of blues, which incorporates Cajun and the faster-tempo Zydeco styles, the album is heavily influenced by the south.
"To me, the blues really tells a story," Johnson said. "The songs tell a story of, really, the fabric of America, the lost causes and lost lives."
“It seems like everybody's been touched by the blues at one time or another in their lives … people can relate to it," Johnson added. "Everyone's had their heart broken at some time, everybody's lost somebody in their life, everybody's been down, everybody's had problems. That's what the blues reflect on.”