Gig of the Week: Southern man of two lands

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Far-travelled American bluesman Leo LaDell always dreamed of making a living playing music in the Deep South.

He just didn’t expect it to happen in the deep south of New Zealand instead of Alabama or Mississippi.

Originally from Virginia, the singer-guitarist shifted to Dunedin from the United States five years ago and gigs full-time with his band King Leo and The Growling Dogs.

The four-piece plays a string of free JazzFest shows in Queenstown and Arrowtown at the weekend.

“I ended up in Dunedin because my wife got a job there as a nurse,” LaDell says.

“At first, I was a bit concerned my style of blues wouldn’t be that well received in NZ – but fortunately I had nothing to worry about.

“The Kiwis have a real feeling for any kind of roots music and being in the band has turned into a full-time job.”

LaDell enjoyed success with blues outfits Chicago Skinny and the Delta Sonics when he based himself in Denver, Colorado, in the 1990s.

He also got to rub shoulders with some blues greats, sharing a stage with the likes of Bo Diddley and Big Bill Morganfield, son of the legendary Muddy Waters.

“When these guys would roll into town for a gig, they would always need a backing band for the night,” LaDell says.

“If you had a reputation of being able to deliver the goods, then you’d be likely to get a call.

“Just meeting guys like Bo Diddley, never mind playing with them, was an amazing experience.

“I remember Bo gave our drummer a lesson on how to do the famous Bo Diddley beat and I think the guy has dined out on it since.”

King Leo and The Growling Dogs have built a following in the South Island by promoting their own concerts as well as being regulars on the music bar circuit.

Their double CD Mad Love has also been selling well.

The group was invited back to JazzFest after going down well at last year’s event. “We had great fun, did a few shows and it was all good,” LaDell says.

“This time we’ll probably go back to playing more traditional blues standards from people like BB King and Muddy Waters as well as stuff from our album.

“I’ll also have a few new band members with me so that should shake things up a bit too.”