Eldridge “Big Cat” Tolefree and the Hipnotics light up Sly’s.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Eldridge “Big Cat” Tolefree and the Hipnotics have a case of the blues that’s on scale with their stage presence. Tolefree cites his East Bay hometown Russell City, which is “just across the tracks” from Hayward and Union City, as the source of that sensibility, one heavily influenced by farming families who migrated there from the South.
“Blues is the fabric of American music,” he says. “It’s the original art form of America. It’s really soul music.”
Tolefree performed as a backup singer for big names like Luther Vandross, Gladys Knight and Ray Charles, but quickly made a name for himself on the West Coast blues scene solo.
“I tell different stories that make people feel good, man,” he says. Tolefree has been honored by the Bay Area Blues Society a number of times, including an award for New Blues Artist of the Year in 2005. “I use the same backbeats as traditional blues just so folks can recognize it – same vibe with some of the catchier blues tunes,” he says.
A third generation musician, he remembers when Russell City had one school and one church.
“It was a beautiful place,” he added, a community based on family and faith where people had to take care of each other. He learned his love of blues from big names like Jimmy McCracklin, who remains a dominant influence for Tolefree, and his father, Enrique.
“That was all we heard at home, either blues from my dad or gospel from my mom,” he says.
Joined by the Hipnotics’ two guitarists, drummer, bassist and keyboardist, Tolefree adds there’s no indecision on where they’ll play when visiting. “[Sly’s] is my exclusive place to play in Monterey,” he says.
ELDRIDGE “BIG CAT” TOLEFREE and THE HIPNOTICS play 9pm. Friday, March 25, at Sly McFly’s, 700 Cannery Row, Monterey. 649-8050.