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KCCK celebrating blues hosts with sold-out party
Bob DeForest, John Heim in the spotlight surrounded by all-star musicians
As the title suggests, Jazz 88.3 KCCK-FM has long been known for its award-winning jazz programming. But the radio station housed at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids also sings the blues, with Bob DeForest of Cedar Rapids and John Heim of Marion leading the band — or in their case, multiple bands.
Nearly two dozen of the brightest and bluest musicians from across the country and on the high seas will be rattling the rafters at the Olympic South Side Theater beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday night, Jan. 29, for the sold-out daBluesapalooza.
It’s billed as a party 30 years in the making.
“It was the first Saturday in January of 1992 when Bob DeForest started on KCCK,” general manager Dennis Green said.
The station had aired some blues shows, but Green said that to the best of their knowledge, this was KCCK’s first full-hour blues show, “and he has done that pretty much with hardly a week off, for 30 years running.”
That hour has stretched into four. Listeners can tune in to hear DeForest at the mic from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturdays on “da Blues with Bobby D.”
It’s his passion for the music that makes DeForest special, Green noted.
“Bob saw this need when not very many other people really did. Even though the blues has a long and great history in Iowa and Eastern Iowa and Cedar Rapids in particular,” Green said. “We have always had just a scary good blues scene going back three-plus decades.
“I think about a bunch of high school students in the early ’70s getting together in their first band, and those were Denny McMurrin, Craig Erickson, Dennis McPartland, who have all become legendary names over the years, and Dan Johnson. We’ve had people like Tom Giblin who have gone out and toured nationally and internationally. And then, of course, there's Kevin Burt, who won the International Blues Challenge, the only person to ever win the triple crown of blues traditional guitar, harmonica and vocal. Nobody's ever won all three of those before he did it back in 2018. So the music has a rich, rich history here.”
And enough of a following that a Friday blues show was added in the early 2000s, and Green said that around 2005, Heim took over the slot. Now known as the Big Mo Blues Show, it runs from 6 to 9 p.m.
A former music teacher in Marion’s Linn-Mar district, as well as a singer, tuba- and bass player, he was paralyzed from the shoulders down in May 2018, after tripping, falling and hitting his neck in a freak accident. With extensive therapy, he returned to the airwaves in October 2018.
“I've never seen anybody who attacks their physical therapy like John does,” Green said. “ … We had already designed the studio to be handicapped accessible when we did our most recent remodel. But I was very pleased when all the stuff we thought was going to work did work when we needed it.”
DeForest and Heim complement each other, bringing their particular strengths and interests to the airwaves.
“Bob is a lifetime music fan, and John brings the players perspective, because he has been a performing musician for most of his life, from blues to jump blues to Dixieland style jazz. Bob's show really is also quite focused on the music scene in Eastern Iowa, although he does some themed shows that are with the Texas-Louisiana sound, and other things, as well,” Green said.
“John has fans all over the country. He regularly gets phone calls from California and Alaska and parts of the South,” Green noted, citing Heim’s tribute hour to the old Beaker Street underground radio show.
When it came to planning the party, Green said finding the musicians was the easy part.
"I literally just sent out a couple of emails and said, ‘Hey, we want to celebrate John and Bobby at a party — who would like to come?’ And next thing I knew, I had two dozen musicians all lined up.“
What he had initially pictured as "a freewheeling jam“ turned into an evening where various bands and musicians will take the stage, too. Slated to appear are Homebrewed, Johnny Kilowatt, Molly Nova and The Hawk featuring Bryce Janey, John Resch and Doggin’ Out, Tanya English Band, Evan Stock Band, Craig Erickson, Gloria Hardimann and Al Naylor, as well as Jeff Taylor, a piano player from Boston.
Anchoring the event are multiple Iowa Blues and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members: Dan Johnson, Dennis “Daddy-O” McMurrin, BillyLee Janey, Nate Hines, Tom “T-Bone” Giblin and Eric Douglas. Kevin “BF” Burt will Zoom in from the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise in the Caribbean.
“It's a real tribute to Bob and John that the music community says, ‘Yes, we want to celebrate what they've done for us and what they've done for the music in Iowa for three decades,’ ” Green said.
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