Catfish Keith sings the blues after 30 years

BY LU SHEN | JULY 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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After 33 years of traveling across the country and around the world, living in California, the Virgin Islands, and Mexico and touring internationally 40 times — Catfish Keith has settled down in Iowa City.

The blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist will play at 6 p.m. on July 8 in the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St.

He said Iowa City was a vital scene for folk music, blues, and jazz more than 30 years years ago.

"What first attracted me to Iowa City was that there were actually some places for me to play and hear really good music," he said.

He doesn't perform locally very often because he spends most of his time on the road traveling with wife Penny Cahill, his partner both on the road and at home.

"We travel every year," he said. "It's a good life. I like traveling. Life on road is adventure … I love playing music around and enjoying seeing things happen somewhere else."

He said even though he loves to travel, he still loves coming back to Iowa City to perform.

"I get a good crowd," he said. "People are not only from here but from all over Iowa, Illinois — some come from Chicago — all over. It's very gratifying and has grown into such a wonderful event."

Catfish said his dream has been to play concerts for people since he was 15.

Now, 35 years and 14 albums later, he is doing it. And the 2008 Blues Hall of Fame inductee said he enjoying it more than ever.

Despite his success, he acknowledged making a living playing music is difficult, and he doesn't recommend people try it. What supports him is his love for music.

"There's never been a situation where we're rich," he said. "It's up and down. It's always been a struggle. But since we've being doing it for so long, we're used to it. We have developed a solid following of devoted fans."

Catfish — who said he loves visual arts and gardening as well — said he is carrying on the blues tradition in his own oddball style.

"My latest CD is called Put on a Buzz," he said. "We had it out in time for the big fall UK tour last fall, and just now, it's hitting radio charts all over the world, on over 500 radio stations."

John Hiett, a senior librarian at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., said he listens to lots of blues — Catfish's version is different from what people usually hear.

"Keith's music come from an older time," Hiett said. "It's acoustic and more about the song. He brings a lot of feeling to it. He'll lift your spirits and amaze you with his chops."

There are maybe three world-class bluesmen in Iowa, and he's certainly one of them, Hiett said.

Marty Christensen, a co-owner of the Mill and a local musician, played with Catfish a few years ago. Christensen said he bought the Mill because it is a "great room" and a good venue for the musicians and the audience.

"I also feel like local musicians need support from club owners," said bass player Christensen. "There is a constant flow of great musicians coming out of the area … supporting local music is an important part of the mission."

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