Interview/Live Show Review Zola Moon at The Wild Card
Zola Moon at The Wild Card

I'm sorry to say that I was unable to attend Cynthia Manley's surprise birthday party for Zola Moon. Evidently, the stars were not in alignment, the planets must have shifted out of place. One shifty planet in particular was especially troublesome. Saturn of Cerritos Auto Center, where the hubris is as sweet and sticky as their complimentary doughnuts. Saturn of Cerritos, California, where I'd made an apointment three days in advance for the privledge of purchasing two tires. Saturn of Cerritos, where I was told that it would take just a little over four hours to install my new tires. Yes, those friendly folks at Saturn, who charged me fifty-five dollars to mount my new tires, but didn't bother to secure the spare tire and jack in my Saturn Coupe's wonderfully versatile plastic trunk.

But why dwell on shifty planets when we can admire the moon? A post modern blues moon. The one and only Zola Moon!

For the past three years, I have listened to Zola Moon's four CDs more often than any other music. Zola Moon has surpassed her mentors in composition, inspiration and execution. I am truly a fan; so it was a pleasure to attend her birthday celebration at The Wild Card in Gardena, California.

One of the benefits of catching a performance with Zola and her band is the location of the stage. Whether she appears at a local festival, a posh nightclub or a corner bar that is showing it's age, they are always unique in their own way; a place one wants to visit again and again.

The Wild Card is no exception. Located next door to the crumbling Patio Hotel, some folks might be reluctant to go inside. Many would prefer a newer establishment; a place where the galvanized walls are prefabricated and there is an adjacent souvenir shop where one can purchase t-shirts, caps and buttons to promote the club and not the entertainers.

The first tip-off is the parking lot. Instead of an army of SUV's is a collection of vehicles that range from Toyotas to Harleys, mini-vans and Hummers. The cars in front of The Wild Card are as diverse as the patrons inside. The people who call Southern California their home.

Inside, the club was nearly as warm as the hot summer sun outside. The free buffet, standard fare for the club, includes a whole roast pig with all the trimmings. No buffalo wings here, folks; and when was the last time you've seen that classic picture of those dogs playing poker?

So, soak up the atmosphere, smell that pig cooking and enjoy one of the finest blues bands of our time.

One would think that a band playing on a hot summer's day would be tempted to coast through their repertoire. Instead, Zola and the boys treated this friendly crowd to the most electrifying performance imaginable.

The owner of The Wild Card is Yvette Evil, a no nonsense, take charge gal who just happened to be celebrating her own birthday, as well. I rose from my chair by the back door, intending to wish her a happy birthday when I suddenly found myself nose to nose with Yvette. She pointed to the back door. "Make sure that door stays closed when the band is playing. When the band stops, open that door ALL THE WAY and keep it that way until the band comes back. THAT'S YOUR JOB." Before I could open my mouth, She was already walking away. Nice gams, Yvette. I'll be a gentleman and not reveal the lady"s age. Come down to the club and she'll be happy to tell you herself. Yvette is proud of her age and rightly so. She looks fabulous.

After the band set the mood with a couple of blues standards, Zola was introduced and opened her first set with DOWN HOME BLUES, followed by one of her own post modern blues compostions. ALLEY CAT is a delightfully disturbing tale of feline philosophy. While Zola playfully pawed the air while singing a soft, Eartha Kit growl, guitarist Michael Carter delivered a beautiful accompanyment to this tune. Michael is a new face in the band. His soft jazz melody was in stark contrast to the blistering blues licks he plays so proficiently.

With the exception of Zola's unique version of Del Shannon's classic hit, RUNAWAY, the first set was a dozen songs of Zola's own, post modern blues compositions. Despite the heat, Zola delivered her songs with power and authority. Her smile was as bright as the California sun as she strutted and shuffled behind her microphone. I enjoyed watching the crowd, as their attention turned away from the ball game on the television to enjoy the music.

After the first set, I captured by Zola and took her outside to chat. I asked her how playing the smaller clubs compared to doing the larger clubs and festivals. "It's more intimate; you can see the audience better and sometimes, it's just more fun. There's a lot of energy you get from a big field of people, but that's a different kind of show. In the smaller clubs, people are packed in like sardines and they really get loose and into it."

As usual, our conversation ran into overtime. We returned to our places as the crowd chanted Zola! Zola! Zola! She obliged them by opening her second set with NEVER GIVE UP ON YA. The bar belonged to Zola, now. Nevertheless, she momentarily left the stage to the band as she ran to do what she should have done instead of chatting with yours truly. The crowd wasn't fooled, laughing and teasing her as she ran back to finish one of my favorites, LUCKY ME.

Zola always delivers her performances like a polished professional. However, I love it when she loses herself in her own music, as she did with HOT TEXAS SUN. I love the way she rises to her toes, eyes closed and a look on her face reminiscent of Janis Joplin. With Michael Carter providing excellent accompanyment, she finished this tune with an incredible scream, once again displaying the range and sheer power of her voice.

While a half dozen adorable little girls flitted about the room, one of the busy ladies whispered into Zola's ear. Zola announced: "They're ready to bring the pig out." Not missing a beat, a gentlemen who bore a striking resemblance to Judge Ito hollared, "Hey, quit talkin' about my girlfriend!" Even the normally stoic band had to laugh at that one.

Time for lunch, the crowd lined up to enjoy the sumptuous meal the ladies prepared that day. A meal consisting of a whole roast pig, fried chicken, cole slaw, cornbread, potato salad and a macaroni and cheese casserole. It must have been a furnace in that kitchen, so I'd like to thank them now for their efforts to feed this happy, hungry crowd.

The band opened the next set with Michael doing the vocal on I'M TELLIN' YOU and drummer Jerry Olson's own gritty version of James Brown's I FEEL GOOD. Despite the heat, Micheal, Jerry and bassman Eric Williams took turns with solos that had the crowd cheering. Pretty damn good, boys!

Zola returned to the stage with a heartfelt rendition of TIME IS ON MY SIDE. She stepped down the stage to walk into the crowd, dancing along with them and obviously enjoying their enthusiasm as much as they appreciated hers.

After two more of Zola's original tunes, Zola introduced the audience to her special guest, bluesman Johnny Ray. Johnny Ray is a giant of a man (to quote Lou Costello: "If he fell down, he'd be home") who finally gave up trying to raise the microphone stand and delivered his renditions of LIGHT MY FUEL and I'M READY. Both tunes were well recieved by the crowded dance floor. Zola returned to the stage to entertain all with four more of her post modern blues tunes.

After a short break, the band once again opened the set with a sweet version of DOWN HOME BLUES. Michael is newly wed to his wife, Tara. I had the pleasure of chatting with her and found her to be as charming as she is lovely. "He practices constantly," she confided. It certainly shows; the man knows how to use his axe.

It wouldn't be a Zola Moon performance without the audience calling out for Janus Joplin's PIECE OF MY HEART, to which she happily complied.

The set ended with all of those adorable children crowding the stage to sing a shy but heartfelt rendition of HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

After a short break to enjoy a piece of Yvette and Zola's gigantic birthday cake, Zola and her band returned to the stage for the last four numbers of the day.

I'm an emotional old hippie; so,to watch people of four different races, aged from seven to seventy, sharing the dance floor was incredibly moving. Then, Tara Carter eased onto the dance floor and soon had them all holding hands while they danced together. Just sitting here now, writing that moment down, causes my heart to swell, as it did then.

I left the Wild Card to hugs and handshakes from old friends and folks I'd never met until that wonderful birthday.

So, you ask, how old is Zola Moon? I'm happy to tell you: Zola Moon is timeless, immortal. Her name will be spoken, her music heard long after those little plastic Saturns cease to occupy our crowded freeways.

Don't look to the sky to find Zola Moon. You can visit her website at ZOLAMOON.com. Be sure to say hello and sign up to be notified of her future engagements. You can purchase her music at CDBABY.com. Come join the crowd. You'll have a natural ball!


--Pat Benny