“Let the people know the Blind Boys are coming to town and we’re going to touch them in a way they’ve probably never been touched before,” Eric “Ricky” McKinnie told Tahoe Onstage. “We hope to help them feel something they’ve never felt before. So don’t miss it when the boys are back in town.”
The Blind Boys of Alabama perform Saturday, Oct. 19, in the venerable Harrah’s Lake Tahoe South Shore Room, built in 1959, after the Blind Boys had already been performing 20 years.
The group first sang at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega. Its website writes, “To put that in perspective, the group predates the attack on Pearl Harbor and the development of the twelve-inch vinyl album (only ‘78s’ were available at the time).”
The group played civil rights fundraisers for Dr. Martin Luther King and recorded with gospel peers Mavis Staples and Robert Randolph & the Family Band and secular artists Ben Harper, Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits and Marvin Gaye.
“We’ve recorded every type of music,” McKinnie said. “We’re just all over the place. So we can sing to anybody. If they like music, they like the Blind Boys.”
While it has cut well more than 50 albums, worldwide mainstream success only came over the last decade.
“That’s true,” McKinnie said. “In the last 10 years we have five Grammys, a lifetime achievement award, we’ve been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the Helen Keller Award, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, there’s so many different things. God’s been real good to us.
“I think it’s because we reach out to everybody because we realize everybody’s important. No matter your walk in life, you’re important.”
The first Grammy was for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album in 2001 when the Blind Boys of Alabama recorded and toured with Charlie Musselwhite, John Hammond and David Lindley. The tour even included an outdoor show in Genoa, Nev., which McKinnie was a drummer with the group and not a front man.
“Everybody had a great time,” McKinnie said of the Genoa show. “When you come to a Blind Boys concert, I guarantee you we’re going to lift your spirits.”
The band has one remaining original member, Jimmy Carter. Clarence Fountain is no longer able to tour.
The album “I’ll Find a Way” was released Oct. 2. It was produced by Justin Vernon and Phil Cook.
“We have a lot of traditional gospel songs,” McKinnie said. “Phil Cook and Justin, they put a different spin on these songs.”
“We tried to find a bunch of songs that could say something substantial and not just be some academic rundown of a couple of white folks’ understanding of gospel,” Vernon says on www.blindboys.com. “I didn’t want to rewrite the book, but I also wanted to do something a little dirtier, something approaching that early ‘60s Sam Cooke/SAR Records sound, which is my favorite era of gospel.”
Describing the upcoming international tour, McKinnie said, “We’re going to sing songs from our Grammy winning records and introduce our brand new CD. So were going to give them some of the old and some of new.”
McKinnie lost his eyesight when he was 23 years old.
“I’m not blind, I just can’t see,” he said. “That means, I lost my sight but I never lost my direction. I will always be rooted and grounded in what I’m doing.”
The Blind Boys of Alabama
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19
Where: Harrah’s Lake Tahoe
Oct. 24 — Washington D.C. at The Hamilton
Oct. 26 — New York, New York at Terminal 5
Nov. 2 — San Francisco, CA at Seva’s 35th Anniversary Benefit Concert – The Fillmore
Nov. 7 — Minneapolis MN at Cedar Cultural Center
Nov. 8 — Milwaukee, WI at Pabst Theater
Nov. 9 — Chicago, IL at Old Town School of Folk Music
Nov. 14 — Tarrytown, NY at Tarrytown Music Hall
Nov. 17 — Rio de Janeiro at Back2Black Festival – Estacao Leopoldina
Nov. 20 — Kinston, Ontario at Grand Theater