Albert Cummings has loved Wichita since the first time he performed here, arriving “virtually unknown” to find a line waiting to see him at the now-closed Roadhouse on North Broadway.
“It was great,” he said. “I don’t know how many times we played the Roadhouse. Then we played the Wichita zoo a couple times. I remember we’d get to go see the gorillas behind the scenes. That was awesome.”
Cummings, hailed as one of the best blues guitarist-vocalists in the business, headlines a full evening of music Saturday at the Brickyard. Starting at 4 p.m., the lineup includes the Terry Quiett Band, Kentucky Gentlemen and Ms. Lady Dee “Me & the Boyz,” who won last weekend’s Wichita Blues Challenge.
Cummings grew up and lives in western Massachusetts – “the pretty side of the state,” as he calls it – first taking up the banjo and winning several bluegrass competitions on that instrument.
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Then, in his teens, he saw the late guitar phenom Stevie Ray Vaughan perform and decided to drop the “grass” part of his act.
“He had just a massive impact on me,” Cummings said. “It was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this is possible.’ None of us will ever touch him.”
But Cummings didn’t jump into music full time. Instead, after college, he followed his family into the home building business, a trade he still pursues. His big break came when he was in his late 20s and recorded a CD, “From the Heart,” with members of Vaughan’s band, Double Trouble. Since then, Cummings has released several more CDs and toured with performers from B.B. King to Buddy Guy.
Cummings said he hasn’t performed as frequently in recent years for several reasons. One is the downturn in the housing industry, which he said hit his part of the country especially hard.
“When the economy goes down, everything goes with it,” he said. “More work has to be done, less ‘play time’ on the road.”
The other was a falling out with his booking agency, which unfortunately happened right about the time he released last year’s well-received CD called “No Regrets.”
“I never got a chance to tour behind it,” he said. “That’s like suicide as a musician. It’s like ‘duh.’”
So you could say Cummings has had a bit of the blues. And a surefire plan for kicking them:
“We’re there to entertain the crowd and make sure they have a good time,” Cummings said, adding that he “goes for the jugular every time I pick up the guitar.”
“I spend my whole evening reading the crowd. I don’t bring a set list and say ‘This is what I want to hear.’”
Cummings said his band – bassist Karl Allweier and drummer Warren Grant – “is the best I’ve ever played with.”
He hopes to return to performing more or less full time in the coming months. He said he can’t think of a better place to start than Saturday in Wichita.
“Of all the places I’ve ever played, I’ve always had the most fun in Wichita,” he said. “There’s always a good vibe there.”