The Phantom Blues Band — drummer Tony Braunagel, bassist/singer Larry Fulcher, guitarist/singer Johnny Lee Schell, saxophonists Joe Sublett, trumpeter Darrell Leonard and keyboardist/singer Mike Finnigan — has been a resilient unit. Its members have backed just about every marquis band you can name, and they continue to support Taj Mahal, as they will at this year’s festival, when he needs them.
But this band deserves its own spot, and at the festival July 4 teams up with Curtis Salgado and other special guests. On its own, Phantom Blues Band has recorded Out Of The Shadows and Footprints in 2007 for Delta Groove and Inside Out in 2012 and Still Cookin’ in 2020, both for VizzTone.
It’s a remarkable testimonial that these first-call sidemen for such legends as Bonnie Raitt, Etta James, Joe Cocker, Robert Cray, Eric Burdon, Bob Marley, BB King among many others always return to their nest with the Phantom Blues Band. So it was especially painful during the pandemic shadow in 2020 when Finnigan was diagnosed with cancer. Finnigan held his own place in the music industry, playing on hundreds of records and thousands of shows with artists as varied as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills & Nash. He made it through Phantom’s Still Cookin’ album, but succumbed to his illness in August 2021.
The band wasn’t going to let that knock them out. They recruited veteran Jim Pugh on keyboards (Etta James, Robert Cray, Chris Isaak) and immediately produced an album in tribute to the fallen Finnigan. Proceeds from the new CD will be donated to the Mike Finnigan School of Music at the Stiefel Theater in Salina, Kansas.