Christopher Watkins, a twenty-something rocker from the San Francisco Bay area, is turning a whole new generation of teenage and twenty-something alternative rock fans on to the eternal hipness of the blues. Watkins, who uses the stage name Preacher Boy, is backed on his club shows around the Bay area and other parts of the West Coast by his band Natural Blues.
Watkins was born in Iowa City, but lived in Michigan, Kansas, Italy, and Washington before moving to San Francisco. At 16, his mom brought him a copy of Sam Charters' book The Country Blues from the library. Mrs. Watkins knew her son was becoming obsessed with a Howlin' Wolf record he'd found in the family record collection. After reading about country-blues musicians in Charters' book, Watkins became fascinated with the styles of classic country-blues players like Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Bukka White, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, and Mance Lipscomb.
Watkins played guitar in a number of bar bands for several years before forming Preacher Boy & the Natural Blues in 1992. The band soon found themselves sharing stages with touring acts like Counting Crows, Chris Isaak, Los Lobos, J.J. Cale, and others on their San Francisco tour stops.
The band's self-titled debut for Blind Pig Records may not have been an overwhelming critical success, but change, whether it's in jazz or blues, is never easy. The band had a fresh take on the blues, and they turned out to be a surprise hit of the 1995 San Francisco Blues Festival. Watkins, who has a gruff, Tom Waits-like voice and jumpy, rhythmic guitar playing, shows an infectious energy and the band shows a maturity in the development of their style on their second album for Blind Pig, the 1996 release Gutters & Pews. On this album, the band successfully blends a range of Americana styles, including folk-blues, roots rock, funk, gospel, and early blues-based jazz. In 1998, Preacher Boy relocated to the U.K.,signed with Wah Tup, and released Crow. While opening for Eagle-Eye Cherry on tour promoting Crow, the two formed a songwriting partnership leading to Preacher Boy co-writing and playing on five tracks on Cherry's 2001 release Living in the Present Future. 1999 found Preacher Boy back in the States recording the follow-up to Crow. Devil's Buttermilk was released in 2000 on Manifesto and showed Preacher Boy further expanding his unique approach to the blues. Also in 2000, he contributed a version of "Old Boyfriends" to the Tom Waits tribute New Coat of Paint: Songs of Tom Waits. ~ Richard Skelly & Tim Sendra