John 'blueshammer' Hammer
Blue Monday Monthly Magazine
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In This Issue
We have the latest in Blues Society news. Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Grady Champion. Marilyn Stringer send us a photo-essay of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise.
We have seven CD reviews for you! Mark Thompson reviews a new CD by David Maxwell & Otis Spann. Rex Bartholomew reviews a new CD by Rita Engedalen. Rainey Wetnight reviews a new CD from Bushmaster. John Mitchell reviews a new CD from Billy Lee Janey. Ian McKenzie reviews a new CD from Clare Free. Steve Jones reviews a new live CD and a studio CD from Big Nick & The Gila MonstersJohnny Childs. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
Just a couple of months removed from one of the highest moments of his career, Grady Champion couldn’t have been much lower.
Less than an hour before he was scheduled to hit the stage at the Greater Ozarks Blues Festival in Springfield, Mo., almost two summers ago, the winner of the 2010 International Blues Challenge (IBC) was issued an ultimatum from his guitar player.
Pay me more money or I’m not going to play.
Talk about having your back shoved up against the proverbial wall.
“I basically had a young guitar player with me at that time – and after driving eight hours to get to that show, we get to an hour before it – and he told me he wasn’t going to play if he didn’t get some more money,” Champion said. “At first, I didn’t know what to do … somebody trying to strong-arm me? But I had a budget that I had to stay with, so he was out.”
Stunned, shocked, dismayed and disappointed though he may have been, Champion still managed to pull himself together and found a way to complete the task at hand, which was to entertain those in attendance.
“I just refused to be handicapped by that situation. Something told me to pick up the phone. So I called the blues society (Blues Society of the Ozarks) and asked them to send me the best guitar player they could. And they sent Nathan Keck,” said Champion. “And he learned on the run and has been with me ever since. He’s been a real blessing. Just what we needed at the time. He’s fit in really well with us and we’re all just growing together.”
While it certainly worked out in his favor in the long run, the attempted hijacking by his former guitar player is about the only bum thing that’s happened to the singer/songwriter/harp player since he was crowned IBC winner in February of 2010.
The rest, as they say, has all been gravy for Grady.
“Man, it’s been unbelievable (winning the IBC). Just unbelievable. I probably wouldn’t have a career right now if I hadn’t won the IBC,” he said. “It was really hard (up to that point) because I just couldn’t get anything to break through. People just wasn’t paying me any attention. And it takes a lot of money to stay out on the road and stay in front of people. I really didn’t have the support and backing I needed until I won the IBC.”
Flush with that success, Champion entered into the recording studio and emerged with the highly-touted Dreamin’ (GSM Records).
And the reaction to Champion’s fifth full-length compact disc has been very positive, to say the least.
“It’s been awesome. It’s been nominated for Soul Blues Album of the Year at the Blues Music Awards, and a single off the album, “Thank You For Giving Me The Blues” is up for song of the year at the BMA’s,” he said. “And then it was nominated for Album of the Year at the Blues Critic Awards and also had a single (“Make That Monkey Jump”) nominated for Single of the Year. So we got quite a few nominations and it’s been a real blessing.”
That’s quite an impressive coup, especially when considering that “Thank You For Giving Me The Blues” and “Make That Monkey Jump” were late arrivers to the party and very easily might have been left off of Dreamin’.
“Well, three of the songs off the album, I wrote in Newark, Delaware and all three turned out to be really good songs,” said Champion. “Zac Harmon (producer, guitarist) called me up and said, ‘Grady, you need about three more songs to finish the album up.’ And I wrote the songs – “Make That Monkey Jump,” “Thank You For Giving Me The Blues” and “Laugh, Smile, Cry Sometimes” – all in one night. I wrote “Monkey” first and then I went to sleep. Later on that night I woke up and wrote “Laugh” and then went back to sleep. Then when I woke up early the next morning … ‘woke up this morning with a lot on my mind’ … and I wrote “Thank You.”
Writing songs on the road as he bounces from hotel room to hotel room is nothing new for Champion. Matter of fact, that style of penning songs seems to agree pretty well with him.
“When I’m touring, I’m collecting a lot of information mentally and I’m also capturing different situations with my iPhone or recorder. If I run across something that I think might be a good idea for a song, I put it down,” he said. “And then I go back and visit my ideas. I’m starting to mature more as a writer and I think a lot of that is due to just being out on the road touring.”
While it may seem that Champion became a veritable ‘overnight sensation’ after besting over 150 other entries to take top prize in the IBC, that couldn’t be any farther from the truth.
The truth is, Champion was a veteran of the road already, having played the blues for 17 years before that fateful winter weekend in Memphis when he was anointed as IBC champion.
It’s a wonder that Champion even decided to stroll down the blues highway to begin with.
The youngest of 28 children, Champion, was turned on to music at an early age thanks to singing with his family in church in Canton, Mississippi.
“Man, my momma and them really rocked that church when I was growing up. Imagine being in Mississippi with a Baptist church and that church was rockin,’” said Champion. “Seeing momma and them play in church and then me singing in there when I was about 8 years old really got me going.”
So being brought up singing in a southern Baptist church automatically equals a career playing the blues, right?
Uh … no.
Champion first turned to rap music as an outlet for his creative juices and energy.
“I recorded a rap album and even released a rap single. I’ve even got footage of me rapping on a TV show in Jackson,” he said. “I really didn’t get into the blues until I was about 23 years old.”
But after the rap scene started to become a place he didn’t want to be, with all the fights at the clubs he was performing at and with all the negative lyrics that can go hand-in-hand with the genre, Champion decided to abandon that ship.
“Well, I was a single father at the time and really wanted to start performing for a more mature audience,” he said. “So I started to move away from rap. I knew something about the blues – more the Malaco kind of blues – because that’s some of the music we were raised on.”
Champion really fell head-over-heels and started his personal history lesson in the blues after being turned on to Chess Records’ iconic roster of stars when he was 23 years old.
“Man, when I heard Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf and stuff like that, it was a done deal. I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to do nothing else but sing the blues,’” he said.
“And I bought my first harmonica when I was 25 years old, back in 1994. I used to sleep with Sonny Boy Williamson’s Chess Collection playing all night long. I saw a study that year where a doctor said the brain never sleeps, and I said if that’s the case, even though my body is asleep, my brain will still be listening to that music. And a year later, I was recording the blues.”
His first blues album, Goin’ Back Home, was issued in 1998, followed in succession by 1999’s Payin’ For My Sins and 2 Days Short of a Week in 2001. Those later two Shanachie albums are about to once again see the light of day.
“I’m still going to promote Dreamin,’ but I went back last year and bought my masters from Shanachie. So I took every song I wrote off those two albums, which was 17 songs, and I’m going to put all those on one CD called Shanachie Days,” Champion said. “I’m going to release that one in May.”
And there’s no doubt that CD release will be followed up by plenty of hard-earned road miles, a process that Champion and his mates are well versed in at this point in time.
“It all comes from me being out on that road in 2011. Me and the band’s done a lot of touring and we’re not through. We’re getting ready to go out now on a month-and-a-half tour, so we’ve got a lot of work left to do,” he said. “And touring is very important. It lets the people see what’s going on. You have to be able to tour to really make a difference (in how an album sells). I’m really starting to understand about touring, for one thing. And what it takes to tour. We’ve met a lot of great people and being on the road this past year has been a great experience.”
And Champion knows that life on the road, along with a willing support staff at the record label, is what has really helped to set Dreamin’ apart from his previous four offerings.
“It (the creative process) was about the same for this album. I go with what I write, which is what I did on my albums for Shanachie,” he said. “The thing was, they (Shanachie) just didn’t put a lot into promoting the record. I mean, you can make a great record, but if people don’t know it’s out there, it doesn’t do you any good.”
After Keck’s ‘trial by fire’ of going from lead guitarist and vocalist in Branson, Missouri’s Underground Blues Division earlier in the afternoon, to climbing on stage and jamming with Champion’s band at the Greater Ozarks Blues Festival later that same evening, things finally seem fairly stable for the Grady Champion band.
“I think Nathan has become an even greater guitar player since he’s been with us. He came from a more rock-type background,” said Champion. “But I call him the ‘baby Steve Cropper,’ because he can play anything. We were riding from Springfield, Missouri (when he first joined) to Utah and he was practicing the whole way, learning the songs on the run. And man, by the time we got to Utah, he was ready. He catches on real quick.”
Kind of like the way that after a mere 17 years of hard life in the trenches, fans of the blues are starting to quickly catch on to the glorious tunes that Grady Champion is churning out.
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2012 Blues Blast Magazine
Interviewer Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He's also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.
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David Maxwell & Otis Spann - Conversations in Blue
Distributed by the VizzTone Group\
There is little debate when it comes to Otis Spann's place in the history of blues piano. Acknowledged as one of - if not the best -of all-time, Spann cemented his legacy during his lengthy stint as a member of the Muddy Water's band and then with two brilliant albums for the Candid label. Since his untimely death in 1970 from cancer, Spann's influence has faded as other piano players like late Pinetop Perkins, his replacement in Water's band, captured the attention of a new generation of blues fans. David Maxwell has decided to honor Spann by dedicating this all-instrumental recording to him and using four original tracks from the classic Otis Spann is the Blues album as a foundation for piano duets between Maxwell and Spann.
Maxwell saw Spann live numerous times during the 60's, ultimately forming a friendship which gave him further insights into Spann's playing. Maxwell shows his grasp of his mentor's style as he tears through the opening track, “Marie”, which Spann recorded for Vanguard Records. This rollicking version lasts almost three times as long as the original with Maxwell's left hand anchoring the rhythm as his right dances up and down the keyboard, spinning lines at a breakneck pace. “Cow Cow Boogie” allows Maxwell to demonstrate his mastery of the boogie woogie style while “David in the Dark” slows the pace a bit as Maxwell dazzles with some barrelhouse piano playing that makes you want to head for the nearest juke joint. “Twisted Tendons” gives Maxwell a chance to exercise his digital dexterity on another boogie piece taken at a furious pace. There are three distinct tracks titled “Transitions” that find Maxwell moving from a sprightly boogie to a romp through the changes to “Mess Around” and finishing with a brief flourish that serves as the lead-in to the closing track, a meditative number that injects a touch of gospel to the proceedings.
The duet tracks are a delight. On “Otis in the Dark”, Maxwell echoes Spann's playing but on “Walking the Blues”, Maxwell develops a different line of playing that intertwines beautifully with Spann's work recorded more than fifty years ago. “Get Your Hands Out of My Pockets” features a brisk tempo and plenty of cascading runs down the keyboards. Robert Junior Lockwood's guitar is present on “Spann and Bob” as a counterpoint to the two pianos. Also included from the Candid session is Spann playing solo on 'Otis's Great Northern Stomp”. Hearing his performance quickly illustrates the extent of his influence on Maxwell.
At the end, Maxwell takes a moment to say thank you to Spann and offers up the hope that his mentor's spirit will live on. No doubt it will once people hear this stunning release, which is nominated for a Blues Music Award in the Acoustic Album category. Maxwell is also nominated in the Acoustic Artist and Pinetop Perkins Piano Player categories. Maxwell reminds us all to take another look at Spann's legacy while at the same time making an emphatic claim for his own place in the history of blues piano.
Reviewer Mark Thompson is president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. He has been listening to music of all kinds for fifty years. The first concert he attended was in Chicago with The Mothers of Invention and Cream. Life has never been the same.
Rita Engedalen – Chapels and Bars
12 tracks / 41:42
Chances are good that you have not heard of Rita Engedalen, but probably only because she is a continent away from you. She has been called Norway’s Queen of the Blues, and with good reason; Rita has released 4 well-received CDs and even earned a Norwegian Grammy award for her 2006 album.
With her latest release, Chapels and Bars, she has another winner on her hands; after a few listens I could not find any songs that I did not like, and had at least 3 of them stuck firmly in my head. This is not strictly a blues album, but more of a compilation of different southern and Appalachian folk music styles. I hear delta blues, pop, gospel, soul and even some southern rock.
This is no problem for Rita as she is the real deal and has the voice, emotion and soul to carry tunes from all of these genres. Her band members and guest musicians also prove to be very talented, with some fabulous guitar picking, and appropriate amounts of mountain fiddle and mouth harp applied only where necessary.
She also has solid songwriting skills, and wrote the lyrics and music for nine of the twelve tracks on Chapels and Bars. Her original works have personal themes to them that bring them home to the listener, and are truly blues lyrics, even if they are not all blues melodies. This is probably a good time to mention that though she is Norwegian, the songs are all performed in English.
The album kicks off with “Chapels and Bars”, which was a great choice as it is one of the best tracks on the album with a tight delta blues groove and plenty of driving steel guitar. Plus I can relate as I have spent plenty of time in chapels and bars.
“My Hill Country Blues” is one of the most mainstream tunes on the album, and could almost be a pop or country radio hit. It is a southern rock at its best with tight drums and Creedence Clearwater-inspired guitars. This is rock and roll, baby. By the way, I heard my 10-year old son singing this song after we got out of the car yesterday, and saying “Mississippuh” just like Rita. That is how catchy this tune is.
And Rita Engedalen just keeps rolling from there. “Sara’s Kitchen” dives back into Mississippi blues, “Last Talk” is a sweet ballad (every album needs one), and “Holy Land” provides a little gospel choir. All of these original tunes provide a little something different for the listener, and are not the least bit boring or tedious.
Chapels and Bars also includes three cover tunes: Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Lord I Feel Better”, Irma Thomas’s “Don’t Mess with My Man” and Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain”. Not only are these three very good songs, but they also honor the pioneers of the fantastic womens’ blues music that we enjoy today. “Ball and Chain” is an ambitious song to tackle, and I feel that Rita’s strong and deep voice outshines Thornton, but still cannot top Janis Joplin’s cover. There is no shame in that; she has chosen a strong crowd to run with and can hold her own.
As I said, there are many different types of music on Chapels and Bars, but do not think that it does not hold up well as an album. The songs are all well-written with solid musicianship, and Rita Engedalen’s unique and beautiful voice brings all of the songs together into a single entity that is a pleasure to listen to. I am confident that if you check out Rita’s music you will be impressed too.
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at http://rexbass.blogspot.com.
Bushmaster - Revolution Rhapsody aka: Uprising Music
Gary D. Brown/BMI
16 songs; 58:05 minutes
Styles: Blues Rock, Funk, Rock and Roll, Slow Blues, Hip-Hop
This is an election year in the U.S., the Year of the Dragon in China, and according to some who believe in the Mayan calendar, the year of the apocalypse. Regardless, 2012 holds the unexpected--even in the blues world! Surprises are everywhere, especially on “Revolution Rhapsody,” the fourth CD from Maryland Blues Rock and Funk band Bushmaster. Band leader Gary D. Brown (songwriter, singer, guitarist) and his fellow artists present sixteen all original anthems in a mixed bag of musical styles with contemporary themes. Here are three that will spark blues’ fans interest (and perhaps their outrage):
Track 4: “Arizona Shame On Ya”--This is not a denunciation of the Grand Canyon State per se, but rather its immigration policy and treatment of Latino laborers: “They like your yard work, your housework too, your food and music--hombre, they’ll just use you. Skin of brown, heart of blue. Keep your head down; you might make it through….” Harmonica player Rodger Edsall perks ears while Brown demonstrates this is not his first time on a fretboard. Guest star Jaime Acuna, owner of the Chaparritas Mexican Restaurant, expertly translates Brown’s lyrics into Spanish in one passage. No matter which side of this particular debate one supports, “Arizona’s” mid-tempo shuffle refrain is so catchy that one will find oneself singing along.
Track 11: “40 Acres and a Mule”--Winning this reviewer’s nomination for best traditional blues sound, this snappy shuffle tells the story of a man for whom the American Dream hasn’t come true: “They told me a tale and I believed it. My check in the mail? I never received it. Is it ever coming, my 40 acres and my mule?” Every instrument and musician is in top form: not only Brown’s vocals and guitar solos hot as Tabasco sauce, but also Jay A. Turner’s bass and Spencer Brown’s drums. This track will make listeners “plow” their CD player’s replay button into the ground!
Track 13: “We All Fall Down”--A lament about the Iraq war, this “unlucky” rock ballad is as eerie as it is addicting. It morphs from a haunting acoustic dream played by Glen Shirley into a thrashing blues-rock night terror, reminiscent of “Shiver” by Too Slim and the Taildraggers. Kelly Bell commandeers on vocals, and his cold assessment rings true for many: “They said love must be the answer. Hate will eat us up like cancer. Stumble, dancer, then fall, and we all fall down!”
Check the liner notes of Revolution Rhapsody to find the names of all who contributed to this project: harmonica player Rodger Edsall, guitarist Steve Wright, keyboardist Kirk Myers, and vocalist Trudi Brown, among many others. Everyone has worked together to promote a common cause: “Don’t talk down to us. Stand up for us…I wonder what shape the world would be in if Dr. King and Bro. Malcolm X had stopped ‘complaining…’” Bushmaster provides something here for everyone and plenty to contemplate.
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 32 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
Billy Lee Janey – No Saints Ringin’ The Bells
17 tracks; 72.06 minutes
Iowa native Billy Lee Janey has been recording since the 1970s in a series of rock bands. His latest release appears on the Rockadrome label whose strapline is “The Rock And Roll Heavy Metal Store And Label”, so I guess we were warned! This is definitely at the far edge of the blues rock area, with some occasional nods in the direction of the blues but takes the music a lot further into rock territory than, say, Walter Trout or Popa Chubby. So, if those artists are too rock for you, best to avoid this one.
Billy Lee handles all the lead guitar and vocal duties, with John Hall on 7 (!) string bass and Troy Harper on drums. The rhythm section is replaced on three tracks by Danny Johnson on bass and Eric Douglas on drums and Billy Lee’s son Bryce (also a recording artist on the same label) helps out on acoustic guitar on two cuts. All material is original apart from two instrumentals; a short adaptation of Grieg’s “Hall Of The Mountain King” and “Dark Eyes” which is uncredited.
Much of the CD is definitely in hard rock mode, so I have concentrated on the tracks where the music is most likely to intersect with blues fans’ interests. “Delta Man” sounds like a good title and the lyrics certainly reference common blues themes such as the Devil coming down to the Crossroads on Highway 61. There is some slide playing on a steel guitar, but that is mainly lost in a maelstrom of heavy drums, wah-wah guitar and sound effects. “Killin’ The Blues” is a song that talks of killing the blues before they can harm his soul. However, the guitar is again strident. More enjoyable is “Painted Ryder”, an instrumental with something of an underlying shuffle beat. Closing track “Better Stick With The Blues” is an acoustic cut and is definitely closer to what a blues fan will enjoy.
As a singer Billy Lee’s voice works OK. At times he sounds a little like Jimmy Thackery or Tinsley Ellis, both singers I enjoy. This is not a blues album though fans of albums with a lot of guitar pyrotechnics may enjoy it.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.
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Crossroads Blues Society - Freeport, IL
Crossroads Blues Society is holding a benefit blues event for Bryan Lee at the American Legion Hall in Byron, Illinois at 116 Walnut Street just a half block north of the light at IL Route 2/Blackhawk Drive and Walnut Street. The fundraiser will be on February 24th and begins at 7 PM. Reverend Rik Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys will be performing along with Steve Ditzell, and Barstool Bob Levis and his band. Admission is a suggested $10 donation.
Bryan Lee is a guitar wizard, singer, song writer, blues performer who underwent back surgery on January 12th to relieve intense pain and to allow him to walk and perform his craft normally. He was cleared for surgery and was a high risk due to lung issues. The surgery has now gone fine and he is rehabilitating, but he has no insurance and his recovery will lay him up for 8 to 12 weeks.
There will be great silent auction items and a 50-50 raffle to help raise money to support Bryan. Bryan also worked with Crossroads in June 2011 at a show in Rockford and performed three sessions for their Blues in the Schools (BITS) program in 2010 along with holding an evening show.
If you would like more information, call 779-537-4006. Donations can be made at the event or via mail or Paypal. Send checks to: Brian Kumbalek, PO Box 9453, Metairie, LA 70055 or use Paypal on line to email@example.com. www.crossroadsbluessociety.com
River City Blues Society - Pekin, IL
River City Blues Society presents: Bringing The Blues To You with the following shows - Friday February 24at 7:30pm • Bill Porter, March 28th at 7PM • Albert Castiglia, April 11th at 7PM • Sean Chambers. Location Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St, Pekin, Illinois $5.00 non-members $3.00 members. For more info visit: www.rivercityblues.com or call 309-648-8510
Windy City Blues Society - Chicago, IL
The 2012 WCBS Annual General Membership meeting and Election of Officers will be held on THU MAY 17th at 7:00p (location TBD). Candidates for President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary will be elected to two year terms. Winners officially take office JUN 17, 2012. The nominating process will run thru FEB 17, 2012. Members in good standing can nominate other members for these positions.
After FEB 17th, we will communicate the list of candidates to all WCBS members. All members in good standing are eligible to vote either in person (at the annual general membership meeting on May 17th) or by mail (mailed ballot must be received prior to MAY 1st).
How do I nominate someone? Nominations must be received in writing via either email or US Postage) and should include the name(s) of the nominee and the office (president, vice president, etc.). Nominations must be accepted by FEB 18th to be valid. Mail your nominations to: WCBS PO Box 7389, Chicago, IL 60680-7389 Visit our website for updates. www.WindyCityBlues.org
The Phoenix Blues Society - Phoenix, AZ
The Phoenix Blues Society is proud to be bringing Blues Blast 2012 to the Margaret T. Hance Park in downtown Phoenix on March 10, 2012 Featuring Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, The Sugar Thieves, Big Daddy D & the Dynamites, George Bowman and the Baddboyz Blues Band featuring Lucius Parr, and Common Ground Blues Band.Music starts at 11:00AM. There are a limited number of $15 early bird tickets available...go to www.BluesBlast.info for tickets and more information.
Illinois Central Blues Club - Springfield, IL
The Illinois Central Blues Club presents "Blue Monday" every Monday night for the last 25 years - BLUE MONDAY SHOWS - Held at the Alamo 115 N 5th St, Springfield, IL (217) 523-1455 every Monday 8:00pm $3 cover. Feb 6 - Matt O'Ree, Feb 13 - Hurrican Ruth, Feb 20 - The Distillery, Feb 27 - The Blues Deacons. icbluesclub.org
The Diamond State Blues Society - Wilmington, Delaware
On Saturday, March 3rd it's the Diamond State Blues Society presents the 15th Annual House Rockin' Party. Opening the show at 3pm will be Nuthin' But Trouble, followed by Florida's great Blues Guitarist, Albert Castiglia, and headlining the show is the ironman himself, the phenomenal Michael Burks! Full details can be found at www.DiamondStateBlues.com
West Virginia Blues Society - Charleston, W.V.
The West Virginia Blues Society, Inc. and Thornhill Auto Groups prestent the 5th Annual Charlie West Blues Fest May 18, 19 and 20, 2012 at Haddad Riverfront Park, Charleston, WV including headline performances by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers and Ruthie Foster. For more information visit http://wvbluessociety.org/
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign-Urbana, IL
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society shows: Saturday, February 11, Painkillers, CD Release Party, 6-9 pm, Iron Post, Urbana; Thursday, February 16, Matt 0’Ree w/ Timmy D & Blind Justice, 7-11 pm, The Stop, Urbana; Friday March 2, 1st Friday Blues, Danny & the Devils, 8pm studio visit to WEFT 90.1FM during the Blues Live show, 10pm, performance at Memphis on Main, Champaign. $5 non-members, $3 members. Friday April 6, 1st Friday Blues, Johnny Rawls. For more info: www.prairiecrossroadsblues.org
The West Michigan Blues Society - Grand Rapids, MI
The West Michigan Blues Society and radio station WYCE 88.1 FM present the 2012 Cabin Fever Blues Series at Billy's Lounge 1437, Wealthy St. SE Grand Rapids, MI. Up coming shows include Feb. 11 Motor City Josh & the Big Three, Feb. 18 Hadden Sayers, Feb. 25 Nora Jean Wallace, March 3 The Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings. Tickets are $10.00 per show at the door only. Doors at 7:00 PM Music at 9:30 PM. Info at: www.wmbs.org
Rosedale Crossroads Blues Society - Rosedale, MS
Rosedale Crossroads Blues Society presents The Crossroads Blues and Heritage Festival, Saturday, May 12, 2012 at the River Resort at Highway 1 South in historic Rosedale, MS featuring Bill Abel, Cadillac John, Big Joe Shelton, DSU Ol’ Skool Revue and other area artists.
Gates open at 12:00 noon, music starts at 1:00 Admission $5 – adults, $1 – children under 12 Bring your own ice chest – $10 No beer sold – No glass – No pets, please Parking $5
Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise #18 - Caribbean
Photos & Commentary by Marilyn Stringer
Another Blues Cruise has sailed and returned. Great weather, calm seas, fabulous performances, and happy reunions were the result of this floating blues festival. The ports of call included Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and St. Maarten. St. Croix included a full day of local music, a street fair, and the Lowriders band closing out the festival. Kenny Neal and friends entertained on the beach at St. Maarten.
The night before the boat sailed, the FLL Blues Society hosted the pre-party and the music this year was the best in years. The first band was Brandon Santini, wailing on his harmonica and getting the crowd warmed up. He later joined the next band – Southern Comfort. Newly formed and ready to tour, the combination of JP Soars, Victor Wainright, and Damon Fowler is genius-check them out when they come to your town!!
The boat was full of great bands, old & new. The newest for the cruisers were the 2011 IBC Duo/Solo winners Georg Shroeter & Marc Breitfelder (Germany, IBC Winners ). While Georg runs his fingers across the keys and singing the blues, Marc is coaxing sounds out of the harmonica that are mesmerizing, haunting, and hypnotic. I am looking forward to seeing them more this year at festivals across the US.
The second new “find” on this cruise was Philipp Fankhauser. Hailing from Switzerland, Philip and his band became an instant hit. For this music lover I found Philipp’s style, voice, and humor to be a cross between Chris Rea & Tab Benoit, with some Swiss Cheesy jokes on the side. (Angus Thomas-Bass, Philipp Fankauser-vocals & Guitar, Marco Jencarelli-guitar, Martin Pfeifer-drums)
And, although not new for the West Coast blues fans, Chris Cain’s Band was definitely a “new Find” for the east coast and European cruisers and the first time on the LRBC for Chris. He is truly a maestro on the guitar and the band completes the show. The raves continue still! (Steve Evans-bass, Greg Rahn-keyboards, Mick Mestek-drums)
Nick Moss has put together an amazing combo with his reformulated band and was the talk of the boat also. Nick’s blues guitar playing was accompanied by his new singer – Michael Ledbetter – who took over on the vocals that could only be topped Curtis Salgado (who may have had some influence on Michael’s style as they worked together last year and were witnessed singing duets in Chicago that were equally powerful to Michael’s singing on the cruise). Not to be outdone by Michael, Nick’s band also includes Travis Reed on B3/keyboards, bringing his soulful church background to the foreground and wowing the crowd on every song. Patrick Seals (24 yrs young) is a drummer with an old soul and inherent skills, and newcomer Matthew Wilson on bass rounds out a band that should not be missed. Special guest star Chicago legend, Jimmy Johnson, added a great facet to the band, and Nick’s wife Kate, joined the band on both bass and guitar (and was found jamming all week long).
And one more highlight for us veteran cruisers was the one short set with Dion Dimucci and Debbie Davies – DD & DD. Dion has done one small solo conversational set for the last three cruises but this year he teamed up with Debbie Davies (Albert King guitar player) and the two of them put on a set that was as special to the both of them as it was to us listening. Those kinds of moments are what make the LRBC a unique and memorable experience for cruisers and performers.
All of the bands were great, the jams each night exciting, the workshops informative. If I could gush about every band, this article would never make it to “press”. So I will just list them below with some highlight photos and direct you all to Facebook for more expletives, my website for photos, and video links on You Tube.
Café R&B (new to East Coast Cruisers): Bobby Pickett-bass, Adam Gust-drums, Roach (singer, dancer, life coach for the “women out there”), & Byl Carruthers-guitar.
Joe Louis Walker with daughter Lena and Sari Posner on over the top vocals, LB Bradford-Bass, and four members from Tommy Castro band – Tony Stead, Tom Poole, Keith Crossan, Ronnie Smith.
New comers Latimore, with his smooth R&B vocals and keyboard and Bettye LaVette, with her tough & sensitive blues, were new to the LRBC. Coco Montoya and Rod & Honey Piazza are always favorites.
Acoustic blues brings a nice indoor sit-down, pure pleasure of the music, environment. The combination of Bill Sims Jr. and Mark LaVoie were just that. And the IBC winner from Canada, Matt Anderson, although quite lively, is also a favorite on the cruise.
The big “family” bands included Kenny Neal family band, The Homemade Jamz Band, The Lowriders (they feel like family to us!) and the Phantom Blues Band with Taj Mahal.
Kenny, Darnell, Tyree Neal
Homemade Jamz Band: Kyle, Taya, and Ryan Perry
Lowriders Band: BB Dickerson, Howard Scott, Lee Oskar, Lance Ellis, Harold Brown
Phantom Blues Band: Johnny Schell, Larry Fulcher, Joe Sublette, Darrel Leonard
Mike Finnegan, Taj Mahal, Tony Braunagel
Super Chikan and The Fighting Cocks: Heather Falduto, Jameisa Turner, LaLa Craig.
Shemekia Copeland with her big Chicago band and bass player Kevin Jenkins. Canada’s Shakura S’Aida and down & dirty guitar player Donna Grantis.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band with special guest Buddy Flett and Noah Hunt on always superb vocals.
The piano bar is always a party with hosts: Frederick Neal, Dave Keyes, Eden Brent, and Mitch Woods. Pictured guests include Jimmy Johnson, Mindy Canter (flute), and Rod Piazza.
And finally, the Tommy Castro Revue, this trip featuring Debbie Davies, Rick Estrin & Theodis Ealey.
As we all gathered on the last night at the pool deck to bid a bittersweet farewell to the Tommy Castro Band as we have known it, we presented them with a banner that everyone had signed all week. We wish the best to Tony Stead, Scott Sutherland, Keith Crossan, and Tom Poole in their new endeavors and to Tommy Castro with his new band.
And with that, another cruise has come to an end. Thanks to all the krewe and cruisers for a wonderful time at sea. Full set of photos eventually available at MJStringerPhoto.com.
Clare Free - Dust and Bones
Funky Mama Records 1012
Total Time 40:21 - 10 Tracks
Formal release 23 March 2012
Clare Free and her band (Dave Evans, bass; Matt Allen, Rhythm and additional guitars; and, Pete Hedley, drums) have been going from strength to strength. In 2011, Clare was the winner of the best acoustic performance accolade in the WRC* Awards and her song “Funky Mama’s Kitchen Blues” was a nominee for the song of the year in the 2011 British Blues Awards. Clare’s debut CD, Be Who You Are, was followed by an EP, How It Is, which was given away as a free (no pun) download, and both those outings were well received by critics.
Clare is a fine guitar player with a touch that can move from shredding to subtlety in a second, but always under prefect control. She is a fine singer with a smoky voice and an occasional growl in her throat, which can add a very sexy touch to it all.
Clare’s maximum strength however, comes from her song writing. In live gigs she does do some covers (Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean by Ruth Brown is a fave) but here and on all her recorded work, it is wall to wall originals.
Once, a couple of years ago I chided Clare over a perceived lack of right-on blues in her music, some of which had a noticeable ‘country’ tinge; no problem of that kind here.
The album comes with ten tracks, and as behoves a songwriter, proud of her work, the lyrics of all the songs in a nice CD booklet. The songs range from the opener Can’t Slow Down, a delightful whinge about the pace of life in contemporary society, to Little Miss Jealousy about the green eyed emotion that can be so destructive in relationships. The latter song is a pointer to the theme of most of Clare’s writing…the effects of events and other people, on emotional ties. As with all the tracks on this CD it comes with some exemplary guitar work that has matured and expanded significantly in the last few years.
The title track is outstanding. A bass guitar underpinning, with a wonderful damped-bass descending figure as the hook, the song is about a collapsing relationship, where a cheating partner makes it all collapse into dust and bones. The axe work here is nicely restrained most of the time but breaks out with, a vengeance, in a solo that reminds me of a mix of Robert Cray and JJ Cale. Fabulous!
One more song deserves a mention and that is Creepy. This one, which comes with a kind of Creamlike opening riff, is about the experience of being the victim of a stalker. “You’re so creepy, what’s it gonna take to make you back away from me”. A tremendous song, with a nice guitar break. Deserves a lot of air play.
All in all this is an excellent outing by Clare and her band and comes strongly recommended.
*(shhh, WRC stands for Wrinkly Rockers Club)
Reviewer Ian McKenzie lives in England. He is the editor of Blues In The South (www.bluesinthesouth.com) a monthly flier providing news, reviews, a gig guide and all kinds of other good stuff, for people living and going to gigs along the south coast of England. Ian is also a blues performer (see www.myspace.com/ianmckenzieuk) and has two web-cast regular blues radio shows. One on www.phonic.FM in Exeter (Wednesdays: 1pm Eastern/ 12 noon Central), the second on KCOR – Kansas City Online Radio (on Fridays at 1pm Eastern/ 12 noon Central).
Big Nick and the Gila Monsters - Shaken Not Stirred & Working Without A Net
Monster Tone Records
11 and 10 tracks respectively
Big Nick and the Gila Monsters? Catchy name! Their double CD set Shaken’ Not Stirred and Working Without A Net are a twin packaged set of CDs, the first recorded in a studio and the latter recorded live. Packaged in a case with art work to attract (as my brother would say) “Hipsters, Tikiphiles, Lounge Lizards, Ultra-Mods, Swanksters, and other Jetsetters”. The music does not totally fit that model in my eyes, but it is very, very good none the less. Elements of swing and rockabilly with call and response push in that direction but the elements of the more bluesy sounds with harp overblows move it back into the realm of the blues. In any case, there is a smorgasboard of music to listen to here from this hot Southwestern band!
Shaken opens with a nice instrumental called “Catalina Cruise” with distorted harp blowing and slick guitar work. The bridge from the verse to the chorus and the entire cut hearkens back the 50’s. “Rockin’ Chair” also features some big harp sounds, too. John “Big Nick” Samora is the harp player and lead vocalist and he is quite dirty with his sound here. Mike “el Ray” Lewis is on guitar and his tone and sound are excellent. James “Muddy” Mason and Bobby “White Shoes” Bowley are the back line on bass and drums and are also very solid. Hailing from the Phoenix area, this guys are a big time band with a great sound. The boys have some fun with “The Rib” where the bands does some responses to Big Nicks calls about Adam asking Eve to “Gimme back my rib”. It’s got some fun lyrics a nice groove. Rockabilly fans will love “A-Bomb Baby” and “Walkin’ After Midnight” will give the Southwest country sound fans a thrill- very much like Junior Brown, but perhaps one octave higher. The finish up the studio set with “Horn and Headlights”, a cool acoustic track with more catchy lyrics. Big Nicks got the horn, but his baby’s got the headlights! 11 great original tracks- all of them are nicely done and fun to listen to.
The live set Workin’ Without A Net shows us the band doing some classic covers along with a pair of their own tunes. They open with a Willie Dixon song of Muddy Waters’ fame (“I’m Ready”), shift gears with the gritty “She’s Dynamite” with the bass player fronting the band admirably, and then the drummer leads them in “Framed”. They give these covers a good treatment, the last with their signature call and response that the crowd loved. Then they broke into an original cut, “Dancin’ With My Baby” which appears to have had the crowd dancin’ with their babies as Big Nick crooned out the lead. They then pay homage to Jimmy Vaughn (“Can’t Say No”), Chuck Berry (“Brown Eyed Handsome Man”), JJ Hawkins (“I Put A spell On You”) and Lightnin’ Hopkins (Play With Your Poodle”). Down and up and down and up in tempo with those songs gave the crowd a great ride and the band was obviously into it. I am impressed with Big Nick’s vocals and harp and el Ray on guitar, but Muddy and White Shoes also add their style to some of the cuts and give us a slightly different look on their leads. They then go into “Horn and Headlights Part 2”, a revisit of the studio cut but with a little different approach to the beat and style. They close with Clarence Carter’s “Ain’t Got You” sung by Mike Lewis. He handles the lead pretty well, but the harp punctuating the vocals and Lewis’ guitar really sell this.
These guys are real crowd pleasers and appear regularly at Bob Corritore’s club in Phoenix. With a little luck and exposure to these great CDs, hopefully you will get to see them on the road or at festivals. I really enjoyed this two CD set and think that anyone looking for some swinging stuff with a fresh clean sound will enjoy them, too!
Reviewer Steve Jones is secretary of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program.
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