John 'blueshammer' Hammer
Blue Monday Monthly Magazine
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In This Issue
We have the latest in Blues Society news from around the globe. Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Otis Taylor. Marilyn Stringer has photos and a review the Phoenix Blues Society's Blues Blast Festival.
We have six CD reviews for you! Rainey Wetnight reviews a new CD from Jay Willie Blues Band. Gary Weeks reviews a new release from Contino. Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews a new CD from Brandon Isaak. John Mitchell reviews a new CD from Charles “CD” Davis. Ian McKenzie reviews a new CD from Debbie Bond. Steve Jones reviews a new CD from The Flaming Mudcats. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
We made it out to a great set by RJ Mischo and Jeremy Johnson, aka, The Super Reverbs, at Illinois Central Blues Club's Blue Monday show this week. The Super Reverbs, named for the fact they are using 3 Fender Super Reverb amplifiers definitely had a lot more going on then the average musical duo.
With RJ handling lead vocals, harmonica and/or lead guitar and Jeremy simultaneously playing guitar and drums, these guys made for a great "band" worth seeing!
By its strictest definition, Otis Taylor is not a traditional bluesman.
And that’s a good thing.
He doesn’t hail from Mississippi or Chicago. Instead, he calls Colorado home.
His songs, while they do deal with broken hearts and shattered dreams, are not your run-of-the-mill ‘my wife up and left me’ kind of tunes. Instead, they touch on topics that few artists have much desire to tackle these days. Things like lynchings, homelessness and the dysfunctional government, along with other socially-relevant themes.
And while you’ll certainly hear plenty of guitar on Taylor’s albums, you’ll also hear djembe, cornet, fiddle and banjo playing woven into the thick, shag-like texture of his songs.
All that, with an occasional gut-wrenching howl and shriek thrown in for good measure.
Those are the main ingredients Taylor uses to cook up his batch of Trance Blues.
In other words, Otis Taylor marches to his own drum beat and is not afraid to travel down paths normally marked as “Do Not Trespass” in the blues world.
But ignore the man at your own risk, because Otis Taylor is one heck of a tour guide.
He consistently has managed to create some of the most authentic, real-deal blues going over the course of the past decade, blues that seem to blur the line between the Delta, the Appalachians and the western African savannahs.
Just a couple of days after his newest album Otis Taylor’s Contraband (Telarc) hit the streets, Blues Blast caught up with Taylor for a glimpse into his creative process.
Blues Blast: I know it’s only been on the street for a couple of days at this point, but how has the initial reaction been to Otis Taylor’s Contraband?
Otis Taylor: The reviews have been good. I’m very lucky. We’ve gotten some major reviews, like in The New Yorker. That’s pretty major. And it got four stars in Mojo. My last album got five stars in Mojo, and it’s hard to get into Mojo in the first place, so to have two albums in a row in there, I was pretty excited about that. And it’s gotten attention on a lot of blogs and things.
BB: One of the songs that grabbed my attention was “Blind Piano Teacher” (off Contraband). It’s what I would call a classic Otis Taylor kind of song.
OT: That seems to be (most people’s) favorite song on the album. I’m very sappy … I’m 240 pounds, but I do have a sappy side. I like French love songs. And I try and tell the story with just a few words. Then you can take it where you want it. A reviewer said, ‘well, he didn’t say what nationality the man was (in “Blind Piano Teacher”).’ Well, I didn’t have to if she (the piano teacher) was black. He must be white, or why would I say she was black with ebony skin and blonde, blonde hair?
BB: With all the social and internet media these days, I bet it can be tough to keep track of just who all is reacting to your work and what all they’re saying about it.
OT: Well, my thing on Facebook is, the only people that make money off it is Facebook. But I do love YouTube. When I want to study up on something, I hit it and you can find all kinds of videos on people. It’s like going to a video library, which we didn’t used to have. I really enjoy that and sometimes get lost on YouTube. I’ll start off with Muddy Waters and end up watching the Beach Boys. Then I wonder, how did I get there? I’m like a YouTube jumper. I can spend hours on it.
BB: Your music is so eclectic and really without borders or boundaries. Do you feel comfortable being labeled as a bluesman?
OT: I did that. I did that because … I am a bluesman - a singer/songwriter bluesman. See … it’s institutional racism. Like Robert Johnson is a bluesman, right? Well, Robert Johnson was a singer/songwriter. See what I’m saying? Bob Dylan was a singer/songwriter. Howlin’ Wolf was a singer/songwriter. Willie Dixon is a total singer/songwriter. See what I mean?
BB: Digesting your music is a lot like peeling an onion. There’s so many layers, to not only the music, but to the lyrics, as well. How do you go about crafting a song?
OT: (Laughing) You want me to give away all my producing secrets?
BB: I guess a good starting point would be, what inspires you to write a song?
OT: Usually a dream – just a thought. But talking about lyrics, it looks like I’m going to be doing this Robert Johnson 100 Year Anniversary March 6 at The Apollo, with a lot of people, and so I’ve been studying up on Robert Johnson some more. One of my favorite songs (of Robert Johnson) is “Hellhounds on my Trail.” And he has a line in it, ‘If today was Christmas Eve, if today was Christmas Eve, and tomorrow was Christmas Day.’ And I just love that line. And so I’ve been thinking that maybe I’ve been influenced by Robert Johnson and didn’t even know it. You know, word-wise. I mean that’s so simple, but so powerful. I just thought about that line all day yesterday.
BB: Do phrases like that, for example lead to you …
OT: No, no. But I was just thinking about … I’m into simplicity when I write. A lot of people think I get it from my parents, because they were bee-boppers, or avant-garde. But a lot of Appalachian things are simple, too.
BB: I guess you could run into problems when you’re over-thinking things when it comes to songwriting?
OT: Well, my style is, I just try to paint a picture. Paint a picture of like, say, a red car. OK, somebody sees that red car. Then they might say, well, that red car has white seats because the guy was rich. Then they think about what the rest of that car looks like. Did it have pinstripes on it? I just introduce the car and then hope they take the car from there. I have a line in a song (“Little Betty”) that goes, ‘it looks like a Chevy, but runs like a Ford.’ What does that mean? You can keep on thinking about something like that if you want to. Once you start visualizing lines in your own mind, you kind of start writing the song, too. At least that’s what I hope. I’m not trying to get too deep here, but I never try to tell people what to think. I’m not a protest singer. I try to tell real stories.
BB: I get the idea of your songs telling stories. It seems like the folk scene in the 60s was full of artists telling stories about what’s going on around us.
OT: I started off with folk music, see. I learned to play music at the Denver Folklore Center.
BB: That makes sense. So you were exposed to that kind of music at a formulative time?
OT: I was exposed to a lot of jazz at home and folk music outside of the house.
BB: Your music is comprised of so many instruments that it’s hard to keep track of all of them. One thing you sure don’t hear a whole lot of in the blues though, is the banjo. Or cornet. How do you go about incorporating instruments like that into your music?
OT: The process is to find the right instrument on the right song that feels natural. And that’s what I’m looking for. I did a film score once using an oboe. That day, I just liked that sound. But the object is to make it feel natural – almost like where people don’t realize they’re listening to cornet or pedal steel or violins and cellos. The idea is for them to hear it, but not to hear it. If you hear it, you hear it too much, you know?
BB: Kind of feel it, not hear it?
OT: I don’t like to push things on people. I want it to be natural. That’s why I like to keep things simple.
BB: Does that philosophy kind of sum up the trance blues?
OT: No, trance music has nothing to do with the instruments; it has to do with style - no cord changes. It’s like ‘row, row, row your boat,’ it just goes in a circle, which makes it a trance tune. The first song on the album (“The Devil’s Gonna Lie”) has no cord change, but there’s a lot of stuff going on. And it helps to stay in the pocket. That’s how you get the trance feel. Voodoo music is just drums, but that’s the heaviest trance music there is. It’s religious for people.
BB: Does that kind of songwriting style come natural to you, or do you have it work at it?
OT: There again, it comes naturally. I don’t read music, so I like to keep things simple. If I could read music, I’d get all crazy.
BB: You’re up for a Blues Music Award in the category of Instrumentalist – Other, for your banjo playing. At this point in your career, do those kinds of awards mean anything to you?
OT: It means I get to go to the party! But you can’t lose total perspective, because one day you might not get invited to the party and go, whoa! What happened? I’ve been invited to that party for a lot years, so what happens when I’m not invited? But my claim to fame is, I’ve been nominated like 18 times and have only won twice. I remember when I won the second time; it broke my 14-nomination losing streak. I was doing good, going for the most-nominated, never-won thing and then that had to get broken. But really, I’m happy to just be acknowledged for it. It’s good advertising for the banjo.
BB: Yeah, the banjo doesn’t get a whole lot of love in the blues, does it?
OT: It doesn’t, but that’s where the blues came from.
BB: Speaking of instruments, how cool is it to have a signature model guitar (Santa Cruz acoustic)?
OT: Pretty cool. I also have a banjo named after me, too. It’s an Ome banjo and it’s called the Otis model. And then I have an electric banjo named after me called the Otis Banjoblaster, by Blue Star guitars.
BB: How did you come to have a banjo named after you?
OT: Well, the first Blue Star model I got several years ago. It’s an interesting story. I was at a folk alliance in Toronto and had a booth there, trying to get gigs and stuff. And Pete Seeger walked by and heard my CD and the first song had a banjo on it. He said, ‘that’s really cool.’ So we started talking and I ended up hanging out with him for eight hours. Then while we’ll walking around the conference looking at instruments, Elderly was there and he (Seeger) said, ‘Otis, you should look at this electric banjo. You’ll like this.’ So I sat down and picked it up and played for 15 seconds and said, ‘I’ll buy one.’ So after I had it shipped, I wanted to know who made it. So I found out and talked to the guy and then sent him a video of me playing it at a concert. And he freaked out. He said he wanted to make me a signature model banjo. He had no idea his instrument could sound like that. And with Ome, I’ve known them and they’ve sponsored me for awhile and they finally made me a signature model.
BB: And the guitar?
OT: This guy named Willie Carter that worked at Santa Cruz Guitars at the time saw me at the NAMM show and wanted to get me involved. And when I decided to, I called him and told him, ‘I know what I want, Willie. I don’t want any frets past 14.’ He said, ‘Can you hold for a second?’ Five minutes later he comes back and says, ‘OK, we’re going to do it.’ I think it caught them off guard. But really, I don’t play past the 14th fret on an acoustic guitar, so why would I want any more frets than that on my signature model? Because it looks pretty? It’s really just a waste of metal. So you could say it’s a “green” guitar. That fits in well with the scene in Boulder.
BB: Any other Otis Taylor signature instruments in the works? Mandolin or anything?
OT: (laughing) No, no, I decided to stop there.
BB: How is the blues scene around Colorado?
OT: Well, after I got signed, I played with Eddie Turner and Kenny Passarelli, and when that band broke up, Eddie got a record deal with my old record company (NorthernBlues), which was good. And Dan Treanor got a deal with my old record company, too. And then Lionel Young won the International Blues Challenge for solo and for band, so we have a little bit of a blues scene here. And I just played at (late Colorado bluesman) John-Alex Mason’s memorial service in Colorado Springs a couple of weeks ago. And there’s a big jamband scene here, with groups like String Cheese Incident and Leftover Salmon.
BB: Tell me a little bit about your daughter Cassie. I know she’s been a part of several of your albums and tours, but she’s got her own thing going on, too.
OT: It’s cool, but I’m like a let’s-get-on-with-it kind of father. We had to cut her loose, because she’s 25 now. It’s time for her to get it done. We’ll see how badly she wants it. She’s so talented that she could just coast. People have no idea how good a songwriter she is. She’s way better than me. She’s more accessible than me - I’m too hardcore. But she’s young and comes at it from a different vantage point. But she’s a really good film editor, too. She’s talented in a lot of ways and she just has to figure out what she wants to do. When you’re a little kid and your first concert is with your father in front of a couple of thousand people, that doesn’t give you much of a traveling all over the country, sleeping in a van kind of vibe, you know? She’s not had that kind of experience yet, but she’s getting ready to.
BB: After releasing as many albums as you have, in what has really not been a long period of time, are you still as inspired to create new works as you where when you first started?
OT: Well, yeah, but it gets harder. Creativity-wise, it gets harder. I want my albums to be different, but I want to keep my style going. And that gets hard. I’ve done 12 albums. And if your new album is like your last album, people go, ‘Why bother?’ And if it’s too different from your last one, people go, ‘What are you doing?’ So it gets harder to maintain that balance the farther you go along. I never want people to say that I never do anything different. If you’re a painter, you wouldn’t want to hear people say that your new painting looks just like the last one you did, you know? That’s the challenge. But I’m up for it. I mean, I have to be a little crazy already to do the sort of non-commercial stuff that I do anyway.
BB: So I assume you don’t have any plans to climb to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts anytime soon?
OT: If I could just even get on Billboard … I think I’ve only charted once and that was when they printed every other week. And I made it the week they didn’t print. I was going to frame it. But “Ten Million Slaves” (from the Public Enemies soundtrack and first heard on Taylor’s Recapturing the Banjo album) was at number one on iTunes three times. So I’m happy I was song of the week on iTunes. I have that bookmarked, so maybe I can frame that sometime.”
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2012
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.
Jay Willie Blues Band - The Reel Deal
Blues Boulevard Records, a division of Music Avenue (Europe)
8 songs; 26:09 minutes
Styles: Electric Blues Rock
It’s impossible to overstate guitar’s role in making modern Blues the genre it is today. Especially since electrification, without guitar, whether a Dobro, a Stratocaster, Les Paul, acoustic, or steel, a blues song is almost missing its backbone. Connecticut-based Jay Willie and his band embrace this truth in their third release, “The Reel Deal”! Out of eight songs, half are originals, and the other four are catchy covers. Fans might have a hard time deciding which type of Jay Willie’s great selections they prefer--fresh or familiar? However, they’ll know the band’s guitar work is top-notch with Jay Willie on lead, Robert Callahan on rhythm (and vocals), and legendary Tommy Shannon adding bass. Here are three tracks showcasing lightning licks by our lead guitarist and schooled chops from his three band mates featuring Johnny Winter’s 1978 power trio drummer Bobby “T” Torello:
Track 01: “Hey Hey Baby”--The opener on any blues album may not be the most lyrically deep. On the other hand, it usually needs to abduct the most attention, as this original song does. Its fast paced, rough-and-tumble beat is the perfect backdrop for every instrument to roar full-blast, especially Jay Willie’s Johnny Winter inspired slide guitar and including Bobby “T” Torello’s cymbals. The band’s MySpace page states, “Jay Willie is personally influenced by Johnny Winter and his [Winter’s] influences such as Son House, Willie Brown, Muddy Waters, etc.” One can definitely hear the echo of these masters’ styles in this number!
Track 04: “Mary Lou”--Winning this reviewer’s award for best cover as well as funniest song, Ronnie Hawkins’ “Mary Lou” is the tale of a thief who’s more into snatching people’s possessions than their hearts. When she’s done taking the narrator--in this case sung by Robert Callahan--for all he’s worth, he sings, “She got back in town about a week ago; said she was sorry she had hurt me so. I had a ‘65 Ford and a two-dollar bill. The way she took it, man, gave me a thrill!” Perhaps anybody else in Callahan’s position might have rhymed “bill” with “kill”! In spite of that, “Mary Lou” with its catchy twin guitar harmony will steal listeners’ ears!
Track 06: “Liar”--Drummer Bobby “T” Torello penned and takes the lead on vocals in this frenetic blues-rock punch to an untrue lover’s face. As he gleefully rhymes an unprintable word with “you know you gotta quit” and warns that the “Liar” in the song’s title will go “straight down to [perdition],” blues fans will sit up and take heed. Even though this isn’t a romantic rendition by any stretch of the imagination, this up-tempo slide-fest tirade might lead (faithful) partners onto the dance floor anyway!
This CD is definitely enjoyable, but, in this reviewer’s opinion, has three minor flaws: 1) it’s too short, clocking in at under 30 minutes; 2) the vocals could have been more vibrant in the mix, and 3) while appreciating their energy, I rarely had the sense that Willie and his band got completely lost in the music they’re playing. Nevertheless, their guitar skills and overall punch are “The Reel Deal!”
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.
We are accepting submissions from labels and artists until April 15th, 2012. Artist do not necessarily have to submit their releases to be considered but any that do will have their recordings actually screened by the nominators. (Our Nominators can't nominate something they haven't heard!)
We have 30 nominators so you need to send 30 individual copies to be considered before April 15th, 2012. Any received after that date may not get sent to the nominators.
There is no charge for this. We will cover the cost and effort to get your eligible CD or DVD release into the hands of the nominators if you send them in. We reserve the right to change this policy in future years. CD's received after April 15th, 2012 may not reach the nominators so hurry and get your submissions in today! For complete details, CLICK HERE
Nominators begin submitting their nominations May 1st and final nominations will be announced after May 31st, 2012. Voting Begins in July.
Contino – Back Porch Dogma
While Blind Pig Records has always been associated with having major blues players on its roster, they have no qualms of branching out and including musicians whose backgrounds are eclectic in the approach to the music. This is where the CD Back Porch Dogma by Contino enters the picture.
A band coming from Las Vegas, Nevada, Contino can be enjoyed by fans of Little Feat and The Radiators. Even Maria Muldaur drops in to add her vocals in the mix. With a guest appearance of that high caliber, you know things are pointing in the right direction.
Gutbucket boogie prevails in opening track “Rotgut Run” with Al Ek’s harmonica driving the tune into a delicious groove of shaking your moneymaker a few times. Though “V-8 Ford” does show like a re-write of a Muddy Water’s song doesn’t mean the band can’t have fun when playing the blues. Keyboardist Billy Truitt plays with the determination of recalling Pinetop Perkins in his younger days.
In covering Tom Waits’ “Temptation,” Mexicali meets Zydeco and Contino’s accordion playing is as sweet as the sugar cane in the New Orleans Bayou. When speaking of Zydeco, it can’t get any more Americana than the track “Zydeco Train” with the whole band pouring on the steam and vying for solo spots to showcase some hot chops.
The music is moderately paced so the track “Dog Days” is as good time as any to slow things down a tad with Al Ek’s harmonica being down home. Whether the band derives inspiration from Little Feat or not, the tune “One Thing” smacks of the essence of Lowell George and the guys show an appreciation for songwriters Leiber and Stoller in their take of “Three Cool Cats” with Contino’s accordion playing and Truitts’ keyboards weaving counterpoint to create jazzy lines thick as summer heat.
It seems that the music of New Orleans casts its shadow and this seems to be an environment the band works in best. Contino’s accordion playing is all over the tracks which accounts for the sounds of music having its roots in the Crescent City.
Overall the blues doesn’t spray itself all over the songs. On a rare occasion it rears its head like on the song “I Don’t Want To Know.” But because the New Orleans party has been in full swing, a tune like this doesn’t elevate the energy level so much but knock it down a peg or two. So it’s up to the song strangely titled “Monkey” to attempt to jump-start the proceedings. Pete Contino may be the centerpiece of the band with his vocals and accordion playing. Certainly the whole band is worth deserving of praise. But it is in multi-instrumentalist Al Ek that the songs come to fruition. Being a jack of all trades with the ability to play guitars, mandolin and harmonica only adds extra spice to a gumbo of music that sounds like its being hatched in New Orleans and not Las Vegas.
Titling this CD Back Porch Dogma is a strange choice. Then again considering its musical circumstances maybe it’s not. If anything the title sounds like something overseeing something which sounds like American roots music. For a group coming from Las Vegas, they certainly have their finger on the pulse of sounds best found at Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras. This music might not go down too well with fans who want things in a bluesy direction. For those planning a trip to New Orleans and wanting to party all night long, this music would be great in a road trip while travelling by car. Consider it a soundtrack to a city which midnight lasts forever and the party never ends.
Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.
Brandon Isaak - Bluesman’s Plea
Canada is fertile ground for this brand of salt-of-the-earth rootsy and gritty musical journeyman. Another in the line of current one-man-bands his main instrument is finger-picked acoustic guitar, as well as the usual suspect, foot percussion. His music is blues and roots of the Delta, Piedmont, gospel, swing, ragtime and goodtimey varieties and combinations of all of the above. Brandon is a very adept guitar stylist, whether it’s straight finger-picking or Delta slide, it keeps his jaunty vibe strolling down the country road. His throaty voice and vocal style conjure up a bluesy Lyle Lovett with a less produced sound. The only extras are his brother-producer Chris on occasional drums and backup vocals. Not that Chris Isaak. Brandon adds harmonica and bass guitar when needed.
The title track evokes a walk through the Mississippi Delta with its slinky slide playing. Before you know it he has you in church with the religious toe-tapper, “You Gotta Pray”, as his sandpaper voice pleads with God. “Take My Message” has that same religious fervor, replete with a short minister’s sermon inserted in the middle. You can see his boots kick up the dust as he saunters down the road in the slow-paced “Leavin’ This Town”. In “Forever Yours” the narrator professes his unbridled and undying love to his sweetie. The vibe of the old chestnut “Just Because” runs through the oldtimey and swinging “Ain’t No Pleasin’ You”. “Jump Start Me” is a tongue-in-cheek plea to his girl to get him going. Nurturing love like tending a garden is the theme of “Water Your Garden”, where as elsewhere the Lyle Lovett comparison is evident with that gospel tinge in his voice.
All original tunes that are rooted in days of old, but retain a modern freshness, as represented here are another tale-tell sign that blues of all sorts are thriving. You just have to know where to look. Sure there are the occasional half-baked artists or rock bands posing as blues bands that come along. As with anything else the cream has a way of rising to the top. If one’s notion of acoustic blues is that of somebody whining about his hard life, you need to look no further than here to see that blues can be uplifting while making your feet jump to the beat.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Photos & Commentary by Marilyn Stringer
After a quiet Arizona winter, the first blues festival of the New Year is always a welcome diversion. It is guaranteed that the sun will be shining and this year was no exception. The Phoenix Blues Society took a leap of faith and changed their venue to Margaret T Hance Park – “Bringing the Blues Back to the City”. It was a great choice - the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed, and the blues society should prosper at this location.
The festival always starts out the night before at the Rhythm Room. Janiva Magness packed the house before the crowd even knew what was about to happen. The band opened with their fantastic sounds, introduced Janiva, she sauntered out, picked up a 2 string cigarbox (she “bought from JP Soars and decided to learn how to play”) and started popping out songs from her new CD Stronger For It , going head to head with Zach Zunis on guitar. The songs are fresh, heartfelt, include harmonies from all the band members, fantastic keyboard solos, percussion variety, and great dancing music! It was a fantastic show and the album is one of the best I have heard in a long time! The band includes: Zach Zunis (guitar), Gary Davenport –(bass), Matt Tecu (drums), Jim Alfredson (keyboards).
The one day festival opened with Common Ground Blues Band, Winner of the 2011 Arizona Blues Showdown and competitor at the IBC’s. Glen Russell (vocalist) and Brian Eddie (guitar) founded the band in 1988. The band includes Earl Abbott - keyboards, Tim Kinsey – bass, and Guy Mazzo – drums. They are a fun lively blues band playing both original and standard blues, and have become very popular in the Phoenix area.
The next band was George Bowman with Lucius Parr & Baddboyz Blues Band. George Bowman, an AZ Blues Hall of Fame Inductee and longtime Phoenix area bluesman. Lucius Parr, cousin of the late Albert Collins, was joined by his brother Lamar on keyboards, his cousin Bam Bam on drums, Dominic Therrien on bass, and Kenn Wood on percussion. The influences from Albert Collins and BB King were apparent in their great set.
The Phoenix festival has always had great “tweeners” (act between sets) and this year we had the best ones possible! Bob Corritore & Dave Riley were our “Tweeners For A Day.” To quote Bob “Who could ask for a better “tweener”?”
Big Daddy D & The Dynamites had the crowd up dancing from the minute they started playing. High energy, full of fun, and rockin’ blues was their style – a good times band with their current CD Down, Boy Down heard on XM Radio and a“Pick to Click.” The band includes Darryl “Big Daddy D” Porras & Drew Hall (guitars), Gary Regina (saxes), Steven Ayers (bass), Carlos Jones (drums).
The headliner for the day was Sugar Ray & The Bluetones. The band is currently nominated for five Blues Music awards: Album of The Year for Evening, Band of The Year, Traditional Blues Album, Instrumentalists: Sugar Ray Norcia – Harmonica - and Michael “Mudcat” Ward – Bass. Needless to say the band was great! Good luck to them in May in Memphis! The band also includes Monster Mike Welch on (Guitar), Neil Gouvin (drums), and Anthony Geraci (keyboards).
And, finally, the very popular, Sugar Thieves took the stage. Representing Arizona at the IBC’s in 2008 & 2009, they have become well known across the country. Their show is a powerful blues roots sound with a Delta influence but still unique with their original songs. I heard many of the festival attendees declare they were there to see The Sugar Thieves and weren’t leaving until they had finished playing. The band includes Meredith Moore (vocals), Mikel Lander (guitar), Creamy David Libman (drums) and Jeff Naylor (pedal steel).
It was a great day in Phoenix for the blues. Thanks to the Phoenix Blues Festival for another fun day!!
Full set of photos eventually available at MJStringerPhoto.com.
Charles “CD” Davis – 24 Hour Blues
11 tracks – 50.54 minutes
Charles “CD” Davis was the guitarist in the Calvin Owens Blues Orchestra until Calvin’s death in 2008. This is his first solo release and it is a definite keeper. The CD features four different vocalists (Charles himself does not sing), all of whom are excellent, a horn section drawn from members of the Calvin Owens Orchestra and Charles plays superb guitar in a variety of styles throughout the album. Eight tracks are originals, written by Charles and collaborators. The three covers come from as diverse a selection as you can imagine - Gary Moore, Eddy Arnold and Tampa Red!
Personally I am always attracted to albums that have variety and this one hits the mark in that respect, with songs that cover soulful Rn’B, fingerpicking backporch acoustic, late night jazzy blues and big band styles. The ace up Charles’ sleeve is the quartet of vocalists who all deliver superbly in different ways. Trudy Lynn has a deep voice which adds great expression to the sad lyrics of “Still Got The Blues” and although the tune and guitar stylings are so familiar it is Trudy’s vocal that adds to the original. In contrast “It’s Tight Like That” is a fun romp through the old Tampa Red/Georgia Tom classic with strong guitar and keys. The horns are not present on these two tracks, apart from a great sax solo on the Gary Moore tune.
The other female voice is Roberta Donnay who provides a sultry jazz-tinged vocal on “A Minor Thing” which she co-wrote with Charles. Gentle horns accompany the band, the trumpets provide a counterpoint to the vocal and a beautifully played guitar solo all contribute to an excellent track. Roberta’s jazzy vocals also appear on “That’s How I Learned To Sing The Blues” which gives Charles the opportunity to play some very jazzy chords alongside violin and muted trumpet, overall giving something of a Stéphane Grappelli/Django Reinhardt feel to the track. The song comes from the pen of Henry Hipkens, a Nashville songwriter who also co-wrote “When Mama Leaves Town”, another standout track. Vocalist here is Rue Davis who has a touch of Bobby Bland in his voice, ideally suited to this sort of soulful blues. This is definitely a big band number, tough guitar with great tone set against a full horn section.
Rue is also the featured vocalist on Eddy Arnold’s 1955 “You Don’t Know Me”, a slow blues with a touch of country and a vocal that is pure Ray Charles – superb! Another big band number, the horns provide a gentle cushion on which Rue’s vocals nestle warmly and a launch pad for expressive solos from Charles and Horace Alexander Young on sax. Rue’s third contribution is part of a double act vocal with the other male voice on the album, Jabo – “The Texas Prince Of Zydeco” – though no sign of zydeco hereabouts! The track is one of Charles’ originals, “Old Fashioned Woman”, a classic shuffle, Rue giving us some more of his Bobby Bland stylings and Jabo testifying in gruffer tones. Out of the mix of voices Bruce Middleton’s sax emerges almost by surprise with a strong solo.
Jabo leads on opening track “Help Me Baby”, a nice rolling blues in which Jabo is in court and needs help to pay a fine or he may face a substantial prison sentence! This is another of the big band productions, the horns really swinging and short solos from organ and guitar. In complete contrast Jabo is the vocalist on “Lonely Man Blues” which is the most laidback track on the CD, just his vocal and Charles’ acoustic guitar, a classic blues, Jabo alone at the side of the road unable to get a ride. Jabo’s final contribution is “Worried” described as ‘downhome soul’ on the CD and it lives up to that description. Starting low key, the song builds into what could easily have been a lost BB King track from the 50’s. Another full big band production, this one builds all the way along, courtesy of the horns, before Charles solos in T-Bone style. That leaves just the closing track, instrumental “Blues For My Father”. Charles starts this one at a relaxed pace before a drum roll leads into some very strong and expressive playing. Definitely a feature for Charles’ guitar, the horns are absent from this one though keyboard player Jean Paul Paine also features strongly, his organ soloing over the long fade.
The core band on this CD is either Tyson Sheth or Marvin Sparks on drums, Anthony Sapp or Keith Vivens on bass, Jean Paul Paine or Duane Massey on keys and Charles “CD” Davis on guitar. The horn players are too numerous to mention but everyone on the CD does a tremendous job. The CD was recorded in Houston and produced by Charles and is issued on his own label. The sound quality and dynamics of the disc are excellent, so kudos to all involved. I can recommend this one very highly indeed and I think it will be on rotation on my system for a while!
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music and is currently planning a visit to the Tampa Bay Blues Festival.
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Mississippi Valley Blues Society - Davenport, IA
The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents The Chris Duarte Group, led by blues master and guitar virtuoso Chris Duarte, in concert at Rascal’s, 1414 15th St., Moline, IL on Thursday, March 29 at 7:00 p.m. Ticket prices are $12 to the general public, $10 for blues society members.
The Mississippi Valley Blues Society is proud to sponsor the first Quad-City appearance of Too Slim and The Taildraggers at The Muddy Waters, 1708 State Street Bettendorf, Iowa for a show on Wednesday, April 18th, beginning at 7:00 pm. Admission to the general public is $10. For MVBS members the admission will be $8.
The 2012 Iowa Blues Challenge Semi-final Rounds will be held April 19, at Zimm's, Des Moines, IA, and April 22, at The Muddy Waters, 1708 State Street, Bettendorf, IA. Five bands will play thirty-minute sets at The Muddy Waters starting at 5:00 p.m. Admission is $7 for ANY blues society member or $10 for non-members. Competitors are The Mississippi Misfits, Slack Man & the Smokin' Red Hots, Judge #3, Serious Business, and Phineas J's. One of the bands from the IBC semi-final round in Des Moines and two of the bands competing in the semi-finals at The Muddy Waters will earn the right to move into the 2012 Iowa Blues Challenge Final Round, to be held in Des Moines on May 26, at the Downtown Marriott. http://www.mvbs.org
Santa Barbara Blues Society - Santa Barbara, CA
The SBBS, the oldest existing blues society in the U.S., celebrates its gala 35th. birthday by presenting lauded bluesman James Harman and his band on Friday, March 30, 2012 in Warren Hall at the Earl Warren Show grounds. Originally from Alabama, Harman has been a star exemplar of the West Coast blues sound for over 3 decades, and a multiple nominee of Blues Music Awards from the Blues Foundation. His appearances for the SBBS, including his most recent in 2006 with stellar guitarist Jimmy Thackery, have been consistent sell-out crowd-pleasers.
The show will feature a large dance floor, BBQ snacks, and birthday cake! as well as great music. Doors open at 7 PM, with opening act by S.B.’s own Stiff Pickle Orchestra. For information, log onto www.SBBlues.org or call (805) 722-8155.
The Great Northern Blues Society - Wausau, WI
The Great Northern Blues Society is putting on our annual Fundraising Show “Blues Café’ 2012” on 3/31/12 at the Rothschild Pavilion near Wausau, WI. Chris Duarte’, Albert Castiglia, Howard & the Whiteboys, Jumpship Blues Band, and Donnie Pick & the Road band will be performing from 1:00PM – 11:00PM. www.gnbs.org for further information. $15 in advance - $20 at the door.
River City Blues Society - Pekin, IL
River City Blues Society presents: Bringing The Blues To You with the following shows - 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
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. Mar 26 – RJ Mischo, Apr 2 – Brad Vickers & His Vestopolatans, Apr 9 – JP Soars & the Red Hots, Apr 16 – Too Slim & the Tail Draggers, Apr 23 – Andrew Jr Boy Jones. icbluesclub.org
The Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL
Friends of the Blues present 2012 shows:
Thur, March 29, Albert Castiglia, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Tues, April 10, Sean Chambers, 7 pm, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club
Tues, April 17, Too Slim & Taildraggers, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Thur, April 26, Al Stone, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
West Virginia Blues Society - Charleston, W.V.
The West Virginia Blues Society, Inc. and Thornhill Auto Groups present 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: Friday April 6, 1st Friday Blues, Johnny Rawls. For more info: www.prairiecrossroadsblues.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
Debbie Bond - Hearts Are Wild
Blues Root Productions
Twelve tracks - 51:03
Her last album, What Goes Around Comes Around, was released in 1998. Debbie has certainly paid her blues dues. Born in Los Angeles, she eventually made her home in Alabama where she fell into the Alabama blues scene at an early age. Over the years she has become an ambassador for Alabama Blues, and in addition to working with the likes of Willie King, Johnny Shines and Jerry McCain, has fronted the Alabama Blues Project, pushing educational programs, concerts and CDs.
In this album she has moved away from covering the work of others, to a concentration on her own song writing and musicianship. She sees this as a turning point as she expands her horizons and seeks to do her own thing.
Debbie does the honors here as both rhythm and lead guitarist and of course, principal vocalist. She is joined here by her husband, Rik Asherson (keyboards, harmonica, and background vocals), James - Mr. B - Brown (bass, rhythm and lead guitars, back ground vocals) Dave Crenshaw (drums and percussion), Brad Guin (sax) , and Chad Fisher (trombone) Rob Alley (trumpet) and Brice Miller (trumpet).
It is tempting to compare her to other artists but that is unfair to her and to you. Debbie has a unique sound that carries this twelve song set in a number of directions. She has a strong lyrical capacity and both the lyrics and the sound can grab your ears and your mind with a vengeance. "Nothing but the Blues," is a song despairing of modern living and politics “You claim you’re killing for peace, to set people free, But people are dying is all we can see…”. "I Like It Like That," is a clever, double entendre song about the benefits of having a young lover who can keep things cooking and the opener “Dead Zone Blues” is a terrific horn driven piece allegedly about despair, but with undercurrent of hope “Always in the right place at the wrong time, Operator get me Jesus on the mainline”, a neat reference to a classic gospel song.
The CD comes with a booklet with all the lyrics in it and is strongly recommended.
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).
The Flaming Mudcats - Gave You What You Wanted
The mudcat or flathead is a larger species of catfish, a staple of the brown waters of the Mississippi and fresh waters in the Southlands. Not to be confused, the Flaming Mudcat is a blues band member from New Zealand. Did I say New Zealand? I said New Zealand!
This quartet of musicians hail from Auckland and play a distinctly authentic brand of straight up blues. The CD takes its’ name from an Ike Turner song (which, incidentally, is not covered). The band is led by Craig Braken, who sings and plays harp. Doug Bygrave is on guitar, Sean McCarthy is on bass and drums are provided by Ian Thompson. These four guys have played together since 2009, but they sound like a well seasoned band with tons of experience.
These are all new songs except one, and 9 were written by the band. The lone cover is “Twenty Dollar Gig” by Mickey Bones. The songs are strong and good top to bottom. Traditional yet fresh sounding stuff. From “Big City Mama” at the start to the ending cover, this is one helluva tight and exciting band.
The CD starts out with Bygraves’ strident guitar and then Bracken blazing his harp and singing in his powerful baritone, sort of like Junior Brown rockabilly goes to Chicago. Powerful, clean, driving stuff. The lyrics are catchy, too. “Champagne, Diamonds and a Fast Car”, just what anybody’s baby needs, right? A great little shuffle. Their namesake song, “Mudcat Boogie” is a cool little boogie with call and response and a smooth guitar line. “Double D’s” is a great instrumental where we first hear Murray Patton on the Hammond organ and more stinging guitar work; “Cool It Down” is another nice, slow instrumental with the harp singing a sad and lonely solo throughout. Simon Aanerud is on piano and keys on seven tracks; his work adds a nice sound and backdrop and his solos are crisp. “New Technology Blues” hearkens back to a Muddy Waters-like Hootchie Kootchie Man beat where Craig bemoans how our expectations are so big given our new technology. All the cuts here are excellent, top to bottom.
The blues are alive in the South Pacific thanks to bands like these. If they make to our shores or if you make it out there, these guys are the real deal and you should check them out. In the mean time, you’ll have to “suffer” through listening to them on this outstanding inaugural CD! It’s blazing hot stuff and well worth the listen!
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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