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 Cee Cee James. Bob Kieser has a photo essay on the 2012 Mississippi Valley Blues Fest.
We have six music reviews for you! Rainey Wetnight reviews a new release from Rick Estrin and The Nightcats. John Mitchell reviews a new release from the late Pinetop Perkins. Sheila Skilling reviews a new CD from Mark May. Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews a new release from Anthony Moser. Steve Jones reviews a new CD from Johnny Rawls. Mark Thompson reviews a new book by blues legend "Steady Rollin" Bob Margolin. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
Friday, July 20th
Saturday, July 21st
General Electric Employees Club
1750 General Electric Rd, Bloomington, IL
At times, it can really suck being an independent artist in a genre like the blues.
Days are filled with long and tedious hours of calling club owners to secure gigs, keeping up with all the requisite accounting duties and tax filings, calling to make travel reservations and dealing with the media.
All extremely-boring, but highly-necessary, tasks.
That doesn’t really leave a whole lot of time for writing and playing music by the time those other chores are put to bed.
But according to St. Louis-based blueswomen Cee Cee James, the grind and toil of all those daily mundane duties can quickly be wiped away.
“The minute you hit the stage, all that goes away,” she said. “I guess it’s like some women say about childbirth – I’ve never had a child – but they say you go through all that labor and then you’re holding that sweet, little thing and all the other stuff just goes away. You don’t even think about it. Just the feeling I get when I’m on stage and the fans out there are showing me love and I’m showing them love from the bottom of my heart … I don’t even know how to explain it.”
Just like any business requires a certain balance of things in order to come out with success at the end of the day, so too does the business of the blues.
“Well, sometimes you just want to throw up your hands - it’s beyond overwhelming. Getting all the promo stuff out for the album, dealing with the clubs … and you can only do so much,” James said. “And for awhile, I was letting my health suffer because of it. But you’ve got to eat right, exercise and then do the business; otherwise you won’t be able to do the business. It’s great to have your own record label and not be in the dark on stuff all the time, but the booking part and the bookkeeping part can be totally overwhelming. That part I would gladly give up.”
James has been nothing but a whirlwind of furious activity since the calendar switched to 2012 - first writing and recording and now promoting – her newest CD, Blood Red Blues (FWG Records).
Even though the disc doesn’t hit the street until mid-July, according to James, the initial response has been positive.
“Pre-release sales have been going on for a couple of weeks now and we’ve got it out to radio and so far, it’s gotten a good response,” she said. “We’re really close to it – we’ve been recording since January – back-and-forth between Tennessee and St. Louis - just a crazy time trying to get it done. So, we’re real close to it. But we feel really good about it, but it takes me a while to figure out whether I’ve done a good job or not. I just did the best that I could do and did everything from my heart. But when I listen back to my other CDs, it takes me awhile, but I go, ‘Hey, that’s pretty good.’”
‘Pretty good’ might not fully capture the power of James’ fourth disc.
Dubbed the ‘Vocal Volcano’ for obvious reasons, James sings every line of the title track as if her very life depended on the response it evokes from listeners.
It’s redemptive, it’s uplifting and it’s certainly soul-stirring.
It also sets the stage perfectly for the 11 songs that follow. Combine James’ explosive vocals with some hot guitar courtesy of Rob “Slideboy” Andrews and Rocky Athas, and what you have is one album destined to catch the attention of blues lovers everywhere.
And then there’s the messages contained inside the songs.
“This CD is a very positive CD. And there are probably a couple of common themes that run through it. One would be the very positive aspects of love and the other would be the poignancy and the truth of life,” James said. “And there are a couple of heavy songs about what goes on in the world and how to set ourselves free from that.”
Blood Red Blues was produced by the one-and-only Jim Gaines.
And for James and her band-mates, hanging with the Grammy-winning legend was like a small slice of Heaven.
“It was very, very cool. The guys were just in awe – they were kind of like little puppies during the sessions,” laughed James. “And Jim made everybody sweet and happy with all the doughnuts he always had around. But I don’t think it really hit me until after we were done who I was working with.”
The list of blues artists that Gaines has helped bring their music to life is a long and well-recited one. But Gaines’ magic is not strictly limited to the 12-bar blues. Not by a long shot.
“He took us to his house one time and showed us all the Grammy Awards and gold records on his wall,” James said. “And I was like, ‘The Spinners? Wow. And you were the guy that produced all those great Huey Lewis records?’ And the Neville Brothers?’ And then of course, there was Santana and Stevie Ray … and there I was in his humble little studio there in Stantonville, Tennessee.”
Gaines’ reputation as a strict task-master for six-string slingers has been well-documented. But the master producer can be equally demanding on singers, as well.
“I’ve never had trouble going into the studio and expressing myself as if I’m on stage. I just don’t have that issue. I’m a performer whether I’m in a room in a studio or on a live stage or in a living room with one person watching. I’m just a live performer – it’s in my blood,” James said. “And when I got up to the vocal mikes for the first time (during the sessions for Blood Red Blues), Jim said, ‘Cee Cee, I’ll tell you, I’m really hard on vocalists.’ And I said, ‘Jim, I’m ready for you.’ And I was. I didn’t have any fear. I had worked really hard on the songs at home and I knew what I wanted to do to bring each song to life with the melodies. But what Jim did for me was to steer me a little bit harder. He’d say, ‘That’s a great line, but I don’t quite feel it.’ Or, ‘That’s a great line, but I don’t understand that word.’ It was very minimal stuff - we really made a great team. He pretty much let me do what I wanted to do.”
And the end result, in addition to another outstanding album in her canon, was some well-deserved praise that money just can’t buy.
“He gave me a really good compliment. He said I was one of the best singers he’s ever worked with,” said James. “I’ve worked very hard over the years and to get that kind of accolade coming from someone like that was, ‘OK, this has paid off.’ But I don’t get a big head about it, because I’m always trying to get better and expand myself. When I hear some of the singers out there that I really admire, I think, ‘Yeah, you’re doing OK, but you could do better.’”
Along with her dynamic, heat-seeking vocal prowess, one of James’ true strengths lies in her abilities as a song-writer. James and her husband/band-mate/guitarist Rob “Slideboy” Andrews penned all 12 tunes on Blood Red Blues.
“It’s kind of an interesting process between the two of us and I have to tell you, I’m very grateful and thankful that he’s my co-writing partner, because I’ve worked with other writers in the past, but to have someone in-house like this is really handy,” James laughed. “Plus, we’ve kind of started to create our own style, and that started with Low Down Where the Snakes Crawl. He comes from a very traditional blues background - he played with a lot of the old blues cats in Oakland, California for years. And I’m kind of a 70s blues/rock baby and kind of a soul child. So our influences kind of come to the table and mix and I think what’s come out is starting to feel pretty damn good. But he’s my best friend and he’s been a real gift in my life. But we’re friends first. It’s wonderful.”
While it would seem – based just on her undeniable talents – that Cee Cee James was born to sing the blues, in reality, she actually had to find her way to the music through a lengthy and sometimes painful, process.
“I always liked to sing and perform, but I was kind of un-decisive (on a career in music) for awhile. I got into modeling and acting and like a lot of young girls, I wanted to be pretty and to be loved for what I looked like,” she said. “I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. All the glamour magazines tell you that. And you learn pretty quickly as a young girl that you can get attention for what you look like. But that’s a double-edged sword. That was not the kind of attention that I wanted. The kind of attention you get for being a pretty young girl is not always the right kind of attention.”
After stepping off the modeling catwalk and moving to San Diego, James picked up a bass guitar and started messing around by playing songs from the Scorpions and AC/DC.
Her next step was to hook up with some of the local groups – mostly heavy metal and hard rock outfits – to play the songs of the day.
James really served up notice of her amazing talents with Spiritually Wet, a highly-acclaimed pop/funk CD that was issued just before the dawn of the new millennium.
Just as it looked like the Funky White Girl was poised to hit it big, a hiking trip changed everything for James.
That, along with an echo from the long-departed Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“I was hiking one day while going through a major, major personal transition. I was going to leave my marriage of 20 years and was releasing that my pop-funk career was not going to take off because I was not Britney (Spears), nor did I want to be,” said James. “But I was hiking and I heard Stevie say, ‘You need to go back to your roots, girl. You need to go back to what you do best.’ And at that moment, I had no idea what that meant, but I knew it meant the blues. I had never done much blues – a little blues/rock – but I left my husband, put the Funky White Girl project to rest and started going to blues jams. That was the beginning of the journey. But looking back, there was no deciding point. It just kind of started rolling in this direction. I don’t know, but I think its destiny.”
Although she may not have been belting out the blues at the time, James still came to an important self-realization during the time of the Spiritually Wet sessions – something that has served her well over the course of her three blues-based discs.
“The producer was really trying to fit me into a box and I’m a real raw singer and I got home from one of the sessions and for the first time was watching the Tina Turner biography,” said James. “And she got up on stage and just opened up her mouth and wailed. There was no box, no restriction, no nothing. That probably completely turned me around inside myself. It made me realize that I don’t have to try to fit myself into something. I don’t have try to control myself 100-percent. I went into the bedroom that night and just started wailing my songs. I just opened up and let them fly. And that was a big, big turning point for me when the box on my vocal chords opened up to another level.”
Forgoing any kind of a slick, paint-by-numbers approach to the blues, James issued Low Down Where the Snakes Crawl in 2008, followed by Seriously Raw – Live at Sunbanks in 2010.
Blood Red Blues manages to combine the best of those two discs - well-crafted songwriting with all the fire and fury of a live Cee Cee James show.
That should help to boost James up another rung or two on the ladder to reaching an even wider and more diverse audience.
“I hope that it reaches more and more people’s hearts and that they can feel the messages that I’m trying to bring to the world,” she said. “At this stage in my life, it’s real important that I feel like I’m doing good for the world. It’s not about me or how I look on stage, or how cutesy I am or anything like that. It’s about me bringing my heart and the deepest core of my soul – interpreting the songs for the people to hopefully touch them in some way. And if Blood Red Blues lets me get that out to more and more people, I’d really love that.”
That and maybe obtaining a booking agent over here in the good ole’ United States of America.
“Yeah, I sure could use a booking agent over here. I’ve got one for Europe, but don’t have one for the United States,” James laughed. “That would really be helpful to have one over here.”
Visit Cee Cee's website at www.ceeceejames.com
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.
Rick Estrin and the Nightcats - One Wrong Turn
12 songs; 49:59 minutes
Styles: Modern Electric Blues, Harmonica led Blues, and Blues Rock
Rare are the blues artist and blues album that never make “One Wrong Turn.” Fans must look long and hard to find them, but in the case of multi-talented Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, the search is over! These four Californians have taken their huge blues knowledge and spun it through their slightly warped musical vision to create an album of tough yet often-hilarious blues. It’s genuinely difficult to decide which songs (out of twelve originals) are the best, but here are major kudos for three of them found on this second release by the now Estrin-led group:
Track 04: Best Lyrics: “(I Met Her on the) Blues Cruise”--Name-dropping can be a cardinal sin in literature and blues songs, but here it works perfectly. Rick Estrin narrates the tale of a hapless Blues Cruiser looking for love in all the wrong places--specifically, the places tattooed with portraits of blues stars on his lover’s body! “She had a heart right above her heart that said ‘Ronnie Baker Brooks’. Bobby Rush was on her muffin top, grinning at me non-stop, and the Tommy Castro tramp stamp was tough to overlook….” The YouTube music video of this song is a hoot, but don’t watch it with little kids around!
Track 09: Best Guitar: “Broke and Lonesome”--This lament’s theme is perennially familiar, yet Chris “Kid” Andersen’s roaring shredder brings it to crisp new life. Each note falls like a drop of acid rain on listeners’ ears, possessing a lingering hypnotic effect. This is the type of blues song in which one can let one’s imagination wander, especially during the tail-kicking solo in the middle! “What’s so happy about a Happy Meal?” Estrin wonders as Kid launches into a swinging tempo. One thing’s clear: his guitar’s not “Broke”!
Track 11: Best Harmonica: “Old News”--The only two instruments played on the almost-final song are Estrin’s voice and his mouth harp, to marvelous effect. It’s a wry commentary on the bewildering nature of today’s top stories, posing questions that might be asked by the uninformed: “Hey, what’s a jumbo shrimp, and what’s a high-class pimp? Hey, what’s a civil war? What’s up with less is more?” To Estrin, “That’s old news!” His gritty harmonica riffs are perfect background music for an old-fashioned hoedown, prompting listeners to dance on the floor or in their seats. This ditty is so catchy that it should have finished out the album!
Other featured musicians include Lorenzo Farrell and J. Hansen, along with guest sax and trumpet players such as Doug James, Terry Hanck, and Chris Barnes. Blues fans, if you’re weary of “baby, baby, baby” permutations, you won’t make “One Wrong Turn” if you give Rick Estrin and the Nightcats a shot!
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.
The Mississippi Valley Blues Fest has been going strong for 28 years now and it is obvious that theorganization that put this on knows their Blues. The Mississippi Valley Blues Society's signature event is regarded as one of the best festivals in the world by fans and musicians. And this years event continued the fine tradition with a great lineup in a fantastic venue. (Full Disclosure - I am a lifetime member and former board member of the Mississippi Valley Blues Society!)
The 3 day festival is always held over the Fourth of July weekend. This year because of the holiday falling on a Wednesday, the fest ran Friday June 29th through Sunday July1st.
On Friday the fest kicked off with young guitar sensation Matthew Curry and The Fury.
At 17 Matthew is a seasoned pro and he put one hell of a show featuring many songs from his debut album If I Don't Got You. The CD is nominated for New Artists Debut in the 2012 Blues Blast Music Awards. Matthew is nominated for a total of three 2012 Blues Blast Music Awards. You can vote for him or any of the 2012 BBMA nominees now just CLICK HERE
Near the end of the Fury's set, as if on cue, the wind began to blow and a thunderstorm complete with lots of lightning and pouring rain halted the rest of the acts scheduled to appear on the main band shell stage.
On the fest's other stage, the tent stage, the opening act was Ernest "Guitar" Roy. Ernest did a solo performance which was quite enjoyable.
In spite of the raging storm the acts on the tent stage continued and next up was Liz Mandeville and Donna Herula. They played to a packed crowd trying to squeeze into the tent to avoid the pouring rain and got a fantastic response to the set which included many songs from their new CD Clarksdale.
Next up on the tent stage was Blues legend James "Super Chikan" Johnson.
Bringing his whole band from Canton, Mississippi, they had a great set as rain continued pour down.
Last up for the Friday lineup was Kenny Neal. Kenny had a great set to finish off the night. Kenny then headed back to the fest hotel to do another great set in the after fest jam.
On Saturday the rain was lone gone replaced by simmering temps in the mid 90's. The days lineup stated off with The Terry Quiett Band on the main band shell stage.
He was followed by Ray Fuller & The Blues Rockers.
Meanwhile Bryce Janey performed a solo set to get things rolling in the tent stage.
Bryce was followed by slide guitar master Doug MacLeod.
Doug showed he knows a thing or two about the business end of a dobro.
Back on the other stage, Preston Shannon started off the evening acts as the sun began to move behind the band shell providing much appreciated shade for those photographing the days performers.
He was followed by the great Guitar Shorty. Shorty had a surprise rhythm guitar player, Joe Moss, much to the delight of all the fans. Joe Moss is a phenomenal guitar player and got the chance to strut his stuff playing a cool looking Gibson Flying V guitar.
Back in the tent stage The Ernest Dawkins Quartet played a cool set of jazz on a hot afternoon. Each year the Mississippi Valley Blues Society entertainment committee includes a jazz band. There is a fair amount of fan crossover between Blues and jazz. The jazz band choice over many years has always been guided by longtime MVBS board member Jimmie Jones. Jimmie was not able to make the fest this year but you could feel the influence his leadership has had on the MVBS entertainment committee by the selection of this great jazz quartet.
Following Dawkins was Moreland & Arbuckle. Moreland & Arbuckle is a blues duo founded in Kansas, in 2002. The group, consisting of guitarist Aaron "Chainsaw" Moreland, and vocalist/blues harp player Dustin Arbuckle. They were accompanied as usual with a drummer sitting in.
The last act of Saturdays lineup was Coco Montoya. One lovely lady dancing near me crooned, "His music is sooo smooth. And yes it really was! If you haven't seen Coco, PUT IT ON YOUR LIST!
He told the crowd that he wanted to bring up a friend and song writing partner, Doug MacLeod. They did a couple numbers which Coco said they had written together. GREAT set to finish off Saturdays lineup of talent.
On Sunday we were treated to a kick ass set by Lady Bianca. Our first time covering her, this lady has it all. She looks delightful and you can't help liking her the moment you see her smiling face. When she kicked off the set with powerful keyboard style and soulful lead vocals, you knew you were in for a treat. Lady Bianca led a tight band through a nice selection of material. Don't miss this one if you get the chance to see her.
Next up was Trampled Under Foot. This band won the 2008 IBC. The three pieces family blues band from Kansas City consists of Nick Schnebelen on guitar and vocal, Schnebelen on Bass and vocals and Kris Schnebelen on drums and vocals.
Kicking you in the head with talent, the band starts of with Danielle belting at powerful tune. This band is as tight as anything I have ever heard!. In Last years Blues Blast Music Awards, fans voted them Blues Band of The Year and also gave them the Sean Costello Rising Star Award. They were nominated for Blues Band of the year again this year. You can vote for them or any of the 2012 BBMA nominees now just CLICK HERE
On the tent stage Paul Geremia kicked off our afternoon with a solo set that had him singing, and playing harmonica and acoustic guitar.
Johnny Rawls was up next and he had an entirely different band then when we saw him at a club recently. The band clicked and it made for a great set.
The headliner act on the tent stage was none other then Bobby Rush. His set was accurately named the Double Rush Review. Bobby started out with just himself sitting at the front of the stage playing his telecaster, singing, playing harmonica and telling stories. He is a master of stage presence and the audience was loving every minute of it.
Then he left the stage and returned with his whole band including his famous dancing girls. His act with the band is quite risqué and really entertaining. If you have not seen Bobby Rush before, you are really missing out! Bobby Rush is nominated for Male Blues Artist in the 2012 Blues Blast Music Awards. You can vote for Bobby or any of the 2012 BBMA nominees now just CLICK HERE
The headliner act of the night on the main stage was also the headliner of the entire fest, The Brooks Family Dynasty featuring sons Wayne Baker Brooks, Ronnie Baker Brooks and their pop, the legend himself, Lonnie Brooks.
All three members of this talented family tour the country doing festivals by themselves, but to get to hear them all together is a real treat!
Hats off to he Mississippi Valley Blues Society for another great festival!
Photos by Bob Kieser and Gary Eckhart © 2012 as marked.
Pinetop Perkins - Heaven
12 tracks – 44.45 minutes
When Pinetop Perkins died in 2011 all blues fans felt a mixture of sadness at his passing, tinged with joy that he had led such a full and colorful life. We had no expectation that we might hear his piano and voice again, but Blind Pig have dug into their archives and discovered a previously unissued NYC session from 1986. Here we have Pinetop at just 73 years young, mostly solo but on four cuts he is joined by Brad Vickers on bass and Pete DeCoste on drums; on one of those four tracks Tony O adds guitar and Mike Markowitz harmonica. Two additional vocal tracks were recorded in 2011 featuring Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith (on possibly his last recordings) and Otis Clay.
On this session Pinetop mixes some of his original compositions with classic blues and a couple of standards. The album opens with “44 Blues” with which Roosevelt Sykes had a hit as early as 1929; who knows, maybe Pinetop heard that record when he was growing up! His version is classic barrelhouse with lots of rolling left hand notes. Pinetop’s own “4 O’Clock In The Morning” is a slower piece in which you can really hear his piano skills. John Nicholas’ “Relaxin’” is exactly that, a solo piano instrumental, medium-paced with a catchy refrain.
Howling Wolf’s “Sitting On Top Of The World” is the song on which Willie Smith sings. It is eerie to hear two of our recently lost bluesmen combining on this performance as we know that they were never together for it. However, you would never realize that from this seamless recording: Willie’s voice fits like a glove with Pinetop’s playing, not surprising if you have heard their Grammy winning Joined At The Hip. (Editor's Note - Joined At the Hip also won the 2012 Blues Blast Music Awards for Best Traditional Album)
Pinetop’s own “Just Keep On Drinking” is the first band performance, the addition of bass and drums supporting the beat without reducing the importance of Pinetop’s piano. It’s a jaunty piece that gets the toes tapping with an amusing lyric about using alcohol as a way of forgetting hard times. “Since I Fell For You” has been sung by countless singers but Otis Clay does a great job, using the deep gospel tone of his voice to convey the desperation of the lyrics. Pinetop returns to solo mode with “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie”, a sprightly boogie with Pinetop delivering the instructions in a fast-speaking style. His own “Ida B” is the track with added guitar and harp, the longest cut on the CD at just over five minutes. It’s a slow blues in which the harp is up front from the start, the guitar in supporting role.
Three solo pieces follow, starting with “Sweet Home Chicago”. A song often covered badly, this is how it should sound, Pinetop’s vocal sounding cheerful about that possible return to the Windy City. “Pinetop’s Blues” is a slow, melancholy tune with Pinetop’s left hand playing mournful chords before his voice enters to recount a classic blues tale of waking up to the dawn without anyone “to hold my aching head”. “Willow Weep For Me” is another of those standards that have been played by many jazz artists and Pinetop’s interpretation is excellent, again demonstrating what a fine pianist he was. The CD concludes with a final band outing on Jimmy Rogers’ classic “That’s All Right”, Pinetop’s voice capturing the essence of the familiar lyrics and his right hand flourishes more than adequately replacing the more usual guitar and/or harp on many versions of the song.
Putting aside the obvious question of why these tracks have never been issued before, let’s celebrate the fact that Blind Pig found them so that we can all enjoy a little more Pinetop! The only question is whether there are any more in the archives somewhere…
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 enjoyed the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in April.
Mark May Band – Release My Soul
Bad Fork Records
11 tracks; 65:10 minutes
It seems the phrase “blew me away” is overused to the point of losing its clout, so I’m going to raise the stakes and say that Release My Soul, a new CD by the Mark May Band, touched my soul. From lyrics that got under my skin to solos that left me speechless, this set of 11 original songs (10 of them written or co-written by May) evoked an almost spiritual experience.
Mark May was born into a musical family, where he was exposed to a variety of musical styles. He started playing guitar at the age of 5, and was performing at local nightclubs by age15. This former guitarist and vocalist for Dickey Betts and Great Southern has opened for the Allman Brothers Band; and the influence of Betts and the Allman Brothers is obvious in May’s work. After over 20 years of performing in Houston, Texas, May has recently returned to his native Ohio, and the majority of his current tour dates are there.
This CD (May’s 5th) starts off with a fun tune that will rock your socks off, “Six Strings or Two Legs.” The cute and clever – though likely somewhat true – lyrics of this honky-tonk song basically tell you that the singer is “a woman-lovin’ blues man,” and don’t be expecting him to mow the lawn or do chores around the house. But in his defense, he says he’ll “be at bar tonight, if you want to hear some blues.”
In this song, you’ll hear some classic Hammond B3 organ, and some really nice slide guitar, as well as a duel between their harmonica and their two lead guitars, playing in harmony. I found this technique, no doubt adapted from Dickey Betts and the Allman Brothers, to be a Mark May Band trademark. This duel lead or double solo (which would seem to be oxymorons) can range from flowing, pleasant harmony to skirting a strategic clash, if the mood calls for it, as in some of the later, jazzier cuts.
The skies start to cloud up, almost immediately, in the second track, “Move On.” This one features a darker sound, with minor chords and a guitar solo with a little harder edge. Still there’s at least a hint of sun on the horizon, and the 3rd cut, “I Gotta Know,” lightens up considerably, featuring a strong horn section and bright guitar harmony provided by May and his co-lead guitarist, Paul Ramirez.
The 4th track, “Eyes Of India,” starts out sounding much like a contemporary Christian or country ballad, with lovely harmonizing vocals; but then adds some Indian musical elements - with May on electric sitar - making it one of the most beautiful songs on the disc. (You’ll hear some of this Indian influence again in cut 8, “Vindablues.”)
From here, the dark storm clouds roll back in with a vengeance, and the next three tracks, “Release My Soul,” “World of Suffering” and “Drifter,” up the emotional ante, with the mood running from sinister to plaintive to (slightly) hopeful. “Drifter” is heavy on the sax and horn section, with a scorching guitar solo. In all of these songs, there is a distinct move towards jazz, and May’s solos sometimes reminded me of (if I may invoke the “B” word) Jeff Beck.
“Devil’s Playpen” has a funky, SuperFly-style scratchy wah wah, while “She Don’t Shine” is a heart-felt ballad but includes an ominous, almost agitated riff. But then the set calms down to close with “Sweet D,” a pretty little instrumental, with a chord progression reminiscent of Eric Clapton’s “Change the World.”
Throughout this disc, May’s voice is smooth and pleasing enough for the ballads, with just the right amount of sincerity and gravel to handle the blues.
Release My Soul by the Mark May Band did touch my soul with its search for the hard truth in life and its pure, emotion-laden beauty. I’m not sure why I loved it so much. Was it the perfect storm of my favorite musical techniques and elements? Or is it that I’m a bit bewildered by life and on my own search for the hard truth? Or is that May is just that talented? Whatever the reason, I did love this CD and give it my highest recommendation.
Reviewer Sheila Skilling is a self-professed “blues fan by marriage,” who was hooked by her husband’s musical preferences, but reeled in by the live performances of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy and others. She lives in the Minneapolis area .
Anthony Moser - Transhuman Blues
The first thing that jumps out of my mouth on hearing this Chicago native’s first release is the word unrealized. Sounds mostly like “works in progress”. His desire to sound different mostly ends up sounding unusual. Something like David Bromberg gone wrong. His guitar technique is refreshing at times. Marty Sammon who currently tours with Buddy Guy’s band offers his fine piano playing in a jazz or traditional blues style. The rhythm section is adequate.
“One Percent” and the other track that is recorded in front of a live audience suffer from the loud crowd noise throughout. Anthony’s guitar playing veers from swinging to amateurish on this tune. The lyrics and delivery of “Got It All” are just plain dopey. The boogie-woogie piano on this tune is just superb. A mesmerizing Dobro riff out front is the highlight of the title track. Sort of like a modern day Son House.
“Back & Forth” is an old timey sounding swing tune with a slapped upright bass providing the push. An attempt at being current, “Google Is Listening” falls on its face. An alternative tango is offered on “Test II”, were mundane lyrics such as “Will you take me home with you and wrap me in a tire?” mars an otherwise musically sound song. What sounds like a whistling tape defect pervades the slow and deliberate “Blue Darkness”. A cover of T-Bone Walker’s “That Old Feeling Is Gone” is the only blues here. It has that sloppy after hours vibe, which is meant as a compliment.
What transpires here is more like a rehearsal that wasn’t ready or intended for release. The production values shouldn’t have allowed for loud audience noise throughout two songs. Anthony’s voice is reminiscent of Steve Forbert, hence I suppose the goofy vocals are intentional. Ok I understand this is a debut effort, but the songs and guitar playing could have used some tightening up. Hopefully he gets it together with stronger material. The band he uses here is topnotch. If he looks upon this release as a training ground for the big leagues, the effort will not have been wasted. Here’s hoping for good things in the future.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
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The Western New York Blues Society - New York, NY
The Western New York Blues Society presents harp master Dennis Gruenling along with guitar ace Doug Deming in concert at Paradise Island, 4701 Transit Rd., Depew, Friday, July 13. 7 p.m. $12. advance, $15. at the door. Info: (716) 656-7946 or http://wnyblues.org. One of today's most compelling duos in Contemporary Blues, harmonica master Dennis Gruenling and guitarist Doug Deming (and his band, The Jewel Tones), perform swinging jump blues rich with gritty shuffles and driving boogies. Harpist Gruenling and guitarist Deming (the later who fronts longtime group, the Jewel Tones) have once again joined forces for an ambitious twenty-eight city tour in just twenty-six days, each in support of a new CD ("Rockin' All Day" by Dennis Gruenling; "What's It Gonna Take" by Doug Deming).
Minnesota Blues Society - St. Paul, MN
The Minnesota Blues Society presents our Annual Members Picnic and Food Drive on Sunday, July 15, 1:00-6:00 at Ken and Marilyn Zieska's home, Plymouth, Mn (email@example.com). It is also our 10th anniversary celebration as a blues society! Music starts at 2:00 with Everett Smithson Band and then Crankshaft (2012 RTM winner/2013 IBC MnBS representative), Jam after. Hot Dogs/Brats provided, bring side dishes,chair,instruments, Food donations for PRISM Rain or Shine, free to members, $5.00 suggested donation for non-members More detailed info @ www.mnbs.org
Also MNBS 2012 Minnesota Hall of Fame inductees announced. MnBS would like to congratulate this years' honorees: Big Walter Smith, "Blues Performer"; James Samuel "Cornbread" Harris, Sr., "Blues Legend"; Dan Schwalbe, "Blues Sideman"; Electric Fetus, "Supportive of the Blues (non-performer)"; Cyn Collins, "West Bank Boogie", "Blues Art and Literature"; Lamont Cranston, "Tiger in your Tank", "Blues Recording"; Will Donicht, "Blues on the Bank", "Blues Song". 2012 Minnesota Hall of Fame event will be held, Sun, Oct 14, Wilebski's Blues Saloon, St. Paul. Mn details to follow @ www.mnbs.org
River City Blues Society - Pekin, IL
River City Blues Society presents: Bringing The Blues To You with the following shows at Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St, Pekin, Illinois - July 18th • Peter Karp and Sue Foley: Wednesday , Time:7:00 pm – 11:00 pm Admission: $5.00, July 25th at 7:00PM • Laurie Morvan, Aug 8th at 7:00PM • Chris Beard Admission: $5.00 or $3.00 for members For more info visit: www.rivercityblues.com or call 309-648-8510
Long Island Blues Society - Centereach, NY
The Long Island Blues Society will be hosting the following events:
7/17/12 Randy Oxford Band w/Special Guest Tommy Keys at 7PM Bobbique in Patchogue NY.
Free to LIBS Members, all others $10.
7/18/12 IBC Symposium & with LIBS General Membership Meeting. Discussion on going to Memphis as a competitor, fan & supporter. What to expect & what is expected of you. Location TBA.
Free to all.
8/12/12 Tas Cru. Frank Celenza opening, at 2PM Bobbique in Patchogue NY. LIBS Members $8, all others $10.
9/16/12 Long Island Blues Talent Competition (LIBTC) to select a representative for IBC. $10 donation to help defray winners expenses in Memphis. Location TBA. Now accepting applications for Band, Solo/Duo categories. Requirements on website www.liblues.org
Dayton Blues Society – Dayton, Ohio
The Dayton Blues Society will be holding our “Road to Memphis” Blues Challenge on July 22nd at Gilly’s Nite Club in downtown Dayton. We are now accepting applications for our Band and Solo/Duo categories. Please go to www.daytonbluessociety.com for complete details.
The Blues Kids Foundation - Chicago, IL
The Blues Kids Foundation presents Fernando Jones’ Annual Blues Camp. This fun-filled experience awards scholarships to over 120 Blues Kids (ages 12 to 18), affording them a “priceless” fun-filled experience. They will learn and perform America’s root music in a fully funded, weeklong program with like minded others under the tutelage of national and international instructors. Blues Camp is in residence at: Columbia College Chicago, Huston-Tillotson University (Austin, TX) and the Fender Center (Corona, CA). This series is designed for America’s youth and educators. To be a sponsor call us at 312-369-3229.
CAMP DATES & CITIES
July 15 - 21 / Columbia College, Chicago, IL
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. • 7/16/2012 - Bill Evans Birthday Party • 7/23/2012 - Roger "Hurricane" Wilson • 7/30/2012 - Biscuit Miller and the Mix • 8/6/2012 - Matt Hill • 8/13/2012 - Rockin Johnny • 8/27/2012 -Dennis Gruenling • 9/3/2012 - Eric Guitar Davis • 9/24/2012 - The 44s • 10/1/2012 - Levee Town • 10/8/2012 - Rich Fabec 10/15/2012 - Jason Elmore. Other ICBC sponsored events at the K of C Hall, Casey’s Pub, 2200 Meadowbrook Rd., Springfield, IL from 7:30pm - Midnight - Jun 30 – Matt Hill . icbluesclub.org
The Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL
Friends of the Blues present 2012 shows:
Thur, July 12, Dave Riley (outdoors opening dinner hour set by Sugarcane Collins), 7pm, The Longbranch Restaurant, L’Erable IL
Tues, July 17, Sugarcane Collins, 7pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Tues, July 24, Laurie Morvan Band, 7 pm, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club
Thur, August 9, Too Slim and the Taildraggers, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Wed, August 22, Smokin’ Joe Kubek w/ Bnois King, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Thur, Sept 6, Ivas John Band, 7 pm, venue TBA
Tues, Sept 18, Smilin’ Bobby, 7 pm, venue TBA
Thur, Sept 27, Jerry Lee & Juju Kings, 7 pm, venue TBA
Thursday, Oct 18, Morry Sochat & The Special 20s, 7 pm, TBA
Johnny Rawls - Soul Survivor
At 61 Jonny Rawls continues to tour heavily and push out quality albums every couple of years. Spawned from the O.V.Right and Little Johnny Taylor line of soul music, Johnny Rawls has a captivatingly smooth and easy approach to his tunes. At times and in a good way it’s almost like a sedative that just woos you into a captivating trance, where you just listen and feel good from a subconscious level. He learned well as bandleader to some of soul’s great men, and his solo work is also pretty damn good. He got 3 BMA nominations for his last CD and while the competition to win is tough to win he is certainly in the mix!
We have nine original cuts here, written by Rawls, Bob Trenchard (his bass player) and other band members along with one cover of his original mentor’s works, O.V. Wright; “Eight Men, Four Women” isa very soulful ballad where O.V. did and now Rawls bemoans the guilty plea he has to submit to his jury of love. It’s a nice tribute and Rawls is convincing. Jessica and Jillian Ivey are great on back-up vocals.
I would have to say my favorite original cuts are the first one and last two. On the first, Rawls gives us the title cut and describes soulfully how he is a “Soul Survivor” in the biz. The instrumental cut “J.R.’s Groove” features Rawls on bass and Johnny McGhee on guitar. Andy Roman on sax, Mike Middleton on trumpet and Robert Claiborne on trombone also stand out as does Dan Ferguson on keys. Richy Puga on congas and drums is also featured. It is a cool and driving groove.
Lastly, “Yes” gives us Rawls on bass and guitar here. It’s more of a rough and tumble slow soulful bluesy tune with an acoustic opening and a strident vocal by Rawls- really nice stuff.
The rest of the CD is also well done, a Soul Survivor working his craft. I enjoyed this CD a lot as will any soul music fan looking for traditional stuff done professionally and tastefully. Rawls is a steady fixture on today’s scene and it’s nice that he continues to produce really good new stuff for us to enjoy.Reviewer Steve Jones is president 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 since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.
Steady Rollin' – Blues Stories, Snapshots & (Intentional) Blues Fiction
Written by Bob Margolin
96 pages (estimated)
Over the years, many fans have heard veteran blues guitarist Bob Margolin tell a story – or have read his writing for Blues Revue magazine or it's on-line publication, BluesWax. They have encouraged Margolin to write a book to share his tales from his life on the road and recollections about all of the legendary blues musicians that became his mentors and friends. After failing to arrange a deal with a traditional publishing company, Margolin decided to use technology to his advantage by selecting some of his Blues Revue material, updating each piece and bringing it all together in the E-Book format along with photos that he gathered during the last forty-plus years. To sweeten the endeavor, Margolin includes several pieces of “blues fiction”, which he describes as being”..the closest to songwriting and playing music for me, because it combines my experience with my imagination in a story.”
The first article finds Margolin reflecting on his life as he celebrated his 60th birthday in 2009, making music at the Carolina Blues Festival. He shares some of the guiding principles of his life, including making decisions based on asking himself if something will lead him to have a good time on the bandstand. After briefly touching on the changes brought on by new technologies, the author begins to describe his cherished friends, Muddy Waters and Willie “Pinetop” Perkins.
One lengthy chapter is devoted to Margolin's seven year stint in Muddy's band, leading to a friendship that the author describes with a touching honesty. Another piece relates Margolin's experience when he joins Muddy and Pinetop as guests at the famous Last Waltz concert for The Band in 1976. Also included is Margolin's touching tribute to Pinetop that paints the picture of a wonderful musician and an even better human being. The author's easy-going writing style allows Margolin to connect with the reader, getting you to feel the depths of his emotions on Pinetop's death.
Another chapter covers Margolin's career that started with him playing in several Boston rock bands, the Indigo's and Freeborn. There are photos of both bands along with the cover of a 1968 album recorded by a later version of Freeborne, now with an extra letter. The author describes getting hired by Muddy Waters in 1973 to replace Sammy Lawhorn because Muddy appreciated his efforts to play in the classic Chicago blues style. After leaving Muddy's band, Margolin never quit playing, sharing the stage with an ever-changing cast of musicians who shared his passion for the music. There is a chapter centered on another big part of Margolin's life, his love of dogs – specifically his border collies – that was written in the aftermath of 9/11 as Margolin sought to bring some measure of comfort to Blues Revue readers. The piece includes a description of an impromptu front-porch jam with Margolin and Hubert Sumlin playing guitar three dogs, who seemed to favor Sumlin's picking!
The heartfelt rendering of moments like that one is one aspect of the book that make it a worthwhile read. Another key element of the project are Margolin's insights into the business, comments that stand the test of time like the 2004 column simply titled, “Blues is Dead”, where he refuses to accept the notion that only music from the “innovators” deserves to be heard. “Hope in Tough Times Feels Like a Blues Song to Me” uses song lyrics to aid Margolin's assessment of the state of the blues business circa 2008 mixed with recollections of Big Bill Broonzy and a visit to the White House, adding as a coda the lyrics to one of his songs. Another high point is the piece that finds him shouting the praises of the blues women he has worked with, from Etta James to Diunna Greenleaf.
The final section offers a sampling of Margolin's fictional work, all with a musical theme sparked by his real-life experiences. His first fictional writing was a series he did for Blues Revue that imagined what things might have been like had the great blues harp player, Little Walter, lived a longer life. The stories included here depict the not-so-sexy life of a working musician, a rock star attempting to honor the bluesman who inspired him and the poignant examination of a musician well-aware of his fate in “I Believe My Time Ain't Long”.
This was a fun read and, at the end, I wanted more. Margolin's home-spun style lends an extra layer of depth to his reminiscing while his decades of experience lend credibility and flavor that make his stories all-the-more believable. Let's hope that Margolin will continue to share his writing with us. On the evidence here, a full-length work of fiction could prove to be quite memorable. In the meantime, do not miss this celebration of the man, the music and life itself!
The book is available at Amazon Kindle, iTunes Bookstore, Barnes & Noble Nook and Sony eBookstore.
Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.
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