RIP Big Jack Johnson - July 30, 1940 to March 14, 2011. Sad news came in from Dave Riley and Amy Brat that legendary Mississippi guitarist/mandolinist/vocalist Big Jack Johnson has passed away this morning at 6am in his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi after a long battle with heath issues. He was 70 years old. Note that there were some disturbing premature false announcements of Big Jack's passing 3 days before his actual passing. Big Jack's inventive, energetic, Delta-rooted guitar, rich confident vocals, down home songwriting, and larger than life stage presence made him one of the most celebrated bluesmen of Mississippi. His long music career included much national and international touring, many amazing record releases, and a huge amount of praise and respect. Big Jack was born in Lambert, Mississippi in the summer of 1940, and learned guitar from his father at age 13. He rose to prominence in the early 1960s working as a key member of the legendary Jelly Roll Kings, a champion blues band which also included Frank Frost and Sam Carr. Big Jack first appeared on record in the 1960s as the guitarist on two famous Frank Frost albums; Hey Boss Man on the Phillips International label (an offshoot of Sun Records) from 1962, and My Back Scratcher on Jewel from 1966. In the late 1970s, Michael Frank debuted his Earwig Music label with The Jelly Roll Kings / Rockin' The Juke Joint Down which also was a recording debut for Big Jack's great vocals. Soon afterward, Big Jack Johnson would start a solo career for himself, independent of the Jelly Roll Kings. His solo debut album, Oil Man (Big Jack used to hold down a day gig delivering oil barrels in Mississippi) on the Earwig label was released in 1987. This led to additional CDs for Earwig, a nice run with M.C. Records, and additional recordings for Rooster Blues, P-Vine Records, Right Coast Recording, and Big Jack Music. There was also a nice Jelly Roll Kings reunion album called Off Yonder Wall that came out in 1997 on the Fat Possum Records. Additionally, Big Jack appeared in the influential 1992 documentary movie Deep Blues. He was a popular festival and club entertainer, a warm and hospitable person, and an amazing musician. Big Jack Johnson was the last original member of the Jelly Roll Kings. His passing leaves a gap in the blues that will never again be filled. To see his amazing performance of "Catfish Blues" from the movie Deep Blues, click here. Thanks for all the great music Big Jack. You are loved!
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Thursday, March 17, 2011
© 2011 Blues Blast Magazine
Latest news, photos, reviews, links & MUCH MORE in this issue! Scroll or Page Down!
From The Editors Desk
Hey Blues Fans,
We are making some changes to Blues Blast Magazine starting this week.
We have a cover photo (see above) for each issue and a new feature story each week. We hope to bring you a stories on new Blues artists and events, as well as stories on well known Blues artists. Our first cover photo and story is about Joe Asselin. Those of you who are fans of The Kilborn Alley Blues Band will be familiar with Joe as he is the harmonica player on all three of their CD releases. But Joe is not just a great harmonica player, he is also dangerously talented on other instruments as well. Read about his new project The Sugar Prophets in the story by new Blues Blast contributor Terry Mullins.
Please let us know how you like the new features. We want to know!
Good Blues To You!
In This Issue
Marilyn Stringer send us photos and commentary on a mini Blues fest held in San Francisco. New Blues Blast contributor Terry Mullins has our feature story on Joe Asselin. Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews a new CD by Mike Milligan And Steam Shovel. Rainey Wetnight reviews a new CD by Stevie J. John Mitchell reviews a new CD by Deb Callahan. Chuck Gomez reviews a new CD by Grannd Marquis. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
RIP Big Jack Johnson - July 30, 1940 to March 14, 2011
Sad news from our good friend Bob Corritore:
"Big Jack Johnson has passed away this morning at 6am in his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi after a long battle with heath issues. He was 70 years old.
Big Jack's inventive, energetic, Delta-rooted guitar, rich confident vocals, down home songwriting, and larger than life stage presence made him one of the most celebrated bluesmen of Mississippi. His long music career included much national and international touring, many amazing record releases, and a huge amount of praise and respect.
Big Jack was born in Lambert, Mississippi in the summer of 1940, and learned guitar from his father at age 13. He rose to prominence in the early 1960s working as a key member of the legendary Jelly Roll Kings, a champion blues band which also included Frank Frost and Sam Carr. Big Jack first appeared on record in the 1960s as the guitarist on two famous Frank Frost albums; Hey Boss Man on the Phillips International label (an offshoot of Sun Records) from 1962, and My Back Scratcher on Jewel from 1966.
In the late 1970s, Michael Frank debuted his Earwig Music label with The Jelly Roll Kings / Rockin' The Juke Joint Down which also was a recording debut for Big Jack's great vocals. Soon afterward, Big Jack Johnson would start a solo career for himself, independent of the Jelly Roll Kings. His solo debut album, Oil Man (Big Jack used to hold down a day gig delivering oil barrels in Mississippi) on the Earwig label was released in 1987. This led to additional CDs for Earwig, a nice run with M.C. Records, and additional recordings for Rooster Blues, P-Vine Records, Right Coast Recording, and Big Jack Music. There was also a nice Jelly Roll Kings reunion album called Off Yonder Wall that came out in 1997 on the Fat Possum Records. Additionally, Big Jack appeared in the influential 1992 documentary movie Deep Blues. He was a popular festival and club entertainer, a warm and hospitable person, and an amazing musician.
Big Jack Johnson was the last original member of the Jelly Roll Kings. His passing leaves a gap in the blues that will never again be filled. To see his amazing performance of "Catfish Blues" from the movie Deep Blues, click here. Thanks for all the great music Big Jack. You are loved!"
Featured Blues Story
Joe Asselin - Harmonica Player And Much More
Although there may have been harsh consequences should he have been caught in the act – like facing the wrath of an angry older brother whose personal space he had just invaded – young Joe Asselin just couldn’t help himself.
Digging through the glove box of older sibling Mark’s pickup truck in search of new music to listen to, Joe Asselin instead found an object that was to soon have a profound impact on him.
For scattered among the cassette tapes of Black Sabbath, Metallica and Judas Priest that were stuffed into that glove box, was a harmonica.
A harmonica that quickly became inseparable from the hands of Joe Asselin.
Fast forward a few years and we find Asselin’s emotional and tasty harmonica licks all over the Kilborn Alley Blues Band’s first three compact discs, licks that serve as a sonic snapshot of his decade-long tenure in the band that is nominated in the Best Band category at this year’s Blues Music Awards (BMA).
But what many fans of Kilborn Alley may not have realized at the time, is that Asselin is as equally deadly with a six-string slung across his back as he is with a harmonica cupped between his hands.
One quick listen to the self-titled debut from Champaign, Illinois’ The Sugar Prophets reveals as much.
While those looking for a contemporary skip down the traditional blues path might be a bit disappointed, those that enter with ears wide open should be mightily rewarded after sliding The Sugar Prophets (Just One Teaspoon Records) into their CD player.
From the cover -emblazoned with a ripped-open packet of sugar with an ultra-hip shamanistic dude on it - to the 12 rippin’ cuts found on the disc itself, it’s easy to tell that The Sugar Prophets are not shackled in lock-step with your basic 12-bar blues.
“We are a blues-based band for sure, but we throw a lot of rock and jam influences in there, as well,” said Asselin. “The CD moves from Cajun, to country to rock, to dirty blues … so there are various styles on the disc. We really want to try and reach a diverse crowd. Like a younger group that’s into the jamband scene. Our goal is try and take things to the next level.”
Comprised of Josh Spence, lead vocals and harp; A.J. Williams, guitar and vocals; Al Chapman, bass; Vince “Fuzz” Elam, drums; Joe Asselin, guitar, vocals, harp, The Sugar Prophets may hail from a wide spectrum of musical influences, but when those individual pieces mesh together as a unit, the end result is sweeter than ice cream and pie.
The group’s album was recorded analog-style at Great Western Record Recorders in Tolono, Il., and then was transferred to the hallowed grounds of Memphis’ famed Ardent Studios, were it was mixed by the legendary Larry Nix, the go-to sound doctor at Stax Records throughout the 1970s.
Leaving an established band like Kilborn Alley, one that was on the precipice of making a splash nationally, might seem a bit un-nerving, but for Asselin, it was just a case of taking a much-needed breather from the record/tour/record/tour grind.
“Recording with Kilborn and being part of Kilborn was great. I love those guys and always will. We’re still good friends.” he said. “But I was getting tired of performing and was just kind of burnt out. I was going to take a big, long hiatus from Kilborn and maybe even call it quits in general.”
He didn’t completely retire from the music biz and before long Asselin found himself playing the occasional solo acoustic gig.
But when he decided his heart wasn’t fully wrapped around that direction either, he began to reconsider his membership in a band.
“The guitar player that was playing with Josh at that time, in 2009, was moving back to Nebraska or Arkansas, and so the door kind of opened up for another guitar player,” he said. “And I’ve been with Josh and The Sugar Prophets since.”
As a full-on, full-time guitar player?
“I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I can hold my own on either instrument. And I’d played harp for Kilborn for 10 years and have been playing harmonica since I was 16 years old. It was the first real instrument I learned,” Asselin said. “I guess at that point (leaving Kilborn) I was kind of burnt out as being known just as a harmonica player.”
However, that doesn’t mean that Asselin has packed up his massive harmonica collection and donated it to Goodwill.
Just ask the crowd at the 27th annual International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis this past February, where The Sugar Prophets made it all the way to the elite eight in the band competition.
“Josh and I were talking about the IBC finals and what we wanted to do to show the judges and the audience what kind of talent we have in the band,” said Asselin. “And since we have two harmonica players, we decided to showcase both with a dueling-harp kind of thing. And it worked out really well. Josh blows some amazing harp and I tried to throw in some of my own style in there, so it was really cool.”
“Really cool” might also sum up The Sugar Prophets’ time spent in Memphis, slugging it out in order to separate themselves from the rest of the IBC field.
“It was great, the opportunity to go down there with this band,” Asselin said. “I’ve gone once before as a solo act and then went with Andy (Duncanson, from Kilborn Alley) as a duo, and this was my third time with a band. The crowd really loved us - every night was just a great time. And that’s why we went. We wanted everyone to have a good time and to show everyone what we love doing. And the great thing was that we made it to the finals and are very blessed for that.”
Even hanging out for a few minutes in the mystic clutch of Memphis, Tenn., can be a life-changing experience, and Asselin thinks The Sugar Prophets are a stronger, more cohesive unit after their recent time spent in the Bluff City.
Writer Terry Mullens is a professional journalist from Arkansas where he has been a Blues fan for more than 20 years.
Blues Blast has the Lowest Advertising Prices Of The Year!
We know times are tough so Blues Blast Magazine is offering a Spring Ad special until April 15. This is our lowest pricing of the year and offers an effective way to get the Blues word out for Blues festival advertising budgets and CD promotion projects. This 6 week combo rate of only $200 allows you to affordably add significant impact to your Blues event. It is a great way to kick up the visibility of a CD release or Blues Festival! Normal 2011 Advertising rates are $45 per week for magazine ads and $70 a month for website ads.
So normal price for this six week advertising is $375. But during this limited time, you can advertise your Blues event or CD in six issues of Blues Blast Magazine and on our website for a month and a half for only $200. That is less than the cost of a small ad in your local newspaper to get135,000 ad views during the six week ad run. To get the special rate simply reserve your ad space by April 15th, 2011. Ads can be scheduled to run anytime between now and September 30, 2011.
Blues Blast Magazine is a great way to promote the Blues. More than 17,000 Blues fans read our magazine each week. They are located in all 50 states and in more than 80 countries. We get more than 25,000 visitors a month on our website and more than 1,000,000 (That's ONE MILLION) hits a month.
Blues fans want to know about Blues events and music! Reserve your space today! Space is limited and sold on a first come. Ads must be reserved and paid for before April 15, 2011. To get more information or to book your ad call 309 267-4425 or email firstname.lastname@example.org today!
Featured Blues Review 1 of 4
Mike Milligan And Steam Shovel - Lucky Man
Mojo Hut Records
Blues-rock is the jumping off point employed by Kokomo, Indiana’s Mike Milligan and company in this curious mélange of originals and R&B covers. Mike leads the basic power trio with his guitar, vocal, writing and keyboard skills that get occasional beefing-up by horns, harmonica and backing vocals. His hearty voice and his varied approach to blues-rock riffing lend enough originality to keep things interesting. The rhythm section is rock-steady throughout.
A nifty bass intro kicks off what for me is the standout original found within, the gospel driven “The Bridge”. It’s a strong tale of perseverance. It features two guitar parts, one of which is played through a Leslie speaker or Leslie effect. “I’m Not Lost” is Texas slow-burner done-up ala Los Lobos. Vocal and acoustic piano lead-off the deliberate “Sunshine Today” which is topped off by a sax solo that sounds as if it was lifted from The Saturday Night Live Band. “ Meat & Three” sees the band working out on a funky guitar instrumental aided by guest guitarist Bart Walker that owes a debt to the guitar wizardry of Earl Hooker. The title track is a perfunctory ode to the singer’s better half. The song and album is closed out by daughter Lilyanne on toy piano and giggles to bring the family vibe full circle.
My nod for the best cover version would be the slowed down take on Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles” that has Stevie Berek’s harmonica taking the keyboard- horn part. Jazz-tinged guitar brings the tune to an end like a stream-train slowing to a stop. The Ray Charles chestnut “Busted” is given its due as Texas-guitar interlock with the driving horn section. The sentiment is apropos of these current financially woeful times. “The Dark End Of The Street” is a pretty much straight reading of the Chips Moman-Dan Penn classic. Mike Milligan’s sigh leading into his vocal on the lead track, Stevie Wonders’ “A Place In The Sun”, seems to be in anticipation of the weird falsetto backing vocal that mars an otherwise ok blues-rock interpretation.
These guys fit nicely alongside Indigenous or any of the similar-minded current blues-rockers, although they tend to expand the genre along a R&B path at times. Much attention is given to the arrangements. The record doesn’t come off as just songs plugged into a blues-rock blueprint. Boot that “Mickey Mouse” background vocal and what you have here is blues-rock nirvana taken a step further.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta. He is the proprietor of Bluesdog’s Doghouse at http://bluesdog61.multiply.com.
Live Blues Review
The Fountain Blues Allstars Band - Mini Blues Fest
The San Francisco Bay Area boasts of so many blues performers and they love to play together. What a better way to play then to have a mini festival in the winter. “The band was comprised of award winning talent local and national talent who have all performed at the prestigious Metro Fountain Blues Festival” held every summer in San Jose, CA.
And there isn’t a better setting than Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, CA. There isn’t a bad seat in the house (capacity 300) and the night was a sell out. Each one of the performers at this event have their own band or play in one and came together as a group for a great musical evening. JC Smith (http://www.jcsmithband.org ), 2006 Bay Area Blues Society West Coast Blues Band of the Year award winner, organizer, and guitar player extraordinaire, brought out the band for the evening, featuring Endre Tarczy on bass, Ron E Beck (Tower of Power & John Lee Hooker) on drums, and Richard Palmer on piano. Ron also soloed on vocals later in the evening.
Two great harmonica players were featured throughout the evening: Gary Smith and Mark Fenichel. Individually and together, their styles were both divergent and harmonious. Included in the different mixes was Stan Erhart, San Francisco singer/songwriter, on guitar. With his own solos, or backup guitar, he melted the crowd.
A third harmonica player, Andy Just, was on the bill but due to illness, was replaced at the last minute by Ron Thompson. Ron is one of my favorites – he is an amazing guitar player –blues and more - and can play anything with anyone at the drop of a pick.
Two more performers included Lara Price and Maxx Cabello Jr. Lara sings the blues with soul and joined the band easily. She also picked up the guitar and sang Angel From Montgomery and had us all at her fingertips. Maxx came out and picked up the pace with the next set with his energy and innovative blues. The evening was running late and after a short break, out came Kaye Bohler. Vivacious, animated, and belting out the blues, Kaye is always entertaining and full of fun.
But the headliner was still waiting in the wings and due to the lateness of the hour, Chris Cain came out and played a few songs solo but had a lot of fun “playing around” with Kaye –they both were pretty funny, as well as producing some fantastic blues. And then the whole gang came out and finished up the evening, going way over “the curfew” but it was well worth. It was a fun evening for everyone!
Thanks to JC and all the performers for putting on a great festival. It is definitely a good warm up for winter and the upcoming festival season. And special thanks to Montalvo Arts Center for supporting the blues and all fine arts and putting on this great event.(http://montalvoarts.org).
Marilyn Stringer is a freelance photographer and frequent Blues Blast contributor. All of Marilyn's photos can be found at MJStringerPhoto.com.
Get Your Blues Music Considered for Nomination!
We have a simple process for Blues artists and record labels to get their recordings considered for nomination in our annual Blues Blast Music Awards.
We have 30 nominators and you can send in copies of your CD to be considered. Eligibility dates for recordings are releases between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011.
The 2011 nomination process started March 1st when we began accepting submissions from labels and artists. Artist do not necessarily have to submit their releases to be considered but any that do will have their recordings screened by the nominators. Read all the details at the link below for complete information to have your CD release considered now.
Our nominators include, music journalists, radio DJs, festival promoters, club owners and others who are very active in the Blues scene. This year as every year, the nominees are artists and music that the nominators got the opportunity to hear. (They can't nominate something they haven't heard!)
Our diverse group of nominators hear many CDs and see many performing artists but if an artist or label really wants a release to be considered by all the nominators, they can send in copies of their CDs beginning March 1. CDs will be sent to the nominators. You must send 30 copies so that all nominators get to listen to them. There is no charge for this in 2011. You send us the CDs and we will cover the cost of getting the CDs into the nominators hands. Act NOW to get your music considered! For complete information on sending in your release CLICK HERE
Nominators will start submitting their nominations May 1st and final nominations will be announced after May 31st, 2010. Voting Begins in July. The winners in the 2011 Blues Blast Music Awards will be announced on Thursday October 27th, 2011.
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The Blues, Jazz & Folk Music Society - Marietta, Ohio
The Blues, Jazz & Folk Music Society presents the 20th Annual River City Blues Festival Friday, March 18th and Saturday, March 19th 2011 at the historic Lafayette Hotel in downtown Marietta. Known nationally as “One of America’s Best Little Blues Festivals,” The River City Blues Festival features The Sonny Moorman Group and Miss E.C. Scott on Friday night and the BJFMS “Blues in The Schools” (BITS) project , Veronika Jackson, “Little Joe” McLerran, Davina & the Vagabonds, “Jumpin’Johnny” Sansome and Charles “Big Daddy” Stallings & The Blues Evolution Band on Saturday.
Tickets will be sold at the door, but advanced tickets and weekend passes are suggested. For tickets, passes and information, call Peggy Bolen at 740.376.0222 (evenings). Weekend passes to all three shows are $50 for members/$70 for non-members. Tickets for individual shows are: Friday Night: $15/$25, Saturday Matinee: $15/$25, and Saturday Night: $20/$30. Complete information about the 20th Annual River City Blues Festival is available at www.bjfm.org
The Golden Gate Blues Society - Redwood City, CA
The Golden Gate Blues Society Membership Meeting and Concert - Sunday April 3 at Angelica's Bell Theater and Bilstro, 863 Main Street, Redwood City, CA. Meet from 3 - 4 then dance from 4 - 8 with Twice as Good, the award winning father/son lead band out of Northern Sonoma County. Twice as Good play from coast to coast and have opened for many of the top blues artists. Awards include recognition for their recent CD.
The Golden Gate Blues Society presents concerts, educational events, outreach, networking, and Blues in the Schools. http://www.tggbs.org/home for more information.
Mississippi Valley Blues Society - Davenport, IL
The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents guitar virtuoso Joanne Shaw Taylor and her band on Friday March 25 at Rascals, 1414 15th Street, Moline. The show begins at 8:00 p.m. Admission is $15, $10 for MVBS members. For more information visit www.mvbs.org or call (563) 322-5837
Rosedale Crossroads Blues Society - Rosedale, MS
Rosedale Crossroads Blues Society presents The Crossroads Blues and Heritage Festival Saturday, May 7, 2011 at the River Resort. Highway 1 S. in historic Rosedale, MS. 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 Lineup ( in order of appearance - subject to change): Vinnie C., Eddie Cusic, Mickey Rogers, T-Model Ford, Daddy Mack, Big T, Guitar Mikey and the Real Thing, and Eden Brent.
Fest Feast on Friday evening, May 6 at the River Resort with a 5-course Creole dinner, $50 per person - Cash bar. Limited seating. Call 662-759-6443 or 662-897-0555 for reservations and information. If you have questions about the above information, call 662-402-6251. Thank you. Mary Anna Davis Crossroads Blues Society www.rosedaleblues.com
Crossroads Blues Society - Rockford, IL
On Friday, March 18th the Crossroads Blues Society presents Blues in the Schools (BITS) Wine Tasting Fund Raiser at Artale Wine Co. 6876 Spring Creek Rd # 128, Rockford, IL 61114-7405. The event will be held from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM. Tickets are $15. Food will be provided by Joesph Barbados/Pearl and a large assortment of wines will be available to sample. Tickets are available at the store whose hours are 10 AM to 9 PM daily except Sunday when the hours are 11 AM to 6 PM.
Steve Ditzell will be playing acoustic blues at the event, which is a huge treat for him and attendees. He doesn't go acoustic much at his shows but when he does the music is always outstanding! Steve has played with many a great and is most noted for his outstanding work with Junior Wells (whom he played and toured with extensively). His complete musical biography: http://www.bluelightningband.com/blue2.htm
Call Artale Wine Co at (815) 877-9463 if you need directions or more info from them. Contact Steve Jones at email@example.com for more info. This will be a great event; we hope that you can come out and help our BITS program and have a good time, too! www.crossroadsbluessociety.com
The Grafton Blues Association - Grafton, WI
The Grafton Blues Association & the Cedarburg Cultural Center will present Tinsley Ellis on Thursday March 24 at the Cedarburg Cultural Center. Doors open at 6pm show starts at 7pm. Food and drink will be available for purchase. Tickets are $14 in advance for GBA and CCC members, $15 in advance for non-members and $17 at the door for everyone. For more info visit - www.graftonblues.org
The Great Northern Blues Society - Wausau, WI
The Great Northern Blues Society in Wausau, WI will be hosting their annual fundraising event “Blues Café’”, on Saturday 3/26/11 at the Rothschild Pavilion. (Near Wausau, WI)
Performing will be Jumpship Blues Band, 12 Year Old Tallan Noble Latz, Red White & Blues Band, Young British Blues Diva Joanne Shaw Taylor, and Atlanta Based Blues Guitar Flamethrower Tinsley Ellis. The Fun Starts at 1:00PM. $13 in advance, $18 at the door. Bulk ticket rates also available. For more info see www.gnbs.org
The Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL
2011 Friends of the Blues shows - April 05 - Albert Castiglia, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club, April 26 - The Rockin’ Johnny Band, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club, May 03 - Too Slim and the Taildraggers, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club, May 19 - The Sugar Prophets (2011 IBC Finalists), 7 pm, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club, June 23 - Sean Chambers, 7 pm, River Bend Bar & Grill,
July 13 - Reverend Raven & C.S.A.B., 7 pm, River Bend Bar & Grill. For more info see: http://www.wazfest.com/JW.html
West Virginia Blues Society - Charleston, WV
The West Virginia Blues Society presents the Charlie West Blues Fest May 20 & 21, 2011 in Haddad Riverfront Park, Charleston, WV Here is the lineup: Friday May 20 - Sit Down Baby, Izzy & Chris, Mojo Theory, Lil Bryan & The Travelers, Davina & the Vagabonds and Joe Louis Walker. Sat. May 21- IBC Band Winner, Slim Fatz, Trampled Under Foot, Sean Carney, Kristine Jackson, Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King and Ana Popovich. The Charlie West Blues Fest is produced by the West Virginia Blues Society, Inc. www.wvbluessociety.org and www.charliewestbluesfest.com
Illinois Central Blues Club - Springfield, IL
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 8:30pm $3 cover. March 21 - Little Joe Mclerran, March 28 - Rockin’ Johnny, Apr 4 - Andrew “Jr Boy” Jones, April 11 - Grady Champion, April 18 - Chris Cain, April 25 - Big Jeff Chapman. icbluesclub.org
Featured Blues Review 2 of 4
Stevie J - The Diversity Project (2 CDs)
Blues CD: 9 songs; 41:10 minutes
Soul CD: 8 songs; 34:17 minutes
Styles: Modern Electric Blues; Southern Soul
For a reviewer, writing a short article about a great CD is often difficult. Writing a short article about TWO great CD’s is darn near impossible! “The Diversity Project,” released by 2011 IBC double finalist Stevie J, is a collection of two separate albums recorded during the same period of time. The first one, “Standin’ at the Station,” was inspired by Stevie’s first appearance on a legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise playing with Mel Waiter’s Band. The second one, “Soul Sessions,” represents a compilation of his work in Mississippi as a Southern Soul artist. Some may raise a skeptical eyebrow, but they shouldn’t. Especially on “...Station,” Stevie J proves that he is the real thing -- a “born again bluesman,” as he characterizes himself in one of that album’s tracks.
Born Stephen Johnson, this near life-long resident of Jackson MS is well known to fans who attended February 2011’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Stevie J was a finalist in two categories: Best Band and Best Self-Produced CD. The performing 10 finalist bands included Stevie J & The Blues Eruption, and the top 5 CDs included “The Diversity Project.” (See photos and coverage in the Feb 17 issue of Blues Blast magazine).
Stevie J is a music lover across Blues, Funk, Soul, Gospel, Hip-Hop, and “everything else.”His two CDs provide eleven original songs and six covers from artists as “diverse” as John Mayer to Luther Allison to George Clinton.
The best songs on “Standin’ at the Station” are not only vibrant, but they also showcase Stevie J’s musicianship in a way one won’t easily forget. In “Born Again Bluesman,” he reveals that he is “the son of a sanctified preacher.” However, an addictive hand-jive beat and lively licks on lead guitar are what sanctify this song as blues gold. This CD’s title track is a proud runner-up. In third place comes the most insidious earworm of the bunch: “Play the Blues Son.” Its refrain shows that blues lyrics don’t have to be complex to be enjoyable. I found myself trying to get this song out of my head -- to no avail!
“Soul Sessions,” the second selection in this set, is just as listenable -- if not as palatable to blues purists. It includes covers of John Mayer’s “Gravity” and George Clinton’s “Cosmic Slop” that truly do the original artists justice. Something strange (and wonderful) is revealed on this album: Stevie J’s vocals are better by leaps and bounds. It’s hard to tell what’s better: his voice here, or his guitar playing on “Station”! Let’s call it a draw. The only flaw with his lyrical delivery is that the words run by too quickly for reviewers to quote his songs! Slow it down a bit, Stevie J, or include the lyrics and do us proud.
By definition, “diversity” implies a wide variety of things or people that are being considered. To those who would comment that “The Diversity Project” is too hodgepodge and unfocused, this reviewer offers a counterpoint: Without the smorgasbord of Stevie J’s songs and musical styles here, his “Project’s” title would be unwarranted. In short, two great CD’s in one set is a fantastic package! .
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 31 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of the 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
Featured Blues Review 3 of 4
Deb Callahan – Tell It Like It Is
Blue Pearl 2010
11 tracks; 42.18 minutes
Deb Callahan is a native of Boston but has operated out of Philadelphia for some years. She has performed at a wide range of festivals across the USA including Springing The Blues (Florida), Heritage Blues (West Virginia) and Monterey (California). This is her fourth CD release and follows on from her 2008 release “Grace And Grit” which garnered a lot of good reviews and airplay. The band is a stable unit with guitarist Allen James, bass player Garry Lee and drummer Tom Walling augmented by Jason Crosby on keys and violoin and Matt Cappy on trumpet.
There is a good variety of mainly original material here, with gospel and soul influences as well as blues and rock. Most of the material is original, written by Deb and either guitarist James or producer Chris Arms. There are two covers, both outstanding cuts. Dylan’s rather menacing “Cold Irons Bound” is the final track on the CD. Starting with eerie sounds on guitar and violin, the tune moves to a dramatic interpretation of Dylan’s song, anchored by ringing guitar chords, emphatic drumming and violin accents supplied by Jason Crosby. The muscular guitar riff gives way to a sinuous solo in the middle. This is the longest cut on the CD and was certainly a winner for me. The other cover is Tina Turner’s sister Aillene Bullock’s “Funkier Than A Mosquito’s Tweeter”, also recently reworked by Joe Bonamassa. Deb’s is a catchy version and her vocal here is excellent, just right for the feel of the song.
The originals cover a wide range. Opener “Gonna Get There” is based on a repetitive, funky guitar riff. Deb’s vocal is strong and a short guitar solo offers a different rhythmic focus in the middle. The second track “Sun Is Rising” provides a good contrast, a slower pace with more of a country blues feel in the guitar. Deb’s voice is well suited to this kind of blues with a touch of gospel. “I Got It Bad” is again different, more of a latin lilt to this one. Deb’s lyric has her under the guy’s spell: “You’ve got me melting away, I’m like butter in the pan”, an interesting image!
“Old Ways” is a rolling blues, again with a strong guitar riff and solo at the heart of the song. I liked the use of the term ‘default mechanism’ in the lyrics, not your standard blues terminology. By contrast “Sweet Words” is very different, starting with muted trumpet, this is a song that could have been performed by Billie Holiday in her prime. The tune remains gentle and the solo is on piano, not guitar (although Allen James is the co-author).
“I Feel The Spirit” takes us to church, starting with handclaps and organ and a lyric about whether you need the trappings of organised religion to have faith and feel the spirit. There is a real gospel feel to this track, entirely appropriate to the subject matter of the song. The gospel feel continues on “In My Bones”, the shortest song on the album, an acoustic tune that recalls some of Eric Bibb’s material. Deb’s strong vocal is underpinned only by guitar here.
Next up is the sorry tale of the “Long Suffering Woman” who clearly has a lot to contend with in an abusive relationship. The music here is very soulful, again aided by the organ and a gentle guitar solo which sits nicely with the sad feel of the lyrics. The final original is “Throwaway Child” which follows a similar social conscience issue of a child born without love. Without solid family roots the child falls into bad company – “We don’t think before we make, we don’t take care of what we create: throwaway society, when are we going to change our priorities?” This is a definite blues tune, with concerned and relevant lyrics, another strong track.
This CD grew on me as I listened to it carefully. In my view the best songs are in the second half of the album, with the two covers, “I Feel The Spirit” and “Throwaway Child” the pick for me. The CD is well worth checking out and I would expect live shows to be fun too if she comes to your area..
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music. He was recently on the January 2011 Legendary Blues Cruise.
Featured Blues Review 4 of 4
Grand Marquis - Hold On To Me
Are you ready to be Hip? How Cool are You?! Ask yourself those two questions before you listen to Grand Marquis’ Hold On To Me because these cats ‘is’ jumpin’! Baby, carry me home to that time when all cats and kittens knew what is was and how to swing. Back to a time when a band was everything of the time musically. Blues, Jump, Swing, Band Stand and sounding, rockin’ and boppin’ like there was never going to be a tomorrow.
Now ask yourself once again, “What does he mean?” Let me sum up all that energy, all the cool hip-ness beyond compare with the saying of these two words, “Grand Marquis! Allow me to introduce you to the soon to be household names of the band: Bryan Redmond/lead vocals & saxes, Chad Boydston/trumpet & vocals, Ryan Wurtz/guitar & vocals, Ben Ruth/upright bass, sousaphone ( sousaphone? Yes Sousaphone! ) & vocals and Lisa McKenzie/percussion & vocals. Man, these cats is jumping! Now if you have your parachute strapped on and are buckled up nice and tight, then lets jump in head first!
This first track, "Night is for Lovers", leaps upon you like an arch bodied guitarcat. Sleek, fast, cunning and a true form of beauty. If you live for that old school sound of Count Basie’s style setting guitarist, Mr. Freddie Green, played today, then welcome to the driving fat bodied chords of Mr. Ryan Wurtz. Solid Jackson, solid.
Bryan Redmond’s vocals are the kind and style that make you want to listen all night long, never wanting to join in as you would never mess with perfection. Now quick take a breath as Chad’s trumpet is about to blow the walls down. Swinging with a Kansas City flavor that now-a-days one has to look far and wide to find and hear. You just can’t do anything but smile and go with the beat. Hold the phone! Look out man, hear comes Bryan’s sax. All you could ever ask for. And it all starts again. What a great track. Solid bass and rhythm foundations by Ben & Lisa.
Do you want good music? Do you want to feel good all over? These are the Cats to dig! Let ‘em take you back in their musical time machine. Not often do I hear a group combine yesterdays with todays so well. Second track, The Spider and the Fly, solid as the first. How much soul does one band have? This band has PLENTY!
Next is "Topsy", one of my classic favorites, now who in the world even knows Topsy let alone play it these days?! I can just see Cozy Cole standing off stage diggin’ these cats. There’s 13 tracks on the CD and it just wouldn’t be right if I didn’t spend a moment at the St. James Infirmary. Now take it from me when I say, “ I KNOW St. James, I was born there. True. Tuba, trumpet, sax the whole band ‘bleeding’ the blues.
Do you really want the Blues? I mean the REAL blues? American Blues? Sorry English invasion but you are just a step behind when it comes to true American Blues. Open your dictionary, look up fine ass blues, make you cry blues, blues for one enough blues for two and there they are, Grand Marquis pictured at St. James. What a night it would be at a club with this band.
Run, don’t walk, get this CD, check out these cats and tell me true if its not one of the most current bands out there doing historic tunes and styles that set the tone for all others to follow. I Love this Band!!
EDITORS NOTE: Grand Marquis were one of the eight finalists in the 2011 International Blues Challenge.
Reviewer Chuck Gomez worked out of Chicago’s Mayor’s Office of Special Events for over a decade back at the start of the Chicago Blues Fest, plays sax and tours with many leading Blues musicians/Chicago style. He is Columbia College’s special events producer and owns/produces/promotes the Watseka Theatre, Iroquois Performing Arts Center. The Watseka Theatre BLUES. BBQ & Arts Fest, 4th annual is June 4th, 2011. 13 hours 9 bands, all day all night long BLUES! Go to: WatsekaTheatre.com for more information.
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