Cover photo by Marilyn Stringer © 2012 MJStringerPhoto.com
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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 James "Super Chikan" Johnson. New Florida resident Mark Thompson reviews the Bikini Fest. John Mitchell has coverage of the Tampa Bay Blues Fest.
We have six music reviews for you! Sheila Skilling reviews a new CD from Big Shoes: Walking and Talking the Blues (CD/DVD Set). Rainey Wetnight reviews a new release from Paul Thorn. Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews the new David Landon album. Mark Thompson reviews a new release from Adam Gussow. Steve Jones reviews the new Walter Trout CD. Gary Weeks reviews the new release from Big Walker. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
Blues Blast made it to a show by the River City Blues Society right here in our home town of Pekin, IL featuring Johnny Rawls.
He has a new CD being released soon and he played some cuts for a large crowd on a Friday night.
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Blues Blast Magazine Seeks Summer Festival Reviewers
Blues Blast Magazine is looking for a few good men (Or Women)! Over the 2012 summer season we are looking for folks who attend Blues Festivals and take good photos for festival reviews. If you attend multiple Blues Festivals or Blues shows and could volunteer to send us 500 to 1000 word reviews and some good photos, please reply to .
Reviewers are needed for the Southwest and Texas area, the Florida and Gulf area, the Eastern coast area and also on the European, Asian and Australian continents. A short sample of your writing, a sample photo and info on your Blues background would be helpful. Please include your phone number with the reply.
Featured Blues Interview - James "Super Chikan" Johnson
If you roll down the road behind the wheel of a Nissan these days, there’s a pretty good chance that you have the company’s Canton, Mississippi factory to thank for that.
And as far as the factory calling Canton, Mississippi home?
There’s a pretty good chance that James “Super Chikan” Johnson deserves kudos for that.
“I went to the World Expo Center in Aichi, Japan with (then Mississippi Gov.) Haley Barbour. And when we got over there, they pronounced it - my name (Chikan) - Chic-Kon, and Chic-Kon is bad in Japan,” the Clarksdale bluesman said. “They said, ‘Mr. Johnson, we’ve got a big problem. Chic-Kon is bad in Japan – we’re having classes with the kids on it now – and you’re Super Chic-Kon. What should we do?’ Well, I took the “A” out and put in an “E.” And when I did that, he (the Japanese dignitary) didn’t know what to think. He said, ‘No one changes their name for nothing, but you will change your name for me?’ And I said, ‘For you and for the kids.’ And he looked at Haley Barbour and said, ‘I like Super Chicken.’ And Gov. Barbour said, ‘You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to sign this bill.’ And he signed that bill and the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi is there because of me.”
(Editor’s note: apparently in Japan, “Chikan” either means ‘stupid man’ or something even less desirable than that.)
With creative and imaginative album titles like Chikadelic (Bluestown Records) and Shoot That Thang! (Rooster Blues) to his credit, it's to no one’s surprise that Super Chikan is a master storyteller - he continues on with the tale of his 'reward' for helping land the state-of-the-art Nissan factory in the Madison County seat of Canton.
“I said, ‘Mr. Barbour, we done got us a brand new Nissan plant over here, now when do I get me a new Nissan? He said, ‘Oh, don’t worry Chikan – we’ll get you a Toyota!”
And so goes another chapter in the always-eventful life of James “Super Chikan” Johnson, one of Clarksdale’s leading exports when it comes to the blues.
But Clarksdale has taken a huge hit over the past couple of years with the loss of iconic figures like Big Jack Johnson (Super Chikan’s uncle), Wesley Jefferson, Mr. Tater and Miss Sarah – to name just a few.
So, now even more than ever, Super Chikan is dealing with the responsibility of handling spokesperson duties for the Coahoma County town of roughly 21,000, a town that seemingly swells to three or four times that size when it’s time for the Juke Joint or Sunflower Festivals.
“I’m trying to fill a lot of shoes. I’m the last of the originals. Big Jack was really popular and now I’m really popular,” he said. “Matter of fact, I’m the Blues Ambassador for Clarksdale. My main job in that role is to make sure that everybody (all the visitors to the city) is happy and make sure that everybody gets all they can get out of Super Chikan.”
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration at all to say that those visitors got all they could, and probably more, out of Super Chikan at the just-completed ninth annual Juke Joint Festival, an event that Clarksdale hosts and one that has basically turned into the un-official kick-off to the blues' festival season.
And according to Chikan, this year’s shindig was crazier than ever.
“Man, there was a bunch of people there. Packed everywhere. Clubs springin’ up all over the place … just crazy,” he said. “I headlined at Ground Zero (Blues Club) and there was so many people inside and outside, just waiting to get in. I didn’t think this thing would grow and be a major festival, but it’s gotten to be a major thing, fast.”
The annals of blues history have long been stuffed with monikers that have taken on a life of their own.
From Howlin’ to Muddy to Big Eyes to Taildragger and beyond, the genre has surely not been short on attention-grabbing names. And most of those names, when their origins are revealed, make perfect sense.
Same with Super Chikan.
“When I was a kid and too small to go to the field, I used to take care of the chickens. And they called me Chicken Boy,” he said. “And then I grew up and got a job driving a taxi cab. Well, I had this red car and was pretty swift and would pick people up just as soon as they called. So, they started calling me Fast Red; I wasn’t Chicken Boy anymore. Then one day, an old lady from the home place came by the cab stand and asked them to send Chicken by to pick her up. The dispatcher said, “We don’t got nobody that goes by the name Chicken. The lady said, ‘Yeah, he drives that red car and he goes by the name Chicken.’ And then there was another old lady in town that I’d been hauling around and she called the cab stand and asked for ‘The super-fast chicken that comes and gets you as soon as you call. He’s super-fast.’ Well, the dispatcher got things messed up and called for Super Chicken on the radio. Well, nobody answered. Then she called my car number and said, ‘Don’t you know your name when you hear it?’ I said, ‘I know my name ain’t no Super Chicken.’ She said, ‘Well, from what I hear, it is now.’”
And so, as nicknames tend to do most of the time, Super Chicken stuck with James Johnson like an insect on flypaper.
But the name required just a bit of tweaking before it could be emblazoned on an album cover.
“Every time I would sit down to eat chicken, people would tease me. ‘That ain’t right, a chicken eatin’ chicken. So I spelled it different,” he said. “I spell it C-H-I-K-A-N and when they would say something about me eating chicken, I would say the K is for Kannibal. So I can eat chicken.”
Super Chikan’s live shows have always been something that has to be witnessed in order to get the full Clarksdale, Mississippi experience. Years of road work have turned Super Chikan – whether he’s playing as a solo act, as part of a three-piece, or with The Fighting Cocks – into a world-class bluesman.
But as there always seems to be with Super Chikan, that’s just scratching the surface. Because over the past decade or so, he’s also been hailed as a visionary and talented folk artist, with his works displayed all across the globe.
From paintings, to sculptures and on to hand-made guitars and his world-famous diddley-bows, Super Chikan’s reputation as an artist is quickly catching up to his legend as a bluesman.
What led to this creative streak?
“Well, it came from being poor. We was poor - but happy. We really didn’t know we was poor - but we was. We was recycling before we ever knew what recycling was,” Super Chikan said. “And we wanted toys and stuff like other kids had, but Momma couldn’t afford them, so we started making our own toys. We made everything else, anyhow. So we made all our toys for Christmas and everything.”
Chikan's paintings really began to gather steam after one of his songs provided a shot of inspiration to bring his subject matter to life - on the back of an old and rusty 5-gallon military gas can that Chikan had turned into a guitar. The first of many hand-crafted stringed instruments to come.
“I really didn't know much about painting at the time, but I had this song I had wrote called “Down in the Delta” and I had always drew tractors and trailers and cotton fields and stuff like that, so everything that pertained to that song, I drew on that can,” said Chikan. “And my paintings kind of took off from there.”
The afore-mentioned Shoot That Thang! Is adorned with a sampling of Chikan's handy work on the front and back covers.
But to many of his fans, the real beauty of Super Chikan lies within the songs contained on his discs.
Sure, they're certainly blues songs, but they're not the mopey, woe-is-me kind. Most of Chikan's songs contain a healthy dose of laughter to go along with his unique take on all things in the modern world.
“I write songs based on the life I've lived and the things that I've encountered and experienced,” he said. “And some of the stuff is pretty sad and pretty heart-broken, but those days are gone. I want people to know the story (of what went on), but I want to put some humor into it so they don't feel sorry for me.”
His reverence for the manner in which he was raised takes center stage in “Fred's Dollar Store,” which really hits home with anyone who has ever shopped at the Memphis-based retail chain.
“You wouldn't believe how many people relate to that song. People from all different states have said they had the same situation,” Chikan said. “But they're (his songs) all based on my life. Just about every song I've ever heard a bluesman sing for my whole life is about a woman. And a lot of them (songs) disrespect women and really blame woman for problems that the man caused in the first place. I've been married to the same woman for 42 years and any problem we’ve ever had, I've been the cause of. So if I sing a song about a woman, it'll be putting her up or complimenting her.”
“Fred's Dollar Store” took home a Blues Music Award for Song of the Year.
Equally important to Super Chikan as his songs and artwork these days, is his involvement with the Blues in the School program.
“Back last fall, last September, I did a whole week of Blues in the School in Canada – all the way from elementary school up to college. And I was the talk of the whole place,” he said. “And while I was in Canada, I got a call from Davenport, Iowa. They wanted to know if I would come there and do a program. And I just recently got done with a week there, too.”
Add it all up and what you have is a Delta bluesman who has just about seen and done it all.
“I tell you, I’ve done some stuff. I’ve toured the whole UK with Steven Siegel … man, been there done that,” he said. “Played for prime ministers, I went to Cognac, France had dinner with the U.S. and French ambassadors at the embassy house … Isaac Hayes and I were the only ones invited to dinner … then after that, I went to the Hennessy factory and made my own bottle of Hennessy. I went to Africa and did such a good job of Blues in the School there that I was invited to dinner at the ambassador’s house and I serenaded him for dinner. This ole’ boy’s been around a little bit. Sometimes I pinch myself because I know I’m dreaming - I’m just an old boy from the farm, pickin’ cotton and everything and now look at where I am – I just know I’m going to wake up and this shit won’t be true. People ask me how I got here. I don’t know.”
The one thing that James “Super Chikan” Johnson does know, is that without an open heart, a positive attitude and a lot of hard work, he sure wouldn’t be one of Clarksdale, Mississippi’s longest-running craftsmen of the authentic Delta blues.
“Well, my promise to myself back when everything I tried failed was, because I didn’t fit in and couldn’t be like anyone else, I said, “God, give me the health and strength just to see how far a poor boy can go just by being himself,” he said. “That’s all I had to offer. No education or no degrees or nothing like that. I just went for it, being me.”
Photos by Marilyn Stringer © 2012 MJStringerPhoto.com
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.
Live Blues Review 1 of 2
Bikini Blues Bash
The first annual Bikini Blues Bash was held on Saturday, April 28, on the glorious beach of the city of Treasure Island, Florida. Sponsors included Treasure Island Parks & Recreations Department, the Beach Beacon newspaper, Suncoast Surf Shop and in association with the Suncoast Blues Society.
The one day fest featured six bands over ten hours with the multi-talented Lucky Peterson as the headliner. Held right on the beach, attendees could hear the music while basking in the bright sun and dipping their toes in the warm ocean currents. Admission was free – parking on the beach was $10.
The fest opened with the Paul Anthony Band laying down some high energy, rockin' blues that got the party started in fine style.
Guitarist Charlie Morris showed that he has a solid understanding of blues music. Just as his band was settling into a nice groove. the sound system began emitting other-worldly noises that brought their set to a halt. They returned to the stage once the board was replaced and worked hard to regain the attention of the audience.
Betty Fox and the Dirty Bastards took command the minute they hit the stage. Fox has a powerful voice and an intense performance style that works well with guitarist Josh Nelms' skillful playing. Be on the lookout for this Tampa band's upcoming CD.
Everything changed when the Soul Searchers hit the stage, featuring a three piece horn section and a skin-tight rhythm section. The band had a chance to stretch out over several tunes before they brought the man-of-the-hour to the spotlight..
Little Jake Mitchell started out competing as a boy in local Tampa talent shows, winning loaves of Wholesome Bread to help feed the rest of his family. He treated the audience to an hour long masters class in old-school soul music, with his dynamic rendition of “Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You” being a highlight of the set.
Gene “Sarasota Slim” Hardage was a very busy man. The festival was using his sound system and he was running the sound board. Slim also had a part is selecting several of the acts that were on the bill. When it was his turn on stage, he showed his mastery of the blues idiom while moving beyond the simple three chord structure, always featuring his tasteful guitar playing. Drummer Pat Hatt was playing the second of three sets for the day.
Sarasota Slim and his band came right back in support of Lucky Peterson, who was on fire from the start. Slim and Lucky had played together back in the late 80's, right after Peterson left the Bobby “Blue” Bland Orchestra. Now the two traded licks with Peterson's explosive fretwork bringing the crowd to its feet. Just when you thought things could not get any more heated, Peterson brought his wife, Tamara, to the stage and the two engaged in a provocative duet. Another highlight was Tamara's electrifying rendition of “Take Me to the River”.
How great was the first Bikini Blues Bash? Things went so well that the city has already declared that there will be a second annual fest in 2013!! Congratulations to everyone involved for this wonderful party.
Photos by Mark Thompson © 2012
Reviewer Mark Thompson retired to Florida after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. 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.
Featured Blues Review 1 of 6
Scissormen – Big Shoes: Walking and Talking the Blues (CD/DVD Set)
CD: Self-Produced / DVD: Mugshot Productions
CD – 15 Tracks; Total runtime: 66:35 minutes / DVD: 90 minutes
When a blues legend passes on, we often say that they leave behind “some big shoes to fill.” In this CD/DVD set, Big Shoes, the Scissormen, a two-man juke joint band, take this idea a step further. In the title track, Ted Drozdowski, a Mississippi Delta-style slide guitarist/singer/songwriter, says he wants to “fill his own big shoes.” That means keeping the blues alive is not just about performing classic blues tunes. It’s also about taking the music into the future by experimenting with original songs and unique styles. He playfully fixes this image in the minds of viewers throughout the film by sporting his flamboyantly-colored size 12 shoes.
In addition to his musical experience, Drozdowski’s three decades as an acclaimed music journalist made him the perfect person to collaborate with documentary filmmaker, Robert Mugge, in creating this 90-minute film that (to quote the DVD jacket) is “part road movie, part concert film, part history lesson and part state-of-the-art genre report.” Joining Drozdowski in this outing is original Scissormen drummer, R. L. (Rob) Hulsman. (Matt Snow joined the group as drummer in late 2010.)
The film follows the Scissormen on a midwestern tour, stopping in Redkey, IN, Indianapolis and Cleveland. Plus, there’s a stop at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum. (Don’t miss the amusing story in this segment about Howlin’ Wolf’s suitcase.) The live concert footage was shot at the Key Palace Theatre in Redkey, and there is an interesting conversation with the proprietor, Charlie Noble. Noble has since passed on, and this CD/DVD is dedicated to him. Noble built the Key Palace Theatre and kept it running, largely with his own money. This was one of the things that struck me most about this film…the fact that blues club owners and blues musicians are not generally getting rich off the music. They are doing this type of work because they enjoy it and are passionate about the keeping the blues alive – a mission obviously shared by Drozdowski.
Big Shoes is the Scissormen’s 5th CD, with much of it serving as homage to Drozdowski’s musical influences, such as Jessie Mae Hemphill, R. L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Drozdowski mentions McDowell’s ability to tell a story in song, and this element is clearly present in the Scissormen’s lyrics. Certainly, a journalistic background also contributes to this story-telling ability. Another skill the Scissormen have picked up from their blues predecessors is showmanship. In any live performance, you’re likely to see them playing the guitar and percussion with whatever objects are handy at the venue. There are also shots of Drozdowski playing his guitar while it is held by (or in front of) a nervous, but smiling, female fan.
As mentioned above, most of the songs included in Big Shoes are heavy on storyline, and Drozdowski effectively uses his slide to accentuate the considerable emotions they convey. The 3rd cut, Mattie Sweet Mattie is about a woman in jail for stabbing someone, and the singer who wishes he could help her in some way. My favorite song, and perhaps the moodiest of the entire CD, is the 5th cut, “Tupelo,” about a 1938 flood. This one adds an echo to help create an eerie, almost desperate feel, while the lyrics tell you this flood was God’s revenge on the people of Tupelo.
This CD makes a valuable supplement to the DVD. In terms of choosing this CD for pure listening pleasure, however, I felt the slide playing lacked a bit in variety – although it’s entirely possible that someone well-versed in Mississippi Delta-style slide might notice more stylistic variation than I did. Either way, my advice would be to watch the DVD before playing the CD, so that you will have a mental picture to accompany and enhance your understanding of the music.
In the lyrics of the title track “Big Shoes,” Drozdowski objects to keeping the blues alive by simply repeating the classics: “There’s ten-thousand different bands trying to play the same damn song.” With this in mind, the Scissormen use Big Shoes not only to pay tribute to the past, but also to showcase their own original style. As Drozdowski sings, “The blues ain’t dipped in amber. Gotta fill my own big shoes.” It’s his mission - a noble one – and Big Shoes invites you to share in it.
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.
Featured Blues Review 2 of 6
Paul Thorn - What the Hell is Goin On?
Perpetual Obscurity Records
Styles: Americana, Roots Rock, Blues Rock
“Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.” So says the old adage, and it’s been proven by countless blues rock artists ever since the genre began. Without “covers,” for example, Eric Clapton probably wouldn’t have brought Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” to international fame. Mississippi’s Paul Thorn may be revered for his songwriting skills, but in this follow-up to 2010’s “Pimps and Preachers,” Thorn pays tribute to some favorite songs of his that were originally performed by others. He and his touring band of 15 years (guitarist Bill Hinds, keyboard player Michael Graham, bassist Ralph Friedrichsen and drummer Jeffrey Perkins) “cover” a complete range of Americana and roots-rockers, from Buddy Miller and Ray Wylie Hubbard to Foy Vance and Wild Bill Emerson.
Every tune is a surprise, and here are three of twelve that are especially zesty:
Track 2: “Snake Farm”--First written and performed by Ray Wylie Hubbard, this is a grungy ballad about a reptile-loving beauty named Ramona, who “…kind of look like Tempest Storm!” Why does she work among these hissing creatures? “Nothing to do in the winter,” she quips, “and then some kid gets bit at the snake farm!” Whether blues fans like it or not, the chorus of this song will slither into their heads! Paul Thorn’s “nasty” guitar growls and snarls with a junkyard atmosphere.
Track 9: “Bull Mountain Bridge”--This is Wild Bill Emerson’s haunting tale of Stone Fox Dan, a cannabis dealer marked for death by the cuckolded Bull Mountain Hawk. Only a hardened thug could be so chillingly nonchalant about planning a murder: “Go take him on down below the Bull Mountain Bridge. ... Break his arms and throw him in the river! If anybody asks, just tell them he committed suicide….” It’s hard to tell whether the best thing about this song is its harsh lyrics, Delbert McClinton guest vocals, infectious choir-backed chorus – Les Hillbillies des Pirates: Delaney McClinton, Kevin Welch, Danny Flowers, Etta Britt & Bob Britt, or Thorn’s fiery electric, Southern rock guitar licks!
Track 11: “She’s Got a Crush on Me”--Beginning with a slow, church-inspired organ, Donnie Fritts’ and Billy Lawson’s “Crush” is a poignant character portrait of a T-shirt factory worker who “goes to the Church of Christ, chain-smokes Camel Lights, and she’s got a crush on me….” Listeners can’t discern whether the narrator is interested in her, but he’s certainly proud that he has an admirer. The words of this ode could be the basis for a great novel!
“I wanted to take a break from myself,” reveals Paul Thorn when speaking of this album, “do something different, and just have fun.” He has accomplished everything he set out to do, and once they finish listening to its last song, blues fans won’t wonder “What the Hell is Going On?”. They’ll realize this CD’s purpose is for a great songwriter to give his true-artist, storytelling peers their proper due. If you were raised on rock and roll, you can not help but dig this music!
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.
Featured Blues Review 3 of 6
David Landon - I Like It Too Much
This latest CD by the San Francisco Bay Area based guitarist, singer and songwriter could of just of easily been called The Guitar And Hammond Organ Sessions. There are many other things to recommend it, but the guitar work of David, along with the Hammond skills of Tony Stead and Melvin Seals are one of the shining highlights. David Landon achieved regional success in at the clubs and festivals of Paris, France, before returning to the states in hopes of attaining greater success. Lenny Williams, Kenny Neal, Melvin Seals and Earl Thomas are among the many notable musicians he has produced, performed or collaborated with over the years. As well as the top-of-the-line rhythm section, he has also enlisted a fine horn section. If that isn’t enough, he also wrote, produced, arranged and mastered the record.
The band starts off with a high energy Texas blues shuffle instrumental “Bone Up!”, featuring the leader’s arsenal of guitar chops and a blistering organ solo by Tony Stead. Two more instrumentals are included to once again feature the skills of this talented ensemble. Next up the funky “Maureen” suffers from vocals that are a bit too “white bread”, but that is remedied elsewhere throughout the CD. “I Can’t Slow Down” shows the perfect interaction of guitar, vocals, organ, horns and rhythm section. Alvon Johnson shares vocal and guitar duties on the feel good “That’s What Friends Are For”. David squeezes every bit of emotion of his solos on “Our Last Goodbye” by measuring every note and knowing when to show restraint. He does much the same on the slow, smoldering blues of “I’m So Tired”. Over indulging in life’s pleasures is the subject of the title track, and point is driven home by an all-out instrumental attack.
Although the publicity hand-out refers to his music as blues-rock, I find it sticking closer to straight ahead blues, the occasional wah-wah solo notwithstanding. The guitar solos are variations are tradition styles as applied to a modern take on the blues. And that Hammond organ goodness is all over this record. Not just as backing...these guys can rip off some dangerous runs. The overall sound is tight and professional, without sounding slick. No revelations here, but a pleasing display by musicians that know the ins-and-outs of the blues.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review 4 of 6
Adam Gussow - Southbound
In the extensive notes that accompany this release, Adam Gussow details his life since he left New York City ten years ago to begin life in as an English professor at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Gussow had spent fifteen years in partnership with Sterling Magee, better known as Satan & Adam. The duo released three critically acclaimed recordings that were based on material they worked up on their regular gig on a Harlem street corner.
Now working as a one man music-maker, Gussow handles all of the harmonica and vocal parts, plays rhythm guitar on six tracks, lead guitar on the opening cut and adds percussion nine songs. Backing musicians include Jerry Jemmott, Dave Woolworth and Benjamin Earl on bass with Bill Perry Jr. on keyboards and Jeremy Clement on drums. Bryan Ward plays rhythm guitar on four tunes and bass on another as well as engineering the sessions in addition to co-producing the project with Gussow. The liner notes also include the key of the harp used on each cut
Gussow is a competent singer, putting out plenty of effort but lacking a distinctive voice. On the title track, Gussow's enthusiasm carries the day on the Dickey Betts classic. He has some fun with “Old McDonald in Mississippi”, an adult update of the childrens song that stemmed from a conversation Gussow heard about indecent exposure, sheep and a nativity scene. But his singing on “I'm Tore Down” fails to match the drive in the instrumental accompaniment. And his attempts at modulation on “C.C. Rider” really detract from an otherwise strong performance.
But no one will be buying this disc to hear Gussow sing. When he starts playing his harp, the world instantly becomes a better place. On the previously mentioned track, Gussow cuts loose with a long improvised passage that energizes the track. “Home to Mississippi” is a repetitive number featuring the leader's musings about life on the road, powered by his horn-like riffs on the harp. Gussow comments that Jimmy Reed's “You Don't Have to Go” was a favorite in the early stages of his career and he utilizes a James Cotton riff on his version.
All of the instrumental tracks are gems, starting with the “Sanford and Son Theme”, composed by Quincy Jones. With Perry Jr. on electric keyboards and his own forceful percussive beat behind him, Gussow turns the familiar theme inside and out several times in joyful celebration. Jemmott's booming bass kicks off the next piece with Ward and Gussow on guitar. You have never heard a version of Hugh Masakela's hit “Grazing in the Grasss” like this one. Gussow turns up the heat and lays down some magnificent improvisational lines that will get many listeners up on their feet to dance along. Another unusual selection is Chis Botti's contemporary jazz tune, “Why Not”, with Gussow on rhythm guitar and shaker while Jemmott's deep tones on bass establish the groove. Gussow plays from the third position and again blows some stirring licks that take this one to a darker spot than the original did. Rick Braun's “Green Tomatoes” is transformed into an all-out Mississippi hill-country stomp with Gussow again using the harp like a horn to call his listeners back to where the blues began.
The disc closes with an all-too brief version of “Alley Cat” with a humorous explanation in the notes about the tune's place in Gussow's life story. There are a lot of very good harp blues harp players making the rounds these days but I haven't heard many that could capture my attention like Adam Gussow does on this recording. With minimal backing on most songs, his high energy approach and creative playing make this one a must-hear disc for harp players and anyone else who enjoys a fresh approach to blues music.
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.
Live Blues Review 2 of 2
Tampa Bay Blues Festival - April 13-15 2012
Friday - The honor of opening the 2012 festival fell to Alexis P. Suter from New York and her strong, deep voice showed her gospel roots, particularly on a superb version of Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”.
Johnny Rawls started by asking if anyone had heard of him and if the crowd had not before this show they would certainly remember his set, full of catchy tunes, great guitar playing and lots of contact with the audience, especially “the Ladeez”, as Johnny gave us a full batch of original soul blues material.
The Delta Groove Harp Blast brought three harp players to the show, Al Blake from the original Hollywood Fats Band, rising star Big Pete from Holland and Mitch Kashmar from California, all backed superbly by the core of the Mannish Boys; Jimi Bott on drums, Willie J Campbell on bass, Frank “Paris Slim” Goldwasser and Kid Ramos on guitars – what a band!
Roomful Of Blues is a 44 year old Rhode Island tradition and the current band gave a terrific performance, fronted energetically by vocalist Phil Pemberton and featuring their superb horn section of Doug Woolverton on trumpet, Mark Earley on tenor and baritone sax and original member Rich Lataille on alto and tenor. That set just flew by as we got swinging blues from Chicago, Texas and the West Coast as well as heading down to New Orleans!
It was a tough act to follow for headliners Los Lonely Boys and their very loud, rocky approach was not for the blues purists but seemed to draw in a large crowd to the festival.
Saturday started early as the organizers had not five but six acts to present, starting with South Florida’s Albert Castiglia who used every minute of the short time he had to make a vivid impression with his stellar guitar playing and telepathic interplay with his band. (Albert also appeared at the after hours festival show in a downtown theatre and offered another, completely different set to delight his many fans, most of whom were sporting his distinctive T shirt which explains how to pronounce his name!)
New England singer Toni Lynn Washington gave an elegant and polished performance with her band which featured on this occasion ex-Roomful saxophonist Doug James and current Duke Robillard keyboard player Bruce Bears.
The Mannish Boys then returned, this time with leader and coordinator Randy Chortkoff on harp and fronted by two outstanding vocalists: Finis Tasby was one of the original MB singers and though he was obliged to sit down for much of the performance his voice was still excellent; new boy Sugaray Rayford preceded Finis and gave a really high energy example of the blues front man, again appraising the ladies in the crowd and leaping around to exhort his band members to ever greater feats of musicianship.
James Cotton then demonstrated why he is called “Superharp” with Darrell Nulisch supplying the vocals and Tom Holland from Chicago on guitar. Stealing the show was ten-year old Josh King from James’ harp school who played and sang with James before the huge festival audience without any nerves before embracing his mentor and leaving to massive applause.
Tower Of Power arrived with their horn heavy R n’ B sound, bringing “Bump City” all the way from Oakland to the Bay area. The crowd loved their powerful sound and larger-than-life front-man Larry Braggs . One highlight of their set was a funky tribute to James Brown.
Jimmie Vaughan And The Tilt A’ Whirl band closed the show. With a twin saxophone attack of Doug James and Greg Piccolo (both ex-Roomful) to augment the band and Lou Ann Barton joining in on vocals we were treated to a great set of material largely drawn from his impressive pair of recent albums of ‘Blues, Ballads And Favorites’.
Sunday saw the first appearance at this festival of Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges, a man who sings like Sam Cooke, plays like BB King and writes almost all his own material – what a talent! He has played a lot in Europe but is still relatively unknown in the US, but with performances like this and BMA nominations his star is definitely on the rise.
Jimmy Thackery is a strong crowd favorite at festivals and he gave a solid performance, blending instrumentals with crowd pleasers like “Cool Guitars”. Normally Jimmy plays in a three piece format but on this occasion he was joined by Bruce Katz on keys whose B3 and boogie piano also added significantly to the set.
Recent IBC winners Trampled Under Foot are developing into a major talent and the three siblings turned in one of the outstanding performances of the weekend, with Nick Schebelen’s excellent guitar playing vying for top billing with sister Danielle’s fabulous vocals which ran the gamut from straight blues to jump style and beyond, including versions of songs made famous by Gladys Knight and Billie Holliday. Older brother Kris kept the beat throughout on the drums. Another hard act to follow!
Old school soul shouter Charles Bradley certainly had style, letting his Extraordinaires start with two instrumentals before appearing in a silver suit that recalled Al Green. A further costume change saw him don an open fronted red jacket with his initials embroidered on it! Bradley quickly showed why he is referred to as the “Screaming Eagle of Soul”
To close a fantastic weekend came Delbert McClinton with an all star band: Bruce Katz on keys, Tom Hambridge on drums and Gary Nicholson on guitar, plus a very good sax and trumpet duo whose names I did not catch, unfortunately.
Delbert was relaxed and gave us a greatest hits selection including crowd favorites “Every Time I Roll The Dice” and “Giving It Up For Your Love”. What a set to end a great weekend in wonderful Florida sunshine!
Photos by John Mitchell © 2012
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music. His first US trip this year was the Tampa Bay Blues Fest. Mark Thompson assisted with this article.
Blues Society News
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Crossroads Blues Society - Rockford, IL
Two hot June shows coming up in Rockford!!! Walter Trout is appearing at the Adriatic at 327 W.Jefferson St in Rockford, IL on Tuesday, June 5th at 8 PM. Advanced tickets are only $15, with admission $20 atthe door. Tickets are available at the club, online at http://crossroadsbluessociety.blogspot.com/. Get tickets early as this may sell out!
Bryan Lee appears at Mary's Place at 602 N Madison St in Rockford, IL on Wednesday June 13th. Admission is $10; advanced tickets get reserved seating. Tickets at Mary's place or through Crossroads Blues Society. Call 779-537-4006 or email email@example.com for more info on either show.
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.
AUDITION DATES & CITIES
Saturday, April 21, 2012 10am - noon, Columbia College Music Center, 1014 S, Michigan Chicago, IL
Saturday, May 12, 2012 10am - noon, The Fender Center, Corona, CA
Saturday, May 26 Time TBA at Maria Maria's, Austin, TX
CAMP DATES & CITIES
July 15 - 21 / Columbia College, Chicago, IL
June 17 - 23 / Fender Center, Corona, CA
June 13 - 16 / Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, TX
The Ventura County Blues Society - Ventura County, CA
The Ventura County (Calif) Blues Society has tapped bluesman Tommy Marsh and Bad Dog to host their weekly "BluesJam" series at The Tavern in Ventura, launching Wednesday, May 2 and happening every Wednesday thereafter. The Ventura County Blues Society's Sunday Blues Matinee Concert Series kicks off Sunday, July 8 with Chris Cain, Tommy Marsh and Bad Dog, and Kelly's Lot, at the High Street Arts Center, in Moorpark, Calif. Info: http://www.venturacountybluessociety.org/.
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign-Urbana, IL
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society shows: Friday, May 4, 1st Friday Blues, Gerome Durham, 8 pm studio visit to WEFT 90.1FM during the Blues Live show, 10pm, performance at Memphis on Main, Champaign; Friday, June 1, 1st Friday Blues, Tee Dee Young, WEFT and Memphis on Main, Champaign. For more info: http://prairiecrossroadsblues.org.
The West Virginia Blues Society - Charleston, W.V.
The Charlie West Blues Festival is a FREE event, held on May 18,19 & 20, 2012 on the beautiful banks of the Kanawha River in Charleston, WVa .A tribute to our military, an opportunity to show patriotism and loving support for our troops and their families. The Charlie West Blues Fest is produced by the West Virginia Blues Society.
This years lineup includes Kenny Wayne Shepherd, on Saturday, brought to you by Charleston CVB, Ruthie Foster, Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, Johnny Rawls, Fiona Boyes, Slim Fatz,Jill West & The Blues Attack,Six Kinds of Crazy,Mel Melton & The Wicked Mojos, Mahajibee,Dennis McClung Blues Band,Ms. Freddye,The Carpenter Ants,Diddly Squatt, Lascivious Deacons and the Shaune Booker Band. Our second stage will feature the best in local and regional music for your enjoyment. After Jams to be held at the Sound Factory on Friday and Saturday. Music starts at 6 o'clock on Friday and runs to 11 pm. Saturday will be noon to 11 pm and Sunday is 1 pm to 9 pm. More details can be found at, www.charliewestbluesfest.com For more info contact Jack L. Rice, West Virginia Blues Society, 304-389-1439, Bkravenhawk@hotmail.com or visit www.wvbluessociety.org
The Diamond State Blues Society - Middletown , Delaware
The 1st St. Georges Blues Fest sponsored by The Diamond State Blues Society is Saturday, June 16th, 2012, Noon to 8pm rain or shine, on the grounds of The Commodore Center, 1701 N. DuPont Hwy., St. Georges, Delaware. Featured are Garry Cogdell & the Complainers; lower case blues with special guest Johnny Neel; Dave Fields, Brandon Santini & his Band; J.P. Soars & the Red Hots; and headlining is The Bernard Allison Group. Details and links to tickets at www.DiamondStateBlues.com.
Mississippi Valley Blues Society - Davenport, IA
The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents its annual Fundraiser on Saturday May 12 at Martinis on the Rock (4619 - 34th Street, Rock Island, just south of Blackhawk Road). Admission is $20, which will get you in the door, a ticket for door prizes and a trip through the buffet line. A silent auction, begins at 6:00 p.m., with the music starting at 7:00 p.m. Proceeds benefit the 2012 Blues Festival.
Music will be provided by three bands who have won the Iowa Blues Challenge, the Steady Rollin’ Blues Band, The Candymakers, and The Mercury Brothers will each take the stage in Martinis’ brand new outdoor music pavilion, situated in back with a stunning view of the scenic Rock River. After the three sets, the MVBS will host a jam session. The non-profit Mississippi Valley Blues Society depends heavily on fundraisers such as this to keep our musical standards as high, and our Festival admission prices ridiculously low, as they’ve been in the past.
The Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Davenport, Iowa is June 29th & 30th, and July1st. Scheduled performers include Mathew Curry and The Fury, Earnest ‘’Guitar’’ Roy, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, Liz Mandeville and Donna Herula, Kenny Neal and Super Chikan Johnson on June 29th, Terry Quiett, Bryce Janey, Ray Fuller and the Blues Rockers, Doug MacLeod, Preston Shannon, Ernest Dawkins Quartet, Guitar Shorty, Moreland and Arbuckle, Coco Montoya and Kelley Hunt on June 30th. Lady Bianca, Paul Geremia, Johnny Rawls, Trampled Under Foot and the Brooks Family Blues Dynasty featuring Lonnie Brooks, Ronnie Baker Brooks and Wayne Baker Brooks, plus Bobby Rush with “The Double Rush Revue” on Sunday July 1st. http://www.mvbs.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 - Matt Hill, Tuesday May 9th 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm, Matthew Curry & the Fury, Friday May 25th 7:30 pm – 11:00 pm. Admission for these shows is $5.00 non-members $3.00 members. A special show featuring the 2011 International Blues Challenge winner Lionel Young Band with opening act The Governor is Friday, June 22 From 7:00 pm – 11:00 pm Admission: $5.00 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. May 7 – Studebaker John & the Hawks, May 14 – Diddley Squat, May 21 – Rev. Raven & the Chain Smokin’ Alterboys, May 28 – Lionel Young Band, Jun 4 – Big Jeff Chapman Blues Band , Jun 11 – Deb Callahan, Jun 18 – Sugar Ray & The Bluetones Jun 25 – TBA. Other ICBC sponsored events at the K of C Hall, Casey’s Pub, 2200 Meadowbrook Rd., Springfield, IL from 7:30pm - Midnight - May 12 – Eddie Turner Band, , - Jun 30 – Matt Hill . icbluesclub.org
The Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL
Friends of the Blues present 2012 shows:
Tues, May 8, Kilborn Alley, 7 pm, Bradley Bour. Sportsmen’s Club www.kilbornalley.com
Thur, May 17, Reverend Raven & C.S.A.B., 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Tues, June 19, Sugar Ray Norcia & Bluetones, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Tues, June 26, Tom Holland & Shuffle Kings, 7 pm, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club
July – Sugarcane Collins - details TBA
July - Dave Riley – details TBA
Tues, July 24, Laurie Morvan Band, 7 pm, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s 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
Thursday, Oct 18, Morry Sochat & The Special 20s, 7 pm, TBA
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
Featured Blues Review 5 of 6
Walter Trout - Blues For The Modern Daze
Walter Trout has been an icon in the blues and rock worlds for his fierce guitar play and stratospheric performances. Some of his recordings have leaned heavily toward the rock side of things, but this album is deeply entrenched in his love for the blues and contains fifteen exceptional, brand-new songs, all of which were written by Trout. This is an outstanding effort top to bottom: great music, lyrics and performances. I think this is one of Trout’s best overall efforts- from first listen to the many subsequent ones I found myself just wanting to hear these songs again and again.
The album starts off with a great cut with a driving beat- “Saw My Mama Cryin”. Walter gives us a traditional AAB blues tune with a long, straight ahead chorus telling a story of his mother and her perseverance. Midway he transitions into a wicked guitar solo that is a great compliment to an outstanding opening cut, setting the table (so to speak) for many more outstanding tunes.
Walter does some social commentary and shows some displeasure with things going on, his blues for the modern “daze”. Lonely” is a slow blues that comments how lonely people must be because they are “staring at their computers and yelling in their phones”, an apt commentary on the facelessness of many peoples’ lives today. Pollution and the environment are the focus of “The Sky Is Fallin’ Down”, another hot cut with another mean guitar solo. “Recovery” is a soulful ballad with vocals, guitar and B3 just laying feelings and emotions out there. In “Turn Off Your TV” Trout tells his listeners to avoid being marketed to by turning off their idiot boxes so you can think for yourself.
“Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous” bemoans the previous life of the rich and famous turning into a life of living as the poor and unknown. “Puppet Master” is a 45 second spoken poem on how the puppet master wants control and casts off uncooperative puppets because millions more are waiting in the wings. Trout immediately blasts off into “Money Rules the World” after this, a high strung journey into the ionosphere that nicely ties in thematically to the poem before it. The title track starts off acoustically and then blasts off into a large scale electric assault. Walter obviously feels strongly about many issues of the day and expresses himself with great emotion and feeling in his songs here. Hot, hot stuff with a message to boot.
Cuts like “Blues For My Baby” that are mostly instrumental offer some great stuff, too; the piano playing back and forth with Trout’s guitar is pretty nice and his guitar “solo” goes on and on for the big ax aficionados. He closes the set with “Pray for Rain”, all acoustic with perhaps more commentary on climate change as crops are dying due to the lack of rain and the poor farmer who can’t deal with things. Emotional stuff.
Space and time limit comment on every track but suffice it to say that this is a great set of songs from start to finish. The guitar solos are immense yet they, too, make statements. This is my favorite album of Trout’s in many years- great song writing, poignant statements and superlative performances. Certainly this is one of the best albums of 2012. Trout’s fans will eat this up and those new to Trout will see the master at the top of his craft. Most highly recommended!!!
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.
Featured Blues Review 6 of 6
Big Walker – Root Walking
Derrick Big Walker may not be the most prominent name featured in blues circles throughout the world. It still doesn’t stop him from winning endorsements from the likes of Blues Revue, Living Blues and Alligator label honcho Bruce Iglauer.
Having played with Luther Tucker, Big Mama Thornton, Mike Bloomfield and many others has been his bread and butter and these ingredients are the key factors in making the Root Walking CD a listenable piece of recording.
Setting old American poems from two centuries ago to music isn’t a formula most musicians follow. It’s a challenge that’s hard to pull off yet Walker can do it modernizing the material to today’s present standards.
Saxophone and harmonica are Walker’s playing cards. You can tell the man probably loves the harp as his instrument of choice as it’s the centerpiece for the majority of the songs. Nothing wrong with that as this cd bears the imprint of Chicago Delta styled blues made fashionable by Muddy Waters and resurrected by apostles Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield.
Walker’s sandpaper vocals are far from being technically perfect. Their gruffness is still suited to the material. Although this piece of work was recorded in Stockholm, Sweden it’s instantly forgettable as you would swear these tracks were laid down in some studio located in Chicago, Tennessee or New Orleans. The hoodoo strut of “Papa Guede” is the perfect precursor to the tent revival evil chanted “Devils Cloth” that cloaks itself in its darkness proudly.
Previously speaking of Muddy Waters, nowhere is that presence more felt than in opening cut “It’s Hard” which lopes along lazily until second track “Raise A Ruckus” raises the roof with Walker’s harp leading the cavalry into a lowland fling party after the battle. Even when a bit of a breather comes like in “Run Night Run,” the background vocals are the cushion for Walker to spray harmonica notes over to carry the number along an ominous edge. It’s a contrast to the uplifting cowpoke sounding “The Hypocrite Blues” that ends like a flash of light before you begin to appreciate its Western Plains atmosphere.
And in case for some listeners when things are getting a bit complacent, than “Can’t Take No Train” will pick up the slack though it’s a rewrite of the obscure chestnut “Mystery Train” made popular back in the day by Elvis Presley. Not that it will matter to fans needing a fix of that boogie fever so they can feel the effect of being in an old blues bar in Chicago with the time machine dials set somewhere in the 1950s.
After Credence Clearwater Revival covered “Midnight Special” it seemed very likely this song would fade into the ether. With the escalating interest in blues, artists have dug this song out of obscurity and have put their own personal stamp on it. Joining the ranks, Walker’s sandpaper vocals do the song justice and although it may not capture the energy level that CCR created, the tune fits in well with the others as Walker’s harp playing once again carries the song across its joyous waters.
Ending track “Slave” contemplates the hardships of the Afro-American. It’s a strange way to end an album. Then again maybe it’s not. In his press release reads the quote “Afro-American poems from 17-1800 and his own original songs.” If Derrick Walker wants to take on the role of blues historian, he certainly has earned that right. No harm could come of a musician educating the listener and taking them on a journey to where the heritage of roots music began.
Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.
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