Cover photo by Michael Kurgansky © 2012 www.kurgansky.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 Sugar Blue. Marilyn Stringer covered the great star studded benefit show to raise money for Candye Kane for her recent surgery.
We have six music reviews for you! Sheila Skilling reviews a new CD from 145th Street. Rex Bartholomew reviews a new release from Microwave Dave and the Nukes. Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews the new album from The Michael Landau Group. Mark Thompson reviews the new DVD from The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. James "Skyy Dobro" Walker reviews the new Lurrie Bell CD. Rainey Wetnight reviews the new release from Nathan James and the Rhythm Scratchers. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
From The Editor's Desk
Hey Blues Fans,
The world lost another great Bluesman this week. This it the sad news from Alligator Records:
Michael "Iron Man" Burks, July 30, 1957 - May 6, 2012
"Guitarist, vocalist, songwriter Michael "Iron Man" Burks died in Atlanta on Sunday, May 6, 2012. He was 54 years old. He was returning from a tour of Europe and collapsed at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He was rushed to South Fulton Medical Center where he could not be revived. The preliminary diagnosis for cause of death was a heart attack.
Michael "Iron Man" Burks earned his moniker by his hours-long, intensely physical performances, fearsome guitar attack, and tough, smoky vocals. Burks was a true modern blues hero whose music was driven by an intense, blue collar work ethic that had won him well-deserved national and international recognition. His instantly identifiable guitar sound and his live charisma earned him four Blues Music Award nominations. He won the 2004 Living Blues magazine Critics' Award for Best Guitarist. Burks received a nomination for the 2012 Blues Music Award for Best Guitarist.
Born in Milwaukee in 1957, Burks grew up immersed in the blues, and learned to play guitar at an early age. His family moved to Camden, Arkansas in the early 1970s.After self-releasing his first CD in 1997, Burks signed with Chicago's Alligator Records in 2001 and released three critically acclaimed albums. GuitarOne named his debut album, Make It Rain, one of the Top 200 greatest guitar recordings of all time. He has toured the world, headlining blues festivals, concert halls and clubs. His status as an Arkansas musical hero was confirmed by his receipt of the prestigious Sonny Payne Award for Blues Excellence in 2006, presented by the Delta Cultural Center, and by his multiple headlining appearances at The Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival. Burks had just finished recording his fourth Alligator CD, which is due for release at the end of July 2012."
I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Burks play many times in the last few years. In 2010, Michael even invited me to his wedding reception during the King Biscuit Festival. Our sympathies got out to his wife and family.
Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!
Blues Blast photographer Marilyn Stringer has been VERY busy. In addition to making it to California to cover the Candye Kane benefit, she followed up by going to the New Orleans Jazz Fest the following week, before heading to Memphis to cover the Blues Music Awards this week.
At the Jazz Fest, she went down to the Rock’N Bowl where Tab Benoit traditionally closes out Jazz Fest. The opening act was the Royal Southern Brotherhood with Mike Zito, Cyril Neville, Charlie Wooten (bass) (pictured below) plus Devon Allman and Yonrico Scott (Drums)
Following was Sonny Landreth and closing the night was Tab Benoit with Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone.
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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 - Sugar Blue
It could have been an unforgettable headache - one of major proportions - for James Whiting.
Instead, it turned out to be a case of divine inspiration.
A well-known New York City street musician at the time, Whiting was playing underneath the MacDougal Street window of a little old lady at 2 a.m. early one morning.
A little old lady who was not the least bit impressed, or amused, with Whiting and his serenading skills, especially at that hour.
“She didn’t appreciate it and reached for the nearest box she could find to throw at us. And out of the window came this old box of 78s – smash – on the sidewalk,” he said. “And every record in that box shattered, except for the one on the top, and that one was “Sugar Blues” by Sidney Bechet.”
And thus, James Whiting, who had been searching for a nickname that would help him stand out from the crowd, was instantly re-christened as Sugar Blue.
“Another foot to the right and she would have creamed me,” he laughed.
But as history would have it, Sugar Blue, harpist extraordinaire, would remain unscathed from that incident in the West Village and his remarkable journey down the blues highway would continue on.
The very latest steps on that never-ending trip are Blue's follow-up to his Code Blue CD, which will be a live disc, and is slated for a summer 2012 release.
The appropriately-titled Raw Sugar captures Blue and his band – Ilaria on bass (“My beautiful wife plays bass and she’s in my face and I like it, laughed Blue), Damiano Della Torre (“a magnificent player”) on piano, Rico McFarland (“one of the great guitar players in blues today”) on guitar and James Knowles (“one of the best drummers and he’s been on every record I’ve done since the 1990s”) on drums, burning down stages and thrilling audiences at a number of different venues, as only they can.
Music surrounded Sugar Blue as a youth, thanks to household visits from some very famous friends of his mother.
“My mother was a singer and a dancer back in the days when the Apollo Theater had a chorus line; she was one of the chorus girls. And Billie Holiday was a good friend of hers, Ella Fitzgerald was also a friend of the family, Big Maybelle was also a really close friend, along with a bunch of other musicians and show-biz people,” Blue said. “And they were always around the house, even after my mother got out of the business to raise her kids. And by the time I was 6 or 7, I decided that I wanted to play music for a living because the people were so exciting and they told such great stories.
While music was all around him, it was the sounds of horn-driven jazz that young Sugar Blue was smitten with, instead of the sounds of the blues.
“There was the big band stuff that I was listening to when I was a kid, people like Dexter Gordon, Johnny Hodges … cats like that,” he said. “But see, I’m a New Yorker and I grew up on the jazz scene during the Verve years. A lot of that stuff was being played around my house so I heard a lot more of that than I heard of Chicago blues.”
Then Blue, along with countless other impressionable youth at the time, was swept up into the gale force winds that were blowing across the ocean from England.
“When I got to be about 16 or 17, I started listening to rock-n-roll – which I couldn’t do in my mother’s house because she wouldn’t have it – but my God brother had just introduced me to the British Invasion and I was listening to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and the rest of those guys,” Blue said. “And I really sort of ran into Wolf and Muddy Waters and those guys by reading the backs of the records. I would find an interesting tune that I liked and then I would look on the back of the album to see who wrote it.”
One particular song may very well have been Sugar Blue’s gateway into the world of the blues.
“I believe it was “Little Red Rooster” and it was written by Willie Dixon. So I went to the library and started pulling out all the records that I could find with Willie Dixon as a writer and a performer,” he said. “And many of those were songs by Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf. So that was how I came into the Chicago blues.”
While the hallowed names of Dixon, Wolf and Muddy all played pivotal roles in the formation of The Rolling Stones (even providing them with their name), in turn, those young British musicians helped turn on young music lovers in the United States onto what was happening right under their own noses, in their own backyard.
“It’s a good thing those cats picked up on the music, because we seemed to have missed it here at home,” Blue said. “And as Willie Dixon said – and no one has said it better – 'The blues are the roots and the rest of the music is the fruit.'”
As circumstance would have it, Sugar Blue would later go on to play with Willie Dixon in the Chicago Blues All-Stars for a couple of years, the very man responsible for helping lead him down the path of the blues to begin with.
“I met Willie Dixon through Victoria Spivey. I went to a performance with him and Victoria and it was really a strange evening,” said Blue. “Victoria also introduced me to her quote-unquote ‘son’ who was sitting in a corner hiding from everybody. I said, ‘Who is that?’ And she said, ‘Oh, that’s Bob.’ And I looked over and it was Dylan! I’m like, ‘That’s your son? Oh, this is going to be one of those nights!’ We had Willie Dixon and Carey Bell on one side and Bob Dylan on the other and Victoria Spivey in the middle, bringing it all together.”
But Spivey did more than just introduce Sugar Blue to Willie Dixon and Bob Dylan that night.
“That was also the night that she told Bob that I was going to be on his next record,” Blue said. “And he looked at her quite seriously and said, ‘Yes, mam.’”
And although Sugar Blue did indeed play on the sessions that wound up being Dylan’s Desire album, his work didn’t make it on the original disc. However, “Catfish Blues” featuring Sugar Blue on harp, was finally issued on Dylan’s Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991.
Spivey also turned out to indirectly play a role in what turned out to be a major turning point for Sugar Blue - his decision to leave the United States for Paris, France.
“Victoria introduced me to Memphis Slim, who was playing at a club in the West Village called the Top of the Gate. I asked him if I could sit in with him and he said, “Well son, you can sit in with me, but you’d better be able to play.’ And we played and thank goodness, he liked it,” said Blue. “And then I asked him how he thought they would accept me in Paris. And he said, “Well, they like Sonny Boy and you can play pretty good, so if you’ve got the temerity for it, come along and join me.”
So with those words of advice ringing in his ears, a mere three weeks later, in the fall of 1977, Sugar Blue was in the City of Lights, doing his thing.
Only thing was, he wasn’t doing his thing with Memphis Slim, the cat that encouraged him to come to Paris.
“I’d see Slim around and he’d wave to me and he’d keep going. Well, I was doing a lot of busking on the streets there and eventually I ran into The Rolling Stones. And then I did “Miss You” and all that stuff with them and then I also ran into Frank Zappa and joined him onstage and we had a good time,” Blue said. “And I played with Luther Allison and started to make some waves over there. And the next time I ran into Slim, he said, ‘Hi. Come on over here, boy,’ and he waved me over. We talked and laughed and he invited me to play with him at this big stage there in Paris. And at some point, I asked him why when I came over (moved to Paris) that he didn’t (talk to him or ask him to play) … and he said, ‘Well son, first I had to see if you were serious about your music, because I’m too old to waste my time teaching you kids.’ So after he saw I was really about it, he did decide to help me and he ended up mentoring me in many ways.”
Leaving the comfort and familiarity of your home country to go overseas - to a place you’ve never been - without a job or without many contacts, has to be a gutsy and nerve-racking path in order to make a living playing the blues.
“I just said, ‘I’m gone,’ you know? It was like it was time to pursue the adventure of a lifetime,” said Blue. “I had known since I had gotten out of the army that this was going to be my life and if I was going to make it my life, I had to take the chances that were required to make it, you know? If you’re not willing to risk everything, don’t mess around with art because art is no place for the cowardly.”
Blue's Paris experience probably hit its zenith with his hook-up with The Rolling Stones.
“They had heard me playing with the great Louisiana Red, God rest his soul, he was one of my mentors when I was younger, and they heard me playing on a record with him in ‘75 or ‘76, or something like that. And Keith heard it and then heard about me playing around there (Paris) and said, 'Wait a minute, let's get this kid.' And the rest is rock-n-roll history, as they like to say,” said Blue.
Blue's gritty, earthy harp work fit what The Stones were doing like a hand in a glove. His playing sends “Miss You” and “Some Girls” into the stratosphere, with his genius blast of blues harp stomping all over the disco beat that underpins “Miss You.” He would also end up on the group's next two studio outings – Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You.
“It was really incredible to be on a record (“Miss You) that was responsible for the resurgence of that band,” Blue said. “And actually being an important and intrinsic part of the song, one that was the biggest song in the history of the band, really says something about how important the blues is to the music and how important it is to them as a musical entity.”
Maybe the most impressive thing about his studio sessions with The Stones was the amount of freedom the notoriously stubborn group gave Blue.
“Nobody gives me my freedom. Either you like what I do or you don't,” he said. “There are other guys out here if you don't like what I do. They gave me my heading and then they got out of the way.”
After his time in Paris, Sugar Blue returned back home to the United States and has not slowed down one bit since his arrival back on these shores.
And thankfully, these days, no one is throwing musty, dusty boxes of 78s out of their window at him.
“We’re working and writing songs like crazy, man. We are writing some wonderful, wonderful songs,” said Blue. “I’m so excited about the music we’re making today. Not only do we have the Raw Sugar album we’re getting ready to put in the can, but the (studio) record for next year is on its feet and I’m about ready to throw the switch and the current’s going to go through it and … it’s alive! It’s alive! Ha, ha! So that’s what we’re doing right now. You know, you gotta’ live note-by-note, day-by-day - and basically that’s what I’m doing.”
Photos by Michael Kurgansky and Bob Kieser as marked © 2012
Interviewer Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He's also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.
Live Blues Review - Candye Kane Benefit
Candye Kane Benefit – 4/30/2012 - Belly Up Tavern – Solana Beach, CA
As fans & friends of Candye Kane know, she had her second pancreatic surgery on May 2nd. To quote Candye’s update: I underwent a whipple revision surgery on May 2 for a recurrence of the neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer that first appeared in 2008 on my pancreatic head. The results of the surgery are still not complete but so far, it looks like they were able to remove all or most of the cancer and if things go according to plan, my life should resume normalcy very soon. Cross your fingers!
There have been a few different benefits for Candye across the country and I made a special trip to cover the one held at The Belly Up in Solana Beach, CA, on April 30th. The event was a rousing success and over $25,000 was raised that night from donations and raffles. And as we all know that will barely cover medical expenses, living costs, and help for the band while Candye recovers. So, if you can donate to Candye please visit the site being held open for more donations: http://concertforcandye.com/.
The event was produced by Michael Kinsman (below), Janiva Magness, Barbara Hammerman, Amanda Gresham & Henri Musselwhite. Good job!!
The lineup consisted of all of Candye’s life-long friends who came together to support Candye. MC’s for the night were Evan Caleb Yearsley (Candye’s son & previous drummer) and Rick Estrin (Rick Estrin & The Nightcats). Laura Chavez, Candye’s best friend and guitar player was in attendance and Debbie Davies flew all the way from Connecticut just to play for Candye.
The show started at 7pm and without a single break, lasted until midnight. Opening the show was Candye’s band and friends: Billy Watson (harmonica), Evan Yearsley (drums), Johnny Viau (Sax), Kennan Shaw (bass), Laura Chavez (guitar), Michele Lundeen (vocals), Ruby (vocals), Steve Wilcox (guitar), and Thomas Yearsley (stand-up bass).
Next up was the Beat Farmers, a popular Southern California band. From their website “The Beat Farmers were a band that stayed true to what they believed, which is good, honest, and straight ahead rock and roll music. Their sound is difficult to describe--too rock for country, too country for rock. They were an influential and unusual band insomuch as they had two lead guitarists and three lead vocalists.” They were definitely indescribable, fun, and as with the rest of the performers, have known Candye for decades. Shown are Jerry Raney (guitar), Joey Harris (guitar), Rolle Love (bass) and Joey Harris (guitar).
During the set change we were entertained by raffles, Rick Estrin’s humor, or Jack Tempchin, a writer of many songs for the Eagles, including Sweet Easy Feeling, one of the songs he performed. Wonderful!
In between his MC duties, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats gave us a full taste of his band, which of course is always fun with Rick playing his harmonica, Kid Andersen bending his guitar, Lorenzo Farrell switching from bass to keyboards, and J. Hansen on the drums.
After they completed their set, they backed up Debbie Davies for her set. What a treat for the west coast blues fans who don’t get many opportunities to see the Legendary Debbie Davies who is from Connecticut and flew out just to play for Candye!! That is BIG LOVE!!
Next up was Kim Wilson (harmonica – as if you didn’t know), Anson Funderburgh (guitar), Larry Taylor (guitar & bass), Carl Sonny Leland (keyboards), and Scottie Blim (bass). Needless to say the music talent just kept on coming – with no breaks! The house was packed-one dare not leave their “spot”!! Kim & the band “blew us away!”
When Kim completed his set, the band remained as Janiva Magness stepped out on stage and sang her heart out for Candye. Kid Anderson & Lorenzo Farrell also joined the band and added more healing energy to the set.
Kid Anderson stayed, Tommy Castro and Randy McDonald (bass) and the band played on.
Waiting patiently in the wings all evening and being his particularly humorous self while playing off his brother, Dave Alvin finally came on stage. And because it was getting late and was a work night, a lot of the crowd had left. Dave was right when he said “For those who had to leave, they don’t know what they are missing! Let me bring out my brother Phil!” And so the fun just intensified with about 15 minutes of Dave & Phil Alvin. All I can say is Candye has some marvelous friends!! Dave Alvin & The Guilty Ones with guest Phil Alvin were another “treat” for us all. Band: Lisa Pankratz (drums) Chris Miller (guitar).
And yes, there was a finale!! And yes, it was fantastic!!
Please support live music and the musicians, especially in their time of need. Please click on the link and donate if you can to help Candye get through this healing time: http://concertforcandye.com/. You can also keep up with her progress and recovery on Facebook. And thanks to all of those who donated whether they made it not – it was a night to remember!!
Photos & Comments By Marilyn Stringer © 2012 MJStringerPhoto.com
Featured Blues Review 1 of 6
145th Street – Where The Blues Lives
10 tracks; Runtime: 57:32 minutes
Anybody know where the Blues lives? Surprise! Evidently, it’s in San Diego. Where The Blues Lives is the second CD offering from 145th Street, a five-man San Diego blues band, led by Steve (Stevie B) Bulger on vocals and harp, and Marc (the Wonder Boy) Marrewa on guitar.
According to a December 2011 article in the San Diego Reader, this band is named for the 1-4-5 chord progression of your standard 12-bar blues; and they added the word “Street” because, well, “that’s where it all happens.” But don’t let the name fool you. This is no standard blues band, doing the same old blues songs in the usual style, and 145th Street is proud of that fact. Nine of the ten tracks on this CD are originals, written by Bulger and Marrewa, who strive to bring you what they call an “urban blues experience.” Even the one cover tune, the Willie Dixon classic, “Make Love To You,” gets a very original, contemporary-sounding arrangement, featuring a catchy riff and a bit of dueling harp and sax.
Every track leaves ample time to spotlight solos on harp, guitar and sax (with the sax skillfully played by Walter Gentry). All three musicians can run the gamut from down & dirty to sophisticated, bordering on jazz. Check out the CD cover photo and you’ll see an abundance of confidence and attitude, and what you see is what you get. This band’s playing is so tight that you’d think they must have been playing together for decades – while, in reality, most of these guys only joined 145th Street since the previous (2005) CD. It’s like they have a mind-meld going and never get out of synch.
This CD opens strong and just keeps getting better. The first (title) track serves as an anthem to this band and their San Diego-style, party-time blues. It cranks up the energy right away, and gives you a good sampling of what these musicians can do – not to mention, fixes their name, 145th Street, firmly in your mind by well-placed repetition. The 4th cut, “Your Little Show,” has almost a Latin beat, with a little funky wah-wah thrown in. The 6th and longest track, “What Am I S’posed To Do,” is a fairly slow blues tune with an amazing guitar solo – heavy on the pedal.
One of my favorite songs on the CD is the last cut, “Give Her What She Wants.” A section of this one borrows Buddy Guy’s technique of grabbing your attention by singing and playing very softly, then suddenly and strategically cranking the volume back up. It is also one of several cuts on this CD where you’ll hear the harp, guitar and/or sax playing together either in tandem or in tight harmony – just a little different version of what the Allman Brothers do so well with two guitars.
If you’re looking for a band whose blues can make you cry, with a vocalist who seems genuinely heartbroken, then 145th Street is probably not the band for you. But if high energy is more your style, you might want to give Where The Blues Lives a shot. In terms of pure enthusiasm, this studio album can beat many live performances. Bulger’s vocals, in particular, will convince you this was taped before a live audience, and the mood is pure party.
Where does the Blues live? Besides those other great blues cities we all know and love, you just might find it in San Diego. Just ask the locals where you can find145th Street. And hopefully they’ll soon be taking their party on the road, to a blues club near you.
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
Microwave Dave and the Nukes – Last Time I Saw You
13 tracks / 53:20
I am a sucker for clever band names and Microwave Dave and the Nukes is a winning handle that gives a hint of the good times music they play. Good times abound on their seventh album which is mostly blues-based music, but ends up having a little bit of everything in it. Don’t worry though, because all of these songs groove.
There are ten original tracks, along with two cover tunes and a bonus track of mechanical noise (an automotive winch, or so I have been told). Much of the original material is written by guitarist and vocalist “Microwave” Dave Gallaher, who founded this group in 1989. The Nukes consist of James Irvin on drums and Rick Godfrey on the bass and harp, completing this Alabama-based trio; all three are all accomplished bluesmen and first-rate musicians.
The album kicks off with “Drinkin’ Wine Since Nine”, which grinds but (like all liquor-themed songs) does not have the most intellectual lyrics. If you were not previously familiar with the band, this delta-inspired track provides a perfect introduction for Dave’s growly voice and dirty slide guitar work, as well as the tight and adventuresome duo of Irvin and Godfrey.
As I said earlier, there is a little bit of everything here and the second track “Jesus was Smart”, shifts into a countrified shuffle and provides the listeners with some clever and smart-alecky lyrics.
And the surprises just keep on coming. I have been listening to blues for a while now, and cannot remember the last time I heard a full-fledged lengthy bass solo on a blues album, but “I’ve got a Bet with Myself” delivers one, along with a fine selection of AC/DC to ZZ Top up-tempo rock riffs.
The journey through the album finally slows down for a lovely blues ballad, “The Worst Thing” which provides Dave with the opportunity to show off some truly soulful guitar work. His voice and guitar work magically together.
I cannot resist the Billy C. Farlow cover tune, “Alabama Saturday Night”, which has a tough Bo Diddley beat to it, thanks in no small part to the thumping drums laid down by James Irvin and some pretty sweet harp work by Godfrey.
“All Night Boogie” is indeed a boogie, and features impressive Keith Moon-esque drumming throughout, almost like a drum solo that happens to have a blues song happening on top of it. James Irvin is very talented, and his playing throughout is considerably more complicated than what is found on more conventional blues albums. This song has really stuck with me and is my favorite on the album, so kudos for doing something a little bit differently, gentlemen.
Heading into the final half of this CD, there are twists and turns through the influences of the Appalachians, and possibly Memphis, before things get decidedly weird (in a good way).
You will see what I mean, because as the album ends, it takes a couple of unexpected turns, first with “Vagabundos”, a surf tune with Gallaher providing Spanish vocals in his distinctive baritone, and then with “Rafferty”, a 7-minute AOR instrumental that is amazingly melodic . Microwave Dave and the Nukes have provided a little something for everybody on this album, and it is quite a trip!
By now you probably realize that this is not strictly a blues album, but overall is great entertainment and a lot of these songs have made it onto the playlist I am putting together for my next party. I think Last Time I Saw You will appeal to most blues followers, and I think you should give it a listen.
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.
Featured Blues Review 3 of 6
The Michael Landau Group - Organic Instrumentals
This Los Angeles native blends his early influences of sixties rock and traditional and electric jazz and processes it through his creative mind to arrive at a quirky and interesting display of guitar based instrumentals. His guitar playing is at times jagged, melodic and includes obvious nods to Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower and most notably fusion-era Jeff Beck, while still achieving his own personal style and sound. Most songs see him accompanied by drums, bass and Hammond organ. The rhythm section is right on his tail during every turn in the road. Mike has much professional experience to draw from as he has done session work for Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Rod Stewart and Ray Charles, among others. He has also put in his touring dues with the likes of Boz Scaggs, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Robben Ford.
The record starts off with gentle acoustic strumming over a spare drum beat, and is then picked up by soft electric guitar in “Delano”. Organ, bass and full kit drums, building momentum slightly, attaining a bubbling cauldron of instrumental interplay. His guitar soars and bends just enough without going over the top. Next up is “Sneaker Wave”, which sounds like electric-Irish Jig-meets-Jeff Beck. While the jaunty jig-like riff plays underneath, Michael sounds like Jeff Beck ripping off squealing and tasty licks.
“Spider Time” is a moody song were the Hendrix-Trower influence goes back and forth, until Beck-like squeezed notes shoot out like beautiful sparks, propelling a lilting melody. Larry Goldings contributes a gorgeous organ solo along the way. “The Big Black Bear” owes a lot to Robin Trower’s melancholy and soaring-through-the-heavens style. It’s Trower’s tone channeled through another guitar master. The flugel horn playing of Walt Fowler on “Big Sur Howl” gives it a “Sunday afternoon”-jazz vibe. Organs and carillon (bells) are the sole accompaniment to acoustic and electric guitar provided in “Smoke”. The record closes out with Michael trading off of acoustic and electric guitars with no backing musicians, on the melancholy “The Family Tree”.
There is much here for “guitar freaks”, as new things pop up to your ears at every listening. This music sure holds your attention. A mellow guitar interlude might just turn into what sounds like Godzilla on a bad day. Although the guitar sound is his, fans will have fun spotting the influences that pop up. The assorted drummers assembled here provide that bombastic sound, when needed, to propel the songs along. All-in-all this is music for the musically adventurous. You surely won’t find yourself nodding off to this stuff.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review 4 of 6
The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise - All Jams on Deck
Robert Mugge – Director & Editor
DVD – 96 minutes
What do you get when you mix over a thousand blues fans, more than thirty of the best blues musicians or bands - and the warm Caribbean sun? You have one of Roger Naber's floating blues parties, better known as the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. Naber's genius was to make it possible for blues lovers and musicians to spend a week sailing the high seas together, where the relaxed atmosphere and laid-back attitudes remove the barriers between fans and musicians.
Director Robert Mugge has built his career documenting various music genres and the artists that make the music special. With more than thirty films to his credit, Mugge has garnered praise for his work like his documentaries about Al Green, Sonny Rollins and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the New Orleans musical community (New Orleans Music in Exile). His second DVD to take a look at the Blues Cruise phenomenon focuses on one of the many aspects that make the cruise so unique – the nightly Pro Jam sessions, held outdoors with a 1 am start time on the aft pool deck. There is a different artist designated to host each session during the week.
The disc starts with Tommy Castro and Elvin Bishop discussing the genesis of the nightly gathering of the professional musicians where they get the rare opportunity to play together, sometimes for the first time. These sessions are always intriguing for the audience as they get to witness these once-in-a-lifetime combinations, like one film segment that features Johnny Winter and Elvin Bishop trading guitar licks with Edgar Winter on keyboards.
Another sequence has Marcia Ball leading the jam backed by an eight piece horn section and Jimmy Thackery on guitar for Bobby “Blue” Bland's “I Woke Up Screaming”. Ball later comments that having all of the horns made the song sound just like she imagined it in her dreams. Another highlight is the frenzied boogie-woogie jam in the Piano Bar featuring Eden Brent, Commander Cody and Kellye Hunt. A second segment showcases host Leon Blue with Hunt and the Commander. Guitarist Vasti Jackson joins Coco Montoya and ends up walking through the theater, his high-energy performance delighting the audience.
The film includes commentary on the art of jamming and the inherent issues of leading a session from Thackery, Coco Montoya, Larry McCray, Kim Wilson and Lee Oskar. The Rev. Billy C. Wirtz and Cody explain some of the finer points of piano players working together in two enjoyable segments. Bill Wax of the SiriusXM BB King Bluesville program and noted music producer & historian Bob Porter lend some historical perspective to the history of jamming, with its roots in jazz music. Vasti Jackson and Laith Al-Saadi provide an enlightening demonstration on the finer points of guitar players working together in the jam format.
Other musical highlights include a run-through of “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by Elvin Bishop's Raisin' Hell Revue with Kid Andersen on guitar and John Nemeth adding an electrifying vocal. Castro's “A Good Woman is Hard to Find” features a sizzling solo from guitarist Mighty Mike Schermer and some tantalizing piano from Commander Cody. Sista Monica Parker's powerful voice sounds right at home with Lee Oskar and the Lowrider Band behind her, with Larry McCray stealing a bit of the spotlight with his red-hot guitar licks. The final jam is a dream-come-true for harmonica fans with Rick Estrin, Oskar and Nemeth joining Kim Wilson.
The disc closes with a harmonica duet featuring Wilson and Oskar, a quiet little number that provides a sharp contrast to all of the other musical fireworks in the film. Mugge and his partner, Diana Zelman, have managed to create a work that suceeds on several levels. It educates viewers on the art of jamming while providing actual performances that illustrates the points under discussion. You get exciting combinations of great musicians playing for their own enjoyment as well as the fans who manage to stay up that late! And it provides a close-up view of what the Blues Cruise is all about. You will certainly play this disc more than a time or two.
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.
Blues Society News
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Crossroads Blues Society - Rockford, IL
Billy Flyn will be conducting two Blues in the Schools (BITS) programs for Crossroads on Tuesday, May 15th. The AM session is at Harlem Middle School in Loves Park, IL (just north of Rockford) at 9:30 AM and the afternoon will be with K thru 3 at Mary Morgan Elementary School in Byron, IL at 2:00 PM. We expect about 300 students at each program! we will have reached out with 104 programs for 31,000 students and over 2,200 teachersnad staff members after completing these programs.
That night, Billy will be appearing solo at Leombruni's Italian Village in the bar at 7:00 PM. The show is free for students with an adult and for Crossroads members; cover is $5 for others. This is a great opportunity to hear this Grammy Award winning guitar wizard! Billy appeared in Byron at the inaugural 2010 blues festival there, where he and the Cashbox Kings tore the place up! Come on down to Byron for a great night of blues, pizza and beer. Leombruni's has been a supporter, member, and sponsor of Crossroads since 2005, and we thank them for helping us keep the blues alive! Please call 779-537-4006 if you have any questions. Crossroads is excited to present this great show!
Also, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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, 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 - 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 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:
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
Lurrie Bell - The Devil Ain’t Got No Music
Aria B.G. Records
12 songs; 47:36 minutes; Splendid
Styles: Spiritual Lyrics set to Traditional Blues music; Gospel
Lurrie Bell: a book chapter has already been written about him. Next, an entire book could be written which would probably be followed by the movie. It’s about a tortured artist. It is a character study rich and real, gritty, sometimes incredibly sad yet ultimately uplifting, a survivor story – Lurrie’s story.
On the surface, his new CD is propelled by Bell’s legendary guitar work – equal parts emotion and creativity. A deeper understanding of Lurrie’s history will allow the listener to begin to understand the depth of from where he is coming. For those interested, start with David Whiteis’ “Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories.” Son of famed Chicago harp master Carey Bell, Lurrie was born December 13, 1958 into both Blues music and chaos. A natural prodigy, Bell took up guitar at an early age. But, from the time he was seven years old until his early teens, he lived in Mississippi and Alabama with his grandparents. Bell’s Chicago music was married to their church music, which gave him a chance to learn Gospel beside his Blues. Upon returning to Chicago, he played with industry tops, like Koko Taylor, and was in the Sons of Blues with Billy Branch. His life and career have seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. For example, most of the 1980s were a lost decade of mental instability and drug abuse. Since 1989, he has released ten critically acclaimed solo CDs while dealing with the death of twin babies, his life partner, and his father, Carey. A lesser person would have succumbed, but it is Lurrie’s inner faith and music, both Gospel and Blues, that maintained him. Today, Bell is a steadily employed, highly in demand bluesman, playing several festivals this summer, touring the world, and touring with the “Chicago Blues: A Living History” band. Bell really had no choice; this CD had to come out.
Most of the CD consists of traditional Gospel songs and spirituals, and there are songs by Muddy Waters, Joe Louis Walker, Tom Waits, James Taylor, and producer Matthew Skoller, the title track. The album is neither pure Gospel nor is it a pure Blues record. It is a bare bones set which mainly features the amazing Bell on both vocals and acoustic guitar. Featured guests include Billy Branch, Kenny Smith, Bill Sims, Jr., Matthew Skoller, and Joe Louis Walker. “It’s blues, but it’s more gospel. I’m singing about the Lord,” Bell said in a recent Blues Blast Magazine cover story interview. “I’m singing some of the spirituals that I learned when I was living in the south with my grandparents down in Alabama. I wanted to revisit that whole scene on this new CD. ... to be able to do something for the Lord after all these years of playing the blues and going to all those countries and recording all this music … I just wanted to spend a little time and thank God for what he gave me.”
Album opener “Swing Low” may be a traditional song, but, typical of the entire CD, it doesn’t sound that way in Bell’s hands. With accompaniment from only Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith’s percussion and handclaps by Bill Sims Jr., Bell’s vocals are simultaneously ragged and confident. Joe Louis Walker appears on three songs with sweet acoustic slide licks, solos, and support behind Bell’s finger picking on “It’s A Blessing,” “Peace In The Valley,” and Walker’s original, “I’ll Get To Heaven On My Own.”
Muddy Waters’ Gospelized “Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You” features Bell on forcefully convincing solo vocal and guitar – both strumming and tapping on the wooden body. There is a Chicago Blues feel to “Trouble In My Way” with a full band: Smith on drums, Billy Branch on harp, Josef Ben Israel on upright bass, and Mike Avery and James Teague on backing vocals.
To end the record, Bell recorded “Death Don’t Have No Mercy (A Meditation)” written by the legendary Reverend Gary Davis, both a Bluesman and a believer himself. This number is performed with just Bell on vocals and guitar. Here we find the essence of the entire album: this sad expression of inevitable demise is transformed by Bell into hearts for hope for our temporary days of living. His wrenched and wrought notes from his guitar are themselves a simply wonderful testimonial to the soul and creativity of this faithful survivor.
The Devil Ain’t Got No Music is a formidable achievement. Bell has been redeemed, and he may just bring a few close listeners with him.Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at www.wkccradio.org in Kankakee, IL.
Featured Blues Review 6 of 6
Nathan James and the Rhythm Scratchers - What You Make of It
Delta Groove Music
14 songs; 59:50 minutes
Styles: “1920s acoustic blues, amplified juke joint hill country, 1950s uptown blues w/1960s soulful R&B”
Upon viewing the cover photograph of Southern California native Nathan James’ latest release, one might wonder: “Is that a guitar or a washboard?” Remarkably, it’s both, a homemade instrument dubbed the “Washtar Gitboard”! 2007 International Blues Challenge winner in the Solo/duo category with Ben Hernandez, James has never been one to follow convention. Neither have the Rhythm Scratchers (bassist Troy Sandow and drummer Marty Dodson). As Nathan reveals in the liner notes to “What You Make of It”, “[we recorded this album] setting up very few microphones and playing together in the same room without any isolation, or even headphones, to capture as much of our live sound as possible.” Each of the fourteen selections on this album, whether a cover or original song, is worthy of an analysis paragraph! Lacking space, however, here are three that exemplify “Washtar Soul”:
Track 01: “Chosen Kind”--“This is often our grand finale song at shows,” comments Nathan, “and never fails to grab everyone’s attention and raise the roof!” Truer words were never spoken. Through “Chosen Kind”, listeners will scratch their itch to dance as much as James scratches another of his creations, the “Tri-tar.” Troy Sandow’s harmonica in this hill country trance groove is addicting here, pulling out all the stops alongside James’ lead guitar.
Track 03: “Black Snakin’ Jiver”--Even though Nathan James says he took this traditional melody from an old Blind Boy Fuller song, “Jiver” is unique in its own right. The most noticeable instrument here is the one James plays with his mouth instead of his fast fingers: a kazoo! Rarely has its signature sound possessed such panache, especially in contemporary blues music. It’s endearing instead of annoying, and so is the solo breakdown in the middle of this jug-band/ragtime song, “always completely improvised every time, including on this recorded version,” James explains. For more amusing kazoo fun, check out Track 08: “Pretty Baby Don’t Be Late”.
Track 10: “Pain Inside Waltz”--Sometimes, the best numbers on a blues album are the most poignant. Case in point: “Pain Inside Waltz,” which Nathan says was inspired by Cajun waltz fiddle songs. “I fell for her charms,” he tells an ex-lover regretfully, “let another woman fall back in my arms, where you used to be…” What kind of “pain inside” is “not supposed to hurt?” It’s the bittersweet ache of love lost, and every couple dancing to this number will be compelled to remember it.
James Harman had taken 19-year-old Nathan James into his band; Harman guests here on vocals and harmonica on track 7. Over the years, Nathan James has played alongside such other legends as Kim Wilson, Pinetop Perkins and Billy Boy Arnold. In 2007, he and harp-er Ben Hernandez conquered the Memphis crowd at the International Blues Challenge, winning first place. Five years later, they’re still going strong. In their hearts, they know modern blues music is “What You Make of It!”
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.
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