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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Illinois Blues Blast

Cover photo by Steven I Wolf © 2012

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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 Nellie "Tiger" Travis. Jim Kanavy has photos and commentary on the 2012 Blast Furnace Blues Festival.
We have six music reviews for you! Steve Jones reviews a new album from Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys.  Ian McKenzie reviews a new release from Terry Quiett Band. Rainey Wetnight reviews a new release from Meena. Rex Bartholomew reviews a new album from Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers.  Mark Thompson reviews a new CD from Ben Waters. Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews a new release from Suzie Vinnick. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!

 From The Editor's Desk
Hey Blues Fans,
Fall is here but that is not the end of Blues festival season quite yet. This weekend the 2012 season of Blues continues with the legendary King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas. This is going to be a good one with headliner shows by Bobby Rush, Billy Branch, Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt and Eddie "The Chief" Clearwater. This monster of a festival has a total of 6 stages and features more than 80 acts over three days. Plus there will be numerous street musicians busking all along Cherry street. It is quite a show!
Blues Blast Magazine will be there to cover all the great Blues fun for you as we have for the last 7 years. So if you see our folks there in the Blues Blast t-shirts, be sure to stop and say hello.
Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!
Bob Kieser

 Blues Wanderings
We made it out to a great new festival called the Bikes, Blues and BBQ Festival in our home town of Pekin, IL last weekend sponsored by the River City Blues Society and the Freebird Chapter of ABATE.
Bassist and lead singer Governor Forman and guitar player Randy Roth kicked of the show with a rocking set.
Next up was one of our favorite area bands, Rooster Alley. Front man Dennis "The Boz" Bosley on harmonica, vocals and guitar led the group of seasoned veterans through a great set of Chicago style Blues.
The headliner for the evening was The Nick Moss Band.
As always, Nick provided his trademark set of intense Blues and Rocking tunes.

 Featured Blues Interview - Nellie "Tiger" Travis
Sometimes, nicknames can completely miss their intended mark.
In the National Basketball Association, calling the team from Utah the “Jazz” has always seemed way out in left field. Likewise, when one thinks of Los Angeles, the number of lakes in the city is usually not the first thing that pops to mind.
Other times, however, nicknames can be right on the mark.
Take Chicago blues diva Nellie “Tiger” Travis for instance.
If there was ever a more perfect moniker than “Tiger” for the red-hot blues-woman, then water is not wet.
Over the course of six well-received albums, along with appearances all over the globe, Nellie “Tiger” Travis has certainly managed to earn her stripes.
But then again, witnessing someone storm the stage with all the power and intensity of a cage full of hungry felines that have just been fed dinner is bound to leave a lasting impression.
Call it cat power times ten.
“It was during the time I was playing at the Kingston Mines (legendary Chicago blues venue) and I said one night, ‘You know, everyone’s got a nickname, but I’m just plain ‘ole Nellie Travis. We need to come up with me a name.’ And it was me and my cousin Carl and a couple of other people sitting there, so we just started shouting out names,” Travis said. “And I said, ‘How about “Angel” Travis?’ They quickly said that did not fit me – but I truly am an angel in disguise – so we went through a few more names and then my cousin said, ‘I got it! Tiger!’ And instantly that was it. We all agreed. The rest is history - and I started using it the next day.”
Not only did “Tiger” fit Nellie Travis like a hand in glove – style and personality-wise - but with a wee bit of re-arranging, started by taking the first letter of each of her three names, you end up with TNT.
And as those who have been exposed to the explosive performances of Nellie “Tiger” Travis can vouch for – when she hits the stage, she is one hot package of dynamite, one that is likely to go off at the drop of a hat and blow your head clean off.
Although blessed with the voice of an angel, Travis does have more than just a little streak of spunk and feistiness in her - belayed by songs such as “Ain’t Gonna raise No Grown Ass Man” and “Before You Grab This Tiger By The Tail.”
“Well, in some cases they (her songs) do reflect my personality. Some of them are based on my experiences and some are not,” she said. “But when the hoarseness and the growling comes out, that’s really me. Not so much in a mean way, but in a way that I really intend to belt this song out. That I intend to come on with it, whatever it takes. And when that growl comes out, that means you done reached way, way down to grab that.”
Not all of Travis’ tunes are manifestos - or warnings for men to mind their Ps and Qs.
A couple of Travis’ latest offerings are centered around the late, great Koko Taylor, including “There’s a Queen in Me.”
“Every time I do that song I get a great reaction from it,” she said. “It’s really just an expression to let people know that there really is a queen in me, as in the queen of Ms. Koko Taylor. And I actually wrote that song before Koko passed.”
Another of Travis’ newer tunes -“Koko (Queen of the Blues)” deals more specifically with the impact that Taylor had on her life.
“That one I wrote two days after she passed. The day she passed away, I was scheduled to finish my album in Texas, but I somehow found the time to write that song and then record that song – all in a day’s time,” she said.
More than just an idol or a musical mentor to her, Travis experienced Taylor’s legendary kindness and warmth far away from the bright lights of the bandstand.
“She was really like a mother to me. What happened was, I came here (Chicago) in ’92 and in January of ’98 I was performing at a banquet hall that Koko had and my mother was there videotaping me,” Travis said. “And my mother dropped dead at my feet and Koko took me on as one of her own after that. We had a very personal relationship. I used to tell her all that the time that she reminded me so much of my grandmother – the way she batted her eyes, her conversation – just her whole demeanor. She was very wise and I really clung to her. She was really a mother figure to me.”
Just like a host of other Chicago greats before her, Travis was born and raised in Mississippi before eventually making her way up to Illinois.
Die-hard fans of the blues will recognize Travis’ hometown of Mound Bayou, Mississippi as an important location in the history of music. It was, after all, a place that the King of the Delta Blues - Charley Patton - along with Sir Lattimore Brown and Henry “Son” Simms, once called home.
As such an integral place in the world of the blues, Mound Bayou was recently honored with the placement of a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker along the city’s historic downtown walking trail.
As one would expect, Travis was humbled by the honor bestowed upon her former hometown.
According to the local newspaper, Travis said before attending the marker’s unveiling, “I am speechless. I am proud of Mound Bayou and very thankful.”
Called the “Jewel of the Delta,” Mound Bayou is historically an all-black town and has been that way for over 125 years. The town also has maintained a strong connection with the church throughout those years.
“My grandmother, who raised me, was an evangelist, so I grew up in the church, doing gospel,” she said. “My uncles were ministers and were in gospel groups. I did a little bit of R&B there in Mound Bayou, but I did not do any blues, because blues were not allowed in my home. We were strictly church and Sunday school.”
Singing has always been a part of the fabric of Travis’ life –going back to her youthful days in Bolivar County, Mississippi – but a career in music was not the path that Nellie Travis intended to follow.
“Growing up, I knew I could sing, but believe it or not, I wanted to be a beauty queen. I did competitions and won the finals in the Miss Teen pageant,” she said. “And in Mississippi, I was the queen of my school in 1979. But in my early 20s, I decided that what I really wanted to do was to sing.”
And sing she did.
Although once again; singing the blues may not exactly have been her first intent when she finally chose to make a living with her voice.
“I truly got my first taste of the blues in Chicago, at Lee’s Unleaded,” said Travis. “Because in ’87, I moved to California and was doing mostly Top 40 and R&B. My mother was living here in Chicago and I had come up to visit her when she was sick. And then I ended up moving here in ’92 and the first time I really heard the blues was at Lee’s Unleaded Blues with Buddy Scott. And before long, I was going over there to sit in with Buddy and the Ribtips.”
Sitting in with groups is one thing, but to make it on your own in a place like Chicago – a place filled to the brim with all manners of other performers looking to do just the same thing – can be both daunting and intimidating.
But that was not the case for this “Tiger.”
“Never once was I intimidated. And the reason for that was probably because when I had moved to L.A. (before relocating to Chicago) there were so many great singers there. And I didn’t understand why a bunch of them didn’t have (recording) contracts,” she said. “So when I came to Chicago, there was no intimidation. There were a lot of sticks and stones thrown at me, because when I got here, I really took the city by storm. I started singing at all the shows – performing with people like Tyrone Davis – and even though I didn’t get paid a lot, it was getting me out and getting me exposure. But I really didn’t know anybody at that point in time. Within about five years, I was on just about every flyer and every show that was going on around town.”
Not bad for someone who really didn’t know a whole lot about the genre before her arrival in Chicago.
“No, I really didn’t know anything about the blues. But I had heard that this place was the capital of the Blues and there were so many clubs and places to play, so I decided that was what I wanted to do,” said Travis. “At the time, it seemed like an open market to me. And it was. I got right in and started playing at the Kingston Mines. But I have not yet reached the peak that I would like to reach. But it is right around the corner.”
A definite high-point for Travis occurred not in the Windy City, but of all places, in Japan – back in 2000. It was there that she first shared the stage with Buddy Guy and was left with a memory that she will certainly never forget.
“It was awesome. The feeling that I had in Japan was like I was Tina Turner; and I was wearing a Tina Turner dress. When I came out on stage, the people were bowing to me – oh, my God! – and there was about 6,500 people in the audience, which was the largest crowd I had played to at that time,” she said. “And when I came out, it was totally unbelievable. And to make things even more special, little did I know at the time, but my husband would later end up playing drums for Buddy Guy. But those people in Japan showed me so much love – they acted like I was Janet Jackson or something.”
In addition to her prowess as not only a fantastic singer and eye-catching performer, Travis has also crafted a knack for penning some memorable songs.
But her talents don’t end there; she’s also an accomplished actress.
“Last December I did a T-Mobile commercial – it was a 100 ladies in pick dresses. And it was supposed to just air on the internet,” Travis said. “But two days after they posted it, they had over two million hits, so it went to television. And so last year, I got to see myself on TV right before the Super Bowl. It was awesome.”
Travis has also graced the theatre stage in “The Lust of a Man” and “I Was There When the Blues Was Red Hot.”
“Acting is part of my life, too. And it’s something I would no doubt like to get more involved in,” she said.
Recently, Travis turned up on her old buddy Guitar Mikey’s new album – Out of the Box (Earwig Records).
“During my Kingston Mine days, Mikey lived in Chicago and that’s when I met him. And we got to be pretty close. After time had went by, he contacted me and said he had moved to Clarksdale (Mississippi), which is not far from my hometown down there” she said. “So every time I go back home to Mississippi, I go by his house and have dinner. So when he was working on his new album, I would go by when I was in town and I ended up on four tracks. And he had some gigs lined up in Clarksdale and I ended up playing with him at a festival and also at Ground Zero, Morgan Freeman’s club.”
Travis is under no illusions about replacing Koko Taylor as the Queen of Chicago Blues in the hearts of blues lovers. She would never dare forget about all that Taylor meant to her or just how beloved Koko Taylor is to those who truly love Chicago blues.
All that Nellie “Tiger” Travis is asking for is the opportunity to be thought of alongside of Koko Taylor when the names of great Chicago blues singers are brought up.
“I see myself not being the next Koko Taylor, but being as huge as she was,” said Travis. “Yes I am in my 50s, but I am a strong believer in my beliefs. And that’s my goal. I look at a lot of the blues legends and it took them awhile before they got really huge, so I’m claiming that position. I’m solid in what I do, I’m content in what I do and I have no insecurities about what I do. Because I know when I hit that stage, it’s a whole new ballgame. I’ll put it like this -there’s a place for everybody and a time for everybody and this is my time.”
Visit Nellie's website at
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2012 Blues Blast Magazine
Interviewer  Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He's also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Blues Review 1 of 6
Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys - Luke’s Dream
13 tracks
Johnny Mastro is a harp master who is rooted in the Paul Butterfield school of harmonica playing. He has gigged for over 30 years and brings a wealth of experience to the table. His harp and vocals are throwbacks to the blues of his forefathers yet he sounds fresh and clean. The CD has 13 tracks with two covers and the rest are originals. Mastro has crafted some fine songs and he and his band really deliver the goods.
The CD opens with the track related to the album title. Mastro relates his dream about the late great West Coast bluesman Robert Lucas in the tune “Luke’s Stomp.” He and his guitar player Smokehouse Brown play a modern country sound with Brown on acoustic guitar. Smokehouse picks out the intro, Mastro enters on harp and then tells his story vocally and on his harp. Brown and Mastro do a couple of mean instrumental duets, too. It’s a great start and peaked my interest for some more.
Mastro moves to a deeply grungy, more modern sound on the second track, “Thunder Roll,” a stark contact to the opener. The big distorted electric guitar and harp wail; Mastro gets into it with a stratospheric solo harp as the “thunder” reaches a peak and subsides at the close. “Spider“ is the only track where Mastro does not blast us into another galaxy. They return to acoustic guitar and Mastro gives a sublime vocal and harp performance.
The CD closes with “My Rocket” and “Temperature.” Mastro makes the harp squeak and moan as he rocks out old school on “My Rocket” and then on “Temperature” the heat gets turned up even more as guest guitarist Peter Atanasoff and he go somewhere off the playing in this Hendrix-esque montage of grinding sounds, perhaps a bit long at 7;44, but they want to make some sort of statement and Atanasoff gets to show what he can do here. The lyrics are borrowed from Little Walter, but this is no Little Walter song; it definitely a modern mix of psychedelic and blues music.
Mastro pays some tribute to blues greats Champion Jack Dupree and Little Walter on “Junker’s Blues” and “Roller Coaster,” two less covered but still excellent songs that allow him and his band to showcase their skills. “Junker’s” builds on Mastro’s harp into a huge closing solo by Brown. “Coaster” is a wonderful vehicle for Mastro to give us a 1:49 schooling in harp playing.
I really can’t complain about any of the other tracks. Mastro has penned some good stuff here and he and the band are together. Mike Hightower on bass and Jim Goodall in drums support the effort well. Atanasoff appears on a few other tracks as does another great West Coast guitar slinger, Kirk Fletcher. Kirk adds some nice touches with great sound on “Knee High” and “Tonight We Ride,” a cool mix of traditional blues riffs and some new age blues sounds. Also on the CD are Scott Abeyta on guitar for a track, Max Bangwell on drums and percussion for a few and Lisa Cee on one other track providing percussion.
This is not blues for the faint of heart. This is massive, big, distorted, grungy, modern sounding stuff. Mastro builds on tradition and then steps up his game. I liked this CD a lot. This former upstate New Yorker has become quite the West Coast bluesman. This is his tenth record and you won’t be disappointed if you want to hear something new and really interesting, but remember to be ready for the full assault on your ears by Mastro and his band!
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.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Blues Review 2 of 6
Terry Quiett Band - Live at the Orpheum
Lucky Bag Records
Fourteen Tracks: 75:37.
When I reviewed Terry Quiett’s last album Just My Luck, I said, This is a CD that should grace the shelves of anyone claiming to be a fan of contemporary blues and blues rock. Well ditto here with, as we say in the UK, brass nobs on.
Terry and his band offer a live performance recorded in the Orpheum Theatre in Wichita, Kansas, in front of what is effectively a ‘home town’ audience. The CD offers a massive 75 minutes plus of fabulous music. Produced by Jim Gaines (who did Just My Luck too) despite the presence of a (justifiably) enthusiastic audience, most of the tracks are of airplay length, with only two of more than 5mins or so. Eleven of the tracks are Quiett originals and three are excellent covers. Fiery slide, some beautifully constructed solos and even a bit of resonator work make the hour-plus pass like a few minutes. The covers are of Hendrix’s Hear My Train A Comin, the Clapton piece Forever Man, and Springsteen’s Cover Me.
The band, as always, consist of Terry Quiett, vocals, guitar; Aaron Underwood, bass, backing vocals; and, Rodney Baker, drums and they are firmly in the furrow of three piece, guitar-led bands, like ZZ Top, Cream and Hendrix; lots of power when needed, but with the ability to bring it down – quite suddenly – for quiet, reflective, but always beautifully played segments.
Big Man Boogie (which was a studio track on Just My Luck) is a stompin piece which displays Terry’s skill with the guitar, with nice touch of wha-wha, while Caroline is a heart-wrenching emotion laden piece with a delightful riff in the back of the verses and a quite outstanding solo. Hear My Train A Comin, out-hendrixes Hendrix and comes with one of those vocal tricks I love, where the guitar, note for note, follows the voice of the singer. Fabulous slide work in the instrumental breaks too. Short Dress also comes with slide, but this time it is an amplified resonator which sounds sensational (also on the excellent Judgement Day which was likewise on Just My Luck). The set ends with a power-chorded nine minutes plus version of Forever Man with Terry going all out, with some fabulous dynamics and a sound that reminds me of my youth when Clapton was God. There is some outstanding foot-pedal work here too! More voice and guitar in unison as well, GREAT.
No doubt about it, Terry Quiett and his band are headed for the big time. Can’t wait to hear/see them live. Come to the UK Mr Quiett. In meantime, guaranteed airplay on my shows.
Reviewer Ian McKenzie is English and is the editor of Blues In The South, [] a monthly blues information publication. He is the producer/ host of two blues radio shows Blues Before Midnight on KCOR (Kansas City Online Radio: Fridays; and Wednesday's Even Worse on Phonic FM ( alternate Wednesdays.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Live Blues Review - Blast Furnace Blues Festival
The Blast Furnace Blues Festival in Bethlehem, PA was back for a second year and commenced on Friday September 14, 2012 with evening performances by local favorites James Supra Blues Band and Mike Dugan, with sets by Lurrie Bell and Watermelon Slim capped off by the inimitable Alexis P. Suter Band. The Blast Furnace Blues Festival is held on the beautifully renovated grounds of the former Bethlehem Steel factory. The festival again drew some big names, national acts and plenty of local talent. The Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania is fertile territory for blues talent and the festival proudly presented the best of the region including Craig Thatcher, Friars Point, Bev Conklin Combo, and the Sarah Ayers Band.
Once again the Blast Furnace Blues Festival presented an eclectic mix of blues, with soul, gospel, funk, zydeco, and sacred steel stirred into the mix with traditional acoustic blues and revved up electric boogie. There was something for everyone at Blast Furnace Blues Festival.
Saturday and Sunday were the big days, chocked full of top-notch acts. Saturday afternoon found Catherine Russell on stage in the Musikfest Café. Catherine is the daughter of the late Luis Russell who was Louis Armstrong's long-time musical director. Catherine’s jazz pedigree has been put to good use in performance and on record. She has four CDs and has won a few awards including the distinguished German Record Critics' Award in the Jazz category and in 2008, Living Blues magazine's critics' poll as "Artist Deserving More Attention." Her powerful voice and precise band are sure to get your attention once you see perform.
Watermelon Slim is a powerful performer whose passion for the music and his subject material often brings tears to his eyes on stage and off. His former life a truck driver gives him a unique perspective giving his low down delta blues a sense of freshness not found in many modern acts. Slim is acquainted with Jacob and Jansen Kelchner, two talented youngsters from the Lehigh Valley, and brought them out to jam. Watermelon Slim plays a mean harp and his powerful voice filled the room even without help from the amps. His guitar is played left-handed, strung like a righty, and if you look closely, you might notice slim plays slide with a deep drive socket.
Piano man Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne raised a boogie woogie ruckus during two sets on Saturday. The Blues Boss and his band had the dance floor reelin’ and rockin’ with tracks like “Searching For My Baby” and “My Nadine.” Even “Fantasy Meets Reality,” a song which looks at the bleak economic situation, had people and a boppin’ and bumpin’ all afternoon long. Kenny’s guitarist got so worked up he started playing with his teeth. These two sets were energetic, electrifying and entertaining.
Lazy Lester also played two solo sets on Saturday, charming the audiences with his down home humor and close to the bone blues. Lester can hardly be called lazy. In The 50’s and 60’s he had several hits for the Excello label, and wrote or co-wrote songs for many others including Slim Harpo, Lightnin' Slim, and Katie Webster. In the late 80’s he staged a comeback that continues today. He has recorded several new albums with contributions from Carey Bell, Sue Foley, Gene Taylor, Kenny Neal, Lucky Peterson, Jimmie Vaughan, and R.E.M.’s Mike Buck. His songs have been played all over the musical map by artists such as Dave Edmunds, Raful Neal, Anson Funderburgh, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Dwight Yoakam, The Kinks, and Freddy Fender. Lazy Lester is a living legend who wrote his share of modern blues standards and in case you forgot them, he has a few titles emblazoned upon his Stratocaster as a reminder.
Lehigh Valley favorites Friars Point were on hand, playing a set of smoking hot blues and blues-rock on the outdoor stage. The band has competed at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and recorded their most recent CD at Sun Studios.
Magic Slim & The Teardrops were a last minute addition to the festival. James Cotton was scheduled to appear but Slim and the band rose to the occasion with their own scorching brand of Chicago Blues. Magic Slim may remained seated on stage these days but his fingers dance across the fretboard as the crowd shakes and shimmies with a little extra energy for the legendary bluesman. Magic Slim doesn’t use a setlist; he just reads the crowd and lets it fly. The Blast Furnace Blues Festival crowd was pretty easy to read, dancing and grooving to the Chicago groove.
Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials have become Chicago legends in their own right, taking their houserockin’ music around the globe. Their new disc Jump Start is a testament to the band’s talent, energy, and ability to keep the blues fresh and exciting. Lil’ Ed’s energy on stage transmits to the audience making the venue a conduit for the power of the blues. The band locked in behind Ed as they played tracks from the new record including “Musical Mechanical Electrical Man,” “Jump Right In,” and “You Burnt Me” along with fan favorites like “Chicken, Gravy & Biscuits.” The band entertained and energized the crowd and Lil’ Ed’s stage presence and facial expressions reinforced the humor and good time feeling of their blues.
C.J. Chenier & The Red Hot Louisiana Band closed out Saturday on the Musikfest Café stage bringing their legendary Zydeco brew to the Pennsylvania Rust Belt. After several robust acts all day long, C.J. Chenier and the band kept the crowd on their feet, filling the dance floor more than any other that day with their good time music. The people of the bayou know how to throw a party and the “Crown Prince Of Zydeco” was host, MC, and Entertainer-in-Chief for a crowd that was surely grooving all the way home after this fiery set.
On Sunday, The BC Combo took the stage in the Fowler Blast Furnace Room and played a hot set of originals and covers. The band features Bev Conklin on vocals and is a local institution. They won several awards in the recent Lehigh Valley Music Awards and played to a packed house at Blast Furnace blues Festival.
Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas were not to be outdone by C.J. Chenier’s closing performance the night before. The winners of the 2012 Zydeco Award for Best Zydeco threw a party of their own. The crowd was smaller this early in the day but that just meant more room to dance and there was no shortage of energy from the band. Leader Nathan Williams showed why he given the Zydeco Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 as he worked the crowd to frenzy, turning the Musikfest Café into a steamy Bayou Boil and Boogie on a Sunday afternoon, thank you very much!
Maria Woodford is another talented local artist, known for her work with children’s music programs and her dynamic performances. She released her fourth full length CD in August 2012 titled Bad Dog Blues. Her throaty vocals and obvious song writing talents were in full form on Sunday at the Blast Furnace Blues Festival.
Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King have been through eastern Pennsylvania several times leaving a wake of smoldering ash in their path like the coal-fired freight trains that once carried Bethlehem Steel to parts unknown. Sunday afternoon was no exception as they hit the stage running and didn’t let up. Their songs are a simmering blend of hot riffs and wry, observational lyrics delivered by the (Bnois) King of cool. Smokin’ Joe and Bnois King were clearly enjoying themselves and the good time feeling translated to the audience. Even those who remained seated were writhing in their seats, succumbing to the Texas boogie. Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King played several tunes from 2010’s Have Blues, Will Travel and a few days later, on September 18, 2012, released a smoldering new unplugged CD Close To The Bone on Delta Groove Records.
Just when you didn’t think it could get any hotter at the Blast Furnace Blues Festival, Samantha Fish took charge and steamed up the windows in the Blast Furnace Room with her second energetic performance of the day. Hailing from Kansas, Samantha Fish has toured around the world, released her debut CD Runaway on Ruf Records, and has participated in the Girls With Guitars projects. She is confident, skilled and poised. She adeptly fielded comments from the crowd, kept the energy level high even as she awaited a special guest who never materialized and engaged the crowd with sing-a-longs. She stepped out into the audience, and in her bare feet hopped up on chairs and played some blistering blues that would make the masters do a double-take. Samantha Fish and her band were the highlight of the festival.
Marcia Ball’s laidback, cross-legged-on-a-piano-stool casual stage presence belies the fire of her music. She is a veteran of the Texas roadhouses, traveled around the world and staked her place in a genre dominated by men for the last 50 years. The Grammy winner and 2012 Blues Music Award Winner of the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year held the crowd in rapture with her impeccable artistry. She rocked the house and broke their hearts all at the same time. She even reminisced a little bit about Freddie King and played a beautiful tribute to the big man of blues. Her band was much more than a back-up band, functioning as one with their peerless leader whipping the crowd to a frenzy and then dowsing them with the blues.
There is nothing more appropriate for a Sunday full of the Devil’s Music than a look at the other side with some Sacred Steel. Vocalist Katie Jackson led the congregation as The Campbell Brothers took everyone to church in the Fowler Blast Furnace Room with no less than two steel guitars courtesy of Chuck Campbell and his lap steel-playing brother Darick.
If you were lucky, you caught some or all of Craig Thatcher’s electric set on Sunday night. Craig played an acoustic set earlier in the day but brought out the big guns for some stunning electric blues and classic rock. Craig brought out Mike Dugan for some guitar dueling on Allman Brothers classic “Dreams” and an Allmany reading of “Stormy Monday.” Thatcher is a local musician and world renowned guitar player who often presents guitar clinics at the Martin guitar factory in nearby Nazareth, PA.
Sugar Ray Norcia is a former front man for the Roomful Of Blues, and has led Sugar Ray & The Bluetones through several incarnations since the late 70’s. He is a fixture of the international blues scene and has played with too many legends to mention. He brought his own brand of blues and plenty of new music from his recent Evening CD to two performances at the Blast Furnace Blues Festival. They played an intimate set in the Fowler Blast Furnace Room and closed the Festival later that night. The band is tight but loose and their Chicago-by-way-of-New-England blues captivated the audiences large and small, especially when Sugar Ray stepped away from the microphone and belted it out from the middle of the crowd filling the room with only his mighty voice.
The Blast Furnace Blues Festival is a small festival still finding its way. The back drop is phenomenal, the grounds are clean and inviting. The festival could make some improvements though. The schedule is jam packed with exceptional acts and although many of them play 2 sets on different stages it is often difficult to see a full set without missing a big chunk of another performer. It’s nice to have an alternative if you don’t like an act or if you’ve seen them before and want to check out something new, but 3 stages with overlapping schedules makes you feel stuck in a game of leap frog jumping from stage to stage.
One of the finest aspects of the Blast Furnace Blues Festival is the wealth of local talent showcased. Pennsylvania seems like an odd place to be a hotbed of blues but the Lehigh Valley is steeped with blues and the state boasts five or six blues festivals. Maybe it’s the closed factories and hard times experienced by the gritty blue collar populace. Maybe it’s the lonesome feeling of being forsaken by the rich landowners like the folks in Mississippi were all those years ago. The Blast Furnace Blues Festival reminds us what is available in our own back yard and encourages out-of-towners to find out what’s happening in their towns too. The blues isn’t exclusive. It’s everywhere. And hopefully this festival will be showcasing it for many years to come.
Photos and comments by Jim Kanavy
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 Blues Society News

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MVBS Presents virtuoso guitarist, outstanding vocalist and gifted songwriter Billy Thompson and band on Friday October 12, 2012, at The Muddy Waters (1708 State Street in Bettendorf, Iowa). The show starts at 9:00, admission is $10, only $8 for MVBS members.
Billy’s credits are many, including playing lead guitar for several years with both Little Milton and Larry “Arkansas” Davis as well as stretches with Albert King, Earl King, Elvin Bishop, Chuck Berry, Art Neville and many others. He also did theatrical stints playing lead guitar for the Broadway show Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues and for Tony Award winning playwright Keith Glover’s “Bluesical,” Thunder Knocking On The Door, which Billy then recorded with award-winning bluesman Keb Mo. His current CD, A Better Man, features members from the bands Little Feat, Robert Cray, Bonnie Raitt and Crosby Stills and Nash.
"You may not of heard of Billy Thompson but I got his newest CD, A Better Man, via Blues Blast Magazine, as Billy’s latest work was nominated for best Contemporary Blues CD this year. Well, let me tell ya, he’s a good one. His songs are laced with poetic lyrics, his vocals both varied and soulful, and his guitar work first-rate. It’s one of the duties of the MVBS to bring blues acts here that otherwise wouldn’t be booked in this area. Especially the good ones. Check him out at Don’t miss this renaissance bluesman at The Muddy Waters on Friday, October 12th, in a show sponsored by the MVBS." --Steve Brundies
The River City Blues Society presents Michael Charles at 7:00 pm Wednesday October 10th at Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St. Pekin, Illinois $5.00 general public, and John Primer at 7:00 pm Wednesday November. 7th at Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St. Pekin, Illinois Admission: $7.00 general public or $5.00 for Society Members For more info visit: 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. • 10/1/2012 - Levee Town  • 10/8/2012 - Rich Fabec • 10/15/2012 - Jason Elmore • Oct 22 - James Armstrong •Oct 29 - The Mojo Cats More info available at
Friends of the Blues present 2012 shows:
Tentative Tues, Oct 9, Too Slim & Taildraggers, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Thurs, Oct 18, Morry Sochat & The Special 20s, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Thur, Nov 1, Steve “The Harp” Blues Band, 7 pm, venue TBA
Thur, Nov 8, Eddie Turner, 7 pm, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club
For more info check out or contact
The DC Blues Society - Washingon, D.C.
DC Blues Society: Celebrating the Blues for 25 years in DC-MD-VA!
DC Blues Society's Annual Battle of the Bands takes place 7:00 pm - 12:30 AM on Saturday, October 13, 2012 at American Legion Post No. 268, 11225 Fern Street, Wheaton, MD. Plenty of free parking! The winner represents DCBS at the International Blues Challenge and local events like the Annual College Park Blues Festival at Ritchie Coliseum, University of MD in College Park, MD on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012 and 25th Annual DC Blues Festival in Washington, DC on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013. This is your chance to support your favorite group and learn more about area bands. A night not to be missed!
Purchase advance tickets online. DCBS Members: $10 advance/$12 door/ Non-members: $13 advance/$15 door. You can also join & renew on-line:  or call 301-322-4808
Crossroads Blues Society - Freeport, IL
Vizztone Recording Artist Gina Sicilia and her band will be in the Rockford area on Wednesday, October 17th, in support of Crossroads Blues Society and their Blues in the Schools (BITS) Program. Hailing from Bucks County, Pennsylvania (just north of Philadelphia), Ms. Sicilia is a superb young artist with a huge and expressive voice. With three great CDs under her belt, she is getting noticed in the blues world both in the US and internationally.
She will be conducting an evening show open to the public as part of the BITS effort. Admission to the show is only $5 and is free for students. The show is at the Adriatic Live Music Bar on 321 W. Jefferson. Call 779-537-4006 for more information.
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society - Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois will hold its 2nd Annual Local International Blues Challenge on Saturday, October 20th at Memphis on Main, 55 East Main St., Champaign.
The winning band will receive a minimum of $1000.00 in travel assistance and go on to represent our blues society at the 2013 International Blues Challenge scheduled for January 29- February 2, in Memphis, Tennessee. We will provide a drum kit donated by Skins-N-Tins Drum Shop. All bands taking part in the event will be able to sell their CDs.
Please visit to find out more about our event and other rules for competing bands. Deadline to enter is Tuesday, September 25, 2012. Event start time will be determined by the number of bands competing.
West Virginia Blues Society - Charleston, W.V.
The West Virginia Blues Society will hold its Sixth Annual Blues Competition on October 13, 2012 at The Sound Factory, 812 Kanawha Blvd. Charleston, WV 25301. Blues bands, solo/duo and a Youth Division blues acts will compete for cash prizes and WVBS sponsorship to the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge held in Memphis, Tennessee. Jan. 29 - Feb 2 - Jan 2013.
CONTACT PERSON FOR COMPETITION PARTICIPANTS: Complete information, application & rules are available online at . Deadline for application submission is September 21, 2012. For more information contact Competition Director, Mike Price at 304-389-5535 or e-mail:  or Jack Rice at
Minnesota Blues Society - St. Paul, MN
The Minnesota Blues Society presents 2012 Minnesota Hall of Fame inductees. MnBS would like to congratulate this years' honorees: Big Walter Smith, "Blues Performer"; James Samuel "Cornbread" Harris, Sr., "Blues Legend"; Dan Schwalbe, "Blues Sideman"; Electric Fetus, "Supportive of the Blues (non-performer)"; Cyn Collins, "West Bank Boogie", "Blues Art and Literature"; Lamont Cranston, "Tiger in your Tank", "Blues Recording"; Will Donicht, "Blues on the Bank", "Blues Song". 2012 Minnesota Hall of Fame event will be held, Sun, Oct 14, Wilebski's Blues Saloon, St. Paul. Mn details to follow @ 

  Featured Blues Review 3 of 6
Meena - Try Me
Ruf Records
12 songs; 57:33 minutes
Styles: Modern Electric Blues and Blues Rock
Every blues artist, especially one presenting his or her debut album, issues a bold challenge to listeners: “Try Me.” In 2010, Austrian-born Meena Cryle did just that. Her English may not be flawless, but her sultry, soul-baring singing is on the way there. Backing her up are renowned guest musicians like Joanne Shaw Taylor, Eric Sardinas, and Coco Montoya. Her regular crew are bassist Dave Smith, drummer Steve Potts, keyboardist Rick Steff, and guitarist Chris Fillmore. Produced by Jim Gaines and recorded in Tennessee, “Try Me” contains nine original numbers and three covers (the title track, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and “Just As I Am). Here are her three clearest compositions, both vocally and instrumentally:
Track 01: “Try Me”--Even though this album’s opener is a cover of a James Brown song, it showcases Meena’s vocals like no other selection. They’re soft, sweet, and seductive, setting a perfect romantic mood. This is one of four songs featuring guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor (the other three are “Nothing Left”, “I’m Leaving You” and Zydeco-influenced “Let Your Sweet Love Shine On Me”).
Track 04: “Put Your Hands Out Of My Pocket”--Sometimes when people fall in love, they go FOR broke, but they’re not supposed to GO broke! Such is Meena’s lament on this slow-blues rendition. “Put your hands out of my pocket, baby. They’re already empty, honey; don’t you see? And the tears gonna fall….” She cries, “I’ve walked a thousand miles, and I’ve been alone,” but so far, her lover has given her nothing for her efforts. This is one for the dance floor, despite its despairing tone, featuring Fillmore’s fiery guitar work.
Track 05: “Sorry”--This country-infused ballad may not be the purest of blues songs, but its sentiments are sincere: “Sorry for leaving you sad and blue. Sorry for never telling how much I love you. Sorry for calling you a fool instead; sorry for hurting you so bad. Sorry is all I can say, and all I can be.” It’s the second part of that final phrase that will strike listeners like an arrow to the heart. Meena performs some glowing harmonies with Vickie Atkins, Sandy Carroll (Mrs. Jim Gaines), and Amyee Bragg on background vocals.
Meena’s gone through several musical-identity changes: “Somebody tried to make me a pop singer, a rock queen, even a Tina Turner or a Janis Joplin double. To no avail. It would have been easier to tame my wild curls.” She credits Thomas Ruf for “taking me under his wings. Me, a rough singer, getting into the blues!” The blues world is all the better for this songstress’ having found her true calling. For more of Meena’s magic, check out “Feel Me”, released this past March!
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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 Featured Blues Review 4 of 6
Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers – Empty Roads
Self Release
10 tracks / 51:01
As a fan of blues rock guitar, listening to Empty Roads, the new Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers CD, is a real pleasure for me. This is the follow-up to their debut release, Gambling Machine, which was a tremendous effort and made me wonder what to expect from these guys next. Well, what they did next was follow the usual road to success in the music business: plenty of hard work and practice with endless gigs and then back to the studio. Their sophomore effort builds on everything they learned from their first album and moves the band along to the next level, as this is a very good album that provides plenty of variety.
Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers was formed in Scotland in 2010, and there is not a lot of personnel to become familiar with. The band consists of Lewis Hamilton on guitar and vocals, his father Nick Hamilton on bass, and Ian (Santa) Wallace on the drums. That is it: no horns, keyboards, harmonica, or backing choir. It is just a classic blues rock trio with a British feel, sort of like Rory Gallagher with Gerry McAvoy and Ted McKenna. Lewis takes total control of the musical content and is responsible for writing, recording, producing, mixing and mastering all of their songs.
First up on Empty Roads is “Walking Out Your Door,” which gives the listener a good feel for what to expect from the rest of the album. This is a rocking 12-bar blues song with strong guitar, a smooth bass line and a heavy kick drum and snare. Lewis’ voice has that raspy whiskey voice that everybody is looking for, but he still manages to sound youthful and energetic. This is a slickly-written track with nicely interspersed guitar solos and verses.
There is some neat slide guitar to jump start the next track, “Empty Roads,” which moves a little more towards the country music side of things but still maintains its blues roots (albeit with a harder edge). There is plenty of neat guitar work on this and Hamilton gets some healthy distortion out of his axe. This segues into “Drinking Game,” which proves that every true bluesman needs to have a signature drinking song with simple lyrics. This track is a bit slower and is a straight up blues song with thick layers of guitars and a solid backline.
“Tear Me to the Bone” shows that Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers has a funky side. Like all of the other tracks on the album, it is built around the guitar parts, and this one has fun lyrics with the familiar theme of a man done wrong by his woman. It is cool to finally hear some background vocals on this track, by the way. After this Lewis changes to a completely different gear, and gives us “Like a Burning Tree,” which is a slow delta blues track with just him and his slide guitar.
I am not going to give a blow-by-blow account of every song on the album, but there is a little something for everybody in here. Lewis arranged the CD so that it ends up with two neat instrumentals. “Granny Cool” is an awesome electric guitar jam that lets Santa show off his drum chops, and the elder Hamilton finally gets a chance to pop and slap on his bass. “The Stream” is something completely different, providing a tasteful and elegant acoustic outro for the album.
Empty Roads is ten solid tracks of first-class music that will make most any blues or rock fan happy. Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers have outdone themselves with this release, and have set the bar for even better things to come. Check it out!
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at
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 Featured Blues Review 5 of 6
Ben Waters - Boogie for Stu – A Tribute to Ian Stewart
11 tracks/42:10
Some of you may be wondering who Ian Stewart is – and why he deserves a tribute album. Stewart passed away in 1985, so the years have dimmed the light on his contributions. Often referred to as the “sixth Rolling Stone”, Stewart was an original member of the legendary band before stepping to the sidelines as the group's road manager. But he continued to add his distinctive piano playing to recordings like Aftermath and Let it Bleed in addition to the band's live shows. Stewart also played piano on Howlin' Wolf's London sessions and recorded with Led Zeppelin.
Stewart loved the boogie woogie style of piano playing. When he wasn't touring with the Stones, he played with Rocket 88, a British band that featured a formidable horn section. Ben Waters was nine years old when he saw Stewart playing live. Water's decided to learn to play piano after Stewart's death, using Stewart's video collection of great players like Albert Ammons as inspiration. Eventually Waters was invited to join Rocket 88 to fill the chair that once belonged to his mentor.
Waters decided to do this project as a fundraiser for the British Heart Foundation. When he mentioned the project to Charlie Watts, the Stones drummer quickly agreed to participate. As word spread, all of the Stones jumped on board.. Before long, Water's had the free use of Jools Holland's recording studio and the famous producer Glyn Johns also offered his services at no charge.
The disc opens with Waters showing off his keyboard skills on a vigorous run-through of Ammons' “Boogie Woogie Stomp”. Next up is a romping take on Amos Milburn's “Rooming House Boogie” with Keith Richards on guitar and Bill Wyman on bass plus Derek Nash and Clive Ashley on sax. The pace slows on “Worried Life Blues” with Richards worn vocal fitting the tune while Ronnie Woods adds some biting slide guitar. Waters plays some nice piano fills while Holland spices up the arrangement on the organ. The title track is a Waters original featuring the leader and Holland on piano with Watts laying down a swinging beat behind the dueling saxes of Willy Garnet and Don Wellor, both veterans of Rocket 88.
Mick Jagger sounds like he had a fine time laying down the vocal on Dylan's “Watching the River Flow”, backed by the rest of the Stones plus Waters on piano. The track has an extended closing segment with Jagger blowing some harp while Holland wails on the organ. Other highlights include another Ammons tune, “Suitcase Blues”, with great unaccompanied playing from Waters and an exciting rendition of “Roll 'Em Pete” with Hamish Maxwelll on vocal backed by the Stones rhythm section and more dazzling piano from Waters. Stewart and Holland shared an affinity for the work of the legendary Jimmy Yancey. They cover his “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” with Holland delivering a heartfelt vocal and playing the piano while Waters switched to the organ. The only track that misses the mark is “Lonely Avenue”, hampered by a whispered vocal from P.J. Harvey. Waters plays Stewart's old upright piano on the cut.
The disc closes with a live recording from the 1984 Monteux Jazz Festival with Stewart playing with Rocket 88 on a hard-charging version of “Bring it on Home to Me”. The horn section gets a chance to strut their stuff before the spotlight shifts to Stewart's dazzling piano playing. It serves as a fitting close to the tribute and illustrates how well Waters incorporated the lessons learned from Stewart into his own style. It's not often that an entire band of rock-n-roll legends volunteers to take part in a tribute project. The fact that all of the Rolling Stones are on board for this one makes it a noteworthy recording. Better yet, Waters and all of his cohorts have captured the true spirit of Ian Stewart's musical world in this potent collection. Definitely worth a listen!
Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.
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 Featured Blues Review 6 of 6
Suzie Vinnick - Live At Bluesville
Self Release
Canadian roots-music singer extraordinaire Suzie Vinnick offers a brief glimpse into her mesmerizing vocal skills with this solo “live in the studio” recording, accompanied only by her acoustic guitar “Mabel”. This set was recorded without an audience for B.B. King’s Bluesville show at Sirius/XM Radio. As the recipient of the 2012 CBC Saturday Blues Great Canadian Blues Award she must be doing something right. The first exposure I had to her was on fellow Canadian Steve Strongman’s “A Natural Fact” CD, were they performed a duet. Her voice doesn’t have quite as much of the gritty and throaty quality here, but it is quite an instrument as it is crystal clear one minute, then gritty as it pierces the air. Her guitar style is mostly rhythmic, but manages the occasional solo. The program features five cover songs and three originals.
On a song from Howlin’ Wolf’s repertoire penned by the great Willie Dixon, “You’ll Be Mine”, her voice swoops from sweetness to rough-edged, effortlessly transforming it into a funky and sexy workout. The original “Looking For A Kiss” is delivered in the folkie melody-less style, but her voice transcends the predicament. Three songs, including the public domain with some changes “All Night, All Day” are in a gospel mold. Another in a similar vein is a cover of Kevin Welch’s “Everybody’s Gotta Walk”; were Suzie’s pipes are used to the hilt. Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Home” from his days with Blind Faith is delivered in a pretty much faithful fashion. “Calling Out Your Name” benefits from her strong rhythmic guitar, as well as a nicely done short solo. An old-timey thirties-like feel is achieved on “How’d You Know I Missed You”, were I could hear a clarinet in my head. It surely sounds like you’ve heard it before. This would translate nicely to a band-backed studio rendition.
The only downside here is the brevity of the recording. Like “they” say it’s about quality, not quantity. The sound is studio perfect, picking up every nuance in her voice. It would be nice to hear her backed by a band, but for now she sounds just fine in a stripped down setting. An energetic atmosphere is created as voice and guitar are combined to produce a joyful noise.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
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