CURRENT ISSUE

Issue 10-37 September 15, 2016

Cover photo by Dave Blake – Blues Alley Photo © 2016


 In This Issue 

Terry Mullins has our feature interview piano Blues legend, Henry Gray. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Lew Jetton & 61 South, Joanna Connor, The DogTown Blues Band with Barbara Morrison, Brad Wilson, The Paul Garner Band and Mike Pachelli.

We have 2 Blues videos for you this week. Both are artists performing at the Blues Blast Music Awards on September 23rd in Champaign, IL. The first one is The Corey Dennison Band performing a song from their nominated album. The second one is Anthony Geraci and Monster Mike Welch.

We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!


 From The Editor’s Desk 

BBMAs logo imageHey Blues Fans,

WOW! The big show is just a week away. The 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards are Friday September 23rd at the Fluid Event Center in Champaign, IL.

You are going to see performances by twenty two of the “Best In Blues Music” artists and tickets are only $25 in advance ($30 at the door).

Some of these artists are legends you have heard and some may be new to you. You can visit our listening site at https://soundcloud.com/bluesblast/sets/ to hear songs by these great artists!

Performers include Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Too Slim & The Taildraggers, Peter Karp, Dave Weld & The Imperial Flames, Bob Margolin, Shaun Murphy, Fiona Boyes, Jonn Del Toro Richardson, Shoji Naito, Big Harp George, Markey Blue, Dave Muskett Acoustic Blues Band, Danielle Nicole, Andy T-Nick Nixon Band, Anthony Geraci & Monster Mike Welch, Andy Poxon & Little Ronnie, Henry Gray, Bob Corritore, Guy King, Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges, Jon Spear Band and the Corey Dennison Band.

This gonna be one BIG Blues party! So get your tickets now at www.thebbmas.com/tickets/!

And while you are there be sure to check out our General Admission VIP Tickets. No waiting, no lines, you can use the VIP entrance and it includes an official 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards t-shirt, poster, and official 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards pin for only $50. (Every year, we run out of official t-shirts, so this is your best bet to get one!)

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser


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 Video Of The Week – The Corey Dennison Band: Getcha’ Pull! 

corey dennison band video pic

Here is a video of The Corey Dennison Band playing their song Getcha’ Pull!. The song is from Corey Dennison Band’s debut album on Delmark Records which is nominated as Best New Artist Debut in the 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards. They will be performing live at the the awards show September 23, in Champaign, Illinois. Click on the image above to see this video.


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 Video Of The Week – Anthony Geraci and Monster Mike Welch 

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This is a video of Anthony Geraci with Monster Mike Welch doing a song from his Fifty Shades of Blue album. The album is nominated for Traditional Blues Album in the 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards. Both Anthony and Monster Mike will be performing at the awards show on September 23rd in Champaign, Illinois. Click on the image above to see this video.


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

lew jetton cd imageLew Jetton & 61 South – Rain

Coffee Street Records

10 songs – 38 minutes

www.61South.com

Lew Jetton & 61 South are a tight, veteran six-piece band that been a regional favorite from their home base in Paducah, Ky., delivering what they call “Southern fried Chicago blues.”

A guitar band whose unique sound is hard to define because it melds the Windy City with blue-eyed soul, they’re led by Jetton on guitar and vocals and assisted by a stellar group of guest artists on Rain as they eagerly attack eight originals and two covers with plenty of feel. It’s good-time music that’s been pleasing audiences at clubs and festivals alike since the early ’90s.

Released in 2000, Jetton’s first CD, State Line Blues, was tabbed by Real Blues Magazine as the fourth best independent album of the year. A follow-up, Tales From A 2-Lane, was the 2006 Kentucky Blues Society album of the year and a top-five hit on XM Radio.

Jetton’s backed here by his regular lineup of Sam Moore on guitar, Dan Bell on keyboards as guitar, Otis Walker and James Sullivan on bass and Erik Eicholtz on drums. They’re augmented by guest appearances by guitarist Alonzo Pennington, a two-time International Thumbpicking Champion as well as an International Blues Challenge semi-finalist; keyboard player Solon Smith, a longtime member of guitar legend Johnny Hiland’s band; Miranda Louise, former backup singer for Lonnie Mack; and J.D. Wilkes, harmonica player for the rockabilly band, Legendary Shack Shakers. And the Rev. JoAnn Green adds to the mix through a clip from her longtime gospel radio show, Words To Ponder.

The theme of inclement weather runs strongly through this album, which kicks off with an interesting and different take on cheating. The sound of an instant phone message introduces “Who’s Texting You,” a straight-ahead blues with lyrics that recognize the speed of the lady’s fingers as she responds and demands: “Gimme that phone or we’re gonna fight.” The burning mid-tune solo amplifies the threat.

The theme of separation continues with “Move On Yvonne,” a loping, stop-time blues that features vocal contributions from Louise and tasty solos from Wilkes and Smith. The blues-rocker “Mississippi Rain” follows and compares the feeling you get from a drenching to the thunderclap of realization you get when you discover the real truth about a troubling situation.

The mood brightens “Lay Me Down,” a sweet Southern rocker, about taking a nap on the river bank to dream about summer and a special lady, his soul to keep. The brief “Glory Train,” a rapid-paced country gospel number features some fine picking and precedes a slow-paced cover of John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain.” You can almost feel the weight of a sticky summer night in the Mid-South as the song progresses.

The Southern rocker “Done It All” provides welcome relief from the showers as Jetton’s warm baritone sings about falling in love with a lady who’s “sweeter than a candy store” before the slow shuffle “Sandy Lee” features more fine work on the keyboards as Lew describes “the kind of woman every man wanna see/The kinda woman who bring my money here to me.” Whether it’s really his is a matter of question, but she keeps paying his rent nonetheless. Another blues-rocker, “Keeping Me Awake,” deals with relationship problems and late-night demands for discussion before a great cover of Allen Toussaint’s “It’s Raining” brings the set to a close.

Available from CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes or directly from the band through www.LewJettonMusic.com, Rain is a pleasant taste of Americana that provides some truly original tunes and musicianship that’s first-rate, especially if you like your blues Southern fried and with the slightest of twangs, too.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

joanna connor cd imageJoanna Connor – Six String Stories

M.C. Records

http://joannaconnor.com

10 tracks/46:58

In the language of social media, the video clip of Joanna Connor at the 2014 North Atlantic Blues Festival went viral. She gives the rapt audience a three minute display of her astounding slide guitar playing, a performance that has been viewed over 870,000 times on-line. For many people, that may have been their first exposure to Connor – but Chicago-area fans have reveling in her club performances for several decades, reaching back to her first release, Believe It, in 1989 on Blind Pig Records.
(See that video here: https://youtu.be/rWter1w4vWE)

After a fourteen year recording hiatus that had Connor focusing on raising her daughter, she is back with her second release for M.C. Records. Exploring that vast territory where blues and rock converge, she offers plenty of fiery playing that mirrors what viewers saw in the video. Take “Halsted Street,” a brooding instrumental with some gentle acoustic guitar wrapped around eerie, effects-laden electric tones. Suddenly, her guitar erupts with a solo sequence that would make Eddie Van Halen proud. The slow blues, “We Stayed Together,” centers on her impassioned vocal bracketed by two penetrating guitar interludes.

Her slide guitar dominates the first two tracks. On “It’s A Woman’s Way,” Connor encourages her daughter to take advantage of the expanding opportunities available to women, then illustrates the message with taut slide licks over the hard-charging rhythm laid down by Marion Lance Lewis on drums, bass, and percussion. Personal relationships are explored on “By Your Side,” but it quickly becomes apparent that any man would struggle to match the attachment Connor has to her guitar. The ballad “Golden,” penned by Jill Scott, shifts to a softer approach centered on the acoustic guitar and Jeff Lewis on an electronic keyboard A spoken passage finds the singer asserting, “I am not second-rate or an after-thought for anybody. Come direct or don’t come at all. No silver or bronze for me!”

“Love Coming On Strong” is a primal stomp about love swirling out of control, following the instrumental “Swamp Swim,” with guest Omar Coleman’s harp intertwining with unearthly slide tones to form a haunting sonic landscape. Connor shifts to a more positive frame of mind on “Heaven,” the arrangement bolstered by Charlie Kimble on tenor sax, Gary Solomon on alto & soprano sax, and Charles Pryor on trumpet/flugelhorn. Lewis is moved by the spirit, preaching with the fervor of true believer. A staple of her shows, Connor shows her interpretive skills on a live recording of the Elmore James classic, “The Sky Is Crying,” her nimble six-string phrasing mirroring the agony in her voice. “Young Women Blues” is a dreamy stroll that mixes jazz elements through a tremolo-induced haze.

Appropriately titled, Six String Stories should build on the world-wide interest generated by that short video. Once people hear Joanna’s new disc, no one is going to classifying her as as anything other than first-rate.

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying life without snow. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and the past president of the Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!.


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

dogtown blues band cd imageThe DogTown Blues Band with Barbara Morrison – Everyday

Self Release

www.thedogtownbluesband.bandcamp.com

10 tracks / 43:20

The DogTown Blues Band is based out of West Los Angeles, and their unique blend of blues and jazz is derived from its members’ varied musical careers. Their synergy is a distilled version of the overall Southland vibe, as it seems like most everybody around here comes from somewhere else, and this melting pot is what makes L.A. such a cool place to live. The DogTown boys have joined up in the studio with another Southern California treasure, Barbara Morrison, and recently released their self-produced sophomore album, Everyday.

Chicago blues veteran Richard Lubovitch produced this project for the DogTown Blues Band, as well as playing the guitar and writing the five original songs. He was joined in the studio by Wayne Peet on the keyboards, harp man Bill Barrett, and Lance Lee behind the drum kit, as well a pair of bassmen: Trevor Ware (upright) Tom Lilly (electric). These fellows have more than enough experience to get the job done, having played for decades with artists such as Kenny Burrell, Edgar Winter, Rufus Thomas, Gatemouth Brown, and the Count Basie Band.

Then there is Barbara Morrison, a legendary jazz and blues singer who needs no introduction. After growing up near Detroit, since the early 1970s Barbara has been working out of Los Angeles. She has sung all over the world, and the right people have noticed, earning her three Grammy nominations. As Morrison has been working in the same city as the band for many years it should be no surprise that she also knows a few of the same people, making this collaboration possible; it is really cool to have her inimitable vocals on four of these songs!

Half of the songs on Everyday are heavily re-worked covers, and the set kicks off with one of them, Pine Top Sparks’ “Everyday I Have the Blues.” Barbara fronts this tune, and her voice is amazingly clear and full of character; her timing and inflections are both spot on. This song has a huge sound courtesy of the horn section of Andrew Pask (sax) and Dan Rosenboom (trumpet). Other highlights of this tune are copious amounts of barroom piano from Peet and an extended harmonica break from Barrett.

It is neat that the band is able to switch up sounds and genres so readily, though it does make it a bit hard to shoehorn them into any one genre (which is a good thing in my book). It is easy to put Willie Dixon’s “Easy Baby” squarely into the blues box, and it is refreshing to hear this standard fronted by a woman; listeners will hear that Morrison plays the role of smoky blues singer very well. Barbara also laughs a bit as she presents a righteous performance of the slightly misogynistic Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins standard, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.”

Besides participating in many of the tracks in this set, Bill Barrett takes the lead on a few of the songs, including “Shrimp Walk,” a slick instrumental with a Latin feel that features leads from Bill on his diatonic harp and Lubovitch on his 6-string. This is laid over a healthy serving of funky organ from Peet. Then, on “All the Way Down,” Barrett gets down and dirty on this straight-up blues instrumental that is delivered with strong horns and plenty of space within which he can deliver his goods. Bill also steps out to provide the vocals for Doc Pomus’ “Doc’s Boogie.” After a slick intro from Richard, Barrett uses his pleasant tenor voice over a Wayne’s ballpark organ that is accompanied by an uptempo walking bass line. It is neat that the drums were left out here, which lends a vintage lounge vibe to the track.

A standout track from the Richard’s originals is “Boxcar 4468,” an instrumental that features killer leads from Lubovitch, as well a nice touch of pedal steel from guest artist Marcus Watkins. This song starts as a low key burner, but after the organ starts getting more rowdy (around the 2 minute mark), things pop into high gear with a drastic tempo change with a carnival-like organ and a burning solo from Loob, before slowing down once again for the finale. Instrumentals with intelligent writing like this never get old, and surely deserve more than one listen to figure out everything that is going on.

The Dogtown Blues Band’s eponymous debut album was very good, and it was going to take something very special to outdo themselves, but with a little help from Barbara Morrison they handily made this happen with Everyday. Hopefully they have a few more tricks up their sleeves and will make it back to the studio soon to make more clever music for their fans!

Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.



 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

brad wilson cd imageBrad Wilson – Blues Thunder

Cali Bee Music Inc.

www.bradwilsonlive.com

12 tracks

Brad Wilson is a California blues rocker with a California surfer hairdo and big guitar style. While he has an amped up style he can also play with reserve and show a softer side to his musical approach. Based on the promo material and CD liner notes I was expected this to be heavy, no air between he notes gun slinging guitar and it was not. There is ample air between the notes and Wilson does a really good job on his solos and vocals. I was impressed with this CD. Joining him are Brian Beal on bass, Amhrik Sandhu on drums, Kirk Nelson on keys and Tumbleweed Mooney on harp.

Wilson begins with a rock ballad “Is It Any Wonder,” immediately showing his “softer side.” The echoing guitar resonates and he plays ethereally with effect. “Change It Up” does just what the title says and picks the pace up a bit. A mid to higher tempo-ed rocker, Wilson shows off some stinging guitar here as the keys stay with him, filling in around the ax work. “Blue Shadows” is a slow blues that Wilson sings with a soft, crooning style a la Tony Bennett. Beautiful piano and guitar layer on the emotion and mood that Wilson sets. There is a beautiful guitar solo in this one. The harp appears on the next cut and ads a nice, greasy element to this blues cut. Guitar and harp solos play it up well here. The title cut follows, a rocking cut where the guitar gets fully unleashed. “Let’s Go Barefootin’ It”is blues and rock meeting the hand jive. The harp brings in the blues, the beat is a pure hand jive and it’s quite interesting. The tempo is a bit slow, making it a blues jive of sorts.

Wilson gives us his spiritual side with “My Faith Has Been Broken.” A breathy vocal and makes this slower rocker interesting, too, and Wilson obviously likes to accentuate these sort of cuts with his guitar. “Cool Runnin’” is a mid tempo rocker with nice reserved guitar style that adds a lot to the cut; never over the top and just paced and presented well. Brad gives us some acoustic stuff in “Home,” a bit os a musical waterfall of folky blues. He did another nice job, showing range and variety in his presentation and work. He builds things up as he goes along but the restraint he showed is perfect. “Black Coffee at Sunrise” is a fun boogy woogie about Wilson’s “brand new used Cadillac” and how he had fun with it until he drank black coffee at sunrise. “Sugar Sweet” is another sort of breathy rocking blues. He breaks out a bit half way through on the guitar solo but the song stays true to his purpose and thumps to conclusion a slow but driving beat. Wilson ends with “Never Again,” another mid tempo rocker with a blues and country edge. Here we get the monster guitar solo, but it is tasteful and somewhat reserved.

I really expected a shredder sort of CD from what I saw before I played it. Brad Wilson has a tasteful approach to his guitar work, sings well and his band is up to the task. The guitar is big and bold but never so much in your face that it becomes oppressive. Wilson delivers a dozen very good to excellent original songs to enjoy and shows us why TV and the movies have picked up some of his past work to feature n the small and big screens. This is worth a spin if you enjoy blues rock!

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 works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

paul garner cd imageThe Paul Garner Band – Big Road Blues

Progressive Roots Records

www.paul-garner.com

11 tracks

The Paul Garner Band is Claudio Corona on keyboards, Jason Bibiero on drums and the namesake on vocals and guitar. Garner is a UK native who flirted with life in New Zealand on a few bases before finally returning to the UK in 2005 to release his second and subsequent albums. They gave up the double bass for a trio about six or seven years ago; the organ more than aptly substitutes for the bass. Nine original tunes plus two covers comprise this CD, his third in the UK and fourth overall. I must comment on the cool packing, showing an Apollo astronaut on a moon rover on the cover and map inside that folds out to present the CD. The CD is made up like a big tire running down the road. Very cool!

“Too Much For Love” features Garner fronting with both piano and organ sounds filling up the mix. It’s a nice medium paced blues where Garner showcases his guitar and interesting voice. His delivery is a little nasal which gives it a cool edginess. “7 Waters” gets things fully moving in a fast paced cut where the guitar and keys trade licks in a rocking blues manner. It’s a whirlwind of blues mélange and a lot of fun. Next up is “Holes,” an Allman Brothers or John Mayall and the Blues Breakers approach to guitar and organ. The Holes are in his girls’ shoes and he tells her she’d better walk home. Next up is “Blues for Vanessa,” a love song for the band’s van. I know artists develop a relationship with their tour vehicles, and apparently Garner needed to memorialize that in song; a stinging instrumental, that is. The guitar attacks and the organ charges along with it in this gritty and grimy cool blues cut. “Cold Shoulders” is more another nicely done mid-tempo blues where Garner lays it all out again. “Icebreaker” is next, slow blues where the cold shoulder has apparently frozen the seas over and made the need for an icebreaking ship. Garner moans as he delivers this, picking out notes and building to a vibrant ending.

The first cover is Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues” with some sweet barrel-house piano introducing an uptempo and cool version of this classic that jumps and jives. Nice guitar and organ solos and he piano sounds intersperse within it well. The second cover follows, JB Lenoir’s “The Whale Has Swallowed Me.” Here Garner and company take a more reserved approach, giving it a bit of flavor of what I’d call “the Caribbean goes Delta Blues.” “The Road” is another nice original blues with a stinging and clipped sound from Garner’s guitar. He’s not afraid to advance where the blues go and give us another interesting cut. The title track is next, a moderately full throttle Kiwi rockabilly sort of blues. It’s hard to classify, but it’s another song with a nice and original sound. Mid song things slow as the drums go a bit tribal and then bring us back with a well done solo. As the organ and guitar build into the drums the song goes into a crescendo of sound and they give us a big finish. They conclude with “Push a Little Harder,” a slower and sedate longer cut that gives the band a chance to air things out a bit. I think it’s a bit protracted but ok, perhaps not my best choice to finish with.

All in all this is a very solid modern and progressive sounding blues album by three talented guys. Edgy and new sounding, Garner and his trio make some good music together that I enjoyed and think most others will, too! There is little to complain about here and a lot to compliment- this is worth a listen for blues fans looking to see where talented people are taking the blues!

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 works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

mike pachelli cd imageMike Pachelli – Fade To Blue

www.mikepachelli.com

Fullblast Recordings

11 songs time-50:44

Fade To Blue is Nashville based guitarist-singer Mike Pachelli’s sixteenth CD release, bringing together an amalgamation of his previously visited genres of music. Mike and the band for the most part stay in blues-rock and straight ahead rock territory, with occasional tinges of jazz coloring. The basic four piece unit is augmented by auxiliary musicians at times. Mike’s fluid and precise but not slick guitar skills, as well as his songwriting bring to mind the approach of Robben Ford. His vocals range from a smooth rasp to a more pronounced delivery. Mike and keyboard man Kevin Mckendree provide the brunt of the soloing, with Rich Russo on drums and Baba Elefante on bass laying down the rock solid foundation.

The slow jazz-meets-blues approach to “You Got Me Where You Want Me” brings up the Robben Ford comparison to the fore right from the get go. With Mike’s double-tracked smooth rasp vocal the comparison ends right there. It’s evident from the first track that the production by Mike himself puts each instrument out there crystal clear and well defined. “Mediocre Lovin’” showcases more great guitar and organ solos as the narrator professes that he is satisfied with mediocre loving, nothing too heavy.

A nice upbeat and breezy vibe and more of that guitar goodness provide for a very attractive “You Make Livin’ Fun”. Text book guitar string bending soars through “Magenta Haze” along with a perfectly suited vocal and organ and piano. The organ throughout this recording is the perfect foil for Mike’s guitar. Textured and classy Robben Ford-like guitar once again show up in “I Need My Baby By My Side”.

The guys slow down on the discourse by the singer on his invention of “That Thing They Call The Blues”. Slow burning guitar and mellow organ permeate this nicely done tune. The lovely wailing assist vocal from Regina McCrary add to the funkiness of “Steppin’ Stone”. The horns supplied by Bryan Cumming propel the jumpy “Let’s Cut A Rug” along with jazzy guitar styling’s. Hold on there sports fans, more rug cutting ensues on “Do Your Dance” as Mike proceeds to cut through the atmosphere with some soaring and distorted guitar.

How to explain the sad condition of the world that is left to a sibling is the subject of the heart-tugging “What’ll I Tell My Son”. Some beautiful soaring guitar makes this song a genuine masterpiece. Things close out with the slow, mellow and melodic guitar instrumental showcase “These Arms” that builds in intensity over the cushion of Lance Abair’s B3 organ.

It doesn’t get any better than this kids-All original songs crafted by skilled musicians. This record is definitely a “keeper”. I wish I heard of this guy and the company he keeps a whole lot sooner. Pick this baby up, you’ll get tons of listening enjoyment. Take it from the ol’ Bluesdog.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.


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 Featured Blues Interview – Henry Gray 

henry gray pic 1Back in the 1920s and ’30s, there were a couple of things that you just didn’t do in most places down south, and both of those things revolved around the ‘Good Book.’

The first thing that you didn’t do was to miss Sunday service.

The second thing that you didn’t do was to play the blues inside your house.

Especially if you father was a deacon in the local place of worship.

Just ask legendary piano player Henry Gray, who has first-hand knowledge of such things.

“I used to play spirituals, but there was no blues in my house … no, no, no,” he recently said. “My daddy was the deacon in the church, so there was no blues in the house. They used to say it was the devil’s music.”

However, the stance that Gray’s father took softened just a bit when he saw that his son might be able to bring home a nickel or two by playing the blues at local dances.

“When my daddy saw I could make money playing the blues, he liked that all right,” said Gray. ” A lot of times my daddy would be with me, so I never had any trouble (playing music as a teenager in some possibly questionable locales).”

Thus, a seven-decade career of playing the blues was born for the young man from Kenner, Louisiana.

And at age 91, Gray – who started playing piano at the tender age of eight – has no intentions of closing the lid on his piano anytime soon.

“Nope, not yet,” Gray responded when asked if retirement was imminent.

So important are Gray’s contributions to popular music, that he was the recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2006, one of the most prestigious honors in the world of the arts. “That made me feel real good,” Gray said of the award.

A man of few words, Gray simply lets his fingers and hands do the lion’s share of the talking for him, just as they did back in the days when he was burning up the bandstands all around Chicago in the employ of larger-than-life characters like Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf.

More recently, for six or seven years inside of the New Millennium, Gray’s main gig was his noon-time engagement at the Piccadilly restaurant in his home stomping grounds of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

henry gray pic 2However, things are considerably more quiet around the café on Florida Boulevard in Louisiana’s capital city these days.

“I don’t play there anymore … I play more out of town than I do around here,” he said.

One of Gray’s favorite terms of endearment is ‘He’s alright with me.’ For those in Gray’s orbit that hear those words, it means that they have a special place inside Gray’s heart.

Bob Corritore is one of those whom Gray says, ‘He’s alright with me.’

Harmonica ace Corritore and Gray have been playing together since the late ’90s and Wolf Tracks: A Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf (Telarc Records), the album that the duo first played together on, garnered a Grammy nomination back in 1998.

Their latest collaboration, Blues Won’t Let Me Take My Rest (Delta Groove), an album that Corritore also co-produced, is up for Best Historical or Vintage Recording at this year’s Blues Blast Awards.

“Yeah, me and Bob have played a lot together and we still do,” Gray said. “He’s a good musician, too. You know, he’s alright with me.”

After receiving a medical discharge from his three-year stint in the South Pacific during World War II (“A lot of times I was held back from the front lines because I was entertaining them (playing piano for the troops). It was like a break from the stress of being a war-time soldier, too,” he said. “The piano saved my life.”) Gray headed back to his home state of Louisiana for a short spell.

That stay didn’t last long and his next destination was for the bright lights and hustle-and-bustle of Chicago, a place he would call home for the next two-plus decades.

“That’s where all the big blues stars were at … Chicago. That’s why I went up there, because I wanted to play the blues like I’d heard them playing,” he said. “And, since the music was there, you could make a lot more money up there than down here (in Louisiana).”

No doubt the basic differences between Chicago and Alsen, Louisiana were like night and day. But when you factor in the little matter of also trying to play the blues on such a big stage – in a place with musicians already established – that really had to be intimidating for a young man from a rural setting.

Not so, said Gray.

“No, no, not all,” he said. “That’s what I wanted. That’s why I went up to Chicago, to play with those guys. That didn’t bother me … no.”

It didn’t take long after his arrival in 1946 before Gray was immersed in the Windy City blues scene and was well on his way to becoming one of the hottest young piano players around. “There were really only three blues piano players there at the time – Otis Spann, Little Johnny Jones and me,” said Gray.

henry gray pic 3Rubbing elbows with Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy ultimately led Gray to meeting the great Sunnyland Slim. And in turn, it was Sunnyland that introduced Gray to a man that turned out to have the most influence and impact on his career – Big Maceo Merriweather.

“Sunnyland introduced me to him and we became good friends. He (Big Maceo) was alright with me,” said Gray. “He’s really the one that showed me how to play with my left hand on the piano. He really helped me with my left hand. We was good friends.”

Big Maceo’s tutelage of Gray not only jump-started his rise on the Chicago blues scene, it also gave birth to Gray’s patented ‘two-fisted piano playing.’ Gray never forgot just how instrumental Big Maceo was in his development and when Merriweather became sidelined with a stroke and lost the use of his left hand, he eagerly helped his friend out on the bandstand.

“After he had a stroke, I would play the left side (of the piano) for him and he would play the right. Yes, sir … that’s what we did,” Gray said.

In the early 1950s, Gray caught the attention of the one-and-only Little Walter Jacobs. Nicknaming Gray ‘Birdbreast’ (“I guess he thought I was thin and looked like a bird,” laughed Gray), Little Walter and Gray could soon be found playing the blues together all around Chicago. The stories of Little Walter’s temperament are legendary and according to Gray, those stories are both accurate and well-earned.

“He was just as crazy as everybody said he was. Yep, he sure was. I played a whole lot with him,” Gray said. “Everything he did was fast. Fast, fast, fast. Talked fast, walked fast … played fast. He was crazy.”

Gray also spent a considerable amount of time traveling the country with another iconic figure that was also known to be a tough taskmaster – Howlin’ Wolf. In 1956 Gray became the piano player in Wolf’s outfit and other than guitarist Hubert Sumlin, Gray’s 14 years spent with the Wolf was the most of any of his bandmates.

“He was alright with me. Yes, he was strict. No smoking and no blue jeans. You had to dress up to play with him,” said Gray. “I didn’t have any run-ins with him. I did what he said and had no problems with him. You went up on the bandstand and you better be dressed up. He would buy you clothes and for my part, I would wear them. You didn’t wear them and he would take $25 from you (as a fine). If you didn’t do what he asked, he’d find somebody else. Yes … he was alright with me.”

Along with bandmates Sumlin, and drummer SP Leary, Gray was a part of what many consider to be the ultimate lineup of the Howlin’ Wolf band. In late 1968, Gray finally left Wolf’s band – and the city of Chicago – and headed back home to Louisiana.

Some of Gray’s other noteworthy accomplishments in Chicago include being one of Chess Records’ go-to piano players for much of the late 1950s and ’60s. He could also be found regularly playing with artists like Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Guitar Slim, Billy Boy Arnold, Buddy Guy, James Cotton and Johnny Shines, names that just scratch the surface of Gray’s expansive reach.

Gray also played with the king of the slide guitar – the influential Elmore James. Gray and James were even scheduled to play a gig at the Club Copacabana in Chicago on the evening of May 24, 1963.

henry gray pic 4However, the date that never materialized.

“I was at the club (that night) before we was supposed to go on. He didn’t show up, so I called his house and his wife told me he had died,” Gray said. “He was taking a bath and had a heart attack and died. He (James) was really nice … he was alright with me.”

Upon his departure from Wolf’s band, Gray went back to Louisiana to help out his mother at the family fish market after the passing of his father. Gray found work playing with the mighty Slim Harpo, weaving his boogie-woogie, Chicago blues piano into Harpo’s swamp blues potion. The two gigged together until Harpo’s death in 1970. He also gigged with Guitar Kelley and Silas Hogan around that same time frame.

In 1977, Gray cut his very first solo album – They Call Me Little Henry (which was also his nickname at times). So why did it take so long for Gray to record his first solo album?

“I just wasn’t ready before then. That’s it … I just wasn’t ready,” is how Gray explains the gap before he first started playing and when his first full-length album was issued.

When times got a bit lean – with opportunities to play music sometimes few and far between in Louisiana – Gray didn’t panic.

He simply picked up a hammer and started working as a roofer with the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. He did that for 15 years, up until 1983.

“I love Louisiana. Sometimes I wasn’t always so busy (playing music), but everything’s been all right for me here,” he said.

It wasn’t that long after he stopped working on roofs before Gray bounced back and issued his first solo album in the United States with Lucky Man (Blind Pig Records).

In 1998, the head man for The Rolling Stones – Mick Jagger – invited Gray to fly over to Paris to play at his 55th birthday bash. Gray played the piano, while Jagger played guitar and blew some harp on some blues standards. Maybe we should back up just a bit and try and suss out just who backed up who that evening in the City of Lights.

“Well … he played with me, you know,” said Gray. “He’s a pretty nice guy and I played for his momma, too. And yes, he can play the blues.”

And at the end of the day, when Gray eventually does stop playing the blues, what does he most want to be remembered for?

“Well, I don’t know when I’m going to quit,” he answered. “I don’t have no plans at doing nothing but to keep on playing. Everybody that calls me – some of the biggest blues musicians there is – wants me to play and that’s just what I’m going to do. I just love the blues and so many people write to me or call me and tell me that they love the blues, too … and I love to play them.”

Visit Marty’s website at: http://news.martysammon.com/.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer Terry Mullins is a journalist, author 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.


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Mississippi Valley Blues Sociey – Davenport, IA

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society is proud to present Tommy Castro and the Painkillers at The Establishment, 220 19th Street, Rock Island, IL. The show will take place on Saturday, October 8, 2016. Doors will open at 9:10 p.m. and show will start at 9:30 p.m. The cost to see this performance will be $22 in advance, or $25 if you wait to purchase your tickets at the door.

Advanced tickets can be purchased at
HTTP://EMBED.SHOWCLIX.COM/EVENT/TOMMY-CASTRO-THE-PAINKILLERS

For more information contact: Kristy Bennett – 563-349-0594 or
Kristy@mvbs.org or visit
www.mvbs.org

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for the Blue Monday live performances and jam sessions held every Monday night at The Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. September 19 – Harper and Midwest Kind, September 26 – Brent Johnson And The Call Up. www.icbluesclub.org

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee IL area

The Friends of the Blues announce their 2016 Concert Series. All shows start at 7 pm and are open to the public – and – Food and Beverages available at all Friends of the Blues shows. Sept 15, Danielle Nicole Band, Moose Lodge, Bradley IL, Thur, Sept 29, Reverend Raven and CSAB, Kankakee Valley Boat Club, Wed, Nov 9, Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat, Manteno Sportsmen’s Club, Manteno IL. For more info visit http://www.facebook.com/friendsoftheblues



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