Issue 10-36 September 8, 2016

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2016


 In This Issue 

Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Marty Sammon, keyboardist for 6 time Grammy Award winner and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Buddy Guy. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Jimmy Adler, Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection, Harmonica Shah, The Blues Rebels, Clint Morgan and Dennis Gruenling.

We have 2 amazing Blues videos for you this week. Both are great artists performing at the Blues Blast Music Awards on September 23rd in Champaign, IL. The first one is Danielle Nicole performing a song from her nominated album. The second one is Shaun Murphy performing at our 2014 Blues Blast Music Awards.

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


 From The Editor’s Desk 

BBMAs logo imageHey Blues Fans,

There are just 2 weeks left until the biggest music event of the 2016 season, the Blues Blast Music Awards in Champaign, IL. Tickets are available on the Blues Blast Music Award website, www.TheBBMAs.com.

UPDATE!!! – We just found out another Blues legend is coming to the show! Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater is coming to perform with Shoji Naito. Eddy is on Shoji’s CD New Cool Old School which is nominated for Best New Artist Debut!

Plus don’t miss performances by 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!

Get your tickets now at at www.thebbmas.com/tickets/!

And while you are there be sure to check out our General Admission VIP Tickets. No waiting. no line, 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 – Danielle Nicole: You Only Need Me When You’re Down 

danielle nicole vidio pic

This is a music video from Danielle Nicole’s album Wolf Den which is nominated for Best New Artist Debut. I hope Danielle performs this one at the awards show on October 23, 2014 at the Fluid Event Center In Champaign, Illinois. Click on the image above to see this video.


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 Video Of The Week – Shaun Murphy 2014 Blues Blast Awards 

shaun murphy vidio pic

Here is a video of Shaun Murphy at the Blues Blast Music Awards on October 23, 2014 at the Fluid Event Center In Champaign, Illinois. Click on the image above to see this video.


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

jimmy adler cd imageJimmy Adler – Grease Alley

Sprucewood Productions

www.jimmyadler.com

13 tracks

Jimmy Adler’s Grease Alley is a fine disc mixing styles from the West Coast, Texas and Chicago blues into one smooth and quite listenable set of tunes. Recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studio with Kid producing and playing bass, June Core on drums, Jim Pugh on keys, and Eric Spaulding on sax. As if these veterans were not enough, Jimmy added Chris Cain to the mix (who appears on a pair of songs). All originals, Adler showcases himself, his new music and the band quite well here.

Things start off with a swing tune reminding the listener of perhaps something from Antones. “Say It Like Magic Sam” is a cool cut with Jimmy and the band setting a high bar for the CD. He gives us some T-Bone Walker-like riffs in the beautiful solo he does in this mid-tempo swing with some nice sax added. The title track follows with another mid tempo song where we go a little West and a little to New Orleans stylistically. Adler mixes it up, though, as he throws in some traditional and folk references to the cut. “Drank Too Much” and “No Pain” bring us from California to the Midwest. The former has a mix of styles but gets us started to Chicago while the latter is beautiful, greasy slow blues that might come from the West Side of town. Chris Cain is featured here and the guitar work is impeccable. “Nine Behind” follows with a bouncy groove. A big piano solo is followed by a guitar sole to make this tune sweet. Next up is “I Can’t Wait” which is a rocking swing tune with great Chuck Berry/T-Bone Walker guitar work and some pretty sax play to spice it up.

“Ease Me Down Slow” is a slow little piece where Adler laments if he has to be dumped then to do what the title says. Thoughtfully paced, Jimmy gives us another well thought out solo. “Cornbread and Lima Beans” picks up the pace as Adler lays out a faster groove. Another solo by Adler stings and swings well. “Love Was Worth These Blues” begins with a piano tinkling and lamentful guitar to set the tone for this slow blues ballad. Adler’s solo is pensive and thoughtful here. Things stay down tempo with “What I’ve Done”where guitar and organ blend for good effect. The band is in full swing on “Cordelia” where the west Coast style is fully developed. Horn, keys and guitar are slick here. Big guitar and sax solos are also featured. Chris Cain returns in “What Will You Do” as things take a turn towards Chicago. Guitar and piano are spicy and well done in this one. “Hoodoo Highway” closes the set with some slide. A romping, high energy cut that drives fast and takes no prisoner is a great ending to this album. The sax solo blares, Adler comes back for a verse and then ofers up the final, big guitar solo.

Jimmy Adler hails from Pittsburgh and has played the area since the 1980’s. His presence has been felt across the country and beyond, with many festivals and tours now under his belt. This, his 4th CD, may be his best and showcases him and the fine musicians Andersen put around him. If you like blues with a little swing to them then you will surely enjoy this one! Jimmy Adler will not disappoint you!

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 – 2 of 6 

alligator 45th anniversary cd imageAlligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection

Alligator Records

37 songs – 159 minutes

Has Alligator Records really been running for 45 years? Most blues fans are aware of the tale of how the label started with founder Bruce Iglauer’s desire to record Hound Dog Taylor. Who would have thought that nearly half a century and almost 300 albums later, it would remain not only a proudly independent label dedicated to releasing “Genuine Houserockin’ Music”, it would also be part of the modern day blues fabric? It is almost impossible to imagine a blues scene without Alligator in it, and all blues fans owe Iglauer a huge debt of gratitude for having recorded and released so many absolute blues diamonds over the years.

The Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection is the sixth anniversary double-CD released by the label over the years and, as with the previous releases, it features wall-to-wall classics, personally selected by Iglauer and re-mastered, with cuts from the earliest releases (Son Seals’ “Cotton Picking Blues” comes from Alligator’s third-ever release) through to the modern day, with artists like Moreland & Arbuckle or Toronzo Cannon. It is also a perfect soundtrack to a party, be it houserockin’ or otherwise.

There are so many highlights, it’s very difficult to know where to start. Albert Collins’ killer live version of “If Trouble Was Money” from his Live In Japan album is worth the price of admission alone. Elvin Bishop’s 2015 track, “Can’t Even Do Wrong Right” shows yet again that it is perfectly possible to write clever and engaging new songs in the genre. Carey and Lurrie Bell’s acoustic gem “The Road Is So Long” could have been recorded decades before Alligator started up. There are tracks by artists who helped to establish the label’s reputation, such as Koko Taylor, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials and of course Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers. There are songs by modern-day giants such as Tommy Castro, Roomful of Blues and Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King. And there are the new kids on the block, holding their own against the masters, viz Selwyn Birchwood and Jarekus Singleton.

Some of the more powerful elements of the album are the collaborations of artists, such as Joe Bonamassa guesting with James Cotton on “Cotton Mouth Man”, Bonnie Raitt providing subtle support to A.C. Reed on “She’s Fine” (with an absolutely belting solo from Reed); or Johnnie Johnson adding glorious honky tonk piano to The Kentucky Headhunters’ “Stumblin’”.

Hearing some artists can prompt the listener to dig out some of their old CDs that maybe haven’t been played for a while. Delbert McClinton’s “Givin’ It Up For Your Love” is a delightful reminder that his Live From Austin was one of the best albums of 1989 and really hasn’t dated since. Rick Estrin & The Nightcats’ “Callin’ All Fools” re-emphasizes that there are few writers out there with such a distinctive (and hilarious) world view, and few bands out there as nailed down as the Nightcats.

And to seal the deal, for this listener at least, there were a few artists who had slipped under the radar previously, a mistake that will be rectified. This reviewer had not heard much by JJ Grey & Mofro before, but was completely floored by “99 Shades Of Crazy” from This River. Likewise, Anders Osborne’s “Let It Go” from PEACE.

As you would expect from Alligator, the sleeve notes are detailed and informative and the entire package is available as two CDs for the price of one. What’s not to love? An utterly essential purchase.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.



 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

harmonica shaw cd imageHarmonica Shah – If You Live To Get Old, You Will Understand

Electro-Fi Records 3447

12 songs – 61 minutes

Backed by guitarist Jack de Keyzer and pianist Julian Fauth, Harmonica Shah delivers an aural treat for lovers of blues harmonica with this album. Recorded in only two days in Toronto, it’s a disc with such a warm, timeless feel that it could have been captured on acetate in Chicago in the ‘50s rather than in digital studio today.

Born Thaddeus Hall and raised in Oakland, Calif., Shah’s primary influences are Junior Wells, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter and Little Sonny as well as his grandfather, Sam Dawson, a guitarist, harp player and farmer from Somerville, Texas, whose talents were captured on tape by Allen Lomax for the Library Of Congress and who also recorded for the Duke record label.

Shah moved to Detroit in the late ‘60s and worked in the auto industry and as a cab driver for a decade before buying his first harmonica. Soon, he was backing including Bobo Jenkins, Willie D. Warren and Eddie Kirkland, all local blues legends. His debut on disc as a solo artist came late, at age 54, with the release of Motor City Mojo on Blue Suit in 2000. Six more well-received CDs have followed for the master of the old-school sound.

Although the listing is too long for the header on this review, Shah shares credit on If You Live To Get Old with de Keyzer, a talented guitarist who’s recorded with Bob Walsh, Sam Myers, King Biscuit Boy and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, and Fauth, whose piano skills have been on display with Finis Tasby and Fruteland Jackson. Both of them have recorded with Shah in the past. They’re joined by a rock-solid rhythm section of Alec Frasier on bass and Bucky Berger on percussion. Shah composed all 12 of the songs, which carry forward the tradition of borrowing lyrical and musical nuggets from the past, presenting them in new settings, many of which convey lessons that you only can learn as you age.

A single-note harp run atop a fast shuffle kicks off “Baby, You Have To Change,” which insists the subject woman has evil ways. She’s mean and always rolling her bloodshot eyes. De Keyzer’s mid-tune guitar solo burns before Fauth rips and runs on the keys. A walking blues tempo drives “She Used To Be Beautiful,” which describes someone who’s burned the candle at both ends, drinking, drugging and carousing her looks away before her time.

The pace slows for “Walk That Lonesome Road,” country-flavored lesson with a sparse arrangement, dealing with the dangers of lying. Next up, Shah expresses his hatred for a “Two Legged Grey Mule” who keeps hanging around his house, chasing the musician’s “pretty black mare.” The tables are turned in the syncopated “She May Be Your Woman.” This time, the lady comes to see HIM all the time and the other man is a cat she’s kicked to the curb.

Romantic troubles continue in the straight blues, “I Just Don’t Want You No More,” “Deep Down In The Dark” and the tongue-in-cheek “Congratulations, That New Love You’ve Got Is My Wife” before the instrumental “My Babe Is On This Train” gives space for the band to swing from the hip. The album concludes with a trio of lessons: “You Don’t Have To Have Liquor (To Be A Fool),” “Marry Who You Really Need” and “If You Live To Get Old, You Will Understand,” all full of rural wisdom from someone with city smarts.

If you’re looking for pyrotechnics and overblows, look elsewhere. But if you love traditional harp, pick this one up. Harmonica Shah blows the back off of it! Available through iTunes, Amazon or directly from the label (address above).

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 – 4 of 6 

the blues rebels cd imageThe Blues Rebels – Voodoo Land

Self-Produced

www.blues-rebels.com

CD: 13 Songs, 54:00 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues and Blues Rock

The promotional materials for Israeli sensations the Blues Rebels list one Dov Hammer as its lead vocalist and harmonica player. “Hmm,” said one Rainey Wetnight. “That name sounds familiar. I think I reviewed one of his CD’s for Blues Blast.” Indeed: In August 2015, my overwhelmingly-positive review of Open Road was published. Voodoo Land, the Rebels’ sophomore release, packs even more of a wallop than their debut, with a unique mix of contemporary blues and psychedelic rock. On thirteen original songs, with the final one being a remix of track four, they display energizing musicianship and spot-on songwriting skills. To top everything off, the group reconnected with Blues Hall of Famer Joe Louis Walker, who performs as a special guest star as well as being Voodoo Land’s producer. With his vocals a cross between Huey Lewis and Darius Rucker, Dov Hammer and his fellow Rebels turn up the voltage.

According to their press release, “The Blues Rebels began in 2012 as a one-time friendly jam between two veteran blues artists – guitarist Andy Watts and singer/harmonica player Dov Hammer…The immediate chemistry between the two, and the powerful stage show that resulted, were undeniable. The Blues Rebels soon became one of the hottest blues bands on the Israeli scene, playing with world-class artists such as Joe Louis Walker, Lucky Peterson, and Bernard Allison. The band was also chosen to open for the legendary Johnny Winter, who told [them] how impressed he was by their performance.”

The Blues Rebels consist of lead vocalist and harpist Dov Hammer, guitarist Andy Watts, Amos Springer on bass guitar, and Avi Barak on drums and percussion. Guest musician Matan Ashkenazy performs on keyboards, acoustic guitar, and backing vocals. Joe Louis Walker reigns on lead vocals on track six, and also performs backing vocals, acoustic and electric guitar.

The following three songs should make any blues fan’s “playlist podium,” and earn medal slots.

GOLD: Track 06: “Everybody Loves My Baby” – Short and sweet, Voodoo Land’s number-one hit features blues champion Joe Louis Walker on the mic. The subject of this song is a ‘taken’ woman of whom “everybody wants a piece!” “Cab drivers love her ‘cause she always tips. The waiter’s crazy ‘bout the way she sits. The admiral wants to sink his ship. The lion tamer wants her to snap his whip…” No wonder this song ends with a sardonic, “Oh, yeah. Oy vey…”

SILVER: Track 03: “Good Enough” – “My heart is heavy, my spirit torn. An endless journey ever since I was born. The road is rough, and time takes its toll. Sometimes I wonder who owns my soul. Not satisfied, but it’s good enough for the blues.” Rarely have truer words been spoken, even within this genre. Which one of us is perfectly happy with the way our life has turned out? Hammer’s harmonica howls his resignation to second place in the grand scheme of things, and Andy Watts’ gritty guitar concurs. Purists and aficionados rejoice – this one’s for you.

BRONZE: Track 04: “Well Run Dry” – The original version of “Well Run Dry” is a catchy blues-rock stomp, with great harmony on the refrain: “And I don’t know why I try. Yes, I feel my well has run dry.” Why do the Rebels express these sentiments? “It’s a digital age, and I’m an analog guy,” Dov sings, “so just go with the flow and stop asking why. Every move you make is on file…” Andy Watts takes commanding lead here, with a Latin-style bridge starting at 1:17.

The Israeli “bear,” last name of Hammer, and his fellow Rebels make magic in Voodoo Land!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 36 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 – 5 of 6 

clint morgan cd imageClint Morgan – SCOFFLAW

www.clintmorganmusic.com

Lost Cause Records

19 songs – 76 minutes

SCOFFLAW is pianist-singer-songwriter Clint Morgan’s sophomore effort, following on from 2008’s You’re Really Bugging Me, and a mightily impressive effort it is, too. It’s an album of pure Americana, with liberal helpings of blues, country, gospel and roots rock, all played with zip and passion. It also almost qualifies as a concept album, with the lyrics to each song combining to tell the story of a fictional person not dissimilar to the outlaw of yore such as John Wesley Hardin, Frank and Jesse James, or Robert “Butch Cassidy” Parker, all of whom were raised in good families but then chose an outlaw path. Morgan divides the narrative action between three distinct time periods – the Old West, the Depression and the modern day – while the songs explore and articulate the internal contradictions of hardened criminals who never entirely lose their Christian faith or the moral compass of their early upbringings, with confusion, remorse and self-doubt to the fore.

Morgan wrote the vast majority of the tracks, however he also included some superb covers, from Maria Muldaur’s modern gospel of “I Done Made It Up In My Mind” (also featuring Muldaur as guest vocalist), to Johnny O’Keefe’s early Australian rock and roll of “Wild One” and Bob Dylan’s “Wanted Man” (most famously covered perhaps by Johnny Cash, whose deep baritone is not dissimilar to Morgan’s own voice). A particular high point is Morgan’s loose, swinging reading of the old Bessie Smith classic “Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair”.

With superbly sympathetic support from his array of backing musicians, Morgan uses each song both to drive the overall album narrative and to capture an individual moment, such as in the harrowing pain of the Billy The Kid-inspired “I Got A Gun” on which Morgan draws a historically accurate picture of the young Henry McCarty as he sings “I got me a job out of Abilene. A dollar a day and a bowl of beans. Until the foreman called me a scrawny mutt, then he was lying there with a slug in his gut. Now I’m out on the road again, buck-toothed and dirty, short and thin. They laugh and ask me why I never grew, then they learn what a .44 slug can do.”

SCOFFLAW opens and closes (if you don’t count the bonus track of an alternative take of “I’ve Got A Gun) with haunting acapella verses of the traditional “This Little Light Of Mine” sung by the Abingdon, Alabama Children’s Choir, sounding as if they were recorded in the 1930s. In between, highlights abound, from the grinding roots rock of “Waco”, with Kenny Vaughan’s howling electric guitar to the fore, to the rollicking upbeat blues of “I Don’t Know Where To Turn” (featuring some joyful singing from Dianna Greenleaf), the bouncing countryish “D.B. Cooper Blues” (with its knowing nod to Jimmie Rodgers’ “California Blues”) and the traditional rock’n’roll of “I Love Robbing Banks”.

In SCOFFLAW, Clint Morgan has produced an outstanding album of modern Americana with its tales of loss and redemption. Let’s hope it doesn’t take eight years for his next release. Recommended.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 


dennis gruenling cd imageDennis Gruenling – Ready Or Not

VizzTone Label Group/Backbender Records VT-BBR-712

13 songs – 48 minutes

www.dennisgruenling.com

World-class harmonica player Dennis Gruenling swings from the lip and his longtime musical partners Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones swing from the hip as they deliver this tasty, all-original collection of modern jump blues that comes complete with the unmistakable feel of the ‘40s heyday of jump and early rock ’n’ roll.

A self-taught musician and sought-after instructor who’s played professionally since the mid-’90s with six previous records as a leader to his credit, Dennis takes a major leap of faith with this one, conquering his own insecurities and providing vocals for the very first time under the guidance of producer Steve Conti, who’s worked previously with the New York Dolls, Willy De Ville and Company Of Wolves. If he was nervous behind the mike, it doesn’t show. He doesn’t have a five-octave range. Few folks do. But his voice is pleasant, and his timing impeccable.

Based in New Jersey, where he hosts “Blues & The Beat” on WFDU-FM and deals in vintage microphones, Gruenling also spends time in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, where Deming and upright and acoustic bass player Andrew Gohman, are based. Mike Bram, a member of Dennis’ Jump Time band, provides percussion. Rounding out the sound are keyboard player Dave Keyes, sax player Doug Sasfai, upright bassist Matt Raymond, multi-instrumentalist Dave Gross, who provided backing vocals, and Conti, who adds acoustic guitar on one cut in addition to providing backing vocals and rhythm.

All of the material on Ready Or Not was captured live the old-fashioned way – on two-inch audio tape at Atomic Sound in Brooklyn, N.Y., and during a blizzard. Gruenling plays Hohner harmonicas exclusively, customized by Richard Sleigh and Joe Filisko, two of the best harp technicians in the world today. He’s on chromatic 270 Deluxe and Super 64X models for most of the set, varying his sound with occasional breaks on diatonic Marine Bands and Crossover models, too.

Gruenling and the drummer trade rapid-fire beats and runs to kick off the rocker, “Knockin’ My Knees,” which finds the singer “thinkin’ ’bout the birds and bees” as his knees display nervous lust for a pretty lady. It’s a catchy dance number that would have been perfect for a high school hop in the ’60s. Solos from Deming and Gruenling are both powerful and all too brief. The boogie “Missing Person” refers to a woman who’s changed so much, she’s almost unrecognizable. Dennis’ harp hook drives the song forward, aided by rapid triples from Bram that are high in mix.

The title cut, “Ready Or Not,” is another light, pleasant rocker accompanied by handclaps that warns a lady that he’s on the way for romance. Dennis’ chromatic solo is as sweet as his lyrical message. He delivers advice to keep control of your temper to succeed in what you do in “Simmer Down,” an uptempo blues with a syncopated beat, before drawing your attention to a lady who loves to dance, but has two left feet in “Little Sugar.” It has a Texas roadhouse feel.

Next up, the tongue-in-cheek jump tune “If You Wanna Rock (You Gotta Have That Roll)” suggests that women are only interested in a man with a large bankroll. It features stellar guitar work from Deming, and will have folks rushing to the dance floor. It precedes a loping, bluesy warning that you’d better be “Ready To Burn” if you choose to pursue a certain lady because she’ll definitely torch you because there’s no way to escape.

Grueling’s talents on the chromatic are on full display for the rapid-fire instrumental “Rockin’ With The Rev” before he delivers four different on romance. “Won’t You Come Back” is delivered from the point of desperation a man feels when he fears a relationship is over but the only emotion he seems able to express is rage, “Open The Door” describes a guy who can’t hold back his desire any more, “Think Twice” warns a wrong-doing woman that she could soon be gone while “Give Me Back My Heart” is someone who can’t believe the angel he fell for is such a thief. A minor key instrumental, “Count Chromatic,” brings the set to a close.

Available through most online retailers or directly from the label, Ready Or Not proves beyond a doubt that Dennis can hold his own as a singer in addition to being one heck of a harp player. Strongly recommended.

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 Interview – Marty Sammon 

marty sammon pic 1Let’s face it, traveling the world as Buddy Guy’s keyboard player has got to be one Hell of a sweet gig.

Sure, Buddy’s probably a fairly demanding boss and being on the road all the time can be quite a grind, but the plusses still have to outweigh the minuses.

For Chicago native Marty Sammon, who has been playing the keys in Buddy’s band for over a decade now, one of the biggest perks of the gig happened just around a year ago.

So what was it?

Having lunch with Mick Jagger?

Or maybe flying on the Concorde from New York to Paris?

“Hugging Michelle Obama,” he laughed.

That once-in-a-lifetime close encounter with the First Lady occurred when Buddy, Sammon and Tom Hambridge played at the White House in October 2015 as part of the celebration for the 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“There were so many good musicians there. I got to watch James Taylor do a rehearsal and him and Keb Mo played together so well,” Sammon said. “Just seeing the professionalism of the musicians there was amazing. When you put together musicians that have never played together before … I had never played with the band that we had there; to see that level of playing and to be involved in that, I was honored. And of course, to be at the White House with the leader of the free world, that was pretty exciting, too.”

The day was long ago and far away that Buddy Guy eclipsed the realm of just being an ordinary and average, run-of-the-mill bluesman.

For decades now, Buddy Guy has been held in the highest regards for his supernatural talents and is probably one of the few people on the face of the earth that can count larger-than-life figures like Keith Richards, Steven Siegel, Eric Clapton and yes, even President Barack Obama, as members of his hardcore fan base.

marty sammon pic 2“It’s never a dull moment … there’s always excitement. I mean, going to the White House and seeing President Obama praise him and then we’ve been on tour with Jeff Beck and Jeff has nothing but respect for Buddy,” Sammon said. “And that’s great to see because I think he deserves it after being around on the planet for 80 years and for playing for 60 years. It’s exciting and it gives you hope that the rock-n-roll musicians still appreciate the blues, especially when blues seem to be under-appreciated these days.”

Even at 80 years of age, Buddy still is able to play with all the fire and passion that once prompted Clapton to dub him as ‘the best guitar player alive.’ Sammon doesn’t take the opportunity to climb on stage and play nightly with a living legend lightly, either. He says the key to being able to play with Buddy is to remain alert at all times.

“Buddy’s so unpredictable. When they talk about jam-bands and how those groups just get up on stage and jam, they don’t consider blues bands to be jam-bands,” he said. “But I do, because with Buddy Guy we play everything different every single night. He’ll cut the song off in the middle of a verse and start something new and you just have to be on your toes at all times.”

And as should be expected from the way that he wrings sheets of notes out of his signature model Stratocaster, Buddy wants his band members to pour everything they’ve got into their performance, as well.

“You have to play. He likes you to play hard and with a lot of passion, so you sure can’t phone it in,” said Sammon. “You have to go for it every night.”

In addition to globetrotting all over the world with Buddy, Sammon has also been involved in a host of other projects, with a diverse group of musicians that run the gamut from blues-rock (Devon Allman) to jam-band (Giles Corey) to sacred steel (Robert Randolph and The Slide Brothers) to houserockin’ Chicago Blues (Lil Ed & The Blues Imperials).

“I get called sometimes where they want a specific keyboard part and then sometimes they’ll call me because they want me to do what I do. I grew up listening to a lot of styles of music, so I can pretty much accommodate what anyone asks for,” he said. “But I really like it when someone just wants me to come in and do my thing, because that’s when the cool stuff happens. You might be playing with someone you’ve never played with before and they’ll do something a little different and you can mix your styles together and that’s when you come up with something unique. That’s the studio experience that I love because it’s a lot of freedom, as opposed to playing something specific. I try to throw a little Marty in there when I can. The trick (to playing on other artist’s projects) is to not stand out and to not try and throw your bag at someone. You want to compliment what they’re doing.”

As if all that wasn’t more than enough to keep him busy, there’s also the little matter of the Marty Sammon Band to keep ‘Chicago’s Keyboard Madman’ busy.

marty sammon pic 3“Touring out of town with Buddy so much can make it hard to focus on my own project, but I am working on an album of all original material right now. And I’m hoping to very soon do a solo piano album, as well,” he said. “I’ve got a million ideas and not much time to get them done, but I’m at least trying to get these two things going. I’m about halfway through my studio project right now.”

Buddy Guy is not the only one of Eric Clapton’s favorite guitarists of all time that Sammon has had the good fortune of working with. For roughly half-a-decade, Sammon was in the amazing Otis Rush’s band.

“To play with Otis, you had to listen quite a bit and play in between what he would play. He was pretty high-energy, so I walked away from that gig with some muscles in my arms from playing so hard,” laughed Sammon. “If I played lightly, he would look at me and start strumming the guitar real hard as if to say, ‘Come on with it.’ You’d play three sets (a night) sometimes and you’d just be so wrecked by the end of it, because he would just go and go. Playing with Otis was the first time that I got to play on big stages with professional equipment. It’s a different way of playing when you’re playing for festival audiences on big stages as opposed to some of the smaller club venues. I not only learned a lot about how to play that kind of gig from Otis, but I also learned how to travel. And that lesson has paid off with Buddy, because we constantly travel.”

As a youngster learning his way around the piano on Chicago’s south side in a family of Irish heritage, Sammon was – naturally – deeply into playing the Irish folk songs that he would hear around the house. So what was Sammon’s master-plan to transition from Irish folk music to the Chicago blues?

Turns out there was no master-plan at all, but instead there was kind of a happy accident.

“Well, I got thrown into a gig as a sub for someone in Eddie C. Campbell’s band. I met his keyboard player at Guitar Center – I was in there just trying out equipment when I was 14- or 15-years-old. So he heard me and asked me if I wanted a gig. I said, ‘I’ve never played blues before.’ And he said, ‘Oh, it’s easy. You just play three chords all night.’ So I got on the gig and I looked so lame and so square,” Sammon laughed. “I had no idea what I was doing. But I tell people that I remember liking the smell of the club … it was a real sweaty blues club kind of vibe. I mean, I was hooked. Plus, I got paid so I thought, ‘Oh, I can do this.’ So I got into playing the blues by being thrown right in the fire and I’m still burning.”

Buddy was not the first member of the Guy family that Sammon had the opportunity to play with; that would be the highly-underrated Phil Guy. Sammon says meeting Phil Guy was like having the door into the world of the Chicago blues unlocked for him.

marty sammon pic 4“When I met Phil, that’s how I first met all these other amazing players. Through Phil, I met Big James Montgomery, who got me the Otis Rush gig. Then Phil and Big James were key in getting me the Buddy Guy gig,” he said. “And then meeting Buddy got me on the Devon Allman record and The Slide Brothers record and all these things that I’ve done. So if I hadn’t met Phil, who knows what I’d be doing right now? The connections I made through him are priceless.”

Just as it is now with Buddy, Sammon says sharing the bandstand and the road with Phil Guy was magical, too.

“I talk about Phil so much and we always share stories and laugh about him on the road, because all of Buddy’s band traveled with him at one time or another. I would come home from a trip with him and my stomach would hurt because I laughed so hard and had so much fun out with him,” Sammon said. “He never really made the records that he could have. I think that’s one of the reasons he’s not more well-known. I can’t really explain why he never got the credit he was due. I’ll mention his name to people and some of them will say they’ve never heard of him. I’m like, ‘Really?’ I really wish it were different because he really contributed a lot. I mean, just look at all the records that he played on … the Junior Wells stuff. He deserves more recognition that what he gets. I’m just thankful that I got to know him.”

Last year Sammon did something that not every musician is capable of doing; sitting down with pen and paper and writing down just how it is that they are able to do what they do. The result of that is the highly-successful Blues Keyboard Method (Hal Leonard), an instructional primer on what makes Sammon tick when it comes to playing the blues.

“That was terrifying, because the first thing the guy (at Hal Leonard) asked me was, ‘Do you read and write music notes?’ I said, ‘No, not really.’ After the look on his face when I told him that, I thought I’d lost the deal. But they agreed to get somebody to transcribe what I would record. When I started out writing the text for the book, it was really hard, because I’d never really thought about trying to describe my craft, I guess,” he said. “Eventually it started happening and I started getting good at it. I’d read it back and go, ‘Yeah, that’s kind of what I do.’ I had just never really thought about it in those terms before. It was challenging at first, but when I read through it and look back on it, I guess I didn’t do too bad. A lot of people are learning these techniques that have never been described like this before, so I guess it’s a success, as far as that’s concerned.”

Sammon is also very active in trying to keep the gospel of the blues alive by reaching out to the younger crowd in an effort to spark their interest in the music that he loves so much, even if the net results are sometimes a bit frustrating.

marty sammon pic 5“I throw this little festival in Chicago called Marty Sammon’s Blues Fling and I insist that it be an all-ages event. I’ve been really disappointed that a lot of people haven’t brought their kids out to it. I bring in real players – the real guys from the Chicago clubs – and this is an opportunity for the younger kids to see them. The parents seem to be like, ‘My kids are not interested in that.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, maybe they’ve never seen this and if they do, they might be into it.’ When I was playing ragtime piano back in the day, people that I went to school with would go, ‘Screw that stuff.’ But then they’d hear it and go, ‘Hey. That’s pretty cool.’ But I’m going to continue to provide more opportunities for people to bring their kids and after that, it’s on them. And when they’re there, I don’t believe in dumbing it down for kids. I want to give them the real deal and give them the way that it happens in the clubs and in the studio. I want to continue to be more involved in that and hopefully, the younger generation picks up on that.”

The history of piano-based music in New Orleans is long and rich. That New Orleans style of playing may not have been Sammon’s initial inspiration, but once he started hearing the legends from the Crescent City, he was pretty much hooked.

“When I started getting into the blues style, I gravitated to the New Orleans players. Guys like Professor Longhair and James Booker and Dr. John. When I got with Buddy, he turned me onto Otis Spann. I listened to him and that changed everything. I love all those guys and I also dig a lot of rhythm-and-blues artists, too,” he said. “I listen to Donny Hathaway a lot … his keyboard playing is very blues-oriented. I listen to Stevie Wonder quite a bit. But I keep going back to those New Orleans’ guys. At a recent soundcheck with Buddy I broke out some Longhair … I always go back to that stuff. It’s just such a fun style to play.”

They’re not making bluesmen like Buddy Guy anymore – that much is certain. However, Sammon is of the mind that the form of music that Buddy and his contemporaries helped to spread all over the world is still alive and well and in the right hands, can still have a bright future ahead.

“Lets’ face it; the guys that invented this music are mostly gone. It would be not right for people of my generation and my upbringing to sound just like they did. You can root your sound in the blues … I mean some of the acts out there now that they call the blues are not playing the same I-IV-V chord pattern that we’re used to listening to. But it’s still rooted in that kind of music with those same kinds of stories,” he said. “If that’s the case, we have to open up our minds as to what we define as the blues or blues-rooted music. But there’s still enough people out there that appreciate the blues so that’s hopeful for the future of the music. I can’t see it disappearing … if it does, I guess I’ll be disappearing with it. I’d be in serious trouble, man.”

And just like his mentor has done, Sammon hopes to one day have a large and unwavering fan base backing his every move.

“Yeah, my goal is to make a living playing music and to have a fan base loyal enough to where I can experiment and come up with different projects and have different creative ideas and to have them still be listened to,” he said. “But as long as I’m traveling and playing, I’ll be happy.”

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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