Issue 10-40 October 13, 2016

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2016


 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Lazy Lester. We have 7 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Albert Castiglia, Bill Durst, John D’Amato, Travis Haddix, Malaya Blue, Terrie Odabi and Mat Walklate & Paolo Fuschi.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 7 

albert castiglia cd imageAlbert Castiglia – Big Dog

Ruf Records

albertcastiglia.net

11 songs/41.49 minutes

Albert Castiglia’s Big Dog is an album with BIG sound! It is exactly what a contemporary blues album should be. It is a nod to the past and a masterful, modern sound that delivers a new dish to the blue’s buffet. The album was produced by Mike Zito, who also contributes guitar, vocals and percussion. The combination of Zito and Castiglia both in production and musical collaboration is nothing short of spectacular. Scot Sutherland on bass, Rob Lee on drums, Lewis Stephens on keyboards and Johnny Samson on harmonica are the excellent backing musicians on this recording. The album has a live feel without a garage band vibe. Nor is it too polished that it dulls the rough edges that give it life. Due to excellent production and the tightness of the backing musicians, it walks a perfect line between these two extremes. The tracks are made more powerful by Thomas Ruf, who, as Executive Producer wanted Castiglia to make a “raw, rocking blues record”. Castiglia’s natural raw style along with Mike Zito’s flare for a powerful performance was a winning combination. The album was recorded at Dockside, a Studio in Mauruce, LA, where Junior Wells recorded his last studio album, Come On In This House. Castaglia has mentioned in various interviews how much this connection meant to him and added to the “mojo” of the recording. He toured with Wells in the 90’s as part of Well’s band and credits Wells with “… opening the door for him” to “be a Chicago bluesman”. Engineering, mixing and mastering was done by David Farrell who has engineered Zito in the past. Castiglia credits the production team with “helping him nail” “a record that best represented who I am, as a musician, singer, guitarist and live artist”. Indeed Big Dog succeeds in making Castiglia’s sixth album a superb example of his musical talents.

Big Dog is eleven tracks of blazing guitar, excellent musicianship, expressive vocals and great song writing. Six songs on the album were written/co-written by Castiglia. It is an album that brings the blues very much alive in a big way. Big Dog reaches back to Castiglia’s early influences such as Junior Wells, Chicago blues and even further back to the early blues with lyrical references to the infamous crossroads (“Get Your Ass in the Van”) and the bluesman’s devil (“Where the Devil Makes his Deals”). Musically, he makes use of call and response, particularly in “Don’t Let them Fool Ya” and slow, smooth blues in “Where Did I Go Wrong” featuring Johnny Sansone on harmonica and also some boogie-woogie in “What the Hell was I Thinking” featuring Lewis Stephens on keyboards.

The album opens with a searing guitar solo in “Let the Big Dog Eat”. The solo grabs you before Castiglia’s rough, raspy, raw vocals kick in. The song ends with a few barks from Castiglia. This sets the tone for the rest of the album which covers quite a bit of territory. Big Dog has everything from raucous guitar jams with Zito in ” Don’t Let Them Fool Ya”, which was written by Zito about cheating women to a slower, blusier story of an alcoholic wife in “Drowning at the Bottom” written by Luther Allison and James Solberg where Castiglia lets his guitar cry the blues for the pain in this song. In “Get Your Ass in the Van”, written by Castiglia, humor is added as he sings about those musicans wanting instant fame. One line in particular, “this ain’t no American Idol”, pretty much sums up the sarcastic humor of the song along with the message he wants to get across about paying your dues in the music business. His slide guitar in this song sets a great example for those quick fame seekers. “Let’s Make Love in the Morning”, written by Castiglia and Joel Zoss, is a smooth blues ballad with just a touch of country rock. “What I Like About Miami”, written by Charlie Pickett et. al., is a funky blues song with a great hook. Castiglia gets down, dirty and swampy in “Where the Devil Makes his Deals” about a bluesman making deals with the devil. The song is blue’s perfection with Sansone on harmonica and a prominent heavy bass and drum line. As in the other songs on this album, the guitar work of Castiglia and Zito with their blazing solos and complimenting style pushes the music to a level few can achieve. Big Dog concludes with “What the Hell was I Thinking”, a fast paced boogie-woogie about “making promises I just can’t keep”. This is another song with great hooks, vocals and lively piano by Lewis Stephens. The last song on Big Dog, “Somehow”, is a slow, emotional blues ballad co-written with Cyril Neville about the social wrongs in our society. It is a song with a message that is difficult to ignore – or forget. “Take a look around, tell me what you see, take a look in the mirror are you brave, are you free”? The song sites several tragic examples of people living around us who’s lives are touched by poverty, lost hope and other very real social ills.

This is one of the best albums I have listened to this year. The music is excellent, it brings life to older blues traditions and musical forms with contemporary, energetic musical artistry. The songs are all well written and Castiglia brings everything he’s got to each one, with Zito and the other musicians fully supporting him. The guitar work, energy and intuitive interplay between Castiglia and Zito is really amazing. Castiglia stated that he could “feel the mojo in the recording studio”. It comes through the album too. The album has been charting in the top ten most of the summer. It is that good. Big Dog is a big deal.

Reviewer Kim Derr a life-long blues lover originally from Pennsylvania who recently relocated to SE North Carolina. She left her career as an attorney to pursue blues guitar, bass and mandolin playing and photography interests. She enjoys all styles of the blues. Blues music is her passion, whether writing about it, playing it, listening to it or photographing musicians. There is a story in or behind every blues song and in the musical styles. Blues had her at the first twelve bars on an old guitar!


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 7 

bill durst cd imageBill Durst – Good Good Lovin

www.billdurst.com

Durstwerks

9 songs time-31:20

In this corner…Stratford, Ontario, Canada based blues-rocker Bill Durst brings his hit-you-over-the-head style of blues-rock to this his fifth full length album. He started out at nineteen as a member of the Canadian rock band Thundermug. The approach here is of the take-no-prisoners variety, save for one slower and mellower tune. All the songs included here were composed by Bill and his writing partner, bassist Joe DeAngelis who was the original singer for Thundermug. Drummer Corey Thompson rounds out the power trio. The band plays full out, with Bill spewing forth rapid fire, but crisp and clean guitar solos. The husky voice of Bill adds to the muscular torrent of sound.

The crunch of the title track sets the tone for most of what is to follow. Snaky slide guitar leads off the hard charging “Got Love”. Bill’s knack with slide guitar is one of the highlights of this blues-rock journey. He slides his way through “21st Century Blues”, seamlessly firing off notes with a natural ease. Things chug along quite nicely on the positive “I’m Alright”. “Heaven Heaven” contains an irresistibly catchy slide guitar riff. The guys boogie through “King Snake Prowl” like ZZ Top with tough guitar that will clean out your speakers, then proceed to dust your living room to boot. Bill bellows “wash out(watch out)” throughout the song.

Things slow down, but get heavy at times on “What Could Have Been Love”. It showcases lovely guitar soloing amongst the noise. “Northern Electric is about a train, as various Canadian towns are rattled off over a great rocking riff. The album closes out with what sounds like filler and a bit of a throw away song-“I Regret To Say”. It’s also the quietest thing here.

Bill’s years of experience in the scene has produced a hard charging dose of solid rocking goodness. The powerful chords and strong guitar solos sound great along with the strong rhythm section. Bill’s throaty voice perfectly compliments the vibe of the songs. The guys also mellow out the sound occasionally. This crew certainly knows what they are doing and does it well. If you are in need of music to energize and lift you up, you’ve come to the right place.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 7 

john d'amato cd imageJohn D’Amato – Born Blue: The Sun Sessions

www.johndamato.net

TruBlu Records

14 songs time-62:59

John D’Amato is another in the long line of blues-rock guitar hot-shots where the strong suit is not in the singing and song writing departments. Perhaps his confidence in his guitar skills gives him a false sense of his ability as a singer and songwriter. Guys like this would be better off trusting somebody else that is more capable of handling that end. It’s a shame because he is a monster on the strings. To be fair his gruff “singing” does work on occasion. He sounds like a frog with a frog in his throat. His skill on his guitar does tend to make his singing easier to digest. His various drummers and bass players are all very capable of supplying the necessary foundation for his guitar excursions. The two keyboard players add nice touches here and there.

“Two Dollar Dress”, a song about getting by on less shows off his energetic slide guitar work. Everything pretty much gels on this number. The backing of organ and bass on “Soldier Of Love” are almost a direct lift of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein”. That’s meant as a compliment. It fits like a glove as John’s guitar skidders all around like a Whirling Dervish. The obvious rhymes do get a bit awkward. In “Blues Man” he states “I’m a blues man”. A blues-rock man, ok. He once again spews forth a plethora from his guitar. At the songs’ end he says “Like Muddy Waters, like Howlin’ Wolf”. Not.

His slide zooms all over the joint on “Helicopter Blues”. The guitar playing on “Same Dog” sounds like a bluesy Albert Lee. “Never let the same dog bite you twice”. The organ playing of Dan Nadasi(?) is a nice foil to John’s meticulous soling on “Lovin’ You”. The tune also features some solid-as-a-rock bass playing. The lyrics on “Chicken Blues” are a bit lame, but after hearing that scorching guitar goodness, all is forgiven.

He recounts being afflicted with a condition called Coarctation of the Aorta at birth, where the lack of oxygen through his body actually caused him to be “Born Blue”. The song is an acoustic change of pace. Gracefully soaring guitar propels a song about his religious faith, about Jesus, “My Only Friend”. The guitar builds to a energetic conclusion. Lauren D’Amato shares vocal duties on “Live Without Me” and does a bang up job. The multi-tracked guitars on “True To The Blues” are actually a close approximation of Les Paul’s guitar style along with John’s personal touch. The guys get funky on “Walk My Way”, the guitar playing owing a debt to Mark Knopfler.

Ok, I know this is an over used cliché, but his voice does grow on you eventually and his guitar playing is a joyful thing to experience. All the songs are original, a little outside assistance could improve the situation. If you are a fan of inventive and energetic guitar playing, there is much to enjoy here.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 7 

travis haddix cd imageTravis Haddix – Mellow Moonchild

www.travishaddix.net

Wann-Sonn Records

12 songs – 53 minutes

The recent surge of releases by near-octagenarian, Travis Haddix, continues unabated. 2015 and 2016 have seen the release of Haddix’s own Love Coupons and It’s My Turn Now – The Best Of, as well as Didi Franklin’s Fool For You and Charles Wilson’s Sweet & Sour Blues – for both of which Haddix wrote the songs, played guitar and produced the record.

Mellow Moonchild is a slightly curious release, given that last year’s It’s My Turn Now was a “Best Of”, with one track culled from 12 different albums, together with two from Winners Never Quit and four new recordings. Haddix has adopted a similar approach on this album, with four new songs, two each extracted from Dance To The Blues and What I Know Right Now, and one each from Wrong Side Out, Big Ole Good-Un, Blues From Staghorn St,and Sure Thing.

The four new songs were all recorded on one day in February 2016 and feature the talents of Haddix on vocals and guitar; Ed Lemmers on bass; Gil Zachary on keys; Jeremy Sullivan on drums and Don Williams on organ. Horns were supplied by Norman Tischler on alto sax and Scott Tenney on trumpet. Opening with the bouncing shuffle and swinging horns of “50-50 Relationship”, it is immediately obvious that age is not withering Haddix’s songwriting talents or guitar skills. And he pays tribute to one of his great musical influences on the second new song, the slow blues of “Mr Riley B. King”. Interestingly, apart from the pick-up phrase at the beginning of the song, Haddix’s steers away from King’s licks during his solo – presumably deliberately, since it is clear from “Everything Is Everything” that he can channel B.B. with the best of them. “If You Know Better”, a tribute to Deacon Turner, is classic Haddix, with funky guitar and punchy horns sitting within a soul-blues structure and the slow blues of “Dog Biscuits” contains typically left-field Haddix lyrics: “I like my coffee real hot. I like my women big and fat. Nothing but a dog loves a bone, and most of the time he buries that.”

The re-issued tracks tend to highlight Haddix’s soul-ballad side, such as “Penny For Your Thoughts”, “Through With Love”, “Wasting Tears” and “Big Difference”, although it is refreshing to be reminded of the lyrical wit and irresistible funk groove of “Bad To Worse” in which Haddix laments: “I’ve had this kind of bad luck ever since I was kid. They said, ‘when you grown up, your luck is bound to change’. You know what? They were right and mine should did. My luck went from bad to worse.”

Given Haddix’s prolific song-writing output, it is difficult to gauge what he gains by re-releasing tracks that in some cases date back 20 years. Long-standing fans are forced to re-purchase tracks they already own in order to own the new songs. And, while new fans may enjoy hearing some of the older recordings, they all fit within the same basket of funky, horn-driven modern blues and soul, with sharp lyrics, which begs the question as to why Haddix didn’t simply record an album of new songs.

Overall however Mellow Moonchild is an enjoyable collection of tracks that serves to emphasize again just what an underrated talent Haddix is.

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 – 5 of 7 

mayala blue cd imageMalaya Blue – Heartsick

Self Release through MBM Music

www.malayablue.com

11 tracks / 54:47

Malaya Blue may be relatively new to the scene, but she carries on the tradition of fine blues music that her sisters and brothers from the United Kingdom have been producing for decades. Her debut album, Bourbon Street, was very well received, earning her four 2015 British Blues Association Award nominations. With this effort, this Norwich based singer laid the groundwork to break through on a worldwide scale, though we are still waiting for our chance to see her here in the States.

Malaya did not rest on these laurels, and has released a worthy follow-up, Heartsick, with eleven original tracks that were cut at The Grange Studios in Norfolk, UK. Accompanying her vocals on this disc is a new line-up that includes Dudley Ross on guitar, Paul Jobson on the keyboards, bassist Stuart Uren, and Andrew McGuinness behind the drum kit. This band is capable of handling every genre on this disc, with arrangements that range from bare bones to fully instrumented songs that come complete with a string section.

Heartsick starts out strongly with its title track, a neat package of guitar fueled hard blues-rock. This is an apt showcase for Malaya to show how powerful her voice is, as well as her ability to push the edge of the envelope without sacrificing musicality. She is also responsible for writing all of the lyrics on this disc, and in this case she bemoans the end of a relationship and admits to being “a sucker for a hot sticky mess.” It is hard to say whether these words were written from experience, but they are personal in their delivery, which is a common theme throughout the album.

Another example of this is “Hunny Little Day Dream,” with words that are thoroughly saturated with the joy of love. After the intro with its raunchy harp and warbly organ, Malaya launches into jazzy R&B vocals that at times push the upper limits of her voice’s range, and she delivers them smoothly. Also notable are the slick walking bass line from Uren and rock solid drum work from McGuinness that serve to hold this one together. This is followed up by “Colour Blind” a mellow tune with an uptempo samba beat. The lyrics are more enigmatic, and Malaya adds dramatic spaces that help to make the mood more intense.

Malaya’s voice shines even brighter on the slower songs, and there is a pair of ballads sequenced midway through Heartsick. “Let’s Reinvent (Love)” is one of these, and it is a slow-rolling blues tune with a dramatic harp and B3 introduction. At over seven minutes this is the longest track on the CD, and this time is used to tell the story of rebuilding a relationship, with the vibe getting heavier as the song progresses. Key pieces of this puzzle are the righteous harp that guest artist Paul Jones lays down, and the backing vocals that Malaya layers in. The other is “Acceptance,” a pretty torch song that is driven by Jobson’s piano, with the added bonus of well-arranged strings from The Westwood String Quartet. It was a risk to put twelve minutes of slower material together, but Malaya has the vocal chops to keep things interesting, and she does not disappoint.

From there, the band works their way through soul (“Soul Come Back”), gospel (“I Have Arrived”), rock with a Bo Diddley beat (“Share the Love”), and a fan favorite from her live shows (“Hope”). Before the listener knows it, almost an hour has gone by and the set draws to a close with “Soul Come Back.” This emotional song of longing features producer Paul Long on piano, and one last chance for the string quartet to help make the mood. What a neat way to end the album!

Heartsick is a very slick album, with solid original songwriting, good musicians, and high production values. It should be no surprise that Malaya Blue now has two winning projects for her CV as she has worked very hard to get to this point. Malaya has been getting the word out too, having appeared at numerous gigs and festivals over the past year and promoting her music on the air. Hopefully there will be an update to the gig page on her website soon, as this kind of music translates well to the stage and it would be great for her fans to have the opportunity to see her live show.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 7 

terrie odabi cd imageTerrie Odabi – My Blue Soul

Self Release

www.reverbnation.com/terrieodabi

13 tracks / 64:50

With its rich cultural history of jazz, rock, and the blues, the San Francisco Bay area launched many artists’ careers and has been a source of so much fantastic music over the years. None other than the late Etta James got her start in the Bay Area, and Oakland’s Terrie Odabi is doing a marvelous job of following in her footsteps. Terrie’s vocal skill and passion translate well to the studio, and her sophomore album, My Blue Soul, has everything going for it.

Terrie worked in the music business for years before releasing her 2014 debut album, Evolution of the Blues. Based on the pure awesomeness of this disc and her amazing performance ability, Odabi earned the right to be the Bay Area representative at International Blues Competition for 2014 and 2015, and both times she made it to the semi-finals. This lady is the real deal, and has earned all of the respect she gets.

My Blue Soul is a labor of love from Terrie, as she wrote eleven of the thirteen tracks, and she poured her soul into recording the vocals. She made all the right moves to make sure this would be a good album, and the first step was bringing in Kid Anderson as the producer and engineer. Anderson knows how to construct a quality blues album, and it surely made his job easier to have Odabi and a crew of more than a dozen top-shelf Bay Area musicians to work with.

The music is excellent, but Terrie’s lyrics are what really make the songs special. They are honest and relevant, drawing on personal and community experiences. The first track, “Gentrification Blues,” is a pointed social statement about folks who move into a neighborhood and then think they have the right to change the existing cultural norms. This fervent message is set to a hopping mixture of blues, funk, gospel, and rock with smoking organ and guitar from Anderson and thumping bass and drums from Kirk Crumpler and Derrick Martin.

“Born to Die” is a 1970s-issue jangly rock and roll revue with a “Foxy Lady” beat and the finely tuned horn section of Nancy Wright, Manny Angel, and Faris Jarrah – these cats are tight! The message here is that no matter what one’s station in life is, the end result is always the same so we should live accordingly. This track is backed up by the jazzy blues of “Life is so Good,” an autobiographical torch song from a woman whose life is good, so that she can’t believe that she’s singing the blues. This song features Terry Hiatt on lead guitar and cool muted trumpet from Angel.

There are a few songs about the difficulties of relationships, but the most uplifting is “When You Love Me,” a song that Odabi wrote to thank her love for his support during the production of this album. This is a barebones blues track with sexy vocals and the sparse instrumental accompaniment of just a pair of guitars manned by Anderson and AJ Crawdaddy. This is the perfect opportunity for listeners to hear Terrie’s voice, and her personality, inflection, and range are truly amazing.

The cover tunes are both neat songs that have special meaning to Terrie. She loves Big Mama Thornton, so “Ball and Chain” is a logical addition to the mix. This piece of straight-up blues is powerfully sung with sweet guitar leads from Kid and tasteful piano from Ken Cook. The other re-do is the traditional, “Wade in the Water,” reinterpreted as a gloriously soulful rhythm and blues tune. This spiritual is has a powerful place in US history, and the lovely backing vocals of Courtney Knott, Lisa Leuschner Anderson, and Niecey Robinson make this modern take complete.

This is an excellent sophomore effort from Terrie Odabi, and it is a testament to what this woman means for the future of blues. This disc is full of poignant songs that are recorded well and appeal to both traditional and modern blues audiences, making it one of the best releases of 2016. and it will be awesome to see what she comes up with next!

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 7 

Mat Walklate & Paolo Fuschi – Kicking Up The Dust

www.walklateandfuschi.com

Self-release

10 songs – 47 minutes

Harpman and singer Mat Walklate met Sicilian guitarist/vocalist Paolo Fuschi in Manchester, England, in 2014. Inspired by the early electric Chicago blues of Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson, as well as the Ska scene of the local Afro-Caribbean community in Manchester, they formed a duo that now gigs regularly around the UK. Their new CD, Kicking Up The Dust, is a pretty fair reflection of their live sound. Recorded live in the studio with no overdubs, the album pays homage to that early Chicago sound, with a hint of Ska rhythms added in, whilst retaining a thoroughly modern energy and punch.

There is only one original track amongst the 10 songs on the disc, but this is not necessarily a criticism. Some of the covers are well-known (Little Milton’s “Ain’t No Big Deal On You”, or Muddy’s “Trouble No More”); others are part of the musical fabric (“Goin’ Down Slow”, or “Money”); and some are delightful finds from the vaults, such as Bobo Jenkins’ “Nothin’ But Love”.

What makes this album so enticing, however, is the unique twist Walklate and Fuschi give to each song. Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Black Cat Bone” is re-imagined as a cross between an early Ska track and a bluesified “Summertime”. Likewise, Chris Kenner’s “Sick And Tired” (previously covered by the likes of Fats Domino, Delbert McClinton, Ronnie Earl and the Little Elmore Reed Blues Band, here re-titled “Oh Babe (Sick And Tired)”) is given an upbeat, choppy Ska-lite rhythm rather than its usual shuffle treatment, which helps to bring the furious lyrics into sharp relief. The track neatly segues into Don Drummond’s 1965 Ska classic, “Man In The Street”, with Walklate’s harp impressively recreating the horn melodies of the original. The duo also nails Derrick Morgan’s 1968 “Fat Man”, giving it some modern attitude. Even the oft over-played “Money” is given a full musical work-over, with only the vocal melody remaining from the majority of other cover versions.

Walklate is a top drawer harp player and Fuschi is a rock solid rhythm guitarist with a choppy style that suggests hints of Wilko Johnson, but with a wonderfully old-fashioned overdriven tone à la Willie Johnson. His lead playing is inventive while never letting the rhythm drop. But it is their interactive chemistry that makes the duo so appealing. There is an apparent inevitability to everything they play, whilst still retaining the essential spark of spontaneity. They are clearly listening closely to what the other is playing and reacting to that playing in the moment – for example, the tremendous solo from Fuschi with subtle yet articulate backing from Walklate in the duo’s original, “Don’t You Know Me”.

Walklate and Fuschi have done a very good job at capturing the live energy and sound of recordings from 60 years ago while still benefiting from modern production techniques. Kicking Up The Dust is a really impressive release and highly recommended. Joyous stuff.

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 Interview – Lazy Lester 

lazy lester photo1When Leslie Johnson a.k.a. Lazy Lester handed the bus driver the added 25 cent fare to go the seven miles from Raines to Crowley, Louisiana, the driver refused his money. “I heard you talkin’ to that guy,” explained the driver. “And this might be your lucky day.”

It was as if that driver knew that Lazy Lester’s conversation on that bus with Lightnin’ Slim was a game changer. Lightnin’ Slim was on his way to a recording session, and Lester wanted to tag along. That fortuitous hookup in 1952 would be Lester’s introduction to Excello Records. And the sound Lester made on percussion, harmonica and vocals would become an integral part of “the Excello sound.”

Lester recorded with Lightnin’ Slim, Slim Harpo, Lonesome Sundown and others on the Excello roster. His own songs “I’m A Lover Not A Fighter,” “I Hear You Knockin’,” and “Sugar Coated Love” ended up being covered by artists as disparate as The Kinks, Freddy Fender, Dave Edmonds, Dwight Yoakam, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Crowley was known as the rice capital of Louisiana100 miles from Baton Rouge. Studio owner Miller was himself a Cajun musician. He had started recording local rhythm and blues records that he distributed through the Excello Records label in Nashville. Excello would hawk Miller’s records through Ernie’s Record Mart, a mail order company that advertised on Nashville’s WLAC, a 50,000-watt AM station that could be heard late at night all over the country.

Lazy Lester immediately recognized Lightnin’ Slim when he saw him on the bus. “I had seen Lightnin’ a few nights before at The Blue Moon, a club in Arlington. Lightnin’ himself left his guys playin,’ and he was gone for a while. So, I got up and played one or two tunes with those guys, and I went back to the bar. Lightnin’ came back, and he didn’t even know I’d played with those guys.

“On the bus going to Raines, I saw Lightnin’ and said, ‘Where ya going?” He said, ‘I’m going out to Crowley and do some recording.’ And we sit there and talked. I didn’t tell him I’d played with his band. I didn’t tell him nothing. Lightnin’ got off the bus in Crowley. So I got off the bus and went on inside, and Lightnin’ had ordered coffee and biscuits. So, I ordered me a cup of coffee and some biscuits.

“So, we got up and walked over to Jay Miller’s that was about two blacks or something like that. Jay Miller was standing in the door, and he said, ‘Well, Lightnin’ you made it.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I made it.’ He said, ‘Who is the fella you got with ya?’ He said, ‘I don’t know. He’s gonna come over and listen to what these recording things’ all about.’ Just like that. He left it just like I told him.

lazy lester photo 2“So Jay said, ‘Well, let’s go see if we can find Wild Bill,’ which was the harmonica player, Wild Bill Phillips, and he lived in Port Arthur. Jay Miller had that big red Cadillac he bought when he wrote “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” (a number one country hit for Kitty Wells). I said, ‘I’ll go out there with ya. I’m not doing anything. I just came to see what this recording stuff is about. I just came to listen.’

“So I bought me a little bottle of wine and stuck it in my pocket and jumped in the car, and we took off. We went out to Port Arthur looking for Wild Bill. Everywhere we went, nobody had seen Wild Bill. We went to Port Arthur, Orange, Beaumont, no Wild Bill ’cause he was a guy that traveled around a lot. He’s a street musician or something like that, but anyway, they didn’t find him. So we came back to Crowley, and J. D. (Jay’s initials) got on the phone and called for Henry Clemons.

“Henry’s mother said, ‘Yeah, he’s gone to Baton Rouge. He’s gonna start college at (Southern) University. I don’t know when he’ll be back.’ Henry was the same one who played “New Orleans Bound” (singing), “I’m going to New Orleans, buy me a mojo hand.” That was Henry Clemons on the harmonica on that, but anyway he was (out of pocket).

“(Miller said,) ‘Well, Lightnin’ you don’t have a harmonica. What are we gonna do?’ I said, ‘I’ll tell you what. I could play better than them (when I was little).’ He looked at me like a cow looking at last year’s calf. He said. ‘What?’ I said, ‘I play better (than them on record).’ He says, ‘Oh, you gotta be kidding.’ I says, ‘I’ll tell ya what. Go get me an A and a G.’

“So, he went and got me an A and a G. He had a brand new Marine Band harmonica, you know, ’cause I had an old beat up B flat in my pocket. They didn’t know nothing about that either, but he went and got it. When he brought the guitar with the harmonica, I reached and got the guitar. He had an old Harmony. I reached and got the guitar and tuned it in D. I was tuning it to the harmonica, and that’s what really blowed his mind.

“He didn’t know what he had. I handed it to Lightnin’ and said, ‘Let me hear what you got,’ and Lightnin’ (scatting) and my harmonica fell in “Sugar Moma, Sugar Moma.” Oh, man! Jay jumped up and said, ‘I’ll be damned. I done drove all over hell in Texas looking for him, and the guy’s right here with me. Why didn’t you tell me?’ I said, ‘You didn’t ask. Let’s record this thing.’

“And we recorded it. We cut it twice. We put two cuts on it. Then, that’s it. So, we did another one, and I didn’t put the harmonica on it. The next one I took the upright with my fingers at the microphone. That was the flip side of that one. So, “Sugar Plumb” and “I’m Grown” whatever it was. He almost crapped his pants when I tuned on the guitar with the harmonica. He had what he wanted right there with him and didn’t know it.

“And that’s what started that. He said, ‘You know what? You should be shot. Everybody was looking for him, and I got him right here with me.”

lazy lester photo 3It would be a couple of years before Miller recorded Lazy Lester as lead singer on his own songs, but from that first day Lester had become the go-to harp man in the studio. “That was me. From that day on in, they called nobody for nobody for the harmonica.” He also was instrumental in improvising an extra-terrestrial form of percussion that became one of Excello’s trademarks that especially inspired the young musicians of the British Invasion.

The height of Excello’s success came with Slim Harpo’s 1966 hit “Baby Scratch My Back.” Lazy Lester claims to have been actively involved in the sessions for that number one single although credits for all the Excello sessions were rarely written down and differ from source to source. Lester say, ‘“Scratch My Back’ was a thing that came up in Slim Harpo’s mind. He’s a very talented guy, and he had a guy called Bo Melvin and James Johnson was on the guitars on that.

“When he started that thing off, it sounded like it just needed a little something. It had William Bird on the drums, and it had a good beat going. I went and got my percussion box. I got me a conga and put it between my knees. What they call the scrubs. I put that out in front of me, and they had a little drum stick, and I tapped on that. Then, I grabbed me a piece of friction tape, electronic tape, and I taped this penny on my finger. So, I played that – pop, pop. So, he was sitting there looking – said, ‘Ok.’

“He started off again. I started on that conga drum and playing that pop, pop. Everything I did was so stupid until it fits what I did. It fits right in there. So, all that percussion, all that playing on saddle with a drum stick and playing on the side of the wall, all that kind of stuff, that was me.”

Blues renaissance man Dick Waterman likes to say that everyone who becomes obsessed with the blues has an entry point. As a college student in the early ’60s, my entry point was Jimmy Reed’s Live at Carnegie Hall album. In the same way that Frank Sinatra made big band jazz seem so easy and relaxed, Jimmy Reed did it for me in blues. His laconic but raw delivery was a thousand miles from the rock of the British invasion, and yet it seemed to touch the same nerve in me.

If Jimmy Reed was my drug of choice, his style was weed next to Lazy Lester and the other Excello artists’ smack. The Excello sound brazenly boasted a haphazard other worldly production that defied analysis. If the Chess sound with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters was creating a studio sound under the leadership of A&R man Willie Dixon, Jay Miller was doing the same thing with his rural Louisiana sound. Excello was alligators and Spanish moss in heat, whereas Chess and Vee Jay were dusty Delta dirt roads and hollow logs.

No one could figure out where many of these sounds were coming from, especially on percussion, but also in Lazy Lester’s harp playing which was almost as visceral and evocative as Hendrix would later be on guitar. And it all rocked with a primal scream that was way more dangerous and real than the punk movement or death metal decades later. When Lazy Lester rumbles through his 1959 hit “Sugar Coated Love” with its lyric “She’s a real gone baby and I don’t mean maybe, she’s mine,” mothers locked up their daughters.

lazy lester photo 4In the crossover academic white audience of that period, Excello was an acquired taste recognized by few other than young British rockers looking for the creative source to express their angst. One of the tragedies of that reality is that Lazy Lester and the rest of the Excello cadre including Slim Harpo, Lightnin’ Slim, Katie Webster, and Lonesome Sundown were little compensated for their amazingly powerful contributions to a genre that at the time was dismissed by many blues scholars as trash.

Lazy Lester, now 83, is the last major player alive in Miller’s portfolio. At one point in our interview he credited me with knowing more about him than he does himself. I asked him what more he’d like to know about himself, and he shot back, “If I’m ever gonna make any money before I die.” What else, I asked him. He chuckled and said, “Something that you wanted to know but never did get, and you didn’t get it yet.”

That question is why did Lazy Lester leave Excello in 1965 to take on a series of day jobs in road construction. trucking, and lumber jacking for 20 years. “Well,” he said, “I’m gonna see if you get what I get. You can see how close you are.” I told him I thought probably most of the songs that Jay was listed as co-writer on, Lester wrote himself, and he, Miller, basically took what Lester was doing to produce the Excello sound.

“Uh-huh, and the cash,” he said simply, “I wasn’t getting the cash.” And much as he likes Mike Vernon who recorded him on Lazy Lester Rides Again in 1987 for Blues Horizon in England, Lester didn’t get paid for that record either.

And yet, as time goes by, and the Excello Sound’s influence on generations of rockers grows and grows, the value of those early singles multiplies. Lester tells the story of a friend who bid $600 on an original Lazy Lester 78 and lost it to someone willing to pay even more. “He says, ‘Man, you know what? This stuff is worth a fortune.’ If I knew then what I know now, and I could’ve had a place to keep that stuff, I’d be a millionaire. A lot of people don’t realize those little white kids like you as a little youngster was interested in that stuff.”

Lazy Lester says he was Raful Neal’s first guitarist, and he recorded Harp and Soul with Raful’s son Kenny Neal for Alligator in 1988. He recorded two CDs at Antoine’s in Austin “in the late 90s and early 2000s” in sessions that included his “Blues Stop Knockin’” and “All Over You,” but he says the company went out of business before they were released.” Wikipedia credits him with a 2002 Boston Blues Society Lifetime Achievement Award, and he appears on the 2003 Martin Scorsese Lightning in a Bottle CD and DVD with B. B. King, Solomon Burke, Clarence Gatemouth Brown. Buddy Guy, Levon Helm, Chuck D, The Neville Brothers, Dr. John, John Fogerty, and Aerosmith.

He still tours and lives with his girlfriend in California. He incorporates country classics in his current repertoire and once had fellow African American country icon Charlie Pride tell him he should record country, but attitude towards an African American in that game was a hurdle he wasn’t willing to face. “Yeah! I’m gonna be a guinea pig? Beauty is only skin deep, and ugly is to the bone.

“(My lady) was at the laundromat, and so she sees a sign that says ‘white’ and one said ‘colored.’ So she put the white clothes over here and the colored clothes over there. The lady came over and said, ‘Sweetheart, this don’t mean your clothes. This means you’re white, and I’m colored. That’s what it means.’ She got her clothes and walked out of the damn place.”

Visit Lester’s website at: www.lazylester.net.

Interviewer Don Wilcock has been writing about blues for nearly half a century. He wrote Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, the biography that helped Buddy Guy jumpstart his career in 1991. He’s interviewed more than 5000 Blues artists and edited several music magazines including King Biscuit Time.


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Mississippi Valley Blues Sociey – Davenport, IA

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents 2 great shows in the Quad Cities in October.

LAURA RAIN AND THE CAESARS are a powerhouse soul, blues, and r&b quartet, fronted by the dynamic Laura Rain. They will be playing at the Little Brown Jug, 1315 18th Avenue, East Moline, IL on Friday, October 14. The show will start at 8:00 p.m., and the admission cost will be $8, if you are a Mississippi Valley Blues Society member or $10, if you are not a member. Membership applications will be available at the door.

“If blues, soul, and rock can be said to form a triangle, you’ll find HAMILTON LOOMIS right in the center of it” (says Guitar Player Magazine) and you will find Hamilton Loomis and his band at Harley Corin’s, 1708 State Street, Bettendorf, IA on Sunday, October 16 starting at 6:00 p.m. Because of a generous offer from the Hamilton Loomis Band to keep the blues alive in the Quad Cities, this show will be FREE to the public.

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

Crossroads Blues Sociey – Rockford, IL

The Third Friday Fish Fry at the Lyran Club on 4th Avenue in Rockford is on October 21st and features the HooDoo Rhythm Kings from 7 to 10 PM. No cover, open to the public.

Our November lineup begins at All Saints Church in Byron on Sunday the 6th with the teenage ragtime and barrelhouse piano impresario Daniel Souvigny, again from 4 to 6 PM. The Hope and Anchor in Loves Park show is on Saturday the 12th with the great Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys! TheLyran Club Fish Fry on Friday the 18th features Ron Holm and his Roy Orbison Tribute Show! November is going to be a lot of fun, too!

December features Dan Phelps at All Saints Church on December 4th. The Jimmys return to the Hope and Anchor for the December 10th show which will also be Crossroads Annual Christmas Party with a gag record exchange! December 16th we feature Dave Fields from NYC to do some Blues in the Schools and an evening show at the Lyran Club Fish Fry! Our big and special treat for December is the amazing Duke Robillard, who will be at the Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center in Rockford on Thursday, December 8th starting at 7 PM. Advanced tickets are $15 and entry at the door is $20. The Mendelssohn PAC is located at 406 North Main Street in Rockford, IL. Tickets and information are available at www.crossroadsbluessociety.com!

The Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

This Sunday, October 16 at 6:00 PM, The Central Iowa Blues Society presents Samantha Fish at Lefty’s Live Music – 2307 University Ave – Des Moines!

Opening act is sister, Amanda Fish who took first place in the Kansas City Blues Society challenge.

$20 cover / $15 advance tix at www.cibs.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. October 10 – Joe Metzka, October 17 – Laura Rain, October 24 – The 24th Street Wailers, October 31 – Big Jon Atkinson & Alabama Mike. 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. 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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P.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555 © 2016 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425

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