Issue 10-50 December 22, 2016

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2016


 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Piedmont harmonica wizard Phil Wiggins. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne, Lisa Mann, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Royal Southern Brotherhood, Gabriel Cox, The Incorruptibles, Kingdom Brothers and Jake Calypso and Archie Lee Hooker.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

kenny blues boss wayne cd imageKenny “Blues Boss” Wayne – Jumpin’ & Boppin’

Stony Plain Records

www.kennybluesboss.com

13 tracks/45 minutes

Born in Spokane, Washington, schooled and trained in New Orleans and now based in British Columbia, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne flamboyantly jumps and bops through this fine new swing recording on Canada’s Stony Plain Records. Featuring the great Duke Robillard on guitar along with Russell Jackson on bass, Charlie Jacobson on guitar, Joey DiMarco on drums, Sherman Ducette on harp, and Dave Babcock on sax, this is a fine ensemble of players backing this great keyboard player and vocalist.

This is Kenny’s third outing on Stony Plain and his tenth overall recording. He has self produced this one and the last and he’s done a fine job with both of them. Duke Robillard adds a lot with his guitar work and the talents of all the musicians really shine brightly.

The album opens with “Blues Boss Shuffle,” a sweet instrumental where everyone gets a chance to impress the listener. Wayne’s piano, Babcock’s sax and Robillard’s guitar offer up well done solos. “Bankrupted Blues” follows, a tune about losing jobs, cars and homes. It’s a sign of the times and the band gives us a great performance. Robillard has an extended solo that was cool. “Jumpin’ & Boppin’ With Joy” is a high energy cut with frantic vocal that Wayne does a good job with. Robillard comes in for a swinging solo then Wayne takes over on the keys. “Blues Stew” slows things down and offers a bit of a respite. Wayne paces things out nicely as he let’s the piano take the lead in this more thoughtful cut.

“You Don’t Know Me,” the albums’ lone cover, is a fine slow blues with some great sax accompanying the vocals. This is very smooth and sultry stuff. “Blackmail Blues” is a swinging mid tempo piece with guitar, organ and piano up front leading the charge. Evenly paced, it’s an interesting number. The boys jump and jive with “Look Out! There’s A Train Coming.” Horns and keys trade licks and Robillard’s smooth guitar gives this one a fantastic feel. “I Need Your Lovin’” continues in that vein with the organ laying out a groove and a nice piano solo and later guitar solo to spice things up. “Ciao, Ciao Baby” slows things down a tad as Wayne sways though this one nicely on vocals. The saxes and guitar add a nice dimension again; Robillard offers a prolonged solo that was quite nice.

Slow blues return with “Back To Square One.” Thoughtful piano and guitar work well together to open this one. Wayne comes in on vocals and struts his stuff and then Robillard offers another keenly smooth solo. Harp opens “I’m Comin’ Home” and the band lays it on in this jump cut. The harp blows sweetly for it’s solo and maintains a steady groove throughout. “Rock, Rock Little Girl” features some big boogie woogie piano, sax and guitar in this rocking number. Kenny testifies to us in this 50’s style rocking jump blues with a rocking guitar solo. The CD closes with “Boogie To Gloryland,” a keen instrumental that Wayne drives from the piano bench. It’s a whirlwind ride up and down the 88 keys as he does an impressive job on this boogie tune.

This is a fine jump blues album with some great new songs. Wayne, Robillard and friends do a dynamite job and offer up some outstanding work on this album. The interplay and balance is sublime and fun. I thoroughly enjoyed this CD!

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 8 

lisa mann cd imageLisa Mann – Hard Times, Bad Decisions

Jay Ray Records

www.lisamannmusic.com

12 tracks/45 minutes

Lisa Mann’s fourth CD is a driving album of what she and her publicist call, “Tough girl blues.” This is a driving and gritty album of rocking stuff featuring Mann on vocals and bass, Jason JT Thomas on guitar, Michael Ballish on drums and Brian Harris on keys. A plethora of guest artists appear and add nice depth and substance to the CD. Born in West Virginia, Mann now calls Portland, Oregon home.

The CD opens with the title track. Mann offers up a big and breathy vocal here as she belts out the lyrics. Thomas offers a big guitar solo then Harris comes in on keys as the band rocks through this one. Andy Stokes joins Mann for a duet on the next cut, “Two Halves Of One Broken Heart.” It’s sort of a country rock ballad with a bluesy tinge. Louis Pain is on organ and Renato Caranto blows some nice, mean sax. “Certain Kinda Man” is a bluesy ballad that Lisa sells with some nice vocal work and Harris’ keys. “I Go Zoom” features some nice boogie woogie piano by Alex Shakeri, a mid tempo beat and well done vocals. The guitar solo by Sonny Hess adds nicely to the mix, too. “Doghouse” is very uptempo and fun cut where Mann tells us where her man is going to be relegated to. “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” is a cool slow blues that Lisa projects and belts out quite well.

“Ain’t Nunna Yo Bizness” is a gospelly sort of cut where Mann testifies that her business is nothing for others to worry about. Once again she belts this out along with Steve Kern on Piano, Chris Mercer on sax, Stan Bock on trombone and Joe McCarthy on trumpet. This one jumps and swings sweetly- one of my favorite cuts! Kirk Fletcher makes a guest appearance on guitar for “My Father’s House” where Mann testifies to us again. Another fine effort with a well done guitar solo and great support throughout. Following that is “You Need A Woman,” a jump blues that swings and jives bouncily. Good vocal work, more good piano by Shakeri and a good guitar solo make this a good little cut. “Play It All The Way” is a driving blues country rocker that has tons of energy exuding from it. “I Love You All The Time” is another country rocking sort of cut with the regular band doing fine piano and guitar solos. To close the album Mann brings in Ben Rice on resonator to dirty things up completely. Vinny Appice plays drums as Lisa grinds and grunts out a set of gritty lyrics.

Mann’s vocals are well done throughout- she’s really developed into a singer with a an edge to her approach. I liked that a lot. She’s assembled a bunch of great musicians to support her and in each case she is able to pull off the flavor and approach that she intends with each of the cuts. The songs are well written and constructed; she’s done a nice job there, too. If you like blues rock with an occasional country tang I think you’ll enjoy this.

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 – 3 of 8 

jimmy duck holmes cd imageJimmy “Duck” Holmes – It Is What It Is

Blue Front Records

9 tracks/46 minutes

Bentonia blues are a style of the blues born in a tiny town in Mississippi. Skip James was the first famed artist who used that distinctive open-E minor chord tuning. Jack Owens continued that style and now Jimmy “Duck” Holmes continues in the Bentonia school of music style. Throbbing rhythms and moaning vocals are not every listener’s cup of tea, but it is a cool and primal sort of sound that grabs you and does not let go.

The traditional “Buddy Brown” opens the album. Things starts off with a heavy solo cut where Holmes plays a heavy RL Burnside style throbbing, hypnotic guitar and testifies to us vocally. Following that is “Pencil and Paper,” another rhythmic beat with some nice guitar picking and percussive slapping/tapping that carry the tune. The vocals tell a story of wanting to get in touch with his woman- he’s got no phone and wants to just drop her one or two lines. Holmes blows a little harp here, too. Next is “Love Alone” where Holmes tells us love alone won’t do in life. The acoustic guitars’ simplicity and his howling lyric match up well. “Evil” is another traditional cut and Holmes gives it his all in that minimal approach he takes with songs. Evil has taken his woman and wrecked his life and now it’s about to take his wife. Holmes blows some more guttural harp here as he strums out the rhythm.

“It Had to Be the Devil” is the third and final traditional cut. Holmes uses his electric guitar and lots of distortion here as he groans and shouts out the lyrics. “So Glad” returns to the brighter acoustic sound as Holmes belts out the simple but effective lyrics. “Slow Down” takes the tempo way down as Holmes moans for us once again as he tells his girl she’s moving too fast and that she needs to change her ways. He finishes with “It Was What It Was,” a song where Holmes sings about longing for freedom.

Six originals and three traditional tunes are what is offered. Dick Waterman wrote the liner notes and books Holmes. Produced Michael Schulze runs the record label and tells us in his notes inside the cover that he’s working to preserve this music. Henry Stuckey created Bentonia Blues and never got recorded. Schulze wants to capture this raw and primitive music for us and recorded the songs in the Blue Front Café, an old juke joint. Trains, ceiling fans and other noises move in and out of the recording, adding a charm and authenticity to the music. The place was home to Stuckey, Skip James and the other Bentonia bluesmen and serves as a great canvas to capture this music.

I will warn the unwary listener that this may not be your style of music. The music is simplistic yet complex. It is repetitive yet flowing. It brings us to a period and place where perhaps time has stopped and we get to sample music in a form as it was one hundred or more years ago. You may not like the dissonance. You may not like the other worldly-ness. But then again, it may just seduce you and make you want some more.

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 – 4 of 8 

royal southern brotherhood cd imageRoyal Southern Brotherhood – The Royal Gospel

Ruf Records

www.royalsouthernbrotherhood.com

12 tracks – 54:48 Running time

Despite replacing founding members Mike Zito and Devon Allman, as well as bassist Charlie Wooten, Royal Southern Brotherhood continues to consistently wade at their high water mark on the band’s fourth release since their inception in 2012.

A major strength of this project is the strong interfusion of Blues, Rock Funk and Gospel. The band continues to flourish with an undiminished pulse. The double-pronged guitar attack continues with Tyrone Vaughan replacing Devon Allman and Bart Walker replacing Mike Zito. Vaughan is the son of Jimmie and the nephew of Stevie Ray.

Bart Walker slid into the shoes of Mike Zito on the October 2014 Blues Cruise as Zito was transitioning into a new career phase. Darryl Phillips has replaced Charlie Wooten on bass. Rounding out the new incarnation is New Orleans Uptown stalwart Norman Caesar on Hammond B3. That said, the original lineup comprised components of three very formidable family bands; The Neville Brothers, The Allman Brothers and The Derek Trucks Band. The bloodlines of the brotherhood run deep. The torch has now been passed and like triumpant precision sprinters in a relay race, the results are golden.

This album is a burner. How can it not be? From the opening track, the smoldering “Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire,” the heat scintillates through twelve tracks of unbridled Funk, Soul,Gospel, Blues and Rock.

Standout tracks include track # 1, “Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire.” It is a loping excursion into Funk/Rock dynamics. Bassist Darrell Phillips and rhythm guitar, underpin Yonrico Scott’s surging backbeat against a searing lead guitar. Bowie-ish in its effect, (David, not Lester), it foretells what’s in store, specifically on this album and life in general.

Track # 3, “Blood Is Thicker Than Water,” is an anthemic ode to the sanctity of family and the value of absolute truth. Witness vocalist Cyril Neville break the band down to bass and drums at the bridge and build it back up one guitar at a time.

Track # 11 is quirky, cool and funky. Spot on background vocal harmonies and dual lead vocals, this band yields many different looks including this one reminiscent of the Meters.

Grab some headphones and enjoy Bart Walker & Tyrone Vaughan trading right and left channel licks on “Stand Up” as the band tags it out with the Holy Ghost Bounce. As a matter of fact, the intricacies of left channel, right channel instrumentation and interplay can best be enjoyed by a headset. But you already know that. Go ahead and enjoy the whole album that way. Socially conscious lyrics abound.

Despite the informative liner notes, the listener is forced to rely on his auditory detective skills to determine which guitarist is playing lead and when. Ditto for the lead vocals though most of them are by Cyril Neville.

In a testament to the tenacity of Royal Southern Brotherhood’s, The Royal Gospel, it debuted in June of 2016 at number 21 on the Roots Music Report Blues Album Chart. It climbed to number 1 on August 7th, slipped to number 2 briefly, then surged back to numero uno on August 20th for five more consecutive weeks. As of the week of December 17th, 2016 it was still holding firm at number 14.

CyberSoulMan Tee Watts is music director at KPFZ 88.1 fm in Lakeport, California. His radio show, The CyberSoulMan Review airs Tuesday afternoons from 3-5 PST. He is road manager for Sugar Pie DeSanto, the last Queen standing from the glory years of Chess Records.


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

gabriel cox cd imageGabriel Cox – I Surrender

Self-produced CD

13 songs – 58 minutes

www.gabrielcoxmusic.com

Gabriel Cox is a gifted singer, songwriter and guitarist who delivers a dose of blues-based rock that touches on soul, funk and pop, too, as this CD clearly demonstrates.

Based out of Portland, Ore., and a two-time nominee for the Cascade Music Association’s Muddy Award, Cox has his sights on a bigger target this time. I Surrender was selected to represent the Cascade Blues Association of Portland as part of the Blues Foundation’s “Best Self-Produced CD of 2016 competition” at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis TN.

A collection of 12 originals and one cover, the CD was two years in the making and a follow-up to his 2014 eponymous debut release. It includes contributions from several prominent musicians from the Pacific Northwest, where Cox tours and often headlines at festivals.

Holding down the rhythm section are Jarred Venti on bass and Derek Jones on drums. They’re joined by Nathan Olsen on keys, Hank Shreve on harmonica and Brandon Logan on guitar with Jason Carter providing additional percussion. Rounding out the sound are vocalists Miranda Vettrus, who doubles on lead for one cut, Rae Gordon, John Pulvers and Mark Cox.

A funky handclap and humming chorus introduces the first cut “Willie Brown II,” the video for which has received more than 50,000 views on Cox’s Facebook page. It’s a powerful, but simple modern field holler with strong gospel overtones about “seeing angels without their Heaven and hearing music without a sound.” It picks up intensity as it progresses. Gabriel’s voice is clear and strong.

Cox puts his guitar talents on display for the intro to “Best That I Can,” a syncopated request for a lover to be a friend and fan as he promises to do whatever it takes to succeed while always watching her back. “Fever” is a balls-to-the-wall rocker about giving a lusty lass the cure she desires. “Pretty Little Lady” follows atop a medium-fast shuffle with Shreve featured on harp. She’s a devil and an angel who cries to get her own way.

The pace changes dramatically for “The Railman,” which lasts only 47-seconds, but flows effortlessly into “Still The Man,” a boast about being a good lover that’s laid atop a simple, strong and steady guitar hook. The bluesy rockers “I Can’t Take This” and “I’m Gone” precede “Your Touch,” a love song with an interesting guitar hook that starts subdued but picks up steam as it progresses.

An updated cover of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen” follows before Vettrus shares the mike for the duet “This Love.” It’s a sultry, slow blues that’s introduced with a tension-building, unhurried guitar solo and speaks about overcoming difficulties that relationships endure. Olsen’s sweet solo on the 88s provides a nice mid-tune break. “Boy In Blue” follows before the seven-plus-minute title tune, “I Surrender,” a bittersweet ballad that deals with regret about past mistakes in a relationship, brings the disc to a close.

Available through Amazon or direct from the artist’s website (address above), I Surrender is definitely worth a listen. The production is first-rate, and Cox’s material remains fresh and original throughout.

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 – 6 of 8 

the incorruptibles cd imageThe Incorruptibles – Leave It At The Door

www.theincorruptiblesband.com

Self release

14 songs – 42 minutes

The Incorruptibles are three piece band based out of Milwaukee, WI and Leave It At The Door is their debut album, containing 14 original tracks of toe-tappingly irresistible rockabilly and blues.

Opening with the eponymous title track, the music explodes out of the speakers with a joyous confidence and a smile as big as Montana, while the rhythm section of Bill Siebert on drums and Amy Ashby on upright bass lay down a seriously swinging foundation for Jimmy McCarthy’s voice and guitar. Ostensibly about a club where you can “take that jive and leave it at the door” and escape from your day-to-day problems, McCarthy’s lyrics demonstrate a sharp intelligence: “Her day’s been going down the tubes like all the rest; the bossman’s chasing her all round and round his desk. And when the day is done, she faces one more test – at home, the old man, he’s a sorry mess.”

“Leave It At The Door” is swiftly followed by the shuffle of “Crazy Kind”, which benefits from guest Leroy Deuster’s wild pedal steel. Ashby takes the lead vocals on “Crazy Kind” and McCarthy and Ashby alternate responsibility for singing throughout the album (as well as sharing all the song writing credits). The two lead singers have differing but complementary styles, which helps to add to the balance of the album.

The majority of the tracks on Leave It At The Door are upbeat and made for dancing, from the traditional rockabilly of “Is That So Wrong (How Was I To Know)” and the blues shuffle of “That Will Never Do” to the roots-pop of “Laugh Out Loud”. This latter song, together with “White Alligator Shoes” (with its glorious chorus of “She’s a hussy in white alligator… a hussy in white alligator… a hussy in white alligator… she’s the talk of the town in her white alligator shoes”), comprised the band’s first single in May 2014 and both tracks are featured on Leave It At The Door. “Nothin’ But The Blues” has an early rock’n’roll feel while “Just The Way You Want Me To” has a slightly funk/soul edge with a lovely solo from McCarthy. The closing track, “Estoy Borracho”, essentially an instrumental with the title words uttered at irregular intervals, has hints of the music from south of the border and is played like the band were really channeling the song’s title.

As one might expect from a three-piece, McCarthy takes the vast majority of the leads(the only non-McCarthy solos are Deuster’s pedal steel on “Crazy Kind” and Andrew Spadafora’s roaring sax on “Devil In Her Eyes), playing short, punchy-yet-melodic solos with a notable range of tones and effects. But The Incorruptibles are all about the band. Ashby’s righteous upright bass playing on tracks like “Lowdown And Dirty” or the swinging instrumental, “Come Hell Or High Water”, is an object lesson in how that instrument should be approached while Siebert’s drumming is subtle yet musical throughout.

With sparkling production by Steve Hamilton, the band successfully treads the fine line between sounding utterly confident in their material whilst still capturing that key element of excitement that makes the music come alive.

Leave It At The Door is an extremely impressive and enjoyable debut from The Incorruptibles. Great 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 Review – 7 of 8 

kingdom brothers cd imageKingdom Brothers – Times Hard

Groove Ready Records

12 songs – 52 minutes

http://kingdombrothersband.com

With a sound that’s halfway between the Holmes Brothers and the Phantom Blues Band, the Kingdom Brothers are a five-piece unit out of St. Louis that simply smoke with a traditional, yet totally modern electric sound.

Formed by bass player Bob Walther in 2005 in an attempt to provide something different in the music rich shadows of the Gateway Arch, the Kingdoms sound is rooted in Albert King, Muddy Waters and Otis Rush, but infused with a strong dose of the gospel harmonies of the Dixie Hummingbirds and Blind Boys Of Alabama.

Fronting the group are vocalists Chris Shepherd, who handles rhythm guitar duties, and keyboard player Stan Gill. Ron Roskowske holds down lead and slide guitar responsibilities, and Joe Warmbrodt handles percussion. They’re augmented here by the Dogtown Horns – Richard Zempel on tenor sax, Kevin Rauscher on trumpet and Joh Covelli on trombone – and the Kingdom Sisters – a chorus comprised of Pam Camp, Linsey Morgan, Beth Tuttle and Pam Warmbrodt.

A follow-up to the band’s 2008 release, Shine A Light, and partially funded by an Indiegogo campaign, this CD features material that’s original and uplifting as it deals with matters that affect the life of everyone. If you’d been fortunate to visit the new National Blues Museum in St. Louis, this album plays regularly in the background. And the title cut, “Times Hard”, is featured in the movie “Cronies,” one of three films produced by Academy Award winning director Spike Lee in 2015.

The album kicks off with “The Blues Don’t Have To Be Sad,” a tune that puts into words what every fan of the music knows but outsiders sometimes often can’t comprehend. It’s a sprightly shuffle fueled by Gill and accented with a catchy guitar hook. “It Won’t Be Me” features Roskowske’s stellar picking on a relaxed blues that serves as a response to a lady who’s in search of someone to be her fool.

The feel continues for “Not Gonna Worry,” about life’s pitfalls, before things heat up with the cautionary fast shuffle, “Reap What You Sow.” The slow blues “Little Things” offers an aural break as it delivers a bittersweet apology for the many small lies in a relationship that add up to hurt like hell. The horns come to the fore in “Come Back,” a suggestion to return to your first love when things were good.

“Better Man” is the realization of someone who finally understands he could have done much more with his life, while “Doin’ What You Want” is a slow, steady funk that asks why a woman’s treating her man so bad. The rocker “All I Want” sings the virtue of not being a one-night stand before Roskowske’s slide guitar burns for “Tell The World,” offers praise for spiritual lessons from above. The instrumental “Gateway Shuffle” concludes the set.

Available from Amazon or other online marketers, Times Hard is a warm-feeling toe-tapper from beginning to end. Strongly recommended and hard to put down.

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 – 8 of 8 

jake calypso archie lee hooker cd imageJake Calypso and Archie Lee Hooker – Vance, Mississippi…

Chickens Records

18 songs – 53 minutes

www.jakecalypso.com

www.archieleehooker.com

If you’ve ever had doubt about the blues coming full circle as its traveled the globe, you can put them to rest with the release of this interesting acoustic album that pairs artists who grew up in lifestyles and cultures a world apart.

Born in northern France in the mid-‘60s, guitarist, vocalist and radio show host Jake Calypso has an extensive background as an artist in Europe, while vocalist Archie Lee Hooker was born in the Delta and has lived in Memphis and California. Together, their Vance, Mississippi… release on Calypso’s label captures the spirit of the plantation 100 years ago as it effortlessly delivers a full set of country blues.

Calypso’s career began as a teenager with The Corals, a rockabilly unit with one release on the Belgian Mac label. He recorded one single under the name Teddy Best before founding Mystery Train, a popular blues ensemble with several pressings in the Netherlands. More than 1,000 gigs and three CDs followed with the trio Hot Chickens before Jake reinvented himself into his current persona, honoring his grandson by adopting his given name as his professional surname.

Archie, meanwhile, began his career as a member of The Marvellous Five, a gospel quintet that worked from Memphis to New Orleans. He’s a nephew of the legendary John Lee Hooker, who schooled him in the blues and often shared the stage with him on the West Coast. He’s released five previous albums under his own name and toured internationally with Carl Wyatt And The Rhythm Kings. Since 2011, he’s fronted his own group, Archie Lee Hooker And The Coast To Coast Blues Band – with bandmates from Luxembourg, Brazil and France.

Recorded both in Europe and the Bluff City, this all-original release is fresh but imbued with the spirit, melancholy and subject matter of the past. The instrumentation features only the two guitarists accompanied by The Boogie Combo — Ruine B on harmonica and Terry Reilles on drums – along with guest shots by harp player Sonny Mat D and guitarists/backing vocalists Manu Slide and Little Legs, all of whom make brief appearances.

The title cut “Vance, Mississippi” kicks off the action atop a circular harp riff and steady guitar pattern with Calypso describing a visit to the town and Hooker noting that he and dozens of other blues artists had grown up in the vicinity. Archie sings about his father in “Juke House Man” before describing his love for a white woman in “Louise Blues,” a tragedy because his own brother tried to kill her and also murdered their parents, too.

In the sprightly shuffle “Blues Inside Me,” Hooker’s father runs off with another woman, leaving the family without a crumb to eat. Calypso’s “Rose Hill Blues” describes a freed man who’s finally able to buy the woman he loves out of slavery. The price: A world of pain and $2. A percussive tempo powers “Blues & Trouble” before Calypso uses octave jumps to deliver “Hey Barber, Barber!” accompanied by harp, handclaps and rhythmic strumming.

The pace slows dramatically for “Blues In My Bones” before a military drumbeat drives “Rain, Rain, Rain.” Next up, “Ruine B Boogie,” a brief instrumental composed by the harp player, is the only tune in the set not written by the headliners. “No Good Woman,” “John Wood Choppin’” and “My Shoes” follow before the final five cuts — “Did You Stop Loving Me Baby,” “I’ve Played Boogie In Your Garden Man,” “Get A Job Man,” “Without One Million” and “Take Your Time Lord,” recorded at home by Jake accompanied by his family — bonus tracks previously released on a vinyl EP.

Richly annotated, it’s available through Bear Family and other online retailers.

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 – Phil Wiggins 

phil wiggins pic 1“One thing that I’ve been feeling lately is that the music (I play) is presented as celebration more than a concert or entertainment,” says harmonica player Phil Wiggins. “Everybody who is present takes part in it. Everyone that’s in the room is part of it, and they’re enjoying it, but they’re also experiencing it and carrying it on and learning from it.”

Phil Wiggins for 30 years partnered with John Cephas in a duo that Alligator CEO Bruce Iglauer called “the greatest purveyors of Piedmont blues” referring to Wiggins’ style as “rollercoaster harmonica.” The liner notes to Cephas and Wiggins’ 1994 Sweet Bitter Blues album describe the genre as “under-recorded and under-researched” and “shortchanged by scholars, critics, record producers and the general public.”

The Piedmont style is lilting and sweeter than Delta blues some say because of the better treatment of slaves prior to the Civil War on the more productive farms with richer soil in the Piedmont plateau region including Virginia, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky vs. the more Spartan conditions in Mississippi and Arkansas.

The alternating thumb and fingerpicking guitar style incorporating string band and ragtime influences made artists like The Rev. Gary Davis, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, and Josh White popular in the folk music community of the late ’50s and early ’60s, but the style was eclipsed by the late ’60s when Delta blues was electrified into Chicago blues by artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker and picked up by rock guitarists of the British Invasion.

In the face of declining interest from young blues fans who were plugging in, Cephas and Wiggins between 1972 until Cephas’ death in 2009 grew to become the most prominent exponents of the Piedmont style. Cephas played guitar and sang both originals and folk/blues standards like “John Henry” and “Key to The Highway,” while Wiggins played harmonica in their telepathic musical collaboration. Both came out of Washington D.C. Cephas was 30 years Wiggins’ senior, and when they started performing together, Wiggins was a self-described “joker in raggedy jeans and a huge Afro.”

Cephas had grown up in a segregated neighborhood in D.C. and held day jobs as a carpenter and Atlantic fisherman while Wiggins was an upper middle class stepson of an Army officer who moved his family from Washington D.C. to Germany for four years. Phil Wiggins returned from overseas as a teenager to live in Gum Springs, a Virginia suburb where the only African American kids in his school were descendants of George Washington’s slaves.

“I clashed with living in the suburbs,” says Wiggins, “especially living in Northern Virginia. I always think of what Billie Holiday talked about. She always talked about border towns as opposed to the deep south. She said something to the effect that in the border towns the people are really trying hard to prove that they are in the south. So, it was harder. To this day I don’t like northern Virginia. That was the clash for me (as opposed to Washington D.C.) I mean I was always being harassed by the cops, being – what do you call it – marginalized in school. That whole thing to me was like a struggle.

“The principal or the counselor I guess it was said to my mother, ‘Your daughter and your son have signed up for college preparatory classes,’ and my mother said, ‘Yeah, and the problem with that is?’ The direct quote from that woman was, ‘Most of our colored students are not college material.’

phil wiggins pic 2“Most of the black kids after lunch were bussed to vocational school. I don’t know what that was like. I often now think that maybe it would have been a good idea for me to have gotten on that bus and actually learned a skill because it’s kind of been a struggle being a musician and not really having any other marketable skills.”

Wiggins’ earliest musical influence was the church. In Washington D.C. he attended an AME African Methodist Episcopal Church. “Those folks don’t have good music,” says Wiggins flatly. “It was very much like a classical approach to music rather than what I consider to be more of a gospel. I think of “Ave Maria” and someone standing up in the pulpit with their hands clasped together in front of her and singing some opera. That’s what I think of when I think of the AME Church.”

But his grandmother’s Liberty Baptist Church in Titusville, Alabama, was completely different. “Those people just put their heart and their soul and their foot in it. It was powerful, powerful music. On Sunday, the church rocked, but I think the thing that influenced me the most is the prayer meetings that would be on a Wednesday or Thursday night, and it would just be the elderly women of the church that would get together and sing prayers and praises (a cappella) which was kind of call and response kind of thing.

“To me it had a much stronger African influence to it and definitely what I consider a blues feel to it. It was just like pure emotion and at the same time it seems like when people are praising God, whatever that means to them, the act itself gets driven to the highest types because they’re trying to connect with the highest being in my grandmother’s church. There was so much power. I mean, for me that captured my imagination. And I wasn’t inside the same room. I was waiting outside the church for my grandmother to come out and so I was captivated by that.”

Wiggins’ first specific mentor was a blind sanctified minister Flora Molton whom he met when he was 17. “She considered her ministry to be on the streets of Washington D.C. when she played her music on the corner right in front of Woodward Lathrop Department Store. When she first set up on that corner, the police would harass her, and they would make her go away, and she said she would go home and pray over it, and then come back the next day. Her faith gave her the strength to just keep doing what she’s doing.

“She wasn’t proselytizing. She was singing songs. She sang two types of songs, gospel songs and what she called truth songs. She was a great songwriter, and she wrote songs that gave people advice on how to navigate through life. She called those truth songs. I mean they were really great songs, and that’s what she did. She sang those songs, but then people would stop and talk to her and tell her the troubles they were going through or tell her about their families and stuff, she would have conversations with people. She had a cup on the end of her guitar (for donations).

“I never went to Flora’s church, but it was funny because we had been playing together for a little while, and these people from the Public Television channel in Washington were doing a documentary about Flora. So, they went with us. Flora went to preach at a sanctified church in Baltimore, and they went with her to film this whole thing.

“From the minute you walked in the door, there was this kind of beat up rhythm section, a guy playing guitar, somebody playing the drums. They basically were playing from the minute we walked in, and they never stopped playing, and the minister of the church introduced Flora, and Flora preached a sermon and then the woman who was the minister of the church preached a sermon, and that band had just kept going the whole time. They would hit some rim shots or hit an accent when one of the speakers made a particular point. They just supported the whole thing, but they never stopped playing.

phil wiggins pic 3“Flora was pretty powerful. At the end they were packing up and were looking for the camera man, he was busy joining the church. He’d gotten entranced by that woman’s sermons, and he was ready to join that church.”

The camera man wasn’t African American. To say this was an anomaly is an understatement. “Two of the most segregated institutions that still exist in America is churches and barber shops” says Wiggins flatly. 

Wiggins met John Cephas through Flora when he was 22 accompanying Flora at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. When Cephas and Wiggins got together, it started out like a father-son relationship.

“You know when I met John he was playing in a trio with Chief Ellis and bass player James Bellamy. John lived in D.C. and worked at the National Guard Armory as a carpenter and all, but also he built himself a house in Virginia down between Richmond and Fredericksburg in a place called Bowling Green, Virginia. It was kind of a rural area, and that was where his heart was. He built his own house with his own two hands down there, and he had his garden. He actually built his mother and father a house next to his. They owned a good bit of land down there that they got in that 40 acres and a mule deal (after the Civil War.)

“For some reason I was drawn to that kind of rural life. I’d been a city person and a suburb person and even my grandmother’s neighborhood in Titusville I felt was country because people had goats and chickens in their back yard, but really, Titusville was just kind of a neighborhood on the outskirts of Birmingham. It wasn’t really that rural. But I was kind of drawn to that, you know.

“One of the first times I went to John’s house down in Bowling Green, we had made arrangements to meet at the Chinese restaurant in D.C. and have dinner and then go on down from there. John pulls up in this pickup truck. The back of it is full of elephant s***. I’m like, ‘John, what are you doing?’ He worked at the National Guard Armory, and the circus would come there to the Armory. He made a deal with the elephant guy that he would clean up the elephant s*** if he would let him have it, and he loaded it up, put it in the back of the truck, took it home to Bowling Green and put it in his garden.”

In an interview Wiggins once described the songs he created with Cephas as “urban acoustic music,” a term that hardly would have fit the sounds of their mentors. Wiggins admits he came up with that description as a defense against folklorists and ethnomusicologists who treated Cephas as “this country guy.”

“Born in Washington D.C., he (Cephas) was born in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, and he grew up there, but his family had that land down in Virginia, and they would go there like weekends or whatever, and they would spend time there, but I mean basically John in terms of born and raised was not that different from me.

“It was really important for him to own a piece of land, just to get out of the city. By the time we started playing together, John would always talk about when he was growing up and living in a segregated society. They would have house parties, and people stayed pretty much in their own community. They didn’t venture out much from their own community because in a lot of ways it wasn’t really safe. Especially in the south and in the deep south, it wasn’t really that safe to venture out of your own neighborhoods, so you made your fun in your own community, and that’s what he grew up with.”

Wiggins is way too enmeshed in his own life to see his career as a standard bearer of the Piedmont genre. He has called the music he played with Cephas “urban acoustic music.” He explains, “Music wasn’t like a performance type thing for John. It was like a way of life, and I think that gave it a strength and a beauty that just transcended the categories.”

Cephas’ death in 2009 shattered Phil Wiggins’ world. They’d played together for 30 years, toured the world and became so close that they became one musically. He struggles now to describe in complete sentences how devastating the loss is to him. “In my life so many foundational things are just all of a sudden gone. All these tunes we played together, and I loved to play over the years now I hardly ever play any of them. To this day I’m still dealing with the loss of it.

“I mean I can talk about it in practical ways just at a certain point feeling like although we had so much progress together and in the recent years where it felt like it was pretty much an even partnership. Even though my name came after John’s name, it was definitely as much a part of Cephas and Wiggins as the Cephas part was. At a certain point it really hit me financially and consciously that this is like almost starting over rebuilding a name for myself.”

phil wiggins pic 4“When John first passed there was a bunch of people we still had contracts with that were willing to honor those contracts with other partners,” explains Wiggins. “During that time I did quite a few gigs with Cory Harris. I did some with my local friend here, Rick Franklyn, but those petered out after a while.

“Then it really started hitting me financially and all. It was pretty tight, and at the same time I felt like it opened up doors to doing a lot of different things that I’d been interested in in the past and kind of turned down or shied away from because I was committed to playing with John who in a way was kind of a possessive partner.

“He didn’t really like hearing about me doing stuff with other people, with other musicians and basically between being curious and wanting to do a lot of different things and also wanting to have dates on the calendar in terms of having money coming in, I was just saying yes to whoever rang my phone, and it got me into a lot of crazy things, and lots of things that really stretched me that were fun and also things that I realized, ok, this is not really me.”

Two years ago, Wiggins recorded Owing The Devil A Day’s Work with Dom Turner, a friend from Australia recording as Wiggins and Turner. He started playing with Nat Reise, a musician from West Virginia two years before Cephas’ death when his longtime partner was advised not to play that much. “We did Delta blues, some swing standards, some pop songs and some torch songs. He passed away a couple of months after John.”

“Nat came up in that era of going around and playing the coal camps that at that time were kind of segregated. There was the black camp, and then there was the Polish camp, and there was the Italian camp, and then there was the camp they called the natives which was kind of the Appalachian hillbillies and he would go from camp to camp playing.”

He also has done gigs with Martin, Bogan and Armstrong in that period performing a repertoire of everything from Duke Ellington and Louie Jordan to Hawaiian songs. Howard Armstrong speaks five languages and does songs in Italian.

“I’m collaborating on a book about the acoustic blues scene in Washington D.C. from right around 1975 to basically the present with a good friend of mine, Frank Matheis.” It’s titled Sweet Bitter Blues named after the title cut of Cephas and Wiggins’ 1994 CD on Evidence Records mentioned at the beginning of this article.

From January 29th through February 5, Wiggins is performing in Great Britain with Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons who took first place in the 2016 Blues Foundation International Blues Challenge. They describe their music as a “swirling musical whirlpool of pre-war American vintage music.”

“Just about every note of music I’ve ever played in my life has been dance music,” concludes Wiggins,” and if you look at all this music that I love, and that I play, that’s the thing that ties the Piedmont, The Mississippi Sheiks, and Martin, Bogan and Armstrong all together. These are people that I “steal” from and it’s all been dance music. If we can dance together, we can live together.”

Visit Phil’s website at: www.philwiggins.com

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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The Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

The Central Iowa Blues Society announces the 2017 Winter Blues Fest Friday, February 10 and Saturday, February 11, 2017 at the Downtown Marriott – 700 Grand Ave in Des Moines, IA featuring sixteen blues acts under one roof out of the cold!

This year’s line-up covers a wide variety of blues styles, featuring Paul “Mayo” Mayasich, Heath Alan and Justin Appel, Brandon Santini, JC Anderson Band, Davina & the Vagabonds, Bare Bones, Dewey Cantrell, Shane Johnson’s Blue Train, Scottie Miller Band, Hot Tamale & the Redhots, MN blues challenge winner- Mark Cameron Band, Omaha blues challenge winner- Tim Budig Band. Plus Rockin Blues’ on Saturday with Jeff Banks Band, Toronzo Cannon and Ronnie Baker Brooks.

Admission Friday $20, Saturday $30, both nights $45, both nights for CIBS members $40. Marriott blues fest room rates – going fast! Friday night 5:00 pm, Saturday 4:00 pm, Guitar Workshop Saturday 1:00 – 3:00 pm. Saturday afternoon free guitar workshop with Piedmont, folk blues guitarist, Andy Cohen. Also Scotty & the Wingtips will perform and also host the After Hours Jam starting at 12:30 am Sunday.

Tickets and additional info at www.cibs.org. Tickets also available at www.midwestix.com.

Southeast Iowa Blues Society – Fairfield, IA

The 6th Annual “Rockin’ in the Blue Year” January 7th, 2017 at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center, Fairfield IA. Kicking things off will be Joe & Vicki Price two of Iowa’s Blues icons, then taking the roof off will be Brandon Santini, one of Blues hottest young gunslingers with the harmonica and more swing than you can stand!

Doors open at 6:30 and the Blues begin at 7pm with Joe & Vicki followed by Brandon at 8pm. Tickets in Advance $15 and SIBS members, $18 Day of Show call (641)-472-2787

For more information go to www.southeastiowabluessociety.org or call (641)-919-7477

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. December 26 – James Armstrong.


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