Issue 11-15 April 13, 2017

Cover photo by Joseph A. Rosen © 2017


 In This Issue 

Bill Dahl has our feature interview with soul legend William Bell.

We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Peter Karp, Tomislav Goluban, The Von Howlers, The Mighty Orq, Slim Butler, Cliff Stevens, Billie Williams and Jim Koeppel.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

peter karp cd imagePeter Karp – Alabama Town

Rose Cottage Records

13 songs – 59 minutes

www.peterkarp.com

Despite being one of the most well-respected songwriters in America as well as a solid slide guitarist, keyboard player and vocalist, too, Peter Karp has always preferred to remain in the background during lengthy partnerships with Canadian singer/guitarist Sue Foley and former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. But it’s going to be hard for him to hide in shadows in the future after release of this album, which blends blues and roots music into one sweet package.

Dedicated to his stepmother, Ruth Turner, who left us late last year, Alabama Town is a welcome follow-up to The Arson’s Match, a nominee for a 2016 Blues Blast Music Award in the best live album category. All proceeds from that release went to ovarian cancer research in honor of his late wife, and much of the material, like the title tune which dealt with losing a home to a firebug, was pretty dark in nature. This new, all-original release is much lighter as Karp sings from the heart about everyday life and the problems it presents.

Born in New Jersey across the bridge from Manhattan, Peter’s first exposure to music came at a very young age when his copywriter mother took him and his sister into New York to experience the Beatles, Stones, James Brown and others. After his parents divorced, his military pilot father resettled in South Alabama with his new bride, a woman of color, and eight-year-old Peter soon joined them. It was there that he learned about the blues, Memphis R&B, country music and more. As he grew, he became increasingly interested in African-American culture, especially that of his new stepmom who hailed from the South Carolina South Sea Islands, where many residents were children of slaves and/or raised in the Gullah tradition.

Karp began his musical career back in New York as a member of They Came From Houses, the seminal art/punk/blues group. The band received critical acclaim, but he began disillusioned with the business side of the industry and took a 10-year break for a career in film and to raise a family. He hooked up with Taylor in 2003, after a deejay sent Mick rough recordings of a few of Peter’s songs. They’ve worked frequently ever since. And his long partnership with Foley has produced several award-winning albums.

Like he did on The Arson’s Match, and Taylor helped record Alabama Town, too, joining what truly is an all-star lineup. It includes accordionist Garth Hudson of The Band, guitarists Paul Carbonara of Blondie and Todd Wolfe, the recording artist who’s a featured part of Sheryl Crowe’s band, and harmonica player Dennis Gruenling, who’s now touring with Nick Moss.

Adding to this mix are Peter’s guitarist son James, mandolin player John Zarra, keyboard players Jim Ehinger, Mike Latrell and Albert Weisman, bassists Daniel Pagdon and Niles Terrat, and percussionists Mike Catapano and Paul “Hernandez” Unsworth. Leanne Westover’s voice is featured on one duet, and Joanie Coleman, Kesha Love, Toni Summler and Elliot provide backing vocals. The album was co-directed and recorded by bassist Dae Bennett, a multi-Grammy winning producer who works with Tony Bennett.

The funky title-cut blues “Alabama Town” kicks off the album atop a sophisticated shuffle as it delivers images collected in the trailer park where Karp spent his youth. The rocker “Till You Got Home” features a flashy keyboard intro as it urges the listener to keep on pushing despite any obstacles in your path, while “That’s How I Like It” is a humerous, harmonica-driven blues that praises naked women, drinking whiskey out of A Dunkin Donuts coffee cup and other freedoms.

The bright, medium-tempo, guitar-powered “Blues In Mind” precedes a ballad “I’m Not Giving Up,” about a couple discussing relationship problems. The finger-picked, country-flavored “Her And My Blues,” an autobiographical view of a songwriter at work, follows before a true country blues, “The Prophet,” about someone who can foresee trouble. “Kiss The Bride” is up next with Westover doubling Peter’s lyrical delivery throughout.

“Nobody Really Knows” comes across with a hint of Memphis and New Orleans as it insists that even though the vocalist loves the woman he’s singing to, neither she nor anyone else truly understands what makes him tick. “Lost Highway” is a thinly veiled description of life with both positive and negative outcomes. A medium-paced rocker “Y’all Be Lookin’” — about the search for romance, “I Walk Alone” – a reflection about a solitary existence despite living a full life, and “Beautiful Girls” – a ballad of loss – bring the album to a close.

Great new tunes and great production combine to produce a CD you’ll love if your taste runs to modern blues laced with a strong dose of Americana. First-rate from beginning to end, and strongly recommended for anyone in search of songs with a familiar feel but new themes.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

tomislav goluban cd imageTomislav Goluban – Kaj Blues Etno

Spona

www.goluban.com

21 Tracks/66:14

A Croatian blues harmonica player, Tomislav Goluban has put together a project that stretches the lines defining blues music, served up with a unique international perspective. Utilizing over forty musicians and vocalists, Goluban is the lone constant as listeners move from track to track. His vision features traditional Zagorje music mixed with elements from other cultures, seasoned with standard blues progressions.

The disc is divided into three segments, with the first titled Kaj for Goluban’s native Kajkavian dialect. It starts with a lively rendition of “Na Zagorskom Bruegu (Down By The Riverside)” that finds the leader’s harp weaving around Aljosa Mutic’s vibrant saxophone playing. The next track, “Vinska Kaplia” has a rolling beat behind Adalbert Turner Juci’s dark vocal. Hana Hegedusic’s smooth voice tempers the mood a bit and Mike Sponza solid slide guitar effort. “Isel Budem V Kleticu” opens with a moving acapella vocal passage before shifting into a country stomp with Marko First on violin leading the way. Juci is back on the traditional tune, “Tebe Rad Iman,” supported by Toni Staresinic on keyboards.

Goluban hits his stride on the Blues segment right from the start. “Cug” is Goluban on harp conjuring up the sound of a train rolling down the track, which carries over to the next track, “Vlak Vozi,” celebrating riding the train in a fine rocking style. Two brief instrumentals, “Traktor” and “Daj Gas,” give him room to blow some full-tone, amplified harp, unaccompanied over a tractor engine on the former while the latter cut also features Sponza one more time.

By the time listeners reach the half way point on this twenty-one track program, hearing the various vocalists singing in the Kajkavian dialect starts to lose its appeal. Part of the joy of listening to music is letting the lyrics paint a picture in your mind – hard to do when you don’t speak the language. “Tambura Boogie” is exactly what you would imagine from the title while “Polako Starim” is another brisk country-influenced number featuring First’s violin and Lovro Sicel on guitar.

The final segment, Etno, opens with “Coper,” an instrumental duet for harp and Danijel Tisanic’s clarinet. “Vrata” adopts a funkier, ska-like tone with the horn section leading the way. The proceedings shift to a New Orleans second line rhythm on “Jebiveter” with the requisite horns, including a tuba. The original, “Crveni Tepih,” has some nice acoustic guitar picking by Damir Halilic Hal along with some wailing harp. “Odlazak U San” has a touch of the Irish as the quiet tune unfolds with a variety of instruments including the double flute and tambura following Damjan Grbac’s thick bass line. Ivana Kurs Podvorec adds her graceful voice to “Zivot Mi Je Kakti Nocka,” a traditional piece reworked by Goluban with Nebojsa Buhin in the spotlight on slide guitar.

Finishing off the disc is a an instrumental version of “Tebe Rad Iman”. Various instruments flow in and out of the arrangement, playing off Goluban’s measured harp tones. It serves a s fitting synopsis for a album that starts off strong with a unique presentation that starts wearing thin as you get deeper into the disc. Artists constantly have to make decisions about the direction and focus of their craft. Goluban is to be commended for utilizing his native language. But that choice may very well limit the market for this project.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

the von howlers cd imageThe Von Howlers – The Von Howlers

Self-Produced

www.thevonhowlers.com

CD: 14 Songs, 35:23 Minutes

Styles: Electric Hard Rock, Thrash Rock

This is NOT a blues album. Make no mistake, genre aficionados: Nary a blue note can be found on the sensually-scorching self-titled debut from four boisterous blokes in Portland. What The Von Howlers have actually done is take riffs that sound like the blues and follow them with blistering electric-guitar compositions that go for volume over melody and lyrical content. The equivalent of fourteen separate atom bombs detonating in one’s ears and consciousness, these fourteen selections have one advantage: they’re all originals. Methinks that this quartet would have done better, and put more effort, into covers that anyone would recognize as blues. Instead, they go all out – and play every instrument to the absolute max – in their real niche: thrash rock.

Who are the Von Howlers? Individually, they’re Danny on drums, Buddy on “vox” (“vocals” is too specific of a descriptor of what he performs here), Eddie on bass, and Sammy on guitar. Eric Rabe guest stars on saxophone for tracks one and five, “8-Ball” and “Mermaid’s Cove.” Some fans I’ve personally known have said that the blues and booze go together: You can’t have one without the other. This band’s music fits both adages to a T. The same goes if one’s drug of choice starts with a “C” and rhymes with “Rogaine.” Indeed, one of the early songs on the album mentions it as a great substance to consume. Awash with references like these and crude sexual ones, the Von Howlers will never be mistaken for so-called “SJW’s” or being politically correct.

In the interests of research, Ms. Wetnight discovered several of the posse’s live performances have been uploaded to YouTube. Drenched in the dizzying glow of flashing spotlights and surrounded by dancing fans, they’re in their element. This is not the kind of blues you’d hear at Buddy Guy’s Legends, or even Chord on Blues in St. Charles, Illinois. This is also not the kind of blues you’d hear in a major feature film. This is the kind of blues you’d hear at the roughest, rowdiest bar you can imagine, coupled with the loudest, most insane PA you can imagine.

With all that said, Constant Readers, what are you really in for here? This, for instance:

Track 10: “Ayudame” – If you don’t listen carefully, you might not realize that the title is Spanish for “Help me!” Having studied that language for seven years, in high school and college, I can definitively tell you that the “u” should have an accent on it. No matter, though. It’s plenty clear here, the desperate cry of a tormented soul facing “skeletons in my closet, monsters under my bed, blood on my hands and the Devil inside my head. I know they all want some. I know they all want some. And they just want to have fun…” Then the four of them scream the title for all they’re worth. WARNING: This song made my cat go crazy. True story.

The Von Howlers certainly aren’t for everyone, but for hard/thrash rockers, they’re perfect!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 37 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

the mighty ork cd imageThe Mighty Orq – Love in a Hurricane

Connor Ray Music

www.mightyorq.com

CD: 12 Songs, 50:40 Minutes

Styles: Roots Rock, Contemporary Electric and Acoustic Blues Rock

On the cover of the seventh CD from Texas’ Mighty Orq, two symbols appear. One is a white heart in the middle of a red cyclone symbol, representing Love in a Hurricane. The other, which is dark gray and harder to see against the black background, is a 45 rpm record adapter, used to put on 45rpm records for use on a record player originally designed for LPs. Together, these two symbols form a perfect picture of the Mighty Orq’s brand of blues: a blend of old and new, retro and current, classic and trendy. Esoteric? Yes. Too philosophical to describe a fantastic roots and blues rock album? No. The difference between mediocre art and great art is that great art inspires us to look beneath the surface to the meaning underlying it.

Who has produced this example of great art? Josh Davidson, known as a standout guitarist and lead vocalist over the last thirteen years. His most recent accolades are making it to the finals of last year’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis (also in 2011), being an IBC regional finalist in 2012, and winning awards for “Best Blues Act” in the 2015 and 2012 Houston Press Awards. When it comes to his hurricane-style guitar, Orq reminds yours truly of Tim Langford (Too Slim) from Too Slim and the Taildraggers. When he tones it down a bit, he’s reminiscent of Eric Clapton on the understated album Pilgrim. Vocally, the Mighty can rip-roar with the best of them or turn mellow and melodic. Some of the songs on Love sound like they belong on a soul or easy-listening album instead of a roots and blues CD (witness “Say it with Silence”), but all twelve tracks border on the magnificent. Davidson presents eleven originals and two popular covers: Freddie King’s “Pack it Up” and Son House’s “Death Letter Blues.”

Performing along with him are Jimmy Rose on drums, percussion, and mandolin; Barry Seelen on organ, Rhodes, piano and accordion; and Terry Dry on bass. The Orq himself does lead vocals as well as playing electric, acoustic, resonator, and cigar-box guitars (a rare find).

The following original songs showcase the best of the Mighty, whether high-or-low-key:

Track 02: “Falling Down” – The heroine of this song is a lovelorn young lady who hasn’t had all of life’s advantages: “Troubled from an early age, she’s never good in school. The boys that always broke her heart – one was a fool. Then one night she took some pills and chased them down with wine. She didn’t run out of rope; she just ran out of time.” Raw and gritty, with roaring electric guitar, this is a scenario in which there’s no hope, and no future, for its subject.

Track 08: “You’re in Love (That’s Alright)” – The Orq takes listeners down to New Orleans with some zesty Zydeco blues. With a rollicking drum-beat intro from Jimmy Rose and Barry Seelen’s appetizing accordion, track eight is tastier than a plate of crawfish étouffée. It’s the most danceable number on this CD, not counting the slow songs. It’ll get everybody jumping.

Track 09: “Big Boat” – The title of this song is “what it takes to survive,” especially during a flood of Biblical proportions. Drawing upon the metaphors of Moses and Noah, Davidson paints a picture of universal cooperation. If we’re all in this together, no matter what our individual circumstances may be, we all have to keep our spirits up because, as this catchy tune reminds us, “Hope floats.” Despair only sinks. Dig that wicked guitar solo in the middle and organ harmony!

This Texas Orq is Mighty indeed, yet overall, the Hurricane-style songs are better than the Love songs.

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 37 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

slim butler cd imageSlim Butler – Bad Intention

SlimCuts Records

www.slimbutler.com

10 tracks/38:34

It is hard to go wrong when you have Tad Robinson handling the lead vocals on your project. Enlisting Robinson’s services was the first of many telling decisions Finnish guitarist and bandleader Jarmo “Slim” Puhakka made in shaping his latest project, only the second release in forty-plus year career.Singer Andrew Black, from Atlanta, GA, shares the lead vocal role with Robinson, each getting four tracks on a disc that traverses the wide expanse from blues to soul.

The opener, “All About You,” is blue-eyed soul – full of heartbreaking emotions perfectly rendered by Robinson with support from the Slimcuts Horns – Tapio Maunuvaara & Jukka-Pekka Peltoniemi on trumpet, Olli Tuomainen on tenor sax, and Antti Napankangas on trombone. Drummer Esko Ollila lays down a tight rhythm on “”It Ain’t Me,” as Robinson makes a firm declaration to keep on keeping on. His mood improves on “Monkey Moon,” a man ready to explore life with plenty of encouragement from Puhakka’s guitar. “Lady In Blue” has Robinson sounding right at home on a mournful number with the horns and keyboard setting up a late-night feel.

Puhakka lays down a ferocious guitar riff on “Mean Trouble” that would make Wilko Johnson proud, matched by Black’s muscular vocal. Things take a funky turn on “Junk In The Trunk” as the horns step out, adding with Maria-Kaisa Villanen on baritone sax, with Harri Taittonen on Hammond B-3 organ filling out the vibrant arrangement. “Cryin” Shame” finds Black pouring his heart out over Hannu Lehtomaa’s thick bass line. The singer’s finest performance comes at the end on a minor key slow blues, “Coast To Coast,” that also features several striking guitar solos.

High voltage guitars and a firm beat surround Puhakka’s lone vocal effort on the hard rocking title track while the instrumental, “Jumpin’ Santa,” provides him with room to showcase his guitar skills. With a varied program of well-written originals that encapsulate a variety of styles, this release should bring “Slim” Puhakka some well-deserved recognition. It is release that will undoubtedly get multiple plays from discerning listeners.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

cliff stevens cd imageCliff Stevens – Grass Won’t Grow

Self Release

www.cliffstevens.com

11 tracks / 45:12

Looking at the cover of Cliff Stevens’ second solo disc, Grass Won’t Grow, you might think he looks a bit like Eric Clapton, but with a Cherryburst Les Paul instead of the signature black Stratocaster. Of course there is only one Slow Hand, but this Montreal native is actually one of the world’s foremost Clapton impersonators (www.EricClaptonTribute.com)!

But besides being able to play “Layla” in his sleep, he can also crank out his own brand of righteous blues-rock, as evidenced by this new album. Other folks have faith in his abilities too, as he was able to successfully use a crowdfunding campaign to help finance this project.

Stevens is a product of the late sixties music scene where he got to see icons like Clapton and Johnny Winter, and he took further inspiration from icons such as Albert Collins, Albert King, and Otis Rush. What better role models could a young guitarist ask for? He took his job seriously, and has toured for decades around North America and Europe, flirting with jazz and earning a master’s degree in music and education along the way. His eponymous first album was released in 2009, and this mix of original and cover tunes was well received, earning him critical praise and plenty of award nominations.

Grass Won’t Grow is a worthy follow-up, and it features Cliff on guitar and vocals, Eric Suavé on the keys, Alec Mc Elcheran on bass, and Sam Harrisson behind the drum kit. Stevens was the producer for this project, and it was laid down on tape (analog!) at Studio Mega-Rex in Montreal, and the result is a decidedly live sound. This 45-minute set is made up of eleven songs, all of them originals, and it turns out that his man has a lot of cool stuff to say.

The set kicks off with “Don’t You Say,” which has a funky jazz feel thanks to a sweet walking bass line, plenty of ride cymbal and hi-hat, and Stevens’ ultra smooth guitar touch. Rest assured that Cliff has his own voice, and his laidback vocals and guitar chops are not a re-hash of Clapton’s style. Next up is “Price You Pay,” a fun piece of blues that describes the relationship difficulties that a touring musician has to deal with. The guitar leads on this track have an excellent clean tone, and Suavé’s keyboards subtly set the mood without distracting the listener. Then the upbeat title track follows with country-style leads and a pop feel courtesy of backing vocals from Kim Feeney. ”Grass Won’t Grow” is fun, and a neat reminder of the joy that musicians can express; the blues does not have to always be a stone-cold bummer.

As you can see, these songs are not exactly straight-up blues, but they are all still closely related to the genre and they all work well with each other. The songs are all well written and performed, but there are a few that stand out from the rest. “Running” is a radio-friendly rocker with an easy-going feel, a catchy chorus, and a heavily processed guitar break. There is also a sentimental bluesy ballad, “Crying My Heart Out,” which clicks on all levels with its Hammond B-3 and a dramatic mood that builds throughout. And if you like drama, the spooky feel of “All Through the Night” will be right up your alley. Stevens’ guitar work shows variety on this last one, as throws down some cool arpeggios and then lets it rips with and extended dirty solo that is one of the highlights of the entire disc.

Cliff Stevens has put together a solid album with Grass Won’t Grow, and this cool set of modern blues-rock is catchy and well crafted. He just finished up supporting its release with his fourth European tour in the past three years, and hopefully he will add some North American dates soon. Keep an eye on his website for updates, and you can also follow him on Bandsintown.com for automatic notifications if he adds shows in your area. He is quite the showman, and you will like what he has to offer!

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 8 

billie williams cd imageBillie Williams

Self-Released

www.billiewilliamsmusic.com

8 Tracks/30:11

There are plenty of vocalists out there that seem to believe that singing is simply a matter of who can scream the loudest or consistently contort their voice in an escalating game of vocal gymnastics. When a vocalist who truly understands the art of singing shows up, they may get overlooked due to the lack of showy displays. One listen to the eight tracks on this self-titled release will quickly prove that Billie Williams has the voice and training to sing anything. Possessing plenty of power and range that was developed in bands and theater productions including a stint with the Lenny Nelson Project when she arrived in New York City, Williams can confidently convey the full range of the emotional landscape without the slightest hint of strain.

“Going Down” finds her in the midst of a failing relationship, sharing her pain yet sounding strong enough to make it through. The song was co-written with guitarist Stew Cutler, who uses his slide guitar to emphasize the heartbreak. Williams takes a more reserved approach on “New York Winter” that doesn’t diminish the sense of loss, tempered by her prayerful pleas. “I Can Read The Signs” is a forceful, bluesy declaration of a woman who can clearly see that her lover has moved on without her. Her soaring tones get additional emphasis from a horn section consisting of Birch Johnson on trombone, Charlie Lagond on sax, and Marty Bound on trumpet. Jeremy Mage’s fingers dance across the keyboard on the moody “Misery Loves Company (Take Me Down)” while “Runnin’ Back” grooves along like an Al Green outtake, Williams sounding as sweet as honey.

The opener, “Nail In Your Coffin,” is also full of Memphis-style soulfulness that detours slightly for Cutler’s strident solo. The musical surge that starts “Black And Blue” quickly fades to another dark examination on lost love, with the horn section, featuring Steve Bernstein on trumpet, Erik Lawrence on sax, and Alan Ferber on trombone, add strong accents behind a withering Williams performance. Things aren’t any better on “Lonely Night In Harlem”. Double-Z on bass and Tony Allen on drums & percussion combine with the horns to create a jazz-tinge backdrop for one last fervent turn from Williams.

This is an impressive disc from a singer who was inducted into the New York Blues Hall Of Fame two years ago. While the material is not based on standard blues progressions, the power and concise phrasing that Williams utilizes allow her to dive deep into the emotional well on every track. Definitely one worth checking out.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

jim koeppel cd imageJim Koeppel – RSVP To Paradise

www.dustmyblues.com

Self-release

5 songs – 22 minutes

To borrow from the lexicon of vinyl, Jim Koeppel’s third release, RSVP To Paradise, is an EP rather than an LP. The five songs check in at only 22 minutes, but they are a very impressive five songs.

Koeppel has pulled together a top drawer band to support him on RSVP. Koeppel himself contributes guitars and vocals, backed by Tennyson Stephens on piano, Welton Gite on bass, James Gadson on drums, Ron Haynes on trumpet, Rajiv Halim on tenor sax and Norman Palm on trombone. In addition, the mighty Billy Branch lays down some typically powerful harmonica on two tracks, while Gene “Daddy G” Barge and John Christy contribute lusty tenor sax and Hammond B3 organ to the funky title track.

The album kicks off with the lazy shuffle of “Johnny’s In the Doghouse” (a re-recording of a song of the same title from Koeppel’s 1998 debut album?), which features some magnificent harp from Branch over the top of a clever 32-bar chord structure.

“Hurry Sundown” is a slow soul-blues song with lovely horns and a fine vocal performance by Koeppel. The title track moves into funk-blues territory with Gile’s bang-on bass riff having echoes of the riff from Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” in its circularity and drive. Barge’s sax solo is a particular highlight although there is also some superb guitar from Koeppel, especially on the outtro.

The jazzy “Every Night Without Warning” has an amusingly upbeat backing for what is a pretty sad lyric, with very nice piano from Stephens. RSVP then closes with the upbeat shuffle of “Let Me Tell You” with a memorable stop-chorus structure and another belting solo from Branch.

Koeppel wrote three of the tracks and co-wrote the title track with the great Cash McCall. McCall also contributed “Hurry Sundown” as well as co-producing the release with Koeppel.

The songs on RSVP To Paradise are well-written, well-played and very much leave the listener wanting more. Which rather begs the question as to why release an EP at all? In the days of vinyl, it was very expensive to produce a full length album and an EP served an excellent purpose in demonstrating a band’s range and repertoire without also crippling it financially. In the last few years, however, the quality of recording technology has increased as dramatically as the costs of that technology have dropped. One can see the point of an EP to hand out to bar-owners in order to win gigs, but it is harder to understand the point of issuing an EP more broadly. There is clearly a lot of talent here – but let’s hope the next release is a full–length album.

In the meantime, if you like your blues cut with just a hint of modern country, pop, soul and funk, then you should investigate Jim Koeppel.

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 – William Bell 

william bell photo 1The last year has been a very special one for soul singer William Bell.

Ever since the revitalized Stax label released his new album This is Where I Live, Bell’s profile has been sky-high, culminating with a recent Grammy win for Best Americana Album. He was also nominated in the Best Traditional R&B Performance category for “The Three Of Us” and performed his classic “Born Under A Bad Sign” on the Grammy telecast with Gary Clark, Jr. Three Blues Music Awards nominations and a May 5 performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival further testify to Bell’s renewed career momentum—he’s as hot now as he was back in the ‘60s, when the young singer with the burnished baritone was one of the first artists on the roster of Memphis-based Stax Records to break through to the big time.

The recording of This is Where I Live stemmed from another project that Bell was involved with, the acclaimed film documentary Take Me to the River, which featured a posse of soul stalwarts engaging in multi-generational collaborations. “Concord/Stax picked up the soundtrack to that, and I was approached after that about doing a project on me, just a single project,” says Bell. “Just the idea of being back on Stax Records had intrigued me. So we got together with Joe McEwen and my management company Blind Ambition, and had a meeting and put it together. And Joe McEwen hooked us up with John Leventhal, and that’s how it all came about. Once John and I met and everything, and found out that he was interested, and I was interested in working with him, we just started putting it together.”

Leventhal, the husband of country star Rosanne Cash, produced This is Where I Live and co-wrote all but two of its selections. “Once we met about two or three times, we just kind of picked each other’s brains to make sure we were on the same page as far as production things, and we hit it off right away and became friends,” says Bell. “Our first writing session, we knew that we had something special going, so I told him, I said, ‘Well, I feel real comfortable, and this is the first time I’ve been this comfortable with a musician since I worked with Booker T.!’ Because he just had that knack for knowing where I was coming from musically.

“He plays seven or eight instruments on the CD and a lot of the rhythm stuff, and did the mixing and everything engineering-wise, so we just had a wonderful, wonderful opportunity to work together,” he says. “We cut the parts at his studio in New York, and it was comfortable because it was a lot like working at Stax. We weren’t necessarily on the clock all the time. So if we cut something one day that we were not totally satisfied with, we could always come back the next day and redo it or change a couple of bass lines or something. We really scrutinized the songs that we wanted to include in the project, and we wanted to ensure that we had good musical content, good stories, and good melodic structures for the project. So we took our time and just really scrutinized everything and put it together. It took about a year.

“My writing style has not changed a lot. I think I like to be honest in my writing, and I like to be in a place where I believe in the songs that I’m writing about, and that way the honesty can come through in the music. So I haven’t changed my approach, but as we recorded, it changed a little bit with the new technology. But the approach to songwriting is pretty much the same. I get an idea and I kick it around in my head for months sometimes, and then we’ll sit down to actually write. I like to write with another person because we can bounce ideas off each other and come to terms with it. But my approach to songwriting is just real good storylines and lyrical content, and to structure it so that the listener won’t have to imagine what I’m writing about. It’ll be crystal-clear to them. And I think by doing that, that’s why I get a lot of covers on songs, because people can relate to what I’m writing about. I write about life.”

william bell photo 2There was room on the album for a remake of “Born Under A Bad Sign,” the classic anthem that Bell wrote with Stax house keyboardist Booker T. Jones for blues guitar great Albert King. The revival was Leventhal’s idea. “When he said, ‘I’d like to do ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ on here, I’m going, ‘Well, I’ve done that before, John, and I don’t know.’ It’s such an iconic song, and I’m partly the writer of the song, but I’m saying, ‘I don’t know what we could do that would be different,’” says William. “He said, ‘I’ve got an idea that I would like to do that would broaden it a little bit as far as listeners, and it’s totally from left field.’ And that intrigued me.”

The remake is well removed from Flying V-wielding southpaw King’s original waxing, a Stax hit in 1967. “I was in the studio when Albert was cutting, and he was kind of fond of me and Booker and the stuff that we were writing,” remembers Bell. “He didn’t have enough tunes, and Jim Stewart asked if I had a song that Albert could do. I had this one idea that I was kicking around in my head, but I only had a bass line, a verse, and a chorus, and I hadn’t finished it. But I sang it for Albert and he liked it. So Booker said, ‘Well, why don’t we go to my house and write it, and come back the next day and cut it on Albert so he likes it?’ So that’s what we did. We went over to Booker’s house and he had a piano in his den. We wrote the song overnight, came back the next day and got with the rhythm section and created the track. Of course, Albert was just learning it and everything. Albert didn’t read, so I had to whisper the lines in his ear in between lines. But we got it down and he put his signature guitar on, and it came to life.”

Born in Memphis on July 16, 1939, Bell grew up in a gospel-steeped environment, singing in his church choir. But secular pursuits seduced the talented teen. “I did a Mid-South talent contest and I won the contest after a dare from some of my friends. Part of the prize was to sing in Chicago at the old Club DeLisa. And Red Saunders, who was the band there, knew Phineas Newborn out of Memphis. And he called him and said, “There’s this kid that’s from your hometown. You’ve got to listen to him.’ So I came to the attention of Phineas Newborn, and he asked if I would work on the weekends at the Flamingo Room, which was a block off Beale Street there. And of course, my mom screamed ‘No!’ But he won her over, because he had me and Junior and Calvin, his kids, playing in the band. And I could only work on Friday and Saturday nights, and what we called tea dancing, which it was actually a fashion show on Sunday afternoons.”

Vocal groups were hot during the mid-‘50s, and Bell was no stranger to their charms. “I put together a group called the Del-Rios, and the members were Louis Williams, Harrison Austin, myself, and David Brown,” says Bell. “We did all the doo-wop stuff on Fridays and Saturdays—the Flamingos and the Clovers and the Moonglows, all that stuff—and on Sundays I did a solo thing with the band. Phineas had a big band, kind of like the Count Basie band. I think it was a 14-piece orchestra. So I was privy to learn all of the standards and things like that of songs, and some jazz songs that from the fashion shows.” In 1956, the Del-Rios made their debut single for the local Meteor imprint, both sides featuring William as lead singer. “It was popular with the college set around the Tri-State area between Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee. And we got a lot of college work from it, but not that much else happened with it,” he says.

Chips Moman, one of the principals at fledging Stax Records, caught the Del-Rios at the Flamingo during the summer of 1960. “(He) asked me if I’d do a solo project,” says Bell. “I didn’t have anything. Hadn’t thought about it. But I wrote a song while I was in New York, and came home from that and met Chips again. And he asked me again.” Since the last time Moman had invited him to record for Stax, William had written the song that would make him a star.

william bell photo 3“I had been traveling with the band for about three or four weeks during the summer. In New York, in a hotel room one night, it was raining and all that stuff. I was homesick and wrote this song. Didn’t think that much of it at the time. So when I came home to Memphis, I only had a couple songs that I had written. So I did that one and one other one, and I had to write two more. So I did four sides with (Chips), and ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’ was the one that they picked to release,” he says. “It was a three-quarters time song, because I was right out of church. I started my singing in church and was influenced heavily by the gospel. Sam Cooke was one of my heroes. But this was real gospelly, a gospel feel to it. As a matter of fact, at first Jim Stewart thought it was too much like a church song to release. But Estelle Axton convinced him to go ahead and release it.”

Axton, the sister of label founder Jim Stewart and the “ax” in Stax, knew a hit when she heard one. “You Don’t Miss Your Water” cracked the pop charts in the spring of 1962 and was a huge R&B seller across the South. Bell followed it up with another original, “Any Other Way.” “I did that one because they wanted me to do some kind of up-tempo song, and mainly I was kind of like a balladeer,” says Bell. “So I kind of mixed up-tempo with ballads, like an up-tempo ballad with ‘Any Other Way.’” But Bell’s musical career soon came to a screeching halt. “By not applying for the college thing, I applied but I didn’t go,” he says, “I was drafted. So I went into the military.”

By the time Bell got back to Memphis in 1965, the Stax sound had changed. The label’s star-studded roster was built around Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, and Booker T. & the MG’s were the company’s eminently grooving house band. William forged a songwriting partnership with his old pal Booker T. “We had known each other our whole lives,” says Bell. “We kind of grew up together, went to the same high school. He was the organist in the church where we attended and all that, so we were familiar with each other. So he was kind of like an extension of me, and I was an extension of him, and we just kind of clicked. We had some great success together.”

The pair wrote a string of gems together that Bell belted beautifully: “Everybody Loves A Winner,” “Eloise (Hang On In There),” “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday,” and “A Tribute To A King,” a moving tribute to their just-departed labelmate Redding. “It was devastating, his death. Just such a shock. And I write sometimes as therapy, just a cleansing. So I wanted to write this for Otis and send it to (his widow) Zelma, not intending for it to be a record or anything. Just to give it to her and the family. And of course everybody was coming after his death, everybody was coming with ‘We’ll Miss You Otis,’ ‘We Love You Otis,’ and all that. I didn’t want anybody to think that I was trying to capitalize on my friend’s death.

“So Booker and I wrote it and recorded it, and back then we had acetates. Made an acetate of it, sent it to Zelma, and she just loved it, and the whole family. She called and said, ‘We’ve got to put this out.’ And I’m going, ‘No, I’m not intending to put it out. I just wanted you to have it.’ Of course, Jim and Estelle wanted to put it out, she wanted to put it out, and even Booker said, ‘Maybe we should release this.’ And I fought against it for a long time, about a week. Booker and I had done another song that we wanted to release, and I said—I caved in and said, ‘I’ll put it on as a B-side, and the other song will be an A-side.’ And that’s what we did for the 45 out there. To make a long story short, when it got to radio, all the jocks went on ‘Tribute To A King.’”

Bell and Jones also penned William’s tender 1968 hit “I Forgot To Be Your Lover.” “It was just one of those ideas that I had been kicking around in my mind while I was on tour, because when you’re traveling, your love life is zip. So when I got back, they needed some more product from me and Booker, so we got together and this was one of the ideas that we started working on. Finished it up, cut it, and it became one of my biggest records at Stax,” says Bell. “Booker and I would sit for hours and just discuss a song before writing it, and get the storyline just right. Because we tried to make it complete in three verses, or in a chorus or bridge.”

william bell photo 4That same year, Bell and New York singer Judy Clay teamed for a huge hit on another winner penned by William and Booker, “Private Number.” Bell hadn’t even conceived it as a duet. “Jim asked me if I had something that Judy could do because she was short on some songs during a session. I had this one idea for a song that I had thought about doing, but I said, ‘Well, I’ve got one idea, but I don’t know if she’ll like it or not.’ So Judy had to fly back to New York, and she said, ‘Would you finish?’ I hadn’t finished the song. She said, ‘Finish it and send it to me!’ So Booker and I got together and finished the song up and cut a track on it. I did the entire song and sent it up to her for her to learn,” says Bell. “So they got together and put Judy on it, doing the harmony on the chorus and doing the second verse. They kept my first verse on there and the choruses and everything. That’s how it came about. We didn’t do it in the studio together.” Their encore duet “My Baby Specializes” was a different story: “We did that in the studio together.”

Having been on a successful label for so long, Bell had absorbed the business side thoroughly enough to launch his own label, Peachtree Records, in 1969 in his newly adopted hometown of Atlanta. “I was going back and forth to Atlanta quite a bit doing concerts, and I fell in love with the city,” says William. “We had some acts that were like opening acts for the tours, but they didn’t have recordings. So we started the Peachtree label to give the supporting acts product and records to have on sale. So I wrote and produced for those guys a lot on the Peachtree label. Mitty Collier, Johnny Jones and all of those, Jimmy Church.”

Meanwhile, Stax kept on releasing Bell’s own product until shortly before the label folded in the mid-‘70s. The only R&B chart-topper he ever had came not long after that, when Bell was with Mercury Records. “Paul Mitchell was a good friend of mine and a musician around town. I wanted to have a co-writer, because Paul was a great songwriter and an arranger,” says William. We got together and wrote ‘Tryin’ To Love Two’ and three other sides. Most of the studios in Memphis were tied up and I didn’t know a lot of the people in Atlanta for that kind of purpose. I wanted to have a different sound, so to speak, so I called up Allen Toussaint in New Orleans and asked him if I could use his studio, and to find me a rhythm section. He said, ‘Great! We’d love to have you.’ I went down, cut the four rhythm tracks, and demoed ‘em while we were cutting and came back to Atlanta to finish up everything and mix, ‘Tryin’ To Love Two’ being the first thing that I took to Mercury after signing on with them. We hit it out of the ballpark because it’s one of my biggest records.” “Tryin’ To Love Two” paced the R&B hit parade in the spring of ’77.

Since then, William has operated another label of his own, Wilbe Records. He never stopped touring and recording, but there was nothing of the magnitude of This is Where I Live. Even if Concord Music now owns Stax, the label continues to mean something special to him. “It’s a good feeling,” he says. “The people, I’m comfortable with them. Even the younger, the newer people at Stax/Concord, they are familiar with William Bell and my career, and they know my history and my songwriting and all that stuff.

“It’s good to have come full circle and be back at home again at Stax.”

Visit William’s website at: www.williambell.com

Interviewer Bill Dahl is a lifelong Chicago resident who began writing about music professionally in 1977. He’s written for Vintage Rock, Goldmine, Living Blues, Blues Revue, Blues Music Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and the Reader, and is the author of The Art of the Blues, a 2016 book published by University of Chicago Press, and 2001’s Motown: The Golden Years (Krause Publications). Bill was awarded the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award in journalism in 2000.


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Cascade Blues Association – Portland, Oregon

On Sunday, May 21, the Cascade Blues Association presents “CBA 30, Once in a Lifetime Concert,” featuring more than 50 blues and roots musicians joining together to celebrate the organization’s 30th anniversary of supporting, promoting and preserving blues & blues-related music in the Pacific Northwest. This event will be held at the historic McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland, Oregon. Tickets are $15.00 general admission, and a limited number of VIP tickets for $75.00.

Artists participating in CBA 30 will include Duffy Bishop, Lloyd Jones, Terry Robb, Mary Flower, Karen Lovely, Bill Rhoades, Norman Sylvester, Ty Curtis, Rae Gordon & The Backseat Drivers, The Strange Tones, Kinzel & Hyde, Too Loose Zydeco Band, Bobby Torres, Robbie Laws, Louis Pain and many more! www.cascadebluesassociation.org

The Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

The Sacramento Blues Society presents “Women Sing the Blues” on Sunday, April 30, 2017, 3:00 – 6:00 pm at Burgers & Brew (Station 1), 317 3rd St., West Sacramento, California. Featuring (in no specific order): Lena Mosely (SBS Hall of Famer), Dana Moret, Val Starr, Lisa Phenix w/Steve Wall, Sue Mac and Beth Reid Grigsby.

Tickets sold at the door only. $15.00 General Public, $10 SBS Membership. Wheelchair Accessible. www.sacblues.com/

Detroit Blues Society – Detroit, MI

The Detroit Blues Society Heritage Series presents “Blues and Boogie Piano” featuring Mark “Mr.B.” Braun and Bill Heid on Saturday April 29, 2017 from 2:00PM until 4:30PM at the Historic Scarab Club at 217 Farnsworth in Detroit’s Cultural Center. A $5.00 donation is requested.

Mr. B. is a boogie-woogie pianist from Ann Arbor Michigan. He became interested in the piano through recordings collected by his father in his hometown of Flint, MI. Later he studied with “Boogie Woogie” Red and other famous area musicians among others. He is also a composer in his own right.

Bill Heid is an American Blues & Jazz pianist born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has recorded with blues & jazz greats Koko Taylor, Henry Johnson and Fenton Robinson. He spent several years living and performing in Detroit with Johnnie Bassett and others and now resides in the Washington, DC . The two pianists will perform separately as well as together, backed by a rhythm section. www.detroitbluessociety.org

Mississippi Valley Blues Society – Devenport, IA

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, at Kavanaugh’s Hilltop Tap, 1228 30th Street, Rock Island, IL on Friday, April 21, at 8:00p.m. Admission $12 for society members or $15 for non-members. (Membership available at the door).

Born and raised on south side of Chicago, the Reverend has been playing the blues since 1971 when he first saw Freddy King play in Chicago. He moved to Milwaukee where he began a long friendship and collaboration with Madison Slim, harmonica player for Jimmy Rogers. Since 1990 he has opened for B.B King, Gatemouth Brown, Pinetop Perkins, Koko Taylor Band, Junior Wells, Billy Branch, Magic Slim, Elvin Bishop, Sugar Blue, Lonnie Brooks, William Clarke, Lefty Dizz, and numerous others at festivals and at Buddy Guy’s Legends.

Reverend Raven and Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys have played in the Quad Cities several times since 2013 but you will want to catch this up-close-and-personal appearance at Kavanaugh’s Hilltop on April 21. www.mvbs.org

Minnesota Blues Society – St Paul, MN

Minnesota Blues Society presents Road to Memphis Challenge, band competition April 23, 1:00 pm at Wilebski’s Blues Saloon 1638 Rice St., St. Paul MN with band competitors: Slim Willie and the Ride; Bluedog; Ken Valdez; Harrison St; Jim Stairs-Squishy Mud; Paul Barry and the Ace Tones.

Order of performances randomly determined prior to events $10 suggested donation. Winners will represent Minnesota at the IBC, in Memphis, Jan 2018. More info: www.mnbs.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. April 17 – The Green McDonough Band, Aptil 24 – Chris Ruest Featuring Gene Taylor.

Additional ICBC partnered shows: April 20 – The MOJOCATS host James Armstrong Presents At The Alamo.  For more information visit www.icbluesclub.org.

Ventura County Blues Society – Ventura, CA

(Camarillo, CA) – The 12th Annual Ventura County Blues Festival, a Spring SoCal Tradition, Keeping the Blues Alive for a dozen consecutive years, Saturday, April 29, at Studio Channel Islands, 2222 E. Ventura Blvd. Gates open 10:00 am, music starts 11:00 am. Tickets $30. (Pre-Sale), $40. (Gate). Kids 12 and under free with paid Adult. V.I.P. Tickets $125. (online only). Festival proceeds benefits Food Share and other Ventura County area charities (please bring food item to donate). Info: (805) 501-7122 or visit venturacountyblues.com

Performing this year: Two-time Grammy winners, Phantom Blues Band; award-winning singer/songwriter/guitar player, Debbie Davies; renowned guitarist, Chris Cain; RJ Mischo, considered by critics to be in the upper echelon of today’s great harp players and singers; Michael John And The Bottom Line, fronted by VCBS President/Festival founder, Michael John; purveyors of deep-seeded Blues and smoky Southern rock, Crooked Eye Tommy; Jim Gustin and Truth Jones, fronted by blues singer/guitarist Jim Gustin, and Jeri Goldenhar, a/k/a Truth Jones, who has a big voice to match her six-foot stature.

Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

The Central Iowa Blues Society is now accepting applications for the 2017 Iowa Blues Challenge for both the Band and the Solo / Duo categories. Play for a prize package that includes cash, recording time and performance opportunities at Winter Blues Fest, BBQ’Loo & Blues Too Fest and many other paid gigs throughout the year. Winners receive entry in to the 34th International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN, January 16-20, 2018.

Applications and additional information are now available at www.cibs.org. Don’t delay! The deadline is midnight on Sunday, June 11, 2017.

The 2017 Iowa Blues Challenge is proudly sponsored by Budweiser, Summit Brewing Co., Iowa Public Radio, Junior’s Motel, Rieman Music, VividPix & Design, Des Moines Social Club, Central Iowa Blues Society, South Skunk Blues Society, Southeast Iowa Blues Society and Mississippi Valley Blues Society.


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