Issue 11-2 January 12, 2017

Cover photo by Arnie Goodman © 2017


 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Jorma Kaukonen. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including reviews of new music from Deb Ryder, Joey Gilmore, Matyas Pribojszki Band, Bill Johnson, Tracy K, Dave Keller, Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch and Reverend Freakchild.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

deb ryder cd imageDeb Ryder – Grit Grease & Tears

www.debryder.com

Bejeb Music

12 songs – 53 minutes

Deb Ryder’s third album picks up where her outstanding sophomore release, Let It Rain (reviewed in the 05 May 2015 issue of Blues Blast Magazine), left off. Featuring 12 original tracks written by Ryder; crystalline production by Tony Braunagel; a crack band featuring Braunagel on drums, Ric Ryder on bass, Johnny Lee Schell and Kirk Fletcher on guitars and Mike Finnigan on keys (along with a range of special guests); all topped off with Ryder’s powerful, distinctive vocals, Grit Grease & Tears is an album to savour.

Kicking off with the upbeat shuffle of “Ain’t Gonna Be Easy”, Ryder convincingly inhabits the characters in her lyrics when she admits: “I’m no devil, I’m no saint, I’m somewhere in between. I got issues, bad habits, I get a little mean….. If that’s the woman you need, only one thing is guaranteed: it ain’t gonna be easy… it ain’t gonna be easy, but a whole lotta fun.”

As explored in the Blues Blast Magazine article on her in the 22 February 2016 cover story, Ryder has a fascinating history, but the glowing acclaim she has received over the last few years is actually a reflection of the woman’s serious talent as a singer and songwriter.

Ryder and crew happily essay a range of blues styles across the album, from the traditional shuffle of “Aint’ Gonna Be Easy” to the funk-blues of “Get A Little Steam Up” and “Panic Mode”, the roots-Americana of “Blink Of An Eye” (with great slide guitar from Johnny Lee Schell), the Delbert McClinton-esque “Just Her Nature (featuring guest Albert Lee on guitar), the grinding stomp of “New Mechanic (Patrick’s Blues)” and the gospel-blues of “Rivers Forgiveness”. “Prisoner Of War” recalls the Texas boogies of ZZ Top while “Sweet Mary Anne” even mines a joyful soul-pop seam.

Highlights abound throughout, but the haunting title track, with the great Bob Corritore’s harp twisting around an echoey, reverb-laden guitar, all underscoring Ryder’s powerful, impassioned vocals, is a classic-in-waiting.

Having started with the shuffle of “Ain’t Gonna Be Easy”, Grit Grease & Tears goes full circle for the closing track, “Right Side Of The Grass”, a swinging shuffle that highlights an irrepressible toe-tapping groove as various solos are traded by the players.

With special guests including Sugaray Rayford, Jim Pugh, Joe Sublett, Darrell Leonard, Kenny Gradney and Pieter Van Der Pluijm as well as the aforementioned Corritore and Lee, there might have been a risk that Grit Grease & Tears could have sounded like a disparate collection of session musicians recording the tracks but this is emphatically not the case. To the contrary, there is a unity, a sense of cohesion and even personality to the songs that makes the album feel like it was recorded by a long-established band – to the credit of all the players involved.

Grit Grease & Tears is a very impressive release and should ensure that Ryder’s career continues its dramatic upwards trajectory. She has all the talent and tools required to succeed and this writer looks forward with enthusiasm to following her continuing journey.

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 – 2 of 8 

joey gilmore cd imageJoey Gilmore – Respect The Blues

www.joeythebluesman.com

Mosher St. Records

11 songs – 53 minutes

Veteran bluesman Joey Gilmore pays tribute to some of his favorite singers and songwriters on this new release, which moves from gutbucket traditional blues to deep soul without losing a heartbeat.

Born in Ocala, Fla., in 1944 and a resident of the Miami area since the ‘60s, Gilmore’s a self-taught guitar player who worked with some of the biggest names in the business – including James Brown, Etta James, Little Milton, Little Johnny Taylor and Bobby “Blue” Bland – before stepping into the recording studio on his own in the ‘70s.

Despite his age, however, this is only the eighth release in his catalog. A 2005 winner of the International Blues Challenge, Joey’s a talented songsmith in his own right, as his previous work demonstrates. But this album is a tip-of-the-hat to his predecessors. Despite the fact that all of the songs here are covers, almost all of them are unfamiliar to younger audiences and receive new life through Gilmore’s play and superior production from Marc Loren, who mixed and mastered the CD for Mosher St. Records at his 42nd St. Studios in Fort Lauderdale.

Backing Joey here are Robert “Hi-Hat” Carter on bass, Raul Hernandez and Maurice Dukes on drums, Sonny Boy Williams on keyboards and Ivan Chopik on second guitar. Making guest appearances are harmonica player Rockin’ Jake, a longtime fixture in New Orleans before relocating to South Florida after Hurricane Katrina, and talented string bender Drew Preston. Yoel Hyman adds strings and horns with Arlene Coutee adding backing vocals. Adding strongly to the mix are the contributions of Domino Johnson and Edlene Hart, who are featured as lead vocalists on five of the 11 cuts.

Joey displays some of the fine, unhurried fret work on “Man Of My Word,” a song written by Grammy winner Dennis Walker and a hit for Crescent City legend Johnny Adams, the first of four traditional blues numbers to kick off the set. His vocals are stong, tempered by five decades of touring the world.

A version of William Bell’s “Can’t Kill Nothin’,” delivered with a Chicago feel and more stylish guitar work, precedes Windy City piano legend Sunnyland Slim’s “Brownskin Woman,” aided by Rockin’ Jake. Next up, Lou Pride’s “Livin’ A Lie,” features Johnson at the mike. Not to be confused with another artist with the same name who recorded for the Duke label in the ‘70s, he’s a young tenor with a crisp, powerful voice who’ll remind some listeners of a young Sam Cooke. The song serves as a rock-solid bridge to the soulful, modern blues that follows.

Beau Jocque’s “A Little Love (Always Makes It Bettah)” starts slowly but picks up steam quickly. It’s delivered as a syncopated shuffle with Joey on vocals, a reggae/swamp feel and interplay between guitar and keys. The pace slows for a traditional take on Al Jackson’s Memphis standard “Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home,” a hit for Albert King, Etta and Ann Peebles, before Domino’s back to deliver Don Robey’s “This Time I’m Gone For Good.” It’s a slow-blues burner that features Gilmore’s stinging single-note mid-tune.

The most familiar song of the set — Don Covay’s “Chain Of Fools” – follows with Hart holding her own vocally in an arrangement that mirrors Aretha Franklin’s hit before Joey’s smoky intonations bring new life to Milton’s “Room 244,” a minor song in his catalog, but powerful nonetheless. Reworkings of Johnny Rawls’ recent hit, “Soul Survivor,” with Domino handling lead, and the Roosevelt Sykes/St. Louis Jimmy Oden classic “Night Time Is The Right Time,” chart-toppers for both James and Nappy Brown and which features a rousing duet from Edlene and Joey, bring the set to a close.

Available through CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon or directly through the Mosher St. website (address above), Respect The Blues does just that. Gilmore doesn’t cut any new ground here, but he treads reverently on the past and delivers a solid album from beginning to end.

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 – 3 of 8 

matyas pribojszki cd imageMatyas Pribojszki Band – My Stories

Self-Release – 2016

12 tracks; 59 minutes

www.matyaspribojszki.com

Once again showing that the blues has no geographical boundaries, here is Hungarian Matyas Pribojszki with his latest album. Matyas has been recording since the late 1990’s and wrote all bar one track on this disc. The band is Matyas on harp and vocals, Ferenc Szasz on guitar, Laszlo Csizmadia on bass and Daniel Molnar on drums but there are several guests, including Americans Charlie Musselwhite, Bob Margolin and Andy J. Forest. The album was recorded in Hungary but mixed in California by Kid Andersen who also added guitar to one cut.

Matyas lays out some of his journey as he tells of travelling through the states to some of the homes of the blues on opener “Memphis Soul”, a pleasant tune with good harp from Matyas and a soulful vocal duet chorus with Little G Weevil. Matyas does sing with an accent but this does not overly detract from the disc. Raphael Wressnig adds Hammond to the extended “Come On Baby”, Ferenc playing some funky rhythm guitar, and Charlie Musselwhite adds his distinctive harp tones to “Fat Mama Boogie”, a song that definitely ignores political correctness as Matyas extols the virtues of the larger lady, Ferenc playing some great guitar on this fast-paced romp. The pounding boogie on “Can’t Make You Stay” finds Matyas blowing up a storm on harp as he sings through the harp mike, Bob Margolin guesting on guitar. Zoltan Nemes adds piano to two tracks, including the delicate ballad “Soul Stealin’ Mama” which also features the splendidly named Ripoff Raskolnikov on guitar and vocals. Kid Andersen’s guitar is featured on the driving boogie of “Bad Weather Blues Again” before the autobiographical title track “My Story” brings a more acoustic feel to the proceedings with some nice picking by Ferenc.

“Banging On Your Door” adds Lisa Andersen’s backing vocals and Zoltan’s accordion which brings a touch of Louisiana, the song suiting Matyas’ voice particularly well to these ears. “Travelling Mood” was a 1955 song from James ‘Wee Willie’ Wayne; Matyas’ version has a backporch feel with Bill Barrett playing chromatic harmonica and Ryan Donohue on guitar, both adding backing vocals. Matyas returns to faster-paced material with the instrumental “Belaton Boogie” which provides an excellent vehicle for his harp skills and also shows what a solid band he has behind him as the rhythm section is locked in throughout and Ferenc plays some subtle supporting guitar behind Matyas. “Full Time Baby” has a rockabilly feel though there does not seem to be a need for the harp mike vocal as yet another harp player Andy J Forest guests. The album closes with a heartfelt but perhaps overly long tribute to Matyas’ late father “Blues For My Daddy”, a slow tune which gives plenty of space to Matyas’ doleful harp and solo opportunity to Ferenc whose clean guitar lines fit the feel of the track very well.

This is a CD well worth seeking out, especially for harp fans who will enjoy both Matyas’ playing and that of his harmonica guests.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

bill johnson cd imageBill Johnson – Cold Outside

Self-Release – 2016

11 tracks; 46 minutes

www.billjohnsonblues.com

Canadian Bill Johnson was born in 1964 and started early on guitar. His precocious skills led him on to stages from age 14 and he worked for some years in Calgary where he backed many touring bluesmen. Family health issues forced him into semi-retirement for a decade and more recently his wife’s health also necessitated some time off the road (a situation referenced in the title track here). This latest album follows 2010’s Still Blue and is entirely original. Bill handles all guitars and vocals with regular bandmates Rick Erikson on bass, Darcy Phillips on keys and either Ross Hall or Joby Baker (who also co-produced the album with Bill) on drums; David Vest guests on piano on three tracks.

Bill displays a good variety of styles here and sings in a clear, strong voice with a touch of grit. Opener “Baggage Blues” is a driving blues with David Vest’s piano to the fore; “Nine Dollar Bill” is a fast-paced shuffle with plenty of rocking 50’s style guitar from Bill (“Don’t call it jazz, it’s my West Coast jumping blues”); “Night Train” has an almost C&W feel with deep notes rumbling behind the train. The title track contains references to Bill’s difficult family health issues: “My wife she was sick while my Mother was dying. It’s cold outside, I ain’t talking about the weather, get hip, you know it’s cold outside”. With an ominous sounding guitar refrain and sombre backing, this is a dark song indeed. However, things brighten up with the catchy, slide and piano-driven “True Love” before the slow blues of “My Natural Ability” on which Bill’s BB-esque guitar and Darcy’s fine piano work fit the lyrics brilliantly: “I’ve got an inclination for the blues and a natural ability to lose”.

Bill returns to catchy material on “Makes A Fella Nervous” with another fine piano contribution from David as Bill bemoans the interest that the police seem to be taking in his activities! “Free From My Trouble” is a driving tune with a touch of country rock and plenty of slide from Bill who then gets angry with his woman on “Angry Guitar”, a song that recalls some of Jimmy Thackery’s humorous tunes. “Driftin’ And Driftin’” is a familiar title but this is not Charles Brown’s song; what it has in common is a slow rhythm but Bill’s song has more of a country blues feel with the stately piano and weeping slide behind Bill’s weary vocals. The album closes in reflective mood with “Angeleen”, a song about a “siren who sure has some chops” though Bill is now “grateful that I somehow got away and live to love another day”. The ballad has plenty of gentle acoustic playing plus Bill’s world-weary voice to make a good end to the disc.

Solid playing, good vocals, varied and interesting songs make this a disc that stands out from the crowd and makes this reviewer recommend that readers seek it out.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

tracy k cd imageTracy K – What’s the Rush?

Self-Produced

http://www.tracyk.ca

CD: 8 Songs, 34:22 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric and Acoustic Blues

Readers, have you ever heard of the Internet acronym “RIYL”? It stands for “Recommended If You Like.” In the case of Winnipeg, Manitoba’s Tracy K, her new album What’s the Rush? has been RIYL Bonnie Raitt, Koko Taylor, and Maria Muldaur. Ms. Wetnight did some research and looked up one song by each of these artists on YouTube, to see if these comparisons rang true. All of them did – halfway. Tracy K has Bonnie’s wit and songwriting skills, but lacks her edge. She has Koko’s energy, but doesn’t quite know how to belt her lyrics when the instrumentation takes over. She has Muldaur’s sweet vocal style, but not her former ingénue aura. Several of Tracy K’s songs are low-key and autobiographical, designed to make audiences reflect instead of rock. Make no mistake, though: the opener, “Everybody Wants” (reviewed below) is a slayer. On seven original tracks and one cover – Randy Newman’s “I’m Guilty” – she and her band pull out all the stops. This is outdoor-festival music, tailor-made for a big stage and bigger crowd.

“This project began a long time ago,” reads a quote from Tracy K on her promo info sheet, “but, really, what’s the rush? I started recording some recent originals in 2015 at Winnipeg’s award-winning Bedside Studios with Len Milne, owner, engineer, and producer. The magic began, and eventually, what had started out as a demo morphed into an EP and grew into an album. Winnipeg has a stellar artistic community, and there are some fantastic players on this album.”

Performing with Tracy, as she displays vocal and harmonica prowess, are Jason Nowicki, Tony Desmarteau, and Terry Barnett on guitar, Jamie “Snakeman” Steinhoff on dobro and acoustic guitar, Leonard “Lewsh” Shaw on keyboards and horns, Vaughan Poyser and Nenad “Keza” Zdjelar on bass, George Demeduk and Ty Rogers on drums, and Travis Haugen on organ.

The three original songs below will make blues purists get up, dance, and play air guitar.

Track 01: “Everybody Wants” – YOW! Turn the volume all the way up, but be prepared. Jason Nowicki’s guitar growls. Tracy’s harmonica howls. Demeduk’s drums detonate. Leonard Shaw’s keys and horns reverberate, and Vaughan Poysner’s bass blasts the blues away. “Everybody wants to stay out all night long, and everybody wants to hear just one more song,” Tracy exclaims. “Everybody wants to be forever young. You know, baby, how to git ‘er done!”

Track 02: “I Got the Honey” – Clocking in at a mere two minutes and twenty-nine seconds, this little ditty is short and sweet. “Come here, Papa. Come here real quick. This Delta cold’s got me mighty sick. I need to squeeze some lemon into my fruit jar. I got the honey. Now, honey, where you are?” Jamie “Snakeman” Steinhoff takes the instrumental lead on dynamite dobro, Stomp your feet and clap your hands, blues fans, because track two is perfect for doing both.

Track 04: “Heartstrung” – Fab number four is an autobiographical blues rock song, written about some of her fellow participants at a musical workshop called “Heartstrung.” “Cathy and Peter met in 1987. Ever since then, they’ve been a match made in heaven. He’s a laid-back dude, always plays it cool. Keeps the home fires burning while Cathy teaches school. Making their love in the tiny town of Harmstrong; looks like these folks is – heartstrung!”

If you’re in a hurry to hear powerhouse acoustic and electric blues, try Tracy K and her posse!

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 – 6 of 8 

dave keller cd imageDave
Keller – Right Back Atcha

Tastee-Tone Records – 2016

12 tracks; 51 minutes

www.davekeller.com

Vermont may not be the first place that comes to mind when discussing soul music but Dave Keller has other ideas. Dave has made two previous excellent soul-blues albums: Where I’m Coming From won the IBC award for best self-produced CD in 2011 and Soul Changes earned a BMA nomination and was one of this reviewer’s favourite albums of 2014. The latest CD again blends Dave’s soulful voice and stinging guitar with some excellent horn arrangements on an album of Dave’s original material, with just two shared writing credits and one cover. The album was recorded on home territory in Vermont using Dave’s own band of Ira Friedman on keys, Gary Lotspeich on bass and Brett Hoffman on drums, aided by ‘The Mo’ Sax Horns’ – Jessica Friedman on baritone and alto sax, Joe Moore on tenor sax and Terry Youk on C melody sax; Morgan Klarich and April Caspari are on backing vocals and Michael Close on cello and Paul Reynolds on violin and viola add strings to three cuts.

The lone cover is an obscure song recorded by Willie Clayton in 1974 entitled “It’s Time You Made Up Your Mind” and it makes for a strong opening with great vocals, gutsy horns and Dave’s insistent rhythm guitar. The song was written by Earl Randle, Don Bryant and Darryl Carter who also co-wrote (with Dave) the deeply soulful ballad “Deeper Than The Eye Can See”, the other co-writing credit being to keyboardist Ira Friedman on “Circles”, his churchy organ dominating this slow blues, the longest track here. The remaining tracks are all Dave’s work, ranging from the sweet “She’s Just Katie” which is surely destined to be the ear-worm of this set. Some of Dave’s previous album displayed the heartbreak of a failed relationship; from this track it sounds like Dave is back in love big time, perhaps with the lady of the title. “Forever Summer” is similarly positive as Dave celebrates the end of the winter on another tune with a gorgeous melody. “You Make It Easy” closes the album with another horn-drenched ballad.

There are several fine ballads here but if a tougher style of soul is needed look no further than “2 AM Talks” in which Dave is trying to save a relationship with all-night discussions, a tune with plenty of grit and an outstanding guitar solo on the outro. Title track “Right Back Atcha” has a naggingly catchy backdrop courtesy of the bubbling bari sax and swirling organ and “What’s It Gonna Take” is old-school soul with a rousing chorus. One-time Wilson Pickett saxophonist Joe Moore takes fine tenor solos on “Willing To Learn”, another ‘in love again’ ballad, and on “Slow Train” on which the horns and backing vocals give a real Memphis feel. Dave sounds suitably desperate on “Urgent (I’ll Give It All)” which is driven along by Ira’s organ, the horns adding that distinctive soul feel, suitably topped off by Dave’s exuberant solo – another outstanding track – but that is easy to say on a superb album with no weaknesses at all.

All fans of soul-blues need to add this one to their collection.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.


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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

jason elmore cd imageJason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch – Champagne Velvet

www.jasonelmore.net

Underworld Records

14 songs – 49 minutes

Dallas-based Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch’s third album has been keenly awaited since the success of their previous effort, Tell You What, which was nominated in Blues Blast magazine as Best Blues Rock Album back in 2013. As it turns out, Champagne Velvet actually represents something of a departure for the band from its earlier albums, exploring more blues and soul and less straight-out rock, albeit always with the eclectic tastes of a man who is as happy playing solo slide guitar on an old resonator (as on the country blues of “Green To Gone”) as he is wailing away on harmony guitars on the Grateful Dead-style rock instrumental of “Lament For Evelyn McHale”. As Elmore himself notes in an interview published on the band’s website, “I do enjoy being a free spirit and smoking grass and listening to Black Sabbath.” That is certainly the impression gained from listening to Champagne Velvet.

Elmore wrote all 14 songs on an album in which he displays a rare breadth of interest and sense of adventure, reminiscent at times of a blues-based Ginger Wildheart. The shuffle of “Maybe” somehow successfully treads a delicate line between Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. The more traditional Texas shuffle of “Double My Money” has typically sparkling lyrics: “Every time I get my hands on a dollar, I end up madder than hell. I lose my mind and give every dime to some fair-weather Jezebel. My grandmother told me some mighty fine advice. She said if you deal with the devil too long, expect to pay one hell of a price. She said a sure-fire way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.” The instrumental title track blends jazz and swing, while the beautiful soul ballad of “Right As Rain” is a joyous declaration of love. There is the random spoken word extract of “The Promise”, the jump blues of “Cross-Eyed Woman”, the AOR of “Shine Your Light” and the country-pop-rock of “Midnight In Memphis”, all book-ended by two flat-out boogies in “House Rockin’ Boogie #7” and “Mary Jane.” Entertainingly, towards the end of “Midnight In Memphis”, Elmore even throws in a hint of the Rolling Stones’ “Just My Imagination”.

The rhythm section of drummer Mike Talbot and bassist Brandon Katona lays down a variety of mighty grooves for the songs while Elmore himself provides all the vocals and guitars. A superb single note electric soloist, Elmore is also a sensitive, subtle acoustic finger-picker, evoking memories at times of the late, great Rory Gallagher, both in his playing and his songwriting. He is also an emotionally-charged singer.

Recorded at Audio Dallas in Garland, Texas, with engineer Paul Osborn, there is an enticing rawness to the sound of Champagne Velvet, which complements the warmth of the performances.

The three-year wait since Tell You What has been worthwhile. Champagne Velvet is a very impressive slab of modern blues and further evidence that Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch are on the cusp of great things.

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 – 8 of 8 

reverend freakchild cd imageReverend Freakchild – Illogical Optimism

Treated and Released Records

www.www-reverendfreakchild.org

3 Discs / 35 tracks / 2:29:00

Reverend Freakchild is a cool stage name, but this fellow actually has a theological background, having earned a degree in philosophy and religion from Boston’s Northeastern University. Currently he studies Tibetan Buddhism in Boulder, Colorado, but aside from these eternal quests he is also quite a musician.

But, the Reverend is not your everyday average bluesman that copies those who came before him.Sure, he can play the blues in all of its forms, but his albums are usually way out there in the blues realm: they are not what traditionalists expect, but they certainly make me listen and provide a few grins along the way. His latest release is no exception, and it is a worthy follow-up to last year’s amazing Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues. This time around he has put together a very ambitious project, and Illogical Optimism includes two discs of his own material plus a third disc from another reverend – Ramblin’ Jennings. Personnel for this project included the Reverend on vocals and guitar, Chris Parker on the skins, Hugh Pool on lap steel, and backing vocals from The Mulebone Singers.

There is a lot of material to go through, but here is a summary of what you will find on each of the three discs:

Disc 1: Odds, Ends and Other Amazingness is 67 minutes of a little bit of everything – this is not just a clever title. You will hear that the Reverend has mad guitar skills and a versatile voice, and that Chris Parker is a stellar drummer. These songs are a collection of popular and obscure covers, and none of them are performed as they were by the original artists. “Who Do You Love” maintains its Bo Diddley beat, but gets a spooky spoken-word vibe. “All Along the Watchtower” goes reggae, but keeps a Hendrix-like solo. And John Lennon’s “Imagine” has Lou Reed written all over it, so it is definitely unexpected and perhaps heretical to Beatles fans. This might all seem really terrible on paper, but everything works out beautifully and in the end and it all sounds wonderful. Trust me.

Disc 2: Everything is Now is something completely different. In a little under an hour, the gang gives a dozen completely different takes on the same song: the catchy “All I Got is Now” from the Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues album. How different are they? He lays down versions of the song in French and German, as well as interpreting it in genres such as punk, funk, reggae, and even “hillbilly.” The hillbilly version (“Alla Gotta Na’”) is breathtakingly stripped down, with lovely banjo and harp accompaniment. Likewise, the acoustic demo version is really cool with a roots vibe and barely intelligible lyrics thanks to a really up-front guitar sound.

Disc 3: Kairos is from Florida’s Ramblin’ Jennings, and this EP (24 minutes) is stripped down and full of awesome. Jennings gets the work done with just his voice, an acoustic guitar, and a harmonica. There are seven original tunes of Gulf Coast blues that use plenty of slide guitar, and Jennings’ voice is perfect for them — full and timeworn, and dripping with character. There is also one traditional tune, and this vocals-only version of “John the Revelator” is powerful and full of terrifying biblical imagery.

Illogical Optimism is really amazingly unique. Reverend Freakchild pushes the boundaries of blues and approaches old songs in new ways that really makes the listener think. Also, his buddy Ramblin’ Jennings brings blues down to its basics to provide a cool touch point for the other two discs. Give it a listen for yourself, and be prepared for something totally different!

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 Interview – Jorma Kaukonen 

jorma kaukonen pic 1After Bob Dylan, Jorma Kaukonen is arguably the most important single artist to string blues, folk, psychedelic rock, and Americana music together in a thread that has moved the needle in each of these genres continuously for better than half a century. This Antioch College graduate also is starkly articulate in documenting his role in this process, so I interview him every chance I get. The quotes here are from many interviews conducted between 1995 and the present.

As a guitarist, Jorma has backed giants including Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia. He defined the exploding role of electric guitar as a founder of the first successful psychedelic band, The Jefferson Airplane, and in blues he’s bridged the gap between acoustic and electric guitar as a solo artist and as leader of Hot Tuna, a folk-blues alternative to the more popular post-war Chicago blues. “Insofar as my relationship to the world, I’m very flexible,” he says. Then, he adds humbly, “I grade on a curve. Whatever’s going on, count me in.”

In Hot Tuna he breaks down and reconstructs the gospel-inflected Piedmont blues of finger picker Rev. Gary Davis and offers unique interpretations of songs by Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jesse Fuller, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Robert Johnson sometimes acoustically and sometimes in a bold electric format that makes volume itself as central to the structure of a song as rhythm was to James Brown’s compositions. Call him a generalist who writes as many songs as he does covers. “You need some techniques in order to be able to play. There’s some stuff you need to know,” he says. “As far as who you become, take what you need and leave the rest.”

Rock and rollers like Elvis had done this by hybridizing blues and country. Hot Tuna does it by seasoning originals and classic folk songs with flavors that give a freewheeling West Coast spin to America’s musical heritage that was and is the yin to The Band’s East Coast yang. “I’m really not a pure blues guy,” he admits, “even though that certainly is the foundation of what I do. I always found that interesting. I’ve been tainted by rock and roll and moderate success.”

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane and Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers are all gone. Jorma remains as one of the more prominent guitarists to cut as wide a swath in his influence on contemporary roots music. Another is Warren Haynes. Like Haynes, Jorma has toured with post-Garcia iterations of the Grateful Dead. Like Haynes who fronts his own band Gov.t Mule, Jorma fronts several versions of Hot Tuna, some electric and some acoustic, the one constant being bass player Jack Casady with him from the start. Haynes is an alumnus of the legacy rock band The Allman Brothers. Jorma recently performed with a one-time “reunion” of his ’60s band The Jefferson Airplane for the 2016 Grammys Salute to Musical Legends show.

Jorma met the late Chicago blues master Michael Bloomfield the first year the Airplane was together in 1965. “Michael was staying with us. I had just started to play, and I had none of the electric guitar tricks that we all take for granted today. My kid plays that stuff better today than I did when I first got in the Airplane. And Michael didn’t take it upon himself to teach me blues, but he did open the door to playing electric guitar, not just amplified guitar.”

What’s the difference?

“When we had to move into the electric realm (with the Jefferson Airplane) in order to be heard, I had to transfer a lot of that stuff into or onto an electric guitar, and to be honest with you, some of it was more successful than others, but in the process of doing this, I don’t want to say I created a style of music ’cause I don’t think that I did.”

History will judge otherwise. The Jefferson Airplane changed the very paradigm of what constitutes a song.“I think the Californians at the time were a little less fettered by the desire to clone anything else. Not that that’s a bad thing. I just think we were very lucky because we went somewhere else. Also, a band like the Airplane couldn’t have been further from a blues band than anything else.”

jorma kaukonen pic 2“I just didn’t have anything else to do, and we started fooling around. It seemed like fun. It’s really funny. There’s no huge intellectual sentiment. It just seemed like fun. And of course we became successful very quickly, and it wound up being a challenging thing for me because the Airplane really is a pop band, and I came in a finger picking guitar player. When I listen to Take Off and Surrealistic Pillow I realize that I was really stretching to figure out what to play with this kind of music. It was fun”.

So, what did they learn and how does that impact Jorma’s blues?

“When I started to play with the Jefferson Airplane I didn’t know how to play electric guitar. That was all devised as the Airplane grew. Mike Bloomfield gave me – I don’t think he perceived it as such – but he really gave me one of my first guitar lessons and showed me how to do a bunch of stuff, and a guy named Steve Mann turned me onto Buddy Guy. When Buddy came to San Francisco I thought then, and I think now, that he (Buddy Guy) is one of the most innovative of the electric blues players. I don’t play anything like him, but he’s certainly influenced me in a lot of ways.

“Just the spirit of some of his solos, like back in the ’60s. He would take these wildly innovative guitar solos, many of which the timing (was) I don’t want to say out of time ’cause nothing is out of time, but the timing was so idiosyncratic that when it was over, he’d be there on the one. The message I got from that was, ‘You can do anything in your solo space as long as when you come back to the song, everybody’s there on the one.’ And I kind of liked that. I thought that was really neat.”

In other words, the psychedelic sacrament of the West Coast lifestyle gave him and others (like Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead, John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe McDonald of Country Joe & The Fish, Sam Andrew of Big Brother & The Holding Company, Peter Lewis of Moby Grape, and David Nelson of New Rider of The Purple Sage) the freedom to explore the electric guitar as more than a plugged in acoustic. Jorma’s work in Hot Tuna formed as side project to the Jefferson Airplane in 1969 is the most blues-centric of the above mentioned contemporaries in Haight Ashbury. Jorma is customarily humble about the significance of his role in this fresh look at blues in particular.

“I just didn’t really play electric guitar. So, I didn’t know that much about it. I do know that when they tried to get me into the Airplane I was so totally immersed in the acoustic guitar that I really wasn’t interested in it. I don’t think in that moment I perceived “the popular music scene” as a genuine art form, and you got that from a lot of people.”

Jorma arrived on the West Coast in 1962. Originally from the D.C. area, he’d graduated from Antioch College in Ohio, and been lured to California in by his childhood friend and future Airplane and Hot Tuna bass player Jack Casady.

“I moved to Santa Clara. I of course arrived with an incredible superiority complex because how could these Californians know anything about the folk scene when we had it all on the east coast?

“Everybody was hootin’ and pickin’ and staying’ up all night back then, and I went to this little coffee house we had on First St. in San Jose that was called the Folk Theater, and they had an open mike or a hootenanny as we used to call them back then, and there was a bunch of folks there, and Janis Joplin was one of them,

“I had just come from the east coast, and I was kinda familiar with a lot of the music she wanted to do, some Memphis Minnie stuff, and whatnot, and I got to back her. It was really exciting. She was just so great and now, of course, if I had been managing her life and career, it would have been different. I would never have been polluted by rock and roll. At that time, she was just a really breathtaking lady blues singer. As we know, rock and roll is extremely seductive, and it got me, too, but at the time I was just strictly interested in the traditional stuff. You couldn’t have paid me to play rock and roll then.”

jorma kaukonen pic 3Jorma, in fact, would sometimes substitute for a no-show Janis when she was still doing strictly folk blues. “It’s one of those things that’s sort of like a moment of epiphany when you look back on it, but at the time it was no big deal because the gigs weren’t big deals.”

The Airplane fundamentally expanded the way Jorma viewed the guitar. “Before that, the guitar was just another instrument in the band except for the blues world. None of us really knew what the heck we were doing anyway. So, it wasn’t like, ‘You should sound like the Yardbirds,’ or anything like that. Of course, we all wanted to learn stuff, and ultimately you meet people that influence you like Mike Bloomfield and all these guys, but in the beginning we didn’t know what we were doing, so there wasn’t any pressure to do anything other than learn how to play the instrument, as if that isn’t enough.

“We were on a roll. We all had stuff going on for us. It was really fun. We were playing in different formats than we were used to. We were learning stuff at an exponential rate. I think all of us were able to go with it rather than go, ‘Well, you know, Freddie King didn’t do it like this.’ None of us thought about that.”

Hot Tuna existed for a while concurrently with the Jefferson Airplane and allowed Jorma to get back to his roots incorporating his East Coast folk influences from D.C. and Greenwich Village. “I mean, we sound like us at all times. We’re really completely free in terms of I don’t need to sound like Mance Lipscomb, thank God. I don’t need to sound like Skip James. All I need to do is sound like me which is great.”

Hot Tuna allowed him to indulge in the music of his single biggest influence, Rev. Gary Davis. BUT the Airplane’s looseness and loudness had its impact. Hot Tuna continues to this day to perform in both acoustic and electric formats. “I think we’re always searching for that balance because that was just our music. I don’t think we thought about melding the two things. It was just our music.”

The Reverend Gary Davis’ songs have become signatures of Hot Tuna’s repertoire both live and on record: “Hesitation Blues,” “Children of Zion,” “Mama Let Me Lay It on You,” “There’s a Table Sitting in Heaven,” “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown,” “Light of This World,” “Say No to the Devil,” “Candy Man” and “Let Us Get Together Right Down Here.”

Davis had been a breakthrough favorite of the East Coast folk scene in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Originally from South Carolina, he moved to New York City in the 1940s and introduced young Greenwich Village musicians to his unusual style of finger picking. Dylan; The Dead; Peter, Paul & Mary; Dave Van Ronk; and Eric Von Schmidt all covered Davis originals. Jorma refuses to call himself a protégé of his style. He has trouble giving himself credit for even approaching the genius of his biggest influence, partly because he couldn’t duplicate his complex finger picking. Not that he wanted to do that with any of the artists whose songs he covered. That said, he along with many of his contemporaries in the folk idiom were in awe of Davis.

“I never studied with him. I couldn’t afford the $3 an hour he was charging back in those days (’59 or ’60), but I did see him play a lot. I met him, and he was an important man in my life. Still is! He had incredible depth, the artistic power of the man. I mean he was a strong personality, musically and as a man. I believe the Reverend is one of the important not just guitarists but musical figures in American music in the last century. I just think he’s incredibly important.

“The Reverend’s style is so idiosyncratic, and people who are Rev. Gary Davis specialists that have really gotten into it in some ways capture that. I mean, listen, I’m a white rock and roll player who plays some blues and stuff, and I like things to be in fours, and I like the meter to be moderately consistent. The Reverend is very, very sophisticated, and I just couldn’t get that. I’m always telling my students, most of the stuff I accomplish as an artist is a result of my inadequacies rather than whatever skills that I might or might not possess.

“The process I go through (to make a song mine) is to use whatever artistic and technical tools I have at my disposal in order to play that song. I never sought to replicate what he or other artists I was interested in did because I was never really good at that. What I was good at was to extract the things that were characteristic of whatever that song was. And so somebody could say that’s a Reverend Gary Davis song because of some lick or something that they recognize even if they don’t know the words to the song.”

Jorma’s view of volume was more fundamental to the sound of the song than it was a practical element of your average Chicago bluesman trying to be heard in a crowded barroom or as a rocker’s statement about male ego. Here, too, Jorma was influenced by Rev. Gary Davis’

jorma kaukonen pic 4“Rev. Gary Davis actually was a street singer. If he could have plugged in and been louder on a street corner in Harlem, you bet your ass he would have. Some people say, ‘Well, the Rev. never did it this way.’ I saw it. The Rev. played on the street a lot. I’ve heard him on the street, and he was a loud guitar player and a powerful, strong man, and I suspect had he lived in these more technological times, he would have had some battery-powered something.”

In other words, Jorma saw volume as fundamental to the songs themselves like his folky contemporaries whose love of volume was based on hearing acoustic artists projecting themselves without the aid of electric guitars and amps.

This was a subtle difference from the British Invasion white rockers who were one step removed from this source. They were emulating the Chicago Blues sound of Muddy and the Wolf and in turn were influencing mainstream commercial rock for decades to come. Jorma’s direct-from-the-source influence would eventually impact what would become known as Americana music.

“The volume is absolutely part of the music. You’re feeling this actual visceral sensation that’s provided by some of the volume. Now, we don’t have to play loud. We don’t have to, but it’s part of the thing. We have great Pas now.

“When they tried to get me into the Airplane ’cause I was so totally immersed in the acoustic guitar I really wasn’t interested in it because at that moment – and I know this sounds stupid – this was many years later – but I really don’t think in that moment that I perceived “the popular music scene” as a genuine art form, you know, and you got that from a lot of people.

In 1995, Hot Tuna opened up for the Furthur Tour, the first time the remaining members of the Grateful Dead toured following the death of Jerry Garcia. “He (Jerry ) doesn’t (hang in the air),” Jorma told me in 1995, “and I think he probably would have wanted it that way. I’ve seen stuff – before I came out, it was on the net. People talking about, “It’s kind of a tribute to Jerry, this and that.” And maybe that’s true, in a spiritual context, but it’s certainly not being milked for anything. I don’t know what the audience perception is because I don’t go into the audience, but I think among players there isn’t any of that feeling. Everybody is here to have a good time and I’m sure that Jerry would have wanted it that way.”

Jorma has always been able to adroitly avoid the cult of personality that dogged The Dead, giving him a certain allure to blues fans who expect their artists to be lean and a little hungry. “Guys like me and Greg (Allman) we do exist in a parallel universe. Whether the music we do is authentic on any level or not, whatever that means can be debated, but because of the rock and roll thing, it’s a parallel universe. It is. Many people have heard of us, and maybe we’d be playing those blues festivals, but not making anywhere near as much money, I don’t know. What do I know?

At 76, Jorma has a business manager wife, a teenaged daughter he home schools, a son he says plays better guitar than he did in The Jefferson Airplane, and he’s not above playing background guitar for the patrons of an Italian restaurant, and teaching guitar at his Fur Peace Ranch along with Rory Block, Keb Mo and other blues guitarists.

“I think it’s better to look forward to something than to be just waiting to get it over with. To me it’s always whatever I’m doing now and whatever I’m looking forward to coming next which is not to minimize stuff I’ve done in the past and I’m proud of, but once it’s done, it’s done.”

Visit Jorma’s website at: http://jormakaukonen.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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Minnesota Blues Society – St. Paul, Mn

The Minnesota Blues Society presents Road to Memphis Fundraiser Sunday, January 22 1:00pm at the Minnesota Music Cafe, 499 Payne Ave, St. Paul, Mn 651-776-4699.

Come support Minnesota’s 2017 IBC participants Mark Cameron:Band, Mike Munson & Mikkel Beckman:Duo, Colin Campbell and the Shackletons:Youth

Silent auction, Bake Sale, Door Prizes Current and former IBC participants performing. $10.00 suggested donation
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. January 16 – The Groove Daddies, January 23 – The Good, The Bad & The Blues, January 30 – Slam Allen, February 6 – Maurice John Vaughan, February 13 – Dave Lumsden & Friends, February 20 – Southside Johnny, February 27 – Jeff Jensen.

Additional ICBC partnered shows: January 19 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, February 2 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, February 16 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm.


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