Issue 11-23 June 8, 2017

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2017

 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Chicago Bluesman Carlos Johnson. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Mark Searcy, Jason Ricci & Bad Kind, Gene Jackson, Elliott and the Audio Kings, Kathy & The Kilowatts, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Billy T Band, Patty Reese, John Cee Stannard & Blues Horizon and Jamie Thyer.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 10 

mark searcy cd imageMark Searcy – Grapetown Rail

MouseMilk Music

12 songs – 37 minutes

Arkansas native Mark Searcy Middleton learned how to play the guitar as a child, abandoned it to raise a family and picked it up again after 15 years to rehabilitate himself after damaging several fingers in a work-related accident — and the world of acoustic blues is in a better place because of it.

Now working professionally under his first and middle names and based out of San Antonio, Texas, for years, Searcy emerged from the musical wilderness to release one previous album before attracting attention for 2007’s Blind Man’s Blues, earned him a Texas Music Awards nomination for musician of the year.

A man whose first love is pre-War acoustic music, especially Blind Willie McTell, Blind Willie Johnson and Robert Johnson, as well as a diverse group that includes T-Bone Walker, Freddie King, Wes Montgomery and Sean Costello, he captured that prize seven years — and five releases — later in 2013 for the instrumental CD, Hazepipe, which fused his skills in rock, jazz and blues.

A top-five finalist in the national Telluride Blues Festival Acoustic Blues Challenge and a two-time semi-finalist at the International Blues Challenge, Searcy has devoted himself to acoustic blues ever since. Grapetown Rail, the third disc since he returned to the format, is a bare-bones production that features Mark on resonator and acoustic guitars and vocals, accompanied only by harmonica player Rick Boss, who appears on two tracks.

A haunting Spanish-influenced instrumental, “Gallows Callin’,” the first of nine originals, puts Mark’s prodigious six-string skills on display to kick off the 12-song set, tying perfectly into “Hangman Blues.” The latter picks up speed as it expresses fear that the executioner is on the singer’s trail after shooting two men in Dallas for messing with his family and then skipping bail. Searcy’s vocals are crisp and strong.

Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman” gets a warm treatment with Mark on resonator before a run of four new tunes with an old-time feel. “Homecooking” is a beautiful instrumental that hints of Stephen Foster’s “Oh Susanna,” while “Grapetown Rail,” aided by Boss, is a vocal tribute to workers who constructed a 920-foot tunnel for the San Antonio Fredericksburg And Northern Railroad, which went belly-up during World War II. “Chance In Your World” is a plea for love, while the instrumental “Rainmaker” cascades with some sensational picking.

Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Left My Baby Standing” is up next before another trio of originals: the tasty instrumental “Hochatown,” “Misfit Blues,” which sings about being locked in the cellar by a woman who runs off with another man, and “Mississippi Morning,” a slow-paced instrumental steeped in the Delta. The set closes with Searcy and Boss delivering a sprightly version of Tampa Red’s “You Can’t Get The Stuff No More.”

Available through Amazon, CDBaby or directly through the artist’s website (address above), Grapetown Rail is a delight. The state of Texas is so big that many musicians don’t travel far beyond its borders despite producing terrific albums. Pick this one up. You won’t be disappointed.

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 10 

jason ricci cd imageJason Ricci & The Bad Kind – Approved By Snakes

EllerSoul Records ELL 1706

11 songs – 81 minutes

Harmonica virtuoso Jason Ricci is no stranger to 12-step programs, as anyone who’s familiar with him knows. He speaks openly about a life that’s included multiple periods in drug treatment centers and serious run-ins with the law as well as his own bisexuality. And he rips off any concealing bandages from the opening bars of this intensely intimate, soul-baring album.

Much more than a simple reed-bender, Ricci — a 2010 Blues Music Award winner for harmonica player of the year and a six-time nominee — is a performance artist of the first order who treads fearlessly in areas that most human beings run from. A master and innovator in the overblow technique of harp play, he gets more notes out of a simple diatonic than all but a few of his peers. And his use of electronics produces tonalities that are over the top.

All of that is on display in Approved By Snakes, the first release on the EllerSoul label for Jason, a true blues nomad who was raised in Maine, spent extended periods in the Mississippi Delta, South Florida and Indiana and who wed his lady love, Kaitlin, in his current home base of New Orleans just a few days before this review was composed.

Like the snakes of the title, it’s a gritty performance — some of which is not suitable for tender ears — that runs 81 minutes and goes the lowest of lows to bright hope for the future, aided by The Bad Kind, which includes Sam Hotchkiss and New Orleans legend Jon Lisi on guitar, Andy Kurz on bass and Adam Baumol on percussion.

An ominous bass riff kicks off the eight-minute opus, “My True Love Is A Dope Whore.” As the band provides the bottom, Ricci delivers a dark commentary — first as a voiceover and then musically — about finding love — “with a girl or a boy” — on the tawdry streets of the Crescent City, and the only folks who prosper are the hookers, pimps and coppers.” Hotchkiss’ mid-tune solo is both sensual and fiery. He and Jason trade licks as the song builds in intensity to the end.

The guitarist and bass player are featured in the “Something Just Arrived,” sharing the vocals and Ricci at his funky best. What it is isn’t explained, but “you know you want some more.” Jason’s solo slithers like a serpent, drawing you deeper into the rhythm. Next up, “Demon Lover” begins with a slow, foreboding harp run before Ricci describes the arrival of an angelic-looking devil who’s sailed to America from Normandy and taken more than his soul.

The mood brightens dramatically for “My Mom’s Gonna Yell At You.” Written by Lisi, who shares the vocals, it’s a catchy blues-rocker, and the lady in question won’t do her shouting until you get to heaven.” But the sweetness gives way quickly as Ricci delivers “Broken Toy.” It’s a heartrending view into his life, unsure about his sexuality, his place in society — and even his ability to breathe. Among the lyrics: “I’m too well for the hospital/I’m too sick for all the healthy/Too rich to be a poor man’s slave/And too average for the wealthy.” It also includes a taste of South African rap group Die Antwoord’s I Fink U Freeky.”

Next up is a 10-minute cover of “Listen Here,” written by jazz tenor sax player Eddie Harris, the first artist to amplify the instrument electronically. Lisi, Kurz and Hotchkiss stretch out at length before Jason makes the song his own by inserting Lee Dorsey’s familiar “Everything I Do Is Going To Be Funky From Now On” and then going into a rap before Baumol’s powerful drum solo, returning to root on harp to conclusion.

The sweetness and light vanish quickly, replaced by a cover of Dax Riggs’ “Terrors Of Nightlife,” aided by Black Betty, aka Jenny Langer, on vocals, before returning again for “Got Cleaned Up,” which deals with the difficulty of finally making the decision to put one’s life in order. Jason displays the newfound confidence in I’m Too Strong For You” before two funks — the Lisi original, “Disconnect” and the positive affirmation “515” — bring the set to a close.

Like Sugar Blue before him, many blues purists have treated Jason Ricci as a pariah because of his avant-garde attack. It’s a pity if they haven’t opened their ears and hearts to what these reed masters are able to do. Available through most major retailers, strongly recommended — and definitely not for children.

REVIEWER’S NOTE: It has no bearing in the views expressed above, but Jason Ricci succeeded me as harp player for the Nucklebusters, a band I co-founded in the ’80s, dramatically improving the quality of play in the process.

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 10 

gene jackson cd imageGene Jackson – 1963

Blue Lotus Recordings

10 tracks/37:35

This is the second release from Blue Lotus Recordings, a new label based in St. Louis. Multi-instrumentalist Paul Niehaus IV comes up with another strong release that he co-produced, along with drummer Kevin O’Connor, for singer Gene Jackson. Their first release, Roland Johnson’s Imagine This, showed that Niehaus had a deep understanding and appreciation for soul music. In Johnson and Jackson, he found two veteran singers who remained criminally undiscovered outside of their local market.

Listeners are treated to a wide-ranging program that samples the sounds that once rang out of Detroit, down to Memphis, and finally Muscle Shoals, AL. Jackson co-wrote the ten tracks with Niehaus, with O’Connor contributing on three songs. The opener, “That’s Why I Love You,” shows that Jackson can sing sweet & pretty one minute, then switch to a gritty tone without missing a beat. Niehaus plays bass, guitars, organ, Wurlitzer piano, and trumpet on the track plus adds backing vocal along with Sean Coray and Charisse “Swan” Sauls. Mark Huth plays tenor and alto saxophone, creating a wall of sound behind Jackson. The title track finds him reminiscing about events from a year that was full of civil rights protests and a presidential assassination. But Jackson’s focus was on a girl with a beautiful smile, the woman who is still his wife. Mark Hochberg plays the violin and viola to create a beguiling string arrangement.

“Love At First Sight” is an upbeat continuation of Jackson’s infatuation bolstered by a fine tenor solo from Huth. The Wurlitzer, played by Niehaus, is prominently featured on “Rag Doll,” with Jackson finding solace from a woman ignored by the rest of the world. The singer issues an impassioned plea for a mistreated woman’s love on “Ain’t No Way,” once again enveloped in strings with Marisa Sansone on viola, Anoy Hainze on cello, and Abbie Steiling on violin. The strings make another significant contribution on “Only God Can Help Us,” with Hainz and Steiling joined by Alison Derrick on viola for Jackson’s touching missive on dealing with the problems of the modern world.

The soothing sounds of “You’re Gonna Get Hurt” recall of the golden age of the Motown sound, then Niehaus uses the Wurlitzer to create an accordion-like sound that combines with Hochberg’s violin to take you straight to the Louisiana bayou on “Voodoo Girl”. There are plenty of pop elements on “Married At The Station” but Jackson’s compelling vocal performance carries the day. The closer, “Son,” is a heartfelt tribute to his son, a victim of drugs.

Full of old-school soul, this project is a keeper. Kudos to Niehaus for giving Gene Jackson the opportunity to release his first recording. He makes the most of it, using his vibrant voice and deliberate phrasing to inject love, hope, pain, and vulnerability into each track. Make a point to check this one 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 – 4 of 10 

elliott and the audio kings cd imageElliott and the Audio Kings – Self-Titled

Busted Flat Records

CD: 11 Songs, 44:59 Minutes

Styles: Guitar Monster Blues, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock

Cereal lovers, you know how Kellogg’s Raisin Bran boasts about having “Two Scoops of Raisins!” in every box? That’s because Kellogg’s knows most of you like the raisins a lot more than the bran flakes, so they capitalize on their product’s yummiest feature. Certain blues rock albums are similar: They contain “Two Scoops of Shredder,” usually electric, to one scoop of vocals and other instrumentation. They’re also why I’ve added a new category, “Guitar Monster Blues,” to the “Styles” section. Case in point? Canada’s Elliott and the Audio Kings’ self-titled debut CD. If you yourself own an electric guitar, plug it in and play along, and if you don’t, put those fingers in the air and start picking. Vocally, lead man Mike Elliott is a bit workmanlike, providing the fiber as a contrast to his fun fretwork. However, if crowds want to party, who’ll care about that? The eleven original tracks will be perfect for upcoming outdoor summer festivals.

On their website, this take-no-prisoners trio tells it like it is: “Standing on the bedrock of the blues recorded by the post-war masters, Elliott and the Audio Kings are building on that foundation, with their own brand of shuffles, boogies and swings. After retiring Daddy Long Legs, Southern Ontario’s most infamous Maple Blues Award-winning garage blues band, guitarist/singer Mike Elliott is back on the blues scene…With Jonny Sauder on drums and Scott Fitzpatrick on doghouse bass, Elliott has taken a step closer to vintage blues. Elliott and [the] Audio Kings’ first release captures all the crash and bang of cut-rate guitars running hot through pawn-shop amps howling off a concrete floor.” They also describe themselves as “old school, not retro.” If you can puzzle out that one, blues buffs, you’re one step ahead of this reviewer.

One of the Audio Kings’ strengths is swing or jump blues. Their debut’s opener demonstrates:

Track 01: “What They Say About You” – It may not be polite to spread rumors, but sometimes they’re facts in disguise. “I know it’s true, what they say about you. You’re messing around, gonna treat me like a fool.” If number one doesn’t get people dancing, nothing will, and if those with two left feet lose the beat, Jonny Sauder’s daring drums will keep them right on track. As always, however, the highlight of this tune (and the other ten) is Mike Elliot’s great git-tar.

Elliott and the Audio Kings’ first foray possesses “Two Scoops of Shredder” for those who crave “Guitar Monster Blues” above all else!

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 10 

kathy and the kilowatts cd imageKathy & The Kilowatts – Let’s Do This Thing!

Lectro-Fine Records

15 songs – 55 minutes

It only takes a few seconds of listening to the new album from Kathy & The Kilowatts to be pretty confident that one could guess their home state. The intoxicating mix of blues, rock’n’roll, country, swamp, conjunto, soul and pop that is so unmistakably Texan music emanates throughout Let’s Do This Thing! The opening title track in particular reveals a heavy nod to perhaps the most influential Texan band of the modern day, the Fabulous Thunderbirds. With its heavily tremolo’ed guitar, rocking groove and infectious chorus, the track could easily have appeared on the T-Birds’ Butt Rockin’.

Recorded in Austin, Texas, Let’s Do This Thing! is Kathy & The Kilowatts’ first release since 2015’s Groovin’ With Big D (itself dedicated to the Austin musical legend, Doyle Bramhall, Sr.) and like its predecessor is a fine collection of modern Texan blues.

Singer Kathy Murray has an enjoyably powerful voice, with hints of the ferocious sass of Lou Ann Barton, although with more of an open country edge (as evidenced on tracks like “Talking Out Of My Head” and “Loveaholic”). Murray also wrote all 15 songs on Let’s Do This Thing! which range from the funky pop-rock of “Spell It Out” and the Bobby “Blue” Bland-esque soul-blues of “10 Most Wanted”, to the Texas shuffle of “One Lie Leads To Another” and the acoustic ballad, “I Want To”. Horns are added to the old-styled serenade, “Beautiful Moments”, the rock’n’roll of “Each Kiss” and the Bo Diddley beat of “Exception To The Rule” (with spot-on beat boxing by Ben Buck).

Guitarist (and Murray’s husband) Bill “Monster” Jones is straight out of the Austin cool-guitar-slinger school of Jimmy Vaughan, Denny Freeman and Derek O’Brien, laying down a series of short, punchy but melodic guitar solos. The rest of the band on the album comprises a variety of musicians, including David Murray (Kathy’s brother) on guitar, bass, drums and percussion, Dylan Cavaliere on upright bass, Jeff Botta on bass and organ, Richard Ross and Nina Singh on drums, and Dan Torosian, Al Gomez and Henry Rivas on horns.

Kathy & The Kilowatts do not let their songs over-stay their welcome, with only two tracks extending over the four minute mark. But every song is a fully-realised, punchy slab of blues-rock with a hint of country twang thrown in from time to time.

One minor frustration with the album is that it contains three bonus tracks from Murray’s Relatively Blue CD (“Read ‘Em And Weep”, “One Lie Leads To Another” and “These Lonely Hours”), inserted at apparently random points in the playing order. The result is that the musician’s credits on the CD’s sleeve are then confusing and contradictory, with two musicians credited on both bass and drums on three songs and nobody credited at all on others. The country rockabilly of “Your Barn Door’s Open” and “Loveaholic”, for example, both feature some fine uncredited upright bass playing (presumably by Cavaliere?).

That aside, if you’re a fan of Texan blues and blues-rock, you’ll want to check out Let’s Do This Thing!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 10 

george thorogood cd imageGeorge Thorogood & The Destroyers – Live At Rockpalast – Dortmund 1980

MIG Music

Disc 1 – 7 tracks 41 minutes

Disc 2 – 8 tracks 44 minutes

If you want to feel like you went on a rock and roll merry-go-round at 100 mph, then pop in Live At Rockpalast – Dortmund 1980 by George Thorogood & The Destroyers. It’s a live double disc recorded on Nov. 26, 1980 at Westfalenhalle in Germany, and is part of the Rockpalast series. It also includes a DVD of the concert. Thorogood’s blues-rock guitar shoots off like a rocket and he gives this European audience a heavy dose of Chuck Berry, Elmore James and Bo Diddley. This album is before “Bad To The Bone,” so you won’t hear that famous crossover hit, but you still get favorites like “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” “Who Do You Love,” and “I’m Wanted.” Joining Thorogood are his longtime band members, and current Destroyers, Bill Blough (bass) and Jeff Simon (drums) along with his former sax man Hank “Hurricane” Carter. The band gets a rollicking sound and they are a steady launch pad for Thorogood to blast off with his furious guitar work.

The 29-year-old Thorogood is at the top of his game on this live gem. He hits the gas and never lets up. His guitar is like another member of the band, it’s loud, in your face, and undeniable. He takes his cues from his blues and rock and roll forebears and slaps on a custom flame paint job to those classic sounds. Live At Rockpalast is also a great reminder that the Black Keys and the White Stripes had a fellow riff master decades prior when George Thorogood & The Destroyers busted out of Delaware. “Hurricane” Carter honks out some dripping fat saxophone and accompanies Thorogood’s voice and guitar very nicely.

Live At Rockpalast goes from zero to 60 in no time with the opening track, “House Of Blue Lights,” the Chuck Berry classic. “I’m Wanted” has some nice breaks and is as steady as they come. “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” is as lively and interesting as the studio version. It’s a ten-minute romp of hard luck and booze, and Thorogood plays it flawlessly. The second disc features some great slide work and features a nice routine of Elmore James including “Goodbye Baby (Can’t Say Goodbye)” and “New Hawaiian Boogie.” Another song Thorogood is well known for covering is “Who Do You Love,” and he plays this Bo Diddley standard with all the attitude of a rattlesnake on a bad day.

Thorogood stays faithful to his blues and rock blueprint, and doesn’t stray much from that trusted formula. Live At Rockpalast has a nice mix of early rock and roll, blues and a little rockabilly, but if you’re more of a casual listener, be prepared to get a steady attack of his unmistakable riffs. The vocal mix is a little anemic on the “House Of Blue Lights,” but the quality of the recording does get better toward the end of the album.

The DVD is another great artifact of this 37-year-old show. The CDs take you there, but the DVD puts you right in the seats. You see the toothy Thorogood strut all of the stage while his steady sidemen stand like traffic lights stuck on green. Lazy smoke roams above the audience while they dig on this American dynamo. One interesting part is when Thorogood implores the audience to increase their participation and dance a lot more. He then kicks off “Cocaine Blues,” maybe not the best dance song, and those young Europeans, bless their hearts, move around like bouncing marbles in a spray can. They may not have rhythm, and their fashion sense is thankfully obsolete, but they had tons of fun and we get to enjoy it right along with them.

This is a great example of what Thorogood was like before he burst on the scene, and before the MTV extended airplay of “Bad To The Bone.” He may not have fit in with the blues purist, but his music is fun nonetheless. He owes a great deal to the past greats like Chuck Berry and Elmore James, and this album is a nice valentine to rock and roll’s heyday. Go down this 90-minute journey with George Thorogood & The Destroyers and you won’t regret it

Reviewer Roberto A. Jackson is a blues fan from Arizona. He enjoys learning about the music, whether he’s playing or listening.

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 10 

billy t band cd imageBilly T Band – Reckoning

Big H Records – 2016

10 tracks; 40 minutes

When you hear the word ‘soul’ your thoughts turn to Memphis, Detroit and Philadelphia, not Norway, but there is a healthy soul-blues scene in Scandinavia and the latest album from the Billy T Band is an excellent example. The band has been around for twenty years, ever since William Troiani relocated from the States to Oslo. Billy had played and recorded with Eddie Kirkland and Tom Russell so it was natural that he should form the house band at the Oslo Muddy Waters Club, a gig that lasted seven years before the club closed. That house band has remained together unchanged with Billy on bass and lead vocals, Haakon Hoeye on guitar, organ and backing vocals, Ian F Johannessen on guitar and slide and Robert Alexander Pettersen on drums; Martin Windstad adds percussion to six tracks, Kristoffer Eikreim (trumpet) and Kasper Skullerud Vaernes (sax) and a six person string section appear on three tracks and two additional backing vocalists contribute to several tracks. Nine of the songs come from within the band, Billy involved in all of them and there is just one cover.

First and foremost Billy’s clear and soulful voice really suits this material and the playing throughout is excellent. The title track opens the album with the strings prominent on a soulful song about needing to keep on top of a relationship or problems will creep up on you. The obscure “Shame Shame” was a minor hit in the 60’s for The Mighty Hannibal and is the sole cover here, a fine piece of Rn’B pushed along by the horns and “On Your Own” adds some Delta influences, especially in Ian’s lively slide work. With the sweeping strings, delicate guitar touches and a fine vocal “Sad Man” is the standout cut on the album with a Philly soul feel and touching lyrics about the guy whose life has been broken by a departed lover: “People upstairs are making noise, they got something going on, dancing on my ceiling, laughing and having fun. Well, I’m down here in the darkness I’m emotionally unsound, I’d go up there to join them but that would only bring them down. Nobody wants the sad man hanging round.” The quality of Billy’s voice can be heard clearly on “One Of These Days” a mainly acoustic break-up song with nice choral vocals and some slide joining in half way through.

The strings make their final appearance on “Gone” which brings to mind The Temptations with the use of percussion and wah-wah. New Orleans drum rhythms lead into “It Ain’t Right” before “Love Is Gonna Get You” provides another highlight with a subtle horn arrangement and lyrics on the ‘you can run but you can’t hide’ theme, as however hard you try, the love bug will bite: “So self-sufficient, you don’t need no help. You can’t be happy, man, all by yourself. Pay no attention to that nagging doubt, no need to wonder what it’s all about. You can run, you can hide, but love’s gonna get you.” Billy’s vocals are great here and a fine guitar solo tops off this excellent track. The last two tracks take us down to Memphis: “Trouble” is another Rn’B tune, the guitar break referencing Steve Cropper and the album closes with “I’ve Been A Fool”, a song of regret and apology given a gospel feel by Haakon’s churchy organ.

Forget where this fine album originates; if you like soul-blues you will find plenty to enjoy here.

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 – 8 of 10 

patty reese cd imagePatty Reese – Let In The Sun

Azalea City Records

11 songs – 47 minutes

Let In The Sun is the fourth album from singer and songwriter, Patty Reese. Reese has long been highly-regarded in her home area of Washington DC and the mid-Atlantic region, having previously won 17 Washington Area Music Association “WAMMIES”, including Album of the Year, Artist of the Year and Roots Rock Vocalist. If this reviewer were a betting man, he’d be happy to stake a large sum on Let In The Sun adding to Reese’s awards collection.

Reese wrote nine of the tracks on the album, running the gamut from blues to rock, soul and gospel. Avoiding clichés but remaining firmly within a genre is a tricky balancing act but one which Reese pulls off with apparent ease. The opening track, “Is It Too Late For Me?”, hints at a 1960s-influence with its echoey, haunting descending guitar riff reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival underneath an ascending single note Hendrix/Blackmore-style riff. Indeed, the influence of the better songwriters of the late-60s and early-70s is noticeable in a number of songs, both in relation to structure and performance.

The loping flat tire shuffle of “Your Love” for example cleverly avoids an obvious 12-bar structure, while the 70’s-style funk of “Soul Satisfier”, with its key changes, wah-wah guitar and grooving horn section, is hard to listen to without wanting to get up and dance.

Reese’s band comprises Jonathan Sloane on guitar, bassist Sonny Petrosky, drummer Andy Hamburger and Tommy Lepson on keys (Lepson also co-produced the album with Reese), with guitarist David Chappell and keyboardist Brian Simms contributing to “Open The Window, Let The Sun In.”

Sloane takes the majority of solos, laying down some excellent slide guitar on the likes of “Is It Too Late For Me?” and the primarily acoustic “I Hear A Lie”. He is happy for his solos to roam outside the usual blues scales on tracks like the sultry “I Won’t let You Down” while playing very much within the box on the good-natured “Good Neighbour” on which Reese sets out her perfectly reasonable expectations of her neighbours as she sings: “I need a good neighbour, to respect my privacy. I need a good neighbour, who’ll keep an eye on me. I need a good neighbour, who’ll check on me when the lights go out. I need a good neighbour who won’t try to tell me what it’s all about.”

The gospel-blues of “Open The Window, Let In The Sun” is a joyous affirmation of optimism and belief, while the upbeat soul-blues of “Radio Song” has echoes of Delbert McClinton or Bonnie Raitt. The Louisiana-flavoured “Awesome Sauce” has fine funky percussion from Hamburger and more tasty slide guitar from Sloane.

The two covers on the album are, interestingly, placed at the end. Reese and her band turn Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” into a soul ballad with spot-on organ by Lepson before closing with a magnificent reading of Steve Earle’s heartbreaking “Goodbye”.

With a crack band, some sparkling compositions, a couple of deftly-chosen covers and top notch production, Let In The Sun is a blues-rock album that leans closer to blues than to rock. It is also an excellent party album to accompany those longer days as the sun shines brighter.

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 – 9 of 10 

john cdd stannard cd imageJohn Cee Stannard & Blues Horizon – To The River

Cast Iron Recordings

12 songs time-54:33

This British band owes as much to skiffle music and the English Music Hall tradition as it does to the blues. The basic set up is two acoustic guitars, harmonica, stand up bass and drums with the occasional fiddle and piano. John Cee’s British sounding voice and delivery gives the music an air of light heartedness. The song structures aren’t blues. The only blues playing is the excellent harmonica skills of Howard Birchmore and a bit from the guitars. The brunt of Howard’s playing owes a debt to Sonny Terry and Phil Wiggins. There is an infusion of country-tinged music, gospel and novelty in various places. The basic vibe here harkens back to old time British novelty songs of a bygone era.

English music hall meets country blues on “Do It all over Again”, a tune that gives us our first introduction to the fab harmonica playing of Howard Birchmore and the lively lead acoustic guitar of Mike Baker. “Separation-2” is a music hall style rag that bemoans the travails of having too many girl friends. “History” owes a bit to classic country music weepers. The harmonica and guitar solos are first rate as usually the case on this CD. “You can have your fun, but don’t let your fun have you” is the sentiment on “Have Your Fun”. Herky-jerky Sonny Terry-Phil Wiggins style harp is given the spotlight here.

“Run To the River” is essentially the title track. It features the backing voice of Julia Titus along with the massive Farnham Voices Community Choir. It has a country-ish-gospel sound. Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues” attains the requisite 1930’s feel. Julia and the choir pop up again on “The Good Lord Didn’t Tell Me”, a mournful lament on our mortality. The traditional classic “House Of The Rising Sun”, that has passed through the hands of Lead Belly, The Animals and others over the years, gets a boisterous revamp via high energy harmonica and guitar. It works.

John and Julia join their voices in the lilting melody of the melancholy “The Wretch”. Harmonica “train whistles” and shuffling snare drum appropriately usher in “Let The Train Whistle Blow” while Simon Mayer’s fiddle and the harmonica contribute to the chugging locomotive atmospherics. Jason Manners sits in on acoustic guitar while Matt Empson contributes piano to the lovely slow and moody “Ain’t No Livin’ With The Blues”. The jovial, feel good “Nothing Is What You Get” closes out the CD on a rousing note. Music hall fun. Fiddle, harmonica and piano blend well with John and Julia’s vocals. “If you don’t ask for nothing, nothing is what you get”.

The end result is a delightful cornucopia of English Music Hall, skiffle, blues, country, good time music and who knows what else. The lyrics on the ten John Cee Stannard originals are clever and oozing with warmth. It’s a bang up good time. If this recording doesn’t get you hopping about-seek help.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 10 of 10 

jamie thyer cd imageJamie Thyer – Postcards From Bedlam

Self-produced CD

13 songs — 54 minutes`

Jamie Thyer and his band, The Worried Men, are based in Britain’s South West and are road warriors who’ve performed more than 4,000 gigs across Europe since forming in 1994, playing original music that’s heavily rooted in rock-blues and R&B overtones.

A guitarist who used to work as a demonstrator for Marshall amps and Rotosound strings, Thyer and his bandmates have averaged about five gigs a week, playing many of the best clubs and festivals in the UK and elsewhere, after their initial live album, Fear And Loathing At The Wunder Bar, sold well and built a loyal following despite minimal promotion. They’ve shared the stage with Robert Cray, Johnny Winter and Peter Green, among others.

In recent years, Jamie has also split his time in a partnership with Verden Allen, who achieved international fame in the ’70s with Mott The Hoople. They produced the album Love You And Leave You, which received heavy BBC airplay and led to a gig headlining the prestigious Cambridge Rock Festival.

Postcards From Bedlam features Thyer on guitar and vocals, backed by Ben Groenevelt on electric and upright bass and Kevin O’Rourke on acoustic drums. Carole Warren co-wrote six of the original tunes here and provided spoken commentary, lead and backing vocals, which vary from full-on rock to acoustic blues.

Not to be confused by the Frank Sinatra song of the same title, “My Way” kicks off with a guitar riff. It’s a rapid-fire walking blues that tells a lady that the singer always has to have his own way. The bottom’s heavy with Jamie providing guitar flourishes throughout. A speedy version of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Further On Up The Road” — using the Brit spelling — follows. It’s a speedy, but faithful version and features a single guitar note that sustains for about 25 seconds after a mid-tune solo.

Another classic, B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” gets a speedy rock-blues treatment before a stripped-down acoustic version of the early Rolling Stones’ hit “Play With Fire,” driven forward initially by a steady handclap. The music takes a decided right-hand turn for the instrumental “Modesty And Willie.” It has a symphonic feel with Jamie’s guitar filtered to sound like strings.

Up next is the original blues-rocker “The Light That Failed,” which features Warren on lead vocals. Another instrumental rocker, “Boo Radley’s Porch,” follows, apparently based on a character in Harper Lee’s famed book, To Kill a Mockingbird. The pace slows for the searing version of B.B.’s “Nobody Loves Me (But My Mother)” before a funky drumbeat introduces quickly picking up again for “We’re Coming Home,” an instrumental with psychedelic overtones and repressed spoken passages.

An acoustic cover of Ray Davies and The Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” precedes the interesting rock-blues instrumental, “Rova,” before a cover of Redbone’s “Witch Queen Of New Orleans” before the interesting “Wake Up Rocket Dog!” — which starts as a sweet instrumental, but breaks for more than a minute of silence before a funky rock finish with spoken lyrics — brings the action to a close.

Fans of blues-rock will enjoy this one, although it’s difficult to acquire. A quick internet search found that it’s available only through the artist’s website (address above).

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

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 Featured Blues Interview – Carlos Johnson 

carlos johnson photo 1“I was one of the first cats that was travelling all over the world without a recording, without any kind of accolade other than, ‘There’s this left-handed guy in Chicago named Carlos Johnson. You gotta hear him play!’ That was my ticket for going overseas, to having gigs, to making money, to playing with all the top blues players in Chicago.”

Maybe it’s because he’s left-handed, but Chicago blues guitarist Carlos Johnson is not your standard Chicago blues guitarist. “I think left-handed people in general are creative in all aspects and not just music – like da Vinci in art and in science – because we have a tendency to push and always be outside the box. It’s not our fault. We were made ass backwards. We’re wired to think absolutely opposite to everyone else basically.”

It figures that this Chicago stalwart would have Otis Rush, Lefty Dizz and Albert King prominently in his resume. All are left-handed. “We all have the same approach especially with the pulldown, because most right-handed guitar players when they want to get that Albert King type of pull, they have to push up with it playing strung right handed. Now with it strung the other way, that’s a different story. Then, we have a different problem.”

Johnson can play a guitar that’s strung left-handed or one strung right-handed. “I do most of my writing strung left-handed. It gets all emotion. I’m not thinking about arpeggios or anything. It’s so natural to me. The theory, believe it or not, is different for me to play the things I play on my guitar strung right-handed. It’s a little difficult for me to play it strung right handed. I can do it, but it’s easier for me to play the same thing strung left-handed.”

For Johnson, creating music on a guitar strung left-handed is like reading poetry in English when that’s your native language. Reading poetry in a second language like Spanish is analogous for him to jamming on a right-strung guitar. “Absolutely. Absolutely! Absolutely! It’s another ‘language’ that I had to study, (but) we adapt unconsciously or consciously, It’s so immediate that it’s second nature. Over the decades, I think it might be in our gene pool that we can adapt musically. We don’t think twice about picking up a pair of scissors, and they’re 99% right handed, but we use ’em without even thinking about it.”

Johnson’s affection for his left-handed mentors is palpable. “I’m doing Albert King at the (Chicago Blues Festival). I was thinking of listening to a couple of songs that I’m going to do. Even though Albert King tuned his guitar different, his melodic approach and his vocalizing of the guitar is so fluid, it’s like liquid blues gold. It’s amazing. I’ve listened to a lot of guitar players that go after Albert King. Stevie Ray Vaughan is probably the top of the list, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, there’s no flow like Albert King. You can try and duplicate it and copy it and pay homage to him, and there are good things, but when it comes down to it, just sit back and enjoy the ride.” (chuckle)

Much less well known outside of Chicago is the apt-named Lefty Dizz, the late associate of Johnson who matched his guitar prowess with a humorous sense as an entertainer, but Johnson cautions that he was way more serious than the casual listener might discern.

“We were always laughing. I don’t think there was ever a time me and Lefty were together if it wasn’t for laughing because he was very humorous when he was taking the guitar and flipping it around with the neck and turning it upside down and mimicking guitar with his mouth. It was a real – it is fun to watch. He was very entertaining. But he took himself seriously as far as his playing. As far as his performance, that was all Lefty. That wasn’t a show to try to – that was him for real. But musically, he knew how to separate his entertainment ability, technical Derek tability and his guitar playing which was amazing.”

carlos johnson photo 2Carlos Johnson’s best memories are of playing with Otis Rush. He recalls a particular date in Japan. “Yeah, we had fun there. I think it was Derek Trucks playing on the venue with us. We got to the finale, and I’ll never forget that all during the tour I think Otis had a little struggle with is vocals, and he was singing fine, but we had to tweak the mike a little bit here and there, blah, blah, blah.

“We started playing, and he came out with this voice from heaven. It was from the God! It was thunderous. When he did it, the whole place erupted. I lost my spot on the guitar. We were crazy. He was singing his ass of and I found my spot back, and I said, ‘Hit it, Otis.’

“It was one of the most high points of my career that day. I was doing whatever I could use, whatever I had to do to make sure we had a good show. The band was kicking, Otis was playing. That particular day, his voice, he just reached down, and it came out, and you could not see a dry eye in the audience. Thousands of people, everybody was crying. I was crying. The audience was crying.”

Johnson is ubiquitous on the Chicago scene and has played all over Europe even though he has very little recorded music under his own name. The album Diversatility was in the making at the time of his last Blues Blast interview in 2013, and he still hasn’t got it done. “I’ve been writing this music and this album for a long time. I had my own company, Blues Hand Productions, and we were just about to do it, and family things happened. My mother passed away, and it just put a whole halt on everything, and just as I was getting back into the creative, happy mode, Trump comes along. So, now I’m changing lyrics. I’m adding some songs and taking some songs out. So, I’m trying to keep things in the right moment where I can have the most impact.

“I know people are waiting, and I’m sorry for the long wait, but I have to do it this way, and everybody will be happy once it’s complete. I’m taking my time in doing this. I’m not a rich man. I have a family. I’ve got bills and sometimes things get set back, but trust me. It’s going to be worth it. I’m still doing other projects. I’m still doing other things. I’m busy.

“The disheartening thing in this is when I look in Facebook and I see all the blues bands and everybody’s working, working, working, and I sent promos to festivals, even just clubs and when I get the reply back and I see the amount of money they just made, I say, ‘Well, oh, my God. This is not fair.’ So, we’re almost back to where you have to have a string of gigs to get to a place in order to make a buck, to make some money. And to me, I’ve never done it.”

One of Johnson’s current projects is the soon-to-be-released Chicago Plays The Stones to be produced by Larry Skoller who produced two Grammy-winning CDs that Johnson played on: Chicago Blues, A Living History (2009) and Chicago Blues: A Living History Continues (2011). On their 2016 Blue and Lonesome, the Rolling Stones paid homage to their mentors, the post-war Chicago blues artists. On Chicago Plays the Stones some of the same artists from A Living History return the honors. Johnson plays “Out of Control.” Other cuts include: John Primer on “Let It Bleed and “Angie,” “Playing with Fire” by Billy Boy Arnold, “Satisfaction” by Ronnie Baker Brooks, Billy Branch doing “Sympathy for The Devil,” “Gimme Shelter” by Lou Ann Faine, Jimmy Burns on “Beast of Burden and “Dead Flowers,” “Miss You” by Mike Avery, and Omar Coleman doing “I Go Wild.”

“(The Stones’ blues album) was cool because it gave recognition of where the shit comes from,” says Johnson. He doesn’t feel that this always happens in a musical form that is African American in its origins. “The blues is an African American heritage handed down that we like to share. It belongs to everyone, but it is ours. I appreciate that they like the genre of music, but what I don’t appreciate is when I see these same cats opening up Shay Stadium, an amphitheater, making shitloads, shitloads of freaking money, and the very same cats if they would walk in the West Side clubs, they would get their asses tore up like shredded wheat.

carlos johnson photo 3“We (African American blues musicians) are the Picassos and the Van Goghs and the da Vincis (of blues). Through the years, since the inception of the blues, we have never gotten the recognition of the Picassos in the manner that they (white artists) have. In other words, they have taken free license. You have the Mona Lisa. It’s priceless. Then, you have someone, an artist who says, ‘Oh, I really like the way this guy painted. This is marvelous. I think I paint like this, too.’ And so, he also paints the Mona Lisa, and the powers that be say, ‘Let’s like this Mona Lisa. Let’s look at the Mona Lisa. Look at this copy.’

“Then, through repetition of that you come to find out the copy has come to be more valuable than the original works of art. They have made the replications and the copies so valuable that the original works of art have almost become worthless other than recognition of it being original. To me that’s disheartening. I wish it was different. Maybe that’s why the blues is so different because it’s the underdog of the music industry.

“Something’s wrong with that picture, and I give credit to the cats that give to the blues like the Stones when you see them down at the Checkerboard. You can tell that they really genuinely do care about our heritage, our music.

“This is no joke to them. This is real, but the way that the powers that be- can you imagine if we did this for instance – and this is not the only Stones tribute album. There’s an album in Poland also where my friends in Poland a tribute to the Stones. So, The Stones have reached an inordinate amount of people which is a good thing, and I really do applaud them for giving us recognition. It’s not up to them to run the industry.

“They’re doing what they can. They’re doing what they possibly can, and they can only do so much. They can only do so much. This is a huge step forward to giving us more monetary recognition, and I hope this has a phenomenal effect where all these superstars who’ve gotten their coming up in the blues will reach back like Santana did with John Lee Hooker (on The Healer) so forth and so on because let’s face it. We are not in control We control the music, but we don’t control the industry. We’re doing the Stones like the Stones did Chicago. I don’t know if we’re returning the favor (Chuckle). I think we’re doing tunes that are appreciated. I think the returns are going to be a little lopsided. (Laugh)

“It shouldn’t be that Leonardo daVinci had to convince the dean of the art school to let him teach. This is my problem. We have a bunch of daVinci’s trying to teach being blues artists, let us make the money.

“So, the only regret that I have in doing it this way is that my band suffers a little bit because they have to do so many other things to make ends meet because I refuse to offer them pennies to come and work, the caliber of musicians, I have.

“I love sharing my music. I love showing young cats different things. There are young cats coming up now that are going to be fantastic, even though they play a little rockish. Sometimes that’s their flavor. When I was young, I wanted to play like Muddy Waters, but the young kids now they want to play more like Stevie Ray Vaughan or another high-powered blues player. Completely opposite! But that’s good as long as they keep it in that vein.

“I don’t mind people stretching out and putting their own take and twist on the music, but there’s a thin line between revolution and extinction. You can only take it so far until the original becomes extinct.”

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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 Blues Society News 

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Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Tues, June 13 – Chris O’Leary Band, Manteno Sportsmen’s Club, Sat, July 15 – Polly O’Keary & Rhythm Method, CD Release Party, Watseka Elks, Thur, July 20 – The Nouveaux Honkies, Inside Out, Gilman IL, Thur, July 27 – Albert Castiglia, The Longbranch in L’Erable IL, Tues, Aug 08 – Frank Bang & Cook County Kings, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club, Tues, Aug 22 – Jeff Jensen, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club, Tues or Wed, Nov 7 or 8 (TBD) – Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat, Manteno Sportsmen’s Club. More Info at:

Utah Blues Society – Salt Lake City, UT

The Utah Blues Society proudly presents their 3rd Annual Utah Blues Festival, their biggest fundraiser of the year! Saturday, June 17th from noon to 10 p.m. at The Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake City. This year’s Fest features the Blues Youth Showcase, Better Off With the Blues, Harry Lee & the Back Alley Blues Band, Annika Chambers, Samantha Fish, Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers, and Kenny Neal, as well as vendors, and free workshops. More information at

The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation – Falls Church, VA

The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation presents tThe 24th Annual Tinner Hill Blues Festival takes place June 9-11, 2017 in Falls Church, VA. This 3-day music event features Blues, brew & barbecue, all weekend, all over town. It kicks off on Friday with “Blues on Broad” in restaurants and bars on (and off) Broad Street. Saturday’s highlight is a ticketed all-day concert in Cherry Hill Park featuring Mud Morganfield with The Nighthawks; Tas Cru & His Band of Tortured Souls; Beverly “Guitar” Watkins; Linwood Taylor, and Kareem “Lil’ Maceo” Walkes with special guest, Slam Allen.

Saturday night’s Blues Crawl will take place in many restaurants and bars in the town and feature Blues bands. Sunday’s free gospel/blues picnic features the Carter Gospel Singers and The Barbour Travelers. Visit our website for a complete list of events:

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. June 12 – Rockin’ Jake, June 19 – Adrianna Marie & Her Groovecutters, June 26 – The Bridget Kelly Band.

For more information visit

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL, IL

“The Blues: The Roots of Popular American Music” will be presented by Crossroad Blues Society with Dan Phelps and Steve Jones on Thursday, June 8th from 6:00-7:00 PM at Byron Public Library, 100 S. Washington Street, Byron, IL. featuring music inspired by Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Skip James, and more. The program is free. Call 815-234-5107 to register.

Steve Ditzell and Blue Lightning will be at the Hope and Anchor, 5040 N 2nd Street, Loves Park IL on Saturday, June 10th at 8 to 1130 PM. No cover before 7 PM, $5 thereafter.

Blues trio Recently Paroled is at the Lyran Society Club, 1115 4th Ave, Rockford, IL 61104 on Friday, June 16th . the club is open to the public and there is no cover.

Rockford Illinois’ 27th Juneteenth celebration is Monday, June 19th from 3 to 9 PM at Sinnissippi Park at 1401 N Second Street in Rockford. Headlining the event is The Kinsey Report plus some local blues talent will also be featured. This is a free show.

Sunday, June 25th Doug MacLeod will be at All Saints Lutheran Church, 624 Luther Drive in Byron in Byron a 4 PM. Opening act Dan Phelps goes on at 3 PM. No cover, there is a free will donation to support Crossroads Blues in the Schools Program. Contact Steve Jones at for more info on any of these events or go to

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