Issue 11-25 June 22, 2017

bettye lavette cover image

Cover photo © 2017 Joseph A. Rosen


 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Bettye LaVette. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Kilborn Alley Blues Band, Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues, Devon Allman, Dreamboogie, Alvon Johnson, Lauren Mitchell, James ‘Buddy’ Rogers, Greasy Gravy, Delta Moon and Gift & The Moonbeams.

Bob Kieser and Lorena Jastreb have photos and commentary from the Chicago Blues Festival.

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



 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 10 

kilborn alley cd imageKilborn Alley Blues Band – The Tolono Tapes

Run It Back Records – 2017

12 tracks; 50 minutes

www.kilbornalley.com

One might imagine that being based in Champaign, Illinois would inhibit a band’s potential but the Kilborn Alley has thrived in their college town background, issuing four previous albums and being serial nominees in the Blues Blast and Blues Music Awards, including Blues Blast wins for The Sean Costello Rising Star Award in 2009 and Song Of The Year in 2010 (“Better Off Now”). This collection also shows that a visiting blues artist may well get the opportunity to lay down some music while in the Kilborns’ home patch as a slew of great blues musicians add their talents to these recordings which were made in three separate sessions in 2015/6 at Matt Talbot’s studio in Tolono, Il, hence the title. Andrew Duncanson on guitar and vocals, Josh Rasner Stimmel on guitar and Chris Breen on bass have been playing together since high school and are joined on these recordings by drummer Aaron ‘A Train’ Wilson plus a variety of guests including Henry Gray, Monster Mike Welch, Jackie Scott and Bob Corritore. There are nine Kilborn originals here (three reworked from earlier albums), two by Jackie Scott and one by Henry Gray.

The album opens with a reworking of “Fire By Fire”, one of two tracks originally from 2008’s Tear Chicago Down. The guests here are Anthony Geraci whose piano starts things off and Mike Welch whose guitar locks into Josh’s as Andrew sings of taking a ‘hair of the dog’ to offset his hangover, the whole being a great piece of classic blues. Anthony and Mike also grace a re-make of one of the Kilborn’s best songs “Christmas In County”, also from Tear Chicago Down, a slow blues about spending the holiday season in prison, Andrew showing real emotion in his vocals and Mike playing some great Otis Rush licks. Nonagenarian Henry Gray sounds nothing like his age as he plays some great piano on the Kilborns’ frantic shuffle “Home To My Baby”, accompanied by Bob Corritore’s superb harp work and then sings his own “Cold Chills” with the same ensemble. Virginia’s Jackie Scott sings two of her own songs: on “Easy To Love You” Jackie sounds very much at home with her partner and the Kilborns are augmented by their former harp player Joe Asselin; “Been Trying To Figure Out” is lower key and is one of the standout tracks here as Andrew and Josh trade licks under Jackie’s soulful vocals.

Harmonica player Ronnie Shellist plays on three tracks: “Going Hard” featured on the Kilborns’ last album 4 but, in this reviewer’s opinion, suffered from a lack of focus in a lengthy version. Here the song clocks in at just under five minutes and is a far better take with Aaron’s drums starting things off before Andrew shows his angst in a powerful vocal performance. Ronnie plays up a storm on “Terre Haute”, another strong cut, a driving blues with a great hook, all about meeting a girl from Indiana who “left me a note saying call me when you get to Terre Haute”.

Corey Dennison and Gerry Hundt feature on two tracks: Andrew can always carry a soul tune and on “Misti” Corey shares vocals with Gerry on guitar and Joel Baer taking over the drum stool as Aaron plays some percussion. It’s an outstanding track with great vocals from both Andrew and Corey, Josh and Gerry combining well on guitar. However, the second contribution with Corey and Gerry works less well: “Night Creeper” has Aaron and Joel swapping percussion roles and Andrew and Corey delivering spoken lyrics, Corey defined in the sleeve notes as ‘storyteller’, Andrew as ‘speaking’ is a tale of odd shenanigans on tour.

“Sure Is Hot” adds a rap from Cerbo. This album is high quality and very much worth hearing. Highly recommended.

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.



 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 10 

corky siegel cd imageCorky Siegel’s Chamber Blues – Different Voices

Dawnserly Records 4301

12 songs – 57 minutes

www.chamberblues.com

In a world where artists from other disciplines have tended to consider blues a poor, undisciplined stepchild even though it gave birth to all Western music forms, Chicago-born harmonica master Corky Siegel has done his best to change that view. And this beautifully conceived and executed CD, recorded with a four-piece classical string quartet and musicians from the blues, jazz, folk, rap and indie world go a long way in carrying that message forward.

Born in the Windy City during World War II, Siegel and partner Jim Schwall were standard bearers among the multitude of young white blues artists who exploded on the scene in the ’60s. Corky — originally a sax player who’s also a gifted vocalist, keyboard player, composer and author — and Jim — a guitarist whose background was in country music — met while students at Roosevelt University in The Loop.

Formed in 1965, the Siegel-Schwall Band drew immediate comparisons to contemporaries Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield and Charlie Musselwhite and soon became the house band at the historic Pepper’s Lounge, where they hosted a galaxy of blues superstars. Signed to Vanguard Records and later Wooden Nickel, with whom they won a Grammy, they toured nationally before disbanding in 1974.

Despite their blues roots, their love for classical music ran deep. They performed the William Russo composition, “Three Pieces For Blues Band And Symphony Orchestra,” with the San Francisco Symphony in 1968, becoming the first blues group ever to enter the world of classical music. The idea was conceived by SFS conductor Seiji Ozawa, who fell in love with Siegel-Schwall during his stints in Chicago, and the performance subsequently appeared as an LP on the prestigious Deutche Grammophon label.

Siegel-Schwall reunited for two albums on Alligator in the ’80s and continue to work together on occasion. But both men continued with their lofty pursuits. Jim earned a PhD and became a college professor, while Siegel released two solo blues albums before delving into the blues/chamber ensemble format a decade later. Different Voices is his fourth release in the concept. He’s joined here by Jaime Gorgojo on violin, Chihsuan Yang on violin and erhu, Dave Moss on viola and Jocelyn Butler Shoulders on cello.

They’re augmented by Sandeep Das and Frankie Donaldson on tabla, Grammy-winning indie singer-songwriter Matthew Santos, R&B diva Marcella Detroit (aka Marcy Levy), saxophonist Ernie Watts, Blues Hall Of Fame drummer/vocalist Sam Lay and Chicago-based folk trio Sons Of The Never Wrong — Bruce Roper, Deborah Lader and Sue Dumel, all of whom are listed as the “different voices” of the title. Siegel composed eight of the 12 cuts and provided arrangements for the other four.

An extended note on harmonica kicks off “Missing Persons Blues — Opus 26,” in which Siegel’s harp trades lines with Watts’ horn as the strings provide a rich, warm, rhythmic foundation. Watts’ closing riffs are stellar. Santos handles vocals with Corky on chromatic on “One,” which sings sweetly of love in Paradise, before Das is featured on the instrumental, “Time Will Tell Overture — Opus 25.” Next up, the strings kick off a sensationally different version of “Lay Down Sally,” delivered vocally by Detroit who composed the original with Eric Clapton.

Corky steps to the mike and the strings come to the fore for “Angel Food Cake,” based on a Siegel-Schwall composition, before Santos handles guitar and gets an assist on vocals from Yang on a dazzling new arrangement of his original, “Shadows In The Shoe Box.” Next up, the Sons Of The Never Wrong take command for an interesting version of “I’ll Fly Away,” delivered with an old-time country feel and one of the most successful gospel tunes ever, before the interesting juxtaposition that combines Siegel’s “Italian Shuffle” with the Big Joe Turner jump blues classic, “Flip, Flop & Fly,” the latter featuring Lay on vocals.

Three more instrumentals — Hai Huang-Hai’s “Galloping Horses” and Corky’s two-part “Counter Intuitive — Opus 24” — follow before Siegel and Santos share vocals on “The Sky Will Fall” to bring the set to a close.

If you’ve got a friend who shies away from the blues, Different Voices is the perfect vehicle to convince them that the roots of the tree have produced quality, classy music that they never could have imagined. Available through Amazon, CDBaby and other retailers, and strongly recommended.

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.


delaney guitars ad image


 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 10 

devon allman cd imageDevon Allman – Ride Or Die

Ruf Records – 2016/

12 tracks; 49 minutes

www.devonallmanband.com

Devon Allman continues to produce blues-rock albums that have a wide appeal through the quality of the songwriting, Devon’s distinctive voice and guitar skills. Ride Or Die was recorded in Nashville and was again produced by Tom Hambridge who plays drums throughout. Devon handles lead guitar and vocals with Tyler Stokes on rhythm guitar and bass duties divided between Devon’s touring bassist Stephen Duerst (five tracks), Tyler (one track) and Devon himself on the remainder. Other players are Kevin McKendree on keys, Ron Holloway on sax and Bobby Yang who adds strings to one song. On previous discs Devon has blended his own material with songs from outside the band but here he contributes ten songs, five co-written with Tyler, Tom and Richard Fleming provide one and there is a cover of a Cure song.

“Say Your Prayers” is a dramatic opener with heavy drums and riff emphasizing lyrics about preparing for storms, complete with a ground-shaking wah-wah solo. Just when you might be thinking that this is going to be an all-out heavy rock album Devon pins back your ears with the lovely “Find Ourselves”, all lilting chords and Ron’s subtle sax fills building into an anthemic chorus and a fine solo that strikes the perfect note for the song. The title of the album comes from the chorus of “Galaxies” in which Devon asks “when galaxies collide will you ride or die?” A busy rhythm chart is anchored by Kevin’s swirling organ and Devon’s slashing interventions to give a sense of grandeur to the track. “Lost” has wistful lyrics and opens with Devon’s fine vocal over simple acoustic guitar and hand percussion before he adds surprising wah-wah tones that give the tune an almost middle eastern flavor. “Shattered Times” is the Hambridge/Fleming tune, a chugging piece of blues-rock with Tyler and Devon sparring well before Devon launches an exciting solo. Devon warns people to “Watch What You Say” as “real things come back around”, Devon’s extended solo work supported by lots of backing vocals (all Devon) coming at you from across the stereo mix.

The first half of the album is made up of Devon and Tyler’s songs but from here on there are five Devon solo compositions, starting with “Vancouver”, a song about lost love set against acoustic guitars, Ron’s moody sax work and Bobby Yang’s string work. “Pleasure & Pain” offers a warning about drugs: “the thing you think gets you through the night will come and steal away your precious days; you can’t even see you’re trapped inside pleasure and pain”, Devon adding a delicate solo to complement a fine song about a serious issue. “Hold Me” is a short almost pop tune, the acoustic guitars and Kevin’s rolling piano taking the honours while “Live From The Heart” recalls Bryan Adams in his hit-making prime with an acoustic guitar/organ base that provides a great vehicle for Devon’s vocal. Devon sings of the futility of trying to trap the “Butterfly Girl” with a suitably delicate string and piano accompaniment and the album closes with a cover of Robert Smith’s “A Night Like This”, Kevin making a good fist of copying 80’s synth sounds in the intro and Devon using a lot of echo on his vocals to give the song an authentic period feel. Not this reviewer’s favorite cut here but presumably chosen by Devon because he grew up with The Cure’s music.

Devon continues to grow. All his albums contain some gems and are always worth hearing: Ride Or Die is no exception.

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.


marquette area blues fest ad image


 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 10 

dreamboogie cd imageDreamboogie – Wearin’ It Out

dreamboogie.com

Black Market Music

10 songs time-50:51

This little band from Melbourne, Australia executes a unique take on the blues utilizing sampled blues music loops as backing for their every track. Sounds strange, but it fills out the sound of vocal, guitar, bass and drums to create a pleasing texture. Everything was recorded totally live in the studio against the backdrop of pre-recorded tape loops. To top it off there are the extraordinary vocals of Rebecca Davey. Let me see how to describe her voice and delivery. Think of the grittiest, toughest and most yearning female singer you can think of-add a touch of Bjork and some mumbled, incoherent and coherent lyrics and a chit load of “Baaabees” (babies). That’s as close as I can come to describing this powerhouse from “down under”. Just so there is no misunderstanding, I mean all this as a true compliment. The three piece band backing her are no sloughs either. They all somehow add music that perfectly compliments the sampled loops. You just have to hear this wonderfulness with your own ears to get it. Fired-up guitar, thumping bass and crashing drums pulsing together on six band originals and four creative cover songs.

With the first few moments of “Ridin’ With My Baby”, I’m like…what the what? I honestly thought Rebecca was singing in a foreign language. Once the initial shock calmed down I came to the realization that here was a an unbridled force of nature. Her un-hesitating delivery just grabs at your soul. “Choo choo cha boogie” in deed. Samuel Buckley’s biting guitar over the acoustic loop on “Black Mountain Blues” just about makes my day. Now Rebecca wants to do “The Twist” and with that attitude in her voice I’m not about to stop her. They do a rearranged version of Danny Barker’s “Don’t You Feel My Leg”, but they take full writer credit. Strange.

A throbbing bass line along with a hypnotic guitar riff drive the celebration of the late Kings-B.B., Albert and Freddie as Rebecca rants like a soulful hellhound. Their treatment of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” at just under eight minutes clocks in as the longest track here. The juxtaposition of guitar and the free form singing and ranting of our heroine against the loop is almost too much to take it leaves you feeling beautifully emotionally spent at song’s conclusion.

“See See Rider” is taken as a slow funeral dirge. The Denise LaSalle via Buddy Guy backdoor saga “Steppin’ In” gets funkified and deconstructed into something wholly new save for the lyrics, after all it’s what Dreamboogie does.

Rebecca Davey on vocals, Samuel Buckley on guitar, Connor O’Neill on bass and Robert B. Dillion on drums have turned the blues upside down and inside out to create a mind blowing and yeah I’m gonna say it…loopy experience…pun intended. The lady’s mesmerizing vocal attack along with the precise instrumentation are something to behold. You’ve just crossed over into The Dreamboogie Zone…

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


big bill morganfield ad image


 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

alvom johnson cd imageAlvon – The Blues Chose Me

www.alvonjohnson.com

Self Release

7 songs – 36 minutes

It feels like former Coasters’ vocalist, Alvon Johnson, has been around now for years without ever making it to A-List status. And, while his latest release, The Blues Chose Me, may not change that, it is still a very impressive collection of well-written blues-rock songs, played with real emotional commitment and superbly recorded. With only seven songs on the album, The Blues Chose Me is either a very short longer player or a very long E.P. Either way, there is plenty of music packed into those seven songs.

Opening track, “I Love The Blues”, kicks off with some classic country blues finger-picking on a solo acoustic guitar before Johnson’s voice enters. Soon, drums, tuba, banjo, piano, electric guitar and gospel-edged backing vocals are added to the mix, morphing the track into a New Orleans-style pop song. Johnson’s voice is warm and pure, recalling the uptown blues of Charles Brown and Memphis Slim.

In addition to singing lead and backing vocals and adding some bass and keyboards, Johnson also provides all the guitar on the album and at times he puts many much better-known players to shame. His long solo on the slow soul-blues instrumental “Heaven” is simply outstanding in its dynamic range and emotional depth.

Johnson also wrote six of the seven tracks on The Blues Chose Me, in which he covers the spectrum from straight-ahead blues to soul, pop, funk and heavy rock.

The title track, for example, is a slow classic 12-bar shuffle, with smooth keys and Johnson stressing the importance of family and hard work in his warm-hearted lyrics. Once again, he pulls off a top notch guitar solo.

The sheer range of Johnson’s imagination however is perhaps most clearly realised in the pop-rock of “Frustration”, which opens with a heavily over-driven hard rock guitar solo before launching into a pop verse that cleverly builds to a classic rock chorus that even borrows the riff from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”.

The sole cover on the album is Son House’s classic “Death Letter” which, whilst played on acoustic instruments, is radically re-interpreted by Johnson, with a re-arranged chord structure and vocal melody, some lovely violin from Mads Tolling weaving in and out of Johnson’s vocal, and even fades out to some howling borrowed directly from the Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”.

A wide range of musicians provide backing on the album, including Felton C. Pilate II, Willis Hickerson Jr. and James McKinney on keyboards, Sundra D. Manning on piano, Ron Perry on bass, Michael Peloquin, Mike Rinta and Tom Poole on horns, and Billy Moe and Derrick (D’Mar) Martin on drums.

Several of Johnson’s songs were inspired by his strong family ties and its history. Engagingly, the CD cover features one photograph of Johnson as a child and one old photograph of his great-grandparents, taken not long after they were freed from slavery. As he sings on the title track, “My music is my tribute, it comes from deep down in my Soul”.

The Blues Chose Me may not turn Alvon Johnson into a household name. It is however a hugely impressive slice of modern blues-rock with a heavy side of soul. Highly recommended.

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.


jim allchin ad image


 34th Annual Chicago Blues Fest – Part I 

The Chicago Blues Festival is one of the last great FREE Blues fests. It is sponsored by the City of Chicago. This year was the 34th year for this event making it one of the oldest Blues fests in the world. And it is still one of the best.

There were major changes this year with a move to a new location a block north of the usual Grant Park location to Millennium Park. While there was lots of discussion and debate about the move it seemed that the new location had many pluses and of course also a few issues. Overall, it worked fine and this is still one of the great ones. We started out at the Crossroads stage with a set by Demetria Taylor. She had Chicago Bluesman Mike Wheeler handling the guitar duties.

chicago blues fest photo 1 chicago blues fest photo 2 chicago blues fest photo 3

Next up was a set by Katherine Davis and her Blues in the Schools kids from Stone Academy on the Mississippi Juke Joint Stage.

chicago blues fest photo 4 chicago blues fest photo 5 chicago blues fest photo 6 chicago blues fest photo 7

Next we caught Rip Lee Pryor on the Front Porch Stage.

chicago blues fest photo 8 chicago blues fest photo 9

The Windy City Blues Society Stage was moved into a new Blues Village area where all of the not for profit organizations like the Koko Taylor Foundation, The Blue Heaven Foundation and others were located this year. They all shared a Blues Village stage. The first act we saw there was Queen Beautiful.

chicago blues fest photo 10 chicago blues fest photo 11

Next up was Eden Brent back on the Mississippi Juke stage. A Greenville, MS native, Eden gave another great performance.

chicago blues fest photo 12 chicago blues fest photo 13

Next it was back to the Crossroads stage for a set by Mary Lane and the No Static Band. Her band included both Rockin’ Johnny and Shoji Naito on guitar.

chicago blues fest photo 14 chicago blues fest photo 15 chicago blues fest photo 16 chicago blues fest photo 17 chicago blues fest photo 18 chicago blues fest photo 19

Back on the Blues Village stage we saw a set by Jamiah Rogers band.

chicago blues fest photo 20 chicago blues fest photo 21 chicago blues fest photo 22

Then it was back to the Front Porch stage for a set by Jimmy Burns Band.

chicago blues fest photo 23 chicago blues fest photo 24 chicago blues fest photo 25 chicago blues fest photo 26 chicago blues fest photo 27

Then it was back to the Crossroads stage to catch a set by Nick Moss Band with special guest Dennis Gruenling on Harmonica. These guys rocked out and drew a large crowd.

chicago blues fest photo 28 chicago blues fest photo 29 chicago blues fest photo 30 chicago blues fest photo 31 chicago blues fest photo 32 chicago blues fest photo 33

Then another run to the Mississippi Juke Joint Stage for a set by Cedric Burnside and friends.

chicago blues fest photo 34 chicago blues fest photo 35 chicago blues fest photo 36 chicago blues fest photo 37

We then went back to the Front Porch stage to catch a set by 92 year old piano legend Henry Gray. He sounded great especially considering some health problems that had him laid up for a few weeks recently. He had an all-star band including Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on drums, Bob Corritore on harmonica, Billy Flynn of guitar, Bob Stroger on bass and Oscar Wilson from the Cash Box Kings on lead vocals. This was one of the best sets of the fest on Friday!

chicago blues fest photo 38 chicago blues fest photo 39 chicago blues fest photo 40 chicago blues fest photo 41 chicago blues fest photo 42 chicago blues fest photo 43

Back on the Blues Village stage we caught a set by Rob Stone and Friends.

chicago blues fest photo 44 chicago blues fest photo 45 chicago blues fest photo 46 chicago blues fest photo 47 chicago blues fest photo 48

Then we headed back to the Crossroads stage to catch the ever popular Mike Wheeler Band.

chicago blues fest photo 49 chicago blues fest photo 50 chicago blues fest photo 51 chicago blues fest photo 52 chicago blues fest photo 53 chicago blues fest photo 54

Then there was a great jam session in honor of recently passed Chicago piano great Barrelhouse Chuck that featured Billy Flynn, Johnny Iguana, Roosevelt Purifoy and Piano Willie O’Shawny on the Front Porch Stage

chicago blues fest photo 55 chicago blues fest photo 56 chicago blues fest photo 57 chicago blues fest photo 58 chicago blues fest photo 59 chicago blues fest photo 60

Our final stop before the main stage headliners was back to the Mississippi Juke Joint stage for a few songs by Jarekus Singleton.

chicago blues fest photo 61 chicago blues fest photo 62 chicago blues fest photo 63 chicago blues fest photo 64

Then it was off to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for the evenings headliner acts starting off with John Primer and the Real Deal Band.

chicago blues fest photo 65 chicago blues fest photo 66 chicago blues fest photo 67 chicago blues fest photo 68

chicago blues fest photo 69 chicago blues fest photo 70 chicago blues fest photo 71 chicago blues fest photo 72

Next up was Rhymefest. Rhymfest is actually Chicago native Che Smith. Che is an American hip hop artist, philanthropist, and politician and a Grammy award winning songwriter. He has spent years using his music to fight violence on Chicago’s South Side. Toward the end of his set, Billy Branch came out to join him for a song in a show of support against the violence in Chicago.

chicago blues fest photo 74 chicago blues fest photo 75 chicago blues fest photo 76 chicago blues fest photo 77 chicago blues fest photo 78

chicago blues fest photo 79 chicago blues fest photo 80 chicago blues fest photo 81 chicago blues fest photo 82

The final act of the night was the 40 year celebration of Chicago legend Billy Branch and the Sons of the Blues. The set included with special guests Lurrie Bell, Freddie Dixon, J.W.S. Williams, Carlos Johnson, Carl Weathersby, Bill McFarland and Chicago Fire Horns and Mae Koen & The Lights. It was an honor roll of all the folks who have been part of the Sons Of The Blues over the last 40 years. Quite an impressivelist and set to say the least.

chicago blues fest photo 83 chicago blues fest photo 84 chicago blues fest photo 85 chicago blues fest photo 86 chicago blues fest photo 87 chicago blues fest photo 88

chicago blues fest photo 89 chicago blues fest photo 90 chicago blues fest photo 91 chicago blues fest photo 92

chicago blues fest photo 93 chicago blues fest photo 94 chicago blues fest photo 95 chicago blues fest photo 96 chicago blues fest photo 97 chicago blues fest photo 98

It was a fitting end to the first day of this legendary event. We headed back to our hotel to rest up for more great Blues on Saturday.Coming soon: Part 2 of the photos from the Chicago Blues Fest.

Photos and commentary by Bob Kieser and Lorena Jastreb.



 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 10 

lauren mitchell cd imageLauren Mitchell – Desire

Lauren Mitchell Records

www.laurenmitchellband.com

13 tracks/58:02 running time

She’s got it. Don’t know how I missed her but Lauren Mitchell’s pipes are up there with the best. On this, her third release, it should be clear this ain’t no one night stand.

Desire is produced by Tony Braunagel, original Phantom Blues Band member, Robert Cray Band drummer and producer for a myriad of artists, including Taj Mahal. He plays drums and tambourine on tracks 7 & 11. Essentially the band for this date is the Phantom Blues Band with frills. Also on board for this date are fellow Robert Cray keyboardist Jim Pugh, Detroit born, Motown bred Reggie McBride on bass, Bonnie Raitt road band veteran and Phantom Blues Band member Johnny Lee Schell on guitar for tracks 1,4,5,6,8,9,11,12, former Etta James Musical Director Josh Sklair on guitar for tracks 2,3,4,5,7,8, Jose Ramirez on guitar for tracks 2,4,6,9,10, Phantom Blues Band member Joe Sublett on saxophone for tracks 1,2,4,59, Phantom Blues Band member Darrell Leonard on trumpet for tracks 1, 2, 4, 5,9, first call session man Lenny Castro on percussion for tracks 2, 4, 6, 9, 10 and often heralded Steve Fister guests on slide guitar on track 3.

Background vocals are handled by Maxanne Lewis, Kudisan Kai and Leslie Smith on tracks 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 11, while Melody Perry steps in on track 10.

The meat of the matter though, is Lauren Mitchell’s smooth and smokey vocals. There is a Facebook post by her dad that says she grew up listening to lots of Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Son House, Ma Rainey, Big Bill Broonzy, Billie Holiday and Etta James. Mitchell herself is quoted as saying people recognize the Etta James influence and that she identifies with it on a musical as well as personal level. More on that comparison shortly.

There is plenty great material here for the listener to wrap their ears around. The opening track, “(I Don’t Need Nobody To Tell Me) How To Treat My Man, ” is immediately upon you with in your face sass, and a fervent delivery while the band cooks with fun, brassy horn configurations. The listener’s attention is grabbed immediately.

The Columbus, Ohio born, Florida based Mitchell flew out to L.A. for the recording of this project. On track 5, “Good To Me As I Am To You, ” she and the Braunagel assembled crew get down, reach back and flawlessly recreate that Muscle Shoals vibe.

Not many artists can successfully meet the challenge of covering songs of the ex wife of Miles Davis, Funk queen Betty Davis. On track 10, “Anti Love Song,” Ms. Mitchell pulls it off with forceful sway and sultry swag attentiveness.

Other bulls-eye tracks include track 4, “Jump In My Fire,” a ‘come on with it Daddy’ paean to the ultimate hookup. Don’t even get me started on the possible double entendre interpretation of track 9, I Ain’t Been (Licked Yet). Let’s just leave it at, that’s a hook for the ages.

The Gospel infused track 11, “Bridge Of My Dreams, ” exhibits Lauren Mitchell’s church background. Hers is a voice rooted in the believe of a Creator’s stirred up gifts and power as attested to in the artist’s personal note and quote in the liner notes.

This is a great album from one of the freshest “new” voices out there. Stellar, award deserving stuff. Stay tuned to Ms. Mitchell. This voice stands on its own without the Etta James comparison

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



 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 10 

james buddy rogers cd imageJames ‘Buddy’ Rogers – By My Side

JBR Records

www.jamesbuddyrogers.com

14 Tracks/45:53

Guitarist, singer, and songwriter James ‘Buddy’ Rogers should be a familiar name to long-time Blues Blast subscribers. In 2013, his My Guitar Is My Only Friend album was nominated for a Blues Blast Music Award in the Best New Artist Debut Recording category. The Canadian’s latest release offers another batch of original songs that focus on intricacies of love and the corresponding emotions.

The rhythm section, consisted of Slammin’ Mike Wedge on bass and James ‘Hollywood Jimmy’ Badger on drums, is solid throughout the disc. The veteran Lewis Stephens mans the piano, organ, and Wurlitzer keyboard. He has backed Freddie King, Delbert McClinton, and more recently, Mike Zito. All percussion on the recording are courtesy of Winfred Ballard.

Half of the tracks display Rogers’ varied approach to blues music. “Hell To Pay” is full of grinding guitar chords while “Come Back To Me” is a spirited shuffle with Rogers fully expressing his feelings for a member of the opposite sex. The guitarist fires off some Chuck Berry inspired licks on “Can’t Get You Off My Mind,” his solo ringing out with authority. When Rogers does the oft-covered Don Nix classic “Goin’ Down,” his guitar echoes the pain evident in his urgent vocal. The band establishes a late-night groove on the instrumental “Am-Ola-Dora” before Stephens gives the organ a workout, leading to the leader’s razor-sharp guitar solo.

On the rest of disc, Rogers offers a mixture of folkish, sensitive love ballads. “You Belong” and “By My Side” could easily be tracks from one of Eric Clapton’s solo projects. Rogers lays down a poignant vocal on “You & I,” that overcomes the shopworn lyrical content. The best of these tracks is “Baby,” notable for seductive guitar work and a contemplative vocal. “Change” has Rogers on acoustic guitar, the lyrics failing to rise above the ordinary.

There are three real bonus tracks that do not appear on the disc’s track list. “Listening” is an odd, thirty second stretch of silence that takes listeners to a graceful version of “You Belong,” with Rogers alone on acoustic guitar. The third bonus cut is an acoustic rendition of “Can’t Get You Off My Mind”. Rogers uses the acoustic guitar to create a forceful rhythm in support of his urgent overture for a woman’s attention. These tracks help round out the diverse facets of the guitarist and his music, elevating this release above run-of-the-mill status. It is a solid effort from a blues singer unafraid of revealing the sensitive side of his nature.

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!.


briggs farm ad image


 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 10 

greasy gravy cd imageGreasy Gravy – When The Game Is On

Big H Records

www.greasygravy.no

11 tracks/44:55

Here is another band that mines the blue-eyed soul tradition, coming to you straight from Norway. With seven members, including two horn players, Greasy Gravy sounds like a throwback to a bygone musical era. But that old-school sound gets a fresh approach on nine originals with music by guitarist Espen Liland. The lyrics were primarily written by lead singer Tom E. Holmlund, with three songs from the pen of the late R.C. Finnigan, a transplanted Chicagoan who mentored many musicians on the Norwegian blues scene, including Christoffer “Kid” Andersen.

The band excels on tracks like “Like A Stone” and “I’m A Worried Soul,” both brimming with pain of love lost, thanks to Holmlund’s stirring vocal presentations. They cruise along in high gear on “Good Thing,” as Kasper Vaernes on saxophone and Tom Erik Antonsen on trumpet play vibrant flourishes over the taut groove laid down by Rune Endal on bass and Alexander Pettersen on drums, now the drummer for Rick Estrin & the Nightcats. “Tell It To My Heart” would have been a “Pick To Click” in a bygone era when real music filled the radio airwaves. The bright horn lines and catchy rhythm make the track a joy to listen to.

“Love On The Rocks” will spark some “that sounds familiar” moments as Holmlund slowly tears your heart out portraying a man drinking to forget his situation – “facing love on the rocks, and a heartache on the side”. The title track features the band’s keyboard player, Magnus Ostvang, on the organ along with a biting Vaernes sax excursion. The mood lifts considerably on “When Love Comes Around,” as Liland and Ostvang get a chance to showcase their talents. “Everybody Understands The Blues” sticks to the soul side of the street, with Liland varying the sonics by switching to slide guitar.

Pettersen supplies a big beat on a cover of “Love Potion No. 9” that threatens to overpower the track while the horns add a dramatic flair. A bonus track, a cover of Al Green’s “Memphis Train,” is a highlight simply because the band finally cuts loose, getting low-down and funky. It is one final reminder that Greasy Gravy has assimilated the essence of soul music and now, with the first studio album of their career, they are ready to pay reverent homage to that American art form. This one is will most assuredly bring plenty of listening pleasure.

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!.


msrk searcy ad image


 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 

delta moon cd imageDelta Moon – Cabbagetown

Jumping Jack Records 2017

http://deltamoon.com/

10 tracks; 37 minutes

Since winning the IBC in 2003 Delta Moon have gigged constantly, toured across the states and Europe and issued an impressive series of albums; 2015’s Low Down made the album of the year lists in several magazines but Cabbagetown is possibly their best disc yet with several outstanding songs. The band has always centred round the twin guitars of Mark Johnson and Tom Gray with Tom providing the lead vocals. Both men play slide and lap steel, Tom also playing keys where needed and harp on one cut. The other band members are Franher Joseph on upright and electric bass and vocals and Marlon Patton on drums. Jon Liebman adds harp on one track and backing vocals are added to five songs by Kyshona Armstrong and Susannah Masarie. Main songwriter Tom wrote four songs on his own and the whole band are credited on five others with one cover, Son House’s “Death Letter”.=

The first four songs are all Tom’s and are fun and catchy tunes. Opener “Rock And Roll Girl” is terrific with Mark’s exciting lap steel underpinning the rocking story of a life in the music biz: “I tried working five days a week, sit home in the evening and watch TV. The time I sold I’ll never get back. So I joined a rock and roll band, seen the world through a haze of one night stands. And you, my rock and roll girl, you’re the only thing I done right in this ragged round world”. Equally catchy is “The Day Before Tomorrow” with attractive backing vocals and lyrics about making the most of today: “the thing about tomorrow, it’s coming ready or not, and the day before tomorrow is all we’ve ever got”. Tom shows a sense of humour on “Just Lucky I Guess” over acoustic bass, mandolin and slide and the ultra-catchy “Coolest Fools” with its bubbling rhythms and twin slide attack. The band composition “Mad About You” rushes along with Tom on electric piano and clearly besotted by the girl.

Things get a whole lot more serious with “Refugee” which depicts the horrors of the refugee crisis through spoken word statements by Tom, Franher and Kyshona about how harrowing their characters’ lives are; this is serious songwriting about a serious subject, well presented and thought-provoking. “Death Letter” has always been a serious song and Delta Moon’s take on it brings some modern aspects as the rhythm section lays down a hip-hop beat, the slide adding ominous tones which are further accentuated by the harp; Franher’s deep-toned vocal adds to Tom’s and the whole version is a successful updating of an old favourite whilst still retaining the sense of tragedy and sadness that the original had.

Tom takes a critical look at our obsession with gadgets on the gently grooving “21st Century Man” before a return to the basics of the blues with the instrumental “Cabbagetown Shuffle” which takes the band back to its origins when Tom and Mark used to play duets on their back porch, this time with acoustic bass, simple drums, lap steel and harp from Tom and bottleneck slide from Mark. The album closes on a positive note, Tom reminding us that we should be celebrating our shared origins rather than fearing and fighting each other; we should start to “Sing Together”.

A fine album with no weak tracks; hard to imagine any blues fan not enjoying this one.

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.


mvbsad image


 Featured Blues Review – 10 of 10 

gift and the moonbeams cd imageGift & The Moonbeams – Gift’s Sounds

Rhythm Bomb Records

www.rock-star-records.co.uk

12 tracks/39:13

Recorded in Munich, Germany,featuring nine originals and three covers, this disc spotlights the artistry of singer Gift Musarurwa. He mixes musical elements of his African heritage with blues music in an all-acoustic format. His band, the Moonbeams, consists of Michal Karbowski on guitar & backing vocals, Ivona Karbowska on percussion & backing vocals, and Ju Ghan on the up-right bass.

The group’s sound is sparse with basic rhythms and measured instrumental fills. Gift plays guitar and harp, adding some depth to the proceedings. His weathered voice spins a tale of lost love on “Mary Anne” while “Poor Boy” recalls the hectic pace of his younger years juggling various jobs to support his family while attending school. Karbowski, a classically trained guitarist, picks some delicate lines before engaging in a brief exchange with Ghan. “Kindly Treat Me” is built on a standard blues progression as Gift ponders a woman’s lack of attention with Karbowska adding melodic moans in the background.

Several songs are sung in African dialects. “Mapuleni Chikashana (Hello Young Lady)” is a jaunty ode focused on a young man’s inability to share his feelings with the object of his affections. Written with David Matondo, “Butsu Yangu Yapera Hiri” moves along at a sprightly pace as Gift describes a man’s failure to attract a girl’s attention. The evils of beer (Pombe) are covered in the traditional Swahili folk song, “Shahuri Ya Pombe”. Karbowska does a duet with Gift on the brief “You’ve Changed Your Ways and Thinking,” which features lyrics by Matt Foreman plus several rudimentary harmonica interludes. “Moonbeams” negotiates familiar territory, with the protagonist issuing a promise to stay away from moonshine if his woman will give him one more chance.

“What’s The Matter With The Mill” is a blues standard dedicated to Memphis Minnie. Gift blows some simple harp fills over Karbowski’s fleet-fingered playing. Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain” gets an appropriately solemn treatment as Ghan lays down a deep foundation. The final selection, “Maggie,” is credited to Gift but sounds like John Lee Hooker’s “Maudie” with a name change.

This is a low-key recording without a modernistic sheen. The basic approach means that, as a whole, the disc hangs together without any major issues. For the same reason, the group never generates any exceptional moments of music-making, partly attributable to Gift’s easygoing vocal style. Give it a listen if your tastes tend toward a softer approach to the blues.

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!.


blues from the top ad image


blues and rhythm mag ad image


 Featured Blues Interview – Bettye LaVette 

bettye lavette photo 1Bettye LaVette knocked ’em all down like a bowling ball scoring 300: 19 sets with more than 50 musicians performed over a six-hour marathon at the 38th Blues Music Awards, the biggest, most stellar blues show on earth. This year’s version was the best I’d seen in 20 years. From young bloods like Toronzo Cannon and Thornetta Davis to road warrior vets like Kenny Neal, John Primer and Doug MacLeod, the performances were heart stopping as each artist bled out on the stage, a picture postcard of what the blues is capable of.

Then, there was Bettye LaVette

Bettye soared over them all with her interpretation of two relatively obscure songs: “Take Me Like I Am” by veteran Eddie Hinton whose work included sessions with Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and Wilson Pickett, and “Bless Us All,” a Mickey Newbury song from her Grammy nominated 2016 CD Worthy. Time stood still, the crowd transfixed as she squeezed out the two songs as if her life depended on it.

Bettye won Soul Blues Artist of The Year at the 2016 BMAs and was up for the same honor again this year. She lost to an absent Mavis Staples, one more footnote in a 55-year career of incredible highs and jaw-dropping lows as she’s rubbed shoulders with legacy artists from a cross section of genres starting at age 16.

She reflects, “Stuff was happening so fast, and when I tell people I had a record on the charts before Aretha Franklin, they’re like what? When you think of Detroit, you think of being the lesser of them, and not being the greater of them. I didn’t have the success that my contemporaries did in Detroit, although I grew up in Detroit and knew them personally for a very long time until they became rich and famous anyway.”

Bettye broke onto the scene way back in 1963 at the age of 16 with an R&B top 10 hit. “My Man – He’s A Lovin’ Man.” She toured with Otis Redding, James Brown and Ben E. King, but the title of her follow-up single in 1965 was prescient, “Let Me Down Easy.” In spite of staying “in the business” for the next 55 years, only six of her 45s charted R&B and none have ever broken the pop top 100.

That said, she is arguably the most high-profile African American pop singer to never break into the pop charts. Her “comeback album” A Woman Like Me, earned her a W.C. Handy Award in 2004. The Scene of The Crime recorded with alt-rockers Drive-By Truckers earned her a Grammy nomination on 2008.

At the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008 her spectacular rendition of The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” prompted Barbara Streisand to whisper into Pete Townsend’s ear asking him if he really wrote that song. President Obama mouthed the words to Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” along with her and Bon Jovi at his inaugural in 2009 on international television.

Her 2010 CD Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook covered songs by the cream of the British Invasion rockers including the Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Animals. In 2012 she published her autobiography A Woman Like Me co-written by David Ritz, whose credits include Buddy Guy, B. B. King and Aretha Franklin. And a week after the BMAs this year she performed at a Carnegie Hall homage to Billie Holiday.

So, you may ask, why is Bettye LaVette not a household name like Aretha Franklin? You have to go all the way back to 1963 for the answer. A teenager with a top 10 R&B hit with “My Man – He’s a Lovin’ Man” on Atlantic Records, she then toured with Clyde McPhatter, Ben E .King, Barbara Lynn and newcomer Otis Redding. But her friends from Detroit were whispering in her ear.

“Yeah, my friends had told me I needed another record out, and Atlantic hadn’t put one out, so I should go to New York and get a release from my contract. I had no idea where I was supposed to go after that. I had no idea why I was supposed to do that. All I knew was that when I was 16, I was dumber than a door nail, really!

“And that thing of it is when I thought of myself as being young and sophisticated, I thought that going to New York was this young and sophisticated thing. The business side I had no idea about.

“When I came and asked for the release, Jerry Wexler was like, ‘Why would this little girl that no one has ever heard of want to leave Atlantic?’” Wexler was the co-founder of Atlantic Records responsible for launching the careers of LaVern Baker, Ray Charles, Ruth Brown and the Drifters.

“And I’m like, ‘I need to have a record now!’ Jerry wrote me his own personal check for $500 and gave me a release from my contract. He gave me the check and said, ‘You’re gonna need this.’ And he was right.”

bettye lavette photo 2By the time Atlantic released Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” in 1967, Bettye knew she’d made a terrible mistake. That song became Aretha’s signature hit, earning her two Grammys and establishing her as a vanguard artist in the feminist movement while Bettye was recording for small Detroit labels.

“I don’t know what would have happened with the (Atlantic co-founder) Ahmet Ertugan/Jerry Wexler split where Ahmet Ertugan was on Aretha’s side, and Jerry would have been on my side. I don’t know how that would have worked out, but I would have been there. By the time “Respect” came out, I would have been there three years, so it was really stupid. I had no manager. So, I was listening to friends, friends who had never been out of Detroit as if they knew how the whole record industry worked.

“I just think that was a very bad move, and especially considering the producer that Jerry Wexler was suggesting was Burt Bacharach. I didn’t know anything about him then other than whatever he had done with Dionne Warwick, and I knew I didn’t want to sing like that, but I had no clue as to how I did want to sing or what I did want to do.”

By 1963, Bacharach had already written “Walk On By” for Dionne Warwick and hits for Marty Robbins, Perry Como, Gene McDaniels, and Jerry Butler. He would go on to write for more than 1000 artists, and his jazz inflected orchestral arrangements helped him earn six Grammys and three Academy Awards.

“You have to remember, you may be talking like a year. People don’t realize how rapidly things were changing then, and when I tell people I had a record on the charts before Aretha Franklin, they’re like what?

“That’s the ONE thing I’ve done that I would ever change. Everything else, even though some of it hasn’t worked out well, the general experience or the feeling that made me do it in the first place I would want to do again, but probably had I done the correct thing then, I wouldn’t have even been compromised in the future situations because my career would have gone another way.”

Bettye’s mom’s early advice to her young daughter would prove prophetic. She told her if one of life’s lessons costs you your ass, it’s better than if a teacher teaches it to you. That advice relates to what Shemekia Copeland calls the bullshit meter. And Bettye learned the hard way who was bullshit and who speaking from the heart. And you can hear that lesson in every song she sings.

She reminds me of Patti Smith and Johnny Cash. Not in what either one of them sings or sounds like her but in terms of her delivery. Like both Patti and Johnny, she lays herself on the line and bleeds out on virtually every song she does, regardless of whether it’s pretty or not, and regardless of what genre the song comes from. You intuitively know that this woman has been to hell and back more times than a cat has lives.

And she has a fierce sense of pride in her own identity which does not conform to any of the stereotypes of the various genres of music she dips into. Not the arrogance of rock, not the self-pity of blues, not the superficial beauty of pop coquettes. No, she’s more like Odetta or Nina Simone, a bramble bush of briers that stands tall and grows stronger, not letting anyone try to pull her out of her grounded strength without being pricked.

Like Patti, she announces I am woman, not as an example of “the weaker sex,” but the I-am-woman as in the yin to the male yang, the pillar of reason, the person with a sharp sense of personal justice, a realist who isn’t going to take any shit from her man or anyone else. Like Johnny, she’s a story teller with a voice that makes no apologies for its scars. You are compelled to hear each story and know by the timbre of her voice that she speaks the truth tempered by a life of personal heartbreak, lessons learned hard and triumphs learned harder.

Unlike so many female African American singers, she did not grow up in the church. She lived in Muskegon, Michigan, here her parents sold corn liquor from the house and played pop songs on a juke box in the living room. “My parents DID NOT RUN PARTIES all the time,” she corrects me. “My parents never missed a day’s work unless it was after my father fell ill. We lived in western Michigan during segregation.

“They sold corn liquor, and you couldn’t stop by a bar after work if you were black. You stopped by my house. They all ran tabs until payday on Friday, and they all paid. There was no fighting and if you were there, you had to be there with your wife or by yourself. They all worked together every day in the factory there in Muskegon making parts for the factories in Detroit. Not for Ford, Ford always made their own shit, but for Chrysler and General Motors.

“That was a small country town where people just came and re-enacted everything they had brought from the south. And the blacks, it was just a re-enactment. It was on a kinder basis. You pretty much could do what you wanted to do, but you couldn’t do it with them (whites). Then, that pretty much was what it was in Detroit.

“You could do whatever you wanted to do, but you couldn’t do it at the Hilton, and you couldn’t do it at The Sheraton. You could do it at Bates Motel, but you couldn’t do it anywhere you wanted to do it, but you could do anything you wanted to do. There weren’t a lot of blacks. It was tantamount to a more sophisticated Mississippi town. Everybody there was from Louisiana.

bettye lavette photo 3“In Detroit, here again, there was a black guy there. His name was Boswell. He owned a chain of drug stores. You could do anything you wanted to do, but you couldn’t do it with whites. I would have loved to be 20 years old in 1925 in Detroit, but I would have wanted to be three shades lighter than I am, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be white. I just wanted to be able to fool ’em.

“My career has pretty much been saved by whites and investigating all of them there have been more Irish ones of them than anything else, and the ones that have asked me to marry them have all been Irish, and my husband (of 15 years, and an Irishman) actually seems to like black music more than I do.”

An examination of her whole career shows a woman of immense talent whose greatness shows through in spurts. “Let Me Down Easy” on Calla Records went top 20 R&B in 1965, got her on Shindig and put her on tour with The James Brown Review. She jumped from label to label and Jim Lewis became her manager in 1968.

Rob Bowman writes about Lewis’ influence: “A veteran of the big band era having played with the screaming and stomping Buffalo-based Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, Lewis constantly harped on her to listen to master song interpreters such as Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra, pointing out the intricacies of phrasing and timbre manipulation that are part and parcel of the sonic art of any truly great vocalist.”

Constantly restless, she fought an ongoing battle over her self-esteem. “When Atlantic didn’t release Child of The Seventies (in 1973) I went and got up under my dining room table and stayed two or three days just drinking wine and coming up to go to the bathroom, but then somebody called and I was over that, and it was the same thing here and Jim (Lewis) certainly expounded on me and made me believe that luck is when preparation and opportunity meet, and he told me to constantly be prepared. So, emotionally I wasn’t stunned. I felt if they ever heard me, they’d like me. I was more stunned that somebody was hearing me than that it was happening.”

Bettye’s most interesting album of this century is Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, 13 versions of songs from the British Invasion that almost makes the diehard blues fan believe that those boys from the U.K. got what it’s all about. She shrugs off her amazing versions of these chestnuts as simple renderings of lyrics on a piece of paper.

“I’m not really a great music enthusiast….If blues was something that had not been beaten out of me, it has been embarrassed out of me. I didn’t even know who the fuck Buddy Guy was until (my agent) Mike Kappus (of the Rosebud Agency) put me on so many blues shows. I’d never heard of Buddy Guy, Marcia Ball. I’d never heard of Mike Kappus’ whole roster, no one on it. When I heard the Interpretations album, I only knew two of those tunes. I had never heard of the rest of them.”

When Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues heard her version of the band’s signature song “Nights in White Satin” on Interpretations he wrote: “’Nights in White Satin’ has been covered many times, never more movingly than by soul singer Bettye LaVette. When I heard her version the first time, I was sitting at my computer one morning, and I burst into tears. Suddenly it all made sense to me. I had written it at age 19, going on 20, and it was like I had heard it for the first time at age 65. That was very refreshing.”

“But you know what they are amongst old white rock fans,” says Bettye. “(they’re) iconic records. If they had brought the song to me, it would have been a rhythm and blues song. It’s just words on a piece of paper. And so the person that sings it did it because it’s whatever kind of song, whatever the singer is, and it’s so much easier for me to sound like me than it is to sound like Justin Hayward. Really! Honestly, it is!

“If people would just slow down for a moment and think about it, and stop idolizing these records, just 60 years ago, when Cole Porter wrote a song, no matter how big the artist was that did it, Cole Porter was still the writer, the brilliant one. But then all the writers went to put on Chinese suits and go on stage. So that’s another thing. I think the writers should stay in their places. I think Burt Bacharach was the last one to move, and they had to make him move. He said, ‘I’m a writer,’ and I think when people say that, you should accept it. I think these songs are just words on a piece of paper until the person interprets them or sings them.”

A sense of cynicism and anger injects itself, however, when the mirror is turned, and she reflects back on the British rockers making millions off old American blues songs. “If it had not been for the abolitionists during slavery, this thing would never have worked out for my folks. But if they could have gotten all the rest of the whites to agree with them, do you know how different it would have been?

“I talked to British guys who said they went to all boys’ schools, and they would get under the bed and pull the sheets down and whatever, and they had this little pen light, and they would be playing ‘Let Me Down Easy’ on the floor under the bed, and I’m like why would English white boys want to listen to ‘Let Me Down Easy?’ But it’s there I think that the realness is there, and I think like anything else, everybody doesn’t see and capture and accept realness.

bettye lavette photo 4“I’ve had people send (my husband) Kevin messages. One lady said she fully enjoyed my show, but she said she wasn’t going to come anymore because it was just too hard. It hurt her. (Chuckle) And that you could hear this at a young age, (Note: I told her Jimmy Reed moved me at 18) you’re rare! You’re not regular. And the whites who do not feel the way you do didn’t do it out of meanness. They did it out of ignorance. And you were rare that young to listen to Jimmy Reed and like it.”

Eric Clapton once told me he couldn’t be Buddy Guy because he didn’t have the experiences these blues guys that he idolizes had, but I think the Stones came closest to the bone and sometime Eric Burdon of the Animals did, too.

“You know, my husband is Irish. It’s one of the greatest moments of my life to see him standing there looking at Pete Townsend looking at me. That was just great for me because (he always loved) this British invasion. When you said this British Invasion, that makes them the other immediately – that music that was crossing over, Motown was even stopped for a moment from getting airplay for things like WABC in New York where you’re heard in 90 states. I think that Buddy Guy, B. B. King, Muddy Waters, I think all these people are really grateful for what eventually kinda came out because of these people.

She drips with sarcasm. “(But) we were not sitting around saying, ‘Wow, these guys are really playing our music and becoming millionaires.’ That’s bullshit, and if you can find me a black guy, including Buddy Guy who can tell me that in 1965 as they were coming out of starvation themselves, they were saying ‘Oh, my goodness, I am so grateful that these white British guys are becoming billionaires with our music?’ That just did not happen, and no, the Animals do not sound black, and I know how y’all feel about the Rolling Stones, but shit, I don’t even try to figure out why people like things. That’s the thing about this business is that it’s a matter of opinion, but I’ve been listening to music since the first time this person picked up a drum stick or whatever, You cannot tell me how great something is because you like it. You cannot tell me how great it is based upon it. Now maybe you can play something, if you can sit down and show me the genius in whatever this is.

“If you sit down at a piano and break all of this stuff down which I’ve done because I do a lot of the Beatles’ tunes, the only thing I can see with the Rolling Stones is, yes, they did come close, but they didn’t become hits. They became millionaires and didn’t become hits. AND they didn’t have these fantastic notes and musical orations that the Beatles did. I take issue with them, and the fact that I was at the Carlisle and Mick Jagger was standing right on the floor above me and wouldn’t come down on the floor below me and say hello to me. So, I take issue with all of that.”

At 71, Bettye LaVette can sometimes come off as worn leather that’s wet, but beneath the tough exterior, she’s every bit a woman whose music stole the show at this year’s Blues Music Awards making one wonder where she’d be if she hadn’t walked away from Atlantic Records as a teenager.

“I’m 71 years old, and I’ve kissed enough asses until my tongue is slick. I can’t do things the way you predispose them. Or that was one of the things the way the motion picture they were trying to make from my book (A Woman Like Me). The first person they had do a screen play, he wrote a whole screen play, and I knew he would have to embellish things to make the movie worthy, but he couldn’t just change the characters or have my mother say something that she should never say in 91 years.

“So, that fell apart, but I can be tender, and I can be sweet, and David (Ritz, biographer) is my age, and I think he wasn’t going to say anything that I didn’t want him to say. I think he knows that even though I had never written a book before – this is my first – and I know he knows how I want to sound under all circumstances, and he got to know me that well, and then he spent time here in my home with me, and he said what I wanted him to say and he knew what I didn’t want him to say. I told him I didn’t care what he said, but we will say it the way I want to say it.”

I told Bettye that she reminded me of folk legend Odetta in our interview. Both can be very feminine but at the same time very sure of themselves. There’s a dichotomy. On one hand she’s soft in terms of her femininity, but on the other hand she’s not going to let anybody give her any shit.

“Yup. That about sums it up,” she said. “Do you want to just write that, and we’ll just go home?”

Visit Bettye LaVette’s website at: www.bettyelavette.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.


joe rosen book ad image


 Blues Society News 


 Send your Blues Society’s BIG news or Press Release about your not-for-profit event with the subject line “Blues Society News” to: email address image

Maximum of 175 words in a Text or MS Word document format.


Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

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: http://www.facebook.com/friendsoftheblues.

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 26 – The Bridget Kelly Band.

For more information visit www.icbluesclub.org.

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL, IL

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 sub_insignia@yahoo.com for more info on any of these events or go to http://crossroadsbluessociety.com/.


BB logoP.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555 © 2017 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425

Please follow and like us:
8