Issue 11-29 July 20, 2017

Cover photo © 2017 Bob Kieser


 In This Issue 

Bill Dahl has our feature interview with Chicago Blues legend Jimmy Johnson. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Catfish Keith, Champion Jack Dupree, Samantha Fish, Andy T Band featuring Alabama Mike, Biscuit Miller, Richard Cagle & The Voodoo Choir, Steven Graves, Suitcase Johnnie, Elliott and the Untouchables Blues Band and Lee Palmer.

Bob Kieser and Lorena Jastreb have Part III of photos and commentary from the 2017 Chicago Blues Festival.

Our video of the week is Laith Al-Saadi.

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


 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

Have you voted yet? Fan voting for the 2017 Blues Blast Music Awards started on Saturday and continues until August 15th. We offer you the ability to actually hear the music of the nominees before you vote by going to our Soundcloud listening site at https://soundcloud.com/bluesblast/sets/

You can only vote one time so listen first and then vote NOW at http://www.bluesblastmagazine.com/bbmas/vote/vote.php!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser


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Have You Voted Yet?

Fan voting for the 2017 Blues Blast Music Awards continues until August 15th. We offer you the ability to actually hear the music of the nominees before you vote by going to our Soundcloud listening site at https://soundcloud.com/bluesblast/sets/

You can only vote one time so listen first and then vote NOW at http://www.bluesblastmagazine.com/bbmas/vote/vote.php!



 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 10 

catfish keith cd imageCatfish Keith – Mississippi River Blues

Fish Tail Records

www.catfishkeith.com

14 tracks

I first became aware of Catfish Keith about a dozen years ago at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. He was exuberant, reserved yet confident and one hell of a picker. He played his regular gig and then demoed the National Reso-Phonic Guitar they were raffling off, so I got to see him and hear him several times that weekend and many times since. This is his 16th album, a remarkable feat for any artist, and features a couple of originals and a dozen other songs that Keith has reworked or put his spin on.

Recorded in summer 2016 at Luke Tweedy’s Flat Black Studios in Iowa City, Keith records his first song ever on the Resolele, a resophonic ukulele prototype made ny Pete Howlett. Managed by his wife, Penny Cahill, Catfish Keith has performed and toured the globe for almost 30 years.

The album opens to “It Won’t Be Long Now,” a Frank Stokes song that predates Memphis Blues. Catfish picks at his Santa Cruz Catfish Special and seems to enjoy both the song and guitar. He howls the vocal lines with aplomb. “Just Can’t Keep from Cryin’ Sometimes” is a Blind Willie Johnson song and done on a National Gold Dueco Baritone Tricone. It’s got a beautiful, stinging tone that Keith draws out of it. The Mississippi Shieks’ “Please Baby” is next. He plays two guitars and sings two parts and pulls it off nicely. The first original “Telling You Pretty Mama” is inspired by Blind Blake. Back to the Santa Cruz guitar, Keith picks and runs up and down the fret board sweetly. It’s got a pretty, down home sound and the song and lyrics are great. Johnny Horton’s “Sleepy Eyed John” is the uke resonator and sounds cool. He approached it like playing a banjo and it sounds really nice. The vocals here are the best of the first five songs, too! “Reefer Hound” done on a 12-string is done as if he’s been blowing reefer, sounding a little high and spooky to cool effect. The guitar is primal and the vocals are interesting. The title track is Jimmie Rogers and the cut is dedicated to his wife’s deceased brother who left us in 2014. Nice finger picking and down home style, Keith recreates it and yodels as he did at Billy Cahill’s funeral.

J.B. Lenoir’s “The Whale Swallowed Jonah” is up next. The Faribanks F-10 Nick Licas has a neat tone and Keith picks with abandon. “Cancion Mixteca” follows, a traditional Oaxacan waltz. Keith does it as a slide instrumental on the Tricone and it has a deep and beautiful sound as he glides across the streets with three beats to a measure. “Jumpin’ Jack Rabbit” is played on his National Radio Tone Bendaway and it has a straight up and cool sound. Vocally one of the better cuts, Keith sings with passion on this second original. “Candyman” is next up, Mississippi John Hurt’s classic. Playing the Special again, it’s got a rich tone and Keith does it justice. “weed” is the second vut of that subject, his arrangement of Bea Foote’s tune. The 12 string is played with hesitation to make the sound sound tentative and secretive. Keith again impressed here. “Mama Don’t You Sell It, Papa Don’t You Give It Away” is poetry from Oscar Buddy Woods. Keith and his Tricone make this one special. “Shake Sugaree” is a beautiful number sung with emotion and played with equal effect. The set concludes with it, a fine ending.

This is a fine acoustic guitar album. The picking and playing are exceptional. My one big complaint throughout is that there are times when Keith sounds like he’s trying to sing like an 80 year old Delta Blues Man. It begins to sound forced and fake, like he’s trying too hard and that he’s out of his wheelhouse. In his natural voice the songs flow evenly and sound much better. Maybe it’s just me. The playing throughout is marvelous. Few can make a guitar do what Catfish Keith does. This is a fine acoustic blues album that fans of that style will rally to!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.


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 Chicago Blues Fest – Part III 

On the third and final day at the Chicago Blues Fest we were tired but Blues happy after the previous days great Blues music. We started out the day at the Crossroads stage to catch a set by Chicago’s own Tail Dragger and the Allstars. His set was a great way to kick the day off.

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Next we headed to the Front Porch stage to catch some gospel tinged Blues from The Como Mamas.

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From there we headed over to the Mississippi Juke Joint stage to catch a few songs from soul blues powerhouse JJ Thames.

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JJ’s current album is nominated for a Blues Blast Music Award.

Then we headed back to the Crossroads stage to hear Vance Kelly and the Backstreet Blues Band.

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From there we it was over to Front Porch Stage to see Mud Morganfield. Mud of course is the son of Muddy Waters. The place was packed and Mud had the cream of the crop of Chicago sidemen backing him including Sumito Ariyoshi on keyboards, E.G. McDaniel on bass, Studebaker John on harp and Rick Kreher on guitar.

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If you look up the famous video of the Rolling Stones sitting in with Muddy at the Checkerboard Lounge in 1981 you can see Rick Kreher in the back on the right hand side of the stage playing guitar with Muddy as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the Stones come in and basically take over the stage in the middle of the song “Baby Please Don’t Go”. (Click HERE to see that video.)

Then we headed back to the Mississippi Juke stage to see Zakiya Hooker. Zakiya is the daughter of legend John Lee Hooker. She also drew a huge crowd.

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Then we went back to Front Porch Stage to catch part of the Chi-Town Harp Showcase where we got to hear Omar Coleman, Russ Green and Lamont Harris. Harp heaven!

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And speaking of harp heaven, we headed back to the Crossroads stage to see Rick Estrin & The Nightcats. In this editor’s opinion, Rick Estrin is one of the greatest living harmonica players today. If you have never seen him, put it on your to do list NOW!

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As the afternoon wore on we made one more round and headed over to the Mississippi Juke Stage to catch a song or two from the amazing Denise LaSalle. Her voice is a powerful as ever and the placed was packed with her fans.

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Then we saw a few songs from harp ace Wallace Coleman on the Front Porch stage.

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The final performer we saw before heading over to the main stage for the evening headliners was Melvia “Chick” Rodgers.

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Feeling a bit tired from all the running and crowds we went over to sit down at the Pritzker Pavilion for the evenings headliners starting with Chicago’s own Ronnie Baker Brooks.

Ronnie’s set was a tribute to his father Lonnie Brooks who passed away in April this year. He had a band of top Chicago sidemen and brother Wayne Baker Brooks came out to sit in for part of the set. Billy Branch joined in on the final song “Sweet Home Chicago,” which was a hit song for Lonnie Brooks in 1980.

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Next up was Rhiannon Giddens. Giddens was formerly with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. She performed folk, gospel, blues and hill country songs with a great band.

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The final act of the fest was Gary Clark Jr. Clark is from Austin, Texas. He has made quite a name for himself and drew a huge crowd of black and white, young, middle-aged and old fans that packed the park to capacity for his show.

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In conclusion, next year’s festival will likely to be held June 8, 9 & 10, 2018. If you have never attended the Chicago Blues Fest put it on your bucket list and get there next year.

Photos and commentary by Bob Kieser and Lorena Jastreb.


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 10 

champion Jack Dupree cd imageChampion Jack Dupree – Live at Rockpalast – Cologne 1980

MIG Music

DVD: 18 tracks / 120:16

2 CDs: 18 tracks / 119:45

It has been 25 years since Champion Jack Dupree passed away, and to commemorate this occasion the people at MIG Music have released a very nice DVD / CD set of his 1980 concert in Cologne, Germany: Live at Rockpalast. The show was filmed for the German television show, Rockpalast, a long-running music program has featured hundreds of top name rock, jazz, and blues bands since the first episode aired in 1974. This episode was definitely a winner, as it is a wonderful documentation of an artist who, at that time, had over 40 years invested in the music business.

Jack Dupree experienced more highs and lows during his 81 years than most anybody else ever will. He grew up as an orphan in New Orleans, which is where he learned to play the piano with help from greats such as Tuts Washington and Willie Hall. He traveled around the middle part of the States as a young man and he took up boxing on the recommendation of Joe Lewis, winning the Golden Gloves and earning the nickname, “Champion.” After retiring from the ring, Jack got immersed in the Chicago blues scene, with a hiatus to serve in WWII and spend two years in a Japanese prison camp. After that he came back to his piano, eventually moving to Europe, which became his base of operations for countless gigs and festivals. This set him up nicely for this two hour Rockpalast show.

For this set, Jack does most of the hard work as he plays piano and sings throughout, accompanied only by his buddy Kenn Lending, a Danish guitarist. Rambling Jack Elliott joins them on stage for one song, but otherwise it is the Jack and Kenn show. They make their way through seventeen songs, a mix of originals, classics, and traditionals, with lots of banter, semi-dirty jokes, and eccentric misquotations of Shakespeare. Oh yes, and a few beers — Mr. Dupree was quite a character, it seems.

As the evening progresses and Jack makes his way through the set list, it is quickly apparent that all of these tunes are Champion Jack Dupree songs, regardless of who wrote them. Dupree’s Crescent City upbringing was a huge part of who he was, and this influence shines through in the barrelhouse and boogie-woogie that he lays down at the Rockpalast show. In fact, he takes a run at a handful of more popular blues tunes, and though you hear the original material in the background, he uses his charm and his strong left hand to bend them into his own shapes. Among these you will find “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer,” “Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee,” “Down By the Riverside,” When the Saints Go Marching In,” ”Mean Old Frisco,” and a slightly offensive take on Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never.”

Dupree and Lending have a solid connection, though it obvious that Jack is taking the lead and Kenn is along for the ride as his co-pilot. His guitar provides a smooth contrast to the piano parts, and he gets a few chances to take solos which are tasteful and not over the top. Jack’s old friend, Rambling Jack Elliott, joins them with his acoustic guitar for “Salt Pork, West Virginia,” and this Louis Jordan tune has a completely different feel when all of the horns are stripped away.

The production of this 3-disc set is good, with sound that is about as good as you could expect from a live show using technology from 1980. A funny thing is that the sound actually seems to be clearer and more evenly balanced on the DVD, so maybe more post-production work took place for that disc. The video quality is amazing, with plenty of camera angles that include: the whole stage, Jack’s expressive face, his wonderfully busy hands, Kenn and his Les Paul, and even the audience. The video is clear enough that it could have been made yesterday, if you can pretend for a moment that all modern day people have terrible haircuts and wardrobes.

The world is a poorer place without Champion Jack Dupree in it, and it is really cool that MIG Music chose to honor his legacy with Live at Rockpalast. This CD / DVD set includes two hours of good times and fun music from one of the legends of blues piano. This is as close as we will ever get to sitting in the audience for one of his shows, and this set is worth every penny. If you are a fan of vintage blues it will certainly be a great idea to check it out for yourself!

Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.


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 Featured Blues Video Of The Week – Laith Al-Saadi 

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Here is video of a great blues guitar player and singer named Laith Al-Saadi. He was selected as a contestant on The Voice last year.

Here is the video from his blind audition. if you missed it. (Click image to watch!)

Laith is performing at the Prairie Dog Blues Festival on Friday, July 28th, 2017.

For tickets and info on this Blues event visit www.prairiedogblues.com or click on their ad in this issue!


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 10 

samantha fish cd imageSamantha Fish – Chills & Fever

Ruf Records RUF 1241

14 songs – 55 minutes

www.samanthafish.com

Kansas City-based singer/guitarist Samantha Fish has covered a world of territory since capturing the 2012 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist. She emerged as a hard-hitting blues-rocker for two albums, then transitioned closer to mainstream blues her 2015 release produced by Hill Country superstar Luther Dickinson. She pursues a completely different path on Chills & Fever.

Previous albums served as a showcase for her guitar pyrotechnics and songwriting skills, both of which take a back seat here. Samantha has matured dramatically since Wild Heart, which contained 10 originals and plenty of over-the-top fret work. Now in her late 20s, one glance at her new look on his cover and one listen to the music contained within will tell you that she’s ripened into a vocalist who doesn’t need a six-string to get across her message.

This is Fish’s fifth release on German-based Ruf Records. In the past, Samantha’s voice was all high-intensity, sometimes on the verge of shrill. Here, she proves to be a gifted singer with plenty control as she delivers an album of carefully chosen, often obscure, covers.

Recorded at The 45 Factory in Detroit and produced by Bobby Harlow, best known as front man with The Go, the rock band that once included Jack White prior to his founding the White Stripes. Joining Fish in the studio are members of the Detroit Cobras, another long-lasting band of rockers. Samantha plays lead guitar throughout, aided by Joe Mazzola on rhythm, Steve Nawara on bass and Kenny Tudrick on drums. They’re augmented by Motown’s Bob Mervak on electric piano and a New Orleans-based horn section consisting of Mark Levron on trumpet and Travis Blotsky on sax. Several of them have joined Fish on her current tour.

Despite the seemingly hard-edge foundation, the overall sound created blends Memphis and Northern soul, British pop and more into a package that’s remains fresh despite the age of the material it presents. The disc opens with a brief guitar solo for a solid rendition of “He Did It,” a hit for Jackie DeShannon in the ’60s with Fish in perfect control as she jumps aurally between notes. Her delivery of the title tune, Tom Jones’ “Chills & Fever,” is sweet and funky, delivered atop a staccato beat.

Fish would have Barbara Lewis nodding in approval with her faithful, mid-tempo version of “Hello Stranger,” which is faithful to its bossa nova beat, before a cover of swamp blues legend Charles Sheffield’s biggest hit, “It’s Your Voodoo Working.” Next up, Samantha covers “Hurt’s All Gone,” a ballad written by her backing musicians in their Cobras iteration.

A modern treatment of Indiana-based Lonnie Lester’s “You Can’t Go,” a Northern soul hit in the ’60s, follows before Fish joins Gladys Knight and Nina Simone in covering Van McCoy’s “Either Way I Lose,” which is delivered. Her vocals shine, and her single-note guitar solo fits perfectly. The poignant “Never Gonna Cry” carries the message forward before “Little Baby,” an uptempo rocker first laid down by Britain’s The Bristols.

Samantha’s deliberate interpretation of Allen Toussaint’s “Nearer To You” takes you to church with a gospel feel before a funky take on Betty LaVette’s “You’ll Never Change.” The only true blues cover in the set, the Skip James classic “Crow Jane,” follows with Fish ripping and running on the fret board before Ted Taylor’s “Somebody’s Always Trying” and Lulu’s “I’ll Come Running Over” bring the set to a close.

Make no mistake about it: This is Samantha Fish soulfully singing her heart out like never before. You’ll get Chills & Fever listening to this one.

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.



 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 10 

andy t band cd imageAndy T Band featuring Alabama Mike – Double Strike

American Showplace Music

www.andytband.com

13 tracks

One of the challenges of life is dealing with change. For musical groups, replacing a key member can be a traumatic event that upsets the existing group dynamics. On their latest release, the Andy T Band serves up convincing proof that change isn’t necessarily a disruptive force. Guitarist Andy Talamantez joins up with producer Anson Funderburgh to make sure all the pieces continue to fit together

After six years, lead singer Nick Nixon made the decision to retire due to health issues. Appearing on half of the tracks, his voice still packs plenty of power on the Chick Willis classic, “I Feel So Bad,” while offering up a heartbreaking plea on “Juanita” over a horn-driven arrangement featuring Kaz Kazanoff on tenor sax, John Mills on baritone sax, and Al Gomez on trumpet. On Goree Carter’s “Drunk Or Sober,” his soulful vocal glides along on a rhumba-style rhythm from Jim Klinger on drums and Johnny Bradley on bass, accented by hearty solos from Andy T and Kazanoff. ”Deep Inside” features Nixon on vocals and Greg Izor who adds a slick and somewhat greasy harp to the cut, his lone appearance here on the CD.

The band’s new member, Alabama Mike Benjamin, has been singing the blues on the West coast for the last eighteen years, with three critically praised recordings under his own name. His raw, shouting style opens the disc on a high note on “I want You Bad,” as the driving shuffle serves as a launching pad for Andy T’s stinging guitar. Talamantez’s original, “Dream About You,” is another high energy romp with Benjamin and Andy T sharing the spotlight. Guest keyboardist Mike Flanigin on organ adds another layer of complexity to Nixon’s “Sad Times”. Another standout is “Doin’ Hard Time,” with Benjamin expertly crying the blues surrounded by the horns, Funderburgh on the second guitar solo, and Larry Van Loon’s tasty piano fills.

In Alabama Mike, Andy T has added a vocalist with the requisite talent to carry on the legacy of the Nick Nixon era while adding some unique flair to the band, which rolls along in high gear throughout this excellent recording. The contrast in styles of Andy T and Alabama Mike are interesting to compare here. Both do truly outstanding work in their own way. Nick is smooth and soulful while Mike has more of an “in your face” style of shouting. Each are unique and both make wonderful music to compliment Andy T and the rest of the talented artists here. Get a copy of this one; you will not be disappointed!

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 – 5 of 10 

biscuit miller cd imageBiscuit Miller – Wishbone

Bluebass Music

www.biscuitmiller.com

12 tracks

Biscuit Miller always wears an infectious smile and he plays a funky Chicago styled blues. A 30 year veteran of touring, this singer, bass player and band leader gets people on their feet and dancing. His love of music is quite evident in his work. He is a 2012 Blues Music Award Winner, served as Lonnie Brooks bass player for a decade, and has a vast resume of other accomplishments. This is his third CD and he and his band The Mix have been a hot commodity since Miller won that 2012 BMA. Joining Miller on the CD are Myron “Dr. Love” Robinson on drums, Bobby Wilson on guitar and Alex “Southside” Smith also on guitar. All songs here were written by Miller.

The title track gets things going on the album. It’s a funky and soulful tune where he asks his woman to be his wishbone and love him nice and slow, all night long. There is a nice, uncredited sax solo on this cut and the band is tight. “She Likes to Boogie” is next, a cool shuffle with piano and organ added (no credits here, too, but another fine job). Piano and guitar solos are featured and well done! “Down At The Mississippi” is a cool jumping cut where they’re going down to the Mississippi to drink and sing the blues. Un-credited harp is out front and well done here. Ronnie Baker Brooks appears on the slow blues entitled “Mr. DJ.” Miller growls out the lyrics, the organ gives a testamental feeling behind Miller and the guitar punctuates the vocals nicely before offering up a soulful and thoughtful solo as piano tinkles softly behind Brooks.

“Lay It On Down” opens with the guitar and the band comes in to lay down an spicy grove. The organ and guitar make this one sweet and Miller sings convincingly. The jumping and jiving “Shake It Like Jello” is next. Honky tonk piano and a horn section make this one move 100 miles an hour and a lot of fun. The fuzzed up guitar solo is cool, too. “Bottle of Whiskey, Bottle of Wine” is another uptempo and swinging cut. Miller is smooth and the organ pays behind him as the guitar punctuates his lyrics. The organ gets the big solo and Brooks returns for his second cut and does a stinging guitar solo. “Use To Love Me” is slowed down from the prior cuts and it’s a greasy slow and delicious blues with a big guitar intro. A nice piano solo is again featured and a later guitar solo is also good. Miller sings convincingly, testifying that his baby use to love him.

“One More Mile” is a a mid-tempo piece with some barrel house piano and sax to open things up. The band does some response to Miller’s calls and then the sax comes in for a sweet solo. More call and response builds up and then a key change as Miller and the band continue chanting and takes things home. “Monday Morning Blues” features a slow to mid tempo beat and Miller sings to us about the foibles about going back to work after the weekend. Traffic, spilled hot coffee and work loom large. A nice organ solo is featured as the guitar lays out a nice backdrop. Acoustic guitar and vocals are the makeup for “Let’s Go Fishing” as Miller gives us a well done slow blues and a down home performance. The guitar picking is nicely done, too. One of the band members harmonizes on the choruses; a nice song that could grace any nice down home, musical porch. The album finishes up with “Going Home,” featuring Uncle Jesse Hutson. Another down home cut, we have some tambourine and harp added to the guitar. Miller and Hutson testify together for us and some old time guitar picking is also featured.

There is nothing to complain about here – Miller’s music in imbued with his smile; one can sense in his music that this is a man who really enjoys what he does. There is some good picking and playing here. Guitars, organ, piano, horns and harp are all used at times in the mix and the band does a great job supporting Miller. I liked this one a lot and I have a feeling most all blues fans will, too!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.



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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 10 

richard cagle cd imageRichard Cagle & The Voodoo Choir – DOS

Montrose Records

www.richardcagleandthevoodoochoir.com

13 tracks

Richard Cagle is the President of Montrose Records and has recorded many luminaries of the blues and rock world at his Houston Studio. Johnny Winter, Brad Absher, Swamp Royale, Annika Chambers and Carolyn Wonderland are a few of the noted artists he has produced. With a new, second studio in New Mexico’s mountains, he is seriously into his production work.

Here we have Cagle fronting his band with 13 new and original tracks written by him in conjunction with band members and friends. Leaning heavily towards the rock side of things, Cagle sings with a vibrant style that is filled with grit and emotion and even with some falsetto in the vein of Robert Plant. Lee Martin is his guitar player, Calvin Hall is on bass, Frank Salas and Kelley Wright are on drums, and Randy Wall is on keys. Pablo Burnett, Miranda Aston and Mike Morris also appear backing the band vocally on “All Night Long With You.”

The CD begins with a heavy rocker “Treat Your Daddy Right.” Cagle growls and Martin plays some mean guitar here. They switch to a softer blues rock ballad next with “Love Ya Need Ya,” a big contrast to the opener. Cagle builds the lyrics and Martin again offers a big solo for us to savor. “Slow Blues” is very Led Zeppellin-esque with Martin and Cagle playing the Page and Plant roles with the slow, bluesy, stratospheric, fuzzy and distorted guitar and vocal style that they invented. It works for me since they did not overdo it and fill the album with Led Zeppelin-styled work. “Messing With The Blues” is next, a mid-tempo blues rocker that takes off with the vocals and then the guitar. Cagle sings with grit and Martin lays it all out for us. Next is “Crying The Blues,” a slow and emotive blues cut with a little more organ evident to set the tone and some tastefully done slow blues on the guitar.

“Thunder Lightning” brings things back up in the rocking style these guys these guys are comfy with. Cagle’s vocals are thunderously gritty and Martin lays out some more lightning on his axe. Next up we have “Rock And Roll Stew.” This is an original, not the Traffic cut of the same name nor in their style. It took me back a bit, perhaps sounding a little like an Aerosmith cut or maybe an even earlier rocking style. It has a little of the Bob Marley “Get Up and Stand Up” riff to the cut here and there but it’s not reggae, just straight ahead rock and roll. “Long Time Since I Felt This Way” is a vibrant rocker with a blazing guitar and Cagle showing some emotion. “The Scream” has no lyrics just some Robert Plant styled oohs and moans and some massive guitar from Martin. Probably my least favorite cut on the album. I get what they were trying to do, but it’s not really original.

“All Night Long With You” begins with studio made crowd noise and breaks into a a big, rocking Brownsville Station sort of sound (“immediately Smokin’ In The Boysroom came to mind”) and the band gets into it. “Small Time Blues” continue the rocking sound with Cagle testifying and Martin stinging on his guitar. “Bring Me Some Water” continues the trifecta of heavy duty rocking and rolling, high energy music. The album concludes to “Singing The Blues,” where Cagle slows way down to a a soft blues ballad. The brushes come out on the drums a bit, the tempo drops and the boys give us a tasty and thoughtful ending to a mostly driving CD.

OK, so most of this is big time rock. It’s well done, Cagle demonstrates that he can sing and Martin plays with abandon. There is a little blues here and there, but it’s mostly a well done rock album. It’s not much blues but if you want to hear a Texas take on originals with an Aerosmith sort of flavor to the mix, go for it. The band is tight, they play and sing in an outstanding manner and the production is crisp.

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.



 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 10 

STEVEN GRAVES CD IMAGESteven Graves – Captain Soul

One Essence Music

www.stevengravesmusic.com

11 tracks

Steven Graves mixes a bunch of genres here in this predominantly rock album. Graves is touted as a rootsy perfromer but the roots here are mostly folksy and country. There not any blues here to speak of. His bio on the one sheet talks a lot about the Grateful Dead and jam band stuff, but again, this is a softer presentation of music; most of what is here are ballads and folk rock songs.

Graves plays some guitar and does all the singing up front. David Mendoza does most of the bass work and Travis Cruse most of the guitar work. David Tucker is on drums with help from Jim Coulson on 3 cuts. Art Alm, John R. Burr and John Dryden share the piano, organ and keys. A host of others join in the fun, too.

“Light Turns to Day” starts us off. It’s a bouncy rock tune with organ and vocals bouncing along together. It has a sort of Caribbean flair to it with congas and organ jiving it together. a distorted guitar solo also makes things interesting. “Man from A Different Planet” is an homage to David Bowie. It’s another rock song with lap steel. “Walk With Me” starts with some horns as Graves sort of plays crooner here. It’s a pretty ballad. “Somewhere, Somehow” reminded me a Jimmy Buffet sort of tune. Again, no blues here. “Take You For a Ride” begins with some bluesy harp. Finally some blues? A little. The rest of the cut sounds more like a rock song a la CSN. “Fly Like the Dove” opens like an Elton John song with solo piano and lonely vocals. It turns more country than anything else as it progresses, mixing rock and a little country sound for effect.

“Forever Wild” is a mid-tempo rocker. It’s a nice cut, one of my favorites on the CD. “Called Her An Angel” is a thoughtful piece, slow and cool. Next up is “No One Left To Blame.” There is some nice solo guitar and the organ fills nicely. we get some slide and pedal steel with “Heaven in Your Hands” It’s got a heavy country flair to it; it’s an enjoyable lament. The CD ends with “another Day,” featuring piano and lap steel. Another thoughtful ballad that I enjoyed.

Given that this is Blues Blast Magazine, I’d expect to have at least some blues featured in submissions. There really was not any here. Graves is occasionally rootsy with a country flair, but I’d label this a rock album. It’s a nice little piece with some interesting songs. Most are slower to medium tempo-ed and none ever “rock out,” so if you are looking for a modernistic folksy sort of album give it a go. If you want blues, look elsewhere.

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.


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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 10 

suitcase Johnnie cd imageSuitcase Johnnie – Crazy About A Cadillac

Plastic Meltdown Records

www.plasticmeltdown.com

13 tracks

Suitcase Johnnie is a blues and toots rock band out of Southern California who have released their first CD. Mixing covers and originals, the band has a nice sound and works hard to make songs their own. Leading the band is Marty “Cadillac” McPhee on harp and vocals. Dennis Roger Reed and Don Reed play all the guitars and Dennis sings lead on two songs. Phil Hawkins plays drums, Tim Horrigan is on keys and Steve Zoerner plays the bass. Mike Dowling plays a resonator on a few cuts and sings harmony on one of them as does Carolyn Miller.

“Believe That I’ll Go Back Home” gets the ball rolling, a swinging little cut with some lap steel used for good effect. The beat drives along as the band harmonizes and moves along together with lots of drum effects. They put a new spin on “Move To Kansas City,” giving it a southern California sort of sound. There’s a big electric guitar solo with a little cool distortion and the ever cool vocals delivered by McPhee. Next is the title Cadillac song- “Crazy About a Cadillac” where there is some restrained harp, nice resophonic guitar work, backing organ and good harmonies. “Peter Paul Reubens” is next, a short little ditty sung by Reed as he plays some mandolin, too. Dowling slide ont he resonator also adds a cool factor to this cut. “Little White Moon” brings the lap steel back as McPhee and he band bounce along with this number. Horrigan offers up a good piano solo, too, as the band plays in a California hill country style. The mandolin is again featured in “Me & My Uncle,” a western themed song. The straight harp solo adds to the feel of the song. “Funky Poultry” is a stylistic departure from the prior songs as Don Reed picks the baritone guitar with abandon in this instrumental written by Dennis. Some greasy harp by McPhee also scores points as he slips and slides through the funk, too. The electric guitar and resonator also appear and the song is a a fun take off on the name Funky Chicken.

“Up To You” is an acoustic ballad on resonator with lots of vocal parts harmonizing. The pal steel adds its’ voice to the mix, a soulful little piece. “Don’t Ease Me In” is a Grateful Dead cut with sweet acoustic guitar work. It’s got a bit of a country feel to it and the boys have fun with it. “Pumpkin Pie” brings the mandolin back as the band as the band goes back down home with this little ditty with harmonies and harp making it fun. “Leave It There” is an Gospel cut arranged by Dennis and is Dennis Roger Reed’s second cut fronting the band. His deep baritone voice is featured as is the lap steel and electric guitar, piano and harp. It’s a cool cut. The album concludes with two more originals, “Never Thought I’d Fall” and “Washington Hotel.” The former features the organ, several of the guitars (although uncredited here) and harp in a big instrumental work, the longest on the CD. The latter is a country styled tune with McPhee and Reed doing a duet. Acoustic guitar and harp are also part of the duet and it’s a sweet ending to the album.

These guys are a California band who play more of a country blues than anything else. They seem to have a lot of fun as they mix it up in the songs. Several of the songs are short as they were in the old days, giving you just enough to get a good taste and then on to a new one. The guitar work is varied and cool The harp fills in and punctuates nicely. The keyboards are tasteful and add a lot when they feature them. The back line is solid as are the vocals. The album was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it!

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.

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.


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 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 

elliott and the untouchables cd imageElliott and the Untouchables Blues Band – Bloodhound

BluePoint Records

www.elliottandtheuntouchables.com

11 tracks/53:51

If you look hard enough, you will find smoking hot blues in every state in the union, and South Carolina is no exception. Elliot and the Untouchables from the Palmetto State has released four excellent albums, and the band’s latest effort, Bloodhound, is a solid piece of work. The band is fronted by Elliott New on lead vocals, guitar and harp, and he formed The Untouchables in 1991 with drummer Jim Heidenreich. Other members of the crew include J.T. Anderson on bass, Ken Largent on keyboards, Sonny Dickey on saxophone, and Russ Marchese on the trumpet. There is nothing like blues with well arranged horns!

Elliott did a lot of heavy lifting for this project, acting as producer and writing all eleven of the tracks in this 53-minute set that was recorded at Lakeside Studios in Chapin, South Carolina. New was also behind the recording console so if there is anything is wrong here, it is pretty much Elliott’s fault – but he did a great job. You will hear this when the album kicks off with the title track. “Bloodhound,” which is a tight modern blues song with a sweet mix that does not really require any player to stand out, though Marchese and Dickey do tear off super sweet solos on their horns.

A special guest, Vern Prosser, is featured on organ in “Hungry for Your Love,” and this piece of 1970s-inspired funk is a wonderful showcase for Elliot’s soulful vocals and guitar chops, as well as a very tight horn arrangement. Like the opener, this tune delivers the story of a man who is craving love, a theme that can be found throughout the album.

You will note that Elliot and the Untouchables cover a lot of ground on Bloodhound, as they draw inspiration from many of the blues sub-genres. “Lost All I Ever Wanted” is a lovely bit of horn and piano driven Chicago Blues with a classic feel that is an apt accompaniment to New’s emotional vocals. Then there is the hard blues-rock of “Sweet Marie” with its driving beat and distorted vocals. Also, the band is not afraid to bring the funk out, as evidenced by “Tell Me Why” which has a more stripped down arrangement that provides a neat change of pace. And then there is one of the standout tracks, the swinging “Till I Found You” with its incredible organ work from Largent. There is a little something for everybody here, and if you are a blues fan you will appreciate what this crew has put together.

This is a solid set, and when the Untouchables close out with the upbeat “Jack and Jill,” it leaves the listener craving more. This is a wonderful coda that acts as a showcase for the musicians, with Largent hammering the keyboards, New rocking out on distorted slide guitar, Heidenreich and Anderson holding down the bottom end, and lovely solos from Dickey and Marchese. What more could you want?

Bloodhound is a tremendous effort from Elliott and the Untouchables Blues Band, and there is not a clunker to be found anywhere in this 53-minute set. If you like your blues served up with horns, harp and Hammond organ, you will find something to like on every track of Bloodhound. Check it out for yourself and see what you think: I think you will be impressed!

Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.


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 Featured Blues Review – 10 of 10 

lee palmer cd imageLee Palmer – Bridge

www.leepalmer.ca

On The Fly Records

10 songs, 37 minutes

This is the fourth release in as many years for Canadian singer songwriter and guitarist Lee Palmer. Given he had major heart surgery during last year he does not do things by halves. This is a heady musical odyssey mixing roots , blues, Americana, and Country styles. Mixed and produced in the Metalworks Studios in Ontario by Elmer Ferrer who also plays guitars and ukulele on this release, it oozes class. The One Take Players are backing him here. They are comprised of Al Cross on drums , Mark Lalama on keyboards, Alec Fraser on bass , and Kevin Briet on slide and electric guitars.

There are ten original songs on this release dealing with a lot of emotional issues and human relationships in general. Just listen to the lyrics on the opener “That’s No Way To Go” a reference to Glen Campbell having Alzheimer’s Disease. He has great empathy and captures the feel of heartache at having such a cruel disease. “Tulsa Sound” reverberates well exhibiting a big sound from a very tight band, with more than a nod to to JJ Cale for inspiration. A special mention should be made to the sultry backing vocals by Patricia Shirley on that one, blending well with searing guitar licks. “Back To Lonely” is a well arranged Country ballad with Turner King on saxophone and Dave Dunlop on trumpet adding to a laid back tone.

The fourth track, “Our Love Bears Repeating” rocks the tempo and mood to that of blues rock with heavy keyboard to boot,a real grower of a tune with all the right elements. Keeping the rhythm upbeat is the jazzy ” Did It Feel Like This” with a duet between Lee Palmer and Mary McKay . The vocals are rich and meaningful on this and the song fades out mirroring the characters love affair. The next two tracks epitomise the theme of the release. Most people can relate to the feelings on “My Town” and the feeling of belonging and community, the tone is uplifting and positive. “My Old Man” is a song about his father and the subsequent feelings about his life and death, poignant lyrics marry with a melancholic sound. Up the volume and get down to the bluesy ” Well,Well,Well,Well” a real dance floor number with emphatic horn section,a real swagger on this one. It segways straight into the full on bluesy feel of the best track ” Chock Full Of Trouble”, with a gutsy full sound. It includes a wonderful solo tenor saxophone spot for Turner King. Should be a crowd pleaser and certainly sounds like the band are enjoying themselves. The release ends with “So Long As You’ve Been Loved” a pure Country ballad full of schmaltzy accordion playing by Mark Lalama combining well with the violin of Aaron Solomon just perfect for waltzing with the one you love.

The release has a fresh feel to it exploring different genres of music with hidden gems in it. The tone is upbeat overall and is a pleasure to listen to. It should get a lot of air play on the radio. A serious songwriter writing songs from the heart with great craftsmanship , a true winner.

Reviewer Colin Campbell is based in Scotland. He has been writing about blues music for over six years. He is also a keen photographer. He has been enthused and heavily influenced by blues music for three decades. Music is a healer, blues is the medicine.


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 Featured Blues Interview – Jimmy Johnson 

jimmy johnson image 1Mid-life career changes usually tend to be traumatic developments. Yet a serious stylistic switch was the catalyst for Jimmy Johnson’s rendezvous with stardom. The veteran Chicago guitarist concentrated on playing R&B and soul during the 1960s and early ‘70s, but when gigs grew scarce, Jimmy refocused solely on blues. In the late ‘70s, Johnson’s acclaimed blues recordings for Alligator and Delmark showcasing his elastic lead guitar and high-flying, soulful vocals confirmed that he’d made the right decision.

At age 88, Johnson is as strong as ever on the stages of B.L.U.E.S., Buddy Guy’s Legends, and Lagunitas Brewery Tap Room. “It’s always fun to me to play onstage,” says Johnson. “When I’m playing, I really enjoy being onstage entertaining people.” But the rigors of touring have lost their charm. “I’ve had enough of the road,” he says. “You see me at home playing all the time. That’s because I don’t want to be on the road. I’ve been probably to Europe maybe two or three times, in Brazil and those places. I probably won’t do that no more. Now I don’t have to.”

The eldest of three brothers who all made indelible impacts on the history of Chicago blues (Syl Johnson and Mac Thompson being the other two), Jimmy Johnson is a native of Holly Springs, Mississippi, born with the surname of Thompson. Their father, Sam Thompson, was an amateur musician. “He played harmonica, and he played some guitar too,” says Johnson. “But he didn’t own a guitar.”

One of Jimmy’s buddies as a youngster was Matt “Guitar” Murphy, who would join piano master Memphis Slim’s band in 1952. “I picked up a guitar because Murphy had a guitar, back when I was in Mississippi,” says Johnson, who concentrated on a different instrument early on. “I was going to high school and they had a piano in school. And I used to spend my whole lunch break practicing on that piano. It was up behind a curtain in the gym.” Sacred and secular sounds competed for his attention. “My first time of singing in front of an audience, I was singing gospel,” says Jimmy. “My uncle had a Victrola, the ones you wind up, and I got to hear John Lee Hooker, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, Sonny Boy Williamson.”

Johnson migrated north during the late 1940s, stopping first in Memphis and forming a gospel group, the United Five. “One (member) was my cousin, and just some young people that we knew. And we got together and formed a group,” he says. “We just sang basically local.” In late 1950, Jimmy was on the move again, this time heading for Chicago. What made him settle here? “Probably two reasons: economics and to get away from that Jim Crow!”

Syl and Mac made the same trek a year later. “I came first. I came with my uncle. So I didn’t come the hard way, like some of the guys explain how they came here and they were starving and didn’t have anywhere. But I came with my uncle and I had a place to stay. Plus he got me a job where he worked, and the third day I went on a good job,” says Jimmy. “I was a welder’s helper. And I watched him, and the next year, I got started. I was a welder. And in about a couple of years, I became a Class A Combination welder.” He held that lucrative day job until 1959.

Jimmy’s initial musical exploits in the Windy City were again sacred with the Golden Jubilaires. “My uncle was a minister, and he had a church,” he says. “The Golden Jubilaires came by the church, and they heard me singing with the choir. Sometimes I would sing with the choir, and I would sing lead. And then they asked me to join them.” Jimmy’s minister uncle was dead set against his nephew acquiring a guitar, but that didn’t stop him from buying one from harpist Billy Boy Arnold in 1958. “It was a either a National or a Kay,” he says. By then, Syl and Mac were established as local standouts, Syl as a hot guitarist on records by Arnold, Junior Wells, and Elmore James and Mac as Magic Sam’s rock-solid electric bassist.

jimmy johnson image 2“We were living at 2728 S. Calumet, on the South Side of Chicago,” says Jimmy, “when Magic Sam got started. The Thompson family and Sam were neighbors. When I met him, he had a guitar with no strings on it. Naturally, he didn’t have no money. And I had a good job. I bought him some strings for his guitar.” Sam progressed fast on his chosen instrument. “That’s what inspired me to go get me a guitar and start playing, was Magic Sam. Well, I had a job. I was a welder, and I made plenty money. And I was fine without playing music. But Sam would get his guitar and go onstage, because he got this little record, ‘All Your Love.’ And man, he’d go on the stage, and all the girls were going wild! He’d just get up there and all these (people) said, ‘Oh, yeah!’ And he was playing in some big places too, because I used to go with him to the F&J over in Gary. But anyway, man, I couldn’t play guitar. I had played a little bit, because Matt Murphy had a guitar, and I used to mess around on his guitar. I said, ‘Man, I’m gonna get me a guitar and learn how to play!’”

Sam wasn’t Jimmy’s lone inspiration. “Otis Rush has been my favorite guy all down through the years. Since I met him, he’s been my favorite blues player and singer. I met him even before I started playing music. It probably was around ‘56 or ‘57. Because my brother played before me, Mac,” says Johnson. “He’s the one that took me to see Otis Rush. It was at a place called the 708 Club. It was on 47th Street.”

Jimmy also crossed paths often with guitarist Freddie King, another West Side stalwart. “He had super energy. And everything he played was very energetic. Nothing laidback. He was just an energetic player, and a good singer. And his playing was very good,” says Johnson, who had the honor of sitting in with King while just getting started on his axe. “He was one of the most lenient cats I ever met. More than Magic Sam, and we sat in with his band. The first time I sat in was with Magic Sam’s band, but the first time I sat in, I got onstage and I froze. And I had to go back and practice more.”

Jimmy also spent some time during the late ‘50s in a vocal group, the Masquerades, led by the Scott brothers. But July 4, 1959 marked his first professional gig on guitar with harpist Earl Payton at a bar on 39th and Indiana. “They were kind of having a problem finding guitar players. Somebody told them I played guitar, I was Syl’s brother, and I went to play with ‘em. But I couldn’t play that well. I had just started playing,” he remembers. “I was supposed to play the 4th of July and then that Friday and Saturday. So after the first night, the next night I go back to play, they had Odell Campbell there. And he said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, we’re gonna have to get another guitar player because you just ain’t quite makin’ it!’ So I said, ‘Okay, good, it’s fine.’ So Odell was from the neighborhood, and he didn’t have no amplifier. So he asked me could he use my amp! I said, ‘Well, in this case, man, absolutely not! Because you’ve taken my gig!’ Under any other circumstances, I would have loaned him my amplifier.”

It was a temporary setback, harpist Slim Willis hiring Johnson a couple of months later. “He told me when I was playing with him, ‘Well, man, you understand that, you’re really learning, and you ain’t super good, but you’ve got good potential. I’m gonna keep you with me.’ And James Wheeler, he was playing guitar. In those days, we played like two guitars and harmonica and drums. So Wheeler, he quit because Slim wouldn’t fire me. And Slim got Magic Slim. And Magic Slim, he couldn’t play nothing but Jimmy Reed. I played all the lead, and he played the lump behind the harp. We played at a place called the Seeley Club. It was on the West Side, on Madison.

“That’s where they stole my guitar. The stage was right at the back, and somebody probably took my guitar and handed it through the bars to somebody on the outside. And Freddie King loaned me one of his guitars ‘til I got able to buy me another guitar. I had a day job; I didn’t have no problem. It just took me a little while, and I went and bought me another guitar.”

Eager to improve his technique, Jimmy sought instruction. “I can’t remember exactly where I saw this advertisement about this school, this music school called Boston Music College. And I decided to go downtown. It was on Wabash. And I enrolled in this school. But it was only two days a week. It had to be scheduled after I would get off of work. I guess it was like four o’clock in the evening, from four ‘til whatever time. I don=t know exactly,” says Johnson. “What he really taught me was the fundamentals of the guitar, and he was teaching me a lot of what I call folk chords. He taught me how a polka went. He taught me how a waltz went.”

jimmy johnson image 3Reggie Boyd, whose fleet fretwork graced records by Jimmy Rogers and Earl Hooker, showed Jimmy more practical guitar moves. “Reggie taught a whole lot of us. Matt Murphy, Fenton Robinson, Luther Tucker, Lacy Gibson,” he says. “He had a masters’ degree in music, and he had the reputation. That’s the way I found out about him. He lived very close to me, and I didn’t know it. We were living in the projects, and he lived a couple of buildings over.”

Still billed as Jimmy Thompson, he formed his own band, the Lucky Hearts, gigging at Cadillac Baby’s club, the Happy Home, the White Rose in Phoenix, Ill., and other local haunts. His modern R&B-styled approach earned him plenty of bookings. “I knew how to play behind people, because I would usually keep up with the Top 40 songs,” he says. “I would learn how to play them, and I could read a little bit.” Jimmy finally changed his surname to Johnson to keep in line with Syl, who became a soul star in 1967 with his smash “Come On Sock It To Me.” “Down through the years, they knew that I was Syl’s brother and they pinned Johnson on me,” he says. “When I said Jimmy Johnson, I’d do the gig where I might not have got it if it said Jimmy Thompson.”

Jimmy had come up with the catchy introductory riff on Syl’s “Come On Sock It To Me,” and he and his band waxed an instrumental version as the Deacons for Syl’s Shama label that dented the national R&B charts in 1968. That same year, Jimmy Johnson and the Lucky Hearts made their official debut with a funky instrumental single for the local Stuff label pairing “Work Your Thing” and “Get It.” One-derful! Records producer Otis Hayes supervised its recording and then passed the tape to singer Jerry-O as the backing track for his “Funky Four Corners” without permission. “He took the same music and dubbed this guy’s voice in,” explains Jimmy.

Although Johnson and his band had played behind soul stars Otis Clay, Ruby Andrews, Denise LaSalle, and Walter Jackson in top South and West Side clubs, gigs as a soul bandleader were growing scarce in 1974. So Jimmy gravitated towards the blues. “That’s when that field I was in had died,” says Johnson. “You ever hear the (saying), ‘Stop whippin’ a dead horse?’ Ain’t no use to keep whippin’ a dead horse if there’s another horse that’s still living. And I knew Buddy and Junior and them, James Cotton—man, they were making a lot of money.

“There were no gigs for what I was doing. I was driving a taxi. And Jimmy Dawkins knew who I was, but I didn’t know who he was. I had heard his name, but I didn’t know who he was. He called the stand that I used to drive for, and they gave me his (number) on my CB radio,” he says. “Back then you had to go to the telephone booth to call. And I called him, and he told me about it. And he had gigs. So I said, ‘Well, give me a few days to talk about it.’ I’ll go home and talk to my wife. Naturally, my wife was real cool. She jumped for it. I said okay. I told him, ‘Okay, I’ll take the gig.’ So I traveled around with him for about two years.”

A 1975 Japanese tour as Otis Rush’s second guitarist was a real head-turner. “I couldn’t believe it. We were like the Beatles when they came. They met us at the airport with cartoons and stuff. We were really somebody,” says Johnson. “Man, you were somebody when you went to Japan, and many days when I was playing to the audience, I could see people out there crying.”

Johnson’s first recordings as a blues band leader were live sets done for the French MCM label in the mid-‘70s. Then veteran Chicago producer Ralph Bass included him in a series of 1977 studio recordings that were shelved for years and then belatedly released as British anthologies by Red Lightnin’ Records under the unfortunate aggregate title of I Didn’t Give a Damn If Whites Bought It! (an out-of-context quote from an old Bass interview). “That’s really kind of upsetting,” fumes Jimmy. “How could you come up with an idea that stupid?”

jimmy johnson image 4The next recording opportunity to come Jimmy’s way was a far better experience all around. Alligator’s Bruce Iglauer chose Johnson was one of the participants in his first trio of Living Chicago Blues anthologies, which emerged in 1978 to rave reviews. Jimmy’s four selections, all covers, led off volume one and were particularly strong, Johnson reimagining Percy Mayfield’s “Serves Me Right To Suffer,” James Davis’ “Your Turn To Cry,” and Louis Jordan’s “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman” to fit his contemporary strengths.

“When I did the record with Alligator, I had songs, but I had already talked to Delmark,” he explains. “Then Alligator wanted to do the record, so I promised him I was going to do the record with him, but I was going to save my originals because I was still going to do the record with Delmark, because I had promised. I don’t know if I had signed or what, but I told him I was going to do it. And he said, ‘That’s okay, I’ll do all cover songs.’ So I just did songs that I liked.”

Hot on its heels, Jimmy put together Johnson’s Whacks, his full-length 1979 debut for Delmark. Aside from takes on Ernest Tubb’s hillbilly classic “Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin” and Dave Brubeck’s jazz classic “Take Five” (Jimmy’s standard set closer), the set delivered all originals, some crafted in cahoots with Delmark producer Steve Tomashefsky. “I didn’t really do all of my ideas,” says Johnson. “I did part of his ideas too, because I like to be cooperative. like we’re doing something together, I don’t want it to all go my way.” “I Need Some Easy Money” and “Ashes In My Ashtray,” two of the set’s highlights, demonstrated Jimmy’s mastery of impassioned minor-key blues. “I hear a lot of the old-time people, they sing minor, and play major,” he says. “It just sounded better to me—I’m going to sing minor, so why not just flatten that third and make that chord a minor chord?”

North//South, Johnson’s 1982 Delmark followup, was again dominated by crisp originals, but Bar Room Preacher, released domestically by Alligator in 1985 after being issued initially in Europe as Heap See, reverted mostly to sparkling covers, including a reprise of John Lee Hooker’s “When My First Wife Quit Me “ “I didn’t know who recorded it first,” he says. “I just heard Magic Sam singing it, and I liked it.” “Heap See,” one of Jimmy’s own compositions (and a spine-chilling minor-key one at that), was another highlight. “It came up from a word,” he explains. “Well, I’ll tell you, you see me, I look like I’m alright, but I’m not alright. I lost my job, my wife left me, and my dog died. So I’m not really alright. I look like I’m alright, so a heap of people see, but a very few really know.’”

When the early ‘90s blues revival was at its zenith, Johnson had a brief major label hookup when his slickly produced French release I’m a Jockey was released stateside by Verve/Gitanes in 1994. Five years later, the European Ruf imprint issued his horn-laden Every Road Ends Somewhere, West Side-trained guitarist Luther Allison doing an intense guest turn. “Luther was sick then, and I guess he knew he was sick, but I didn’t know it,” says Johnson. “But he was so glad that I asked him to play on my record. And we sat down, and we were talking, and me and him both were crying! I was so proud to get him to play on my record, and he was proud to play on my record.”

Johnson weathered a horrific 1988 van crash while touring that killed two of his band members (bassist Larry Exum and keyboardist St. James Bryant) and left him unable to play guitar for an extended period (he switched temporarily to keyboards), Jimmy was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame in 2016, but he never rests on his laurels. His fluidly unpredictable guitar solos and stratospheric vocal twists and turns never fail to dazzle; he sounds as though he still has something to prove even as his 89th birthday approaches.

We can all be glad he changed stylistic course in 1974.

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


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Long Beach Blues Society – Lohg Beach, CA

The Long Beach Blues Society is proud to present New Blues Festival 4, Saturday, September 2 and Sunday, September 3 (Labor Day Weekend) at El Dorado Park in Long Beach, Calif. 2017 Contemporary Blues Album Nominee Janiva Magness and Serbian-born guitar great Ana Popovic, along with Blues legend Guitar Shorty and Chris Cain, headline a strong 2-day Main Stage lineup. Vendor Village, Craft Beers on Tap, BBQ Vendors, Gourmet Food Trucks, and more. The Golden Groove Stage will feature performances by many of the Southland’s best Blues acts.

More info at www.newbluesfestival.com or www.longbeachbluessociety.org

The Blue Jay Jazz Foundation – Blue Jay, CA

Blue Jay Jazz Foundation presents The King Brothers Thursday, August 10 (at 6 p.m.)at SkyPark at Santa’s Village, the entertainment and dining destination that reopened in 2016. The King Brothers are bringing the blues back to the San Bernardino Mountains to kick off the 2017 Blue Jay Jazz Festival concert series.

The Brothers, whose first Festival appearance in 2007 helped launch a serious blues component to the Blue Jay event, established a new standard of blues while staying true to a solid blues tradition. Drummer Sam and guitarist-vocalist Lee have played, toured and recorded with their cousin Freddie King and their “adopted uncle” Albert King. Their recent CD is Get up and Shake It, which All About Jazz called “blues played the way it should be, by guys who have been doing it for a while.”

The series is produced by the non-profit Blue Jay Jazz Foundation and continues with Greg Adams and East Bay Soul on August 17 and Adrianna Marie and her Groovecutters on August 24. More at www.bluejayjazz.com.

Southeast Iowa Blues Society – Fairfield, IA

The 4th Annual “Blue Ribbon Blues Fest” presented by the Southeast Iowa Blues Society (SIBS)is August 12th, 2017 at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Fairfield, IA. The fest features Rob Lumbard, Danielle Nicole Band, Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials and with Tony Blew between acts

Gates Open at 4:30 with music beginning at 5pm. Beverage Garden and BBQ & more…No Outside Food or Drinks Bring your chairs and Camping is available. Tickets – Advance $20 and SIBS members / Day of Show – $25

For more info. go to http://southeastiowabluessociety.org/ or call 641-919-7477 or 641-233-7438

North Central Florida Blues Society – Gainesville, FL

The North Central Florida Blues Society presents the Norman Jackson Band July 23, 2017 from 7 -10 pm at the High Dive (210 SW 2nd Ave) in Gainesville, FL. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $8 for North Central Florida Blues Society members.

These 3rd Place finishers at the 2016 International Blues Challenge are making their first Florida performance. They are a truly original and unique act that promises to not just play the finest and most genuine Blues you’ll ever hear but also transcend what a “band” does by thoroughly entertaining the audience. Norman’s true and entertaining storytelling is paired by his young apprentice and saxophonist Rick Shortt’s energy and showmanship. See https://ncfblues.org for more details.

Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

The Central Iowa Blues Society presents the 2017 Iowa Blues Challenge, in two categories, Solo/Duo (Sunday – July 16, 2017) and Band (Thursday – July 20, 2017 . Both are vying for a prize package and a chance to compete at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

The winners of each preliminary round will advance to the Finals held on Saturday, September 16, 2017 at the Des Moines Social Club, 900 Mulberry St, Des Moines. For a complete list of acts, prelim locations, dates and times go to www.cibs.org.

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Sat, 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 Blue Monday live performances held every Monday night at The Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.

Blue Monday Schedule: July 24 – Kilborn Alley Blues Band, July 31 – Skyla Burrell, Aug. 7 – Lil Joe McClennan, Aug. 14 – Andy T & Alabama Mike, Aug. 21 – Lucky Loser’s, Aug. 28 -Green McDonough Band.

Additional ICBC partnered shows: July 22 – Blues Day at the Chatham Sweet Corn Festival 12 pm Brother Jefferson, Alex Jenkins, Back Pack Jones, Aug. 3 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm Dan Rivero Trio, Aug. 17 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm Sam Crain Trio, Aug. 26 – Old Capitol Blues & BBQ Festival – Mary Jo Curry, Albert Castiglia, Lil’ Ed, Aug. 27 – Old Capitol Blues & BBQ Festival – James Armstrong, Kenny Neal, Eric Gales. For more information visit www.icbluesclub.org.


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