Issue 11-3 January 19, 2017

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2017


 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Johnny Sansone. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including reviews of new music from Charlie Wheeler, David Vest, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Laurence Jones, Old Man Kelly, Kurt Crandall, The Wildcat O’Halloran Band and Willie May.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

charlie wheeler band cd imageCharlie Wheeler – Blues Karma And The Kitchen Sink

www.charliewheelerband.com

Self Release

12 songs – 58 minutes

The Charlie Wheeler Band are a three-piece based in Ridgway, PA, and Blues Karma And The Kitchen Sink is their fourth studio album. Essentially, they play traditional blues-rock, mixing equal parts of blues, classic rock, rock ‘n’ roll and Southern Rock, but they play it with such attitude, emotional commitment, technical facility and no little humour that it is impossible not listen to it without a smile on your face and some movement in your feet.

Wheeler himself provides the vocals and guitars, in addition to writing all 12 songs on the album. His voice suits the music perfectly, carrying an assertiveness and confidence, albeit often with more than a hint or two of rage. He is also a fine guitarist, turning in some cracking solos, particularly on the gospel-southern rock of “Choir Of 1000 Angels”. The rock solid rhythm section of Rad Akers on drums and Dave Fink on bass provides the key foundation over which Wheeler can extemporize at will.

The band have a reputation for expansive, improvisational jamming at their live shows. Here however, the focus is very much on the songs. Mainly mid-paced, the tracks run the gamut from the classic rock of opener “People Keep On Talkin’” (with its street-smart opening lines of “Well, lately I’ve been laying kinda low. Sticking to the shadows in the place that I call home. But the people seem to bear witness, keeping their minds on my own business, telling everybody about the things they think they know.”) to the Allman Brothers’-esque “Never Can Tell” with its major key melody reminiscent of Dickie Betts and the poppy edge of “Love Gets In The Way”.

Smartly treading a fine line between riff-based tracks like the wah-wah-infused “Flicker Away” and heavy pop-rock chordal approach of “Shiver”, this is Friday night music, perfect for celebrating the weekend over a few beers while empathizing with your mates over the challenges of the weekly grind as the music provides a soundtrack of potential improvement. As Wheeler sings on “One Of These Days”, “One of these days, I’ve gonna get up off the ground, dust off my jeans and hold my head up proud. One of these days, I’m gonna get myself a job so I can get some money and buy a brand new car. One of these days I’m gonna get it together. Might be tomorrow, yeah, it might be never. Life is a game that you never stop tryin’. Either get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.” There is an intensity to the music that is at times striking. Even the ballad, “Promise Of Daylight”, has a threatening undercurrent.

Blues Karma And The Kitchen Sink was recorded at Graphite Sound in Warren, PA, engineered by Anthony Brown and co-produced by Brown and Wheeler. Brown and Wheeler have done a fine job in capturing a warm, full yet clear sound.

This isn’t blues by any stretch of the imagination, but the blues clearly informs all that they do. If you’re a fan of the Black Crowes or Blackberry Smoke, you will find a lot to enjoy in Blues Karma And The Kitchen Sink. This is music with a punch to it.

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.



 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

david vest cd imageDavid Vest – Devestatin’ Rhythm

Ark-O-Matic

10 songs – 41 minutes

www.davidvest.ca

Maple Award winner David Vest may be living in Canada’s Pacific Northwest, but the pulse-pounding barrelhouse piano player still doesn’t stray far from the sounds of his youth in Birmingham, Ala., just a short stroll from the site of the legendary Tuxedo Junction ballroom.

Now in his early 70s, his first paying gig came at age 14. He was a veteran road dog four years later, when he opened up for Roy Orbison for a New Year’s Eve show. A talented songwriter, Vest composed the first tune ever recorded by future country superstar Tammy Wynette and toured with several Grand Ole Opry legends, including Faron Young and Red Foley.

His blues education came at the feet of three of the most important blues keyboard players to emerge from Texas — Floyd Dixon, Katie Webster and Walter “The Thunderbird” Davis, setting him up for a career that’s seen him touring with Jimmy “T99” Nelson and Lavelle White before serving a five-year stint as co-bandleader for Paul DeLay, the virtuoso West Coast harmonica player and songsmith.

An entertainer of the first order, he’s been thrilling audiences as a frontman since DeLay’s untimely death in the mid-2000s. This stellar release is the third in David’s catalog, following East Meets Vest in 2012 and Roadhouse Revelation. He’s backed here by The Willing Victims — guitarist Teddy Leonard, drummer Mike Fitzpatrick and bassist Gary Kendall, augmented by Pat Carey on sax and Howard Moore on trumpet – for a rollicking collection of nine originals and one cover that would be just as comfortable in a Delta roadhouse as it is in the land he now calls home.

A funky bass/guitar riff kicks off “West Coast Saturday Night,” driven by a syncopated military beat as Vest describes a beach party in his “mystical, magic land,” his fingers dancing across the 88s as he drives his message home. David gets political with “Stop This Madness,” an uptempo number that speaks out about carrying guns in a public place – “exercising your right to be a damn disgrace” – as well as radio preachers, whom he terms “hateful blowhards.”

“Staring Down The Barrel Of The Blues” is another in a succession of catchy numbers. It describes being caught in the act of making love by a lady’s protective, gun-toting uncle. Delivered in a style that will reminde you of Jerry Lee Lewis, “Kingsnake” uses serpent imagery to describe someone who’s messing with the singer’s woman and living under his house, while “We’re All Sharecroppers Now” compares the poverty Vest’s father had to endure while walking behind a plow with the work-until-you-die economy of the modern world.

“The Blues Live On” is a slow blues that lists and honors a litany of lost superstars as it delivers the simple message of the title, while “Biscuit Rollin’ Baby” is plea for an explanation why the singer now has to roll his own as his lady contemplates leaving, sexual innuendo running strong throughout. A cover of Leon Paine’s “Lost Highway,” a beautiful ballad, follows before the loping “Come Back To Bed” and “Red Dirt Remedy,” a paean to country living delivered with an old-time feel, bring the set to a close.

Barrelhouse stylings and more for the modern age. Vest’s originals shine, and his band’s first-rate. Available through Amazon, iTunes and other online retailers or direct from the artist’s website.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

fabolous thunderbirds cd imageThe Fabulous Thunderbirds – Strong Like That

Severn Records 2016

10 tracks; 41 minutes

www.fabulousthunderbirds.com

Although credited to the T’Birds this is essentially a Kim Wilson solo album. Of the band who produced On The Verge in 2013 only Kim and guitarist Johnny Moeller remain and Johnny is the guitarist for the Severn house band anyway. The rest of the musicians are Kevin Anker on keys, Steve Gomes on bass and Robb Stupka on drums, with a horn section of Kenny Rittenhouse and Joe Donegan on trumpets, Antonio Orta on sax/flute and Bill Holmes on trombone. Guests include guitarists Anson Funderburgh and Roosevelt Collier (Lee Boys) and drummer Wes Watkins who appear on a track each. There are two Kim Wilson originals, one from Steve Gomes, two from the late Paul Kelly and five soul classics.

Nothing says soul louder than The Temptations and Kim’s slowed down version of “(You Know) I’m Losing You” works really well with Roosevelt’s slippery lap-steel and Kim’s harp playing round the core tune with Wes Watkins’ interesting drum work driving things along in a subtly funky way. The other soul classics all feature the horns, including a superb take on Eddie Floyd’s “I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)” with Johnny’s guitar perfect and a lovely horn arrangement, the full-blooded horn-led arrangement of “Somebody’s Getting It” (a hit for Johnnie Taylor), a grooving “Where’s Your Love Been?” (Sandra Rhodes) which has lots of guitar from Johnny and “Drowning On Dry Land” (written by Al Jackson and famously recorded by Albert King) which is anchored by Kevin Anker’s piano and organ work.

The two Paul Kelly tunes are placed together: “Don’t Burn Me” features Anson’s lead work on a funky number sung well by Kim who shows what a great voice he has for this sort of material; “You’re Gonna Miss Me” has Kim’s harp to the fore on another naggingly catchy funky number. Kim’s two contributions are “Smooth” which opens with Kim’s harp and has a definite Sam Cooke feel to these ears and “Meet Me On The Corner” which is perhaps the closest to a blues tune here with plenty of Kim’s tough harp work. The title track “Strong Like That” closes the album and is a typical Steve Gomes composition, a song that would fit well with other Severn ‘blue-eyed soul’ singers like Tad Robinson or Darrell Nulisch.

Those nostalgic for the early T’Birds sound will need to look away as this album, like its predecessor, is mainly soul; nevertheless, it should be judged on its merits and those are considerable.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

laurence jonescd imageLaurence Jones – Take Me High

Ruf Records 2016

10 tracks; 44 minutes

www.laurencejonesmusic.com

Laurence Jones received the accolade of “Young Artist Of The Year” in the British Blues Awards in 2014 and 2015 and is probably the fastest rising star of the UK blues-rock circuit at the present time. Still in his early twenties, this is Laurence’s fourth CD release and after having Mike Zito produce his sophomore release Temptation in 2014 this time around it is legendary producer Mike Vernon behind the controls, having been lured out of semi-retirement in Spain for this project. The album features Laurence’s touring band of Phil Wilson on drums and Roger Inniss on bass, plus Bob Fridzema (King King) helping out on keys. Guests Paul Jones (once lead singer of Manfred Mann and now the host of the main blues radio show in the UK) plays harp and soul/Rn’B man Reuben Richards sings on one track each.

Laurence’s vocals continue to develop positively but his music is firmly at the rock end of the blues-rock spectrum, as can be heard on the opening trio of “Got No Place To Go”, “Something’s Changed” and “Live It Up”, the first two featuring ear-melting solos, the third’s fast-paced tune, reinforced by the swirling organ, a catchy tune but also featuring some wild guitar flourishes. “Addicted To Your Love” shares a title with an old Robert Palmer hit but is Laurence’s tune with grungy guitar to the fore as Laurence confesses to his obsession with the lady here. So far the pace has barely faltered but “I Will” is a pleasant interlude with good harmony vocals, a catchy riff and a more restrained solo, a strong track. Also less rocky is “Thinking About Tomorrow” which opens with acoustic guitar as Laurence sings gently about his positive view of what is to come. We then return to a rockier feel with the title track “Take Me High” which has Laurence’s ringing guitar doubling his vocal which is definitely his toughest on the album and “Down & Blue” is another heavy track. “The Price I Pay” opens with Phil’s drums and its funky feel is enlivened by Paul Jones’ harp fills before the album closes with the sole cover, Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” which has vocals from Reuben Richards, the band setting a solid pace on the tune which sticks reasonably close to the original apart from the guitar solo.

This album will further consolidate Laurence’s position in the UK and Europe where blues-rock is definitely what the public wants. US fans who dig the rockier end of the blues should also enjoy 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.


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

old man kelly cd imageOld Man Kelly – Off My Lawn!

Self-Produced

www.oldmankelly.com

CD: 12 Songs, 42:38 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary American Roots Rock, Contemporary Acoustic Blues

Even though 2016 has come and gone, one of the funniest titles of its roots-rock milieu is Off My Lawn! by Liam “Old Man” Kelly. He himself isn’t elderly, appearing on the inside CD cover to be in his mid-fifties or sixties. Nevertheless, the grit in his expression and the white strands in his beard prove he’s no spring chicken (even though he’s holding one of those under his arm!). The “Old Man” plays contemporary acoustic roots rock and blues from his base of operations in Blacksburg, VA, echoing the sounds of days gone by with pizzazz and good-natured humor. Several songs on his latest album sound so similar they’re almost interchangeable, such as “Exitville” (reviewed below), “My Next Ex-Girlfriend” and “The Murder of Mir Imad.” Also, he often talk-sings to his listeners, but this fits his laid-back and conversational style. Anyone who enjoys ragtime and pre-war blues will appreciate Kelly’s sound, both old and new.

The “Bio” section of his website reveals more about the “Old Man’s” oeuvre: “Kelly has worked tirelessly to encourage a renaissance in music that has a history and a place – not a watered-down Americana that could exist anywhere on the Internet, nor a rigid recreation of the past, but original music that demands the listener dig deeper to find its roots in geography and time…A veteran of other recording bands (The Jugbusters, The Don’t Tell Darlings), Old Man Kelly released his first solo album, Songs, Stories, Shanties, and Shenanigans in 2013. The second album, Off My Lawn, came out in June 2016.”

Performing along with Kelly, on four covers and eight original songs, are Matt Labarge on piano and organ; Chris Printz on bass; Nathan Bowles on drums; Willis Greenstreet on clarinet; Steve Kruger on fiddle, and Jen Barton on foot percussion.

Lovers of traditional blues and roots will think the following original tracks are tops:

Track 01: “Exitville” – Everyone knows the kind of town described in the chorus of this swinging ditty: “We only come here ‘cause we have to, and we leave here when we will. Nobody ever stays here; they just stop to get their fill. But living ain’t for keeping, so clean your plate and pay your bill. Till we arrive, we’re wasting time at Exitville.” On the road, there are many such drive-thru, dead-end stops, making the locals either feel melancholy or content with life. Matthew Labarge’s jaunty piano combines with Kelly’s dry vocals to form a poignant tune.

Track 08: “Jesus is my Co-Pilot” – No, this isn’t a saccharine postmodern hymn, but a wry take on who’s really in control in our narrator’s life. “Jesus is my co-pilot; the Devil’s at the wheel, and I don’t know which of the boys has got the better deal. Jesus shouts directions, but the Devil’s on the gas, and I’m in the back seat praying we don’t crash.” Highlights here are the rolling guitar rhythm and humorous-sounding harmonica.

Track 12: “Cool Rag” – Even in the worst of circumstances – one’s impending death – one can find the funny side of the situation. Our protagonist here is an old man who needs a healing touch on his forehead from a wet washcloth held by a “red-hot mama.” Dig Willis Greenstreet’s classy clarinet and Kelly’s boisterous banjo-picking.

To those who think Americana’s for the birds, outstanding Old Man Kelly says: Off My Lawn!

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

kurt crandall cd imageKurt Crandall – Take It Off

YesterYear Records – 2016

10 tracks; 44 minutes

https://kurtcrandall.com/

Kurt Crandall is a much-travelled harmonica player, having lived and played in Seattle, Georgia and Chicago before his present sojourn in Richmond, Virginia, where this CD was recorded. On his first two releases Kurt showed a good command of the swinging styles associated with Kansas City, Chicago and the West Coast, as well as a wicked sense of humour, but it has been seven years since his last CD. On his third release Kurt wrote eight of the ten tracks and handles all harmonica and vocal duties, supported by Bill Heid (Big Joe & The Dynaflows) on keys, Karl Angerer (Lee Mc Bee, RJ Mischo) on guitar, Rusty Farmer or Steve Riggs on upright bass and Aaron Binder or Johnny Hott on drums; Brad Kinder (rhythm guitar) guests on one track and Lester Warner and Jaisson Taylor add backing vocals.

Bill’s cool organ and Karl’s rockabilly guitar feature on the opening tune in which Kurt is attracted by a lovely heptathlete and decides that he has to be her “8th Event”! A mambo rhythm and Kurt’s harp open the title cut in which Kurt challenges all males with incipient baldness to “Take It Off”: “Comb over – big mistake, spreading your hair like a garden rake; what happens, a mighty wind makes it stick up like a dorsal fin”. Karl adds some nice Albert Collins style guitar to complete an impressive track. Kurt bemoans a girl who “Can’t Dance” in a swinging number with terrific harp, guitar and piano before Bill again provides some cool jazz organ on “Loser”, Kurt explaining that losing can become a habit but he “ain’t lost my love for you”. Another comic song is the swinging shuffle “Dirty Pete”, about a guy who still attracts the girls despite obvious personal hygiene issues. Some tougher harp playing introduces “Why You Do”, another swinger about getting the silent treatment.

There are three instrumentals: “Taquito Under My Seat” has Kurt blowing chromatic harp over some sparkling piano and guitar, all supported by a great latin rhythm section; “Figgy Bag” is a fast swing tune with Kurt’s harp featured throughout, the sort of piece that we associate with players like Rod Piazza; Thelonius Monk’s “Bolivar Blues” closes the album in jazzy mood with Bill’s piano playing appropriately up front and bassist Rusty taking a short solo. The other cover is Big Joe Turner’s “TV Mamma” (here spelt with double m) which returns the song to its origins rather than some of the more aggressive versions that have been recorded.

With a clear vocal style, good harmonica skills and an ability to pen amusing songs, Kurt Crandall is a genuine triple threat. Recorded with a solid band of musicians “Take It Off” is definitely worthy of consideration by blues fans.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

wildcat ohalloran cd imageThe Wildcat O’Halloran Band – That Boy Don’t Play No Blues

Dove Nest Records 2016

11 tracks; 44 minutes

www.wildcatohalloran.com

In the past Massachusetts-based Wildcat O’Halloran has apparently been accused of ‘stretching the form’ by purists, so this album may be a response to those comments as Wildcat claims to be ‘putting the blues into others’ songs…blues, not the dreaded blues-based’ on a CD that is entirely covers from a very diverse set of artists. Wildcat’s claim looks reasonably solid on tracks like The Beatles “Dr Robert” as Wildcat’s guitar sits on top of a solid blues shuffle and Sting’s “Russians” which gets a funky stop-start rhythm treatment, but on several tracks the claim does not stand up, the versions of Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” and Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” (bizarrely credited here to Broadway writers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty!) coming across more like a karaoke evening than anything original.

Wildcat also tries his hand on some soul numbers: Sarah Halloran duets on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and her voice is good though it does show that Wildcat’s own voice does not really suit the material; a rather polite version of Sly’s “Dance To The Music” has some cool sax from Emily Duff; “I Wanna Be Where You Are” was an early 1972 hit for Michael Jackson and here works well as a slower-paced tune though Wildcat struggles vocally. He is more at ease on the uptempo tunes like “Don’t Let The Devil Ride” which transforms well from its gospel origins (Brother Joe May) with fine harp work from Johnny Marino and “Dark Whiskey”, originally a country tune (Gary Allan), but now propelled by keening slide.

Wildcat is on guitar with Devin Griffiths, Emily Duff plays sax, Dave Kenderlan is on bass and Joe Fitzpatrick on drums; guests include Johnny Marino on harp and Billy McManus on congas. On the CD cover a selection of blues greats from the past is watching Wildcat playing guitar, Muddy Waters looking quizzical as he states at the title of the album, Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan appearing to share a joke at the rear. In this reviewer’s opinion this disc is probably one for existing fans of the band.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

willie may cd imageWillie May – Maiuke – Ukelele Music

Self-Release 2016

12 tracks; 42 minutes

www.williemaymusic.com

Buffalo, NY’s Willie May is an eclectic musician, having made electric and acoustic albums in the past. On this release, however, he sets himself a new challenge with an album of mainly unaccompanied ukulele pieces. Willie wrote ten of the twelve songs here and produced the album. Evan Laedke joins him on melodica on two tracks (including one that he wrote), Mark Panfil plays accordion on one track and harmonica on two and Randy Bolman plays drums on one tune; otherwise everything you hear is Willie who adds some guitar, bass, kalimba and ocarina to his ukulele and vocals.

The ukulele is not heard often in the blues and it is interesting to hear Willie feature the instrument throughout though the music here is far from all blues, my I-Tunes classifying the album as ‘Country & Western’ though folk might be equally appropriate in some cases. On such a minimalist recording there really is no place to hide and Willie’s vocals are not the most robust though some of the songs work fine. Opener “Go Back Home” has a wistful lyric for which the lone ukelele makes the ideal accompaniment and “Another Moon Song” lopes along effectively with the accordion adding a dimension to the song which finds Willie getting ready to move on in life. “”Damn That Gubmint” (AKA government) with the rather strange melodica and “Shaken’ Tree Blues” are more blues than what has preceded but “Still Love You” (the only track with drums) is more of a catchy pop song with rather obvious lyrics.

Elsewhere Willie finds a little island vibe in “Wish You Could Stay” and “Made In The Shade” in which he sounds very contented with his lot – “I think I got it made”. The last two tracks add harmonica: “Hey Big Fannie” is a comic piece, a swinging blues on which the harp adds a definite blues feel, making it possibly the strongest track here; “Zombie Dance” was written by Ron Kain and adds a spooky feel with mention of a shaman and zombies who have “come to dance all night long”.

This is not an album that appealed to this reviewer’s tastes but Willie’s fans will no doubt appreciate his desire to explore new directions.

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


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 Featured Blues Interview – Johnny Sansone 

johnny sansone pic 1“I think there’s too much candy in music now to my liking,” says blues singer/songwriter Johnny Sansone. He explains, “Think about food as music. Food is for nourishment, and it makes you who you are. Your body is built from what you eat, and I think music should be consumed the same way. If you listen to sugary music, you’re not going to be able to understand this beautiful thing that exists in this world.”

At six foot four with a mane of white hair that makes him look like Buffalo Bill Cody on steroids, Johnny Sansone cuts an imposing figure on stage before he opens his mouth. A college graduate who swam his way through school on a swimming scholarship, he moves with the lithe spirit of a panther and hammers home his original music with a sense of purpose and grit that’s as imposing vocally as Howlin’ Wolf whom he saw once at age 12.

“I’m just a kid, and I ran away from the swimming camp to see what this was about, and they had him do this little thing in the park, some kind of little outdoor stage that they had to plug the show that night, and he came out at first playing harmonica and singing, and I was right in the front, and he looked at me. This was something that changed my life.

“I could see him looking at me, and he looked like he was gonna jump off stage and choke me. He was playing, and he looked at me and he looked like he was so pissed off, like ‘I’ll kill you,’ and I’m just a little kid, and I’m like, ‘Holy s***.’ Then, he played a little bit, and then he smiled like ‘I’m not gonna hurt ya,’ and something happened to me, and I saw that man. I was like, ‘I wanna do that.’ Like I was terrified. I don’t even remember who else was on the show.”

While barely out of his teens, Johnny did some work with Jr. Wells. “We were sitting at a table at this festival, and one of the guys from Hot Tuna were there,” he recalls about a tour with Junior. “They were talking, getting stuff together, and Buddy Guy was sitting there. So, I had a bottle of gin because I know that he and Jr. like Tanqueray, so I brought that with me, and he starts.

‘Alright, let me hear ya.’

“And I’m playing something.

“He said, ‘Gimme that!’ He goes, ‘Play it like this,’ and he played and slid it back to me, and I played it exactly like he did.

“And he says, ‘Gimme that! You don’t know what you’re doing. Let me show ya.’

“So, I slid it back to him. The whole time we were drinking, and he played the same thing.

‘Play it like this.’

“I played it.

johnny sansone pic 2“He’s like, ‘Man, aren’t you listening to me? What’s wrong with you?’

“And he’s like, ‘Play it like this.’

He slid it back, and I picked it up and I played something completely different, and he goes, ‘Now, you got it.’

“It took an hour for me to understand, He was like, ‘You are you. Why are you letting me tell you what to do?’ He was about life stories. He could make you realize, ‘Wait a second. He did good so he’s gonna share it.’”

Howlin’ Wolf’s imposing stage presence and Junior Wells’ harmonica lesson weren’t Johnny’s first forays into the secrets of a great entertainers. His father was played saxophone with Dave Brubuck in World War II. “My father came to me when I was eight years old, and he would say, ‘Show me what you’ve learned.’ I’d play, and he’d take the horn, and he’d play. ‘It’s like this,’ and he’d play one note. ‘Your tone and your phrasing is such a beautiful thing. I don’t care how fast you play or what you want to play, you’re gonna get this.’ And that always stuck with me.

“‘You’re gonna play. You’re gonna take lessons,’ and I looked at him and I was like, ‘I don’t know anything about it,’ My dad died when I was 14. I realize now that he looked at all of the kids, and said, ‘This guy – this guy, he will carry on what I wanted to do. He can do it.’ I didn’t know that I had to carry the saxophone, too. You take these lessons which I hated to do because I would have to go to basement to an Italian guy’s house, and he smelled like garlic and wine, and I hated it, and he’d show me something to play, and I’m just a kid.

Another beautiful thing that Dad told Johnny was that the day is too short to go without good food and good music. “Some day you’ll understand when you meet girls,” he said. “He’s telling me some pretty important stuff, and it (sunk) into me. I know there are a lot of guys that are great blues musicians that want their kids to play the blues, but music is music, and just like any art form, it’s hard to understand what you want to do, but I wish there were more programs where kids.”

Music has always been the essence of life for Johnny, but swimming was his ticket to ride. Both required discipline. “I remember saying from the time I was eight years old, I had to get up at five o’clock in the morning and go jump in the pool and swim until it was time to go to school until I got out of college, and I said, ‘For the rest of my life I will not wake up until I want to.’

“I couldn’t wait to get out on the road. I couldn’t wait to play music. I was an athlete in college. It took every bit of my time. I was lucky to even listen to music, let alone play it. So, it was really difficult. You have to keep a scholarship. You have to keep (doing) what you’re doing and essentially it’s more like swimming which I did. It takes a lot more than eight hours a day, and then going to school, so there was no time.”

So, how does a guy from New Jersey who has a swimming scholarship to a school in Colorado end up in New Orleans? “Culture! I love great food, and I love great music. I’ve been to so many different places and traveled all over in search of the soulfulness and what moves me, and I found it in a lot of places, but the roots I guess are in why people get married. They say, ‘I can’t live without this person. I have to (be with) this person.’ That’s kinda how New Orleans was to me. Kinda like the place I knew I was s’posed to be from.”

After graduating, Johnny lived in Colorado, Austin, Florida, Chicago, Boston, and Chapel Hill before settling in New Orleans. “I tried to be a hobo and to be on the road much as I could. When I got out of college, that’s what I did. I traveled and lived in every city I could and absorbed everything I could from that place to try to bring that soul into myself so that I would understand that kind of music, and it worked.

johnny sansone pic 3“To go to New Orleans and see how many different kinds of music were being condensed within 100 miles was really an amazing awakening. So, a lot of the music that I already had bought – I bought records as a kid and didn’t understand. There are really so many people there who can play that were influenced by this music, and you didn’t have to go that far to find something completely different.

“I lived in Texas, and there’s great Texas blues, and you could go hear Tex/Mex music. You could hear great country music, incredible songwriters, beautiful folk music, and the blues, but when you go to Louisiana, everything gets condensed into a form I haven’t seen anywhere else, heard anywhere else. That’s what I was looking for. I wanted to take my entire record collection and jam it into six songs.

“It seemed like it worked, and then on top of that out of all the places that I’d ever lived in a certain amount of time I found the people welcomed me there, and they wanted to know what I cared about and what can you show us that we don’t know.

“It was a beautiful awakening. It took me a long time to actually move there. Just like every other place I went to, I stayed for as long as I could. Then I always wanted to come back, and I think that’s what’s happening in that city right now. People are coming there, and staying there for the reason I did.”

Swimming and singing are both Zen experiences for Johnny. He still swims, but it doesn’t’ rule his days anymore. “I don’t look at the two as the same. I think the winning spirit is something I was brought up with as an athlete, to go in and to give everything you’ve got all the time, and I think that’s (similar to how I play music). When people have job and a lot of times I think they go to their jobs, and they get as much done as they think they need to in order to keep their job.

“When you’re an athlete, you can’t do that. Maybe late in life we find out I could lose this job if I don’t do more than I was supposed to do. Then you find out I did more than I was supposed to do and the other guy got the job I wanted, but when you’re up against another guy, and he’s faster than you, you have to beat him, and there’s something to be said about applying yourself toward something and that’s what I’m saying about understanding your craft and practicing all the time. I don’t know if it’s that. I think it’s the discipline of making sure that everybody around you will understand what you’re doing means to you because that becomes something they can understand, and they do that themselves.”

Johnny feels it’s an artist’s job to find himself. “I think he disconnects himself from what anybody actually thinks about what he’s doing. He’s not doing it for them. He’s doing it for himself, and he’s putting everything he can into it. This is a hypnotic state to a certain degree. It’s completely different. He doesn’t know what’s going on around him. There could be nobody there, and he’s going to do the same thing, and that thing, that hypnosis, goes into people’s hearts. He doesn’t care. His job is to find himself.

“This is why we have such great recordings. When you think about something like Stax. I mean it goes on forever, but these people were not in front of an audience. They said, ‘Roll the tape,’ and these guys put out. They were probably crying. You can feel that on those records. I don’t know if that happens anymore.

johnny sansone pic 4“I don’t know how digitally processed they made anything from a certain year. When did it actually start and how did it go? And when is (analog recording) gonna come back? What happened to the actual process of I sing? These guys (today) play, and then somebody enhances it enough so that it sounds good enough to be put out. Some of our favorite records were made that way.

“I feel like sorry for those consumers from here on out unless something changes. We all have a way to go back just like we did when we bought Chess records, when we listened to those things. How did they make the echo? “Well, you’ve got boxes that do all that shit now. We don’t need all those techniques. They recreate that.”

If Johnny Sansone had only put out one album, The Lord Is Waiting The Devil Is Too (2011), it would be good enough for me to put him in the same knitch with his mentors Howlin’ Wolf and Jr. Wells. A mountain of a man, his Zen-like presence is mesmerizing, his tone showing the results of the early lessons of his father, his competitive swimming experience shining through his spectacular focus on the song at hand. He often works with Anders Osborne, has been a staple of The Voice of The Wetlands Allstars, he is fiercely independent and woefully under appreciated in the blues world. I asked him how he got the nickname Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone.

“Ok, interview’s over now,” he joked. “I’ll tell you exactly what happened very quickly. I was trying to play music well, and I was an athlete, and I was just a ball of energy, and I could pretty much do anything. So, I would play harmonica really bad, and I would like jump up on top of the upright piano, and then I would do a back flip off the piano, and never miss a note. Then I would jump over the bass player’s head, and then I would jump into the crowd, and nobody knew what it was, and everybody would start saying, ‘That guy that jumps around, that jumpin’ guy, he’s going to be there tonight,’ and somebody said, ‘The jumpin guy, Jumpin’ Johnny.’

“So, I ended up being this guy Jumpin’ Johnny. The reason I had to get rid of this Jumpin’ Johnny was because there are three other Jumpin’ Johnny’s in this world, and I won’t say they’re better or worse than me. I’ll just say I don’t want them confused with me. So, I’m not Jumpin’ Johnny. They’re Jumpin’ Johnny, and I’m Johnny Sansone, and thank you very much.”

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

Visit Johnny’s website at: www.johnnysansone.com

Interviewer Don Wilcock has been writing about blues for nearly half a century. He wrote Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, the biography that helped Buddy Guy jumpstart his career in 1991. He’s interviewed more than 5000 Blues artists and edited several music magazines including King Biscuit Time.


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The Great Northern Blues Society – Wausau, WI

The Great Northern Blues Society of Wausau, WI (GNBS) is Proud to announce the lineup for our 18th Annual Blues Café fundraiser to be held at the Historically Registered Rothschild Pavilion (near Wausau, WI) on Saturday, March 11 2017.

The Lineup will include Joyann Parker Band, Jimmy Nick & Don’t Tell Mama, Ghost Town Blues Band, Brandon Santini, Becky Barksdale, and Bing Futch playing acoustic sets between main stage acts. Doors open at noon, and Music will start at 1:00PM and continue non-stop until 11:00PM. Chairs, Food, and Cold Beverages will be available on-site. Special Hotel Rates available at the nearby Stoney Creek Inn. Limited supply of rooms available so make your reservation now.

Please come, sit by the huge stone fireplace, with a beverage of choice in hand, and join us for 10 hours of non-stop glorious Blues Music on 3/11/17. Artist Biographies, directions, and Tickets are available on our Website at – http://www.gnbs.org

Minnesota Blues Society – St. Paul, Mn

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

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

Silent auction, Bake Sale, Door Prizes Current and former IBC participants performing. $10.00 suggested donation www.mnbs.org

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for the Blue Monday live performances and jam sessions held every Monday night at The Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. January 23 – The Good, The Bad & The Blues, January 30 – Slam Allen, February 6 – Maurice John Vaughan, February 13 – Dave Lumsden & Friends, February 20 – Southside Johnny, February 27 – Jeff Jensen.

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


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