Issue 11-42 October 19, 2017

Cover photo © 2017 Joseph A. Rosen


 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Junior Watson. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from James Armstrong, Walter Trout, Linsey Alexander, The Disparrows, Jinder Presents, The Mojo Gurus, Ralli Rock & The Moan of the Sky and Guy Bélanger.

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



 Blues Wanderings 

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We got to see some great Chicago Blues last week at the first annual Logan Center Blues Fest. Some of the great performers included Melody Angel, Jimmy Johnson, Corky Siegal, Lil’ Ed Williams, Michael Ledbetter and Fruteland Jackson. We will have full coverage of this new event in an upcoming issue.


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

james armstrong cd imageJames Armstrong – Blues Been Good To Me

Catfood Records CFR-025

10 songs – 38 minutes

www.jarmblues.com

Los Angeles-born James Armstrong is a true blues survivor. A silky smooth guitarist with a pleasant, sometimes smoky, voice, he was on the verge of stardom in the mid-’90s after the release of his first album, Sleeping With A Stranger, when tragedy struck.

The son of a jazz guitarist, James was a protege of the great Smokey Wilson, for whom he played second guitar for years beginning in his early 20s. Influenced strongly by Texan Albert Collins and jump blues legend Sam Taylor, he earned his first recording contract with the band Mama Roo in the ’80s before signing with HighTone Records and getting rave reviews.

Before he could enjoy his success, however, he suffered major injuries in a home invasion. Not only did it leave him without the use of his left hand, but created nerve damage that still troubles him today. He credits his recovery to the support of friends and fans — and the entire blues community should be grateful, too, especially with Armstrong producing CDs as tasty as this one.

As he explains on his website, during the two years he was sidelined, he gained a new understanding for the slow blues stylings that dominate Blues Been Good To Me, his third release on Bob Trenchard’s Catfood Records imprint, and gave him time to perfect his singing and songwriting skills.

A multiple Blues Music Award nominee whose tunes have appeared in several films, James recorded and co-produced this one with Rawls in St. Louis and Jim Gaines in Stantonville, Tenn., backed by a veteran ensemble that includes Mike Murdock, a veteran of Buddy Guy’s and Little Milton’s bands, and Brother John Kattke (Eric Clapton, Nick Moss and Larry McCray) on keyboards, Johnny McGhee of the band LTD on rhythm guitar, Andrew Blaze Thomas (Billy Branch, Bernard Allison and Ronnie Baker Brooks) on drums, and Darryl Wright (Mavis Staples) and Will Jackson on bass. They’re augmented by a horn section comprised of Bryan and Corey Fitz and Kasimu Taylor as well as Rawls, Mary Jo Curry, Amy Slack and Kimberlie Helton who provide backing vocals.

From the first notes of “Blues Been Good To Me,” one of eight Armstrong originals on the disc, you know that James means business. After a brief intro, his guitar lines cut like a knife atop a syncopated medium-tempo shuffle as he describes his gratefulness about all that he’s received because of his music and world travels. The opening bars of “Second Time Around” hint at Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man,” but quickly evolve into a stop-time blues about wooing a woman who’s a little wayward about romance after being burned before.

Armstrong follows by reinventing Robert Palmer’s 1986 monster hit “Addicted To Love” with a full soul-blues treatment before Kattke’s keys open the slow-blues burner “Early Grave,” an image-filled song of heartbreak after a woman returns home late from a night of lovemaking with another man. It stylishly mixes images of Elvis and Robert Johnson into the mix. Next up, “Old Man In The Morning (Young Man At Night)” will put a smile on your face as it describes the difficulty an aging musician has when arising, but how those aches and pains disappear the minute he hits the stage.

“Change The Weather,” a syrupy slow ballad, finds the singer once more with a broken heart before James turns the Holland, Dozier and Holland masterpiece, “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You,” into an uptempo swing with country music overtones. The hook of “Ain’t Another Love Song” echoes the Temptations’ “My Girl” at the open, but immediately slides into a ballad that expresses words of love for a woman that should have been spoken long before. A new arrangement of “Sleeping With A Stranger,” from his Armstrong’s first record, follows before another burner, “Shot Gun Wedding,” describes a relationship doomed from the start and brings the disc to a close.

A perfectionist at heart, Armstrong has delivered a winner with this album. Available through several online retailers or autographed and direct from the artist’s website (address above), it’s unhurried and skillfully delivered throughout. Strongly recommended for fans who like their blues smooth and with a strong taste of soul.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

walter trout cd imageWalter Trout – We’re All In This Together

Provogue Records PRD75282

14 songs – 70 minutes

www.waltertrout.com

Fans of blues rock rejoiced three short years ago when Walter Trout literally battled back from the brink of death after laying in a hospital bed in critical condition for months with liver failure.

Thanks to the fierce efforts of his devoted wife Marie and a liver transplant, the guitar legend has bounced back stronger than ever, carrying forward a career that’s included lengthy stints with two of the most famous units in music: John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Canned Heat, in addition to dozen releases under his own name and countless guest appearances with other performers.

We’re All In This Together provides another cause for celebration. Walter’s recorded it with 14 top names in the industry after previously composing tunes to do with all but one of them. The all-star lineup includes Randy Bachman, Joe Bonamassa, Robben Ford, Eric Gales, Warren Haynes, Sonny Landreth, Charlie Musselwhite, John Németh, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Louis Walker, Edgar Winter, Mike Zito, Mayall and Trout’s son Jon, a skilled string bender himself, who fronted his father’s band when his dad was unable.

Walter released two previous CDs since his recovery, but neither is anything like this. The studio album Battle Scars poignantly revealed his turmoil as he recounted his innermost thoughts lay dying, and the Alive In Amsterdam served as a powerful declaration that he was fully back in top form in front of a live audience.

As he clearly states in the liner notes, this one carries a different message. It was created so Walter “could have some fun and jam with some friends.” He’s assisted by his regular keyboard player Sammy Avila and drummer Michael Leasure. They’re augmented by Jonny Griparic on bass and Deacon Jones and Skip Edwards on organ.

The intense uptempo shuffle “Gonna Hurt Like Hell” opens the action with Shepherd trading licks to deliver the message that no matter what mistake you make, you’re going to pay for it when you finally realize what you’ve done. Landreth partners on slide for the next one, “Ain’t Goin’ Back,” a roots rocker that swings from the jump, before Musselwhite’s harp graces the slow blues, “The Other Side Of The Pillow.” He and Trout share vocals and writing credits with Walter borrowing a line from a tune sent to him by Richard T. Bear.

“She Listens To The Blackbird Sing” follows with Zito pairing on six-string. It’s a fiery semi-acoustic number that describes a lady who escapes from her troubles by tuning in to the bird of the title. Ford joins the action for “Mr. Davis,” a sweeping walking blues instrumental with pleasing scale runs, before the only cover in the set, a burning version of Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying,” with Haynes adding incendiary riffs.

“Somebody Goin’ Down” features the chops of Gales for a romp that begins in the Bo Diddley vein, but evolves into a funk before Winter steps into the studio to help deliver the ballad “She Steals My Heart Away.” Walter credits Walker with discovering him in the ’70s. They’re together for “Crash And Burn,” a searing political statement about no longer wanting to watch the news, before Trout trades licks with Nemeth’s harp — he also delivers the vocals — for “Too Much To Carry,” a medium-tempo blues about dealing with life’s burdens.

It’s all in the family for the tasty “Do You Still See Me At All,” which features son Jon on second guitar, before Bachman and Trout go into overdrive for the rocker “Got Nothin’ Left.” Walter’s old boss, Mayall, joins the action on harp for the acoustic “Blues For Jimmy T.,” which pays tribute to Jimmy Trapp, Trout’s old bassist and best friend. Bonamassa helps bring the album to a close and shares vocals with the slow and steady “We’re All In This Together.”

If you’re a fan of blues-rock, this one’s definitely for you. The music rips and runs for more than an hour, and you’ll never get bored. Highly recommended.

Reviewer’s note: If you’re unfamiliar with Walter’s long brush with death and amazing recovery, wife Marie, who’s both a PhD and his manager, has documented the battle in her book, The Blues: Why It Still Hurts So Good. All proceeds from it are targeted for a great cause: the Blues Music Foundation’s HART Fund, which provides financial assistance to musicians in need for everything from health and dental care to funeral expenses. And she’s doing the same with her latest book, Blues: Why It Hurts So Good.

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 – 3 of 8 

linsey alexander cd imageLinsey Alexander – Two Cats

Delmark Records

www.linseyalexander.com

15 tracks

Here we have Linsey Alexander’s third album for Demark and his seventh overall. Born in Mississippi and a long time Chicago blues scene fixture, Linsey transitioned from the heyday of clubs on the Chicago Southside to being a regular at today’s Northside blues venues. At 74 years young, he’s still got it. A fine singer and guitar player, he honed his skills in Memphis before hocking his guitar to follow a young lovely girl to the Windy City where he’s made his home since.

Appearing on the CD are Anthony Palmer on the guitar, one of Chicagos underappreciated legends, The Mad Hatter Roosevelt Purifoy on keys, E. G. McDaniel on the bass and Bryant Parker doing percussion. Also appearing are Kenny Anderson on trumpet, Hank Ford on the tenor sax and Norman Palm on trombone.

“I’m Not Your Problem” is first up. The horns are out in force and Alexander struts his stuff with great feeling. He gives us a couple of nice guitar solo and sets the stage for a great album. “Where Did You Take Your Clothes Off Last Night” features Paul Hanover blowing some dirty fine harp on this cut resurrected from Alexander’s pre-Delmark days. Stinging guitar and fun lyrics are also featured her. Next up is the funky “That Ain’t Right” where Linsey demonstrates his soulful side for us. Funky guitar, horns and more! “Why I Sing The Blues”is classic Chicago blues and we get some more harp and keys to boot. Breezy Rodio guests here on guitar, too, as does James Wilson on drums.

The title track is full of double entendre and some more great guitar work along with some big time horn work. “Facebook Woman” gives us Linsey’s take on his women who is never home for him in a slow and solid blues with some organ taking us to church. She chats on Facebook all day instead of paying attention to and cooking for Alexander. Apparently she also uses Facebook to plan some rendezvous as Alexander explains to us. The funk returns with the cut “User.” More great guitar and horns are featured here once again. “I’m In Love With A Woman” is another tale of infidelity, but of another sort. Alexander’s got another woman and so does his woman, a twist on what many have sung about before. “’Til I Kissed You” is a slow, soul cut with a great funky groove. “How Could You Do Me Like You Done Me” has more harp from Hanover, some slick guitar and Linsey once again singing about a relationship gone bad.

“Reefer And Blow” is a bouncy and upbeat tempo cut. Alexander tells us about a mean woman who puffs and snorts but if the cops come he tells her not to turn him in. There is some big time guitar here. “Thinking About Me” is more of the same, new blues with a little funkiness. “Starting Monday” is a song about complacency and putting things off. Why do something today when you can procrastinate about it for accomplishment on Monday? Big guitars once again and more fine organ work. The President and life under him is the topic for “Comb Over Blues,” another sarcastic set of lyrics by Alexander. Rodio and Wilson make a second guest spot here, too. The set closes with a tune in a different tact called “Kiss Revisited”. Funky, jazzy and some rapping rhyme by J. Parker make this sound modern and new. A nice bass line and drumming throughout take us out in a cool manner.

Alexander stays current with his topics, showing us the blues in modern day situations and life. A great performer, 15 original tunes and a great band- what is not to like here? This is another fine Delmark release well worth adding to your collection!

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 – 4 of 8 

the disparrows cd imageThe Disparrows – Wasting Time

Self-release

www.thedisparrows.com

10 tracks / 39:46

The Disparrows are a band that is based out Hollywood, California, and their sound is a big and brash as their complicated hometown. This groups gets around, and after completing their recent tour of India, they hit a Los Angeles studio and recorded their third album, Wasting Time, which is a slick collection of thoughtful hard rock with a blues base and a social conscience.

The group has been together since 2009, and their frontman is singer and guitarist Daniel Weber, who also happens to be married to Sunny Leone, the international film star. Joining him in the studio for this project were the other two founding members, Stephen Tecci on bass and Grant Loosvelt (yes, that is spelled correctly) on keys, as well as the band’s two new members, Jaydon Bean on drums and Julian Tamarin on the rhythm guitar.

The producer for this album was Anthony Focx (also spelled correctly) who has worked with countless bands, including a few that you might have heard of, such as Aerosmith and Foreigner. Focx mixed and mastered this project at his studio in Nashville, and the results are dramatic, with many of the songs sounding like they are ready to be included on a movie or television soundtrack. The ten original tracks on Wasting Time have a diverse sound, but the overall feel is centered on a harder blues-rock theme, and the band is certainly not afraid of commenting on the complexity of relationships or the injustice and unease that they see in this world.

The opener, “World Keeps Burning,” is a wake up call to mankind that it is time to pay attention to the direction that society is heading. This song has an edgy sound with distorted vocals, layers of guitars, electric piano and organ, and hard-hitting drums. The arrangement is tight and the mix is perfectly put together, which is a testament to the engineering that went into this project. The next track has a marked change in feel, as “Believe in Me” starts out with a sweet piano introduction from Loosvelt, and the vocal harmonies of the chorus bring home the lyrics of one who is trying to convince his soul mate to put her faith in him. This is a cool counterpart to other love songs like “High on You,” a more laid-back tune which highlights Weber’s powerful vocals, and “Dying for You,” a 1980s-style power ballad.

One of the more powerful tunes on Wasting Time is “Set Me Free,” which builds from a simple piano intro into a gloriously full-on gospel anthem courtesy of the backing vocals of Annie Bosko, Camille Lourde Wyatt, Maoco Floran Elkins, and Crystal Drummer. The lyrics about the ongoing Syrian tragedy are as serious as things can get, but the overall message is one of hope, making this the standout track on this release.

The band changes gears frequently during this set, as the listener will hear during “Change,” which approaches pop territory with its catchy hook and easygoing melody. There is also “Sorry,” with its Southern flavor, and the closer, “We Are the Young,” a slick rock tune that provides a last hopeful message that maybe mankind does have a chance after all. There is a little bit of something here for everybody, if you listen hard enough.

The Disparrows did a fine job with Wasting Time, and it is heartening that there are newer bands out there that are writing their own music and pushing the limits of the blues-rock genre. There are no upcoming shows listed on the band’s website, but the group finished a sold-out world tour prior to entering the studio for this album, so maybe they are taking a breather for a while. So, for now you should head over to their website where you will find some samples from the disc, and you can see for yourself what the fuss is all about.

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



 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

Jinger cd imageJinder Presents…Kingsize Blackfoot

Din of Ecstasy

www.kingsizeblackfoot.com

10 tracks

Jinder is from the Westcountry of the UK, is 36 years old and this is his 10th album. The title hearkens to his Blackfoot Sioux heritage and the fact that he is 6’7” tall. He uses that as sort of an alter ego to present American roots music with a Delta flair. He employs the resonator well, has a shouter style of vocals and displays an enormous amount of energy in his music.

The short original intro “Great Plains” has a native America flair to it and serves well to open things up. Jinder breaks into the Delta blues with “Up On The Edge,” which starkly contrasts with the hand claps and chanting of the first cut. It’s a Chris Whitley song. “In The Pines” is a traditional song done in a chopped and breathy vocal with big acoustic guitar accompaniment. “White Freightliner Blues” is a Townes Van Zandt cut. He uses a 1967 Gibson J45 on the acoustic guitar cuts and it has a great tone as he finger picks aptly. Yip Harburg’s “Brother Can You Spare A Dime” follows. Stark and rootsy, it’s a nicely done tune.

“Woke Up This Morning” is another original, an AAB traditional blues with some tasteful and restrained slide. The traditional “Cocaine Lil and Morphine Sue” is Jinder arranged. He demonstrates his finger picking abilities and has some fun with the vocals. Next is Rodney Crowell’s “Bluebird Wine,”a strident rootsy cut. He follows that up with “Automobile Blues” which is straight up Lightnin’ Hopkins. He gives it a good whirl. The original “Come Home to the Blues” is the final cut on the CD. He sings with a little anguish here and plays to amplify the feeling as he picks the strings with what I’d call starkness and hollowness. It works well and was recorded live..

The Gibson and Regal RC51 Tricone resonator give the album a really authentic sound. Jinder’s vocals are solid and his guitar work is nicely done. If you are looking for some different acoustic music to sample steeped in the blues and American roots, then this might be worth a spin!

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 8 

the mogo gurus cd imageThe Mojo Gurus – Gone

MRi Entertainment

www.mojogurus.com

15 songs

The Mojo Gurus are a high energy rock band out of the Tampa Bay, Florida area. Kevin Steele leads the band, writes the songs and plays harp. Vinnie Granese is on bass and guitars and assists on vocals. Sean Doyle is the percussionist and also sings. Doc Lovett is on electric and acoustic guitars. Seven other artists assist on keys, horns, strings and sitar. It’s a huge sound and production. They play a mix of styles, but the glam rock genre predominates. The style moves around and they play some metal, rockabilly, psychedelic, and alternative and hard rock. Nowhere are there any blues to be heard.

“Real Gone Groove (Pt. 1),” “Love Somebody” and “Fifty Miles South of the Border” open things up. All three are straight up rockers, with the opening song just an instrumental that warms the listener up with rock and funk and, aptly, a huge groove. Driving beats, lots fill, big guitars, and a gritty vocal sound. “All I Do is Cry” is a big time rock ballad that might remind some of slow blues but it’s a big rock ballad with a stinging, huge guitar with lots of echo in support of the emotive and modified vocals. “Monkey Off My Back” has a “Hand Jive” sort of vibe and intro and then breaks into a massive guitar attack. It’s a heavy metal sort of rock cut. The funk comes out in “Busted,” a rocky funk number with big horns and guitar behind a strong groove. “What’s Wrong With You” mixes rockabilly and punk overtones in an interesting tune with lyrics that rival the woes of a down home country song. “Two Smokin’ Barrels” is next and it’s “Peter Gunn” meets Metallica.

“Never Met a Girl Like You Before” is a ballad with acoustic lead guitar, fiddles and a down home meets the New York Dolls cut. It’s back to hard rock with a tad of a psychedelic approach. Driving guitar, amped up vocals, a heavy backline. “Roll With Me Sister” reminded me again of the Dolls or perhaps Mott the Hoople. “Prelude to Light” is a weird intro to “Step Into the Light” a full scale psychedelic rock song. Sitar, all sort of vocals and instrumentals intertwined; it’s wild. “(We’re All Going) Straight to Hell” reminds me of “Slade” or any of the glam rock bands (NY Dolls, Mott, etc.). Driving beat and big guitars are again the main emphasis. The album closes to “Real Gone Groove (Pt. 2),” an reprise of the opening cut with the instrumental groove taking us home.

It’s an interesting album. The vocals reminded me a little of Ian Hunter but the effects make the song nasal and distorted (intentionally). It was different, hearkening to a metal mixed with glam rock approach. The guitars are huge with lots of effect. The horns play in with abandon when called on. The strings gave some nice effects in the quiet number and the sitar was cool. If you like metallic glam rock with hints of rockabilly and other rock styles it might be worth a listen. If you are looking for blues it’s a pass.

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 – 7 of 8 

ralli rock cd imageRalli Rock & The Moan of the Sky – To Bring To Light

Contra Music Production

http://rallirock.blogspot.com

7 tracks

Ralli Rock & The Moan of the Sky are an angst filled, big time rock band with a throw back sound. Ralli Rock is gravelly voiced vocalist with pipes filled with anger and emotion and a heavy hand on guitar. It’s mostly solo work as he fills in on drums, piano, bass, organ, and synthetic strings. He gets some help from Mr. Bowman on drums, Se Linder on bass and backing vocals, and R,J. Schrey on keys. Borther in law Ralf Rabenborn is also credited with unspecified assistance.

More of an EP than LP, the seven songs run 36 minutes which is longer than many rock albums of my youth. The venture begins with “Healer,” a rock cut with a moderate beat and howling vocals and guitar. The second cut is “Walk on Water Again,” a cut about despair and hope. Another passionate mid-tempo rocker, Ralli Rock demonstrates his prowess as a guitar slinger once again. “Swallow the Bait” is a huge rocker with some stinging guitar solo and work on top of impassioned vocals. More despair in the rock ballad “2nd Soul” follows. The synthesized sounds add an almost church-like effect to the piece.

Side B begins with “The Blues Within,” which approaches being a blues song but really is a heavy blues rock cut. Slow blues in a way, but the vocals, guitar and piano make it a more of a rock feel. “Black Hole Blues” uses the “B” word again, but it’s a hard rocker styled after 1970’s rock. Larger than life vocals and effects, strident, heavy guitar feel more like Black Sabbath than Muddy Waters. “Let a Little Light Shine In” concludes the set and begins with a simple piano intro. Ralli Rock comes in with a solemn vocal line and organ and gives a glimmer of hope in the lyrics. The song builds and goes into an extended guitar anthem-styled solo to conclude with.

The album is a dark themed, hard rock album. The influence of the blues is buried deeply within; certainly Ralli Rock’s style of singing and play say rock. It’s heavy and dark stuff and if you are looking for that then this is your album. Ralli has distorted effects layers into the vocals witch play into the desperation discussed in the lyrics. The guitar attacks and adds to the deep and dark feeling of the songs. It pretty good in that respect, but once again it’s not blues at all.

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 8 

guy belanger cd imageGuy Bélanger – Traces & Scars

Production Brother Inc.

www.guybelangermusic.com

12 tracks

Traces & Scars is Guy Bélanger’s 7th album and this highly recognized Canadian harp player shows his roots in music from America’s South. The sound is deeply Southern, with front porch blues-influenced Americana and folk as the style. According to his bio, Guy Bélanger has been awarded 14 Lys Blues trophies and has also won the prestigious Canadian “Harmonica Player of the Year,” which was presented at the Maple Blues Awards in 2014 in Toronto. He also won the André Gagnon Award 2016 (instrumental music category) presented by SPACQ.

The main band is Guy along with André Lachance on guitars (including lap steel), Marc-André Drouin on bass, acoustic guitar and piano, and Michael Roy on drums and percussion. Nine other players and two singers join in the mix, an eclectic and quite effective band and group of featured, add-on musicians.

The album is a melancholy mix of predominantly instrumental tunes. There are two songs along with the ten instrumentals. The album begins with “My Dearest Friend,” a somber tune with harp and acoustic guitar that wafts back and forth between the two players. The song is in memory of Guy’s brother Bob Walsh; one can feel the expression of emotional pain. “Better days” is for his British friends and is a more upbeat cut with harp that expresses hope along with some haunting lap steel. Preston Reed appears in the next track. His guitar tapping style is interesting and he and Guy blend well in a folk sort of cut . The piece moves along smartly and the picking and blowing are well done. “Les Mauvaises Herbes” is a re-visitation of the title song from the film made by his brother Louis. It’s about two guys who decide to go into marijuana (the evil herb) farming. The film verges on the absurd according to reviews but the song is anything but absurd. The steel guitar provides a haunting sound which is eclectically good and Guy then blends his hard into the mix in midstream. The cut has kind of a country sound, lilting and seductive while also pensive. The first of two songs is sung by Delaney Davidson, a New Zealander whom Bélanger became acquainted with via French photographer Olivier Longuet. It’s another somber cut with Davidson emoting and there is some nice harp and guitar. The pace picks up with “See the Light,” a very up tempo piece with a bouncing harp lead and some nice guitar laid down by Kaven Girouard whom Guy met while touring with Celine Dion. He’s got a great tone and he and Guy play their heart out- it’s my favorite track of the CD.

The title track kicks off the second half of the album. Cellist Eric Longworth and Guy play off each other and with each other well as the band tastefully backs them in this laid back and solemn piece. Next up is “Common ground” where Guy and the band lay it out together with little apprehension and fuss. It’s guys hanging out and making good music. Jazzy, a little funky, it’s an interesting work. “Kalaw” is up next; it’s a song based on a small village in Burma. Guitarist and composer Claude Fradette plays some tasteful guitar and Bélanger offers restrained but focused harp. One can imagine a small, backwards South Asian village as the piece wanders and wavers along. Luce Dufault is featured here in the second song, “Who’s Left Standing.” She is a Quebec singer, something Blenager always features on his albums, and with her he chose one who is a close friend. Here vocals are well done; she sings with deep emotion and has a sweet little vibrato. The song is from Texas band Storyville and the pedal and lap steel guitars adds a nice touch to the piece. It’s another favorite of mine from the CD. “Nitassinan” is a song about the territory in the North-East of Quebec where the Innu have lived for 8,000 years. It’s another cut that is both somber and interesting. The final number is “Hot Time,” a cut inspired by the Louisiana voodoo dances and Cajun rhythms. It builds and builds and makes for a cool ending for the album.

The one sheet calls this a folk-blues album. It’s heavy on the folksy side and light on the bluesy side. The music is well done and players are absurdly good. If you want straight blues this will not be your cup of tea, but if you are looking for something different, mostly down tempo, filled with emotion and a little different then this might be something you want to try out. I enjoyed it, but the solemn and somberness is really dark and down. There is hope expressed, though, and Guy Bélanger does a good job expressing a range of emotion with his music.

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 Interview – Junior Watson 

junior watson photo 1If you ask one hundred blues fans who their favorite guitar player is, you will probably get about ninety five different responses. When you ask blues musicians which guitarist they most admire, one name will undoubtedly get repeated mentions. Michael “Junior” Watson has influenced countless guitar players with his swinging lines and spontaneous improvisations that put the fun back into guitar solos.

After lengthy stints as a member of Rod Piazza’s band, the Mighty Flyers, and with Canned Heat, Watson has been kept busy doing gigs under his own name as well as recording and touring with a whose-who list of harmonica players – George “Harmonica” Smith, William Clarke, Charlie Musselwhite, Kim Wilson, James Harman, Mitch Kashmar, Lynwood Slim, Snooky Pryor, and John Németh.

Watson explains, “Harmonica players have been part of my career from the start to the finish – and I am sick of it. I have heard everything that they play. And they can’t help you out at all because they can’t play a chord to back you up. So I am working all night and they just wear you out. Some of the solos go so long that I forget what song we are playing. I love the music but it is not that much fun to play that stuff for too long. Somebody like Kim Wilson, who was a high school football star, has that jock mentality of lets go, go , go! But I can only go so far playing that stuff over and over again.”

“The key for me is that I have to stay interested, so I try to learn something different every week to keep my mind going, whether I play it live or not. My Mom was a singer. She encouraged me to play. This week I am getting into some Latin stuff with all of these different rhythms. You never know when you can use that stuff. I’ve found that, no matter what instrument you play, as you get older you are either going to try to learn another type of music, or you are going to give up playing. It gets boring unless you are really diving into it to keep learning. And it it’s not just about playing. It is also about getting tones and textures from different guitars. That’s what I do”.

Watson is quick to deflect any praise direct his way. Like many of the greats, he has a humble understanding of where he fits into the overall scheme of things. “I think I am one of the easier guys to figure out, because I try to keep it simple. I was just in a guitar battle up in San Jose with Kid Andersen and Little Charlie Baty. I was sandwiched in between them – just tried to make it through. One of my problems is that I can’t see. I went blind in my good eye four and a half years ago. It’s what they call having a stroke in your eye. Usually it is a couple of tears in the retina. I had four tears. My doctor had never seen that before. It was one of those bad news – good news situations”.

“Now, when the lights on certain stages hit what is my good eye, I can’t see the fingerboard on my guitar. I am going to have to start wearing the guitar closer but, since I was a kid, I have been wearing it way low. I am missing notes by one fret because I have to have a bi-focal on my glasses. If the light hits it wrong, it splits the fret. It is a frustrating situation but you just have to persevere”.

“I remember when I was working with Gary Smith, another great harp player. Little Charlie wasn’t old enough to get in the clubs, but in 1972 he snuck in one to ask me to join his band. I asked him what instrument he played – he responded harp. I said why would I want to play with you – I never heard of you and I am playing in the best band in the Bay area. We were backing up everybody like Lowell Fulson, Big Mama Thornton, you name it. So Charlie shrugged, said all right, and walked off. He told that story at that jam. The next day, he sent me a real nice message saying that he loved my playing and that I had been a huge influence on his playing for decades. That was very special because he had never told me that. I am not a show-off player. I just try to play the song in the idiom”.

junior watson photo 2Watson grew up in Tulare, Ca, a rural farm area with ethnic mix whites, blacks, Mexicans, and Portuguese. He was captivated by a local band called the Gaylords.

“They were a great band. One of my friends had a cousin who played in the band. I grew up with my grandparents and they had an orchard. I could hear the band playing out beyond there. My grandfather said I could go listen as long as I didn’t bother anybody. They invited me in and that was it, it was all over. I had to get a guitar. So me and my friend Paul started going to it. The Gaylords played r&b and we didn’t know anything about that. Me and Paul loved surf music. I saw all the bands. We were close to Pismo Beach. There was a club there called the Rosegarden Ballroom. For a $1, you could see the Safaris, the Ventures, the Pyramids. I saw them all when we went there for vacation. And then at the T.D.E.S. Portuguese Hall we saw more shows – I saw James Brown there twice”.

“You are wide open when you are a kid, ready to learn. One record I could never get right was “Scratchy” with “Firefly” by Travis Wammack. That was the record that lured me into playing guitar. When I got with Charlie Musselwhite in 1980, Charlie asked me who I used to listen to. When I mentioned Travis, Charlie said he went to school with him, so when we get to Memphis, I will introduce you to him. So we go to a gas station in Memphis and there is Travis, working with his name on the work shirt. We started talking and I told him he was my idol when I was a kid, and still is. Turns out he wasn’t playing at that time. Travis said his guitar had been under his bed gathering dust for about seven years. He eventually got back to playing – and singing too. He never used to do that”.

At the age of fifteen and a half, Watson moved to San Jose and got introduced to the blues through Gary Smith. It was a heady experience for the young musician. “You had to be on your toes in that band. Steve Gomes was on bass. Gary came over to our house to steal me and the drummer from this little band that I had called, of all things, Double Trouble. We took it from the Otis Rush record, way before there was a Stevie Ray Vaughan. I had never heard of Little Walter. When Gary heard me playing at the house, he said that I was sliding on chords like Robert Lockwood Jr. I didn’t know who he was talking about. So I moved in with with those guys and they both had gigantic record collections – three thousand albums each on both sides of the house. I listened to everyone of those records. That’s how I boned up”.

At one point, Watson was in a band with bass player Bill Stuve fronted by Nate Branch of the Harlem Globetrotters, playing Reno and Las Vegas in uniforms, covering Carpenters songs with a female vocalist who sounded like Whitney Houston injecting some gospel flavor into even the corniest songs. Watson had to learn thirty-six songs in two weeks, studying in three books to learn all of the chords he had never played before.

It was Gomes that got Watson connected with Rod Piazza. “I was on a record called Blue Bay with Gary, guitarist Luther Tucker, Hi-Tide Harris, Musselwhite, Ron Thompson, a real cast of characters. So Steve was working with Rod, who was scouting around for a guitar player. So Gomes put my name in and sent Rod a cassette of that record. Once Rod heard this Little Walter-style instrumental that I didn’t even solo on, he said that’s all I need to hear. So Rod calls me late 1976 and tells me to pack my bags, we are going to Eugene Oregon. So this van pulls up at my Mom’s house, honking the horn. In the van is Shakey Jake Harris, George “Harmonica” Smith, Smokey Wilson, and Pee Wee Crayton with Rod driving. It was a blast! Those guys had me laughing like crazy. That’s how I got started”.

“My Mom was a singer, on TV everyday for fifteen years doing commercials. Before that, in Fresno, she did a two week engagement at the Tropicana with Nat King Cole. I was there but was too young to know what I was seeing. I was probably thirteen at the time. She had a guitar player, Warren Nunes, who was one of the fastest players around. He didn’t play that way with her, only when he was doing his own thing. He wrote a bunch of books and is probably one of the best guitar players ever. For my sixteenth birthday, my Mom gave five free lessons with Warren. They were expensive, like $50 back then”.

junior watson photo 3“So I went to the first lesson. He was a stocky mean guy that didn’t take any shit. Asked me who I was – told him who my Mom was. He said to play something, so I did. He quickly told me to stop, said I would never improve, he wasn’t going to waste his time and would give my Mom her money back. When I told my Mom what happened, she was pissed at Warren. But I was glad because he used this technique where they mold the pick to your hand. He never bent his wrist, always kept his arm locked. I didn’t want to play real fast. It has nothing to do with anything that I really like. But I was a bit freaked out that I might not get any better. But he was wrong – I’ve gotten a lot better”’

“Anybody that plays jazz in the Bay area probably took lessons from him. I got his book but I can’t make heads or tails out of it. I’m just not a technical guy. There is too much thinking involved. I don’t want to think when I play. I want to know what I am going to do and be able to go anywhere, to go for it. I started early on picking out five things that I can start with. For example, on this song I will start here, then I don’t know what will come after that, and then I will do this to get out of it. That way I don’t overlap ideas on other songs. A lot of players, if they play long enough, he will show his whole card by the end of it. They end up going back to their roots. If he doesn’t know his instrument, they will end up playing some stupid stuff as it goes on. That is what I try not to do, just play my own stuff. There are some things I have done on the guitar that people didn’t know about, certain voicings that just aren’t done”.

“I don’t like to sit in with other bands. I never know what to do. In the early 1980s, I would sit in with Charlie. He was so intimidated by me for the mere fact that I played before him. I thought about for years. Charlie could cut me to shreds. But he didn’t do it. He would just look over and listen to me. He thought it was more than it really was. At that jam, he played three of my things on one tune, and I’m standing there going, he just did my shit. We all do that stuff”.

Watson has done four releases under his own name – Long Overdue, If I Had A Genie, Live From Outer Space, and Jumpin’ Wit Junior. “Jumpin’ is my favorite. one. It was done live to tape. There were some cracking sounds on the tape, and I had other takes, but decided to use those because they were the best stuff. The band was tremendous with Richard Innes on drums, Fred Kaplan on piano, Kedar Roy on bass. We cut 86 songs in three days – for my disc, Fred’s album. I even have an out take of me playing slide for the first time. Fred wanted to do a J.T. Brown tune because we had Gordon “Sax” Beadle there. It was a big old studio and I spotted a steel guitar slide, so I put my guitar in my lap and gave it a try”.

“I am getting ready to do my next one. Been talking with Kid Andersen about recording at his Greaseland studio. Kid says he has been waiting for that. I don’t put records out for no reason. I want to have some idea of what I am going to do, like my version of the “Bo-Nanza” theme song or the Beverley Hillbillies theme done ska style. Six years ago I discovered Dutch Indonesian rock through YouTube videos. They do surf music without the ocean. And did you know that Ritchie Blackmore was one of the best surf guitar players. Check it out on YouTube – the band was the Lancasters and the song is “Satan’s Holiday”. Another of my favorites is Nero & the Gladiators. Colin Green was a killer guitar player. Another favorite is a Swedish band, the Spotniks. I do “Amapola,” one of their songs. They wore space suits. Bands back in the 1960s really rehearsed. They learned the stuff because they wanted to get it right. They took pride in their stuff.”.

“Now people will know where I am stealing my stuff from. But I am just taking bits and pieces. I don’t want to learn the whole thing note for note. That’s how you get in trouble. If you mess it up, you are screwed. But if you just get pieces, you can do your own thing around that stuff. You are free to keep on expanding. This is the only thing I know how to do – and I love it. I am passionate about music and the whole sound of things. I am constantly searching, even today”.

Check out Junior’s website at: www.juniorwatson.com

Interviewer 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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Washington Blues Society – Seattle, WA

Washington Blues Society presents the 2017 Snohomish Blues Invasion! Since 2009 the Washington Blues Society has presented the Snohomish Blues Invasion; a one-day mini festival pub crawl event in historic downtown Snohomish. The event has become so popular among blues fan that the event was voted the “Best Non- Festival Event,” at the Best of the Blues awards in the spring of 2017.

The Blues Invasion returns to Snohomish Sunday November 19th 2- 10 PM. Over 25 acts will appear in venues on historic first street, including the newly remodeled Stewart’s tavern, the Piccadilly Circus Pub, along with two all ages venues, The Oxford and the First and Union Kitchen. The event also includes a silent auction of music memorabilia and a 50/50 raffle. $10 donation for a wristband to gain entry to all the venues.

Proceeds go to the IBC fund to send entrants to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis TN. The 2018 entrants representing Washington state are The CD Woodbury Trio and the Benton /Townsend duo.www.wablues.org.

Minnesota Blues Society – St. Paul, MN

Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame is Sat., Oct 14 at Famous Dave’s, Calhoun Square, Minneapolis

Pre-show, 4-5pm: Annie Mack and Tom Kochie. Awards, 5-8pm Honoring: Scottie Miller (performer), Robb Stupka (sideman), Dee Miller/Jimi ‘Primetime’ Smith (blues song), Willie Walker (blues recording), Sue McClean and Associates (supporter), KBEM-FM 88.5 (art/literature), Dave ‘Snaker’ Ray (legacy), ‘Famous’ Dave Anderson (legend). $15 GA, $20 VIP $2.00 beer specials

Continue the fun after awards 9-12, Toronzo Cannon $7, free with awards tix More info: mnbs.org

The Detroit Blues Society – Detroit, MI

The Detroit Blues Society will present “A Tribute to Howard Armstrong” featuring Ralphe Armstrong on Bass, Ray Kamalay on Guitar and John Reynolds on Violin. Saturday October 21, 2017 2:00PM at the Scarab Club 217 Farnsworth in Detroit’s Cultural Center. A $5.00 donation is requested.

Howard Armstrong was declared a “National Treasure” by the National Endowment for the Arts. A Multi-instrumentalist (Violin, Mandolin and Guitar) who began performing in the 1920’s Armstrong ,along with Ted Bogan and Carl Martin, appeared at the 1933 World Fair backing Blues musicians such as “Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie. His association with Ted Bogan and Carl Martin was renewed in 1971 when the three reunited and began performing once again. Martin, Bogan and Armstrong (as they were billed) were considered the last great African American String band.

For more information please call the Scarab Club (313-831-1250) or contact Ed Schenk at woodsmanq@msn.com www.detroitbluessociety.org

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: Oct 23 – Bex Marshall, Oct 30 – Lionel Young.

Additional ICBC partnered shows: Oct 19 – James Armstrong Presents ~ Soundfire @ 6:00 PM. For more information visit www.icbluesclub.org.

Central Iowa Blues Society -Des Moines, IA

Central Iowa Blues Society 25th Anniversary Party is Sunday, October 22, 2017 from noon to 9:00 pm

Come celebrate 25 years of smokin’ blues at the Des Moines Social Club, 900 Mulberry Street. Free admission and open to the public! Featuring Malcom Wells & the Two Timers, Bob Pace Band, Soul Searchers JC Anderson Band Revisited, Bob Dorr, Dan “DJ” Johnson, Tom Giblin, Jeff Petersen, Del “Saxman” Jones, Sam Salamone and more. Keep an eye on the calendar at www.cibs.org

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Nov 14 – Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat, Manteno Sportsmen’s Club. More Info at: http://www.facebook.com/friendsoftheblues.


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