Issue 11-44 November 2, 2017

Cover photo © 2017 Laura Carbone


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Carlos del Junco. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Jonny Lang, The Original Blues Brothers Band, The Little Red Rooster Blues Band, Dennis Johnson & The Mississippi Ramblers, Bridget Kelly Band, Eli Cook, Paradise Kings and Little Roger & The Houserockers.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

johnny lang cd imageJonny Lang – Signs

Provogue Records CRE-00525

11 songs – 48 minutes

www.jonnylang.com

Former teenage sensation Jonny Lang powers out of the gate with a Delta feel on his latest release, but quickly evolves into high-energy blues rock as continues to re-invent himself in a path that began heavily influenced by mainstream guitarists Buddy Guy, B.B. King and Albert Collins.

Now 36-years-old, married and with children, the Minnesota native was only 13 when he released his first album, Smokin’ in 1995. And he still wasn’t old enough to drive when his second, Lie To Me, put him on the map internationally as a talented string-bending blues shouter, earning multiple platinum honors in the process.

A Grammy winner in the rap/gospel category in 2006 for Turn Around, Lang’s fiery fretwork has been on display throughout the five subsequent releases that followed as his sound progressed into old-school R&B and gospel. With this one, however, he returns closer to the root despite the rock overtones with a hint of Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf occasionally bubbling to the surface.

“I’ve been appreciating how raw and unrefined that stuff is,” Jonny says. “I had an itch to emulate some of that, and I think it shows in the songs.” At the same time, he notes, he let the tunes on Signs, his first major release in four years, write themselves. Touching on blues, rock and funk, most are somewhat autobiographical as they deal with themes that range from inner battles to personal empowerment.

Recorded in Los Angeles and Nashville, the disc features Lang on rhythm in addition to guitar and the work of bassist/guitarist Drew Ramsey and keyboard player Shannon Sanders, both of whom co-produced and added backing vocals. They’re augmented in the studio by Dwan Hill, Dennis Dodd and Josh Kelly. Hill adds keys, and Kelly adds vocals with additional contributions from Court Clement (guitar), David Davidson and Carole Rabinowitz (strings), Jim Anton (bass), Barry Alexander, Walter Earl and Dan Needham (drums), and Nickie Conley, Jason Eskridge and Debi Selby (backing vocals).

The action kicks off with “Make It Move,” which would comfortably fit in any juke joint as it delivers the message not to be proactive in solving life’s problems instead of sitting and waiting for things to happen. Things heat up for “Snakes,” which delivers the message not to be overconfident, that life’s problems can arise at any time when you least expect them, driven forward by a simple guitar hook and featuring a tasty call-and-response chorus.

Based off a hook provided by Ramsey, “Last Man Standing” rocks hard as it wonders why Jonny’s still upright, yet hardly falling before he breaks out the slide for the title tune, “Signs,” a simple, direct statement about all the craziness occurring in the world today. The mood brightens and the riffs quiet momentarily for “What You’re Made Of,” about the blessings we receive when we finally achieve true inner knowledge about our own beliefs and desires.

The bass drum introduces “Bitter End,” another powerful political statement about history repeating itself, before a welcome aural change with “Stronger Together,” a pleasant, funky blues-rocker chockful of positive affirmations, which continue in “Into The Light,” as it insists that we have to “leave the dark world behind.”

The ballad “Bring Me Back Home” provides another major change as it quietly and tenderly features Lang accompanied by keyboards. It’s a smile love song that will put a smile on your face after the heavy subject matter that’s come before. Another Delta-inspired tune, “Wisdom,” deals with a boy who won’t heed the warnings until it’s too late to turn back before another ballad, “Singing Songs,” brings the disc to a close.

Jonny’s traveled a long way from the old-school blues of his youth, and Signs provides another fascinating turn in his musical road. Available through most major retailers, you’ll like it if you like your tunes modern and don’t mind that aren’t necessarily blues.

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 

BLUES BROTHERS CD IMAGESteve Cropper, Lou Marini And The Original Blues Brothers Band – The Last Shade Of Blue Before Black

Severn Records CD 0071

14 songs – 62 minutes

www.originalbluesbrothersband.squarespace.com

Like the best show band you’ve ever heard totally jacked up on Red Bull, The Original Blues Brothers Band picks up where they left off, firing out of the gate to deliver the same brand of blues-drenched soul they began delivering as a Saturday Night Live skit 39 years ago.

Sure, John Belushi is long departed, as are bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and trumpet player Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin, but the core group remains as rock solid as they’ve always been, and they’re augmented by appearances by an all-star group of guests, including Memphis soul legend Eddie Floyd, Dr. John and Joe Louis Walker, as well as keyboard player Paul Shaffer, who’s the original band leader, and 87-year-old Matt “Guitar” Murphy, the original guitarist, who played Aretha Franklin’s husband in the first movie. Original horn player Tom “Bones” Malone and Joe Morton, who appeared in Blues Brothers 2000 and sang as Cabel “Cab” Chamberlain, also make appearances.

The core of the band — guitarist Steve “The Colonel” Cropper, saxophonist “Blue” Lou Marini and Dunn, who left us five years ago — were already music legends as members of one of the most successful Memphis bands ever, Booker T. And The MG’s, before the Blues Brothers were born.

Including compilations and tributes, The Last Shade Of Blue Before Black is the 16th release in the Blues Brothers’ catalog, beginning with 1978’s Briefcase Full Of Blues. Though born and raised in the Chicago area, Belushi had only limited exposure to the music until filming Animal House in Eugene, Ore., months earlier, where he witnessed Curtis Salgado and Robert Cray perform regularly as The Nighthawks. It’s well-documented that Curtis schooled John in the music during his time off set and that Belushi based his Joliet Jake character on Salgado. The first Blues Brothers release was dedicated to Curtis.

While the lineup’s changed the sound remains the same. Today’s musical merrymakers include “Smokin'” John Tropea on second guitar, Eric “The Red” Udel on bass, Lee “Funkytime” Finkelstein on drums, Leon “The Lion” Pendarvis and Rusty “Cloudmeister” Cloud on keys with a horn section of Steve “Catfish” Howard (trumpet) and Larry “Trombonius” Farrell (trombone). Rob “The Honeydripper” Paparozzi and Tommy “Pipes” McDonnell provide harmonica and add vocals, along with Bobby “Sweet Soul” Harden. Sax player Baron Raymonde, trombonist Birch Johnson and guitarist David Spinozza also add to the mix.

The album mixes a few tasty originals with several well-chosen/well-worn covers. A quiet guitar line kicks off Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do” and the horns kick in quietly before things explode, featuring Harden, McDonnell and Paparozzi in a lead vocal trio. The band turns Delbert McClinton’s “Cherry Street” into a full-force funk with McConnell on mike before a cover of “On A Saturday Night.” It’s a high-energy fiesta, but should sound familiar because Floyd, who penned the tune with Cropper, had a major hit with the song when it debuted in 1967 and returns to do the tune once more.

The Memphis mood continues with “Itch And Scratch” — made famous by Rufus Thomas — with Harden on mike, before Walker takes over for a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Don’t Go No Further” and Harden returns to cover Dan Penn’s “You Left The Water Running.” Floyd’s featured on another self-penned original, “Don’t Forget About James Brown,” sharing the tune with McDonnell, before Shaffer’s featured on vocal and piano for J.B.’s familiar “Sex Machine,” which gets a pleasing overhaul. The next two numbers, Fats Waller’s classic “Your Feet’s Too Big” and the self-penned “21st Century Baby” spotlight Paparozzi before Cloud steps away from the keyboard to deliver his original, “Blues In My Feet.”

Dr. John is up next, delivering his own tune, the familiar “Qualified,” as only he can before a quartet of vocalists, including Morton, breathe new life into Muddy Waters’ warhorse, “I Got My Mojo Working.” The disc concludes with the title cut, “The Last Shade Of Blue Before Black,” with Marini, who wrote it, in vocal command.

This disc simply smokes from the jump and continues relentlessly to the finish. Available wherever fine albums are sold, and strongly recommended. This one’s going onto my short list for consideration as best album of the year. You’ll probably feel the same way, too!

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 

LITTLE RED ROOSTER BAND CD IMAGEThe Little Red Rooster Blues Band – Hijinx And Tomfoolery

Self-released

www.littleredrooster.com

14 Tracks/60:33

Less than two months after recording the tracks on this album, the Little Red Rooster Band was dealt a cruel blow when guitarist and lead vocalist Kevin McCann was left paralyzed by Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Fortunately, he has recovered and that is good news, because the band is adept at playing blues with no frills, the kind of blues that is in short supply these days.

Recorded in one six hour session, things get started with the instrumental “Greasing The Weezer”, featuring some hearty harp blowing from Dave Holtzman in addition to a fine McCann solo. On “Eyes Wide Open,” Holtzman quickly proves he is no slouch on the chromatic harp, which plays off McCann’s raw vocal. Th rhythm section of Randy Lippoicott on bass and Bob Holden on drums create a classic laid-back swamp pop groove on “Back In Your Arms,” then do it again on “Hurts My Mind,” as McCann relates his sad tale of love lost. “Day Drinking Daddy” is fast-paced Jimmy Reed-style shuffle with Holtzman taking over the lead on vocals, accompanied by sparkling harp and guitar solos.

McCann booming, raw voice plays off some cool harp tones on “27 Dollars,” then the band slows things down on “Just For You,” a soulful lament about failed love. “Easy Baby” is another forceful shuffle while “Honey With Some Money” has McCann searching for a woman with significant resources to solve his personal financial crisis. “Bad Toupee” rides a Bo Diddley rhythm but fails to excite due to Holtzman’s uninspiring vocal. “Shut Me Down” finds the band running through some of the worst pick-up lines ever inflicted on the fairer sex. The title track brings the proceedings to a sparkling conclusion, an exhilarating instrumental with McCann throwing in quotes from several classic song in his extended guitar solo.

Based out of the Philadelphia area, the Little Red Rooster Band has been making music for almost thirty years. Their sixth recording marks them as a group with plenty of instrumental skill, quality original material, and a traditional approach that will surely strike a chord with listeners who relish those qualities.

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!



 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

dennis johnson cd imageDennis Johnson & The Mississippi Ramblers – Rhythmland

www.dennisjohnsonslide.com

self release

10 songs time-35:21

The San Francisco based slide guitarist-singer Dennis Johnson presents a lively slide guitar based selection of songs that owes much to one of his biggest influences Roy Rogers. His three piece band ably supports him throughout during nine originals and one cover. His innovative slide technique makes for a very enjoyable and entertaining experience. His exuberant and intoxicating vocalizing adds much.

A jumpin’, energetic take on Robert Johnson’s “Walkin Blues” has his twelve string dobro sliding all over in a joyous fit. The Latin cascara rhythms of “Timbale” jell with the herky-jerky slide guitar and percussion. The slow and deliberate “Faith” is about having faith in one’s self. Craig Long contributes organ that gives a bit of a churchy feel.

Craig unleashes some rollicking boogie-woogie piano to enhance the “jitterbug” groove of “Fillmore Street”. Acoustic guitar is the sole accompaniment on the slow and melancholy “That Way No More”. Things get jumpin’ once again on “High Heel Shoes” a song guaranteed to get you up off yer “rusty dusty”. “My Love Is Here For You” sounds like an old-timey chestnut that you swear you heard before. Craig ups the ante with his lovely piano playing.

Dennis’ locomotive-like slide guitar powers the fast-slow “Southbound Train”, a atmospheric slice of blues. Craig’s electric piano is refreshing here. We even get an upbeat testament to protesting in “Revolution”.

Dennis and associates are surely destined for bigger and better things. His slide guitar is all over the place in a crazy gob of wonderfulness. It’s not all high energy, the guys can get slow and sentimental with the best of them when needed. This is another case of creating a lot of sound with just a basic band set up. The keyboards color things up while the rhythm section of drummer Tim Metz and bassist Jonathan Stoyanoff are there at every twist and turn. This guy is up there in the pantheon of outstanding purveyors of the slide guitar tradition. No museum piece this, the bands creativity breathes life into the music. You need this music.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

bridger kelley band cd imageBridget Kelly Band – Bone Rattler

Alpha Sun Records – 2017

CD1: 13 tracks; 69 minutes: CD2: 9 tracks; 44 minutes

www.bridgetkellyband.com

Gainesville, North Florida’s Bridget Kelly Band returns with another offering, hot on the heels of their 2016 CD Outta The Blues. That CD and its predecessor Forever In Blues were both all original and Bone Rattler maintains that tradition though this time the band had so much material that two CDs were required! Bridget handles lead vocals with husband and co-writer Tim Fik on guitar and vocals, the rhythm section remaining Mark Albrecht on bass and Alex Klausner on drums; the only additional musician is RB Stone who plays harp on two tracks.

CD1 opens with Bridget singing strongly on “Ain’t Missin’ You”, an energetic rocker with lots of Tim’s guitar. “What You Need” has that classic blues-rock slower number feel with the bass pulse behind Bridget’s vocal and “Levee And The Bridge” is dedicated to the victims of Katrina with Tim playing fast riffs. “Boom Boom” is a catchy little number with RB Stone’s harp work breathlessly impressive and “I Ride Against The Wind” is a standard blues chugger with some wild guitar flourishes. “Goin’ To Chi-Town” is great fun with Tim double-tracking some Elmore James-style slide over his rhythm work and Bridget doing a good job on the vocals as she name-checks some of Chicago’s blues highlights. Tim hits the wah-wah for “Leavin’ On Sunday”, a song that particularly suits Bridget’s voice as she sings of heading away from the relationship; maybe it was the “Same Bad Attitude” that caused the issues? “Outbound Mississippi” has some effective slide work with Tim sharing vocals with Bridget on a lengthy tune which finds the protagonists leaving Mississippi by train for the sunnier south of Florida, the final section being played at blistering pace over some frenetic drumming. “Ghost Train” keeps up the railroad references on a slower blues-rock piece which works well.

CD2 puts the emphasis on Tim’s vocals, not his strong point, but he does play some great guitar on the slow blues “The Dark Night” which contains the ‘Bone Rattler’ line that gives the album its name. “Mr Gaines” has RB Stone’s harp adding to the blues side of the equation though “In My Sorrow” is more rock with plenty of Hendrix-style guitar. The shuffle “I’m So Tired” works well with Tim more relaxed on vocals and producing a very good, ringing solo and he also plays some very nice stuff on “Hambone”, a relaxed affair on which he duets with himself on guitar. The fast-paced “Bad Tornado” finds Tim confronting a wild woman with some suitably manic guitar and Bridget’s first appearance on Disc 2 with some brief backing vocals. “Cell Phone Blues” concerns a very 21st century problem, people spending more time on their cells than with their partners, a slow blues played with panache by Tim before the band ups the pace for the swinging “Cat’s Out The Bag” with Bridget adding a touch of jazz to her vocals.

A single disc with the best tracks likely would have been more effective here.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

eli cook cd imageEli
Cook
High Dollar Gospel

C.R.8. Records – 2017

11 tracks; 47 minutes

www.elicook.com

Raised in rural Virginia, Eli Cook started playing guitar early, opening for BB King at 18. Still relatively young, High Dollar Gospel is his seventh CD, with a title intended to evoke images of the south. Eli is on vocals, guitar, mandolin, banjo, lap-steel and electric bass, with Peter Spaar on double bass and Nathan Brown on drums. Eli wrote eight of the songs here with three covers from diverse sources.

The opening track “Trouble Maker” has a raucous rhythm section behind Eli’s slide work and offers a first introduction to his voice. Some singers are described as sounding like they gargle with razor blades; Eli sounds like that plus a serious tobacco habit! “The Devil Finds Work” finds Eli in country blues mood with the band joining in on a sweeping chorus and “Mixing My Medicine” takes things down a notch as Eli plays some gentle acoustic with echoey electric guitar and sound effects that would not be out of place on an early Pink Floyd record. The lyrics sound ominous: “Well you’ve been mixing my medicine, now I know my time ain’t long”. The sound effects continue on “Pray For Rain” with Eli also playing some solid electric over some strangely off-beat drumming. “King Of The Mountain” has a moody feel with plenty of slide from Eli and the gentle “Mother’s Prayer” is sung in a really deep voice although the sense of the lyrics of both songs eluded this reviewer! “Month Of Sundays” has some great picking and “If Not For You” (not the Dylan song) starts with a riff that could be from The Stones, albeit played on acoustic, making it probably the most accessible original song in the set.

Eli takes a slow, stripped-down approach to the three covers: Muddy’s classic “Can’t Lose What You Never Had” works well though the howling guitar effects in the background outstay their welcome; Roosevelt Sykes’ “44 Blues” works very well as a country blues that Eli plays solo on slide with what sounds like a foot stomp; Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” was always a country tune and works OK in this quieter format.

A difficult album to summarize. Eli is clearly a talented player but the songs failed to move this reviewer. Hopefully they will appeal more to other ears.

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 

Paradise Kings – Controlled Burn

http://paradisekings.net

self release

8 songs time-35:02

Santa Barbara, California’s Paradise Kings offer up a stew of rockabilly, fifties rock, jump and bar band style blues music. Lead singer Henry Garrett has a gruff voice that is passable, but the lyrics can use some work. The rhythm section of drummer George Lambert and bassist Michael Robertson are with keyboard man Chris Ulep. The saving grace of the band is the outstanding guitar skills of Jeff Gring. His tone, dexterity and taste make me await his every solo. The guy is just that good. To use the tired old cliché, the songs tend to go down a bit easier after each listening.

Jeff’s rockabilly-meets Chuck Berry-meets fifties rock guitar leads into the opening track “’69 Chevy”. Oh, that tone! It’s an ode to a beloved car. The lyrics to “I’d Sing The Blues If I Had ‘Em” are cringe worthy. Piano and sort of blues guitar salvage the song. Funky guitar and organ propel the upbeat “Three Strikes”. “Slow Down” lives up to it’s title, it’s a slow blues that bares a resemblance to the late, great Robert Lucas’ gritty style in tune and voice.

Jan Ingram fills in for Henry as she handles the vocal capably on “Butter Me Up”, a funk filled romp. “Patience” is another slow blues with some nifty blues guitar by Jeff. “Poor Me, Poor Me Pour Me Another Drink” offers a similar sentiment to the blues classic “One Bourbon, One Scotch And one Beer”. It features the heaviest guitar of the CD. The ambiance of Soho Music Club gives the vocal an echoed sound on the live take of “Money Ain’t My Friend”.

Good intentions don’t necessarily make a great record. This music probably fares well in a bar full of inebriated patrons. You really can’t fault these guys for trying. A few tweaks such as more creative lyrical content and improved vocals would do a lot for this band. Jeff Gring’s guitar skills surely can’t be faulted. His pickin’ is worth the price of admission.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

little roger and the houserockers cdLittle Roger & The Houserockers – Good Rockin’ House Party

9a Records

www.rogerwade.de

13 songs – 41 minutes

Well, this was a delightful surprise. I had not heard of the Anglo-German Little Roger & The Houserockers before, although Good Rockin’ House Party is their fifth CD. The magnificently retro cover certainly raised hopes: An old photograph from the 1950s of a mythologized America, vintage-style typeface, period-correct colour schemes – somebody obviously has a good eye for detail. And that impression is reinforced by the opening track, “To The Bone”, a glorious 50s-style Chicago shuffle. T-Man Michalke’s guitar tone is distorted in the best kind of way, Marion Wade’s piano dances merrily over the swinging rhythm laid down by Roffi Roffmann on bass and Chris Seidel on drums. And singer Roger C. Wade has a wry vocal style in addition to contributing a fine harp solo. Before you can catch your breath, the second track, a raucous cover of Little Milton’s “It’s Later Than You Think”, almost explodes out of the speakers. This is retro house party music at its best.

The CD proudly notes that the album was recorded the old-fashioned way – all in one (not so) big room, through tube amps, via old mics, straight onto analogue tape, and the result is a resounding success. There is what sounds like vocal bleed through the harp mic on the low-down boogie of Willie Nix’s 1953 classic “Just Can’t Stay”, but it just adds to overall atmosphere of the song.

The Houserockers take delight in unearthing some rare gems, such as “Glad I Don’t Have To Worry No More”, originally written by Robert Lockwood Jr and recorded by The Fat Man with the Sunnyland Slim Trio in 1951. Both Lil’ Son Jackson’s “Get High Everybody” and Tampa Red’s “Midnight Boogie” are played pretty close to the originals (albeit with harp replacing the horn section on the former and with some seriously funky additional guitar from Michalke on the latter). Other covers however are cleverly turned on their heads. Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Little Girl” is re-imagined as a guitar-led slow blues, while Jimmy Reed’s “I Don’t Go For That” benefits from some tubo-charged harp from Little Roger and modern propulsion from Roffmann and Seidel rhythm section.

The band’s original songs bear comparison with the covers. The slow blues of “Alternative Facts” is a case in point, where Wade wryly skewers certain ill-thought out defences of recent political pronouncements by singing “It seems like I’ve been wrong and a dog is just a cat. I’ve finally realised that’s just an alternative fact.”

The album contains two instrumentals on which the musicians are able to stretch out a little. Michalke’s “Crabs” is an upbeat Gatemouth Brown-style rocker, while “Rocket Fizz (For Fred)” is a piano-driven rave-up written by Marion Wade that one suspects is a homage to the great Fred Kaplan. Indeed, the great (and still criminally under-rated) Hollywood Fats Band seems to be a major influence on Little Roger & The Houserockers.

Good Rockin’ House Party is a very enjoyable, very well played combination of 50s-style Chicago blues and West Coast swing. Recommended listening.

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


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 Featured Blues Interview – Carlos del Junco 

carlos del junco image _1From the first riffs of Carlos del Junco’s debut recording, his 1993 with Bill Kinnear simply entitled Blues, it was instantaneously obvious that he was a harmonica player of the first order. He delivered one delicate run of haunting notes after another in support of the late smoky-voiced baritone/guitarist in a straightforward, pyrotechnic-free acoustic format.

Based about an hour east of Toronto, Canada, and someone who’s enjoyed a highly successful career despite limited exposure in America, del Junco – his surname translates from Spanish as “of the reeds” – is one of the most highly decorated harp players in the world today. He’s an innovator who possesses a sound that separates him from his peers.

A master of the overblow — a skill most identifiable in the blues through the work of Adam Gussow and Jason Ricci, Carlos is such a standout that the Society For The Preservation & Advancement Of The Harmonica (SPAH) nominated him for its Bernie Bray Award as artist of the year this summer – despite the fact that he hasn’t gigged in the U.S. in years.

Like his playing style, Carlos’ path to the blues is unique. Born in Havana, Cuba, six months before Ché Guevara’s military victory at the Battle Of Santa Clara — a major turning point in the revolution against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, he’s the youngest of six children, all of whom had some sort of classical music training.

His father was an apple farmer for a while, and both his world-traveling parents had spent time in Canada previously before seeking refuge in the Toronto area when Fidel Castro assumed power. Del Junco picked up the harmonica in his early teens, leaving the classics behind. “My first love has always been blues,” he says. “And everything else comes from that.”

He listened to all of the harp masters, but the person who inspired him most was Paul Butterfield. “That first record he put out — The Paul Butterfield Blues Band with ‘I’ve Got My Mojo Working’ and ‘Thank You, Mr. Poobah,’ a really cool instrumental swing…his phrasing on that tune is spectacular — started talking to me,” Carlos says. “For my money, it’s some of the best playing he ever did.

“Then I heard Lee Oskar (of War/The Lowriders) with his great tone and being so melodic and sweet…I tried to emulate that sound. At one point, I was buying any record I could by anyone playing the harmonica. I came to Little Walter a little late – not that I didn’t have any of his records. I never really appreciated what he was doing before then. And I was also listening to progressive and jazz rock, too. Billy Cobham, Jeff Beck, Yes.

A non-traditional player himself, del Junco was attracted most to harp players who blew riffs that separated themselves from the mainstream. “Guys like Paul DeLay,” he notes. “I really like what he did. He had something unique. It was so playful. And you could tell he knew a lot about music theory. He’s my favorite chromatic player.

“And David Burgin (best known for his work with Roy Rogers). When he put out the record Wild Child in the ’80s, wow! I put up a YouTube video where I transcribed one of his solos, and it’s just killer playing.”

Del Junco debuted at a student talent night at age 14, performing two Leadbelly numbers aided by his high school math teacher on guitar. He attended Ontario College Of Art, graduated with honors and proved to be an excellent figurative sculptor, playing in a swing band with fellow students in his spare time, before moving to Italy for a year on a grant to study stone carving.

Returning to Canada, he worked for a former art teacher as a poster framer part-time, allowing the freedom to perform. In the mid-’80s, he backed guitarist Buzz Upshaw, who taught him the ropes about the music business and the blues, playing alongside a sax player who schooled him in how to play horn lines and harmonies.

Carlos’ life changed forever in the late ’80s when he enrolled in a music camp at Elkins, W.V., where he met and got to study under Howard Levy, the harmonica player credited with inventing the overblow technique. Now a jazz superstar in his own right as well as a founding member in Béla Fleck And The Flecktones, he’s also recognized as one of the best 10-hole diatonic harp players in the world.

Because of Levy’s breakthroughs, the style of play has changed more for the simple diatonic harmonica in the 20th Century than any other instrument in the world. When blues moved off the plantation, most harp players were musicians like DeFord Bailey who played with the instrument in a straightforward manner at the front of their mouths with lips pursed.

Unlike its sister instrument, the chromatic, which is double-reeded top and bottom and has a button that enables the player to play all 12 keys on a single instrument much like a piano keyboard, the diatonic is keyed to a single scale and much more limited in the tones it produces.

carlos del junco image 2The sound changed dramatically when Sonny Boy Williamson and others started tongue blocking by placing the instrument as far back in their mouths as they could. That enabled them to develop techniques that alter the way air passed over the reeds, allowing them to create low draw and high blow notes not present in the instrument’s standard tuning. And it changed even more when Mojo Buford took the microphone off its stand in the late ’40s and started cupping it behind the harp with his hands, creating the sound that most aficionados enjoy as the true blues sound today.

But the most dramatic changes occurred in the early ’70s, when Levy began tinkering with diatonics, which, because of their limitations, forced players to switch instruments frequently to remain in key, sometimes within the same song. But that was before Howard discovered a workaround. He discovered a new, revolutionary way to play by making precise changes to the physical structure of the instrument. Among them, he reduced the clearance between the reed and its plate to create tighter tolerances and improved the overall level of air tightness throughout.

Now, with one of those instruments in hand, a skilled player can overblow and overbend all 10 holes of the diatonic, both top and bottom – something never possible in the past. Difficult skills to master, they enable the musician to do virtually everything on a diatonic — all 12 scales — that can achieve on its more sophisticated cousin – and, del Junco says, to do it more expressively than on a chromatic: “It’s like blowing through a prism and being able to hold all the colors in the rainbow in your hands.

“You really have to be really kinda stubborn to get into the overblow thing,” he cautions. “It’s a lot of work. Having your harp set up right, technique, musculature…everything.”

And that doesn’t take into consideration the mechanical and metal-working skills needed to refashion a stock harmonica if you prefer to do the work yourself rather than purchasing the harp from a builder.

As time as proven, there’s no doubt that del Junco was an excellent student. But he was already garnering attention before crossing paths with Levy. In 1991, he toured in the play Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing, after composing the musical score for playwright Tomson Highway. It that captured two major Canadan awards. Two years later, Carlos did the unthinkable at the Hohner World Harmonica Championships in Germany. He captured separate gold medals for blues and jazz diatonic performance.

Despite that acclaim, the old-school blues album he recorded with Kinnear followed, and, although stellar, only hinted at his development as a harp player. But his early 1995 all-electric release, , was an eye-opener to anyone with an open mind and ear for progressive harmonica.

Another release that year, the acoustic Big Road Blues with guitarist Thom Roberts, earned a Canadian Council For The Arts grant, which enabled del Junco to study at the foot of the master. For two months, he lived in Chicago, taking private instruction from Levy.

“By that time, for me, it was more about learning jazz theory and how to do things in different positions than it was about harmonica technique,” Carlos recalls. “I’d already kinda figured out how to overblow on my own.”

Like Howard, del Junco primarily plays Hohner’s Golden Melody harps, which have rounded edges, softer reeds that are encased within a plastic comb. “I started out using them because that’s what he used,” del Junco says. “Out of the box, they just seemed better for overblows. But now it’s because I like the way they feel in your hand because of the smooth edges.”

Carlos remanufactures the harps himself using techniques he picked up from another Chicagoan, Joe Filisko, the acclaimed acoustic player who’s one of the top harmonica technicians on the planet. Among the changes del Junco makes are altering the reeds for what’s called “just intonation,” which makes them sound smoother, and “equal temperament,” which enables the melody reeds to sound more harmonious when played. He also replaces the instrument’s cover plates to make it more open for brighter and louder.

Since those lessons, the awards keep flooding in. In 1996, Canada’s Blues Report Magazine tabbed del Junco as its blues musician of the year. The 1998 release, Big Boy, garnered his first Juno Award nomination for album of the year, the equivalent of an American Grammy. And he’s won Canada’s top blues honor, the Maple Blues Award, eight times as harmonica player of the year.

His forays into the U.S. have included an appearance at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, one West Coast tour with Mark Hummel’s popular Harmonica Blowout and the 2000 Harmonica Summit in Minneapolis, where he conducted a workshop and shared the stage for a performance with Levy and Toots Thielemans, the Belgian-born jazz superstar.

Fusing blues, funk, Latin, swing, ska and other themes into a cohesive package, Carlos prefers playing small concert halls rather than clubs and has toured Europe extensively. He’s recorded frequently with and been strongly influenced by Kevin Breit, the quirky, eccentric guitarist whose resumé includes work with Cassandra Wilson, Celine Dion, Nora Jones, Hugh Laurie and Rosanne Cash.

And del Junco’s most recent release, 2016’s Blues, Etc…, pairs him with a guitarist nearly half his age: Jimmy Bowskill, 27, who received his first Juno nomination as a bluesman in his early teens. It was recorded in semi-acoustic format and captured, mixed and mastered in Carlos’ living room in Port Hope, Ont. “That’s the way things are going nowadays,” he laughs, “and I learned a lot about the way things are glued together sonically…I love that challenge.”

carlos del junco image 3Del Junco is an avid instructor. As you’re reading this interview, he’s conducting two workshops at Hohner headquarters in Trossingen, Germany, for the World Harmonica Festival, the new name for the event in which he won those gold medals. In addition, he’s be serving as a judge for this year’s competition before a tour of Belgium and Finland.

It’s the first time he’s hit the road in five years. “Back then, I was so sorry for myself that I was going to quit music,” he notes, recalling a time when his life was in upheaval after the demise of a long-term relationship. “But I got my wits together. It took a while, but I did.”

Plans to tour with Bowskill to promote their album were dashed because of Jimmy’s other commitments. “We wanted to tour,” Carlos recalls. “But he got snagged up by two big bands – The Sheepdogs and Blue Rodeo, a folk-rock band that’s big in Canada. So he was unavailable.

“This will be my first time getting back into it – and with a new record, too.”

Del Junco is in the finishing stages of that effort, also created at home, which will be a stripped-down acoustic trio composed of harmonica, guitar and upright bass with Breit serving as a guest artist. “It’ll be my usual potpourri of half instrumentals, half vocals,” he says, “with songs from both Canadian and American writers, two of them from Kevin.”

His forays into America remain few and far between for various reasons, however. The current political climate makes it both a chore and expense to get a visa to work in the States, he explains. “Also, I’m not interested in playing the ‘wing’ (bar) circuit.

“If I were younger, I might want to go on the road to make a name for myself. But at 59, I prefer playing quality shows at local community centers or little theaters as well as doing guest spots with other bands to have some fun and keep my chops up.”

Sadly, American audiences are really missing out. While other overblow artists are flashy and some pyrotechnic, he possesses the sweetest tone of all players using the technique today.

“It really is important for me to sound good on the instrument,” Carlos says. “While it’s possible to play in the key of F-sharp on a C harmonica — which is the farthest key you can get away from C — why bother? It’s gotta sound good. Whereas Howard and other people I know can actually do that and make it sound good, to my ear, you can still hear the overblows.”

Why not, he wonders, play those notes without overblow in different positions using traditional techniques? “My goal is to play in those key centers because they’re juicy, he adds. “The farther you play away from that key center, the less juicy the note.

“You can do some pretty cool things with overblows, but the diatonic harmonica has such a fantastic blues voice…it doesn’t matter how much music theory you’ve packed in…if you don’t study that first, you’re missing out on something.”

Fortunately for American audiences, however, virtually all of his catalog is available through online retailers. And Carlos enjoys sharing his knowledge with other players around the globe – so much so, in fact, that the literature accompanying his CDs often includes information about the key of harmonica he’s playing and the position he’s using for each song.

You can get a big taste of it through the performance and instruction videos he’s shared on YouTube and his website, www.carlosdeljunco.com. While you’re there, check out his sculptures, too! He also offers private lessons via Skype through a dedicated website, www.harmonicapractice.com.

If you’re unfamiliar with his work, check him out. He’ll be music to your ears!

Check out Carlos’ website at: www.carlosdeljunco.com

Interviewer 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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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.

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: Nov 6 – Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, Nov 13 – Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat, Nov 20 – Joe Asselin Trio, Nov 27 – Black Magic Johnson, Dec 4 – Studebaker John, Dec 11 – Ed Selinger and Edmopolitans, Dec 18 The Mary Jo Curry Band. For more information visit www.icbluesclub.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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P.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555 © 2017 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425

 

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