Issue 11- 52 December 28, 2017

Cover photo © 2017 Bob Kieser


 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with the one and only Buddy Guy. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including a graphic Blues novel and new music from Albert Castiglia, Big Jay McNeely, Little G. Weevil, Tracy Lee Nelson, Mighty Mo Rodgers & BaBa Sissoko, Ron Hacker & Friends and The Society of The Angelic Potheads.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

albert castiglia cd imageAlbert Castiglia – Up All Night

Ruf Records

www.albertcastiglia.net

11 Tracks/45:16

Guitarist Albert Castiglia made the trip to Dockside Studio in Maurice, La to record his latest project, once again pairing up with Mike Zito in the role of producer. Under Zito’s guidance, Castiglia tightened up his sound on his last Ruf Records release, Big Dog, particularly with his vocals. The significant change on the new recording is the guitarist is backed by his touring band, featuring Jimmy Pritchard on bass and Brian Menendez on drums. Their presence creates a palpable comfort zone for the guitarist to operate in while presenting listeners with a true representation of the band’s live sound.

The opening number, Zito’s “Hoodoo On Me,” has a pulsating bass line underneath Castiglia’s stirring lament concerning a woman casting bewitching spells. His only recourse is to attempt an exorcism with the help of his guitar. “I Been Up All Night” finds the leader sitting at home with plenty of woman troubles, “….drinking strong black coffee, rolling joints as big around as my thumb.” Menendez uses his cymbals to flavor Castiglia’s wah-wah infused guitar forays. Noted Florida songwriter Graham Wood Drout contributed two originals, with “Three Legged Dog” being a hard-edged funky rocker while “Knock Down Loaded” has plenty of killer guitar licks.

The pace slows on “Quit Your Bitching,” another one written by Zito, that finds Castiglia in no mood to listen to his woman’s complaints. Lewis Stephens fleshes out the arrangement with embellishments on the organ. Another guest, Johnny Sansone, blows some fine harp on Cyril Neville’s “Unhappy House Of Blues,” as Castiglia again finds himself in the midst of a another huge helping of relationship issues. So,naturally, he seeks relief and redemption through his guitar. “95 South” is a full-throttle, on-the-road rocker with Menendez providing the driving beat and Sonny Landreth using his slide guitar to supercharge the affair.

Sansone returns on “Delilah,” a sprightly plea for a break from the telling effects of high living. Castiglia is in a randy mood after a long spell on the road, so he issues a rollicking warning about his homecoming plans on “Chase Her Around The House,” his fiery guitar conveying the urgency of the situation. Zito adds backing vocals on the closer, a Pritchard original “You Got Me To That Place,” and joins Castiglia on acoustic guitar for a stripped-down, infectious finale.

The only issue with the disc is the generic nature of some of the tracks. But once Castiglia and his crack rhythm section get going, there is no shortage of highlights. Zito once again shows that he has the knack for getting the best out of Castiglia. That is great news for listeners who want a whole lot of rock with their blues!

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!


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

big jay mcneely cd imageBig Jay McNeely – Honkin’ & Jivin’ at the Palomino!

Cleopatra Blues

CD 8 tracks plus a DVD

Ninety year old Big Jay McNeely still tours the world honking on his sax and amazing crowds. He had retired in 1963 but after 20 years the itch to perform remained strong and his career resurfaced in a big way. He was honking in West Berlin in 1989 as the Wall was literally coming down. Here we get a set of 8 tunes from that year from a show at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood for Ronnie Mack’s Barn Dance.

The ensemble with Jay was Marty Rifkin on pedal steel, Steve von Gelder on fiddle, Dales Watson and Ronnie Mack on guitar, Keith Rosier on bass and Billy Block on drums. Playing in the signature over blowing (honking) sax style he created, this is a marvelous sampling of soul, pop, rock and R&B with a little country twang thrown in for good effect. The Barn Dances in North Hollywood drew many celebrity artists over the years, and this one drew in a huge and appreciative crowd.

The package has the 8 cuts on CD and a DVD from the night plus the DVD has a bonus interview with Big Jay. Recorded August 15, 1989, the show remains fresh and entertaining even in today’s standards. Most of the cuts are McNeely’s own- “Palomino Hop,” ” All The Wine Is Gone,” “There Is Something On Your Mind,” “Young Girl Blues,” and “Big Jay Shuffle.” He covers classics like “I Can’t Stop Loving You” in a way that is not schlocky or over done; it’s a very cool version and the crowd ate it up. “Honky Tonk” is the other cover and it is 7 plus minutes of raucous fun that had the crowd on their feet. Jay goes over the top on his “Young Girl Blues,” blowing his horn stratospherically to close the show; he then encores with his shuffle, a beautiful slow blues. The set list on the DVD is the same, but getting to see McNeely work the crowd and his great facial expressions make for more fun. Some classic old photos of Jay are interspersed with the video and the interview is interesting.

High energy and some fine saxophone with a superb backing band is what we have here. There is nothing not to like. It’s great to have gems like this surface after nearly 30 years for us to savor and enjoy! I recommend this one highly!

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



 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

little g weevil cd imageLittle G. Weevil featuring Dulzura – Something Poppin’

https://gweevil.com/

Vizztone Label Group

10 tracks/42 minutes

Gabor Szucs grew up in Warsaw Pact Hungary and immersed himself in music and books. His dedication to music and performance had another musician say, “like a damned weevil, you just pop up everywhere,” which gave rise to his moniker. Emigrating to America in 2004, his accomplishments include winning the International Blues Challenge and being nominated for both a Blues Blast Award along with a BMA. His four albums have been well received and he has garnered accolades as he tours globally. This new 5th CD includes rock and roll, soul, R&B, hip hop and rap in the blues.

Weevil is on guitar and vocals and his band includes Daniel Harper on drums Marton Pfeff on bass, and Matyas Premecz on keys. Laci Borsodi is on guitar for tracks 8 and 10, Danny Del Toro plays harp on the first and third track and Dulzura raps on “Scrub.” Backing vocals are provided by Rebeka Easley Ellis and Sharika Allen Brown. There are 8 Weevil originals here and two covers.

“Here I Come Knocking” is a driving and rocking blues that opens the CD. Things slow down in the middle for a thoughtful respite and then things take off to the close again. It’s a catchy cut with piano and organ and harp and guitar and big vocals that grabs the listener. The title cut is next and things slow down a bit in this soulful piece about a woman that Weevil has under his eye. Tasty guitar graces the cut as does some nice vocal accompaniment. “See Me In The Country” is blues with a smidgen of country, rock and funk that makes things interesting. A big guitar solo, more harp and funky organ make this a lot of fun. Written by Laci Borsodi, Weevil helped do the arrangements here.”How Do You Want Me To Deal With This” is a darker R&B/soul piece with Weevil giving some real feeling to the lyrical delivery. The organ helps set the tone for the cut in a nice solo but Weevil’s growling vocals sell the song. He also offers a restrained and cool guitar solo. Gutsy and cool; loved this track! “You Can’t Say Nothing” follows, a call and response R&B number with some pretty organ and guitar work

“Scrub” opens the second half of the album. Dulzura raps throughout while Weevil and backing vocalists offer up the choruses. A stinging guitar adds tot he funky sounds from the keys and vocals as the song builds and builds and then goes into an outro. Nicely done! Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” gets a gritty makeover with Weevil making this his own as his guitar and Premecz ‘ work on keys make this update sound good. Laci Borsodi’s lead and rhythm guitar is featured on “Crawling,” getting a big solo midway through the cut. The song starts out with some restraint and builds; the conclusion is a fiery and fun guitar duo with Weevil and Borsoli trading licks. The ballad “I Don’t Want To Feel The Rain” follows. Weevil and the backing vocalists offer up soulful vocals and a little pretty guitar make this one cool. Borsoli returns on the concluding piece, “Top Model.” It’s got a driving tempo that the guitar and keys fuel. Weevil and he vocalist also get a workout as they conclude the album as they began it- lots of energy abounds!

This is a fine album of originals and a nicely done cover. Weevil is really a great songwriter and performer who can put together an album of songs with a really nice variety of styles and tempos and melds his band into a cohesive and locked in musical force. I enjoyed the album and I think most blues fans will, too. He ventures into lots of styles here but does not stray far from his blues roots. I think he’s got another winner here!

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



 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

tracy lee nelson cd imageTracy Lee Nelson – Blues Loving Man

Self-Release – 2017

15 tracks; 52 minutes

www.tracyleenelson.com

Tracy Lee Nelson is a guitarist, singer and proud member of (and former spokesperson for) the La Jolla Band of the Luiseño Indians who celebrates his heritage on some of the tracks here. Tracy Lee was once a member of Redbone and played in a number of rock bands in the past and this album is mainly in blues-rock mode. Unfortunately there are no credits for the supporting musicians but bass, drums and keyboards are certainly present on most tracks.

Opening cut “Married To The Blues” hits the listener hard with lots of strident guitar behind Tracy Lee’s baritone voice. “My Baby Joanna” follows the theme lyrically as Tracy Lee states that he “loves to play the blues all day and night”, the opening acoustic backing soon overtaken by electric guitar. “Dance Dance” adds some synth horns as well as plenty of hard riffing guitar and “Give Me A Chance” has a solid core riff with Tracy Lee hitting the wah-wah hard in his solos. The title track stays in quieter mode with some nice resonator over an acoustic guitar and handclap accompaniment and there is some lyrical guitar on the ballad “Give Me A Chance”, well supported by warm organ. Closing track “I Want To Know” is also catchy and melodic yet tinged with sadness as Tracy Lee claims never to have known what love is, wanting things to be like they are in the movies on TV.

Tracy Lee gets more political on “Leave Our People Alone” where searing guitar underpins some bitter lyrics about the way that Native Americans have been (and are still) treated. “Protectors” is a prayer for understanding as Tracy Lee asks for greater respect and exhorts his people to stand together to protect the tribal lands and “Native Descendants” also celebrates the tribe’s inheritance.

This is an album that will satisfy those looking for plenty of guitar workouts.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

love in vain book cover imageJ.M Dupont, Mezzo (Illustrator) – Love In Vain: Robert Johnson 1911-1938, The Graphic Novel

Faber & Faber

ISBN 9780571328833

www.faber.co.uk

Format Hardback – Length 72 pages

I have limited experience in the world of graphic novels. I was an avid reader of comic books later in elementary school and in junior high. I enjoyed the wacky stuff R. Crumb did in his comics while I was in high school and college and I later appreciated his art as I still do.

love in vain bokk imageThis graphic novel screams in that R. Crumb style of artwork, done completely in black ink in a dark and brooding style. Mezzo’s work is quite good and is very interesting. It is befitting of the tumultuous life of the great Robert Johnson. The writer Dupont was a music journalist and is in touch with the life and music of Robert Johnson. The story line mixes fact and fiction to move the story line along and gives it an ending that reveals who the narrator is in a very interesting manner. Suffice it to say I kind of figured out who the narrator was, but the ending is quite cool. I shall say no more about that.

Originally done in French in 2014, the English version was released this year, This book is a very well done graphic novel that tells the story of the legendary bluesman in a manner that enhances the legend. Dark and brooding at times, but it leads the leader along briskly. Dupont adds conversation and assumptions to the unknown parts of Johnson’s life to help him come better to life for the reader.

Printed in the UK, it Is available via Faber’s website. It is also available as an ebook, Kindle version or via retailers like Amazon. It would make a good holiday gift or a great addition to any blues fan’s book shelf. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

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 


mighty mo rodgers cd imageMighty Mo Rodgers & BaBa Sissoko – Griot Blues

One Root Music

www.mightymorodgers.com

12 Tracks/42:43

Mighty Mo Rodgers, born and raised in an Indiana steel town, released his first recording, Blues Is My Wailin’ Wall, in 1999 to wide-spread acclaim. He was nominated for a W.C. Handy Award in 2000 in the Best New Artist Debut category in addition to receiving the CHOC De L’Anne award in France for Blues Album Of The Year. All of his subsequent releases have featured Rogers’ compelling original songs that mix traditional blues with contemporary touches that never distract listeners from the stories and messages that the singer imparts in his deeply personal music.

His seventh release finds him going back to the African roots of the music, partnering with Malian singer and musician Baba Sissoko. They met at a concert Rodgers did in Lithuania, after a local promoter extended an invitation to Sissoko to attend the show. There was a nearly instant connection, which lead to this recording, the first of a trilogy the duo have planned,

In western Africa, the griot is the “keeper of the flame,” using stories, poems, and songs to maintain an oral history of his people. The storyteller aspect appeals to both musicians as they engage in a cultural exchange that allows Rodgers to explore the music roots of the blues, with Sissoko serving as his guide. Rogers handles vocals and all keyboards while Sissoko also sings in addition to playing the talking drum, ngoni, djembe, and kalimba. Other musicians include Luca Giordano on guitar, Walter Monini on bass, and Pablo Leoni on drums. The two leaders co-wrote all eleven songs, with Monini lending a hand on “Drunk As A Skunk”.

“Shake ‘Em Up Charlie” has a strong, reggae-flavored rhythm with Dale “Dizzy” Williams adding his guitar to the mix. Rodgers sings about Good Time Charlie while Sissoko answers with chants in his native dialect. The singers trace the music’s migration on “Mali To Mississippi,” which takes on a down-home feel through Daryl Dunmore’s harp blowing and the pervasive boogie licks. On both cuts Rodgers and Sisskodo refrain from trying to literally take the music back to it’s roots. Instead, the band plays solid blues progressions that Sissoko spices up with array of instruments. The slow blues “Nalu (Mother)” finds his voice soaring in praise until Rodgers takes over on a tribute to women around the world.

Sissoko uses the kalimba to great effect on “Demisenu (Children),” then Giordano executes some telling guitar licks on “The Blues Went To Africa,” followed by the Mali griot preaching a message on his talking drum. Rodgers relates a treatise on the intoxicating power of love on “Drunk As A Skunk,” with Giordano once again providing tasty guitar fills. The title track delves into the formation of their partnership complete with a gritty Rodgers vocal. The arrangement to “Djeli (Griot/Storyteller)” creates a swirling, danceable rhythm as the two leaders trade off the vocal. Guest Saint Willie uses his flute to lighten the mood created by the commanding drum lines on “Dokke (Dance)”. A brief hidden track finds the musicians giving thanks to one another while Sissoko provides the musical support.

The tri-fold CD packaging includes a booklet with photos and the lyrics for each song. Taken together, the various elements add up to a worthwhile melding of two musical styles that share common roots. Unlike other projects that attempt to go back to the roots, Rodgers and Sissoko searched for ways to adapt the African influences and instrumentation to the modern blues form. They succeed admirably, and leave listeners wondering what their next collaboration will sound like.

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!


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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

ron hacker cd imageRon Hacker & Friends – Live At The Old U.S. Mint

www.ronhacker.com

Self-release

12 songs – 68 minutes

The Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans is home to the Louisiana Historical Center, one of America’s great archives, particularly for colonial-era manuscripts and maps. It also houses the New Orleans Jazz Museum. Ron Hacker took a job booking acts at the Old U.S. Mint in 2015 and, as he drily notes on his CD sleeve notes: “I was told I could book myself also, and that they liked to do residencies, so I booked three nights. Seemed like a good way to introduce myself to New Orleans.” The result is Hacker’s new CD, his eleventh release, Live At The Old U.S. Mint, which contains songs recorded on each of the three nights.

Hacker sings with a ragged, husky voice that suits his material perfectly and plays powerful, muscular guitar. On each of the three nights, he was accompanied by different musicians. The first set, recorded on 01 April 2016, features Johnny Sansone on harmonica and accordion, Kennan Shaw on bass, Tony D’alessandro on drums. Opening with the traditional “Broke & Hungry”, arranged by Hacker as almost a one-chord stomp with just a hint of chord changes, the sound is closer to the early electric blues of Chicago than the lazy, fluid sound more commonly associated with Louisiana. Little Walter’s “Hate To See You Go” is another nod towards early Chicago blues with some lovely swooping harp from Sansone who then picks up his accordion for the jumping “Keep Your Hands Off Her” which adds a distinctly Louisiana feel to the song. Likewise, the presence of the accordion on Willie Dixon’s “Evil” gives the song an entirely different flavor from previous versions.

The second set, from 22 April 2016, sees Hacker backed again by Shaw and D’alessandro, this time with John Fohl on guitar and Nancy Wright on saxophone. “Miss You Like The Devil” is played with a harder edge than Slim Harpo’s original classic while Hacker’s own elemental “My Bad Boy” features some vicious slide guitar and fine interplay between Hacker and Fohl.

One of the album highlights is the bare reading of “It Hurts Me Too”, with Wright’s aching sax to the fore, more duelling guitars and lovely support from Shaw and D’alessandro. As a young man, Hacker studied with Yank Rachell and he pays tribute to Rachell’s old partner Sleepy John Estes with a raucous rendition of “Goin’ To Brownsville”.

Hacker is backed in the third set by Jason Ricci on harp, Steve Ehrmann on bass and Kevin Hayes on drums. The combo blaze through the old Jimmy Rogers gem “I’m Goin’ Away Baby”, Estes’ “Ax Sweet Mama” (with more top notch slide from Hacker) and two Hacker originals. One of the Hacker songs, “Sing Like Elmore James” features some very Elmore-esque slide guitar even if Hacker can’t actually fulfil his stated wish to sing like James (then again, who can?). Ricci pulls out a particularly powerful solo as the band lays back on the classic 12 bar structure.

The closing track, “Two Timin’ Woman”, is the only song to include a spoken introduction (aside from the three announcements by Rafael Dobard announcing the date of each set), which is perhaps a shame because he clearly has a knack for story-telling and a good line in self-deprecating humour.

Live At The Old U.S. Mint is a very enjoyable release from Ron Hacker. It captures the excitement and rawness of a live show whilst retaining excellent sound quality. Good stuff.

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


 


 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

society of angelic potheads cd imageThe Society of The Angelic Potheads – 21 Grams Of Sulphate

www.reverbnation.com/societyoftheangelicpotheads

Self-release

16 songs – 58 minutes

21 Grams Of Sulphate is a curious, fragmented release from The Society Of The Angelic Potheads. The CD arrived with no accompanying background information; the CD sleeve is littered with typographical errors and missing information such as writing credits; and the band has minimal online presence. The website noted above has links to a number of songs, lists three band members (only one of whom is credited as appearing on the CD) and simply states: “The Potheads Purveyors of songs from the Hogsmill Delta. Blending of Blues mixed with a dash of Lonnie Donegan, Slade, and various Herbs and Spices found high up on the hills surrounding the Hogsmill, before it joins the Thames” (sic).

The credits on the CD sleeve suggest 21 Grams of Sulphate is a studio recording project, given that D. Norman is credited with playing guitar, bass, drums and lead vocals on 11 of the songs. J. Younge provides lead guitar and lead vocals to two songs and W.J. Dodd contributes harmonicas and lead vocals to four songs. Younge and Dodd are both credited with lead vocals on “Key To The Highway” while Val Cowell contributes lead vocals to a pretty faithful cover of the Georgia Satellites’ “Keep Your Hands To Yourself.”

The music itself is not easy to categorize. The album kicks off with the self-written, slide-driven blues-rock rumble of “Double Lock That Door”. It’s an impressive opening number, with W.J. Dodd’s lead vocals recalling the rough-hewn tones of British singers like Lee Brilleaux or Pete Gage. Woodie Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man” is then re-interpreted as a one chord drone with good supporting harp from Dodd, whose playing is also a highlight of heavy folk-blues of “Ain’t Gonna Let It Happen”.

But mixed in with the blues and blues-rock tracks is the throwaway punk-pop of “Stella A.K.A. Belly Button Fluff” and the electro-pop-folk of “Pothead Night In” with its lyrical celebration the joys of staying in, smoking and then getting the munchies. “Woke Up This Morning” is not a cover of the BB King classic but a grinding original rock number with a gospel-style call and response vocal line over some howling, distorted garage guitar. The band adopts a similar approach when updating “Black Betty” with distorted harmonica under Dodd’s muscular vocals.

Perhaps the primary curiosity of 21 Grams, however, is the schizophrenic nature of the entire endeavor. Why bother going to the effort of recording a CD (and clearly a lot of hard work has gone into the album), then make it so difficult to find out anything about the band? There are lots of ideas in the songs themselves, but some of them are lacking direction. “Mr Radio Man” feels slightly unfinished as it cries out for movement away from its simple three-chord rock structure, while Curtis Mayfield’s “You Must Believe Me” (re-titled as “Believe In Me”) has its soul-pop backbone stripped out and replaced with a punk attitude and a rough demo-feel that dilutes the power of the recording. Dodds’ harmonica playing is impressive throughout the album, but Norman’s drumming and bass playing can lend a very staid, lumpen feel to the music. Thus, Ry Cooder’s “Every Woman I Know” is played as an upbeat shuffle, but it only emphasizes the rhythmic magic of the original, while “If You’re Ready” (with guest vocals by Miss McGregor) lacks the laid-back yet irresistible groove of the Staples Singers’ version.

The best moments on 21 Grams are usually on tracks with no or minimal drums. Lonnie Donegan’s old skiffle number, “Ham And Eggs”, is re-envisaged as an acapella work song, complete with chanted “Ha”s and scratchy recording technology. Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key To The Highway” is an almost clichéd choice of cover, but the strummed acoustic guitar, Dodd’s swooping harmonica and Younge’s aching guitar solo make it one of the album highlights. The drumming works best on the straight 4/4 rock songs, so the electronic-rock-gospel of “Woke Up This Morning” is genuinely thrilling and “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” has a chorus that recalls the best of the Yardbirds’ pop years.

A curate’s egg of a release, then, but one that suggests there is definite potential for The Society Of The Angelic Potheads.

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


 Featured Interview – Buddy Guy 

buddy guy photo 1“Buddy Guy just hit the spot for me.” Jeff Beck leaned back in the overstuffed couch in a studio loft in London’s Soho District. He was there to shoot a guitar magazine cover shot with his mentor Buddy Guy. I asked him to put Buddy’s mojo into words. Where did the blues master get his secret sauce? The year was 1991.

“It’s his youthful vigor, sort of manic stuff and comedy. He has a lot of very exquisite timing and is delightfully out of key sometimes. That’s what I find so charming. It’s just a hair sharp. It wouldn’t be right, had it been dead on the note. From there on, I was like a junkie. I would go around looking for other people to share the same stuff. I was bringing it up to Eric (Clapton) and Jimmy (Page). ‘Have you heard this stuff?'”

I was working on my Buddy Guy biography, Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues. At the time Buddy hadn’t recorded in nine years. He and his sometime partner Junior Wells were riding around in an old van with James, their driver, the back packed with gear, taking on the road hundreds of miles a day, going from blues club to blues club. Yet, at the same time, he was rubbing shoulders with Britain’s rock elite. He did six dates with Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall that year, running down the center aisle of that vaunted venue at full gallop, guitar screaming as Clapton looked over his shoulder, expecting Buddy to come from backstage.

“Buddy is the last generation of the true blues musicians as we know them,” explained Clapton in the foreword to my biography. “He knows the language and speaks it as I imagine he always did. He’s the last one-of-a-kind, he-man of the blues, a muscleman of the guitar heroes. When Buddy played the Marque Club in London in 1965, I saw an amplified bluesman for the first time. He was the epitome of it all, and he really changed the course of rock and roll and blues. He gave us something to strive for – the way he dressed, the way he moved, the way he expressed himself. He’s still doing it, but he was established as someone to copy, many, many years ago.

“It’s always a blast to see Buddy play live. He comes through the way he is, playing with his teeth, on the floor, throwing his guitars around. A lot of people can’t get away with that, but he can because he not only has the nerve but he can entertain and make good music too.”

To this day in concert Buddy often interjects a signature guitar line from ‘Strange Brew,’ Clapton’s most famous song with Cream. There are those who say Clapton admits stealing those licks from Buddy. “He didn’t say he stole it from me,” corrects Buddy today. “I was telling him about the licks I love where he was playing, and he told me I should love it because that’s where he’d got those licks from because I think I played some licks like that. It might have been my record or Jr. Wells’. I’ m not sure.”

Buddy first recognized the importance of guitar feedback as a creative tool in 1959 when he observed a young woman’s skirt brush up against his guitar resting by the band stand and heard a squeal coming from his amps. By the time Jimi Hendrix broke out in England and came back to the states, he was heavily incorporating feedback he’d learned from Buddy. “We jammed a lot in New York the first time I met him,” says Buddy today. “I didn’t know who he was. He was playing in a blues club at 48th and 8th St. And I was like, ‘Who is that?’ This was 1967.”

buddy guy photo 2Linda Porter, a friend who lived with Jimi in London in 1966, told me, “I think, in a way, Jimi felt he had permission to be flamboyant from seeing and appreciating Buddy. I felt that there was a strong link from that point of view. The whole showmanship, that whole distinction from the traditional blues players, was the key to the way Jimi could take the blues and turn them into something else. And I felt Buddy unlocked the door for Jimi to a great extent. Buddy’s flamboyance, and moving away from the traditional blues manner and method, was something Jimi wanted to do. ‘Ok, if Buddy’s dong it, it must be ok for me to do.’ That attitude was there, but I think it was quite subconscious.”

In 1993 Buddy covered Jimi’s “Red House” on Stone Free A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix. In the 21st century, Buddy has played on the Experience Hendrix tour.

The titans of rock worship Buddy Guy who gave them a road map for their combination of emotional excess and guitar wizardry from the start of the British Invasion to the recent day. Even by 1991, many in the fan base for Clapton, The Stones, Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan thought Buddy was retired or dead if they knew him at all. Buddy lived in a different world, separate and unequal to the deities who were selling millions of records to Buddy’s few.

It didn’t help that his records to that point were pale comparisons to his live performance until he signed with Silvertone and began a continuous string of Grammy-winning recordings. Bill Wyman had been four years out of the Stones in 1991, but he nailed what at the time was Buddy Guy’ s Achilles heel. “If I was producing, I’d like to spend a little more time working things out and getting it right ’cause when it’s right, it’s magnificent. And when it ain’t quite right, it’s a shame because it could be right. I’ve got two albums of (Buddy) and Junior that sound like they weren’t quite finished. And they could have been done better because, I mean, the musicianship is there. It could have been a bit better for a few dollars more. That really disappoints me.”

In the ’60s Leonard Chess of Chess Records thought Buddy Guy’s original guitar playing was noise and was shocked at Buddy’s acoustic guitar prowess on Muddy Waters’ Real Folk Blues album. Delmark recorded him on Junior Wells’ Hoodoo Man Blues on a shoestring which is what Wyman is talking about. Buddy’s albums for Vanguard were with a label built on traditional folk music, not the electric “stepchild” of Delta blues. And even after Buddy signed with Silvertone, he was shy in the studio. He told me in 2007, “I don’t want nobody in the studio but me and the musicians.”

Dennis Herring produced Buddy’s Sweet Tea in 2001. It was recorded down south and made many lists of top CDs of the decade. Herring told me in 2009, “I really respect Buddy’s depth. That fire was exactly what I wanted to see happen. There’s a thing about Buddy, and I’ve seen it live, and I think it’s on Hoodoo Man and stuff like that. There’s a transcendence in his playing. He seems like he’s nearly possessed. It’s now left one part of his mind, and he’s now operating in another part, and I wanted that, that transcendence.”

Capturing that in the studio proved a real challenge. “Buddy explained to me that he was really wanting to do a record that had some singles on it,” explains Herring, “and I said, ‘Look, I gotta be honest with you. I’m not into it. That’s awesome if that’s what you want to do, but I’m not your guy, but I’d love to do this other record. I think it would just be more like a real record. It would be more of a quality thing. It wouldn’t be about hits or anything like that. I just think it could be kinda bad-ass like you’re bad-ass.’ And he said, ‘Well, you know, leave these songs with me, and I’ll see if I feel it.’ So, he calls me a few days later, and he goes, ‘I feel it. I feel how to do this. I go, ‘Okay, great.’ So, then it started turning into a real thing.”

Buddy has never been a prolific writer and whereas his guitar playing and antics on stage overcome any such shortcomings, this has been an issue in the studio. “I’m being a producer guy,” says Herring. “I’m tap dancing, and then he goes, ‘I’m done with this bullshit. I’ve learned enough songs that say baby and love and please and love and baby. I’ve learned enough of ’em, and I’m not learning this one.’

buddy guy photo 3“And I go, ‘Okay.’ That was defined. That dude was letting me have it, and then I go, ‘Okay.’ And he goes, ‘You know, you could have taken these songs into Willie Dixon, and he’d have thrown this shit out the window. He’d have said, ‘Write me some real songs, mother fucker. This ain’t real songs.’ And I go, ‘I hear ya. You’re right.’ And he goes, ‘Well, that’s what I’m talking about. I’m not learning this song.’ I go, ‘Okay, let’s just learn this one, and we’ll play it tonight.’ And he goes, ‘Okay.’ That was cool, and he came to the studio that evening. I rehearsed the band up just on the one song, but I felt like I’d just seen the real Buddy Guy.

“So, then he came to the studio that night, and he took me, and he goes, ‘Can I talk to you for a minute?’ I go, ‘Sure.’ He took me aside and he goes, ‘Hey, I’ll do any song you want me to. You just let me know. If you wanna work up that song today (that) I wasn’t feeling, we can do it.’ And I go, ‘Okay, thanks, Buddy.’ But I go, ‘I think we’re gonna have enough. You just keep tellin’ me what you feel and what you don’t feel, and I respect that about you. So, we’ll be cool. I’ll try to keep things away from you that don’t feel right.'”

Herring sums up his strategy for capturing Buddy’s quicksilver by quoting John Irving who said you can’t will a home run. “It really is true. You can set the stage. You can get the lights right. You can get the cognac over there, but you can’t will a home run. So, it’s nice that (Sweat Tea) is a record I feel really proud of. So, it’s nice that it worked.”

Tom Hambridge has produced Buddy Guy’s more recent albums and has solved the issue of writing songs that capture Buddy’s character incredibly well. Hambridge told Buddy Guy, “If I’m gonna make a record for you, it’s got to be you, heart and soul. Your blood’s gotta be flowing through every groove on the record.”

Hambridge explained to me his rationale. “I am the producer and the songwriter guy, but I try to twist it when I’m sitting by myself thinking of the concept as the fan putting the next record on. What is that next record going to sound like? That excitement and that whole chill when you first hear the song, like the first song on the record.”

Buddy Guy calls Tom Hambridge the white Willie Dixon, and since Dixon was the single most prolific blues songwriter of the postwar Chicago blues era – and arguably of all time – that’s no small accolade. When Buddy first read the lyrics to “Skin Deep,” the title cut that Hambridge wrote for his first Buddy Guy production, he cried. The song reminds us to look beyond the color of a man’s skin to find his inner soul.

My goal in Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues was to capture the essence of a man whose performing was enervating enough to me as a college student to convince me that no rock artist could possibly match the excitement he generates. I wanted to capture the personality behind that energy in his own words for the book, but I struggled to understand where that passion that turned Jeff Beck into a Buddy Guy junkie came from.

Twenty-five years and thousands of interviews later with other artists, I realize that energy and performing expertise are a God given gifts. They say practice makes perfect, but some just have that burn in their DNA. And for Buddy that barely controlled mojo was his ticket out of a life in the cotton fields. Chicago beckoned with the promise of escape from the back-breaking labor that awaited him as one of five children born to black Louisiana sharecroppers.

Buddy nearly died of hunger on the streets of Chicago in 1958 until Otis Rush introduced him to a club owner who gave him his first job. And he probably will never reach a fraction of the financial success of Eric Clapton. His records may not please a Bill Wyman who had all the money he needed to take time in the studio with the Rolling Stones creating hits. But Buddy’s influence on mainstream popular music is measured less in sales and airplay than it is in his growing list of Grammys and the experiences like singing “Sweet Home Chicago” with President Obama.

buddy guy photo 4Buddy Guy was one of the first “authentic” bluesmen to recognize that the rock giants who were inspired by his music were not “stealing” his culture, but rather opening a door to a much wider audience for his sound. He once told me, “They (British rockers) did so much for us, Don. They opened the door. They came back to America and said, ‘This is not a British invasion. You had this all the time.’ And they spoke of Buddy, of Wolf, Muddy, and all of that.”

“When they first started popping, they said, ‘Man, even the Beatles are no British invasion.’ They had a television show called Shindig (1965), and they was trying to get the Rolling Stones. (The Stones said) ‘We’ll do the show if you let us bring on Muddy Waters, and they said, ‘Who the hell is Muddy Waters?’ And they got offended. (The Stones) said, ‘You mean to tell me you don’t know who Muddy Waters is, and we named ourselves after one of his famous records, Rolling Stones.'”

Today at 81, Buddy thinks back to his childhood living in a shotgun shack in Lettsworth, Louisiana, and the sage advice his mother gave him. “I used to tell her when I was about 10 or 11, ‘I can’t wait till I’ll be a man,’ and she used to look at me and say, ‘Ok, when you get to be a man, you got to go where you don’t want to go,’ and I just realized she was telling me the truth. At that time, I couldn’t see that.”

To this day, Buddy often plays a polka dot guitar that reminds him of his mother. When he left her to seek his fortune in Chicago in 1958, he promised her he’d return in a polka dot Cadillac. “She passed away in ’68, and I still wasn’t able to get the polka dot Cadillac, and I never forgot it. So, I got a polka dot guitar just to remind me that that’s what I promised my mom and just to have that polka dot as long as I live. An that’s what I got.”

On January 4th Buddy Guy kicks off his annual month-long residency at his club Legends in Chicago. The first date is with Bobby Rush and is sponsored by Pca Blue (www.pcablue.org) Connecting Prostate Cancer & the blues. At ages 81 and 83 respectively, both Buddy and Bobby have first-hand experience with cancer. Buddy’s brother and fellow bluesman Phil Guy died in 2008 of prostate cancer and two of Bobby Rush’s sisters died of cancer.

“I don’t know. If it’s just African Americans,” says Buddy, “but black people hide a lot of things. With my brother I was the last one to know. His manager had to call and tell me. He did never tell people. ‘I don’t want to worry you.’ That was his last words to me before he passed away. He had given up. They couldn’t do anything for him, but if he had told me a little earlier, maybe I could coach him into going to one of these cancer center treatments and maybe he could have lasted another year or two, but each to his own.

“I never had nobody that I can remember in my family that had any kind of cancer. My mother had a stroke. My grandfather had a stroke, but no cancer. I see it happening so much now, not only prostate, but other types of cancer, too. I got (friends), for instance, passed away with different types. If you go get a tire that’s got a slow leak in it, you can get it fixed before it goes down.”

That last statement could be a mantra for Buddy’s long clawing ascendancy to stardom.

Bobby Rush: “I have two sisters that passed with cancer. Then, my brother had prostate cancer. It’s real personal to me. Now, some men don’t want to go to the doctor’s and thinking everything’s gonna be ok and breaks it off. So, we need to educate ourselves and educate the ones that don’ t know. I’m a believer in heart and mind that early detection will save lives. This early intervention will save lives. If you take this early. What you do now it will makeup different than where you were yesterday. I beg people to go out and just get checked up and save lives.”

buddy guy photo 6Bobby Rush and Buddy Guy are two peas in a pod. Both were born in Louisiana and migrated to Chicago to pursue music. Both have struggled to overcome prejudice and break away from the stereotypes that threatened to turn blues into archival museum pieces. Both have a rabid fan base, with Bobby Rush this year finally joining Buddy as a Grammy winner. Their January 4th Legends concert will be a rare event with both men performing with their own bands.

Buddy Guy may be taking an opportunity to alert men about the value of early detection in saving lives, but he isn’t thinking about his own mortality. When I asked him about what was on his bucket list, he didn’t know what a bucket list was. When I told him, he said the only thing on his list was to keep the blues alive.” The morning we talked he’d been up since 3:30. He takes a nap later in the day, but he was doing that 25 years ago. At 81, he’s playing major festivals, large theaters and is booked on the winter Legendary Rhythm ‘n’ Blues Festival.

He’s finally captured the gold ring and he isn’t looking back or forward. “(The grandchildren and great grandchildren) keep coming. (It seems like) just yesterday my grandmother was saying, ‘I got a a grandson.’ I’m like running around in the mud and no shoes, man. Like I say, I wake up and now you wake up and you’ve got grandchildren.”

Buddy Guy doesn’t color outside the box. He denies the box exists. Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf went primal in their escape of the Delta curse of cotton picking servitude by plugging in and releasing their primal scream. Buddy Guy pushes those emotions into uncharted territory by squeezing out feedback in his music and pushing the dynamics of his guitar in diametrically opposed directions to accent a wider spectrum of emotions from so quiet “you can hear a rat pissing on cotton” to a staccato belch of electric energy that can lift an entire audience of tens of thousands off the floor by their collective throats.

It was this bursting through previous barriers in sound that inspired the British Invasion guitarists and subsequent hard rock thrashers to build a platform in rock that turned me and millions of others onto anthems that became a rallying cry for escaping the binding numbness of black and white Eisenhower era postwar angst. Buddy Guy was and still is at 81 functioning full color and 3D. And acts like The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds, Cream, and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers took Buddy’s lead for a new generation destined to “break on through to the other side.”

Buddy Guy is an important link in the chain of evolution from field hollers to spirituals to blues and on to rock and roll. That evolution is about breaking the bonds that hold civilization in their grip. It’s about freedom, a catharsis. His music is about letting our inner spirit free to run naked in the world and feel the wind against our body, the grass under our feet, and the thoughts in our mind unencumbered by the imposition of societal rules and regulations that become stop signs in the winding road to personal salvation.

Field hollers, spirituals, gospel, blues, rhythm ‘n’ blues and rock each promise a better life now and after death. Buddy Guy’s music is s critical link in a chain that pulls us all out of the primordial mud. They are a release. They elevate our spirits to the bliss of just being uniquely one’s own person. Buddy Guy moved the dial in the evolution of that very human emotion from its African roots to a universal group grope while creating a very intimate experience for everyone who comes under his spell.

Check out Buddy’s website at: www.buddyguy.com

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


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Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL, IL

Monthly shows at the Hope and Anchor in Loves Park, IL are on the second Saturday of the month. They are from 8:00 to 11:30 PM and there is a $5 Cover Charge. Scheduled shows: January 13 – Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys featuring Westside Andy Linderman, February 10 – Ray Fuller and the Blues Rockers, March 10 – John Primer, April 14 – Chicago Wind featuring Matthew Skoller and Dietra Farr, May 12 – Cash Box Kings

The Lyran Society in downtown Rockford hosts first and third Friday blues along with a fish fry. No cover, shows 7 to 10 pm. Scheduled shows: January 5 – Don Collins and The Night Shift, January 18 – The Blues Disciples, February 2 – Recently Paroled, February 16 – Donna Herula, March 2 – Olivia Dvorak Band, March 17 – Ivy Ford Band, April 6 – Bobby Messano

Hurricane Relief Benefit at the Lyran Society Sunday, January 14th 3 to 6 pm. $10 suggested donation. Raffles and auctions and food and fun. All Star Blues Band including, Reverend Raven, Jimmy Voegeli, Westside Andy Linderman, Dave Wood and Steve Dougherty. All proceeds go to hurricane relief efforts. More info at http://crossroadsbluessociety.com

The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society announces our February Blues Bash, featuring Heather Gillis, with Funky Geezer opening, on the 2nd Sunday in February, the 11th, at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Avenue, Charlotte, NC 28205. Doors at 7:00, Music at 8:00. Jam session follows.

All year, we are collecting canned food for Loaves and Fishes; donations are requested, to help the less fortunate in our community.

For more info visit Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/58888876959/  or Website:www.charlottebluessociety.org

Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

Sacramento Blues Society presents a fundraiser with the James Armstrong Band on Wednesday, January 31, 2018 at 6:30 p.m.at Momo, 2708 J Street, Sacramento, California. Few blues artists know how to play the crowd as James can. Little wonder he’s been dubbed the Ambassador of the Blues. www.sacblues.com

General Admission $15. Tickets available at https://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/1612234?utm_medium=ampOfficialEvent&utm_source=fbTfly

Trinity River Blues Society – Dallas, TX

The Dallas/Fort Worth based Trinity River Blues Society announces a benefit concert for the Hart Fund, a charity by the Blues Foundation that helps musicians in need.

The concert features non other than the great Jimmie Vaughan with special guest Janiva Magness. The concert is February 11 and will be held at the Kessler in Dallas. For more information www.trinityriverblues.com

Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

The Central Iowa Blues Society presents the 24th Winter Blues Fest at the Downtown Des Moines Marriott, 700 Grand Ave on Friday, February 9 and Saturday, February 10, 2018.

Featuring Bryce Janey, Eric Jerardi, Anthony Gomes, Jason Ricci, Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin Altar Boys, Heath Alan Band, Malcolm Wells & the Two Timers, Amanda Fish Band, Grand Marquis, Kilborn Alley, Steepwater Band, Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal, Iowa Blues Challenge Winner, Avey Grouws Band and the Solo Winner, Kevin “BF” Burt will perform along with regional Blues Challenge winners, Taylor Smith – Kansas City, Ken Valdez – Minnesota and the Omaha Winner, Rex Granite Band featuring Sarah Benck.

Andy Cohen will present the Saturday afternoon guitar workshop. Scotty & the Wingtips will host Saturday’s After Hours Jam.

Admission – Friday $20 advance or $25 at door, Saturday $30 advance or $35 at door, both days $45 advance or $50 at door.

There is a special Blues Fest rate at the Marriott hotel. Book online or call 515.245.5500. Information and tickets at www.cibs.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: January 8 – Tas Cru & His Band of Tortured Souls, January 15 – The Groove Daddies. For more information visit www.icbluesclub.org.


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