Issue 12- 1 January 4, 2018

Cover photo © 2018 Whittling Fog Photography


 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Tas Cru. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including a compilation of Blues songs about drinking alcohol plus new music by The Sidney Green Street Band, Darryl Ellyson, Jan James, Jim Vegas, Julian Fauth, Willie May and Jamell Richardson.

Our video of the week is The Sydney Green Street Band.

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


 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

2017 was a great year for the Blues. We published 450 Blues music and book reviews, 52 feature interviews plus coverage of live Blues festivals and Blues society news to Blues fans around the world.

In 2018 we will continue bringing you reviews, interviews, photos, videos and news of the Blues in every issue.

And don’t forget to mark your calendars now for the 2018 Blues Blast Music Awards at The Tebala Event Center in Rockford, IL on September 29, 2018. It will be one of the year’s biggest Blues parties. See you there!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser



 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

sidney green street band cd imageThe Sidney Green Street Band – Half Live<

Self-produced CD

12 songs – 57 minutes

www.lancedoss.com/sgsb

Once in a while a CD comes along that’s thoroughly new, but comes across as a throwback from another time. That’s the case for Half Live, the third release from a quirky band of American-based music veterans who chose to name themselves in honor of Sydney Greenstreet, the legendary British actor who starred in Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon.

While not pure blues by today’s standards, this collection hastens back to the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, when The Spencer Davis Group, The Allman Brothers, Van Morrison and others were producing one hit after another infused with blue-eyed soul.

Sidney Green Street is a tight four-piece ensemble fronted by Lance Doss, a top-notch guitarist and vocalist who’s worked with Welch legend John Cale, Deepak Chopra and others in a career that began in the mid-‘90s. He splits six-string duties with Justin Jordan, a veteran of Garland Jeffreys’ band. The rhythm section consists of British percussionist Steve Holley — who’s worked frequently with Poppa Chubby as well as Ian Hunter and Joan Osborne after a long stint with Paul McCartney’s Wings and time with Elton John and Joe Cocker – and bassist Paul Page – who’s spent extensive time with Robin Trower and spent time with Chubby, Hunter and Gary “U.S.” Bonds.

As the title suggests, Half Live – pegged for indy rock in iTunes — is just that. It opens with six songs recorded in studio and finishes with a run of six more captured at The Great Notch Inn, a venerable biker bar in Little Falls, N.J., that serves as the band’s unofficial home base.

The guitars soar to open “Muscle Shoals,” a sweeping, soulful tribute to the studio in northern Alabama that produced albums for Wilson Pickett, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Rolling Stones, Cocker and many, many others. Doss knows the studio well, having grown up a short drive away in Birmingham before earning a degree in music at the University Of Alabama. The red-clay feel continues with the steady-paced “Last Beer And Testament,” which is delivered from the position of a man who’s been spilling his guts all day to someone who hasn’t been listening. He’s going to have one more drink before heading on his way.

“One Alone” is an affecting, guitar-fueled ballad that deals with the fact that no one can teach you how to live after a lover says a final goodbye, while “Next Time” is a Southern rocker that features some tasty six-string interplay as it recounts the singer losing his nerve to make his move after taking his girl home after a high school dance. The feel continues with the bluesy ballad “Don’t Make That Girl Cry” and the driving boogie “Stayin’ All Night” to bring the studio portion to a close.

The live set keeps the feel going with “I Belong” and “Miss Understood” before evolving into something with a harder edge for the driving “Bad Bad Way” and “Man On A Mission,” quiets briefly for the intro to “I Ain’t Sleeping With The Lights On” and finishes with “Rock Star,” all of which hint at Southern soul but delve more into rock – not necessarily in a bad way.

This album may not suite blues purists. However if you lived through the early era of The Allmans or are younger, but still have a love for the music today, you’ll enjoy Sidney Green Street. Half Live is available through most online retailers.

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 

darryl ellyson cd imageDarryl Ellyson – Been Out Traveling

www.facebook.com/darryl.ellyson

Self-release

10 songs – 41 minutes

Been Out Traveling is only the second release from VA-based singer, songwriter and guitarist, Darryl Ellyson, but it is a highly impressive slab of contemporary and soulful blues-rock.

Ellyson himself has been around the block a few times, and that maturity is reflected in his warm, lived-in baritone voice. Equally impressive on ballads such as “Everything I Do” through to the full-throated blues-rock of the title track, he is ably supported by an outstanding cast of musicians, including Velpo Robertson and Janet Martin on guitars (in addition Ellyson himself), Rusty Farmer on bass, Kip Williams on drums, Kevin Simpson on saxophone and Jerel Lewis and Carlos Chafin on keyboards. In addition, as on Ellyson’s debut album, Bill Roberts contributes guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and backing vocals.

Ellyson wrote all ten songs on Been Out Traveling, covering the gamut from rock and pop through to soul and and R’n’B, albeit all with a material blues flavour. This isn’t a blues album by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a collection of songs all of which have the blues as fundamental element of their make-up.

The title track, based on the traditional “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” structure, opens the album and rocks with ferocious attitude and some vicious slide guitar, before leading into the soul-blues rumba of “Lovin’ You” with its 60s-drenched, chanted vocal hook, jungle drums and a lovely organ solo.

Indeed, several of Ellyson’s songs reflect a 1960s influence, from the Southern, Lonnie Mack-esque piano ballad, “Lost In Your Love” to the circular riff-based rock of “Pushin’ Against My Heart” and the minor-key slide of “The Sweet Times”. This is not intended as a criticism. With its emphasis on well-written and well-played songs with memorable melodies and catchy choruses, Been Out Traveling recalls the best of that decade. Just try listening to the wonderfully joyful “Ain’t Gonna Let You Go” without tapping your foot and smiling. It’s a song that Delbert McClinton would be happy to have written (and hats off to Simpson for his sax playing on this track).

Each song has something sharp and smart hidden under a deceptively (and misleadingly) simple exterior. The funky “Baby’s Love” has a middle 8 breakdown that enables Ellyson to bring each instrument back in individually. The SRV-esque shuffle of “I’m Gone” unexpectedly inverts the chords at the end of each verse. And the rock guitar riff of “Won’t Include You” is nicely re-balanced by the funky groove of the rhythm section up to and including the organ solo, before the guitar solo drags the song back into rock territory. It has hints of Robert Cray’s rockier moments and is a great final track for the album.

Ellyson produced the album himself, with engineering by Chafin and Roberts, and they have captured a warm, live feeling on all the tracks.

A minor criticism might be that it is unclear from the credits on the CD sleeve which musicians play on which specific tracks, but that is really nit-picking. Been Out Traveling is a superb release and one well worth checking out if your tastes lean towards contemporary soul-infused blues-rock.

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 – 3 of 8 

cheap old wine and whiskey cd imageVarious Artists – Cheap Old Wine & Whiskey

KokoMojo Records – 2017

28 tracks; 72 minutes

www.koko-mojo.com

Here is a great compilation of vintage blues and Rn’B records with a common theme – alcohol! Put together by Little Victor, drawn from the archives of labels like Aladdin, Excello, Imperial, Chess, King and Savoy, these tracks are all the real deal.

The material includes some songs that all blues fans will know, but not necessarily from the original version. A prime example is Peppermint Harris’ “I Got Loaded”; modern blues fans will probably be familiar with Tab Benoit’s version but Peppermint’s original is a quieter affair. JB Lenoir’s “Give Me One More Shot” was covered in the UK by Dr Feelgood and two songs here will be familiar to fans of Sam Myers, Anson Funderburgh and The Rockets: “Sloppy Drunk” appears here by Jimmy Rogers and is clearly very closely related to “Bring Another Half A Pint” by Sonny Boy Williamson, a point underlined by the songs being adjacent on the CD. Jimmy Liggins’ “I Ain’t Drunk” is another classic that is probably best known from Albert Collins’ version but the original is great with Jimmy’s clear vocal, swinging horns and piano. Amos Milburn gives us “Bad, Bad Whiskey” which sounds great with Amos’ distinctive piano and “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” was one of the first successes on Atlantic for its writer ‘Stick’ McGhee but the excellent version here is by labelmate Larry Dall.

There are also lots of styles here: we get acoustic blues from Lightnin’ Hopkins (“Drinkin’ Woman”), The Richard Bros (“Drunk Drivers Comin’”) and Lick Slick & Slide (“I Got Drunk”); Dave Bartholomew gives us the great title “Who Drank My Beer While I was In The Rear” which has a superb sax-driven arrangement and Al Jackson gives us a Big Joe Turner-inspired “Let’s Drink Some Whiskey”. The title of the collection comes from the relatively obscure Jack The Bear Parker who recorded “Cheap Old Wine & Whiskey” back in 1952 and the line “cheap old wine and whiskey makes me gay” clearly reflects the vintage of the song. Another obscure number is “Looped”, a fun jump blues instrumental from Calvin Boze that brings to mind surf music crossed with “Tequila”.

Little Victor has done well to find so many fine tunes with a drinking theme. It all makes you wonder if the blues would be the same if all the artists had been tee-total! A fun compilation, great for parties.

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.


 Video Of The Week – The Sidney Green Street Band 

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The Sidney Green Street Band performing “Last Beer and Testament” from their latest Album Half Live. (Click image to watch!)



 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

jan james cd imageJan James – Calling All Saints

http://janjames.com

Blue Palace Records

12 songs time-55:05

Jan James has cornered the market on yearning, rough-edged and soulful vocals as evidenced on this her latest release. Think a bit more restrained Elkie Brooks from her days with England’s R&B-blues outfit Vinegar Joe or Janis Joplin kicked back a few notches. That’s not to say that Jan is a light weight in the vocal department. She just reins it in a bit more than those two blues inspired shouters. Her voice has just the right amount of swagger and grit. The band led by hot shot guitarist-producer Craig Calvert kicks much butt while supporting “the voice”. Craig’s guitar prowess teeters on the line between blues and blues-rock. A good place to teeter I must say. The guys know when to hold back and when to let it fly. With Jan’s powerful pipes at the helm combined with the song writing of Jan and Craig you just can’t go wrong. Hang on and enjoy the ride.

Craig Calvert’s guitar takes charge behind Jan’s soulful and gritty vocal on the lead-off track “I’m A Gambler”. “Roll Sweet Daddy” struts along to a nifty guitar riff with a simple lyric. This tune is more about attitude than complicated lyrical content. That’s a compliment. Smooth and melancholy is an apt description for “Heart Of The Blues” where blues guitar meets blues rock guitar to form a daunting combination while Jan’s soul-drenched vocal is the perfect fit for this song.

The narrator relays the sentiment that she is better off without her trifling man in the breezy “Cry Cry Cry”. The kick off guitar lick to “Losing Man” is an almost complete lift of Led Zeppelins’ intro to their “You Shook Me”. The song contains some way wicked electric slide guitar. The Elkie Brooks resemblance turns up in “It’s So Easy”, a nicely rollin’ acoustic slide guitar fired song. The title track is a plea to end the violence in Chicago, a heavy rocker that includes David Semen’s harp and Bob Long’s rollicking piano right under the surface.

“Bucky Blues” is a powerful eulogy to a supposed lover that has passed on to “wearing angels wings”. Heavy duty dueling guitars make an appearance here. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is addressed in “Trouble With The Water”. A very poignant recitation. Some Janis Joplin influence appears on the slow churning “Black Orchid Blues” that closes out the album with some of the strongest guitar playing found here.

You can’t go wrong with this blend of blues, R&B, and blues-rock. From the powerhouse vocals to solid guitar playing to a great backing band and strong song writing and production values, it’s all here. It’s no accident then that Jan James is a fixture on the Chicago music scene. The lyrics and complimentary musical support are right on track. This lady and company deserve all the accolades they can garner.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

jim vegas cd imageJim Vegas – Soul Shattered Sister

Goonzy Magoo Records/Self-Produced

www.jimvegasmusic.com

CD: 11 Songs, 42:01 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Rock, Blues Rock

True confession: As soon as I looked at the cover of Kansas-based Jim Vegas’ fourth release, Soul Shattered Sister, I thought, “Rock album. Next.” My gut instincts were both right and wrong. Yes, this is primarily a rock album. No, blues lovers shouldn’t ignore it by any means. Why not? For one thing, its eleven original tracks feature clever songwriting and melodies that are catchier than a cold in winter. Secondly, it strikes a perfect three-way balance between blues, pure rock and jazz, especially on songs such as “Till the Whole Thing Blows” and “Not That Strong” (reviewed below). To top it all off, Jim Vegas sounds like the late, great Tom Petty, one of the greatest R&R artists of all time.

There may not be any eight-bar or twelve-bar tunes here, but those aren’t what Mr. Vegas – real name Brad Conner – specializes in. On his website, he characterizes his music as “alternative blues with an emphasis on the song.” In this particular case, “alternative blues” is not like “alternative facts.” It’s the real blues-rock deal, folks.

His online biography states, “JIM VEGAS was born and raised in Colorado. First learning to play the guitar after hearing a B.B. King album as a teenager, his world was soon filled with pictures painted with sound by artists such as Muddy Waters, Otis Redding, Kenny Burrell, Albert King, Morphine, Howlin’ Wolf, Miles Davis, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and countless others. Through years of instruction…live performance & practice, Mr. Vegas has become adept in many different musical styles and on several traditional instruments…as well as some not so widely used.” While constantly striving for good musicianship, he has always considered songwriting to be a more important craft than technical acrobatics. In fact, his music is as influenced by writers and poets as it is by the masters of American music.”

Along with Jim Vegas on vocals, guitar, and various other instruments are Luke Young on sax and clarinet, Sam Young on bass, Philip Holmes on drums, and Carter Green on drums and various percussion instruments.

Track 03: “Till the Whole Thing Blows” – No matter how hard people try to keep their cool in tough situations, everyone has their breaking point. Our disillusioned narrator does, too. “When I was young, I really did believe everything could work out if you followed your dreams. But the world is rusted out here, and I finally know it’s just a matter of time till the whole thing blows.” Check out the sultry saxophone by Luke Young, cozily coupled with Jim Vegas’ gritty guitar.

Track 04: “Not That Strong” – With a perennial mid-tempo blues beat and slide guitar to die for, this song’s title proves that its subject can resist anything except temptation. Telling a timeworn tale of being seduced and then scrapped, it’s one that almost all of us can relate to at some point. “Not That Strong” is surely the most traditional blues track on the album.

Track 07: “Fairweather Friend” – Consider this the flip side of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out.” Oftentimes, toxic relationships are better ended than mended. With an oeuvre that puts the Fab Four’s song in mind, it sneers, “Sayonara, now. No way to work it out.” It’s edgy and hip.

Consider Soul Shattered Sister one of the finest rock releases of the year, if not blues!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

julian fauth cd imageJulian Fauth – The Weak and the Wicked, the Hard and the Strong

Electro-Fi Record

www.julianfauth.com

CD: 14 Songs, 72:41 Minutes

Styles: Americana, Traditional and Contemporary Piano Blues

When it comes to the subgenre of Americana, trying to define it resembles nailing Jell-O to a tree. After all, its name is the adjective “American” with an “a” on the end. It’s not quite folk, not quite blues, not quite rock, and not quite soul. Happily, Toronto’s Julian Fauth gives us a fourteen-song definition on his newest album. Its title, which might also grace a great future novel, is The Weak and the Wicked, the Hard and the Strong. That describes this CD’s subjects to a T: the alcoholic Panama Canal worker “Bad John” (weak), the Reconstruction-era robber “Cole Younger” (wicked), Frankie of “Frankie and Johnny” (hard), and the Holocaust survivor of “So Far Down” (strong). This motley cast of characters is more than entertaining. They represent our country’s most famous heroes and villains, whether fictional or flesh and blood.

Now that we know the protagonists of these musical tales (three originals, two covers and nine traditional tunes with new arrangements,) what about the telling? Fauth’s delivery is wholly conversational. Not only that, but his pacing on almost every song, including the 1680’s ballad “The House Carpenter”, is way too fast. Even though only one song is under three minutes long, our hero doesn’t need to rush through them like a nervous student giving his first public speech. Listen hard and listen quickly, because the lyrics are tough as nails to decipher. The good news? Fauth’s top-notch piano pours out its ivory soul, bolstered by his talented co-musicians.

With Julian, as he performs on lead vocals, organ, piano and foot for all tracks, are guest stars Ken Yoshioka on harmonica and background vocals; Donne Roberts on guitar; Tim Hamel on trumpet and background vocals, and Alec Fraser on percussion effects and background vocals.

The following traditional tune showcases the chief benefit and chief downside of this CD.

Track 05: “Casey Jones” – To call the tempo of this song “frenetic” would be an understatement. It accurately puts one in mind of a mail train out of control, barreling down the track at lethal speed. Unfortunately, Fauth tries to keep up with the barrage of notes from his piano by singing at almost double-time. At the end of the song, when Casey has sacrificed his life to save everyone else on the locomotive from certain death, his wife says, “Children, hush your crying, ‘cause you’ve got another daddy on the same damn line!” Tim Hamel’s trumpet is terrific.

When it comes to Americana, one might not be able to define it with a set of words of which Merriam-Webster would be proud. Never fear. Julian Fauth feels it and plays it with every tinkle of the 88 keys in which he specializes. His latest offering may not be perfect, but The Weak and the Wicked, the Hard and the Strong will outlast its weaknesses in time – just like its subjects.

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.


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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

willie may cd imageWillie May – Haunted House

Self-Produced/Willie May Music

www.williemaymusic.com

CD: 10 Songs, 37:12 Minutes

Styles: All Original Songs, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Ensemble Blues, Harmonica Blues

Who says the holiday season isn’t the right time to listen to, or review, a blues-rock gem called Haunted House? After all, Charles Dickens populated A Christmas Carol with four ghosts, the first one to appear (Jacob Marley) being frightening indeed. The story was written in a tongue-in-cheek tone with regard to the supernatural: “There’s more gravy than of grave about you,” says Ebenezer Scrooge to Marley’s specter. That same witty style is ever-present in the eighteenth album by New York’s Willie May. Yours truly reviewed his 2016 release, Blues Mona, with generally-positive commentary. The same goes for this one. Willie still can’t sing, and it’s painful to hear him try on songs like “Another Moon Song” and the unnecessary “See You Smile.” However, the instrumentation and swag on this CD are so great you won’t care. May is a veritable one-man band here (although he’s not) on vocals, guitar, ukulele, kalimba and bass. He’s the Stephen King of contemporary electric blues rock – maybe the Clive Barker or Joe Hill. His work might not earn him top honors with elite critics, but he fits the bill for this one just fine.

Now for a name-dropping biographical blurb featured on his website: “Willie May has performed back-to-back on stage with Alvin Lee, Steve Marriott, John Kay and Steppenwolf, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Otis Clay, The Climax Blues Band, Zorra Young, Jerry Portnoy, The Legendary Blues Band, Buddy Guy, Lonnie Brooks, Johnny Clyde Copeland, Sue Foley, L.A. Jones, Chris Duarte, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Stan Szelest, Chris Beard, Rock Bottom, James Cotton, Big Jack Johnson, Dangerous Dan Toler, Derek Trucks, Freddie Salem and many more. The Willie May Band is a 5-time Buffalo Area Music Award winner voted Western New York Blues Beat Magazine’s Band of the Year.”

Now for a name-dropping blurb featuring the myriad musicians accompanying May: Al Monti on saxophone; Bob Meier on trombone; Doug Yeomans on guitar; Dwane Hall on background vocals and synthesizer; Evan Laedke on organ and melodica; Jerry Bass on drums; Jim Whitford on upright bass; Mark Garcia on drums and congas; Mark Harris on bass; Mark Hummel on harmonica for the opening track; Mark Panfil on piano, accordion and harmonica; Mary Ramsey on viola; Owen Eichensehr on drums; Paul Wos on trumpet; Randy Bolam on drums and djembe; Robert Parker on bass, and Tom Lafferty on drums.

The best tune on Haunted House will get crowds dancing at home or at live concerts.

Track 01: “Hey Big Fannie” – Politically correct, this song is not. Hella catchy, it certainly is. Featuring special guests Mary Ramsey on viola and Mark Hummel on harmonica, this is a swing-blues masterpiece. “I said, drink, drink, drink, Big Fannie! Come on, drink, drink, drink, Big Fannie! Drink, Big Fannie, come and take a ride with me.” When you hear how she has to make her way through entrances, you might cringe, but if you’re drinking like she is, so what?

Pardon the cliché, blues fans, but Willie May’s Haunted House is so good it’s scary!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.


 


 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

jamall richardson cd imageJamell Richardson – Blues How I Wanna Blues

Self-Release – 2017

10 tracks; 41 minutes

www.jamellrichardson.com

Jamell Richardson is known as ‘The Gulf Coast Blues Boy’ and even gets a mention on a recent Mississippi Blues Trail marker that celebrates blues and jazz musicians from his home town of Meridian, Mississippi. Jamell released a debut EP in 2014 so this is effectively his first full album and he has clearly tried to show the range of styles that he plays. Jamell wrote all the songs, plays guitar and bass and handles vocals with Kevin McMorris on drums, keys, horns and everything else. The only other contributors are Simone French and Jessica Riley who sing back-up on three tracks and Christian Allen who adds strings to one cut.

Opening with the title track Jamell immediately lays down some sweet guitar behind a rap-influenced semi-spoken vocal. “When I Squeeze Her” is about playing guitar, Jamell explaining his ‘addiction’ to his instrument over a funky track with horn highlights and some impressive falsetto vocals, Jamell pulling out a strong solo very much in BB King style. Swooping strings and Simone’s harmony vocals add an AOR gloss to the romantic ballad “O’Why” and “Jus Be Yoself” is a funky number with some odd synthesised accordion sounds (though the overall feel is more 70’s disco than Louisiana). Jamell returns to the ballads with the gentle “I Found You” with Kevin’s upright bass well up in the mix as Jamell again finds his higher range vocals. “Sarah Pearl” is a loving and funky tribute to Jamell’s mother that takes us back to the delivery room as Jamell is born.

“Overdrive” opens with moody wah-wah that suits the lyrics about Jamell being ready to play for us though, for this reviewer, it’s a rather plodding track. Things look up on the last three tracks with “Hero”, another strong ballad with hand percussion and both electric and acoustic guitars vying for our attention as Jamell plays the ‘knight in shining armour’ role. The album concludes with two contrasting uptempo tunes: “Party When The Sun Goes Down” lives up to its title with a rousing tune enhanced by backing vocals and baritone sax, Jamell giving us a fine solo mid-tune – the best of the uptempo tracks; “It’s Alright To Smile” brings an island vibe with reggae influences and steel drums.

Overall this is a decent debut album which demonstrates Jamell’s abilities across several styles. The fact that all the music is produced by just the two musicians does make the sound a little ‘thin’ at times and it would be good to hear Jamell in action with a full band.

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


 Featured Blues Interview – Tas Cru 

taz cro photo 1“Hey, what did you used to do for a living when you were a grownup?” That’s Tas Cru’s favorite quote from working his Blues in the Schools program.

“Yeah, people are walking out the door. His teacher was pushing him out the door, and he wanted to ask me a question. So, I never got a chance to answer him. I’m not sure I could have, but this is what the kid said to me. He was probably about 12 years old. He goes, ‘Hey, what did you used to do for a living when you were a grownup?’ That’s interesting coming from a 12-year-old’s perspective. It’s like what are they thinking? This is not something that grownups do all the time. I don’t see grownups acting like this.'”

Children and artists share a quality most adults lose in the process of functioning as “responsible” people in real life. Adults have a hard time thinking outside the box.

“I think in that box from time to time when I’ve had to,” admits Tas. “It’s tough to work that way (in a box). Some people can’t do it at all. The harmonica player on my record I’ve known him for a long time. He just can’t do it. He has a teaching degree and he tried, but he just can’t do it. I mean, he can’t live by the clock. He can’t live by a set of things that he has to do. He just can’t do it. He’s one of the most creative people I know, but fortunately he has a wife that’s willing to work hard and works to make money for the family because he just can’t get in that box even temporarily and do what he has to do. It’s hard for him. He’s a sculptor. He a harmonica player, He’s a singer. Dick Erickson is his name. He’s a pretty cool guy.”

Tas Cru’s real name is Dr. Richard Bates. Unlike a lot of white blues performers, he does not come to blues from a position of privilege. He was in Vietnam in the Navy and worked his way through to get a Ph. D in the education field, but he didn’t ride on that credential to advance himself musically. He went outside the box to become a bluesman, using what he’d earned as a professor to follow is bliss. He no longer responds to the moniker, Dr. Richard Bates.

Full disclosure, I mentored Tas Cru when he started down the blues road..

“Some of my biggest lessons come from stuff that wasn’t about math, and it wasn’t about English. It’s all about character. My whole life I’ve had to work harder than most everyone else to get things done, you know what I mean? That’s how I feel about getting on the Blues Blast cover. Why should getting on Blues Blast be any different, you know? Got to work hard at that, too. So, here we are working hard at it. So, anyhow, you gotta love the process, and I guess I love it enough to put up with the hardship and the bullshit. So, I’m still out there doing it.

“Was it Hunter S. Thompson who said, ‘Find something you love, stick with it about 10 years, and give it all your passion and energy. About 10 or 12 years later, you find you’ve an overnight success.”

He says the fact that he has called himself the master of the triple entendre hasn’t hurt his Blues in the School program but has positioned him strongly in a music career where words matter, but the Ph. D moniker does not.

He’s the 2014 recipient of The Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Blues Education. He’s released seven CDs in 11 years including Even Bugs Sing The Blues for children. In 2017 alone he played the Daytona Blues Fest, Carolina Downhome Blues Fest, Baltimore Blues Fest, Tinner Hill Blues Fest, Roundbarn Blues Fest, Memphis in May Beale St. Blues Fest, Blues on the Riideau, Jackson Blues Fest and the Wiregrass Blues Festival.

taz cro photo 2“The Ph. D credential itself doesn’t mean anything in that the degree was something I had to do in order to keep the job I had at the time, and I loved doing it. I learned a lot. Don’t get me wrong. I learned a lot about stuff, but I also learned what it means to have to dedicate myself to reading 16 hours a day in preparation to getting background on some work that I was conducting. I learned in the net process the importance of being honest and earnest with people when you work with them.

“My dissertation was on native American sovereignty in education, and when you work with native American people about political issues, they want to make sure you’re not bull shitting them, that you’re not just another white guy who’s come to get an interesting story, and write about it and to (claim) some initials after your name.

“So, those are the kinds of things you learn, and that’s what I’m talking about when I talk to you about education today. All the stuff that goes along with learning how to work hard, learning how to be respectful to people, learning about what is really behind the work that you’ve doing spiritually, meaningfully to other people. Those are the kinds of lessons you learn from that.

“Now, the other education I got is I have a master’s degree in English literature. I learned a lot about language from there, and that’s helped me as a songwriter. You know, to be a – you’re a wordsmith, Don. You know what I’m talking about. Sometimes as a wordsmith you gotta craft your language. You can’t say the same thing that everybody else has said, and hope that it resonates differently with people. Sometimes, you have to craft that language, and there are certain things you can do to make the word more musically poetic for people.”

It is to Tas Cru’s credit that someone of the caliber of Bruce Iglauer at Alligator Records would noticed the difference in his writing from the great unwashed. He didn’t sign him, but he gave him some sage advice.

“Words matter and you got to put some thought and feeling into that. I drive around and listen to Bluesville all the time, and this is what I say. Unless the song is there to support a great virtuoso guitarist, harmonica player, singer, whatever, and the words don’t matter because I’m not really listening to that. I’m listening to the virtuoso instrumental performances or vocals performance, that’s fine, but it’s not that, the words should mean something. There should be something you connect with, you know, and I do find that lacking unfortunately.”

Tas Cru told one journalist in 2012 that he favored simplicity over virtuosity. I asked him how difficult was it to go from studying for a Ph. D to dealing with what I call the receiver. In other words, when I’m writing for the four or five different publications I write for, I write for a different receiver in each of those publications, and he’s writing for a receiver in blues that may not have a Ph. D and in some cases not a GED.

taz cro photo 3“Yeah, I don’t find it difficult when writing to not be erudite in my language. I think you can create layers of dimension that people with different backgrounds and different educational experiences can find an avenue to relate to what you’re writing. I don’t think you have to exclude someone because they’re not smart enough to get your song. There are times when I sing a lyric like that I really want the audience to understand what these words mean, and sometimes I’ll be very direct about it and talk about it.

“It made my heart melt down at Daytona Festival when I saw Toronzo Cannon do the same thing. He got up there, and he’s starting to sing his songs and he’s saying ‘I want you to pay attention to these words. You’ve gotta listen to these words. They really mean something to me, and I hope they’ll mean something to you.’ And when he did that, I was going, ‘Yay! Way to go, Toronzo. All right, cool way.'”

His song “The Chicago Way” is a perfect example.

Tas Crus told interviewer Michael Limnios in 2012, “Inspiration can come several ways. My songs are stories. Many of them start with a lyric idea. I may hear or read a quirky statement and think, ‘What is the story behind that?’ Then I think of how such a story might play out in my own life and go from there. Also, there may be a topic that I want to write about and will craft a story to address that topic. Sometimes though, I simply hear a musical hook that I want to build a song around and go from there. I am a big fan of early blues writers who used double entendre.”

He says today, “You can’t confuse intelligence with education. There are a lot of people out there that are highly educated that are the dumbest mofos I’ve ever met and vice versa. A lot of people that don’t have education are some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. You can’t confuse the two.”

In his promotional material for his Blues in the Schools programs he says, “To me, there is nothing more important that I do as a blues performer than blues education! Blues is a uniquely American music that along with gospel and jazz is one of America’s most precious gifts to the world. Blues is the musical foundation for all forms of pop music with its influence spanning seven generations.

“Children in schools throughout the globe learn about their culture’s artistic heritage and creative achievements. American children deserve to know about their culture’s rich musical heritage that is the Blues and how the world has embraced it as a creative art form.

” I am blessed to have had so many opportunities to work with young and old across the country as we educate each other about what it is that makes us love the blues.”

Tas Cru’s latest CD, Simmered and Stewed is a perfect example of his simple but smart lyrics combined with stellar and versatile guitar playing. On the CD he redoes songs from earlier CDs released regionally. It sounds incredibly eclectic.

“Yeah, yeah. That was something Bruce Iglauer commented on. He didn’t think that was a good idea.”

I told Tas that although it’s not a good idea, I like it in the same way people liked The Beatles. If it’s good, that doesn’t matter. That said, you have to understand Bruce Iglauer’s perspective. He’s the only guy other than his mentor Bob Koester at Delmark whose still in the game as an indie label owner after almost 50 years.

taz cro photo 4“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, I understand him, and I agree with him. Well, he was talking about the effect of the eclectic nature of the album, His quote to me was it sounds like it’s two different albums. There’s some real raw sounding bare bones kind of stuff. Then, you’ve got these lush arrangements.”

One of the cuts, “Fear I’m Falling,” sounds like an Otis Taylor trance blues. “Yeah, that’s one of my favorites on that album. That didn’t get a lot of airplay. The one that’s putting gas in the tank is the cut right at the top (“Dat Maybe”). And I think a lot of it’s because it’s three minutes and 10 seconds long. Plus, it’s easy for a deejay. You gotta make it as easy for them as possible.”

As for redoing old songs? “It was fun. Some verses of these songs were never released on an album that was distributed nationally or was promoted nationally, so I didn’t really feel that it would confuse anybody much or not very many because they hadn’t really heard those versions, the earlier version. Plus, I think it came to an awakening at that point to record before.

“On The You Keep The Money album where l say, ‘I wish I knew then what I know now,’ that kind of thing, and I just don’t feel those songs weren’t recorded well, necessarily played well or arranged well, and I really felt they were good songs and I really wanted to do it right. Plus, by the time I got to Simmered and Stewed and did a couple more of those songs like that I had run out of physical product on those older albums, and I wasn’t going to re-order them anyway because they didn’t represent me as well as I really wanted to. Then again, I didn’t know then what I know now. Hopefully, I wish I knew what I know now.”

My favorite cut is Tas Cru’s complete makeover of Jackie Wilson’s soul classic “Higher and Higher.”

“Jackie Wilson’s the bomb. No doubt about it. I learned a long time ago you’re gonna cover somebody’s song, don’t do it the way they do it. Do your own thing and learn to sell it to an audience. You gotta make sure they understand that this is you that’s doing it in your way. They can crash and burn on the them, too. Some people just get so pissed off about the version you did, sacrilege, you know? I had one reviewer who said “Higher and Higher” was so far from the original that Jackie Wilson must be rolling in his gave listening to that music.

“I had the honor of being invited to Alexis Sutor’s event at B. B. King’s club down in The City. It was that Hurricane Maria fund raiser for Puerto Rico. There’s a video out there of it. The Interdenominational Choir was there, a 36-piece choir directed by Frank Hanks. I knew they were coming, so I asked Alexis, ‘Would it be cool if I did a song with the choir,’ and she said, ‘That would be great because I’m looking for stuff for the choir to do.’ So, we performed “Higher and Higher” live with that choir. I’ll tell you what I could barely get through the song. To listen to those folks sing just brought me to tears. I’ve always had a great love for the song. I heard it in that kind of gospel and spiritual way rather than just as a secular song the way that arrangements of Jackie Wilson stuff.”

The title cut of Tas Cru’s next CD due sometime next year is “Memphis Song.”

“I don’t know when it’s gonna come out. I’m taking my time with it. I’m in no hurry. I’m probably about 80% there to having it done. There’s a title cut about something you and I have talked about that you know I’ve experienced and you’ve seen other musicians’ experience. I’ve had a couple people last year in Memphis for the first time, and they talked to me afterwards, and they told me that this is a very common experience.

taz cro photo 5“They went down to IBC, and they’re all pumped up and thrilled about being in IBC and being around all these people that love the music, and all that stuff, and then they got back home, and they found themselves playing the restaurant gig or the bar gig where the loudest the audience ever gets is when the home team scores a touchdown and being that kind of ennui you know, being like, ‘Wow. I went from Memphis to this again?’ And feeling really displaced.

“Well, this “Memphis Song” is all about that, people feeling really displaced and the idea about it is that the person is now away and is longing to go back to that physical place where everyone is so spiritually connected to the music and actually Victor Wainwright is playing on that song along with his guitar, my young friend Pat Harrington, they’re playing on that, too. So, that’s what it’s called. It’s gonna be all new stuff. All new originals, and it’s gonna be a little bit more in keeping with the blues. I’m not gonna do as much. I have a tendency to go kind of like in an Americana kind of way sometimes. I’m not doing that on this album.”

With Tas Cru, it’s not all work and no play. “When somebody says ‘Why don’t you sit on the side and be my guitarist for this gig,’ I love that. Oh, I don’t have to sing the songs. I don’t have to find out what the load-in time is, and find out what the backline is. I don’t have to do any of that. I don’t have to talk to the audience. All I have to do is just play guitar while you do all of that. Ok, I love that, I rarely get to do it, but I know the feeling.”

One of the most fun parts of the blues business is what is sometimes referred to as playing the dozens where you say the opposite of what you mean as when soul singers say something is “bad” and they really mean it’s “good.” Or when a blues guy calls you a mofo, and you know you’ve made his inner circle. Tas Cru and I have a long history of busting on each other as in the exchange below.

Tas Cru: You just came up with something that could be the epitaph on my gravestone: “Tas Cru, he kept showing up.”

Wilcock: Yeah, I guess they’re gonna put it up on both of our gravestones. Maybe, we can get a two-fer.

TasCru: Two-fer?

Wilcock: Yeah.

Tas Cru: Oh, Don, I don’t think in the wildest fantasy I’ve ever thought about sharing the same epitaph with you, let alone side by side.

Wilcock: We don’t have to tell anybody. You’ll be buried on one place and I’ll be buried somewhere else, and nobody will know the difference.

Check out Tas’ website at: www.tascru.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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River City Blues Society – Pekin, IL

The River City Blues Society presents Jamiah Rogers Band January 6 at 7PM at The Capitol Street Sports Bar at the Capitol Street Bar & Grill, 219 N Capitol St Pekin, IL.

If you missed the Jamiah Rogers Band at the Illinois Blues and Heritage Music Festival this past Labor Day Weekend, here’s your chance to see him upclose. He wowed the crowd and won the ‘Road to Memphis’ competition . River City Blues Society will be supporting Jamiah and the band next month at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

So let’s all come out and support Jamiah on January 6. Admission is only $5. www.rivercityblues.com.

The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society announces our February Blues Bash, featuing 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.

TWENTY blues acts under one roof and out of the cold! Featuring Bryce Janey, Eric Jerardi, Anthony Gomes, Jason Ricci, Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin Altar Boys, Heath Alan Band, Aaron Earl Short, 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 again provide the Saturday afternoon guitar workshop. Scotty & the Wingtips will host the After Hours Jam on Saturday night.

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 or through Midwestix.

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, January 22 – The Greg Glick Band, January 29 – Brandon Santini, February 5 – The Scott Ellison Band, February 12 – Dave Lumsden & Friends, February 19 – The Scottie Miller Band, February 26 – The Good, The Bad and The Blues. For more information visit www.icbluesclub.org.


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