Issue 12-34 August 23, 2018

Cover photo © 2018 Kelsey Bennett


 In This Issue 

Bill Dahl has our feature interview with Sugar Pie Desanto. We have 11 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Lawrence Lebo, Cass Clayton Band, Lurrie Bell & The Bell Dynasty, Boz Scaggs, The Blues Doctors, Sugar Brown, Rhythm x Revival, Steve Hill, Richard Knott, Whitney Shay and Elliott and the Audio Kings.

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


 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

Lots of stuff going on here. Our friends from the Illinois Central Blues Club are having their Old Capitol Blues & BBQ Fest this weekend in Springfield, IL. They have The Mary Jo Curry Band, Brandon Santini, Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers followed by The Alamo After Fest Party featuring Kilborn Alley on Friday night and the Illinois Central Blues Club and Decatur Blues Challenge plus Jason Elmore and Hoodoo Witch, Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat, Big Head Todd and the Monsters followed by The Alamo After Fest Party featuring Brandon Santini on Saturday. Click HERE for more info.

Also this weekend Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford, IL is holding their “Guitarzapalooza” version of the Crossroads Blues Fest featuring Dave Fields, Riding Atlas, Kilborn Alley, Joe Filisko, Lauren Mitchell & Special Guest Lurrie Bell, Toronzo Cannon, Warren Beck, Monster Mike Welch and Michael Ledbetter, The Welch- Ledbetter Connection. Click HERE for more info.

Finally, more than 7,000 of you have voted in the Blues Blast Music Awards so far. Voting continues until August 31st.

So if you have not voted yet, Get Busy! Click HERE to vote now! NOTE: You may only vote ONCE.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser


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2018 Blues Blast Music Award Tickets On Sale Now

This years awards are being held at the Tebala Event Center in Rockford, IL on September 29th, 2018 beginning at 6:00pm. (Doors open at 5:00pm)

Advance tickets are $35. Tickets will be $40 at the door. Tables for ten are only $300. To get your tickets now click HERE!

Information on travel, lodging, tickets and sponsorships is available on the Blues Blast Music Awards website at www.TheBBMAs.com.

 

WHERE TO STAY – We have chosen La Quinta in Rockford as the host hotel for fans and artists. La Quitna is about a mile from the venue. La Quinta is offering a special rate of only $89 for those attending the Blues Blast Awards. Simply call them at (815) 227-1300 and ask for the “Blues Blast Fan Rate”. First come first served.

Please note that there are a limited number of rooms available, so get your tickets and rooms booked now!


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 11 

LAWRENCE LEBO CD IMAGELawrence Lebo – Old School Girl

On The Air Records 9657

8 songs – 28 minutes

www.lawrencelebo.com

Don’t be fooled by her name, Lawrence Lebo is a female vocalist with old-school sensibilities, as she states directly in the title of this CD.

A lady who possesses a distinctive mezzo soprano voice, she’s the daughter of a Sears & Roebuck shoe salesman who grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs, where she’s still based. She studied at Grove School Of Music, Santa Monica College and UCLA, where she graduated with honors and took classes taught by guitar master Kenny Burrell. Since making her recording debut on a self-produced EP in 1989, entitled Don’t Call Her Larry, she’s carved a name for herself in jazz, pop and blues circles.

While Lebo delivers plenty of the stylings fans have come to know her for, Old School Girl ventures far more deeply into blues drenched R&B as she pays tribute to one of her biggest influences: the classic sounds that emanated from the Stax studios in Memphis in the ‘60s.

Captured at NewZone Studio in West Los Angeles by Wayne Peet and Ardent Audio in Torrence by Rich Wenzel and, like her previous releases, produced on her own On The Air imprint, this one includes seven Lawrence originals, all of which are thoroughly modern while maintaining a strong foothold in the past, and one cover.

Jazz man Tony Mandracchia, whose work has been featured in the movie soundtracks of Tarzan and Serenity, handles guitar and banjo duties with Denny Croy (Doug MacLeod, Fiona Boyes and Brian Setzer Orchestra) on bass, Steve Mugalian (Rod Piazza and James Harman) and Ed Eblen on drums, Larry David (Keb’ Mo’ and Smokey Robinson) on keyboards and harmonica, and Carl Byron and accordion. Sasha Smith and Phil Parlapiano share Hammond B-3 organ responsibilities on three of the cuts.

A tasty guitar line opens the slow blues burner “You’ve Got A Secret” in which Lawrence finds herself in tears as she accuses her man of telling lies and wonders what the true might be. Her delivery is steady and slightly behind the beat as it accompanies the instrumentation to drive the song forward. The tune has a timeless feel and features extended solos from David on keys and Mandracchia on six-string.

The tempo picks up slightly for the title tune, “Old School Girl,” which proceeds with a consistent feel and more fine fretwork. In it, she runs down all of the things from the past, like being kissed on the neck, that she still enjoys today. This one would have made a perfect fit in the late ‘40s or early ‘50s.

Lebo tackles the T-Bone Walker warhorse “Stormy Monday” next, delivering the opening verses at a snail’s pace with succulent vocal accents before the pace picks up dramatically with jazz-influenced harp and guitar solos midway. Byron’s accordion drives the cautionary original “Stop Shouting Your Business” next. It comes across with a zydeco feel and the warning that you’ll only make yourself out to be a fool if you do. Listed with a warning for explicit language, it’s actually limited to one four-letter word delivered on a single occasion.

The band gets funky as Lawrence urges a prospective lover to “Give Me A Try,” describing her attributes in the process, before the uptempo shuffle “Bad To The Core” comes across with a driving blues beat. Lebo notes that she used to be good, but not any more, that her man’s got a dark side. It’s only natural that she does, too. The sweet love ballad, “Happy Anniversary, Baby,” follows before a cleaned-up version of “Stop Shouting Your Business” brings the set to a close.

Available from Amazon, iTunes and CDBaby, this one’s short and sweet, but will please anyone who enjoy music that’s delivered with a classic upscale jazz-blues feel.

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 11 

cass clayton cd imageCass Clayton Band – Cass Clayton Band

Self Released

www.cassclayton.com

10 tracks

Cass Clayton is a rising star in the Colorado area and is noted for her vocal and slide guitar work. Here she stays off the guitar and instead features collaborator Taylor Scott on guitar as they blend rock, blues, funk, jazz and gospel. The album tends toward rock and funk and features all original tunes. The stories told are interesting, mostly dark and delivered with lots of feeling.

Cass shows off her soulfulness with the opening tune, “Let’s Not Be Friends.” Blending blues, rock and perhaps a little gospel, the tune starts things off well. “Phase of the Moon” has a touch of country blended into the mix of blues rock. Clayton delivers another nice performance and the trumpet adds a beautiful component to the ballad’s mix. The percussion and Dann Burke’s lead guitar give us a little funkiness in “When It Comes to My Heart.” Another story told with smokiness and power, Clayton shows her stuff once again.

“That’s What They Say” has Clayton cutting a little looser, showing more of that range and power that she has vocally. This ones a mid tempo funky sort of cut in a minor key that takes you up and down at the same time. “Still Water” is a country/southern rock sort of cut. The Hammond Organ gives a haunting, church like feel and the accordion takes things very rustic and folksy as does Scott’s acoustic guitar. Steady and flowing, the song evokes the feel of calm, still waters.

Things liven up with “Least A Brother Can Do;” a rousing guitar intro and a more upbeat approach gets things moving and this carries through the cut, showing us a different side of the band. Trumpet and sax add sweetly to the mix. “Used To Be” has a more haunting feel as the band starts off funky and Clayton adds distortion to her vocals. There is a pumping beat and the whole thing is fuzzed out is and offbeat-edly cool. Up next is “Last Thoughts,” parting comments to an ex-lover. Clayton again emotes the darker side of the feelings in a relationship. A somber Casio keyboard solo punctuates the feeling. Clayton builds to a big ending and shows power and range as she lets go. “Brother Interlude” is offered next with a driving rhythm guitar beat and lead guitar; very funky and very modernistic in the instrumental approach! Clayton concludes with “Sometimes,” a beautiful and thoughtful ballad. The drums drive the track along with a little bit of forcefulness and purpose. The pianos play back and forth with the vocal lead and make things interesting. It’s an interesting and cool song.

Joining Clayton are Taylor Scott on guitars and co-writing most songs, Geoff Gray on most song writing, Larry Thompson and Brian Claxton on drums and percussion, Todd Smallie and Chris Harris on bass, Tom Amend and John Wirtz on various forms of keys, Matt Wilkolak on trumpet and Jeff Miguel on sax for a cut. The songs are all interesting, crafted and delivered well, and the band is tight and together. Clayton’s vocals are always spot on.

All the songs are dark and express heavy feelings. A little more upbeat stuff in the mix would have spiced things up a bit. But originality is there, musician ship is there and the vocals are nicely delivered.

Clayton and company have a bright future and delivers some really fine original music!

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 11 

lurrie bell cd imageLurrie Bell & The Bell Dynasty – Tribute To Carey Bell

Delmark Records – 2018

12 tracks; 58 minutes

www.lurrie.com

Carey Bell was a mainstay of the Chicago blues scene from his recording debut in 1969 until his death in 2007. Initially a protégé of Big Walter Horton, Carey went on to play with many of the Chicago greats, including a spell with Muddy Waters. Carey also left behind a family of Bell musicians of whom guitarist/vocalist Lurrie is probably the best known, but here he is joined by his three brothers: Steve on harp, Tyson on bass and James on drums (plus vocals on three songs). Steve is currently playing with John Primer, Tyson has worked with Shawn Holt and James played with Magic Slim when barely old enough to be seen behind his drum kit! Eddie Taylor Jr is on guitar throughout (apart from three tracks where Sumito ‘Ariyo’ Ariyoshi’s piano appears) and guest harmonica players Billy Branch and Charlie Musselwhite also sit in. The music features several songs that Carey would have played regularly, including three of his own songs, two Little Walter classics, two from Junior Wells, one each from Muddy Waters, Big Walter Horton and Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson, plus two originals contributed by Billy Branch and James Bell.

Lurrie takes the lead on the opening trio of songs: Muddy’s “Gone To Main Street” barrels along, a classic Chi-Town shuffle with Steve’s harp sounding great as Lurrie and Eddie’s guitars play off each other; Big Walter’s ‘Hard Hearted Woman’ is a slower blues with fine vocals from Lurrie; Little Walter’s ‘I Got To Go’ was a staple of Carey’s live sets for many years and the band does it justice in a fast-paced version with Charlie Musselwhite adding his distinctive harp attack to the mix and Lurrie playing a stinging solo. James then sings his own “Keep Your Eyes On The Prize”, bringing a soulful note to proceedings

The two Junior Wells tunes bookend the core track of the album, of which more in a moment. Both are uptempo and rocking examples of Junior’s style: “Tomorrow Night” gets the toes tapping and James handles the vocals on “What My Momma Told Me” which rocks along very well. Between the two Junior songs is Carey’s slow blues “So Hard To Leave You Alone”. Billy Branch’s echoey harp starts it off, Ariyo’s delicate piano and Lurrie’s carefully chosen notes on guitar underpinning Billy’s vocal superbly. This extended version appears at the mid-point of the album and clocks in at close to nine minutes so there is ample solo space for Lurrie, Billy and Ariyo to weave their magic – a definite highlight. A second Carey slow blues

“Woman In Trouble” has a strong Lurrie vocal before Billy returns to make his own tribute to Carey on “Carey Bell Was A Friend Of Mine”, duetting on harp with Steve.

The CD closes with three tunes which neatly sum up the album. The second Little Walter tune is “Break It Up” which the band plays in a funky version and James sings well. “Heartaches And Pain” is the final Carey tune, another slower tune with more outstanding guitar work from Lurrie and references to drinking one’s sorrows away, very fitting as the album ends with a rousing version of “When I Get Drunk” with Ariyo back on piano.

In the very full and informative sleeve notes there is a photo of Carey and his four sons which looks as if it was taken when Lurrie and Steve were in their teens, James and Tyson both looking under ten. We also gather that the album was recorded in a single day session – very old school! That fact alone shows how well attuned these guys are to each other and to the music they are honouring here, not only their Dad but also several pioneers of the classic electric Chicago sound. Delmark released Carey and Lurrie Bell’s debuts so it is fitting that they should now release this fine tribute to Carey by his sons. Carey would surely be immensely proud of his boys’ work here.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 11 

boz skaags cd imageBoz Scaggs – Out Of The Blues

Concord Music, Inc.

www.bozscaggs.com

9 Tracks/41:22

Over a career that spans five decades, singer and guitarist Boz Scaggs has had a fulfilling career. After a stint that included two albums with the Steve Miller Band, Scaggs released a self-titled solo album that highlighted the breath of his musical vision, backed by the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. The highlight of the disc was a twelve minute, intense version of “Loan Me A Dime,” with Duane Allman stealing the show on slide guitar. Then he hit it big with Silk Degrees, which sold a million copies while generating a handful of hit singles that dominated the airwaves. In the ensuing years, the singer has followed his creative muse through a wide-ranging musical landscape. His last two releases, Memphis and A Fool To Care, were outstanding tributes to the music of Tennessee, with the emphasis on R&B.

This time, Scaggs has conjured up a striking collection of covers mixed with four originals from his long-time friend, songwriter Jack “Applejack” Walroth. The opener. “Rock And Stick,” highlights Scaggs’ smooth tenor voice over a shimmering arrangement punctuated by brief bursts from Walroth on harmonica. All the blues rockers out there could take a lesson from “Radiator110,” as the leader and Steve Freund share guitar duties while Ray Parker Jr. on electric & acoustic guitars, Willie Weeks on bass and Ricky Fataar on drums lay down a monster groove that you can’t forget.

Veteran Jim Keltner handles the drums on the rest of the disc. The band slips into a slinky, slippery mode on “Those Lies,” with Charlie Sexton on guitar and a horn section injecting plenty of sparks into the proceedings, featuring Eric Crystal and Thomas Politzer on tenor saxophone plus Stephen “Doc” Kupka on baritone sax. Sexton and Doyle Bramhall II use the galvanic rocker “Little Miss Night And Day” as a springboard to showcase their six string talents, sandwiched around some pumping piano from Jim Cox. Scaggs co-wrote the tune with Walroth, his lone contribution in the songwriting category.

Scaggs picked out some outstanding material for the rest of the disc, starting with “I’ve Just Got To Forget You,” a heart-breaker written by Don Robey and originally recorded by Bobby Blue Bland. Using a horn arrangement by Eric Crystal and Scaggs that was based on Joe Scott’s original, the band creates a sad, late-night feel for the singer’s wrenching performance, a highlight of the disc. The mood grows even darker on a somber rendition of Neil Young’s “On The Beach”. Scaggs makes you feel the pain of a man struggling to hold on, with Bramhall’s solo offering a brief moment of hope and respite.

Going back to his days growing up in Texas, Scaggs sounds right at home on Jimmy Reed’s “Down In Virginia,” adopting a easy, laid-back vocal style. Bramhall handles the guitar in addition to blowing some solid, first-position harmonica. Jimmy McCracklin’s “I’ve Just Got To Know” is a tune that has been covered many times. Scaggs’ voice packs a bit more emotional punch, especially after Sexton’s taut solo break. The closing track returns to the Robey/Bland playbook for “The Feeling Is Gone”. With the horns riffing behind him, a world-weary Scaggs makes it clear that he has no interest in a mistreating woman, with Crystal adding his own send-off in a brawny solo.

In recent years, it has been fashionable for aging rockers to return to their roots and cut a “blues” album, with wide-ranging results and degrees of authenticity. Through nine tracks, Boz Scaggs makes it clear that he has retained his love for all the sounds that captured his imagination all those years ago. With an exceptional group of musicians bringing his vision to life, his latest is both a fitting tribute and a damn fine, rocking affair that is sure to get plenty or listens. Highly recommended!

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 – 5 of 11 

the blues doctors cd imageThe Blues Doctors – Same Old Blues Again

www.modernbluesharmonica.com

May 2018

11 songs, 43 minutes

When I get ready to review a bunch of CDs, I generally take a handful of them out of their jackets, and keep them handy in my car. I have a 1-hour commute each way to my office, so that gives me plenty of alone time with each CD, and over a very decent sound system. I often don’t even know who I’m listening to until after I’ve played a CD all the way through. Such was the case with Same Old Blues Again, by the Blues Doctors.

From the very first track, an up-tempo bluesy version of “Tequila,” the 1958 release by “The Champs,” I was drawn right in. From the first note from the harmonica, I could tell that this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill blues harmonica player. No, this was someone who clearly knew his way around the instrument… and then some. Only after hearing the entire CD was I able to confirm my suspicion that it was harmonica great, Adam Gussow. Many of you know him from his 25-year partnership with guitarist Sterling “Mr. Satan” McGee, performing as Satan and Adam. Me, I’m probably more familiar with him as an educator from the many in-depth harmonica tutorials that he so generously posts on his YouTube channel, with which I have spent considerable time. Educator that he is, a nice touch on the CD jacket has Gussow including the harmonica keys used for each song. Regardless of from where you might have heard him – you’re in for a treat!

This is the second CD for the Blues Doctors, which consist of Gussow on harmonica, vocals, and percussion, along with Alan Gross on guitar and vocals. Recorded at Hill Country Recording in Water Valley Mississippi, the 11 tracks on this CD include several blues standards, along with two of Gussow’s original tunes. All are relatively stripped-down in their arrangements, consisting of mostly Gussow and Gross, occasionally complemented with bass guitar, and on one track, a single snare drum. But don’t think for a minute that this is a laid-back, front porch acoustic affair. Gussow’s amplified – and seemingly effortless – harmonica drives much of this collection, and it swings hard. Real hard.

Some of the songs with which you might be already familiar include Elmore James’ “Cry for Me, Baby,” Arthur Cruddup’s “That’s All Right,” and Muddy Waters’ “Rollin and Tumblin’.” The album closes-out with some numbers recorded “live” at a North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, and includes Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go,” Waters’ “Take You Downtown,” and their interpretation of the Robert Johnson classic “Crossroads Blues.” There’s also a cover of Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” and Gussow’s minor-key original, “Blues For Hank,” both of which feature Chicago-based jazz bassist Bill Harrison.

The one odd duck on this CD is “Magic,” a song you might be most familiar with from Olivia Newton-John’s performance in the 1980 film, Xanadu. Yeah… that one. Not a particularly great song to begin with, but hey… I give credit to Gussow for continually stretching his considerable skills to outside the traditional blues lexicon. His harmonica treatment of the song is fine, but the addition of R&B vocalist Zaire Love – both harmonizing with Gussow, as well as weaving an overlaid vocal in-and-out of the overall arrangement – might have made sense on paper. But , in real life, it’s more than a bit messy, and is conspicuously out-of-place with the other tracks on the album.

That track aside, it’s a very pleasing collection of catchy arrangements that will get your toes tapping. Gross’ guitar playing is not flashy, but is rather more rhythmic and percussive, and becomes the central underpinning of these song arrangements. It complements Gussow’s playing nicely, and the result is an up-tempo album of blues standards… and then some, all generously seasoned with Gussow’s masterful, very fluid harmonica playing. Highly recommended!

Reviewer Dave Orban is a technology marketer by day, musician/artist/educator by night. Since 1998, Orban has fronted The Mojo Gypsies, based in the greater Philadelphia area. http://www.mojogypsies.com


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 11 

sugar brown cd imageSugar Brown – It’s a Blues World

Self-Produced

http://sugarbrownmusic.com

CD: 13 Songs, 48:02 Minutes

Styles: “Traditional Contemporary” Blues, Ensemble Blues, All Original Songs

“There’s more than one way of listening,” wrote George Orwell in his novel Coming Up for Air. Case in point? If you only listen to the technical aspects of It’s a Blues World, the new album from Toronto-based Sugar Brown, you’ll hear mumbled lyrics, raw-sounding instrumentation, and a barely-audible sibilance throughout. However, if you ignore these surface imperfections and delve deeper, listening with your heart as well as your ears, you’ll realize one thing: This is how the blues used to sound, at its newest and truest, before studio polish and big-name stars catapulted their way to the forefront of the genre. Ere McKinley Morganfield became Muddy or Chester Arthur Burnett howled his first howl, folks sang blues tunes on their back porches or in the fields as they worked. All thirteen songs here are original, but they seem as if they’d been written by one of the old masters. That’s a tough feat to pull off for any musician, blues or not.

Sugar Brown, although he sounds African-American when he sings, was born Ken Kawashima, to a Japanese father and Korean mother who both immigrated to the U.S. in the mid-1960s. He was raised in Bowling Green, Ohio, then moved to Chicago to pursue his studies. He soon immersed himself in the Windy City’s consummate blues culture and heritage. He worked extensively with such local heroes as Taildragger and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Rockin’ Johnny Burgin. He reached the finals of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis last year.

Performing along with Sugar Brown (lead vocals, guitar and harmonica) are the aforementioned Rockin’ Johnny Burgin on guitar; Michelle Josef on drums; Russ Boswell on upright and electric bass; Minnie Heart on bass, guitar, fiddle and baritone saxophone; Nichol Robertson on guitar and banjo; Julian Fauth on piano and Farfisa organ; Chuck Bucket on drums for tracks seven, eight and eleven, and Bill Howard on tambourine and bass drum.

This CD has so many great songs that I’ll just go 1-2-3 for kicks.

Track 01: “Hummingbird” – Listen hard and listen fast. The opener is only two minutes and forty seconds long, and the lyrics just fly by. Nevertheless, this unique track brings to mind Will the Circle Be Unbroken, by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. It’s got that casual, free-flowing style that puts one in mind of a live jam session instead of a studio track. Dig those drums at the beginning and the kinky electric bassline that adds a 21st-century vibe to an old-fashioned-sounding ditty.

Track 02: “Love Me Twice” – With a guitar refrain that’s catchier than a cold, the second track will get anyone and everyone out on the dance floor. The subject? Romance, at high stakes and a metaphorically-high altitude: “Our climb up the mountain’s taken some new turns. Losing oxygen, I ain’t got much left to burn. Oh, I wonder how far the fall will be from the heights. You loved me once; will you love me twice?” I’ll sure love this song twice.

Track 03: “Lousy Dime” – Featuring piano and banjo, lucky number three might have been played in a saloon during the days of the Wild West. The subject matter, however, is purely postmodern: “Anonymity confuses the fuzz. Disappearing ammo, lock ‘em up in their cuffs. The bankers and police do their pantomime, and everybody’s scrambling for the same lousy dime.”

As Sugar Brown’s masterpiece proves full well, It’s a Blues World, and we’re just players in it!

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 11 

rhythm x revival cd imageRhythm x Revival – self titled

self released

http://rhythmxrevival.com

9 songs/37 min

Rhythm x Revival’s self titled debut record is a short blast of Chicago Blues and Soul. The Australian band is centered around guitarist and singer John-Luke Shelley and drummer Johnny Tesoriero who co-wrote and co-produced the album together. The band is filled out by Ben Wicks on bass, Jeremy Neumann on keys and Sam Teskey on tambourine on one track. The music here is sprite and lively with deference and demonstrated deep understanding of Blues and roots music.

Shelley is a talented tasteful guitarist. He plays a telecaster which has that twangy country sound, but he conjures up strong Blues tones out of his rig, see minor key real deal blues “The Beast.” The music also boogies, grooves and croons. “So Darn Mean” is an infectious locked in shuffle about a woman so ornery her beauty is almost overshadowed. “Hell Of A Ride” is a blissed out emotional travelogue. Album closer “Have You Ever Been So Lonely” is a self explanatory slow soul ballad in which Shelley gets to shows off his soul-man pipes.

Second track “Good Man Feeling Bad” has the stringy hollow sound of Buddy Guy’s A Man and the Blues. This is a simple song about simply feeling terrible, plan spoken and well written. Jeremy Neumann’s warm full-figured keyboard sounds are featured prominently. His solo has a savage Otis Spann style attack. The song takes a key change, a classic device, and Shelley solos the song out with passion and depth.

What appears to be the lead single, “Almost Every Night” is a shuffling Chicago-tough romp in which drummer Tesoriero gets to show off his hard grooving chops. Another clever write, this song deals with those complex emotions of love and lust in a straightforward highly effective way. More love for Neumann here showing of his burbling organ sound and John-Luke rips out a hard Blues-Rock lead.

Rhythm x Revival is a thoughtful and creative Blues band. They write clever originals that sound familiar but fresh. The musicality of the performances, arrangements and production shows a deep level of professionalism and talent.

This is straightforward fully realized Blues music and the record is a great listen straight through. This is a band to watch, here’s hoping they make their way to an international audience.

Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.


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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 11 

steve hill cd imageSteve Hill – The One-Man Blues Rock Band

No Label Records

www.stevehillmusic.com

CD: 14 Songs, 68:00 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, One-Man Band, Live Album

No matter what, blues fans, you’ve got to hand it to a one-man band. Such an artist’s versatility, broad array of talents, and crowd appeal are second-to-none, making admiring throngs wonder how and why s/he acquired these skills. Canada’s electrifying Steve Hill, and his tenth release The One-Man Blues Rock Band, will certainly make audiences ask these questions – whether live (as on the album) or at home. It will also make them ask one more: “Is ‘loud’ a genre in and of itself? It should be.’” In terms of instrumentation, Hill plays guitar and drums with aplomb. No accordion or mandolin solos here, but Steve’s style isn’t suited to such things. The fourteen songs here, twelve originals and two covers, are perfect for party animals. School’s starting soon, and yours truly can easily imagine some fraternities playing this at top volume on Friday nights. Vocally, he’s a cross between a long-haul trucker and a barroom DJ: tougher than a bed of nails.

During his 25-year career, Steve Hill has won the Juno award for Best Blues Album in 2015 for Solo Recordings Volume 2, and eight Maple Blues Awards. He’s shared the scene with several of his idols, playing alongside Ray Charles, B.B. King, ZZ Top, Jimmie Vaughan, Jeff Beck and many others. States Hill, “I wanted a live album that would capture all the energy of my concerts. I’ve been waiting for twenty years to release a live album. That evening in Quebec City [on which he recorded this CD] was absolutely perfect, and it gives, in my opinion, my best record: the one I’ve always wanted to do.”

Naturally, Steve is the sole musician featured, but he gives special thanks in the CD liner notes to countless others. Most clever is his shout-out to Nic Jodoin, who executed “transfer to tape and other analogue fairy-dusting.”

The following song gets to the nitty-gritty of ambition: what one’s struggle to win is all about.

Track 03: “The Collector” – With a growling intro that takes no prisoners, Steve launches into this blues-rock stomp with the exact same attitude. “Some collect possessions, like…vintage cars. Some folks are into stamps; others like baseball cards. But I gather the good times, and I stockpile the bad…I’m the Collector. I want it all.” He’s not after “something you see on TV and order on the telephone.” As he’s proven time and again throughout his musical journey, those who treasure life’s experiences and the battle to make it to the top are the wealthiest people of all.

What’s the short scoop on The One-Man Blues Rock Band? It’s loud, it’s proud, and it’ll please a crowd!

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 – 9 of 11 

richard knott cd imageRichard Knott – Long Story Short

Solid Thumb Music

www.richardknottsongs.com

CD: 13 Songs, 54:49 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Acoustic Folk and Blues, All Original Songs

Remember the old days of the Internet, circa 1995? At the very beginning of the digital age, Netizens who had a lot to say made individual websites, then blogs, then vlogs. Now there’s YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and all sorts of postmodern media that can help one get one’s message across. With that in mind, it’s best to think of Long Story Short, the new CD from the UK’s Richard Knott, as a musical blog. A good guitarist and sly satirist, Knott knows how to expound upon various subjects (e.g. love, politics, and the solitude of online life) through acoustic finger-picking. That’s his strength, along with an aptitude for songwriting. His weakness? Singing, pure and simple. He converses his way through thirteen original tunes, only stretching his vocal cords on the last selection’s refrain (listed below). Truth be told, this album contains far more folk than blues, and purists will know it from the very first notes. Some might compare Knott to Arlo Guthrie or Jimmie Rodgers, however – a high compliment.

According to his corner of cyberspace, “After many years spent mastering the intricacies of fingerstyle blues and ragtime guitar while holding down a heavyweight day job, Richard Knott decided it was time, as he puts it, ‘to give up being respectable for a living.’ Going on to study in the UK and USA with guitar masters like Woody Mann and John Miller, he took up songwriting, adding a broad new set of influences to his music, ranging from Guy Clark to Steely Dan. The result is a unique blend of word-smithery and…guitar magic, coming at each song from an offbeat and often thought-provoking angle.”

Performing along with Knott are co-producer Ian Cleverdon on handclaps and mandolin; Colin Oakes on electric guitars; Hilary Morel on lead female vocals; Phil Caffrey on piano; Grant Dermody on harmonica; Dave Dailey on fretless bass; Stuart Cleverdon on handclaps, and Jane Knott on background vocals for track twelve. Richard himself performs on lead vocals and various guitars, including resonator, nylon-strung, acoustic and electric.

The following track contains the best summary of the biggest query plaguing folks today.

Track 11: “The Question” – According to this jaunty little number, there are “seven billion on the planet.” Nevertheless, our narrator laments, “Why do I feel so alone?” He gets tons of junk mail and e-mail attention from Russian models (true story; check out the liner notes for proof). The catchy finger-picking, handclaps and hook will get audiences singing along in a hurry.

To make a Long Story Short, Richard Knott’s latest is full of fantastic songwriting!

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 – 10 of 11 

whitney shay cd imageWhitney Shay – A Woman Rules The World

Little Village Foundation – 2018

10 tracks; 37 minutes

www.whitneyshay.com

San Diego’s Whitney Shay was a new name to this reviewer but I will certainly keep an eye open for her future work after hearing this impressive CD. Whitney handles the vocals with the sass and confidence you might expect from the front cover picture and the production by Kid Andersen at his Greaseland studio is excellent. Kid plays guitar, sitar and wurlitzer, Jim Pugh is on keys, Lisa Leuschner Andersen on backing vocals, Kedar Roy on bass and Alex Pettersen on drums. ‘Sax’ Gordon Beadle appears on most of the album with John Halblieb’s trumpet alongside him and guests Aki Kumar (harp), Igor Prado (guitar/vocal)and Derrick ‘D’Mar’ Martin (percussion) appear on one track each. Whitney and writing partner Adam J Eros contribute four originals which combine with six well-chosen covers.

The horns give opener “Ain’t No Weak Woman” a real impetus as Whitney tells us that one mistake does not indicate general weakness. Lincoln Chase’s “Blues Down Home” was a success for Dinah Washington and Whitney sings it really well with a hint of grit in her vocals and the horns again to the fore, Aki Kumar adding some harp and Sax Gordon playing a great solo. Two originals follow, each showing a different side to Whitney’s talent: “Don’t You Fool Me No More” is a shuffle with a powerful sax solo set against rolling piano as Whitney again shows the power of her vocals without resorting to screaming, as some female singers do; “Love’s Creeping Up On You” is a soul tune with Whitney duetting with Brazilian guitarist and singer Igor Prado and is definitely a standout track. Denise LaSalle’s song gives the CD its title, a slow-burning blues with a message. Whitney’s vocal is excellent and the backing vocals add depth as Kid plays some subtle guitar. One wonders if the song may have been intended as a response to James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World” as it has some similarities to that well-known tune.

Whitney comes in with a bang on “Freedom Blues”, credited to Esquerita and to Little Richard. The flamboyant Esquerita was certainly an influence on the young Mr Penniman and this dramatic cover finds Whitney whooping and hollering over some deep baritone sax and sitar. Rather different to the female empowerment message of several of these songs (covers and originals) “Get It When I Want It” is raunchy and suggestive. Written by George Jackson and Raymond Moore for Candi Staton it is another great track although the sensitive may blush at some of the lyrics! Bubbling baritone sax and tinkling piano underpin a genuinely sexy vocal.

“Check Me Out” is a Jimmy McCracklin song once recorded by Little Denise, a fast-paced tune with rocking sax. The last original “Empty Hand” sounds like a lost soul classic with the whole band on great form, Kid’s guitar coming from one side of the mix, Jim’s piano from the other before the horns come in behind another outstanding Whitney vocal, Sax Gordon taking the main solo honours. To close the album Whitney returns to Little Richard for an exhilarating take on his 1967 obscurity “Get Down With It”, best known in the UK as a Northern Soul favourite and the source for Slade’s first big hit. It is hard to believe that you can generate this level of frenetic excitement in a studio but it’s a fantastic four minutes as the band and Whitney give absolutely everything. As a footnote Slade had to reissue their single when the original writer, Bobby Marchan, threatened to sue, as he had recorded it first and Little Richard then covered it but claimed it as his song, so Whitney and LVF might need to watch their backs! Whatever the writing credits it is a superb finale to an excellent album and is, one suspects, a set closer when Whitney plays live.

Strong vocals, great band, good originals and well-chosen covers make for a solid album which you will return to often. Recommended!

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 – 11 of 11 

elliott and the audio kings cd imageElliott and the Audio Kings – Long Live the King

Busted Flat Records

www.elliottandtheaudiokings.com

CD: 12 Songs, 42:00 Minutes

Styles: Guitar Monster Blues, Swing/Jump Blues, All Original Songs

As Walmart, Target, and every other big-box store in existence will tell you: Welcome back to school! Constant Readers of this magazine have long ago passed the age where such a sentiment is relevant, but when it comes to the blues, we could all use more education. That’s why we keep coming back, time after time, to hear and enjoy new lessons. A favorite one of mine is that as musicians release more albums, they mature and refine their art, gaining knowledge and experience. Consider Ontario, Canada’s Elliott and the Audio Kings, presenting their sophomore CD Long Live the King. As on their self-titled debut, lead man Mike Elliott continues to roar as a formidable guitar monster. However, he’s also added jalapeno-hot harmonica and more nuanced vocals. With him are stalwart trio members Jonny Sauder on drums, percussion, and background singing, and Scott Fitzpatrick on bass and background vocals. Swing and jump blues tracks (reviewed below) are sure highlights, as is their overall take on contemporary blues rock. Twelve original offerings show us that even the newest genre students can more than make the grade.

According to their promotional information sheet, “Rough and rowdy, this small-but-mighty three-piece band hammers out songs that are tough as nails. With the blues as their starting point, Elliott and the Audio Kings swerve all over the roots road, veering, at times, dangerously close to rockabilly and good old-fashioned rock and roll. When recording their second CD, [they] kept to their old-school record-making philosophy that made their first self-titled release sound so vital and boisterous: flip the switch, count it in and hold fast.”

The following three tracks rip and roar their way to the head of the class, all earning A’s.

Track 01: “Zim Zam Zoom” – Right from the get-go, get ready to boogie. Combining a big-band swing rhythm with down-and-dirty postmodern guitar, this little ballad is about a fella whose feet fly: “There’s one thing that all the ladies know: There’s a man who knows his way around the dancefloor – zim, zam, zoom, won’t you glide across the floor?” Reminiscent of “Zoot Suit Riot” by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, it’s a jubilant new take on an older musical style.

Track 02: “All Revved Up” – As the band dials the beat down a bit, they present a solid traditional-sounding number, calling Too Slim and the Taildraggers to mind. “Time to get out and have some fun, because you only live once, and when you’re dead, you’re done. One for the money, two for the show. I’m all dressed up; I’m ready to go.” There’s a slick and polished veneer to this rough stomp, adding a dab of Brylcreem to what would otherwise be a hit at the rowdiest bar in town. Check out the solo in the middle, where Elliott struts his stuff once more.

Track 12: “Tin Sandwich” – The title refers to a harmonica, and boy, can our front man play it. This is a musical shot of adrenaline featuring take-no-prisoners drums and blustering bass, a jolt from an exposed wire. Like bookends, tracks one and twelve are the danceable picks here. Just when you think it’s over, surprise – there’s more to come, so hold on to your hats, folks.

Long Live the King! That’s what the blues really is, and sophomores Elliott and the Audio Kings pay heartfelt, hair-raising homage.

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 Interview – Sugar Pie DeSanto 

sugar pie desanti photo 1Life hasn’t been easy in recent years for diminutive dynamo Sugar Pie DeSanto.

Based since the late ‘60s in Oakland, California (the same metropolis she grew up in), the feisty singer lost her husband, Jesse Davis, in an October 2006 fire that destroyed their third floor apartment. At the beginning of this year, a serious health crisis arose that imperiled her career.

“I’ve been fighting cancer,” says DeSanto. “I’ve been off since before March, because I’ve been ill. I’m under the gun from the radiation and the chemo.” Particularly difficult to deal with was the devastating toll the disease exacted on her precious pipes. “I lost all vocal. I had no throat at all,” she says. “I lost 18 pounds. I had 35 days of radiation in a row, as well as chemo. You talk about make you sick! No, you don’t want that stuff. You don’t want no chemo, and you don’t want no radiation. Tell ‘em no. I ain’t never been this ill.”

Nonetheless, DeSanto is bravely waging a comeback. “It’s coming back around, but it’s not there as of yet. I’m still struggling with sound and all that,” she admits. ”It’ll take a while. It didn’t happen overnight, so it ain’t gonna be cured overnight. But you can fight it. You know what I’m saying? You can keep fighting. That’s all I can do. That’s what I better do if I want to survive.”

The singer’s longtime manager, James C. Moore Sr., is putting the finishing touches on a new EP, Sugar’s Suite, scheduled to be released on his own Jasman label this fall. The disc contains some of DeSanto’s most personal music to date. Although Sugar Pie worries that her voice wasn’t up to par when she cut the four tracks (“I don’t think I did a good enough job that I could do, by getting ill,” she frets), they’re revealing autobiographical treatises rendered in raw and emotionally charged fashion.

“Chocolate City,” the half slow-grind/half funk lead tune, covers DeSanto’s formative years. “That’s my song!” she says. “I wrote that from the spoils of San Francisco, coming up in the Fillmore. And that’s true stuff. It’s not jive. The life I lived at that particular time.”

“Grieving” and “Deepest Hurt” are heartrending tributes to her late husband. “That’s some of my love life years ago. That’s the way I write,” says Sugar Pie. “All songs I write are true. A part of life that I have lived. Real life, not crap! That’s the way I write: the real me.” Multi-instrumentalist Bill Jolly, who directed the house band for DeSanto when she journeyed to Philadelphia to accept the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s prestigious Pioneer Award in 2008, handled all the musical backing on the remaining funk-steeped title, “Jump Back.”

Standing just shy of five feet tall, DeSanto started out in the business with another name entirely. She was born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton in Brooklyn, New York, answering to Peylia (pronounced Pel-eye-a) as she grew up. Her huge family moved to San Francisco in the late ‘30s, when Peylia was a wee child. Her father was a Filipino ex-seaman, while her mother was an African-American well versed in proper musical upbringing.

“That’s who taught me my music, my mama. She was a classical pianist, and she played ever since she was a very, very little young girl. She was a monster. She never read a note. Everything she played, she could hear it one time and play it all the way through without an error,” says DeSanto. “In those days, we didn’t do the blues. I didn’t come up in that. I came up with classics, like Frank Sinatra songs, that kind of stuff. I grew up with that kind of music.

sugar pie desanto photo 2“Later on, I started hanging out with some of my soul people. Then that’s when I started picking up the blues and all of that, by going to their house and listening to what their parents were playing. I said, ‘What is that?’ They said, ‘Oh, it’s called the blues!’ I said, ‘What the hell is the blues?’” Listening to B.B. King, Little Willie Littlefield, and other blues luminaries of the era soon taught Peylia the answer to that question. “Then I started learning their food, the kind they ate and all. And my very best girlfriend, Willie Ruth, that’s where I learned a lot—from her house, her family. Which they came from the South, of course—the deep South.”

One of Peylia’s pals in San Francisco’s Fillmore district was her neighbor, who then answered to Jamesetta Hawkins but later embraced major stardom as Etta James. “We grew up together. Her and my sister were close, because they were of the younger set than me. But we still all sung together and hung out together. She went to school with my sister,” says DeSanto. “I was older than they were. We had a little group around Fillmore and all that. Then my sister went off with her to be one of the Peaches.”

Francesca Balinton was a part-time member of Etta’s vocal group, the Peaches, but she wasn’t with them when hitmaking R&B bandleader Johnny Otis discovered the group in 1954 and they hit big their first time out with “The Wallflower,” an answer to the Midnighters’ “Work With Me Annie.” Otis, fluent on drums, vibes, and piano, dreamed up the handle of Etta James for Hawkins, and he performed a similar renaming service for Peylia.

“I was at the Ellis Theater in San Francisco, winning the talent show each week,” says Sugar Pie. “He said, ‘You’re coming with me!’ I said, ‘Who are you?’ He said, ‘I’m Johnny Otis!’ I said, ‘Oh, really? And I’m Peylia!’ I wasn’t Sugar Pie then. So then he picked me up, and Johnny recorded my first record in 1955. That’s when Johnny named me Sugar Pie.”

That debut single for Syd Nathan’s Federal label, “Boom Diddy Wawa Baby,” was a duet with fellow newcomer Hank Houston. Federal issued it under the name of featured saxist Preston Love with vocals credited to the Love Bugs, but the duo’s encore “I’m So Lonely” hit the streets as by Hank and Sugar Pie. The flipside, “Please Be True,” just mentioned Sugar Pie, who didn’t even know Houston prior to the recordings. “Johnny brought him,” says DeSanto. “He brought him up with me to do a duet. That was Johnny’s idea.”

Duets remained prominent on Sugar Pie’s recording schedule after she married guitarist Alvin Parham, professionally known as Pee Wee Kingsley, in 1957. “That was my husband for almost 14 years. I met him in Stockton, California at one club, and I was playing in another club. And we met up and put our music together. Then later on, we married and played music together all that time,” she says. “He was quite an entertainer though, playing guitar and singing.”

The pair hooked up with Rhythm Records, an Oakland imprint owned by a pioneering African-American athlete. “Don Barksdale of the Boston Celtics, he done some recordings on me for awhile and managed me,” says Sugar Pie. “He named me DeSanto.” There were variations on her billing; Barksdale’s Jody subsidiary called her Paliya DeSantos for 1958’s “(If I Had A) Wishing Well” (the other side was a Paliya & Alvin duet). The Mesner brothers’ considerably better-established Aladdin label in Los Angeles picked up the Sugar Pie & Pee Wee duet “One, Two, Let’s Rock” from Barksdale in ‘58. Ray Dobard’s Bay Area-based Music City logo was the first to spell both ends of her name correctly on their 1959 outing “Nickel And A Dime” but butchered Pee Wee’s last name as Kingsly.

DeSanto found a highly sympathetic producer right in her own back yard in Bob Geddins, whose A&R resume included a raft of Oakland blues classics by Lowell Fulson, Jimmy McCracklin, Jimmy Wilson, and plenty more, many released on his own little labels. “One day, I had made the record ‘I Want to Know.’ I had a tape of it,” says DeSanto. “Something told me to just walk into his studio, and I did, and he liked the song. And that’s where I met my manager, Jim (Moore).

sugar pie desanto photo 1“Bob told me, ‘Who are you?’

“I said, ‘Don’t worry about it—I know I’ve got a hit!’

“He said, ‘How you got a hit?’

“I said, ‘Put this on. You’ll see!’

“Sure enough, he put it on, and he said, ‘Uh-uh! Come back tonight. We’re gonna record it tonight!’ And that’s how that came about,” she says. “That was a big one for me. Had my career take off.”

DeSanto shared writer’s credit with Geddins and Ron Badger on “I Want To Know,” her first full-fledged solo release, which blasted into the national R&B Top Five during the autumn of 1960 after being issued on Geddins’ Veltone and Check labels. Kingsley’s band cooked, and Geddins double-tracked DeSanto’s vocal on the cool swayer, giving it an appealing edge.

“I Want To Know” was inspired by “my everyday living of going through problems with men, and smoking weed and hanging out,” she says. “That inspired me. I had a couple of boyfriends back during the day. You know, entertainers running around. I’m young, like everybody else. That all was about Pee Wee a lot, because he used to love to gamble. He never did drink or smoke or nothing like that, but he loved to get on his knees and gamble. And I lost a lot of money that way. But still we hung. We loved each other. So that’s how I wrote it—because I got pissed off at him.”

Leonard and Phil Chess picked up on the petite spitfire, bringing her aboard their Chicago-based Checker label in 1961 with a Riley Hampton-arranged session that produced “Can’t Let You Go,” which sounded like “I Want To Know” right down to DeSanto’s double-tracked vocal. The company issued an album—DeSanto’s only one for Chess, as it turned out—that included covers of Johnny Mathis’ “It’s Not For Me To Say” and “The Twelfth Of Never,” her early pop training no doubt coming in handy. Geddins retained some rights to the chanteuse as well, issuing three more 45s on his labels that went nowhere.

With a major hit under her belt, DeSanto hit the road. “We did those shows back East, the theaters like the Apollo in New York and the Howard in Washington and the Uptown in Philly,” she says. “If you did the Apollo and got over, you would do the other theaters as well. And I did get over. They named me ‘the lady James Brown.’ I was tough!” Speaking of Brown, Sugar Pie heated up stages for more than a year as one of his opening acts.

“He was a mess!” says DeSanto, who remembers Brown being a trifle intimidated by her uninhibited stage demeanor. “We used to talk about that all the time: ‘Now look here, Sugar, don’t you jump off no piano tonight! Don’t you do that!’

“I’d say, ‘Why not?’

“‘Because you make me work too hard!’”

sugar pie desanto photo 4By the end of 1962, Checker had acquired sole rights to Sugar Pie’s future recorded output. “Chess Records bought my contract for ten grand, and back during that time, that was a lot of money,” she says. DeSanto tried her hand at a plush, violin-enriched New York-generated ballad, “Ask Me,” but what little chart action the song possessed went to Maxine Brown’s competing version for Wand. A similar fate befell Sugar Pie’s next Checker offering in ’63, “Crazy Lovin’,” a peppy effort she wrote herself.

Under A&R man Billy Davis’ astute direction, Chess/Checker was as hot in the soul field during the ‘60s as it had been with blues the previous decade. One of the label’s big sellers in early 1964 was an irresistible blues by organist Tommy Tucker, “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” and Davis crafted an answer song, “Slip-In Mules (No High Heel Sneakers),” that he channeled to Sugar Pie. The mighty Chess house band (anchored by organist Leonard Caston, Jr., bassist Louis Satterfield, and drummer Maurice White) did its best to recreate the lowdown groove cooked up by Tucker’s New York combo, right down to the slashing Gerald Sims guitar solo gracing Sugar Pie’s sequel. “Oh, my goodness, Chess was booming then!” says Sugar Pie. “Slip-In Mules” proved her first hit for Checker in the spring of ‘64.

DeSanto came right back that summer with another solid seller, the eminently danceable strutter “Soulful Dress,” penned by the Radiants’ Maurice McAlister and his frequent collaborator, Terry Vail. Its flip, the swaggering blues “Use What You Got,” elicited one of Sugar Pie’s most extroverted performances on wax (Freddy King covered it a couple of years later without bothering to credit Billy Davis as its composer). Perhaps its downhome charm helped win Sugar Pie her featured spot on the barnstorming American Folk Blues Festival tour of Europe that fall, which surrounded the young singer with grizzled blues veterans Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

“Oh, brother—with all them old goats!” laughs DeSanto. “That’s what I called ‘em: ‘Come over here, you old goat!’

“‘Sugar, can I…?’

“‘No, you cannot take me to dinner! You cannot!’ Because I was the only woman. What a trip! Everybody was hitting (on me). We was eating and having fun.

“‘I’m going out tonight!’

“I’d say, ‘No you’re not. Ain’t none of y’all going out! Because I’m not going!’ The only woman. They like to have drove me crazy. All of them men, and I was the only woman!”

The Sims-scribed grinder “I Don’t Wanna Fuss,” a percolating “Here You Come Running” by Chess staff writers Carl Smith and William “Flash” McKinley, and the hard-charging “Mama Didn’t Raise No Fools,” penned by house saxist and A&R man Gene “Daddy G” Barge, all missed the R&B hit parade for DeSanto.

“I got along with her really good,” says Barge. “She wasn’t no bigger than a hot minute, but you didn’t want to mess with Sugar Pie!”

Davis wisely paired Sugar Pie with her old Fillmore running partner Etta James for the highly infectious “Do I Make Myself Clear,” which inexplicably avoided hit status as well in late ‘65. “‘Do I Make Myself Clear,’ that rhythm on it was something else,” notes DeSanto. “All we did was get in the studio and act a fool! You know how musicians are. We’d be partying and stuff, of course.”

sugar pie desanti photo 5The record-buying public finally succumbed to the glorious groove and raucous fun of their followup duet “In The Basement,” written by Davis, Smith, and Raynard Miner. Part 1 of the infectious anthem turned out to be Sugar Pie’s last chart appearance on Chess during late summer of ‘66. “Oh, that was fun,” says DeSanto. “We come up together. Come on! We come up together in the Fillmore as kids.”

When she wasn’t in the studio recording, Sugar Pie broke the glass ceiling in the Chess writers’ room in conjunction with her songwriting partner, Shena DeMell. “Oh, that was my girl,” says DeSanto. “We ran into each other. She was writing songs and so was I, so we decided to join forces. Because we seemed to be able to write little songs together, and then we just started hanging out together around the company. ‘Well, I’m gonna write.’ I said, ‘Yeah, me too! Let’s try this one!’ She was something.”

Not only did the pair churn out great material for Sugar Pie (notably “Do I Make Myself Clear”), they wrote gems for labelmates Little Milton, Billy Stewart, James Phelps, Fontella Bass, and Bobby McClure’s biggest solo hit in late ’66, “Peak Of Love.” “We said, ‘Hey, this would be a good one for Bobby!’” she says. “So I would play piano, and we’d sing, and that’s how we did it.” DeMell eventually ended up in a similar staff writing role at Motown.

After the DeSanto/DeMell-penned “Go Go Power,” easily one of Sugar Pie’s hottest soul pounders of all, failed to burn up the R&B hit parade at the end of 1966, Sugar Pie decided it was time to move on (she’d lived in Chicago during her time at Chess). “I just wanted to do my own thing,” she says. “Since I was kind of warm during the time, I said, ‘Let me go on and make my little money while I can.’”

Sugar Pie wasn’t without a label for long. Her driving “Get To Steppin’,” which she wrote with soul star Joe Simon, was issued in 1967 on Brunswick, which also pressed up her ‘68 encore “(That) Lovin’ Touch.” “He was a sweetheart. That old boy can sing!” says DeSanto of the mellifluous Simon. “I could see he was cool.” DeSanto’s next stop was Ron Carson’s Bay Area-based Soul Clock label, where she cut a self-penned “The Feelin’s Too Strong” in 1969 and “My Illusions” the next year.

Jasman has been Sugar Pie’s recording home ever since then. Moore produced her two-part Geddins-penned “Hello San Francisco” in 1972, the logo issuing several followup 45s as well. Jasman has released a series of DeSanto albums: Hello, San Francisco in 1984, Sugar is Salty (1993), Classic Sugar Pie (1997), A Slice of Pie (1999), and Refined Sugar in 2006.

Sugar Pie is raring to get back onstage again. “I’m doing what I was born to do,” she says. “Hey, I’ll be around. With God’s help, I can still be kicking and going. I really miss my life. It’s not a joke. I miss it. But there’s nothing I could do. I got ill, so I do what the rest do–I try to get well.” She isn’t even ruling out bringing back her climactic and quite amazing scissor-lock stage move; she would leap at the waist of an unsuspecting fan feet first in mid-song, locking her legs around the startled male like a pro wrestler.

“I’m going on 83. I’ll do it in a minute. But the doctor told me, ‘Don’t do it!’” chuckles DeSanto, who took ballet lessons as a child. “I had the surgery on my back a couple of years ago, but still, that don’t stop me. If I feel good, I’m gonna do it!”

Interviewer Bill Dahl is a lifelong Chicago resident who began writing about music professionally in 1977. He’s written for Vintage Rock, Goldmine, Living Blues, Blues Revue, Blues Music Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and the Reader, and is the author of The Art of the Blues, a 2016 book published by University of Chicago Press, and 2001’s Motown: The Golden Years (Krause Publications). Bill was awarded the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award in journalism in 2000.


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Mississippi Valley Blues Society – Davenport, IA

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society is pleased to present these upcoming shows.

Sunday, Aug. 26 6:00pm David Gerald Viking Club Moline IL $12, $10 for MVBS members, Fri., Sept. 7, 6:00pm Tas Cru on the Celebration Belle Riverboat Moline, IL (“Blues Cruise”) Cost $25, Sunday, Oct. 7, 6:00pm Orphan Jon and The Abandoned Viking Club Moline IL $12, $10 for MVBS members. www.mvbs.org

The Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

On the 10th Anniversary of the Sacramento Blues Society Hall of Fame Awards, we are proud to announce our 2018 Hall of Fame Inductees: AJ Joyce, Andy Santana, Jimmy Morello, RW Grigsby and a special posthumous Induction of Frankie Lee.

Join us for a very special two part Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Sunday, September 30, 2018 at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub, 2708 J Street, Sacramento, from 1-5 p.m. ,with special appearance by musical guest, The Daniel Castro Band.

Following the Induction Ceremony, there will be a Hall of Fame Showcase with the new Inductees and many previous Inductees at the nationally known Torch Club, 904 15t St., Sacramento, from 6-8 pm. Additional information at http://www.sacblues.com

Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society announces its upcoming IBC competitions. The Solo/Duo Challenge is September 2nd from 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205. The Winner receives $500 and represents CBS at the IBC Competition in Memphis in January, 2019. Free to members with valid cards; $5 to others.

The Band Challenge is October 7th from 6:00 – 10:00 p.m. at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205. The Winner receives $1,000 and represents CBS at the IBC Competition in Memphis in January, 2019. Free to members with valid cards; $5 to others. Remember to bring donations for Loaves and Fishes. http://www.charlottebluessociety.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 e Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.

8/27 – The Chris O’Leary Band, 9/3 – The Drifter Kings, 9/10 – Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones, 9/17/ – Laura Rain and the Caesars, 9/24 – Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Alter Boys featuring Westside Andy, 10/1 – Levee Town, 10/8 – Orphan Jon and The Abandoned, 10/15 – Jeff Jensen, 10/22 – Lindsay Beaver & The 24th St. Wailers, 10/29 – Murray Kinsley & Wicked Grin. For more information visit www.icbluesclub.org.

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

The Ninth Annual Crossroads Blues Festival at Lyran Park is Saturday, August 25th. Noon to 10 PM, gates open at 11 AM. $5 advanced tickets,$10 at the gate. Free parking. Primitive camping $20 per night, available Friday and/or Saturday http://crossroadsbluessociety.com  or http://www.crossroadsbluesfestival.com has all the info!

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Shows start at 7 pm, and are open to the public. Food and Beverages available at all Friends of the Blues shows. Aug 23 – Albert Castiglia, L’Erable IL, Tues, Sept 11 – Frank Bang & Cook County Kings, Venue TBA, Tues, Sept 25, Ivy Ford Band, Kankakee Valley Boat Club, Thur, Nov 29 – Reverend Raven & CSAB, Kankakee Valley Boat Club. More Info at: http://www.facebook.com/friendsoftheblues.

The Long Beach Blues Society – Long Beach, CA

This Labor Day weekend get ready to rumble at the New Blues Festival in Long Beach when the 6 String Showdown, the summer’s biggest guitar competition presented by Long Beach Blues Society, rolls into town. OC Regional winners Jesse Godoy and Ewen Williams face off with Arcadia’s best, Jessica Kaczmarek and Andy Vimar, on the Golden Groove Stage September 1 at 4pm to determine which two finalists will go head-to-head on the Main Stage of the New Blues Festival on September 2 at 2:30 PM, to crown Southern California’s all-around best blues guitar hero and walk off with over $5000 in cash and prizes including an Eastman guitar and more.

Tickets are available now at https://www.newbluesfestival.com/tickets/.


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