Issue 12- 6 February 8, 2018

don bryant cover image

Cover photo © 2018 Caroline Martin Photography


 In This Issue 

Bill Dahl has our feature interview with Don Bryant. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week.

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


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Blues Blast Magazine’s Early Bird Special is our lowest priced advertising of the 2018 year. It offers an affordable & effective way to get the Blues word out!

This 8-issue discount ad campaign allows you to add significant impact to your Blues advertising and promotion campaign. It is a great way for artists to solicit festival gigs or can be used to kick up the visibility of your summer Blues festival, new album release, Blues event or music product all around the globe! This is perfect for a new album release, a festival advertising campaign or any new music product.

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

muddy gurdy cd imabeMuddy Gurdy – Muddy Gurdy

VizzTone Label Group VTHW-001

www.hypnotic-wheels.com

15 songs – 62 minutes

The blues world is an interesting place – both because of the musicians who make the music and the diversity of sounds that emerge when different musical styles seemingly collide. The latter’s the case for this different and extremely interesting production, which combines some of the biggest names in North Mississippi Hill Country blues with a trio of Europeans who’ve melded French folk music with the American sound they’ve come to love.

Muddy Gurdy is composed of a trio who reinvented themselves after a successful folk career in France under the moniker of Hypnotic Wheels. The unit includes Tia Gouttebel on guitar and vocals, Marc Glomeau on percussion and Gilles Chabenat, who provides vocals in addition to playing the hurdy-gurdy, the instrument that provides half of the band’s name.

Commonly played on the Continent, but not often heard in the Western World, the hurdy-gurdy is an instrument driven by a hand crank that functions like a violin bow as turns a rosined wheel against its strings. An attached keyboard enables the musician to alter pitch to play melodies. It’s often compared to a bagpipe because of its multiple drone strings, and it was immortalized in song by Donovan in his 1968 hit, “Hurdy-Gurdy Man.”

The group produced their first blues-hurdy gurdy album as Hypnotic Wheels in 2014, and have planned this release since 2015, when Glomeau struck upon the idea of traveling to Mississippi to cement the union of musical styles that often had been compared to one another, but never fused before.

Muddy Gurdy was recorded live and on location without augmentation at homes in Como, at the Highway 61 Museum in Leland, Dockery Farms in Cleveland and Club Ebony in Indianola and includes contributions from a quartet of younger generation Hill Country stars, all of whom contribute vocals: Sharde Thomas (fife), Cedric Burnside, Cameron Kimbrough and Pat Thomas (guitars).

Produced by Chantilly Negra and recorded on an eight-microphone preamp and mixed on computer by Pierre Blanchi, the release includes tunes written by all three of the Missisippians and covers of songs penned by several legends.

“Tia In The Rocking Chair” opens the set, and is exactly as titled: 46 seconds of peace, quiet and the sound of Gouttebel rocking gently in her seat on a porch. It’s a great mood setter for R.L. Burnside’s “Goin’ Down South,” which follows. From the first notes of this one, you realize quickly that this trio understand their medium and deliver it with great feel. Chabenat’s hurdy-gurdy mimics guitar lines in a warm, haunting manner as he trades licks with Gouttebel’s guitar atop a repetitive drum pattern. Gilles and Tia share vocals, and the hurdy-gurdy adds new, deep sounds to the traditional feel.

The instrument takes on the air of a violin as Cedric takes to the mike for his uptempo original “That Girl IS Bad,” which would keep folks up and moving on any juke dance floor, driven by syncopated drum patterns and his acoustic runs on slide. He also handles vocals for dad R.L.’s “See My Jumper Hanging On The Line” and Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ And Tumblin’,” delivered much like the acoustic 1940s original, but taken to a different level because by the hurdy-gurdy sound.

Fife and drum master Otha Turner’s “Station Blues” is up next, aided by granddaughter Sharde. Her voice graces his one as well as her own “Shawty Blues,” a moving ballad about chasing a dream but being misunderstood by the older generation, and a hurdy-gurdy and fife-powered take on the traditional “Glory Glory Hallelujah,” delivered in Hill Country style.

Cameron Kimbrough’s at the mike next for a cover of his original, “Leave Her Alone,” which has a more modern feel with him on electric guitar, and a droning take on granddad Junior’s “Gonna Love You.” Pat Thomas, son of the legendary James “Son” Thomas, joins the action for his ballad “Dream” before Tia holds her own on vocals for an uptempo cover of Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “She Wolf,” Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Shake ‘Em On Down” and Charles Singleton’s “Help The Poor” before a 3-minute, 45-second outro entitled “Highway 61,” which includes sounds of crickets, traffic and a solitary singer/picker delivering “Standing At The Crossroads,” brings the disc to a close.

If you love Hill Country blues, you’ll love this hour-long CD, which is available through most major retailers. The two art forms combine seamlessly and the production will have you feeling like you’re kicking back with the musicians on a warm summer’s eve. If you prefer your tunes urban and electrified, however, this one is definitely worth a listen but might be outside your comfort zone.

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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 Music Reviewers Wanted 

Do you really know your Blues and enjoy telling others about it?

Blues Blast Magazine is looking for a few good writers to volunteer to help us out. We need reviewers who know Blues and can write a minimum of one review each week. We will provide access to downloads or physical CDs, DVDs and books for review. The writer keeps the album, book or DVD for doing the review. We get music submissions from all over the world. We publish music reviews each week so there is a steady flow of things that need to be reviewed.

These are volunteer positions that need a person who really loves the Blues and wants to spread the Blues word! Must have good writing and composition skills, good grammar and spelling!

Must be familiar with WordPress software to enter the reviews or be willing to learn. (If you are familiar with Microsoft Word, it is similar. Very easy to use!)

Experienced writers are encouraged to send samples of previous work. All Blues Blast staff started out as volunteers like this. We have kept those with dedication on as staff writers afterwards.

If you are interested, please send an email to info@bluesblastmagazine.com and tell us about your Blues background. A resume is always appreciated too.

Please be sure to include your phone number in your email reply.


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

jimmie bratcher cd imageJimmie Bratcher – This is Blues Country

Ain’t Skeert Tunes

www.jimmiebratcher.com

10 tracks

Jimmie Bratcher explores his country side with ten of his favorite country songs. For the most part he has rearranged them around their original melodies into what is very much blues songs. It’s an ambitious, interesting and fun voyage. Jim Gaines did the mix and it sounds really sweet. Bratcher is a self-proclaimed blues rocker who is not a country guy, but then he tells us in the liner notes that along with Jimi Hendrix Axis Bold as Love he played the Johnny Cash Live at Folson Prison at fourteen and his first concert was Patsy Cline’s last one. Who could argue with that musical taste?

He starts us off with Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonk Blues” and the ringing guitar and driving beat tells us this is going to be interesting. ”You Are My Sunshine” (Jimmie Davis) gets made over into a punk rockabilly sort of blues. Very odd, and very cool. Marty Robbins’ “Singing The Blues” is next. It’s a bouncy cut with a twang, a little slide and a nice guitar solo. “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” follows, a Hank Snow song. Bratcher eloquently croons and his guitar follows in step with the vocals; thoughtful and expressive stuff here! Buck Owens/Dusty Rhodes “Under Your Spell Again” is a little more upbeat and has a distinct country flavor as Bratcher again gives us a set of some nice vocals.

“Am I That Easy To Forget” is a Jim Reeves song is a country ballad that builds into a heavy blues song with big guitar and vocals to conclude the rendition. Marty Robbin’s “Don’t Worry About Me” moves from the country to what sounds more like a rockabilly ballad. A gutsy guitar lead and solo along with some nice organ fills makes this cool. Hank also gets a reprise with “My Sweet Love Ain’t Around.” Bratcher does this in an electric blues meets cowboy style, belting out the lyrics and blazing on his six string. Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens song “Today I Started Loving You” is up next. This one remains quite country with a neat telecaster-like sound and backing vocals that take us to church. Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You” gets a jazzed up make over. The organ and piano help lead us down the path with this one and then Bratcher come sin with a strident guitar solo to make some points. T’s clean and cool and interesting and the dual keys really add to this one.

Appearing on this along with Bratcher on vocals and guitar are Rick Yord on bass and vocals, Terry Hancock on drums and vocals, Aaron Mayfield on B3 and piano, Larry Van Loon on B3 and Wurlitzer, Amanda Fish on vocals and Sean McDonald on slide. These folks are tight and sound together throughout. Bratcher’s vocals are big and impressive and his guitar is tasteful and never overdone.

Ok, so we have a country album done as blues by a rocking sort of guy. It comes together and sounds really cool and makes for a very enjoyable listen. I liked this one a lot and think it’s well worth a few spins!

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 8 

michael barclay cd imageMichael Barclay – Blue Eyed Blues Vol. 2

Chatterbox Records – 2017

15 tracks; 52 minutes

www.michaelbarclaybluesband.com

Guitarist Michael Barclay is based in California and has played in the past with Chuck Berry, Randy Crawford, Norton Buffalo and Dorothy Morrison amongst others. On this release Michael played much of the music, adding keys, bass, drum programming, trumpet and trombone to his main instrument. His regular band assists on a few tracks: Gordon Wilson (guitar), Tom Van Rossem (bass), Tommy Miles (drums and sax on one cut). Two other drummers are involved, Terry Baker playing on one track and Kendrick Freeman credited for drum samples on three tracks. Michael wrote most of the material, assisted by associate producer Midge Gannon on two songs, and there are five covers.

Michael is clearly a solid guitar player, whether playing a chugging boogie like “High Desert Blues” or SRV-style licks as on opener “Shakey’s Blues”. However, his vocals are less persuasive as he attacks the songs in a strangled, gruff tone which works best on a quieter track like John Mayer’s “Gravity”, less so on the rockers though on “I Need That Needle” his anguished vocal does fit the tale of tragic waste implied by the title.

Robben Ford and Michael McDonald wrote “Nothin’ To Nobody” and the slower tune again suits Michael’s voice, as he plays some excellent guitar fills very much in Robben’s style. Michael’s version of Rufus Thomas’ novelty song “Walking The Dog” adds little to the song’s extensive discography but Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s “Roberta” bounces along well. Michael’s own tunes cover themes from love gone wrong (“You Always Remember Your First Broken Heart”) to attraction (“High Heels Again”). However, one of the problems with drum programming is that the rhythm can sound laboured and there are a few examples of that here, such as the cover of King Harvest’s “Dancing In The Moonlight” (a pop hit for Toploader around the Millennium). For this reviewer the instrumental “Southbound” (on which Michael’s band are all present) is the strongest cut here with its twin guitar lead, funky rhythm and hints of Louisiana with sax added to Michael’s horns.

As always, it is good to see musicians writing their own material but, for this reviewer, this release is very much a mixed bag.

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 Review – 4 of 8 

lee roy parnell cd imageLee Roy Parnell – Midnight Believer

Vector Recordings

leroyparnell.com

10 tracks

Lee Roy Parnell is a long standing, award winning country music star who hails from Abilene, Texas. He’s been performing publicly since he was 6 and is noted for his slide guitar work. He grew up on a ranch which infleunces his outlook on life and joined Kinky Friedman’s Texas Jewboys in his late teens. His bio is filled with all sorts of firsts and accolades; he’s a polished and certified star who is loaded with talent.

Parnell is on vocals and guitars throughout and Etta Britt and Greg Barnhill do backing vocals. On tracks 1, 4, 7 and 10 are Tom Bukovac on guitar, Kevin McKendree on keys, Steve Mackey on bass, and Lynn Williams on drums. The other six tracks feature Rob McNelley on guitars, Mike Rojas on keys and accordion, Greg Barnhill on bass and Chad Cromwell on drums. The guitar work and keys throughout are well done and the backlines are solid. Parnell’s vocals are more country and rock than anything and the song flavors really don’t venture munch into the blues but the album is still well done rootsy Texas music by this long-time singer, songwriter and guitar player.

“Hours In Between” gets things moving. It’s a soulful rocker with a nice guitar solo. “Midnight Believer” is a down tempo ballad cut, a little bluesy, more country and rock. Another nice guitar solo is featured. “Pontchartrain” is a Cajun country piece, down tempo and I guess masquerading as slow blues. “Too Far Gone” opens with some interesting guitar and backing organ. It then becomes another slow rock song with a country flair. That’s not bad in and of itself, but this is a blues magazine. Very soulful and sultry in the approach, the song is well done. “Sunny Days” continues the thread of slow, woeful cuts with vocals and guitar that pull at one’s emotional strings. The Fairfield Four do backing vocals, giving things a Gospel feel as they join in.

The second half of the album begins with “Want Whatcha Have,” a mid to up tempo rocker with an interesting groove. “Hair Of The Dog” has a driving beat and a stinging guitar lead and solo. It’s a really good rock cut. “Going Uptown” is a Southern rocker with lots of fuzzy guitar, cool keyboard work and backing vocals. The next cut is very country; “Tied Up And Tangled” slips and slides like s lazy river flowing. Big guitar here, too. The album concludes with “Some Time Ago,” a slow country ballad. Another cut with lyrics of woe with an interesting guitar solo and work.

It’s a really good country rock album. Why it was submitted here for review does not really compute. It’s not blues, does not try to be blues and does not contain any blues. It seems like about half of what comes in for review any more is not blues. Parnell is a great guitar player and has a persona that really comes out in his recordings and live performances. If that’s your cup of tea, this will be something for you to pick up. But it’s not a blues album.

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 – 5 of 8 

mo al jaz and friends cd imageMo Al Jaz and Friends – The Blues of Little Walter

Self-Produced/Chest Recording Corp.

www.moaljaz.com

CD: 12 Songs, 32:43 Minutes

Styles: Tribute Album, Blues Covers

“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted. Heat was in the very sod that the saint had printed.” These lines, from “Good King Wenceslas,” describe how the footsteps of a true and forthright mentor are worth following. They inspire, giving heat and vigor in the midst of life’s cold cruelty. Marion Walter Jacobs, known as Little Walter, may not have been a paragon of virtue, but he was a saint of the blues. Who has trod in the master’s prints this time? France’s Mo Al Jaz, who has been compared to “the Charles Aznavour of the blues when he sings.” One can definitely discern his accent on songs such as “Aw’h Baby” and “Blues with a Feeling.” On others, Mo sounds as American as his idol. This CD includes an even dozen of Little Walter’s covers, although some, like “My Babe” and “I’ve Had My Fun,” were originally written by others. As a tribute album, The Blues of Little Walter is as très bien as they come, mostly because of Al Jaz’s terrific harmonica. However, will blues fans want it in their library if they already have Little Walter’s hits? Those who strive for completion certainly will, as shall those who love performers with a ton of vocal charisma. One can clearly hear Mo’s panache.

According to his website’s brief blurb, Al Jaz is a veteran harp player with several albums to his credit, who has idolized Little Walter since he began to play blues. He recorded this release with guitarists Dexter Shaw and David Imir, Francesca Shaw on bass, and Robert Pokorny on drums.

His little corner of Rhythm Bomb Records’ page adds, “His project had the blessing of Little Walter’s daughter Marion Jacobs Diaz and got Mo and his partners in crime a slot at the prestigious Cognac blues festivals in France, an invitation to perform a Little Walter’s Birthday Bash at Buddy Guy’s club Legends in Chicago and many rare reviews and “thumbs up” on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.”

The following instrumental is an ear-opener for sure, as it is the opener of the CD itself.

Track 01: “Off the Wall” – YOW! Tunes like this one put blues artists on the map, full of a fire so intense it might as well be called an inferno. Catchy and danceable, it’s one of Little Walter and Al Jaz’ trademarks. Dexter Shaw and David Imir’s guitar fretwork fans the flames.

Mo Al Jaz strives for excellence, and achieves it, as he performs The Blues of Little Walter!

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 

lightnin rod cd imageLightnin’ Rod & The Thunderbolts – Delta Time

self release

www.lightnin-rod.com

10 songs time-33:54

The posturing of this Kentucky based band calling it self a blues band and writing about the blues as opposed to actually playing blues reminds me of a spoken line from an old Bonzo Dog Band song-“When will my laundry be done?” “In three days”. “But the sign says one day service”. “That’s just the name of the shop”. Rod and company write songs about the blues and include some bluesy guitar playing, but they are hardly a blues band. It seems they think if they reference blues cities and include harmonica in their songs that makes them authentic. The lyrics tend to be mundane and at times down right corny. Rod’s melodic electric guitar skills are a high point of this recording. His voice comes off sounding matter-of-fact. Things would have worked better if they just concentrated on the singer-song writer aspect and left off the blues posturing.

The title track name drops cities associated with the blues, but the song is about the blues and not a blues song. At times like in “Addicted To Something” Rod shows that he is a more than capable guitarist. But the songs don’t approach the same quality. They borrow the riff from “Framed” for “What I Done Forgot”, a song that showcases some tasty electric slide guitar. Once again “Low Down Funky Blues” is about the blues. Town name dropping to try to sound authentic.

Huh? Rod uses a bit of a strange inflection in his voice on “What Was I Thinking”. “Broken Wing (for Jimi)” is a subdued instrumental invoking the mellower side of Hendrix. It’s a pleasant enough tune. “Life Of A Bluesman” is something a tourist might accept as blues. It’s a shame because Rod plays nice guitar on this song.

This guy can surely play some great guitar, but to achieve any recognition the band needs more soundly structured songs with more creative lyrics. They would be better off writing about what they know. There is talent here, but it sounds misdirected to my ears.

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



 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

fillmore slim book imageO.G Filmore Slim – Blues Man Mack

How I Conquered The Stage And The Streets

With Shoestring Sue

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

www.fillmoreslimmusic.com

489 pages

It certainly has been an interesting life for Clarence Sims, aka Fillmore Slim. Born In Baton Rouge in 1934, Slim lead a normal childhood. His father worked for the L&A Railroad while his mother was employed at a local bank. Catching Guitar Slim at the famous Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans, Slim knew he wanted to be an entertainer so that he could enjoy the flashy clothes, adoring women, and Cadillac cars. Eventually he migrates to San Francisco to live with his sister. He and his friends get busted for auto theft, leading to a stint in a juvenile detention center. Alternating between Los Angeles and San Francisco, he starts singing in clubs and working with a variety of bands and artists, playing some rudimentary piano at times. A trip to Alaska leads to a meeting with T-Bone Walker, who gives Slim some valuable lessons on playing guitar. His first record “You Got The Nerve Of A Brass Monkey,” is released in 1957 on the DooTo label, generating solid interest. While visiting a park with his sister, Slim meets Etta James and Sugar Pie DeSantoB.B. King. Slim becomes Etta’s first boyfriend, cementing their life-long friendship. He even open shows for B.B. King and Dinah Washington.

Then his life gets turned upside down. At a tour stop in Midland, TX, the singer attracts the attention of a woman who happens to be a hooker. She begins to teach Slim about being a pimp, which he soon realized could be a faster way to achieve his goals. The pair head back to San Francisco, where Slim begins recruiting women for his new business enterprise. The book devotes several chapters to how to treat the women working for you, the rules of the game, dealing with the police, and proper etiquette for dealing with other pimps involved in the sporting life. Slim goes into some of the finer points on these subject matters, but when it comes to his woman not meeting expectations, his comment is simply you deal with it, leaving out any details as to how to take corrective action, although later in his narrative he does advocate turning a woman loose if she is disrupting things with the rest of your working girls, no matter how good of an “earner” she might be. Being a pimp is all about the money, so you don’t tolerate anybody who interferes with the flow of cash.

For two decades, Fillmore Slim built his business and achieved his goals of a flashy existence, adoring women, and a Cadillac car. His career as a musician was on hold. In 1979, he went to prison for a five year stretch for a passport violation. He used the time to improve his musical skills. Released early for good behavior, Slim had trouble fitting back in to society. But he soon struck up a friendship with Troyce Key, the owner of Eli’s Mile High club, who also played guitar and keyboards. With Key’s support, Slim revived his career, playing club dates that lead to a full CD release in 1987 on the Mile High label, Born To Sing The Blues. Leaving his pimping days behind, the guitarist focused on his music, releasing six albums in two decades. But a 1999 documentary film, American Pimp, put Fillmore Slim in the spotlight one more time. Time after time, Slim credits the movie for making him famous around the world. No matter where he goes, people always recognize the West Coast Godfather of Pimps.

In the final chapter, co-author “Shoestring” Sue explains that she tried to capture the sound and texture of Slim’s speech pattern while transcribing their lengthy sessions. The book is written in a stream-of-conscious style, with the Godfather bouncing between topics, story to story, as he narrates his life journey. Sue writes words as Slim pronounces them, not as they are spelled, so for example, “with” appears as “wit” throughout the biography. The book is also in need of some serious editing. On page 191, Louis Jordan’s band is listed as the “Tanforan” Five, not the Tympany Five. On Page 198, Slim refers to a festival in New Orleans as the Ponderosa “Star,” which is actually the long-running Ponderosa Stomp. Jim Pugh, mentioned as playing organ on a session on Page 388, somehow becomes “Frank” Pugh on the following page. Some points are covered repeatedly throughout the book, so a good edit would probably have trimmed at lest 50-70 pages without diminishing the book’s impact.

A cultural icon praised by rappers and hip hop artists, plus a down-home blues man who continues to make appearances at clubs and festivals, Clarence “Fillmore Slim” Sims has lived the high life, traveling across America and the world as a pimp and a blues singer. He clearly relishes the high points he experienced, and accepts the low points, like the prison term, as part of bargain you make with yourself when choosing to be a pimp. He celebrates his accomplishments without a hint of remorse or regret, giving this book a refreshing level of honesty that makes it a worthwhile read.

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


 


 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

howlin at greeseland cd imageVarious Artists – Howlin’ at Greaseland

West Tone Records

www.facebook.com/Greaseland

14 tracks / 45:46

Though his name was Chester Arthur Burnett when he was born in Mississippi early in the last century, blues fans know him as Howlin’ Wolf – one of the most influential of the Chicago bluesman. He recorded many songs that are now considered classics, and he was a savvy businessman who could afford to surround himself with only the best musicians. Wolf passed away over 40 years ago but his work is still popular and relevant, as evidenced by the new tribute album, Howlin’ at Greaseland.

Kid Andersen is the king of Greaseland Studios, and if you are a west coast blues artist, his San Jose, California studio is the number one facility to make your music the best it can be. Andersen is the longtime guitarist for Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, and this experience as a working musician gives him special insight as a producer and engineer – he really knows all sides of the business, and has the technical knowledge to make an artist’s dreams a reality.

Howlin’ at Greaseland includes ten of Wolf’s classic songs that are fronted by some fabulous California and Chicago cats, including Alabama Mike, John “Blues” Boyd, Terry Hanck, Tail Dragger Jones (who got his nickname from Wolf), Henry Gray (Wolf’s piano man), and Lee Donald. There are actually 14 tracks, but four of them are studio narratives from the artists that serve to both educate and entertain the listener. The set kicks off with Alabama Mike’s take on “Meet Me in the Bottom,” and his edgy vocals are accompanied by Anderson on guitar and Rick Estrin on the harmonica. Apparently the all-star cast goes deeper than just the singers!

John “Blues” Boyd is featured on a trio of tracks, including a sweet rendition of “Spoonful,” “Riding in the Moonlight,” and the ever-popular “Smokestack Lightnin’.” Boyd’s voice is weathered and perfect for these songs, and Estrin’s leads are killer as the backline of Joe Kyle Jr. and Derrick Martin hold down the bottom end. The latter song includes some righteous howling from John, which really makes the tune complete.

Terry Hanck tells a hilarious story about a time in the 1960s when his dad hired Wolf for a shopping mall gig, and then grabs the reigns for a hopping take on “Howlin’ for My Darling.” Hanck takes care of the vocals and sax for this track, which features the guitar of Johnny Cat (best nickname ever) and the honky-tonk piano of the Grammy-winning Jim Pugh.

Tail Dragger recounts how he got his nickname from Howlin’ Wolf, and on this disc his vocal style comes closest to how Wolf delivered his music. He knocks down “I’m Leaving You” and “Don’t Trust no Woman” with Johnny Burgin on guitar and the amazing Aki Kumar the harmonica. Lee Donald also fronts one song, and “Forty Four” is a throwback piece with heavy drum work from June Core and vocals that are heartfelt and powerful.

These songs are all outstanding, but getting to hear Henry sing and play his piano is really special. “Worried Life Blues” and “Little Red Rooster” should be required listening for any young folks who are thinking of playing the blues. This guy is on the other side of 90 and is still bringing his “A” game to the table; he is truly a treasure of American music.

Howlin’ at Greaseland is a solid tribute to one of blues music’s greats, and it is delivered in a well-recorded and slickly produced package. Though there is a different line-up for each track, they all have a consistent sound and work very well as a whole, Any fan of Howlin’ Wolf or the classic blues styles will find nothing to gripe about here. Give it a listen for yourself, and see what you think!

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


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 Featured Interview – Don Bryant 

don bryant photo 1Soul stardom is sweeter the second time around.

Just ask Don Bryant. The veteran Memphis singer’s Fat Possum CD Don’t Give Up On Love may well have been 2017’s finest soul-blues release, boasting skin-tight backing by the Bo-Keys that came about as close as humanly possible to recapturing the sound of Hi Rhythm, the nonpareil band that backed Bryant during the ‘60s when Willie Mitchell was his producer and nurturing mentor at Hi Records (Howard “Bulldog” Grimes held down the drum chair in both bands). Bo-Keys bassist Scott Bomar and Bruce Watson produced Bryant’s stellar comeback album with an eye to reconstituting that classic Hi sound (Charles Hodges, another Hi Rhythm mainstay, came in on organ) while retaining a contemporary edge, succeeding marvelously on both fronts. The disc earned Bryant five Blues Music Award nominations, including Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year.

Bomar and Grimes were the catalysts that returned Bryant to the secular arena after the former R&B singer spent many years in the gospel field. “Howard was very instrumental in talking to Scott and getting into, ‘Man, you need to get Don!’” says Bryant. “Scott talked to me about it, but I wasn’t really that interested in it. And he finally asked me if I would do some live shows with him. And then I decided that I was going to do it. So I started doing the live shows with him, and he got more and more into me recording an album. I didn’t know whether or not it was there or not. But I decided I was going to try it and see, if they were that interested in doing it. And I’m glad I did.

“When we got together and started working those songs up, it felt like the good old days. It felt that way. The groove felt good. When I decided to do it, I just told Scott, ‘Hey, man, I don’t know whether it is or not. I don’t know whether I’ve got it or not, whether I had it or I still got it, or what. I don’t know. But I’m willing to come in and try, and whatever y’all think.’”

Bryant and Bomar proved a formidable songwriting team, collaborating on three of the set’s standout tracks. “Once I had made up my mind that I wanted to do it, I think that the writing thing just popped back out on me,” says Bryant. “I’d been writing tunes all the time. I’d write some gospel things. I did a couple of gospel albums, and I was still writing. I still had that feeling to write, because once I switched over from trying to be the artist to being the writer, that’s the road I was traveling. And I was enjoying that. It never went away.

“Just walking down the street looking up and you hear somebody talking, songs would be coming in. A lot of times, I wouldn’t take it no further than what I was doing at that time, and hum something down and keep on going about my business. But it let me know that hey—it’s still there. If I put myself to it, it’s still there. So Scott said, ‘Don, we’re going to have to write some things too, man!’ So I guess that triggered it, man. And once one got started, hey, that just opened up the door. It took me back into that mode of writing again.”

“What Kind Of Love” was conceived by the pair from the ground up. “It definitely was just written as a groove that was going on, that brought it on,” says Bryant. “Once I hit a title, that opens up a whole lot of things. There’s a whole lot of different ways to attack it. And that’s what I have enjoyed so much about writing songs. You can say the same thing in so many different ways. You don’t know who’s going to accept it as a part of their life or their thoughts.” When they collaborated on the BMA-nominated title track, Bryant had his wife, soul legend Ann Peebles, in mind. “Love is a many-splendored thing,” he says. “And I’ve got mine, and I know what it is. I know. We’ve been together 45 years. So I know—the ups and downs, the sideways, and all of that. If you’ve got that love and just hang on to it, it’ll work. And that’s kind of the way I write. I see situations and try to put them to music.”

Along with the fresh material, Don’t Give Up On Love revisits some themes from Bryant’s past, including a rip-roaring “I Got To Know” that he wrote for the “5” Royales back in 1960. “Willie was recording them at Home of the Blues Records when he did that,” says Don. “I was singing with Willie then. And he would let me know if he had different ones that he would have coming in to record. He said, ‘Don, could you come up with something for me? I’ve got the “5” Royales coming in!’

“I was very familiar with them, because I liked the way they sounded. And I had a group of my own, and we did some of their things and harmonized some of their stuff. That groove that was going on then was the same groove my group was singing, so once I got off into it, little things were going on. You might have a new love, a new love affair going on, a breakup or something like that. Everybody had those things. So I put all those things together, and that’s what came out.”

don bryant photo 2“It Was Jealousy,” another of the new set’s standouts, was movingly delivered by Otis Clay during the Hi days, but that’s not who Bryant brainstormed it for. “I wrote it for Ann. Ann did that first,” says Don. “Over there at Hi, she was always needing material. I don’t know whether it was a section of my life, or something that I’d gone through, or something I saw one of my friends actually experience. But jealousy was a pretty strong thing in those days. Once I got off into writing the song, it could apply to me because I know I was jealous about a lot of things in those days.”

Don first cut the self-penned “Can’t Hide The Hurt” himself for Hi in 1967 and revisited it for the new CD. While he didn’t write the surging “A Nickel And A Nail,” the 1971 O.V. Wright hit was waxed under Mitchell’s supervision at Royal Studios, where Poppa Willie made his magic happen daily, and underwent a faithful revival to lead off Bryant’s CD. “The majority of the time that I got to see (O.V.) or meet him was around the studio,” Don says. “In between recordings, he would come out and be around and talking. But I didn’t get to know him real well. But I enjoyed the way he approached music, that voice he had and that attitude he had when he sang.”

The strong acclaim for Don’t Give Up On Love sent Bryant back out on tour, this time with the Bo-Keys. “It is the first time I’ve done it without Willie,” says Bryant. “Sometimes before you go out on the stage, you have butterflies: ‘Am I gonna do it right? Am I gonna sound right?’ But at the last minute, all you can do is do what you do. And that’s what I would wind up doing. And the people, they made me do it a little harder when they accepted it.”

Born in Memphis, Bryant hails from a staunch gospel background—his father, Eddie Bryant, led a sanctified vocal group, the Four Stars of Harmony. “They used to rehearse at the house. We used to go with Dad sometimes when he’d rehearse at their house,” says Bryant. “I guess that’s when the bug bit me, at a very young age—10, 11, 12 years old, I started singing songs in church. That was my beginning.” The next generation followed in their footsteps, forming the Five Bryant Brothers. Before long, Don was doowopping while attending Booker T. Washington High School. His first secular group was the Quails before he joined the Four Canes, managed by WLOK deejay Dick “Cane” Cole.

“Once we got with him and started singing with him, he had a radio show that came on every morning,” says Don. “We would go in the night before and put down four or five songs, three or four songs. And on your way to school in the morning, on the radio, before you went to school, he would play those songs every morning. So that had a big bearing on getting the people in the city to know about us, especially the kids.” The Canes eventually broke with Cole and renamed themselves the Four Kings. Their big break came when they crossed paths with Mitchell, then blowing his trumpet as he led his own sizzling R&B combo at a club in West Memphis, complete with a vocal group, the Four Dukes.

“The group that Willie had, something happened to them and they broke up and they went different ways,” says Bryant. “Willie had this job at the club, and he needed a group to sing with him. Some friends of his heard about us, and they introduced us to him to try us out and see what he thought about us. We went and auditioned for him, and he said, ‘Okay, I’ll let y’all give it a try.’ And that’s how it began.” Bryant wrote and fronted both sides of the Four Kings’ 1959 debut single for the local Stomper Time logo, pairing “Tell It To Me Baby” and “Walking At Your Will” (bandleader Mitchell was top-billed). The Four Kings performed nightly with Poppa Willie’s combo around town, and when Mitchell moved over to Hi Records they came along too, waxing a pair of 1963-64 45s for Hi’s M.O.C. subsidiary. But Bryant wasn’t fated to stay with the group much longer. With Mitchell his mentor, he went out on his own.

“My group, eventually they all went different ways,” says Bryant. “Something happened at the club that we were working, and some of the fellows couldn’t get along with each other. So I asked him, would he allow me to try to do this on my own, solo. And he accepted it. He allowed me to do it, and that was the beginning of my solo career.” Bryant was featured vocalist with Mitchell’s combo and signed as a solo with Hi, debuting in 1965 with a revival of Chris Kenner’s New Orleans classic “I Like It Like That.”

Although Bryant recorded his share of fine originals for Hi (“Don’t Turn Your Back On Me,” “I’ll Do The Rest,” the dance workout “Doing The Mustang,” and “It’s So Lonely Being Me,” all self-penned, were terrific Southern soul), he also cut an uncommonly high percentage of remakes for Mitchell as well as a pair of Jr. Walker-styled originals, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and “That Driving Beat,” that came out under Mitchell’s name in 1965. Precious Soul, his only album for the label in 1969, consisted entirely of covers, Bryant tackling well-known hits from the catalogs of Tyrone Davis, Sam & Dave, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, and Marvin Gaye.

“Willie, he thought maybe some of these covers would be the thing for me to catch on and boost the popularity of me. Because all of these things were good records, and they were songs that we would be doing in the clubs. So when he suggested it, yeah, I jumped at it, because they were songs that I enjoyed doing in the nightclubs when I first started. Hey, maybe they could catch on for me,” he says. “I used to sing all the different artists. I tried to imitate them—Johnny Mathis. I just enjoyed different artists and the different styles they had, and I would always try to imitate the different styles. I made my voice try to sound kind of like they sound. That was a challenge, but I didn’t give up on it until I was at least able to sing at least one of their songs.”

don bryant photo 3Bryant wound down his recording career at the end of the ‘60s to concentrate on songwriting. Mitchell had set his sights on making one of his new signings a star: Don’s future wife, Ann Peebles. “She was presented to Willie by one of the top bandleaders at the time, Gene ‘Bowlegs’ Miller,” remembers Bryant. “She came down from St. Louis with her brother. He came down to visit a friend. And the night she was here, they went out to one of the clubs that ‘Bowlegs’ Miller was playing, his band was playing. Her brother went up and asked him if his sister could come up and do a song with him. And strangely enough, he accepted it. And she got up there and tore the house down.

“I wasn’t there at the time, but I was told she wore the house out. The very next day, ‘Bowlegs’ Miller had her at the studio for Willie Mitchell to listen to, and that’s how all of that got started. Once that got started, it just exploded. And at the time, I think I was the only vocalist there when she came in. When she exploded, that was it. It seemed like, ‘Don, you sit right here and we’ll get back to you in a minute.’ One of those kind of things. But at the time, it kind of got me a little upset about it, because I was trying to get me a hit record. But once it got started, it made me realize that they knew what they were doing. That’s when I started leaning towards writing songs. I didn’t stop singing, but I was getting a little more involved into writing songs then.” Was it love at first sight? “Not really, because I was upset about her taking my spot!” he laughs. “It was just one of those things that we were around each other so much and we were doing the same things. Everybody was admiring her, including me. Hey, things just happened!”

Bryant wrote “99 Lbs.” for Peebles in 1971. “That’s what everybody was calling her—99 pounds of soul!” he says. “I said, ‘She needs a signature song of her own about her!’ The pair conceived her biggest seller, the spine-chilling 1973 smash “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” along with disc jockey Bernard Miller. “Just a title popped out there: ‘I can’t stand that rain!’ Somebody in the house said, ‘Hey, that’s a good title for a song!’” he says. “We were supposed to go to a show that night. I think it was Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. And they were all gathered at the house and we were going to the show. When it started raining, we knew we were not going to be able to make it to that show. And that’s how the comment came of, ‘Oh, I can’t stand this rain!’ Everybody was peeping out the window, and it was pouring down. Instead of being sad about it, somebody said, ‘Hey, that sounds like a title for a song!’

“I believe we finished that song that night, or the next day. And we took it to Willie, and he accepted it right away. And he had such an imagination too–little things that happened with that song, the timbales and all those things, his imagination went wild, and that’s how it was created.”

With Al Green, Otis Clay, and Syl Johnson joining Peebles at the top of Hi’s talent roster during the ‘70s, Bryant concentrated on songwriting with his wife. “We would just hum things down and put it down on tape. Once we’d get it down on tape the way we wanted to sing it, then we introduced it to maybe a keyboard player. I was playing chords. I had the melody and everything together when we presented it. Willie took it from there,” says Bryant. “That was the happy time of the writing career, when you had all these different artists coming in needing material. And you studied their sound and the way they phrased, and you tried to do the phrases like they do, and come up with ideas for songs that they could really understand and really get off into.”

When Hi folded, Bryant moved over to gospel. “I don’t really remember how that happened or when it happened, but I didn’t have an outlet for songs, and things were kind of falling away. I don’t know how it happened or why it happened, but I needed to get some spiritual knowledge,” he says. “I started writing songs about how I felt and what I could see and what I could feel and hear. That’s the only way I could do them. And I thought they sounded pretty good, and I just started putting them down and writing them. As they came, I would go and put them down in the hopes somebody might want it, but I didn’t know any of the gospel artists out there that was doing the type of things that I was doing, so a lot of times they would just sit. So I just started putting them down myself, and doing an album on my own.’

Bryant wasn’t entirely removed from secular pursuits. He turned up as his wife’s duet partner on her 1981 Hi farewell, “Mon Belle – Amour,” and was involved in Ann’s pair of ‘90s albums for Bullseye Blues, Full Time Love and Fill This World With Love, producing the latter as well as singing on one track. A 2012 stroke ended Peebles’ singing career, but Bryant is carrying on the soul tradition for both of them. “I still love her as much or even more,” he says.

And as far as the future? “I want to take it—I don’t have no point of where or how long,” he says. “As long as I’m allowed to do it and be successful with it, I guess when the time comes that I’m not, I’ll know it.”

Check out Don’s Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/DonBryantMusic

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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The Great Northern Blues Society – Wausau, WI

The Great Northern Blues Society of Wausau, WI (GNBS) is Proud to announce the lineup for our 19th Annual Blues Café fundraiser to be held at the Historically Registered Rothschild Pavilion (near Wausau, WI) on 3/10/18.

The stellar Lineup will include Big N’ Tasty Blues Band, The Norman Jackson Band, Southern Avenue, Victor Wainwright & the Train, and The Jeremiah Johnson Band. Cathy Grier will be playing acoustic sets near the fireplace between main stage acts. Doors open at noon, and Music will start at 1:00PM and continue non-stop until 11:00PM. Chairs, Food, and Cold Beverages will be available on-site. Special Hotel Rates available at the nearby Stoney Creek Inn utilizing the Code: “BLUES Cafe”. Limited supply of rooms available so make your reservation now.

Please come, sit by the huge stone fireplace, with a beverage of choice in hand, and join us for 10 hours of non-stop glorious Blues Music on 3/10/18. Artist Biographies, directions, and Tickets are available on our Website at –www.gnbs.org.

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

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

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

Contact Steve Jones at sub_insignia@yahoo.com for more info on any of these events or go to http://crossroadsbluessociety.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

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: 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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