Cover photo © 2019 Joseph A. Rosen.
In This Issue
Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Bruce Katz. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Rosie Flores, Purple Bluze, Lindsay Beaver, Robert Connely Farr, Khalif “Wailin’” Walter and The Fleurieu Bluesbreakers.
We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
2019 Blues Blast Music Award Artist Submissions Now Open
The 2019 Blues Blast Music Award submissions are now open. There are 12 categories. Eligibility dates and all submission details are at: www.bluesblastmagazine.com/bbma-submission-information
Submissions remain open until April 15th. Nominees are announced in June. Voting begins in July.
SAVE THE DATE – September 13, 2019 for the Blues Blast Music Awards at Tebala Event Center in Rockford, IL. More details of the 2019 BBMAs coming soon!
Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6
Rosie Flores – Simple Case Of The Blues
Last Music Company LMCD206
11 songs – 42 minutes
Rosie Flores has been a cult hero in the Austin and Los Angeles music scenes since the ’70s, and she proves she’s a blues artist of the first order with this release after having spent the majority of her career making a name for herself in other disciplines.
A native of San Antonio, she’s a powerful, warm alto with guitar skills that also rank among the best in the Lone Star State. She fell in love with the blues in high school, but has been when she terms “a musical chameleon” for the past 40 years, beginning as a punk rocker with country twang in Rosie & The Screamers and the Screaming Sirens before evolving into Bakersfield style alt country in 1987 with the release of her first, self-titled album and then successfully venturing into honky tonk, rockabilly, rock and even jazz.
One of the featured performers at a tribute to Chuck Berry at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, she was once ranked among the top 75 female guitarists of all time in a Venus Zine magazine response to a Rolling Stone article compiling the 100 best males.
This album came about after Flores spent time sitting in with country artists Dave Roe and Kenny Vaughan at 12 South Tap Room in Nashville. They had so much fun that they insisted they record together. The resulting disc swings from the jump as it mixes blues with a heavy dose of R&B and more.
Flores and Vaughan share lead guitar duties with Roe holding down upright and electric bass. They’re joined by Charlie Sexton, who co-produced, on rhythm guitar and percussion, T. Jarrod Bonta and Michael Flanigin on keyboards and Jimmy Lester on drums. And they’re augmented by Cindy Cashdollar on lap steel with a horn section composed of Greg Williams (sax), Kevin Flatt (trumpet) and Paul Deemer (trombone). Robert Kraft, Sheree Smith, Michael Hale and Ange Kogutz provide backing vocals.
Recorded at Seven Deadly Sins Studio in Coodlettsville, Tenn., and Arlan Studios in Austin, the album opens with a smoking take on Roy Brown’s “Love Don’t Love Nobody.” Flores and Vaughan trade stellar single-note guitar runs before giving way to “Mercy Fell Like Rain,” a ballad with spiritual overtones.
Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller’s “I Want To Do More,” once a hit for Ruth Brown, is a stop-time pleaser that maintains its ‘50s feel before Rosie launches into her self-penned title track, “Simple Case Of The Blues,” which puts a new spin on yearning for a lost love. Another original, “Drive Drive Drive,” features tasty runs from an uncredited harp player as Flores delivers a loping paean to the open road.
Next up, she dips into the catalog of Wynona Carr for the uptempo, horn-driven, “Till The Well Runs Dry,” which pleads for an ex-lover to give it one more try even though she knows she was the cause of the breakup. The theme continues with Dwight Yoakum’s two-step ballad, “If There Was A Way,” which gives Rosie space to stretch out vocally, before the jump-time pleaser, “That’s What You Gotta Do,” a tune first recorded by jazz vocalist Ella Johnson in 1956.
“Empty Hands,” penned by Roe, follows. It’s a smoky ballad in which the singer’s totally confused because she’s both strongly attracted and wary of a man she adores. “Teenage Rampage,” a dazzling original stop-time instrumental, and a reinvented take of Wilson Pickett’s familiar “If You Need Me” bring the disc to a close.
If your ear runs to old-school blues and R&B or if you love the sound of Texas-style guitar, you’ll love this one. Every cut’s a winner!
Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.
Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6
Purple Bluze – Without Any Doubt
9 tracks / 46:48
Purple Bluze is a trio out of Graz, Austria, and its members include Harald Federer on guitars and vocals, Christian Seiner on bass, and Christian Pischel behind the drum kit. The band describes their genre as Blues/Rock/Funk, and their influences as Keith Urban, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Free, and John Mayer. The listener will catch all of this, along with a little country, jazz, and a touch of the Velvet Underground. This group of artists really stretches themselves musically, and the band sure tries to work these styles into their music.
Without Any Doubt is the third disc from Purple Bluze, and all nine of its songs were written by Federer, who also took on the producer and engineering roles for this project. Mixing was handled by Michael Scheiden at imikemix.com and this disc was mastered by Ludwig Maier at GKG Mastering. Purple Bluz might work as a trio, but the listener will find five other guest artists that sat in on various tracks to fulfill Federer’s vision for what this album could be.
Their 45-minute set kicks off with “There’s an Alien in My Café,” a funky blues rocker with a heavy backbeat, a hint of country, and gnarly bass work from Seiner. Federer’s vocals are pure Lou Reed and guest artist Juliana Primas-Schaider provides backing vocals (as she does on most of the tracks). As you might be wondering, the songs are in English and there is no accent to the vocals, though some of the pronunciations are unconventional and the song titles can be challenging. Though Federer did an admirable job with the guitar solo on the opener, he turns these duties over to Edi Fenzl for the next track, “Without Any Doubt.”This is greasy roadhouse blues with a modern feel, and Fenzl’s solo is smooth and tasty, like a frozen custard from Culver’s!
Enzo Sutera take the guitar solo on “Let it Hail,” a sweet piece of yacht rock with a catchy chorus. Then there is “To Relume My World,” which sent me right to the dictionary since I had not run into the word “relume” during my 23 years of formal education. It turns out that this means “relight or rekindle” which is pretty cool when you put it in context. This jazz-influenced song features Jan Federer on drums, Klemens Pliem on saxophone, and Francis Key Scheidl on the piano. Even though it is really laid back, this song rocks in its own way, and it is one of the standout tracks on the album.
Another of the big winners from this disc is “Sorry About Your Headache,” a nearly ten-minute blues jam with melodic guitar leads that are straight out of the Gary Moore playbook. This somber blues rocker features lovely electric piano from Scheidl, and it is a well-crafted tune that has a lovely build of suspense throughout. Then there are a few tracks that are kind of way out there, such as “To Cast Prudence to the Wind,” which includes samples of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” vocals. Thiscan be seen as sacrilegious or brilliant, and either way it does make one wonder if Federer got the blessing from Hooker’s estate before including it in the mix. And finally, the closer, “Funky Stuff,” lives up to its name with wah pedal-soaked guitar, fat bass lines, and sweet keyboard work.
This is an interesting project, and one thing is for sure, Without Any Doubt is a musical adventure and the members of Purple Bluze have proven that they are not afraid to experiment and innovate. Regardless of how you want to categorize their music, it is certainly a fun listen. Be sure to check out their website to hear some of their music; maybe it will be just what you are looking for!
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6
Lindsay Beaver – Tough as Love
12 songs, 38 minutes
Born to a working-class family Halifax, the provincial capital of Nova Scotia, Lindsay Beaver was bitten by the music bug at an early age. Her parents’ love of soul music was her entry as an 11-year-old, and soon her interests expanded to include hip hop, blues and jazz, and Jimi Hendrix, which inspired her to take up the guitar. By the age of 17, she had discovered Billie Holiday, which prompted her to begin voice training as a classical soprano. “Her voice had more soul and emotional depth than any singer I had ever heard,” said Beaver, adding “Billie led me to lots of other jazz, and jazz led me to blues.”
By the age of 19, Beaver decided that being a musician was to be her destiny, and formed her own band. Unable to find either a singer or a drummer she liked spurred her to do undertake both duties herself. She went on to study jazz drumming in Toronto, and eventually started the 24th Street Wailers, going on to produce 5 albums under that name, self-producing three of them. In 2011, their first full-length release, Dirty Little Young’uns, gave them entré to better gigs and festival stages, numerous awards, and recognition far beyond their home base. I first heard of them a couple years back, when my friend Dennis Gruenling played them on the weekly radio show he was hosting on WFDU. This was raucous, up-tempo, good-time music, and I was immediately hooked!
At the urging of Jimmie Vaughan, who’d heard her leading the 24th Street Wailers, Beaver recently relocated to Austin, TX, recording Tough As Love, her first release under her own name. It features 12 songs, 7 of which were penned by Beaver. Working with a stellar new band consisting of Beaver on drums and vocals, the wonderful Brad Stivers on guitar, and Josh Williams on bass, the trio is augmented by some outstanding musicians, including harp master Dennis Gruenling, Marcia Ball and Matt Farrell on piano, “Sax” Gordon Beadle on sax, along with Red Casey, Eve Monsees, and Laura Chavez on guitar. It was produced by Beaver, along with Alligator Records’ Bruce Iglauer, and Stuart Sullivan.
Tough as Love combines up-tempo blues, old-school R&B, rockabilly, and soul to deliver Beaver’s unique musical signature, and if this collection of songs isn’t autobiographical, they sure as hell should be! Her voice is clear and powerful, and her stand-up style of drumming is spare and immediate, with a particular emphasis on her snare and a ride cymbal.
The Opening track, “You’re Evil,” one of Beaver’s original tunes, features the always-outstanding Dennis Gruenling on the harmonica intro. It’s a solid, propulsive minor shuffle that tells the tale of a relationship that’s gone sour. Beaver’s vocals are solid and strong, as she nearly shouts at a former lover, “You’re evil… and you almost broke me.” Then, Stivers lets loose with a frenzied, reverb-soaked solo that completely mirrors the rage in Beaver’s voice. It’s powerful opener, to be sure.
“Too Cold To Cry,” another original, has a 50’s New Orleans feel to it. Marcia Ball’s barrelhouse piano and Stivers’ stinging solo belie the message set out from the opening line: “Our lovin’ is so many lies…”
“What a Fool You’ve Been” is a jumpin’ rocker, with a 50s New Orleans feel to it and with some tasty double-stops from Stivers and a rousing solo from Sax Gordon.
“You Hurt Me” is Beaver’s take on Little Willie John’s 1961 recording, and features one of her strongest vocal performances, along with some more stinging guitar work from Stivers.
“Don’t Be Afraid of Love” is a balls-out rocker that features a wonderful vocal duet between Beaver and Stivers, with Stivers “trading 8s” with Marcia Ball’s adrenaline-fueled barrelhouse piano. I think this is my favorite cut on the album!
“I Got Love If You Want It” – This has to be my all-time favorite version of this Slim Harpo (aka James More) classic, with a killer solo by Gruenling.”Dangerous” is a mid-tempo shuffle that features a powerhouse vocal from Beaver, along with some tasty guitar solos by both Stivers and Red Casey.Other highlight tracks include “Oh Yeah,” another straight-ahead rocker that features Stivers trading tasty licks with Eve Monsees.
“Lost Cause,” originally done by Angela Strehli, is a haunting minor blues in which Beaver warns a potential suitor to stay away, because her heart is “a lost cause.” Matt Farrell handles piano duties on this one.
“Mean to Me” is an up-tempo swing number that features a blistering solo by Laura Chavez, trading licks with Stivers. The interplay between these two great players is exhilarating!
All in all, “Tough as Love” is a great album for those who like their blues with a nod toward early rock ‘n’ roll and old-school R&B. The song selection is great, the performances uniformly terrific, and the production “just right.” The guest artists mesh perfectly with the band, and the more I listen to this album, the more I like it. Great song choices, great playing, and great production. Beaver is rock solid as a vocalist, drummer, and bandleader, creating a rock-solid groove and giving her musicians plenty of space to showcase their individual talents.
As with all of the artists I review, I encourage you to search them out on YouTube to check out their live performances, for some additional perspective. Check out Beaver’s work with her previous band, the 24th Street Wailers, as well as videos under her own name. Hopefully, she’ll be heading to my neck of the woods soon, so I can catch her “live and in person.” That’d be a show I wouldn’t want to miss!
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
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6
Robert Connely Farr & The Rebeltone Boys – Dirty South Blues
Now living in Vancouver, Canada, Robert Connely Farr was born in Alabama and raised in the rural Mississippi town of Bolton, from whence came Charley Patton and the Mississippi Sheiks. It is hard to imagine that he didn’t get exposure to the blues in his younger days. But the impetus for his latest project came when Farr fell under the spell of Bentonia bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes during a visit to the Blue Front Cafe, which Holmes operates as the oldest surviving juke joint in Mississippi.
The Bentonia style of blues was captured in the music of masters like Skip James and Jack Owens. Holmes learned it from Henry Stuckey, who also gave instructions to James at the start of his career. The music is based on minor chords and droning tones, placing listeners in a haunting musical realm that isn’t for the faint of heart. Throughout this disc, Farr repeatedly illustrates his grasp of these aspects of the style, illuminating his vision of a dark, foreboding world.
But Farr takes the music well-beyond it’s acoustic origins, utilizing the Rebeltone Boys to flesh out the sound. The opening track, “Ode To The Lonesome,” features a delicate dialogue between Farr’s acoustic guitar and an electric guitar handled by Evan Uschenko. Farr’s weathered voice calls from out of the swampy mist, prodded by Kyle Harmon’s insistent drum beats, while the lush organ chords from Michael Ayotte flesh out the sound. It is one of several cuts that bring to mind the Drive-By Truckers, celebrated purveyors of southern rock. Another one is a cover of James’ classic, “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues”. Farr delivers a stirring vocal turn, again sustained by radiating organ tones. With a hint of country, it is a muscular track that journeys far from the original.
A better representation of the style is manifested on “Blue Front Cafe,” featuring cutting guitar riffs and a booming bass line from Tyson Maiko. “Lady Heroin” paints a unsettling portrait of the effects of the drug on a community. The darkness is also pervasive on “Cypress Tree Blues,” as Farr cries out his pain and emotional agony over a woman who did him wrong. Once again the Rebeltones provide a dense, sprawling soundscape for the singer to work with, sparked by Uschenko’s sharp licks. The title track has a booming vocal from the leader, his voice rising above the primordial guitar wails as he slips in a few lines of lyrics from “Dixie” for good measure. Mississippi’s state flower is held in high regard on “Magnolia,” a midst Rebel flags and other references to the “dirty south” mythology. The gloomy mood disappears on “Just Jive,” a rollicking track with Ayotte banging away on the piano. The band settles into another lazy, country-tinge cadence on “Yes Ma’am,” as Farr relates how a southern boy better heed his woman’s view on his behavior, or risk the wrath of a cast-iron frying pan.
The disc finishes with one final stark run-through of several common blues themes, “Hey Mr. Devil,” a droning piece with Farr’s robust supplications to Satan, seeking help locating his missing love interest, enveloped in another thickly layered arrangement. Building on what he learned from Duck Holmes, Robert Connely Farr amps up the Bentonia style, retaining the musics haunting qualities while adding lyrical commentary of a more modern nature. It may be a return to the roots, and certainly reaches down into the darker aspects of the human condition.
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 – 5 of 6
Khalif “Wailin’” Walter – Nothin’ Left To Lose
Pepper Cake Records/ZYX-Music
A resident of Chicago since the late 80’s, Khalif “Wailin’” Walter got started on guitar after a brief encounter with B.B. King turned into a half hour lesson with the master. Once bitten, Walter figured there was no better place to get educated on the music than in the Chicago clubs and taverns. His previous release, She Put The Voodoo On Me, came out in 2012, reflecting the lessons learned from his uncle, Carl Weathersby, and a four year stint in the band backing the late Lonnie Brooks.
The legacy of Jimi Hendrix looms large in Walter’s contemporary approach, borne out in the opening tribute, “Reign Down Fire,” one of nine original songs. It is a dark lament delivered by Walter’s restrained vocal, surrounded by bursts of wah-wah flavored guitar outbursts that at several points bounce back & forth between the speakers. From there, the full scope of his artistry unfolds, diverting to a reggae feel on “Why Did I Do It,” with the singer struggling the consequences of cheating, then trying to ease his soul with a tortured guitar excursion.
“Bang” is a short funky instrumental, one of several with Walter using studio magic to play all of the instruments. Another one is “Papa Legba’s Lounge,” with Walter on acoustic guitar and percussion, fashioning a Caribbean feel on a song that takes you to the elusive spiritual crossroads. The legendary New Orleans drummer, Johnny Vidacovich appears on “One Last Nerve,” a straight-ahead shuffle with Walter barking out his anger over the arc of life. Once again, his guitar playing is fluid and tight, shorn of any of the common excesses.
Additional musicians appearing throughout the disc include Daniel “The Funkmachine” Hopf on bass and Jacek “Dr. J” Prokopowitz on the Hammond B-3 organ and piano. Two tracks add horns to the mix, with Matt Shevitz on tenor & alto saxophone, plus Jueren Wieching on baritone & tenor sax. “I’ve Made A Change” finds Walter transformed by the love a special woman, his sweet voice contrasting nicely with the deep tones from Wieching’s baritone. The pace picks up considerably on “Superwoman,” as blasts from the horns riding Adam Grezlak’s driving beat. The musical arrangement deserves deeper lyrical content.
A different issue crops up on “Worries, Worries, Worries,” the longest track on the disc. All is well when Walter’s sings in his normal voice. But, apparently in an effort to highlight his despair, he adopts a mannered approach at times that fails to connect, unlike his guitar playing, which encapsulates the tension conveyed in the song. “Can You Feel My Groove” closes things out on a higher note, Walter delivering another love song with fairly generic lyrics, muting the impact of another impressive arrangement that motors right along, giving Prokopowitz a chance to shine.
All in all, a solid release of contemporary blues, done in a variety of styles, that show that Khalif “Wailin’” Walter has the vocal and guitar skills, plus the songwriting ability, that should allow him to find a wider audience in the world-wide blues community.
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 – 6 of 6
The Fleurieu Bluesbreakers – Lucky Seven
CD: 7 Songs, 27:00 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Harmonica Blues, All Original Songs
The band name of Australia’s Fleurieu Bluesbreakers is distinctly French in origin. So is the phrase “déjà vu.” You might not have heard the original Lucky Seven tracks on their second CD, but when you do, you might experience that particular sensation. Don’t get me wrong: it’s good, solid blues, most notably on harmonica, but they remain enclosed within the proverbial envelope. Blues music (or any kind of music, for that matter) is often an avenue to explore and explain the events of one’s life. Each song reflects a particular autobiographical aspect of a band member. For example, the opener, “Tomorrow” was written an hour after leading man Brian Cain was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As a sort of bookend, the closer, “The Day of a Thousand Smackeroonies,” is a prologue about how one’s grown children will always be one’s babies. Vocally, Cain is smooth and steady, and the backup instrumentation is as strong as a heart monitor. Even though the CD runs under thirty minutes, it’s ideal for a short road trip.
The Fleurieu Bluesbreakers were formed by Brian Cain when he returned to the Fleurieu area of South Australia three years ago from interstate. The band consists of Cain on lead vocals and blues harp, Ross Brennan on guitar, Peter Jenkins on bass guitar and Jim Judd on drums. All members are long-time friends. Their style lies much in the vein of 1970’s artists such as Johnny Winter and Carson. After recording and beginning to promote their debut album, The Devil Lives on My Street (also reviewed by this magazine), Cain’s terminal cancer was diagnosed. Their sophomore album was originally meant to feature eleven tracks, but were only able to record their Lucky Seven in the short timeframe available after Brian was declared in remission. The Bluesbreakers now have a host of upcoming shows, both local and interstate, to showcase both albums. More information about them can be found via their record label Indiana Phoenix.
The following song is a peppy boogie-woogie, with a hilarious intro featuring Cain’s daughter.
Track 07: “The Day of a Thousand Smackeroonies” – “I’ll give you a smackeroonie, just as always, on your forehead.” “Daddy, I’m not a baby anymore.” “But you are to me…” “Uh-oh!” Listen to the full exchange for more laughs, and in the meantime, why don’t you swing dance? Reminiscent of the Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town,” it showcases hot harp by Brian Cain and a bouncy beat that just won’t quit.
Lucky Seven may not be all that long or all that provocative. No matter. It merits its name!
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 – Bruce Katz
“I’ve done a million two-day records. Maybe on the gig we do long improvs, but (mostly) it’s written. We rehearse, and we know what we’re going to do when we go in there. The tunes are carefully planned. They always have been.”
Bruce Katz is an educated generalist. He’s played bass for Big Mama Thornton, B3 for Ronnie Earl, Chris O’Leary and Debbie Davies, piano for Gregg Allman, and channels the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star” on “Up From The Center” on his latest CD, Get Your Groove! The album is half instrumental like “Freight Train” that clocks in at nine minutes and fifty-seven seconds long and half with vocals like “Sky’s The Limit.” At age 37 he earned a jazz performance degree from New England Conservatory degree, and he’s taught a blues course at Berklee School of Music.
“The tunes were carefully planned. They always have been. My first five albums were all instrumental. Now, we’ve gone half instrumental. I feel if you’re gonna tell a story with instrumental music, it needs to be really composed, man, like really written. Otherwise, what am I gonna do, play a shuffle?
“If there’s no singer singing melody and I think about my tunes the way a pop composer might think about it, I know what the grooves are gonna be, and we basically rehearse them. Then there’s the improv parts, and those of course are not composed, and those can go wherever people want them to go, but generally my albums are all about these tunes and this music, and there’s room for improv and that’s fun.
“I play a lot of B3 these days, and I’m really a piano player. When I was a kid, I would do classic lessons, but I was teaching myself jazz and blues of the ’20s and ’30s. I was really kind of a weirdo kid. My friends were listening to the Dave Clark 5, and I was deep into Fletcher Henderson and Bessie Smith and the earliest Meade Lux Lewis. So, I loved playing that real acoustic blues (on 2018’s Journeys to The Heart of The Blues with Joe Louis Walker). So, that was cool. That was fun.
“I was like 12, and I was going, ‘Wow, these names I saw on the records like Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson, and I’m gonna follow these guys.’ Then, I got exposed to some boogie-woogie. I don’t know if I thought of it as blues or jazz. It was just this music that I really loved, and contrary from a lot of people who heard electric blues from England, and then went back and found acoustic blues just not by any design, just be the way it was, I just chronologically worked my way through the music, ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and then of course I heard John Mayall and all of those guys, but by that time I was really aware of this other music. So, yeah, to me, it wasn’t crossing over. It was all blues, and I don’t know, early jazz and blues leading me in certain directions if that makes any sense.”
Katz spent 30-some years playing music in Boston where, among other gigs, he played bass for Big Mama Thornton, a vocalist who was often recorded with subpar bands early in her career, but not in Beantown.
“Actually, she had regional bands, and believe it or not, I was her bass player in that band. I’m a bass player as well as a keyboardist even though I don’t play anymore really.
But she had a killer band in Boston: (unintelligible) on piano, Frank Blandino on guitar, and Michael Carey on drums. The guys were really deep into the music, and were the best guys in Boston pretty much. I think it depended. She would go to whatever. She would go to somewhere else, and have a band that didn’t know shit about blues. You know. When she’d come to the east coast with us, we knew how to play the stuff, and it was fantastic.”
Her best recordings were made in the ’60s at the Lippmann Rau bleus festivals in England with Buddy Guy on guitar.
“Yeah, absolutely incredible. By the time I was playing with her, some nights she sounded unbelievably great. Some nights not so great. It depended on trying to keep her in line a little bit which was hard to do because no one was gonna tell Mama what to do.
“One of the shows I did with her, and I think this was probably ’82, was a double bill at Jonathan Swift’s in Harvard Square with Buddy and Junior, and Big Mama Thornton. Imagine that show for eight bucks. We were going on first with Big Mama Thornton, and all day long we were waiting for Buddy Guy to show up and apparently there was this feud going on, and Big Mama Thornton was pissed at Buddy Guy for doing something to her. I think it involved liquor of some sort, and everybody was freaking all day long.
“What’s gonna happen when Buddy Guy shows up? Big Mama is gonna try to deck him. It turned out that it didn’t happen even though all day long she’s walking around going, “Mother Fucker Buddy Guy.” But it ended up being this great show, and it was like this little basement club in Harvard Square. Buddy Guy, Junior, and Big Mama Thornton were all together. It was real cool, but yeah, I think they had it in for each other.”
Katz was a member of the Gregg Allman Band from 2007-2013. “I would talk to Butch Trucks or Gregg Allman. Gregg’s last record that he did, he was patting himself on the back and said, ‘Man, we did it in only three weeks.’ Three weeks? Holy crap, man. I didn’t make my records in three weeks.
“I’ve done countless two-day recordings. If you have two days to record, you can’t fix anything, and so I’ve just gotten into the habit. These guys were used to the golden era rock stars where you’d go in the studio for two months and just write the tunes there. You know, you’d have all the time in the world. I never experienced that.
“I was playing in Gregg’s band, but Gregg’s band was sort of reacting to the Allman Brothers. Gregg didn’t want long run solos because he did that with the Allman Brothers, but then they would hire me occasionally to play tours with the Alllman Brothers, and be like the piano player in addition to Gregg playing the organ and when I was playing with them, I would get a solo, and I would play for a while, and then I’d look up and say, ‘I’m done’ and like Warren (Haynes) or Dereck (Trucks) or Butch (Trucks) would look at me like ‘Wha’d ya mean you’re done? You just started.’ Butch was like, ‘You’re jamming, man.’
“‘Freight Train’ is a tune near and dear to my heart, and when I wrote that tune, I was thinking it was my homage to Butch, but I was thinking of it more like this would have been a tune I would have brought in to Butch to play. I’m not gonna write something sad like I’m so sad about losing Butch. If I wrote something like this, it would have been a tune where Butch would have gone, ‘Yeah! Let’s play this one.’ So, that’s kinda how I wrote that one thinking of that, and we got Jaimoe to come down and play double drums. So, that song’s especially good to do that.
“Jaimoe is full of surprises, man. On the one hand, he lives on Planet Jaimoe ’cause in some ways he is. In other ways he remembers every single thing that ever happened. In 1996 I was in Ronnie Earl’s band, and we did an album I forget. I guess it was Color of Love, and Jaimoe was a guest on a couple of tunes, and I met him there. I’d never seen him before, and then 11 years later I got to audition for Gregg’s band by going down to the Beacon Theater and sitting in with the Allman Brothers. That was a nerve-racking audition. It’s like, ‘Oh, why don’t you tell him he can come down to the Beacon Theatre. He can sit in with the Brothers, and I’ll check him out.’
“So, I’m standing onstage nervous as shit getting ready to go on and sit in with the Allman Brothers, and I hear behind me this voice going ‘Meow, meow, meow,’ and I turned around, and Jaimoe crawled down behind me. I mean my name being Katz, right? He remembered me from 11 years ago from half a recording session. He remembered my name and was meowing me behind my back while I was waiting to go on and play.”
Perhaps, the most unusual band Katz ever played in was Barrence Whitfield and The Savages. Whitfield is a Little Richard-like screamer with original throwback songs. I remember seeing him open for Tom Petty around 1980 and never forgot it. “That was like a powerhouse band. That was insanity on stages. I mean that was an era. We were essentially playing souped up, amped up rhythm and blues. We were opening for the Ramones then.
“We were playing rock clubs, and rock festivals in addition to blues, and it as that era where some of the bands like The Blasters, Los Lobos, X and bands like that were playing blues, rhythm’n’blues but were crossing over into the rock thing with kind of a roots rock thing, but yeah, that was a really fun band.
“I toured the world extensively with that band for four years and it actually gave me a lot of sensibility that I got from doing that high energy thing. You know Barrence is out there doing his thing again, right? And actually, he has the original, original band, and they made two or three albums, and they’ve been touring Europe and actually doing some stuff, and I did one reunion gig with them about five years ago, and he hasn’t lost one thing on his voice. He can still sing. He can still scream like you cannot believe. He has the heaviest scream I ever heard. But, yeah, that was fine.”
Katz was an Associate Professor at the Berklee College of Music from 1996 to 2010, teaching harmony, Hammond organ labs, private instruction, and Blues History. “When I first suggested the History of Blues course, they were looking at me like how could you have a whole course about blues? I think a lot of the students signed up for my course thinking we were going to talk about Stevie Ray Vaughan. Instead, we were talking about the Alan and John Lomax recordings and the fife and drum music, the earliest of country blues.
“I got the chair of the Harmony Department to back me up, and we wrote out all the stuff and got them to approve it. So, that was that, and what I wanted (students) to get out of it was to really understand the music in a deeply American way. So, I mean, I started out it was like a 15-week course which was unfortunate because I never got past 1958 or ’59 by the end of the semester. Maybe I was up to ’61 or ’62 because by midterms I was still in the 1950s.
“It was like pre-war acoustic, Chicago blues because there was so much stuff that I wanted to impart, and what was interesting is there are a lot of foreign students at Berklee. So, they don’t even know about American history, and of course the American students didn’t know very much about it either. So, I started out basically in reconstruction explaining socio-political history of the United States. The main book that I had them read at the first half was Deep Blues by Robert Palmer.
“The very first week of that course I had them read the first 47 pages of it, and the next section also because he gets so deeply into the African roots and the nature of the plantation system, and to understand the music that’s what you really have to understand. So, I wanted to impart deep understanding. By the fourth week of a 15-week semester we were still talking about Son House and stuff.
“The course never got past the early 1960s, and what was irritating to me was Berklee saying, ‘Well, how can you have the whole semester about blues,’ and in reality, I couldn’t have done justice to it in two semesters, let alone one semester. I found myself rushing through shit. Like ok, I’m going to do all New Orleans rhythm’n’blues in one two-hour class.
“Students that would take that course understood American history. They understood the roots and the country blues pretty deeply, I think. What was kinda cool, if I can say so myself like this was a college, right? So, we’re listening to Charlie Patton for instance, and we’re listening to “Pony Blues,” and I would ask them to analyze the music and I mean analyze it on a college level analysis.
“I mean like breaking down form and discussing the guitar playing on a college level of analysis because why not? We’re all hearing this music and how deep it is and all this stuff, but you can also analyze why is it 136 bars, and how’s that working, and why is it working? And so, it was kind of cool. I got them to write their own country blues tunes and tunes in the style of T Bone Walker and analyze Ruth Brown tunes.
“A lot of the students told me it was their favorite course at Berklee, and actually I guess it’s sort of floundering since I left which is unfortunate, but I guess it sort of went out when I went out, but anyway, there’s a handful of good blues people there since I left. Dave Lavina teaches there. He’s currently playing keyboard with Ronnie (Earl) and Mike Williams who was in my band for a while. He’s a guitar player. He plays a lot with Darrell Nulisch. He used to play with Dave Maxwell a lot. He used to play with James Cotton, too. He’s there.”
Katz’s playing on the song “King of Decator” from Get Your Groove! reminds me of Bill Payne of Little Feat.
“I like Bill Payne a lot, I don’t know that I’m copying Bill Payne. I think it’s more like me and Bill Payne are listening to the same New Orleans players. I think we’re copying some of the great Professor Longhair things.”
“Little Feat was so way ahead of their time in so many ways, it’s actually mind boggling. At the time I didn’t realize exactly where things were coming from. They were doing shit that was way hipper than the rest of us. But, yeah, I haven’t really studied Bill Payne, but I have studied the people that he’s studied. For instance, I’ve listened to a lot of Otis Spann, and I’ve copied a lot of Otis Spann, but I haven’t necessarily copied another contemporary pianist who’s also listened to Otis Spann.
“I got to play a few times with Robert Lockwood, Jr., and those recordings he made with Otis Spann are the Bible of blues piano to me. So, the first time I met him, I was playing with Ronnie Earl. We were in Cleveland, and he came down and sat in after the show. He seemed to like my playing a lot, and I went over to him. ‘You know, Robert, my favorite recordings in the whole world are those recordings you did with Otis Spann,’ thinking he’s going to go, ‘Oh, yeah. Otis Spann. I love Otis Spann.’
“So, I go, ‘These are my favorite blues piano recordings,’ and he looks at me like I’ve just said the worst thing in the world to him. He goes, ‘Otis Spann, you like Otis Spann? That mother fucker just overplayed all day long, played all over my lines.’ He just screamed at me like I’m stupid enough to like Otis Spann. But with him you never know whether he was just saying that to fuck with you.
“I’m just standing there sort of freaking out, and he’s like yelling at me when just before he was telling Ronnie Earl, ‘That piano player is great. Don’t ever lose that piano player,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I can’t believe he’s saying that about me,’ and then I open my mouth about Otis Spann, and he’s screaming at me. But anyway, he was a cranky guy. When he was complimenting me to Ronnie Earl, I’m thinking, ‘Wow this is about as good as it’s going to get for me.’”
Katz is recording a solo piano album at the end of March for American Showplace. “This is something I’ve wanted to do forever, and you know I don’t know if it’ll get beyond piano players. I don’t know what will happen with it commercially or anything, but I think it’s gonna be a really cool record, and it’s gonna be classical piano ’cause there won’t be anything else on it. So, that’s going to be very exciting to me actually.
“Anyway, I’m doing that, and I think Giles Robson, the harmonica player on that Joe Louis Walker trio record (Journey to The Heart of The Blues) that I did, he is going to be recording an album for American Show Place in May, and we’re going to do that. I’ve got a couple of other things coming along, too. We’re doing a couple of recordings. Hurricane Roots from Memphis is going to do something. We’re going to put a band together and do an album with her.
At age 66, Katz says he’s still a kid.
“I know how to play any style of jazz there is. I choose not to play it. (Chuckle) I choose to play blues ’cause that’s what I love, and it’s emotionally satisfying to me. But there are little elements I know about that creep into my blues playing that I think is kind of cool and fun.”
Visit Bruce’s website at: www.brucekatzband.com.
Interviewer Don Wilcock has been writing about blues for nearly half a century. He wrote Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, the biography that helped Buddy Guy jumpstart his career in 1991. He’s interviewed more than 5000 Blues artists and edited several music magazines including King Biscuit Time.
Blues Society News
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The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC
The Charlotte Blues Society is proud to announce that Buffalo’s favorite son, Tommy Z, will be the featured artist for our April Blues Bash, and 26th Anniversary Celebration on Sunday, April 7! Doors open at 7:00, and show starts at 8:00, to be followed by an open blues jam. Admission is free for members with valid cards, $5.00 for others. The show will be at The Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205.
We continue to collect non-perishable foods and household items for Loaves and Fishes. We hope to collect 2,000 pounds this year to help stamp out hunger in Charlotte. 1 Can? I Can! It promises to be a great evening! Hope to see you there!
Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL
Monthly shows on the second Saturday of each month at Hope and Anchor English Pub on N 2nd St in Loves Park, IL. 4/13/19 The Cash Box Kings and 5/11/19 Corey Dennison Band. All shows 8 PM to 11:30 PM.
First and Third Friday’s feature the Blues at the Lyran Society Club on 4th Avenue in Rockford and a great fish fry, too! The schedule is 4/5/19 Dave Fields and 4/19/19 Oscar Wilson and Joel Patterson. No cover, 7 pm to 10 pm.
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 7:00pm to 11:00pm. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.
March 25 – Aaron Griffin, March 27 – Billy Galt & the Blues Deacons, April 1 – Brandon Santini Album Release Party, April 8 – The L.A. Jones Quartet with Adrianna Marie, April 10 – Dan Rivero, April 15 – Gracie Curran & the High Falutin’ Band, April 22 – Marty D. Spikener’s On Call Band, April 24 – Hard Road Blues Band , April 29 – Kilborn Alley Blues Band, May 6 – Orphan Jon and The Abandoned.
Also ICBC willl be celebrating their 33rd year in business on March 30 with the ICBC 33rd Birthday Celebration at K of C, 2200 S. Meadowbrook Rd, Springfield, IL. Doors open @ 6:00 PM, Torrey Casey & the Southside Hustle 7:00 PM followed by Joanna Connor Band.For more information visit www.icbluesclub.org.
Grand County Blues Society – Denver, CO
Blues guitar superstar Walter Trout headlines Blue Star Denver 8, presented by Blue Star Connection in conjunction with the Grand County Blues Society, a Benefit Concert, Silent Auction, and Gear Drive, Saturday, March 23, at Turnhalle Ballroom at The Tivoli, located at Metropolitan State University of Denver, 900 Auraria Parkway. Doors open 5:30pm, showtime is 6:00PM. Tickets: $25.00 (General Admission), $35.00 (Reserved), $69. (VIP); $750.00 (VIP Premier Table). Info: (303) 726-6111 or visit www.bluestarconnection.org. Also performing: Honey Island Swamp Band, B To The Sixth, and Special Guest, Kate Moss.
Net proceeds benefit Blue Star Connection, to help carry out their mission of providing access and ownership of musical instruments for children and young adults with cancer and other serious life challenges. To date, BSC has reached over eight-hundred kids and has donated musical gear to sixty-five Children’s Hospitals and Music Therapy Programs as well as several other community programs.
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