Issue 13-15 April 11, 2019

Cover photo © 2019 Bob Kieser.


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Keeshea Pratt. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Sugaray Rayford, Howlin’ Mojo Bones, John Mayall, Blue Muse, Travellin’ Blue Kings and Boogie Beasts.

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


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 2019 Blues Blast Music Award Artist Submissions End on April 15th 

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!


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

sugaray album imageSugaray Rayford – Somebody Save Me

Forty Below Records – 2019

10 tracks; 41 minutes

www.sugarayrayford.com

Standing 6 feet 5 and weighing over 300 pounds, Sugaray Rayford is an imposing figure and a born entertainer. Over recent years he has made some excellent records with The Mannish Boys and solo but this disc is arguably his best yet. The core band here is Sugaray on vocals with Rick Holmstrom or Eamon Ryland on guitar, Sasha Smith on keys, Matt Tecu on drums and Taras Prodaniuk on bass. The horn section from The Late Show With Conan O’Brien (Ron Dziubla on sax, Mark Pender on trumpet, Richard ‘La Bamba’ Rosenberg on trombone) appears on five tracks and two further tracks feature Mark paired with sax player David Ralicke. Producer and Forty Below boss Eric Corne adds harp to three tracks and B/V’s, percussion and acoustic guitar throughout; strings appear on two tracks with Eric Gorfain on violin and Richard Dodd on cello; Roberta Freeman and Carol Hatchett add backing vocals on several tracks and a choir of Brittany Gael Vaughan, Brittney S Wheeler, Terika Jefferson, J-Blake White and Gabriel M Newman appears on one track.

All the songs were written by Eric Corne and seem to have been crafted to fit Sugaray’s personality and vocal talents. “The Revelator” is a fascinating opener with Taras’ hypnotic bass line and Rick’s echoey guitar underneath Sugaray’s commanding vocal, one part preacher, one part seducer. The song builds in intensity and Mark’s jazz-tinged trumpet fills the solo slot, choir and strings adding to the depth of the arrangement. In contrast “Time To Get Movin’” is an invitation to change things with a frenetic beat aimed at the dance floor with pumping piano and a short harp feature. There are then two soul tunes, both with excellent horn arrangements: “You And I” has that Stax/Memphis swagger from the horns (or is it New Jersey as Mark and La Bamba are both veterans of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes?), combined well with a romantic lyric and a beautifully poised solo by Rick; “My Cards Are On The Table” is a soul ballad with sensitive lyrics: “I’d wage bloody battle just to hear you call my name. My cards are on the table, take my hand because I’m ready and able to be your man. Come on, baby, I’ve waited my whole life for you. So come on baby, I’ll always be true.” These two songs are real highlights of the album.

Eamon’s slide and Eric’s harp give “I’d Kill For You, Honey” a Mississippi feel and Sugaray’s vocal gets down and dirty in response and the brooding “Angels And Devils” finds the singer in fine form on a song made more mysterious by the ‘creepy’ organ work. The lengthy title “Sometimes You Get The Bear (And Sometimes The Bear Gets You)” has a catchy core riff that in parts reminded this reviewer of “Crosscut Saw”, especially when Rick cuts loose on guitar, well supported by the horn section. The sweeping strings introduce the title track, another soulful ballad in which Sugaray is seeking salvation not from above but from someone who will fill the hole in his heart – a lovely ballad with a fine vocal performance. The horns push the energetic “Is It Just Me”, a dance floor filler with a Motown feel – try sitting still to this one! The final song is “Dark Night Of The Soul”, all moody atmosphere and full-throated anguish from Sugaray, Eric’s eerie harp on the outro perfectly matching the mood of the song.

With some albums repeated listening results in one’s enjoyment diminishing – not in this case! As you listen again you hear more of the band’s excellent work, every instrument clear in the mix, all credit to Eric’s studio skills. Sugaray’s voice is front and center on songs that suit him well, backed by a strong set of musicians, so this one comes highly recommended!

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

For other reviews on our website CLICK HERE



 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

howlin mojo bones cd imageHowlin’ Mojo Bones – Voodoo She Do

Left Hand Down Blues – 2018

12 tracks; 53 minutes

www.howlinmojobones.com

The four piece Howlin’ Mojo Bones was formed in 2016 and this is their debut album though the band members are all experienced musicians. The band is based near London and, like many UK blues-rock outfits, they seem to be particularly influenced by two British bands – Dr Feelgood and Free. All 12 songs are originals, credited to the whole band: Howlin’ George Witter is on vocals, Steve Crane on guitar, Gus Denton on bass and John Baker on drums.

The band shows a variety of styles here, blues, rock and 60’s British R&B all being present and correct. The rhythm section keeps things moving ahead, Gus adds some melodic bass lines and guitarist Steve steps out to play some good solos, often evoking the spirit of Paul Kossoff, as in opener “Livin’ The Dream” which seems to be autobiographical as George sings of traveling the country in a “broken-down van”, played to a catchy riff. George has a distinctive vocal style, a touch of grit on some songs, more ‘conversational’ on others, such as “I Want My Life Back”,in which he regrets messing up a good relationship, his nasal tones supported by a Feelgoods style tune.

The following three tracks were highlights for this reviewer:

1. “Wild, Wild, Wild” – a great piece of rock and roll with Steve’s frantic rhythm work giving way to a Chuck Berry style rocking solo

2. “Chicago Bound” name-checks the Windy City as the destination though in these lyrics George is arriving by Greyhound from NYC rather than by 747 to O’Hare! Steve’s bright guitar contrasts well with George’s lighter vocal on this tune

3. the title track “Voodoo She Do” has definite echoes of Brit R&B with its slashing guitar riff and rattles along well.

This is a typical UK offering blending blues influences and rock-infused rhythms. As such it will certainly have an audience on the club circuit over here but may translate less easily to US audiences.

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.

For other reviews on our website CLICK HERE



 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

john mayall cd imageJohn Mayall – Nobody Told Me

Forty Below Records – 2019

10 tracks; 49 minutes

www.johnmayall.com

John Mayall surely needs no biographical introduction after his 50+ years making influential blues albums. Now in his 80’s John shows little sign of slowing down and, despite some health issues last year, he plans to tour extensively in support of this new album. After operating for a spell as a trio, John has returned to having a lead guitarist and Carolyn Wonderland will have the distinction of being the first female to take that role, following in the footsteps of Clapton, Green, Taylor, Mandel, Montoya, Trout, Whittington and Athas.

Carolyn plays on three tracks here, the others featuring guests Joe Bonamassa and Larry McCray who play on two tracks each and Steve Van Zandt, Todd Rundgren and Alex Lifeson who play on one cut each. Chicagoans Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums continue to provide a rock solid rhythm section and are brilliantly recorded by Eric Corne so that every note can be heard clearly. John himself is heard on piano, organ and harp and Billy Watts does a sterling job on rhythm guitar behind the ‘stars’. The horn section from The Late Show With Conan O’Brien beefs up four tracks: Ron Dziubla on sax, Mark Pender on trumpet and Richard ‘La Bamba’ Rosenberg on trombone (the latter two both one-time members of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes). There are three Mayall originals and an interesting selection of covers.

The album opens with a great take on Magic Sam’s “What Have I Done Wrong” with the bass pushing the tune along and the horns embellishing superbly as Joe B adds some leads which evoke Sam in a modern style. John’s vocals are convincing and it’s a great start to the album. On “Delta Hurricane”, a song normally associated with Larry McCray, Joe plays some exciting guitar against Billy’s background slide, the horns again adding to what is one of the standout tracks. Larry himself does a good job on Gary Moore’s “The Hurt Inside”, a slower song, again with horns, but rather overplays on a heavy version of “The Moon Is Full”, a song associated with Albert Collins. Talking of over-playing, Rush’s Alex Lifeson’s histrionic guitar solo almost overwhelms John’s harp/piano on Jeff Healey’s “Evil And Here To Stay”. John usually covers the likes of Freddie King, Albert Collins or Otis Rush so it is a little unusual to hear him taking on a Little Milton classic in “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” but he does a great job, very much helped by a splendid horn chart, his own soulful organ playing and a solo from Todd Rundgren that is just kept to the right side of tasteful.

Steve Van Zandt plays very well and in proper blues mode on the first of three Mayall compositions that close the album. “It’s So Tough” sets out John’s view of the world’s problems and offers a solution rooted in the philosophy of the 60’s: “It’s so tough, there must be something we can do. Think more about your neighbor ‘cos now it’s up to me and you”. Carolyn plays some fine rock and roll guitar on the immensely catchy and fun “Like It Like You Do” and shows her abilities on a slow blues on the title track “Nobody Told Me”. Carolyn takes her time as she develops a subtle, restrained solo while lyrically John is reflecting again on “all these crazy changes, as the days and nights go by” as he reaches old age, his vocals sounding convincingly careworn. The track clocks in at 7.23 but never outstays its welcome. Earlier on the album Carolyn plays some great lap steel slide on “Distant Lonesome Train”, a Joe Bonamassa song from his 2016 album Blues Of Desperation, thereby completing the loop of people playing on songs associated with other guitarists on the album.

Those who missed the guitar element of John’s music last time around will love this one. There are several standout performances and Carolyn Wonderland’s excellent contributions bode well for the next chapter of John Mayall’s amazing career.

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.

For other reviews on our website CLICK HERE



 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

music maker album imageVarious Artists – Blue Muse

Music Maker Relief Foundation

Big Legal Mess Records

21 songs – 72 minutes

Music Maker Relief Foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary of providing aid to impoverished traditional Southern musicians with this meaty compilation, which includes cuts from many of its artists as well as a helping hand from several major artists.

Based out of Hillsborough, N.C., the non-profit organization’s primary goal is to insure that its roster — about 100 acoustic and electric blues acts as well as gospel and Native American artists, too, at last count — won’t be silenced by poverty or the passage of time and that the heritage they provide will survive for future generations.

This CD is accompanied by an extensive book of liner notes that feature tintype portraits captured by founder Tim Duffy. The disc itself includes contributions from Taj Mahal, Eric Clapton, Carolina Chocolate Drops founder Dom Flemons and soul-blues star Robert Finley who’s most famous for his work who with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.

A trio of Frenchmen — Simon Arcache, Raphael Evrard and Clement Prunet, two of whom toured with Ironing Board Sam – kick off the action with “La Collegiale.” It’s a homage to the artists who inspired their musical odyssey and contains sound bites from several of those forebears. The action heats up as Taj delivers a tasty solo take on Mississippi John Hurt’s “Spike Driver Blues.”

Captain Luke, a deep baritone and former partner to Guitar Gabriel, is up next with a stripped-down version of “Old Black Buck” before 92-year-old Atlanta keyboard wizard Eddie Tigner delivers a rollicking take of “Route 66” in full band format. Alabama Slim takes you deep into the country with “I Got The Blues” then gives way to Finley for the searing love ballad “Age Don’t Mean A Thing” and Flemons for the familiar “Polly Put The Kettle On.”

John Dee Holeman, 89 and a disciple of Lightnin’ Hopkins, delivers “Hambone” while Algia Mae Hinton finger picks the romantic “Snap Your Fingers” and Willie Farmer tears it up with the Hill Country pleaser “I Am The Lightnin’” before Washington state native Dave McGrew offers up “D.O.C. Man,” a solo acoustic take about staring down someone from the department of corrections.

Virginians Martha Spencer and Kelley Breiding team on guitar and vocals to cover “Sweet Valentine,” giving way to the late Boot Hanks aided by Flemons on hambone for “I Wanna Boogie.” Clapton’s contribution is up next. Duffy plays rhythm guitar as Eric delivers a sensational take on Willie Brown’s Delta classic, “Mississippi Blues.”

Guitar Gabriel’s “Landlord Blues” precedes Drink Small’s “Widow Woman” and Sam Frazier Jr.’s “Cabbage Man” before Cary Morin, a member of the Crow nation, delivers “Sing It Louder.” Ironing Board Sam’s “Loose Diamonds,” The Branchettes’ (Lena Mae Perry and her sister, Ethel Elliott) “I Know I’ve Been Changed” and Theotis Taylor’s “Something Within Me” bring the disc to a close.

As great as this album is, it’s also serving as a companion piece to a coffee table book of Duffy’s photos, also entitled Muse. His images will also be on exhibit at the New Orleans Museum Of Art from late April through July 28, 2019.

A few of these artists are no longer with us, but all deserve more recognition. Learn more by visiting the Music Maker website (address above). While you’re at it, put a little money in their tip jar to keep their music alive for another generation.

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.

For other reviews on our website CLICK HERE



 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

travelin blues kings cd imageTravellin’ Blue Kings – Wired Up

Naked/Donor Productions CVBA/Inakustik

www.travellinbluekings.com

CD: 11 Songs, 46:48 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Harmonica Blues, All Original Songs, Debut Album

Although the cover art of Travellin’ Blue Kings’ Wired Up features a tangle of analog phones, their debut release possesses a distinctly digital vibe. This Belgian band is intimately familiar with the two meanings of their title phrase: “hyper” and “connected.” The eleven original tracks featured here will provide a dose of non-caffeinated vim and vigor, as well as provide reassurance in these troubled times (especially on track two, “About This World”). Vocally, leading man Stephan Hermsen is clearly reminiscent of Joe Louis Walker and/or Blues Traveler. He’s also a genius on harp and postmodern electric guitar. Backing him up are fellow guitarist and songwriter Jimmy Hontelé, Winnie Penninckx on bass, and Mark Gijbels on drums. Patrick Cuyvers guest stars on Hammond on “I’m a Good Man” and piano on “Into the Night.” Purists might be a bit disappointed at the relative lack of traditional instrumentation and rhythms, but this CD is a fantastic gateway to the blues for Millennials and Generation Z. (I can relate.)

As their website reveals, “Travellin’ is not in the name by chance. These four gentlemen worked with their respective bands all over Europe. You could find them on festival stages in Norway, Sweden, Poland, Germany, France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Italy. And of course, being the Boys from Benelux, in every corner of Belgium and the Netherlands. [Their musical] influences range from Texas to the West Coast, across Memphis heading for Chicago and then to the UK’s British Blues Boom.”

The following three songs are the most “wired up” in terms of feel-good vibes and catchiness.

Track 01: “I Don’t Wanna Stop” – The album begins with a tasty bit of swing/jump blues, perfect for taking a spin on the dance floor right off the bat. “I don’t want to stop this feeling, and I’m feeling so good…The way you look at me makes me want to scream and shout!” Why don’t DJ’s play this song at weddings instead of the old standbys? Dig the red-hot guitar solo in the middle and the overall sassy style.

Track 03: “The Way It Used To Be” – Propelling us into the 21st century with a guitar refrain that sounds like it was played on synthesizer keyboards, three is the magic number. It’s a surefire earworm that might put people in mind of Stevie Ray Vaughan at his finest. Mark Gijbels’ drums are an understated highlight, perfectly balancing the guitar and vocals.

Track 04: “I Cannot Believe” – Listen up, baby boomers: this one’s for you. Real-deal blues abounds on selection four, although the lyrics are a bit hard to understand. The masterful fretwork and smooth bassline more than make up for it. Go ahead and play some air shredder.

Get Wired Up with one of the first great blues rock albums of 2019 – from Belgium, no less!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 39 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.

For other reviews on our website CLICK HERE


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

boogis beats cd imageBoogie Beasts – Deep

Naked/Donor Productions/Inakustik

www.boogiebeasts.com

CD: 10 Songs, 37:19 Minutes

Styles: “Punk Blues,” Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Acid Rock, All Original Songs

Every music fan has a personal definition of what their favorite genre is and what it means. So do Belgium’s Boogie Beasts. “Add dirty beats, hypnotizing slide, screaming harmonica riffs and plenty of fuzz. All of these will be served by this four-man band from Liège and Limburg, Belgium. Boogie Beasts translate their penchant for electric Delta blues into a most idiosyncratic sound, which has a touch of the Black Keys jamming with John Lee Hooker at a rave in the wee hours of the morning, or a psychedelic trip with Little Walter, or even RL Burnside backed up by the young Rolling Stones at a juke-joint gig.” Confused? Baby boomers might be. As I said in my last review of a Boogie Beasts album, their style is “punk blues” with a lot more punk than blues. Their sound can’t be categorized or described easily, except that it’s like a fingerprint. Deep, their brand-spanking-new 2019 release, features ten original songs that defy explanation.

On vocals, leading man Jan Jaspers is crisp and clear, although it’s rather hard to understand his lyrics over the blistering instrumentation. The Beasts pull out all the stops and go full blast on every track, with Mathias Dalle on guitar and vocals, Fabian Bennardo on infernally-hot harp, and Gert Servaes on drums and percussion. Jan Servaes guest stars on marching drum for track four. Overall, it’s difficult to pinpoint any single line, but songs like these weren’t made for analysis. This is low-down, throw-down, rock-on rave blues. If you don’t have a drink in your hand and your feet on the floor, you’re missing out.

The most traditional-sounding melody on this CD is its groove-heavy, five-minute closer.

Track 10: “In Front of You” – The guitar refrain is familiar but repetitive, as is the title. Nevertheless, it is catchy, and it does sound like a postmodern take on one of the old masters’ works. Fabian Bennardo’s harp and Mathias Dalle’s shredder are surefire highlights.

Bottom line? Listeners will have to dig Deep to find any true blues here.

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 39 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.

For other reviews on our website CLICK HERE


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 Featured Interview – Keeshea Pratt 

keeshea pratt phot 1Houston-based soul-blues singer Keeshea Pratt took the world by storm when she and her red-hot band walked away with top prize in the 2018 International Blues Challenge. But it almost didn’t happen. It took prophecies from an opera diva and a pastor to convince her that she belonged the secular world, not the church – and then it took an insistent band leader to push her over the top.

Even after capturing the honor, Keeshea she was ready to walk away from it all – to leave show business altogether and return home. “I’m a full-time mama,” she insisted at the time. “I didn’t get a break. I came right to cook dinner for my family the night after I won. I was back to full-time mama mode.

“Everything that happened wasn’t part of my plan. I said: ‘I’ll compete, and then I’m done.’”

But the lure of the stage is a difficult siren to overcome, however. And Pratt’s subsequent ability to win over crowds at such venues as the Big Blues Bender, festivals in Chicago and Telluride and the February Legendary Rhythm And Blues Cruise, where this interview took place, as well as top blues clubs from coast to coast has been too powerful to ignore.

The decision to keep pushing didn’t come easily. In truth, she fought against it for most of her life!

Like many of her peers, Pratt grew up with deep spiritual roots in Jackson, Miss. Her mother, Catherine McCoy Harris, served for years as choral director at New Hope Baptist Church after first becoming its keyboard player at age 12. She met Keeshea’s father, Terry “T.L.” Harris, as a student at Jackson State University, and they traveled the world together, singing spirituals and frequently performing R&B on the side.

“My mother can sing anything,” Keeshea says. “She was in a group that did Motown and soul. She’s a lyric soprano, and my father was a first tenor with a beautiful, beautiful voice. He sang arias to me when I was a baby. He got into the management side of the business back then with a group called the Wynd Chymes, who patterned themselves after Earth, Wind & Fire.”

He also managed the solo career of band member Alexander O’Neal. A vocalist who hit the R&B charts with 14 singles in the ‘80s. O’Neal’s musical pedigree also included service as lead singer in The Time, one of the top groups of the era. He was replaced by Morris Day after a falling out with Prince who had signed the group to the Warner Brothers label.

Pratt grew up in the Church Of God In Christ — an environment where parishioners regard anything other than gospel as “the Devil’s music” — and her mom worked at three different churches before returning to the New Hope choir in her retirement, after leaving to work at three other churches. But despite any pressure against it, Keeshea says, Catherine has always encouraged her to pursue her dreams.

“She grew up during civil rights and there were a lot of things goin’ on, so she was afraid,” Pratt says. “She was the only girl in the house for ten years, and she was spoiled. My granddaddy wouldn’t let her go anywhere.

“She did some travelin’ for a while, singin’ background. But she gave it up. But she’s living the life she wanted through me. She always says: ‘If I had just a little bit of you, my life would have been different.’

“She’s a very, very strong influence about what I’m doin’ now.”

After singing in church at age six or seven, Pratt knew instinctively that music would be her life. As a child, she kept journals, writing in detail about dreams in which she was a headliner like James Brown or Tina Turner, in shows that would include backup singers, multiple acts and dancers.

“I knew then that bein’ an entertainer was my deal,” she says.

She sang in choirs, pageants and talent competitions through high school before attending at Tougaloo College as biology major. Like the late Mike Ledbetter, however, Pratt studied opera, too, and made an immediate impression during her freshman year – so much so, in fact, that she was recruited by the legendary Grace Bumbry to tour Europe with her Black Musical Heritage Ensemble during the summer of 1994.

keeshea pratt photo 2One of the leading mezzo-sopranos of her generation, Bumbry is considered to be a pioneer among African-American opera singers. A Presidential Medal Of Honor winner who’s toured in the company of both Marion Anderson and Leontyne Price, she visited Mississippi that spring to hold auditions.

“But I didn’t get to try out,” Keeshea says, noting that freshmen weren’t being considered.

As chance would have it, however, Pratt’s opera professor was also her godfather, and he insisted that she attend a rehearsal, which was being conducted by a gentleman in the diva’s employ. Keeshea initially refused, but jumped at the opportunity when she discovered that she’d be paid $75 an hour.

A second rehearsal followed, and the director called her aside afterward, Keeshea recalls. “He asked: ‘How old are you?’ Eighteen, I said. ‘Have you ever been out of the country?’ No, sir.”

Then he handed her sheet music and said: “Sing this.” (Keeshea launches into an extended verse that begins “I will see my Savior in Heaven…”)

The next day, the director called Bumbry, insisting she fly to Mississippi. “You have to hear this girl,” he told her. “She’s got a special kind of voice. She’s an alto, but she can sing first soprano. But there’s something about her…”

When Pratt set eyes on her for the first time, she knew she was in the presence of someone completely different – dressed to the nines with full makeup, long nails and, like many divas, she was wearing a corset. Bumbry hails from St. Louis, but Keeshea recalls that she spoke with a distinct European accent, having spent so much time on the Continent.

She sat stone-faced directly in front of Pratt when the teen sang for her in a group setting a short while later. “I thought she was bein’ mean,” Keeshea says.

At four a.m. the next morning, however, Pratt’s home phone rang. Bumbry was calling to ask her mother’s permission to take her abroad and assuring her that she’d assume full responsibility for her child’s care.

Catherine objected.

Bumbry’s reply proved to be prophetic. “Your daughter is special,” she said. “I want you to let her go with me.”

“No. Keeshea’s a freshman in college. She needs her education.”

“Your daughter’s future is bigger than what you think,” the diva answered. “If she’s not going to get a degree in music, she does not need to be in school. Your daughter is an entertainer.”

Her mother’s opposition ended when the Bumbry informed her that Keeshea would be earning $2,500 for the first two weeks plus per diem and $3,000 weekly for the rest of the tour. She finally relented, but only after Keeshea’s father, who’d worked with Price in the past, also agreed to join the ensemble as second accompanist.

“The money was gone quick,” Pratt says today. “But it was an amazing experience. That was when I knew this is who I am. I came home with a different mindset. All I wanted to do was perfect the entertainer, the performer in me.”

In 2009, she received more encouragement from a direction she didn’t expect.

“It was funny,” she says, “’cause at the time, I was strugglin’ because I’d already started singin’ in the clubs, working gigs at the Hilton and Steam Room Grille. But I was strugglin’ with church people and strugglin’ with what I was doin’.

keeshea pratt photo 3“It was hard. I was attacked. I’d leave work on a Saturday, get some sleep and then be in church at seven Sunday morning to lead praise and worship, and you could feel the spirits pullin’ and the ones out prayin’ against who you are. I always used to worry about what other people would say.”

Fortunately, however, her anguish was apparent to her preacher, an older white Pentecostal pastor who was also a gifted musician who played all forms of music.

One day in church, he beckoned her.

“I said to myself: ‘Oh-oh! What did I do this time?’ I stayed in trouble – and I stayed in trouble in church!” she recalls. Apparently, he’d spotted her in the midst of an altercation with another parishioner.

“He said: ‘See this one? You don’t know the cost of her alabaster mind. Keep your mouth off of her because what God’s calling you to do is bigger than you think,’” Pratt recalls. “‘You cannot worry about what they say. You can only worry about what the Lord says.’

“Later on in the year, he called me out during a service and said: ‘This pulpit is not your platform.’ I just started cryin’.”

Even though she’d been working in bars for the better part of three years, singing blues, soul and R&B, she’d never revealed what she’d been up to.

“He said: ‘It’s okay – because not everybody can be in the church. God is going to elevate you. You will sing before kings and queens. You will sing for presidents. The nation shall know your name. And you’re going to become an overnight international sensation. And when it happens, it’s gonna catch you off-guard.”

But there was more.

He cautioned: “For a time, you’re going to go through a period where you believe it’s never gonna happen and you’re gonna be away from it. But God is going to be preparing you for the success. Stay with God. You can go places my daughter can’t go, and there’s an anointing that you carry that God only gives to a few.

“Daughter, the Lord built you for the world. Don’t be afraid of it.’”

As her childhood dreams had foretold, he also assured her that her stage attire would be “over the top.”

Pratt remembers the incident like it occurred yesterday, and vows never to forget it.

Keeshea’s debut as a blues artist occurred in 2009 at Jackson’s Jubilee Jam, when she appeared with future IBC winner Eddie Cotton to perform a tribute to Koko Taylor, who had passed a few weeks earlier. Organizers wanted him to work with another vocalist, but he insisted she was the perfect choice.

“I drove out to his house – he lived in the country – and we rehearsed,” she recalls. “He said: ‘I don’t know what they’re tellin’ ya, but you’re a blues singer. You can sing anything, but this blues is in your soul.’

“We did the festival, and I was so-o-o nervous. I was soakin’ wet. But we went for it – and that was the day I said to myself: ‘I’m am a blues singer.’”

Pratt performed the Chicago Blues Festival in 2010, but gave up music entirely after the birth of her second daughter a year later — about the same time she was honored as female vocalist of the year in the Jackson Music Awards.

She worked day jobs in hotel and apartment management as well as a stint at Jackson State as an assistant to the dean of students before relocating to Houston, remaining out of the limelight until 2015, when a mutual friend – Kai “Cookie” Hicks, a singer who’s worked with Al Jarreau, Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé — introduced her to Shawn Allen, the bass and keyboard player who runs many of the top jams in the city.

Allen was putting together to compete in the 2016 International Blues Challenge and searching for a vocalist. Hicks told him: “She’s got what you’re lookin’ for.”

keeshea pratt photo 4She gave him Keeshea’s phone number then, over Pratt’s objections, insisted that she talk to him, telling her: “This is your second chance. The prophecy has to come to pass.”

They talked for three months, but Keeshea still wasn’t interested. Her attitude changed when he finally got her to sit in at a show he was running at Houston’s The Big Easy. “I do a few songs – and my belly starts stirrin’ up,” she says. “I came off stage and he asks: ‘How’d it feel?’ I said: ‘It felt good!’”

Pratt finally made up her mind to do it, but literally “fell off the earth” a short while later after encountering some personal problems, leaving Allen unable to find her.

Months passed before she returned from the wilderness to find that Shawn was still furious about her disappearance. But he warmed quickly when she told him she was ready at last. They traveled to Memphis in January 2017 to give her a taste of what the IBCs were all about.

“We became friends,” Keeshea says, “somethin’ they tell you not to do when it comes to workin’ together. There was a lot of fussin’ and a lot of cussin’. But he believed in me more than I did. He said: ‘Do you even know who you are? It’s sittin’ right here for you. You don’t even look like a blues singer – that’s the first thing that’s gonna get them.

“’You look like you should be singin’ jazz or R&B. You’re lookin’ like a Nancy Wilson. For you to gutbucket like you do, you don’t even have to open your mouth. Keeshea, you can live a good life in blues.’”

She and Allen recruited her high-energy band – Shawn on bass, lead guitarist Brian Sowell, saxophone player Dan Carpenter, trumpet players Misaki Nishidate (a young lady from Japan) and James Williams III, and drummer Nick Fishman – through jams.

“We’re a team,” Keeshea insists.

The finished product has a sound that’s distinctly different from most horn bands. The horn section delivers chorded, in-sync rhythm that mirrors the delivery of a big-band – something that’s not surprising when you find out that that’s where both trumpet players came from. They’re a refreshing alternative from other groups that incorporated a more traditional setup: multiple saxes and slide trombone.

Previously, Allen and Carpenter had worked together as members of Odell Gray And The House Rules Band. “And Misaki is so excited,” Keeshea points out. “She’s only been in the country for two years and had never heard blues before.”

The band polished their act at several local clubs, including The Big Easy, Emmits Place and Sambuca, before walking away with top honors in the 2017 Houston Blues Challenge and earning their ticket to the Memphis.

The Keeshea Pratt Band made an immediate impression when they and their street team arrived a day early for the 2018 IBC finals. They announced their presence by literally plastering the city with banners and push cards with scanable links their website and affixing more in hotel elevators and restrooms.

They powered through the preliminary rounds of competition, but almost didn’t make it to the Saturday night finals.

“I woke up sick,” Keeshea recalls. “The week and the January weather – it was brutally cold — had taken its toll, and my voice was gone.”

Her cousin, a Memphis physician, gave her a checkup that morning, offering a bit of encouragement. “She told me: ‘Your body isn’t gonna shut down. You’re working on adrenaline. But the moment y’all finish, your body is gonna just go like a sack of flour, like a sack of potatoes.’

“And that’s exactly what happened.”

When they hit the stage of the Orpheum Theatre that night, Keeshea’s mother was seated at a table alongside a family friend and a couple from Norway who were visiting the U.S. for the performance. The Norwegian lady quickly informed her: “We’ve been here since four thirty.”

“Mama said: ‘Why?’” Keeshea recalls, and she said: ‘This girl that’s comin’ up next, she’s gonna win.’

“‘Where’s she from?’

“’Houston, Texas,’ the lady said. ‘I’ve seen nothing like her since Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin. Oh, my God, she’s awesome!’

keeshea pratt photo 5“’What’s her name?’

“’Katina…no…Keeshea, and you’re gonna love her.’

“’Well, she’s not from Houston,’ my mother said. ‘She’s originally from Jackson, Miss.’

“’How do you know that?’ the lady asked.”

“I’m her mother!” came the reply.

Pratt insists that she wasn’t at her best that night and that she’d given better performances during the week. But the judges obviously thought otherwise, awarding her and her bandmates top prize. Not good enough in her own eyes, but a winner nonetheless.

Only afterward, did her mother admit always knowing that Keeshea would be a success.

“I knew early on that you were different,” she said. “I wanted to make you into this person ‘cause I couldn’t control you. And I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” Keeshea asked.

“Because this should have been your life years ago.”

Pratt disagrees. It was important for her to struggle, fight and hit rock bottom, she says, in order to be where she is today. “I’m here for the people,” she says. “It’s not about being famous or makin’ money. I’m here because I know this is who I am and that I’m needed to help people move on.

“In a 24-hour period, my life changed. Even if I wanted to quit now, I can’t. It’s my responsibility to keep pressing. I have to do it for all of the other singers out there that I see when I go home, to let them know: Keep going. If I can do it, you can, too.”

With only an EP, entitled Believe, to their credit, Keeshea and her band are currently working on a live, two-disc follow-up, incorporating expanded elements of their first release as well as original takes on some of Pratt’s favorite covers.

“I want to say thank you to the folks who are already following us,” she says, “because I get a lot of inspiration from them. Without them, I wouldn’t be Keeshea Pratt. Without them, there would not be a Keeshea Pratt Band.

“Music is a universal language, and if you use it the right way, it can make a difference. You’ve got to have a heart for the people. If you have a heart for the people, you have a heart for what I do.

“Our goal when we hit the stage is to love all of you and to give you an experience you’ll tell your grandkids about. It’s an emotional roller coaster.

“I’m gonna sing about the hurt and about the pain, the disappointments and the loss. But I’m also gonna sing about the joy, the happiness, the peace. We’re not gonna leave one stone unturned.”

Check out Keeshea’s music and find out where she’s playing next by visiting her website: http://keesheapratt.com.

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.

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Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Shows start at 7 pm, and are open to the public. Food and Beverages available at all Friends of the Blues shows. April 18 – The Jeremiah Johnson Band – Kankakee Valley Boat Club, June 4 – Ben Levin (piano) w/ Aron Levin, Marty Binder, and Chris Bernhardt – Kankakee Valley Boat Club, July 30 – Frank Bang – Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmens’ Club, August 3 – The Nouveaux Honkies – Inside Out – Gilman IL, August 15 – Albert Castiglia – The Longbranch – L’Erable IL. More Info at: http://www.facebook.com/friendsoftheblues.

The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society is pleased to announce that our May Blues Bash will feature an acoustic evening with Australian singer/guitarist Geoff Achison. The show will be held Sunday, May 5th, at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205. Admission is free for members with valid cards and $5 to everyone else. A limited number of reserved seats/tables will be available online through the website, for $10 each. Doors at 7:00; music at 8:00. It will be a great evening of music!

We continue to collect non-perishable food and household items for our charity partner, Loaves and Fishes. It’s our goal to collect one ton of donations this year to help stamp out hunger in Charlotte. Cash donations are also welcome. 1 Can? I Can!

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 4/19/19 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.

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.

Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

The Sacramento Blues Society proudly presents The Shane Dwight Blues Band on Saturday, April 27, 2019, from 3-6 pm at the Powerhouse Pub, 614 Sutter St., Folsom, California.

Tickets are $17 for SBS members, $20 to the public. For additional information please go to www.sacblues.com.


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