Issue 13-3 January 17 2019

Cover photo © 2018 Bob Kieser


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with harmonica virtuoso Dennis Gruenling. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Seth Rosenbloom, Mark Hummel, Deb Rhymer, Dr. Helander & Third Ward, Layla Zoe and Karen Lawrence and Blue By Nature.

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



 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

seth reosenbloom cd imageSeth Rosenbloom – Keep On Turning

Self-produced CD

9 songs – 39 minutes

www.sethrosenbloom.com

Hailing from Waltham, Mass., Seth Rosenbloom follows up on a previous EP with this album, which should be a welcome change of pace for anyone who loves red-hot guitar but has grown weary of a world dominated by over-the-top blues-rockers.

Rosenbloom is the son of classical violinists and studied the instrument himself. His interest in guitar began at age 11 when he saw the Jack Black movie, School Of Rock. He saved his pennies and bought an Ibenez SG soon after. He became fascinated with progressive metal, but turned to the blues after witnessing Joe Bonamassa in concert at age 13.

A quick study on six-string, Seth started playing in bands in high school, and was only 16 when he drew notice of Boston’s prestigious s Berklee College Of Music, which awarded him a scholarship based on his merit as a performer. He spent years developing his skills as a sideman in several bands in New England, Tennessee and North Carolina, and has become a popular clinic instructor.

Recorded at guitar master Josh Smith’s Flat V Studios in Reseda, Calif., this CD includes six tasty originals and three well-executed and reconfigured covers. Rosenbloom’s guitar play features tasty single-note runs delivered slightly behind the beat, and his vocals follow suit in a warm tenor.

He’s backed here by a top West Coast rhythm section — bassist Travis Carlton (Steve Perry, Chris Cain and Robben Ford) and drummer Gary Novak (David Crosby, Jessy J and Fantasia) – with Scott Kinsey (Manhattan Transfer) on keys. They’re augmented by Smith, who provides rhythm on two cuts, and a horn section composed of Jamelle Adisa (trumpet) and Don Boissy (sax). Backing vocals are delivered by Raquel Rodriguez and Vanessa Bryan, and Alan Hertz contributes tambourine on one cut.

“For me, playing the blues is all about expressing emotions,” Rosenbloom says. “That is the key to making great music overall and great blues in particular.”

It’s evident from the first notes that he practices what he preaches.

The unhurried slow blues “Keep On Turning,” one of three originals here penned with Sonya Rae Taylor, opens the action. The theme’s very mature: that you should count your blessings, watch your tongue, stay true to yourself and take advantage of what you can while you’re young because time waits for no one. Seth’s mid-tune solo is soaked with emotion, but so brief it leaves you yearning for more.

The action heats up for “Crawling Back,” a medium-tempo blues-rocker about a lady who tries to return after walking away. Rosenbloom drives home his message that she’s no longer welcome with stinging six-string fills and runs. The loping stop-time shuffle “I Can’t Help It” continues the message as Seth announces he’s focused on someone else.

The horns make their first appearance for a swinging cover of B.B. King’s “Heartbreaker” before another slow-blues original , “Right About Now,” which enables Seth space to stretch out vocally before his six-string skills come into play with brief mid-tune solo and an extended ending runs.

Next up, the guitar hook to Elmore James’ “Look Over Yonders Wall” comes through loud and clear throughout, but the song gets a funky new stop-time treatment. Rosenbloom’s sterling break would put a smile on the master’s face.

The slow-blues pleaser “Broke And Lonely” offers up hope for anyone pursuing a dream before the medium-tempo “Come Back Around” delivers a plea for a lady to return from an all-night, head-clearing ride. The album concludes with an updated, uptempo cover of Leon Russell, Don Nox and Duck Dunn’s “Palace Of The King,” most famously recorded by B.B.

Seth Rosenbloom is a guitar player’s guitar player. His ceiling is unlimited. Available through Amazon and iTunes, this CD is a welcome addition for any lover of true blues. Strongly recommended.

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 

mark hummerl cd imageMark Hummel – Harpbreaker

Electro-Fi Records

www.markhummel.com

13 tracks | 60 minutes

Grammy nominated blues harp player Mark Hummel has worked with many of the greats but mostly known for his work with his band The Blues Survivors and his producing the Blues Harmonica Blowout Tour which has featured harp legends such as James Cotton, Carey Bell and Charlie Musselwhite. He is proficient in all kind of blues styles and this CD showcase is all instrumentals including a couple of jazz tunes. His third-position for three of these tunes are textbook examples of how freeing this less used full-step down from the key you are playing in harp position which gives off a sorrowful minor jazzy sound. For example if one is playing in E the harp that is blown would be a D harp. The rest of the 13 tracks here are played in cross-harp position which is a fourth up from the key one is playing in and the blues standard. For example if one is playing in E the harp blown would be an A. The only exception is “Chuckaluck” played on the Chromatic harp I believe. The first position is what is commonly called straight harp and it is most used in country tunes such as “Oh Susanna” where the key you’re in is the key harp blown. Lesson finished. So what is this no vocals harp compilation all about?

First off there are so many great players supporting Mark. On guitars are legends Anson Funderburgh; Chris “Kid” Anderson (a blues cat from Finland who also produces much of this album at his famed Bay Area Greaseland Studios); Billy Flynn, Rusty Zinn and Little Charlie Baty from the original Little Charlie and the Nightcats. Rick Estrin & the Nightcats have recorded all three of their post-“Little Charlie” records at Greaseland. To round out the stellar band is R.W. Grigsby on bass and Wes Starr on drums. As great as the side players are, making the scene and setting the stage, they never go out and steal the show. This is a soloist’s showcase from beginning to end and to the last tremolo licks it’s the harp that we’re being fêted with.

The highlights here are many and there is much to be gleaned from these selections. Mark opens with a barn burner original showing he can compete at the highest level. The next “The Creeper Returns” by Little Sonny (Aaron Willis) is faithful to the original 1970 release on Enterprise/Stax Records and is the first played in third-position. The listener is immediately introduced to the distinct minor sounds the position is famous for. Next up is an out-of-the-box Buddy Rich big band style tune but Mark knows exactly how to bring it on home. Mark’s magnum opus here and the favorite tune of his mom’s is “Cristo Redentor” another third-position wailer goes the distance at over 7 minutes without ever losing the edge necessary to keep the listener fully engaged and interested in the trails he takes you down. The third third-position is Horace Silver’s “Señor Blues” a jazz standard and for the harp aficionado a real treasure.

There is a lot to learn and enjoy on this CD. If one modern blues harp CD can hit all the right notes on the way from “Harpoventilatin’” to the Ma Rainey traditional “See See Rider” without a misstep then you got it all right here. The penultimate Muddy Water’s “Evan’s Shuffle” makes the cut along with Muddy’s former harmonica player Little Walter’s “Crazy Legs” kicking up some serious old time Delta Blues dust on the former and Urban Chicago grit on the latter. This is the album for the beginner all the way to the master to get their lips wet touching on all things great about the electric harp and beyond.

Reviewer Reviewer Steve Gabe is a musician, writer, actor, comedian and lawyer.


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

deb rhymer cd imageDeb Rhymer – Don’t Wait Up

Self-released

www.debrhymerband.com

10 tracks | 40 minutes

Oh Canada! Why do so many of music’s brightest lights shine from up north? The answer The Deb Rhymer Blues Band gives is simple dedication and great songs. Here Deb co-writes a whole lovable mess of them based on the classic Chicago shouters but skillfully includes four covers with her own offbeat stamp of north of the border West Coast Blues. She is backed by Canadian blues veterans Kelly Fawcett on guitar, Andy Grafitti on drums and Clayton O’Howe on bass. This, her second album, is possibly the start of something big for “The Queen of the Blues in Western Canada” as she was referred to by Maple Blues Award winner David Vest.

The opener “Heartache and Trouble” with some super stylish sax by Gene Hardy gets the old school shuffle show on the road with the get up on your feet beat ballad about bad men and the results of associating with them but it’s her seductive clear round sounding vocals that press the charge. The next track “Let your Heart Decide” has a “Thrill is Gone” meets slick jazzy vibe with a nice descending chord pattern that frame the IV chord going into the B.B. King V chord half-step turnaround. What makes it completely original is the bridge/second chorus which takes the blues on a distinctly modern ride. The Bill Johnson guest guitar here is reminiscent of many a great Steely Dan lead and he is indeed one of Canada’s greatest blues players out there today.

As the program unfolds the hits keep coming. Etta James’ “Cry for Me Baby” is a perfect composition. It combines the best parts of Jimmy Reed “Big Boss Man” turnaround riff with the Willie Cobbs penned Bo Diddley derived “You Don’t Love Me” riff perfected by Junior Wells and Buddy Guy, but better blues writing pedigree cannot be found. The Kelly Fawcett guitar tones and guest harp solo overlap by Gary Preston pump up the tried and true tune where needed. Number four James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” does just that but at a slowed down slinky groove reinventing the wheel while paying serious homage to the master of the dance floor classic foot turner. There are some more great originals breaking it down for the sorrowful title track “Don’t Wait Up” then back into the night time is the right timer “Just Enough Blues” with the line ‘Everyone knows I love The Rolling Stones…” and it rocks without leaving the blues behind. Producer Wynn Gogol lends his rollicking piano throughout this track with the final lick putting the lid on tight. In fact the entire album sounds meticulously put together and plays as a perfect set. The next original track features the trombone solo and response swagger of Randy Oxford to her call of hey buddy “There’s the Door”.

“It Won’t Be Long” written by J. Leslie McFarland, one of his many on Aretha’s first album for Atlantic in 1961, is delivered with dedicated deference to the historic material. Great choice and it’s a fun tune. The inclusion of “Waking Up Slow” by Gary Nicholson and Kelley Hunt caps off the cover versions which steal the show with yet another delightful twist on the original. Deb knows how to own a song. Gary has written so many songs for everybody in the Texas country blues school including Delbert McClinton, Billy Jo Shaver and the one that got him off the ground, Micky Gilley’s “Jukebox Argument” from the hit movie Urban Cowboy. Maybe Deb could go a little country the way she handled that little ditty?

The takeaway here is this CD is a keeper and the future is unlimited for an artist who knows exactly who she is and what she can bring to each song. She wrote some great tunes here but like so many great performers she knows how to make a song her own whether she wrote it or not. Bottom line is this CD is rated: Highly Recommended.

Reviewer Reviewer Steve Gabe is a musician, writer, actor, comedian and lawyer.


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

dr helander cd imageDr. Helander & Third Ward – Meat Grindin’ Business

Bluelight Records

www.facebook.com/bluelightrecords

10 tracks | 36 minutes

The doctor is in! On his latest release, follow up to critically acclaimed acoustic-based Country Boy, he is accompanied by an outstanding outfit of seasoned bluesmen from his home country Finland. Esa Kuloniemi (guitar, slide guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Leevi Leppänen (drums, Wurlitzer electric piano, backing vocals) co-produced this gem at Studio Stadi in Helsinki but it sounds straight outta the Third Ward of Houston where the band derives its name. Houston may not be universally known as the birth place of the blues but it has as much right to the claim as anywhere. The Third Ward is where blues legends like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Johnny Copeland, Albert Collins, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and many others lived and cut their teeth in the beginning of their long illustrious careers. This CD is one hard hitting set of mostly original yet purely traditional electric blues. The seven self-penned tunes here are so well-crafted, delicately shaped and sharply delivered they could be covered without anyone knowing it’s not a blues classic.

The opener “Hawaiian Boogie”, an Elmore James instrumental, creates a swampy vibe with fellow countryman Little Willie Mehto contributing realistic Martin Denny worthy tropical jungle sounds and formidable harmonica licks. He splits the harp duties on this CD with none other than THE Charlie Musselwhite 5-3. Little Willie’s style leans toward Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) and he’s well known in France and Italy playing solo acoustic with dobros, guitars, harp rack, vocals and with combos in festivals getting a nice write-up in French Blues Magazine for playing with the Yokatta Brothers on their Live Session #1 CD. Ilkka (“The Dr.”) begins his strong vocal performance on the tremolo washed original “My Magic Wand”. Little Willie’s harp shows how instrumental the little instrument is to true blue blues. It simply sets the stage for what music is going on around it. Ilkka is the master of the setting. He knows where everything goes and then sits on top directing traffic with his smooth gravel road vocal delivery and biting guitar chops. Th groove is dancehall style blues and the breakdown takes the Sonny Boy “Help Me” riff, reframing it as stop-action lead-in clearly punctuating the raw hokum lyrics.

“Third Ward Boogie” introduces us to Charlie’s contribution. He laid down his tracks via the internet at Route 44 Studio in Sebastopol, California. The difference between the harp players is style. Charlie’s style as exemplified on Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Death Bells” is the one he created, and is much copied but harks all the way back to his seminal Vanguard Records release Stand Back! Mr. Musselwhite continues his dominance today as amply proven here. His thick and lazy Louisiana mud style seduces all the while accurately articulating the gamut of possibilities from low notes to the highest, with his signature warbles and trills generously sprinkled around. Little Willie shines on the next track, another original steeped in traditional boogie, “It’s Not for me But for My Friend”.

On “Gene Girls” the Dr. gives the hint to his secret: He is a scientist with two Phd.’s. One is in Bacterial Microbiology dealing with inflammatory effects of inhaled endotoxins (a toxin present in a bacterial cell and is released when the cell disintegrates). The other is in Agriculture & Forestry regarding surface carbohydrates of beer spoilage bacteria. So there it is, blues and beer, it’s all connected. As Ilkka says “Making music and scientific research possesses a highly similar nature. One must be technically skillful, be open to ideas, innovative and able to learn from mistakes. This will create good results in science and special music.” Oh so he’s singing about laboratory gals! It’s a finely realized acoustic number reminiscent of his previous Country Boy CD that contains a version of Muddy Water’s “My Home is in the Delta” from Folk Singer (Chess 1964). Bass player Esa does the slide guitar chores but the Dr.’s acoustic picking and soulful vocals are country blues solid gold. Radio ready.

The final track “Don’t Be Messin’ with My Bread” is written by Eddie “Guitar” Burns, the second most famous Detroit blues legend next to John Lee Hooker. The hot drummer, Leevi, has the sound and swing of the old timers as he handles the solo intro handily as he does all the drums throughout the CD.

Dr. Helander takes his research seriously and comes up with his own quality additions to the blues cannon. These are the pioneers of Finnish Blues Music.

Reviewer Reviewer Steve Gabe is a musician, writer, actor, comedian and lawyer.


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

layla zoe cd imageLayla Zoe – Gemini

Self-produced CD

20 songs – 94 minutes

www.layla.ca

Based out of Vancouver, B.C., full-throated vocalist, songsmith and harmonica player Layla Zoe takes listeners on a roller-coaster ride of emotions with this stunning two-CD set, proving once again that she’s a force to be reckoned with on the international blues scene.

Since making her debut with the album You Will in 2005, she’s been piling up honors. Both the Maple Blues Awards in Canada and the European Music Awards have honored her as their female vocalist of the year, while Polish blues fans have tabbed her as their Discovery Of The Year.

Her songwriting talents have drawn equal praise, earning high honors in Finland, where she took home top prize in 2006, and the International Songwriting Competition, where she’s been a semi-finalist three years running.

Zoe has also been a featured performed on Ruf Records’ popular Blues Caravan tours. The twelfth release in her catalog, Gemini follows two highly acclaimed albums on the Ruf imprint, Breaking Free and Songs From The Road. This all-original album was recorded in Bonn, Germany, penned by Layla in concert with multi-instrumentalist Jan Laacks, who composed all the charts. In addition to handling guitar, keyboard and bass duties, he also handled all aspects of recording. They’re aided by Dirk Sengotta and Claus Schulte, who provide percussion on 11 of the 20 cuts.

Disc one, entitled Fragility, is an unhurried, sparsely arranged acoustic treasure propelled by Laacks’ fingerpicking and slide guitar skills. Layla’s voice is smoky smooth, and each of her words – which are fully annotated in the liner notes — shines through with depth and great emotion. The opener, “She Didn’t Believe,” is a tender apology for undervaluing one’s self-worth. The theme’s resolved in the Hill Country-flavored “I’ll Be Reborn Blues” before “Turn This Into Gold” deals with the struggles of a singer trying to make a name for herself in a foreign land.

The subject gets political with “The Deeper They Bury Me,” which recounts of the life of Herman Wallace, who spent 41 years in solitary confinement in notorious Angola Prison only to die a few days after release. The mood sweetens instantly for “Mumbai,” an intoxicating paean to India, before “The Good Life” finds joy in working hard for a loved one and being grateful for what you have.

The tender “I Can’t Imagine My Life Without You” and “Freedom Flowers,” an oath to plant the seeds and watch them grow, follow before “Let Go” describes a desire to move on from a world of isolation. The bright and optimistic love song “Rainbow Pacmen And Unicorns” concludes the acoustic set.

Entitled Courage, the all-electric second CD, is a solid collection of modern blues rock and is as aurally different from the first one as day and night. The darkly tinted “Weakness” powers out of the gate as Layla sings about the end of a romance filled with deceit and lies. And the driving rocker “Dark World” describes male and female prostitutes as being children inside. Opening with the sound of a steam-powered locomotive, “Ghost Train” paints a sad picture as it pictures a boy drummer whose life spirals out of control after inheriting a large amount of money and a girl who works herself into an early grave.

A regimented drumbeat introduces “Bitch With The Head Of Red” — a profane, sexually promiscuous woman. She wants to be pushed into the light to absorb positive energy. The title tune, “Gemini,” which follows, deals with the duality and serious nature of the star sign. But it’s all sweetness and light for “Roses And Lavender,” a pleasing slow-blues love song. The feeling doesn’t last long, however. “White Dog” uses canine and cat imagery as it warns that the pussy’s moving in and that she’s got something to say.

The insanity of the slaughter at the country music festival in Las Vegas last year comes to the fore in “Automatic Gun” before “Are You Still Alive Inside” finds the singer living with booze and drugs and burying her emotions behind forced smiles. The album concludes with the bright and breezy “Little Sister.” Delivered with a Caribbean feel, it’s a song of affirmation for a lady who’s living life right.

Available through all major retail outlets, Gemini offers up powerful statements on many levels. This one should be appealing to any blues lover who possesses diverse tastes. Interesting, moving and thought-provoking throughout. Beware, however: Several of the tunes contain wording or imagery unfit for tender ears.

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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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

karen lawrence cd imageKaren Lawrence and Blue By Nature – Best of Live

Hostel Records/City Hall Records

www.facebook.com/KarenLawrenceBlueByNature

8 tracks | 34 minutes

Karen Lawrence does not disappoint on this Best of Live CD originally produced by the legendary Jack Douglas most known for producing Aerosmith and John Lennon. These tracks are from the double CD concert recorded in 1997 Live at the Lake paired down to 8 of the most requested radio friendly songs. All these songs are originals penned by her and Fred Hostetler, 2nd guitar/vocals, who also produced this CD re-mastering it at Soundtrap Studios with Robbie Cribbs. The result is a tighter set of the Janis Joplin/Tina Turner styled vocalist delivering her emotionally saturated yarns belting out the blues with high quality raspiness while the band grinds loud enough to keep up.

This CD is to be classified under: Electric Blues. It features the lead player, Rick Dufay, who is a formidable talent. His tone and crunch are springboards for single note flights of fancy worthy of any of the many Full Tilt Boogie Band riffs he has in his toolbox. He can get down and dirty with the Big Brother & The Holding Company riffs as well. Ike Turner he may not be because one has to go back a bit farther to get there. This is not Old School Blues by any stretch. Karen is in good company and to her credit she may be a bluesier version of either of the distinctive women she’s so often compared to.

Dan Potruch, a seasoned LA go-to-drummer (Keb Mo/Guitar Shorty), swings nicely and cashes in on every pounded moment solely to emphasize the vocals. Charlie Diaz, a die-hard rocking bass player, knows his way around the blues but isn’t limited by the genre. Highlights include the Jr. Walker/King Floyd groove on “I Had it All Wrong” which verges on the hard rock lying just beneath the surface. The slide guitar on “You Got Me Workin’” slashes all over the tune and Karen’s vocals go the Steve Marriott/Robert Plant route bypassing any girlishness along the way. The harmonies are great here too. The entire condensed set is delivered with straight forward professional power flawlessly.

Karen has bona fide industry credentials as the co-writer of the song “Prisoner” theme song for the movie “The Eyes of Laura Mars” performed by Barbara Streisand going 4x Platinum. She sings backup on Aerosmith’s “Get It Up” and sings and co-writes on Jeff Beck’s Beckology as well. Perhaps her most likely musical sibling is the unheralded San Francisco/Bay Area siren Lydia Pense from Cold Blood. In 1981 her New Wave outfit Karen Lawrence & The Pinz released Girls Night Out which was well received. Karen released her last studio album Hard Daze which was a more acoustic effort. Her skill and expertise was to build up the blues songs she writes so well to huge satisfying climaxes. Publicizing her Best of Live now shines a very favorable light on her.

Reviewer Reviewer Steve Gabe is a musician, writer, actor, comedian and lawyer.


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 Featured Interview – Dennis Gruenling 

dennis gruenling photo 1From the moment Dennis Gruenling hits the stage, you know that you’re in for something special – not only for a trademark look that sets him off from the crowd, but for the stylish and hypnotic way he lures you in with his skill on the harmonica.

Now a featured member of Chicago-based Nick Moss’ band, Gruenling doesn’t need the lofty backing to prove his worth. He was a star in making when he emerged from central New Jersey in the mid-‘90s, and every step he’s taken since have proven those expectations true.

In the current state of affairs in the world of modern blues, Dennis is a welcome anachronism, hitting on all cylinders as he seamlessly packages music from differing eras, frequently delving into bygone eras for his material, but always delivering it with a touch that’s guaranteed to remain fresh for future generations.

A 2019 Blues Music Awards nominee for harmonica player of the year, his act includes everything from 1940s jump and swing to post-War Chicago blues and much, much more. His delivery is flawless – both in seeming effortlessness and in its faithfulness to sounds of the past.

But don’t be fooled. He’s a thoroughly modern innovator whose skill level bridges space and time. He’s a New Age soul and music educator with feet planted firmly in both the past and the future, a man whose passion is restoring antique crystal-element microphones and who also has harmonica skills that combine traditional tongue-blocking and overblow techniques in a manner that goes undetected, could forever influence the way the instrument is played.

A strong vocalist who’s equally proficient on diatonic and chromatic harps, Gruenling’s a pacesetter with a distinctive look that immediately sets him apart from the crowd.

Dressed in a tasteful mix of animal prints, paisley and leather and wearing sharply pointed shoes with straight, shoulder-length black hair and small oval shades, he cuts a dashing figure. Some of his friends jokingly compare his look to that of Count Dracula. He’s also a devout vegetarian who, unlike the Dark Lord, maintains his center and renews himself through Transcendental Meditation.

Raised in Piscataway, N.J., about an hour east of Philadelphia, Dennis played trumpet and guitar as a child and grew up listening to ‘80s rock. “My dad was into country music, but my mom oldies,” he says. “I heard blues and all that stuff. But at the time, I didn’t know what it was.”

As a youngster, he was attracted to the sounds of swing and big bands, especially clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman. “I just remember that it was cool music,” Dennis recalls. “I was also into ‘50s rock and jump, too. I heard Fats Domino, Little Richard, and I loved that stuff.”

His life changed forever in his late teens when he and a beloved family friend, known as Uncle Dave, exchanged gifts at Christmas. A multi-instrumentalist and blues lover himself, Dave gave Dennis his first harp.

As significant as that proved to be, the gift Dennis gave in return – a copy of the 1990 Alligator LP Harp Attack — was just as important. Still considered essential listening today, it was a groundbreaking release that featured four of the best blues harp players in the world — James Cotton, Junior Wells, Billy Branch and Carey Bell – at the height of their game trading licks and cutting heads throughout.

“I made him play the record for me, and I was completely blown away,” Dennis says today. “Until that point, I’d never heard any real blues players or, for that matter, any blues in general.

“When I heard it, all I could say is: ‘Wow!’

“I saw James Cotton and John Hammond in the same year,” he recalls. “And not long after that, Rod Piazza and William Clarke. Hammond was the first real bluesman I ever saw, and I was just blown away by his playing and the whole force of nature that John Hammond is. With Cotton, his sound knocked me out.

“From seeing those guys – Cotton, William Clarke, Piazza, Kim Wilson and Rick Estrin – and especially being in New Jersey and seeing Steve Guyger so much, I learned a lot just by listening and studying what they do. Steve’s overlooked because he doesn’t tour all that much.”

And he was listening tirelessly as he began building his own collection of blues harp albums. It started with Wells, Cotton, Little Walter Jacobs, Big Walter Horton and George “Harmonica” Smith – soon followed by Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter.

dennis gruenling photo 4Basically self-taught, Gruenling worked diligently to teach himself how to play. Like all newbies, first he studied the basic instructions that accompany the instrument in its box, then, in the era just before the birth of digital music, sat beside his phonograph, repeatedly playing cuts and playing along until what he was doing sounded right. He also tried to pick up tips from more accomplished players when he could.

An avid instructor today who’s been honored three times by Canada’s Real Blues Magazine as its harmonica player of the year, Dennis inherently knew at a young age that, in blues, all roads to the future lead from the past. The aural footprint is clear.

A genuine pioneer in country blues beginning in the ’30s, Sonny Boy Williamson’s innovation influenced all artists who came after him, and Little Walter and Rice Miller, a.k.a. Sonny Boy II, expanded the boundaries by electrifying and urbanizing the blues in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

But the harp is a difficult mistress. It’s both tough to teach and difficult to master because all of the action is hidden – behind the hands, inside the mouth and through the action of the diaphragm and lungs.

Everyone starts playing the instrument the same way: By pursing the lips and blowing and drawing on the reeds. The key to advancement comes through mastery of a technique — known as tongue blocking – that involves moving the instrument as far back in the mouth as possible, laying the tongue on the comb and using it to obstruct air from the covered holes while directing it past the side of the tongue and into the desired target.

Reed-bending skills provide even further advancement. By dropping the position of the jaw, the player alters the way air passes across the reed, slightly lowering the pitch of draws and elevating blows. Proficient benders can bend as many as three more notes from a single reed, thereby creating the rich, varied tones that skilled blues players are known for today.

“We’re all basically lip players until somebody tells us different,” Dennis says. “A few local players mentioned tongue-blocking, but nobody actually sat me down and showed me.”

In pursuit of his muse, Gruenling dropped out of school and moved to New Orleans in 1993.

“That was a big turning point,” he says. “I wasn’t really that good back then, but I really wanted to come back home with something to show. I spent a lot of my time just locking myself into the apartment and practicing, playing along to records eight, ten, 12 hours a day.

“I kept setting the needle back and playing it. And I swore off radio. I wanted to get as close as I possibly could get to this music. I couldn’t go back in time. Buying records and listening to them constantly was the best that I could do.”

Gruenling learned how to tongue block about a year after he started playing. “When I realized what a difference it makes, I slowly transitioned to doing it for just about everything,” he says.

He returned to New Jersey after eight months a changed player, and was still underage when he started working with local bands. Playing in New Brunswick and the surrounding area, his work sometimes involved backing visiting blues royalty, including Snooky Pryor, Homesick James and Pinetop Perkins.

He formed his first band, Dennis Gruenling And Jump Time, in 1998. A six- or seven-piece group with a revolving lineup, it was formed with musicians handpicked from other bands and primarily played boogie-woogie and jump blues. At different times, its lineup included two future jazz stars — sax player Joel Frahm and the late clarinetist Kenny Davern.

When the big band wasn’t gigging, Dennis played straight-ahead, Chicago-style blues in a smaller unit that utilized some of the same personnel.

Jump Time made their recording debut in 1999 with a self-titled album on Gruenling’s Back Bender Records. Two more releases followed before they disbanded in the mid-2000s. It simply proved too difficult to secure enough gigs to keep a large band working enough to keep food on the table.

dennis gruenling photo 3For almost 15 years, ending when he recently relocated to Los Angeles, Gruenling hosted a popular weekly radio show on WFDU-FM in Teaneck, N.J., about an hour north of home. The signal reached a large portion of the greater New York metropolitan area with a mix of blues, jump, swing and more. In later years, he reached a broader audience by simulcasting the show on Facebook.

During that period, Dennis was as first-call musician who worked an interesting mix of artists, including a young Dave Gross and Gina Sicilia, Peter Karp, the Atlanta-based emo-pop band Cartel – you might remember them from the MTV mini-series Band In A Bubble – and former Savoy Brown and Commander Cody guitarist David Malachowski.

Gruenling reunited in the studio again with Jump Time in 2008 when he decided to record an album honoring Little Walter. Entitled I Just Keep Lovin’ Him, it featured Dennis backed by Jump Time for a few cuts. It also included the talents of Guyger, Wilson, Estrin and West Coast guitar legend Rusty Zinn.

Dennis’ longtime relationship with guitarist Doug Deming and The Jewel Tones began about the time the album was released.

“I heard of Doug’s name on the scene for a couple of years, and I guess he’d heard of mine,” Gruenling recalls. “One night, he called me out of the blue.”

Originally from Detroit, now based out of Florida, Deming shares similar musical tastes and has much of his career working with harmonica players, among them Kim Wilson, Lazy Lester, Gary Primich, Greg “Fingers” Taylor and Madison Slim.

Deming was in a bind. He was committed for a tour, but the harp player he’d been working with was no longer available. “We talked for two hours,” Gruenling says. “When I hung up, I agreed to join him for a three-week tour.”

They met for the first time when Dennis drove to Michigan a week later. After a handshake, they packed and left town, quickly finding that their styles fit together well. They hooked up again shortly thereafter when Gruenling launched a tour to promote the Little Walter album.

In subsequent months, they met up for more tours before finally deciding to make the relationship more permanent. As Doug Deming And The Jewel Tones Featuring Dennis Gruenling, they remained together for seven years, releasing two well-received CDs and, using the same basic lineup, solo albums under their own names.

The timing of their break-up couldn’t have been more fortuitous. Like Dennis and Doug, Nick Moss was going through a change, too. Mike Ledbetter was leaving his band after a lengthy apprenticeship to begin a new musical adventure with Monster Mike Welch.

“I’d known Nick since the mid- to late-‘90s since before either one of us had any records out,” Dennis recalls. “He was backing Kim Wilson at the time.”

Their friendship developed quickly and grew stronger over the years as Gruenling joined Moss for occasional East Coast tours and also lent a hand in securing gigs in New Jersey. They jammed together at festivals whenever the opportunity presented itself.

“Neither of us knew we were looking for something new to do,” Gruenling says, looking back to early 2018. “But it just kinda happened. The first gig I did with him – a William Clarke tribute– it just felt like we fit like a glove together.”

It wasn’t long after that night before they agreed it they should do it full time, a natural decision because their musical tastes are so similar.

For Gruenling, what makes it even more enjoyable is to be working with Nick’s keyboard player Taylor Streiff and drummer Patrick Seals, two truly young players he admired from a distance before, but guys he appreciates even more now that he’s on stage with them nightly.

Their relationship is already paying dividends.

Billed as the Nick Moss Band Featuring Dennis Gruenling, their first album together, The High Cost Of Low Living on Alligator, was a Blues Blast Music Awards nominee in the traditional album category, is a 2019 BMA nominee for both traditional album and album of the year and should be a strong contender for other prizes as the year unfolds. And they’re already working on a follow-up, which was recorded in early January at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in California.

“I gotta tell ya…I’m really excited about going into the studio with these guys,” Dennis says, “because every night brings out something new.”

Away from the stage, Gruenling remains very active as a harmonica instructor. He appears at workshops across the U.S. and teaches both in person and through use of the internet. And he markets crystal microphones around the globe, too.

He fell in love with them early in his career, but it quickly developed into far more.

dennis gruenling photo 2“When I started, I was drooling over all these old vintage microphones,” he says. “I was playing a newer one, and it wasn’t great, but it was getting the job done. Then a friend sold me a vintage mike. It looked cool, but didn’t sound great and wasn’t working well.

“Basically, I got really upset and started searching them out on my own, finding them and experimenting with them. I started noticing the differences between this model and that one, then started collecting. It’s an obsession with me now. I have hundreds in my collection, all different. And I’m still trading with other collectors. I eventually bought so many of them, I started fixing ‘em up and selling ‘em to other players.”

Although he occasionally deals in other models, he concentrates on bullet mikes that use crystal elements that capture the sound and convert it into an electronic signal. The crystals themselves break easily if mishandled and are difficult to replace. Although some are manufactured today, Gruenling says, “they haven’t made good ones in decades.”

And he maintains an inventory of new, old stock. He reconditions old mikes both for his own collection and to make them available to fellow musicians, fans and collectors around the world. He’s been doing it for more than 20 years now, and doesn’t sell anything he wouldn’t use himself.

“I only play crystal,” Gruenling notes. “There’s a certain sound and texture a crystal microphone produces that you just can’t get with other styles. A warmth — and more highs and lows. If you take care of them, they can last for years.”

His customers include players of all skill levels and include some of the biggest names in the business.

Dennis’ work as an instructor came about pretty much by accident, too.

“It happened when I was down in New Orleans,” he says. “A buddy that I was taking lessons from actually called me up to teach one of his students. I started teaching long distance over the phone and through the mail. That wound up working well, and it grew from there.

“I was doing video lessons even before Skype.”

As a teacher, he says, he can’t help but do a double-take when he views young musicians posting videos online as they teach themselves tunes today.

“I’m not going to say anything negative about them,” he says, “because I see some really good young players out there, and it’s all part of the process. For social interaction, support, encouragement and all of that, that’s cool and can be fun and inspiring.

“But some of them post clips of themselves practicing and learning things note for note, some of them thinking that they’re the new thing or, even worse, have some viewers thinking they’re the next new musician ‘on the scene’ when they’re just practicing in their bedroom doing homework.

“For me – and every other great player that I look up to – that was just a necessary part of the journey. All of that has to happen way before you develop your own style and voice on your instrument. I would have never posted that stuff, but that’s just me. It was just a step in learning my craft.

“There’s nothing wrong with it, however. It’s just another example of how the scene and the business has changed, and how differently we all interact with fans and friends in this day and age.”

It’s both a blessing and a curse, Gruenling says, because the overall sound of the music has lost its regional feel.

“Today, everything is online,” he notes. “But when it started it was all based on geographical locations. You had Chicago blues, Delta blues. There was Piedmont stuff, Texas stuff. And a lot of it was separated geographically because, if you lived in a certain area, you were influenced by certain things around you. That’s what made your style.

“Nowadays, especially because of technology, somebody can put out a song in Timbuktu and somebody in Australia or New Jersey or Antarctica will hear it almost immediately because of the internet. The geographical boundaries that used to separate one style from another don’t exist anymore.

“It really comes down to how you want to piece together your own style – what you like, how you want to present the music and what your position is.”

dennis gruenling photo 5Pigeonholing artists into a category – traditional, modern or whatever – is an issue, too.

“People like to label me as ‘traditional,’” Gruenling says. “But I don’t see it that way at all. A lot of the old-school guys don’t know what to do with me because I don’t do everything old-school.

“There are just too many micro-categories now,” he insists. “Sometimes I feel like it dilutes the whole scene – and people get turned off by the labels, too. Young people right now especially might be turned off when they hear the term ‘traditional blues’ — without knowing what it is or what it sounds like.”

The boundaries keep changing with each passing generation, he says, noting that, in the current era, most folks consider Little Walter to be a traditionalist. In truth, however, in his lifetime, he was considered to be avant garde – not unlike Miles Davis in the jazz world — someone stretching the boundaries in ways the music had never gone before. Those advancements continue into the 21st Century through the extraordinary tongue-blocking and reed-bending skills of Sugar Blue, the advancement of overblows by Jason Ricci and the work of others – including Gruenling himself.

Although casual listeners might not recognize Dennis to be an innovator himself, he is making his own contribution, albeit subtly. He’s merging tongue-blocking and overblow into an attack that might trick you into believing he’s dyed in the same wool as his forebears. But he’s been practicing the technique since his very first record.

“I guess you could say I’m approaching it in a new style, a new way on the instrument,” he says. “All it means is that I can play those missing notes (the tones not built naturally into a diatonic harmonica and not available by normal ‘bending’) and I can execute them tongue-blocked.

“I’ve been doing it since the ‘90s. And I guess it was a new thing back then. Other guys might have been doing it. I might have been the first blues guy to do it on a record. I just see it as a means to an end – another tool in my arsenal that enables me to play what I want. Whether it’s a bend or a draw note, an overbend or overdraw, I just try to play it musically. Simply wanting to use the technique just to do it is the polar opposite of what I’m trying to do.

“For me, it’s all about the music.”

He’s so proficient at it that even folks with trained ears find it difficult to distinguish.

“One of the biggest compliments I’ve ever got was from Rick Estrin,” Dennis says. “He said he couldn’t even tell I was doing it. All I can say is: Mission accomplished!”

Learn more about Dennis Gruenling, pick up his music, take harmonica lessons or acquire one of his vintage microphones at his website – www.BadAssHarmonica.com – and be sure to check out more info about the Nick Moss Band at www.nickmossband.com.

Blues Blast Magazine Senr 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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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. They are 2/9/18 Mike Wheeler Band, 3/9/19 John Primer, 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 2/1/19 Sistah Beth Blues, 2/15/19 Recently Paroled, 3/1/19 Hobson’s Choice, 3/15/19 Milwaukee Slim with Billy Flynn, 4/5/19 Dave Fields and 4/19/19 Oscar Wilson and Joel Patterson. No cover, 7 pm to 10 pm.

Chillicothe Public Library District – Chillicothe,IL

Legendary blues artist John Primer and the Real Deal Blues Band will present “The Blues According to John Primer,” a high-energy Chicago blues show, at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, February 10, at Chillicothe Public Library, 430 N. Bradley Ave., Chillicothe, IL 61523. The concert is free (donations appreciated). Attendees are encouraged to stay for a post-concert talk and Q&A with Primer about his musical life and experiences.

John Primer is a legend among blues artists: a two-time Grammy nominee, he helped to build the sound and style of Chicago blues over his decades-long career with his strong traditionalist blues phrasing, seasoned rhythm and blues vocals, and lightning-fast slide guitar techniques. Having played or recorded with a “Who’s Who” of blues greats, Primer’s personal accolades, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, reflect his countless contributions to the history of Chicago blues.

For more information, please visit www.chillipld.org or call 309-274-2719.

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign, IL

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society continues holding two Blues Jams each month. Thanks to Pipa’s Pub, 604 S. Country Fair Dr. in Champaign for hosting these jams held the 2nd Sunday of each month from 4 to 7 pm and the 4th Wednesday of each month from 7 to 10 pm. The host band plays the 1st set and then it’s open to all the jammers in the house.

On Sunday January 13the Jenkins Brothers will host. Alex and Benny Jenkins won the Solo/Duo Challenge at the Windy City Blues Fest this summer and are headed to Memphis in January to compete in the International Blues Challenge. This is also a fundraiser for the Jenkins Brothers.

In February the Blues Deacons will host and Sunday March 10, we welcome back Robert Kimbrough Sr. Robert is the youngest son of Junior Kimbrough and put on an amazing show at the 2018 Prairie Crossroads Blues Fest. Bring your instrument. For more info visit: www.prairiecrossroadsblues.org.

Minnesota Blues Society – St Paul, MN

Minnesota Blues Society presents Harold Tremblay’s annual Road to Memphis fundraiser Sunday, January 13, 1:00-6:00 at Wilebski’s Blues Saloon 1638 Rice St, St Paul.

Come support our 2019 IBC Musicians: Dee Miller-band, Tony and Joe- duo, C-Notes-with a full evening of luxic by Jimmi and the Band of Souls, Alex “Crankshaft” Larson, Scottie Miller, Mark Cameron Band, Joe Flip and Tony Cuchetti, C-Notes, Dee Miller Band.

We will also have a Bake Sale & 50/50 Raffle. Suggested donation $10.00. More info www.mnbs.org.

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances held every Monday night at the Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.

Jan 21 – The Groove Daddies, Jan 28 – Billy Galt & the Blues Deacons, Feb 2 – David Lumsden, Feb 18 – Emily Burgess, Feb 25 – The Rockin’ Jake Band, March 3 – The Nick Schnebelen Band For more information visit www.icbluesclub.org.

The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society proudly announces its February Blues Bash on 10th February, 2019, featuring Lipbone Redding. A one-man band, Lipbone has shared the stage with many of the greats and is sure to entertain. Note that the date has been set back one week so the Super Bowl wouldn’t have to face the competition

The event will be held at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205. Doors at 7:00, music at 8:00, to be followed by an open blues jam. Admission is free for current members with a card and just $5.00 for non-members.

Like last year, we continue to collect non-perishable foods and household supplies for Loaves and Fishes. 1 Can? I Can!

Great Northern Blues Society – Wausau,WI

To celebrate 20 years of the Blues Café, we will be kicking off the weekend by hosting a 20th Anniversary Party, Friday, March 8 at the Rothschild Pavilion (near Wausau, WI). Doors will open at 5:30 pm, with Howard “Guitar” Luedtke getting things started at 6:30 and Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys taking the stage at 8:30.

Friday admission can be bought the night of the event for $5 and is included with all Saturday Blues Café ticket, which will be available to purchase at Friday’s event.

Saturday’s Blues Café lineup includes the Mark Cameron Band at 1 pm, the Ivy Ford Band at 3 pm, the Cash Box Kings at 5 pm, the Danielle Nicole Band at 7 pm, and Ronnie Baker Brooks at 9 pm. Doors will open at noon. We hope you can join us for a weekend of great music, and to celebrate 20 years of good times at the Blues Café. For more information, visit gnbs.org.


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P.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555 © 2018 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425

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