Cover photo © 2019 Bob Kieser
In This Issue
Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Billy Flynn. We have 4 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Lena & The Slide Brothers, John Lee Hooker, Widow Blue and Gordon Jamesn.
We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!
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Featured Interview – Billy Flynn
A fixture on the Chicago blues scene since his teens, Billy Flynn is one of the most soft-spoken and understated guitarists in the Windy City. But despite his modesty, he’s unquestionably an international star of the brightest magnitude — the go-to guy for anyone wanting to round out an all-star band or add polish to a recording session.
He frequently pops up in various top-notch musical collectives. A former fixture in both The Legendary Blues Band and Chicago-based Mississippi Heat, he’s been touring most recently as a member of harmonica player Mark Hummel’s star-studded entourage of merrymakers as well as the revolving lineup of The Cash Box Kings. And his fret work has been a key part of seminal blues recordings for decades.
As a front man, Flynn works in several different band configurations across the Midwest, and appears regularly in Windy City for regular monthly gigs at Shaw’s Crab House on the near North Side and B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted and the Smoke Daddy barbeque franchises, too.
As a recording artist, his work graces dozens of CDs. His most recent solo disc – Lonesome Highway on Delmark – was a 2017 Blues Blast Music Awards nominee for traditional blues album of the year, and he’s released albums as a surf rocker and mandolin player, too.
Through it all, Billy remains true to the music and an independent contractor at heart, crisscrossing the planet and delivering some of the most stylish fret work imaginable no matter where he appears. This past summer alone, he made three separate forays across Canada, hopscotched across Europe and played at several major American festivals, too.
“I’m really not with anybody,” he insists. “I do freelance – and that’s definitely by choice. It’s something I’ve always done because it doesn’t limit me when it comes to making decisions that benefit me and the folks that I play with.
“And I love the concept of collectives and the nice shows they put together.”
A native of Green Bay, Wis., Flynn came into the world on Aug. 11, 1956, destined to play stringed instruments. As a toddler, he’d grab toy guitars off the shelves when his mother pushed him through stores in a stroller. He and his siblings played homemade instruments in the family’s garage, using barrels for drums – Billy’s first “instrument” – and makeshift guitars with rubber bands used for strings.
As a small child, he started out on ukulele because, he says, a guitar simply was too big for his small hands. But even then, he thought of himself as a guitar player. His passion for the blues came early through the seminal work of Elvis Presley in the ‘50s. The blue notes of such chart-toppers as “Jailhouse Rock” and “Kid Creole” struck Billy to the core and started him on a search for the font from which the sounds flowed and for the people who made it.
His love for surf came about after a family friend gave him a copy of The Ventures’ hit, “Walk Don’t Run,” featuring the six-string mastery of Nokie Edwards. “Everybody thought ‘Walk Don’t Run’ was easy to play until they really started to play it,” Flynn says today. “To know each and every corner of that song, you had to be a pretty good guitar player to play some of it.
“It took me a lo-o-ong time ‘cause I taught myself how to play guitar by trial and error.
“With that kind of music, I’d put it on tape and play it over and over until I could figure out what was goin’ on. With blues, I never had to do that. Blues and jazz were more improvisation. That (surf) was more something that you had to have together.”
He got his first real six-string at age 10 – a $10 acoustic that he purchased himself after putting down a $1 deposit.
“I think I already played guitar before I actually owned one,” he says, because I was visualizing it in my mind. I went home to my mom and told her: ‘I bought a guitar today.’ I put a dollar down on it.
“And I didn’t ask her. I just did it!”
Billy quickly learned his guitar ABCs – chording, strumming and picking – by ear, and he admits today that he’s never been skilled at reading music. His first venture as a musician came as a drummer in garage bands – beginning with The Blues Express at age 14.
“I kinda faked my way through that,” he admits. But there was no faking his love for the blues.
“It’s infectious,” he says. “When I heard it, I felt like movin’!”
And the blues attracted him in other ways, too.
He was fascinated by the lyrics contained in the 12- and eight-bar measures – so much so that he spent hours in the library in sixth and seventh grade poring over whatever blues books he could find in an effort to soak up the true meaning of the words that concealed carefully veiled messages – many of them too “adult” for tender ears — between the lines.
He purchased his first electric guitar – what he now realizes was a cheap Japanese knockoff — at age 13 from Green Bay’s Stiller Music, laying down a $10 deposit on the counter, after falling in love with its look as it rested in a display case. The first time he saw it, it listed for $300. By the time he bought it, the price had been slashed in half.
And once again, his mother found out after the fact.
Billy paid off both instruments with money earned from a paper route and by shoveling snow in the long Northern winter. Any free cash went toward purchasing albums by Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters, which broadened his skills as he played along with the records.
Later on, he discovered first-generation acoustic blues on the radio, and he fell in love with the way Tampa Red, Lil’ Son Jackson, Big Bill Broonzy, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lonnie Johnson and Robert Nighthawk made their instruments sing.
Billy loved the sounds of the Allman Brothers and other bands of that era, he says, but avoided their music. Even at that young age, he believed that his playing style, which was heavily influenced by ‘50s and ‘60s traditional blues, would somehow change by osmosis.
The blues truly came calling on Flynn within a year of him picking up the electric guitar for the first time.
The invasion began when Luther Allison played at a festival not far from Billy’s home.
A man who moved with his family from his native Arkansas to in the Windy City at age 14, Allison’s big break came when Freddie King invited him out of the audience to share the stage. His recording career began in the ‘60s and included stops at Delmark, Alligator, Motown’s Gordy imprint and a host of European labels, and he was the reigning male artist of the year in the blues world when he succumbed to lung cancer a few days before his 58th birthday in 1997.
Young Billy didn’t even know Allison’s name at the time. But he quickly understood what his elders already knew: that Luther was something special. To his ear, Luther was a cross between Buddy Guy and Magic Sam. Not only did he possess some of the best dynamics in the business, going from a whisper to a scream in a heartbeat, but even though he was very powerful, his play was also very clean.
Trading licks with the legend at Duck Duck Goose, a Green Bay institution that hosted many of the top blues acts of the era, later on in his youth remains one of Flynn’s favorite memories today.
Billy was still 14 or 15 himself when his dye as a bluesman was cast for good – thanks to a street-smart pool hustler named J.C. who looked older than his 18 years and booked the bands Flynn played in during high school.
J.C. insisted that Billy join him to hear Jimmy Dawkins, who was playing at Clark Kent’s Super Joynt, a comic-book themed blues club that had a brief run in Green Bay in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Designed by artists who went on to work on the Star Wars franchise, the stage resembled a cave with icy stalactites and stalagmites.
Revered by Eric Clapton, Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Jimmy was at the height of his fame at the time after releasing his debut LP, Fast Fingers, two years before.
Billy brought his guitar along that night, and was sitting on the bar’s back steps with his guitar out of its case — too young to enter – when Dawkins and his band wailed away inside. When the band took a break, Jimmy’s drummer, Lester Dorsey, stepped out for a breath of fresh air.
“He was really helpful to me,” Flynn remembers, “’cause I was just sittin’ there with my guitar, and he asked me: ‘You gonna play?’
“I told him I couldn’t get in.”
That changed – and Flynn’s life did, too – when Dorsey ducked back inside.
Apparently Billy had made quite an impression because the drummer immediately reported his discovery to his boss. As Billy’s mentioned in previous interviews, Dawkins subsequently approached the club owner and sought permission to bring Flynn in to play on the next set. The proprietor agreed – providing the youngster promised not to drink.
Dawkins had a style all his own, Flynn remembers. People tabbed him with the nickname “Fast Fingers” – which he grew to hate over time – for a reason.
“With a guitar, you have a left hand and you have a right hand,” Billy notes today. “Some people are fast with one or the other. Jimmy was really fast with his right.
“If you listen carefully, you can hear the similarities between what Jimmy and (surf guitar giant) Dick Dale did. Jimmy called it ‘triple trebles’ – when he would slide up real high on the strings. But he also did it on the lower strings, which had a really cool sound.”
That night was the beginning of a beautiful relationship that endured for years.
Another began a week later, when Billy and J.C. returned to the club to catch John Littlejohn in action.
One of the best slide guitarists in blues history, Littlejohn migrated from Mississippi to New York and Gary, Ind., before settling in Chicago, where he was a force into the early ‘90s. Before a career with releases on Arhoolie, Chess, BluesWay and others, he reportedly served as an occasional rehearsal musician for the Jackson Five, a position acquired through his friendship with family patriarch Joe Jackson while he was living in Indiana.
Littlejohn’s version of the 1960 Brook Benton hit, “Kiddio,” quickly became a blues standard after Littlejohn reinterpreted it under the title “Kiddy-O” about a decade later.
His style immediately caught Billy’s attention.
“When I heard Johnny play slide, it was the sound that I really liked – real clear,” Flynn recalls. “The way it was executed, you knew he knew what he was doin’. It kinda reminded me of Hawaiian guitar because of the way he was playin’ it – slidin’ chords up from the bottom of the neck and things like that.
“He could really make that guitar talk. It was completely free of the rock sound you’d get from Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. It had a real Mississippi, country sound to it.”
“I miss the guy…I miss him!” he says, noting that he was just as powerful a picker as he was with the slide in his hand.
“I actually have a recording of him playin’ with Howlin’ Wolf,” he adds. “Johnny would have been a permanent member of his band if things had been different. But I think he wanted folks to know there was more to him than just that (slide).
“He talked about it in an interview on the Arhoolie website (https://arhoolie.org/john-littlejohn-interview/).
“If you listen to all his work, you can tell that he was really great at playin’ single-string leads like B.B. King. Plus, he did the Elmore James-type slide. When I started playin’ with him (later on in Chicago), I was thinkin’ there was gonna be a lot more slide goin’ on. But I think he wanted people to know that: ‘Hey, I’m not one-dimensional!’
“I loved the way he played both things.”
Another artist who gave Flynn encouragement during those early years was Mighty Joe Young, another giant who was always easily accessible.
Like the others, Mighty Joe had a distinctive guitar style that set him apart from the crowd. He grew up in Louisiana before migrating to Milwaukee and then Chicago, where he worked behind Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Jimmy Rogers and Tyrone Davis before setting off on his own. His first venture into a recording studio took place at Bobby Robinson’s legendary, Harlem-based Fire Records in the early ‘60s. The session took place at the suggestion of Elmore James, who was in the label’s stable.
Immensely popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s after releasing Blues with a Touch of Soul on Delmark about a decade later, he’s one of the most tragic figures in blues history. His career came to a halt experiencing complications that robbed him of feeling in his fingers after he underwent surgery to correct a pinched nerve in his neck.
“He was very friendly, and always invited me to sit in,” Billy recalls. “He was a great leader, and he excelled at second guitar. His playing, even in the beginning, was hot!
“The thing about Joe Young was that, the people who played with him, they were lifers. They stayed out with him for 10 years. I really enjoyed that band a lot.”
Three of those bandmates remain active today: bass player – and Freddie King’s brother — Benny Turner, drummer Willie “The Touch” Hayes and keyboard player Ken Saydak, a vital component of Rockwell Avenue Blues Band, the collaboration of four Windy City veterans who made waves last year with the CD Back to Chicago.
Flynn and Dawkins became fast friends, a relationship that grew stronger every time they met. Four years after their first encounter, Jimmy invited Billy to join his band. It was quite an honor when you consider that his second guitar chair had previously been filled by Jimmy Johnson, The Barroom Preacher, and Rich Kirch, who played alongside John Lee Hooker for the final 13 years of his life.
Still in his teens, Billy quickly found himself welcomed with open arms by many of the biggest names in the history of the music. Not only was he working with Dawkins and Littlejohn on occasion, but he was also rubbing elbows with Jimmy Rogers, Sunnyland Slim, B.B. King and a host of others on a regular business.
And all of them were mere mortals, not gods. It didn’t take long for Flynn to realize that, like him, they were all struggling to make a living, too.
Fortunately, however, through it all, Billy was never shy.
“When I see or hear something that I enjoy, I’ve always had no reservations about talking to somebody about what they do or how they do it, and it’s always worked out real well for me,” he insists.
“My biggest hero was B.B. And when I met him, he wasn’t such a well-known person. We talked a long, long time. He really enjoyed people and having conversations. And I got to run into Scotty Moore (of Elvis fame), James Burton, Franny Beecher of Bill Haley & His Comets and Al Casey (Duane Eddy), and I got to sit and talk to all of them.”
Although he never met Albert King face-to-face, he did see him frequently, and learned something about himself in the process.
“When Albert played left-handed, it made me realize that I’m slightly ambidextrous,” Billy says, “because I can flip the guitar over and play it left-handed, too. I have no problem in my brain flipping everything upside down — so I can understand what he and Otis Rush were doin’.”
Flynn quickly became a member of Dawkins’ family, staying in Jimmy’s home as he split his time between Wisconsin and Chicago. Their relationship that endured for almost 40 years until Jimmy’s death at age 76 in 2013. They were together on stage at Smoke Daddy in Jimmy’s final public appearance.
Despite making a name for himself in the Windy City, Green Bay remained Billy’s home. He and wife Mary hosted the popular Blues in the Park concert series for the better part of 30 years. A one-day event conducted every August, it drew top artists and throngs of blues lovers to Titletown, but came to an end when the Flynns relocated closer to Chicago in 2011.
Now in his early 60s, Billy’s still practicing the lessons elder bluesmen taught him in his youth. And those late-night studies in smoky bars have served him well. His career includes a handful of releases as a band leader and recordings with everyone from Bob Corritore, John Primer, Kim Wilson, Barrelhouse Chuck and Jimmy Burns to Lurrie Bell, Jody Williams, Billy Boy Arnold, Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and many more.
If you’re a fan of the film Cadillac Records, that’s Billy playing the lead on the Etta James cuts as well as the Chuck Berry character’s version of “Surfin’ U.S.A.”
A modest, down-to-earth star in his own right, he’s a 2016 inductee in the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame. And he became a member of the Wisconsin Area Music Industry Hall of Fame in 2018 along with Bryan “The Braille Blues Daddy” Lee. A native of Two Rivers, Wis., Lee credits Flynn with instilling his love for the blues.
No matter where he is or what he’s doing, Flynn remains humble and supportive of fellow musicians in whatever way he can – always as a team player who never attempts to steal the spotlight for himself.
He does have a few regrets, however. Missing out on the chance to see Earl Hooker, Otis Spann and Magic Sam live — all of whom probably appeared at Clark Kent’s in his childhood – is one. Not getting to see Eddie Taylor Jr. — a close friend who passed earlier this year – assume his birthright as the future of the blues because of the health problems that plagued him most of his life is another.
And misses out on not having had the opportunity to play with two other artists who left us wa-a-ay too soon: Atlanta-based Sean Costello (the Blues Blast Music Award for rising star is named in his honor), who succumbed to an accidental overdose of prescription drugs at age 28, and Maine-born Nick Curran, who lost a valiant battle against oral cancer at age 35.
But blues remains in some great young hands, Flynn says. Among the artists he enjoys listening today are guitarists Toronzo Cannon, Marquise Knox and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Rei Lee Kanehira, known as “Miss Lee,” the Japanese-born lady who’s continuing the legacy of the late Barrelhouse Chuck and David Maxwell by breathing new life into the Chicago blues piano tradition.
If you have your sights on career in music, Billy has some simple advice. “Right now is a great time to be playin’ guitar,” he says, “because it’s easy to get a good one. Just keep playin’ it, listen to records and go to a lot of jams. Talk to musicians ‘cause most musicians will help you – like they did with me.
“If you’re truly determined to learn, don’t be afraid to approach anyone. Chances are pretty good that they’ll lend you a hand.”
And that includes Flynn himself.
“The name of the game is to keep busy, keep learning and keep trying to make people happy,” he says, noting that he intersperses his touring schedule with gigs with his own band, the lineup of which is flexible much like his big gigs with a regular, alternating cast of musicians.
“I try to learn somethin’ from everybody. And I’m always willin’ to work with new artists. I always try something new every day and different styles of playing guitar.”
Check out where Billy’s playing next as a band leader by visiting his website:
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 – 1 of 4
Lena & The Slide Brothers – IV
10 songs, 45 minutes
Dual guitars is a staple of the Blues. Although many fundamental guitar-centric Blues recordings from the 20’s and 30’s are solo performances it is really out of the rural song pulls of the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta plantations where the Blues were born; the call and response of the workers in the field; the socializing and, often drunken, sing-a-longs of the barrelhouse. Out of the communal experience came Robert Johnson and his protege sidemen Robert Lockwood and Johnny Shines. Inspired by them, Robert Nighthawk and Big Joe Williams brought the Blues to the city and they begot Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers. The lineage continues on until it blooms into the genius innovations of Duane Allman and Dicky Betts, who in a tragically short window before Duane’s untimely death, created the hard hitting dual-guitar road map for generations of forward thinking down-home Blues-heads.
Unfortunately, many bands do not use dual guitar line-ups well. It takes sensitivity and empathy between the ax-wielders. Lucky for us Helsinki’s Lena & The Slide Brothers are a band that gets it right in a BIG way as is proven on IV. A bare bones quartet, lead singer/bassist/lyricist Lena Lindroos presides over the tasteful dual guitar kinship of Matti Kettunen and Yka Putkinen. Dry casual drumming a la Levon Helm from Juha Litmanen pins this band down and allows their stunning singer and guitarists to shine. Minimal ornamentation is added here and there from Helge Tallqvist on harmonica, Teijo Tikkanen on organ and electric piano and Emilia Sisco, Maria Hanninen and Hannu Leiden on background vocals.
A band calling themselves “The Slide Brothers” had better deliver some first rate slide, and these folks do. Guitarist Matti Kettunen, who does the majority of the lead work, has a fluid and effortless slide that swooshes and spins. Like many slide players, his fretted work is also slippery and flowing. Many of the songs here open with Kettunen laying down the finger-picked slide flecked skeleton for the groove and then layers are added gradually, including his own overdubbed leads. The interplay with fellow guitarist Putkinen is stylistically right in the Allman/Betts school. Putkinen has that Dicky type of sting and ruggedness that perfectly balances Matti’s wash of Duane-ism. Putkinen’s rhythm work is stellar, his sense of rhythm is rock solid but also present and lively. Band namesake Lena Lindroos has a fantastic voice. Singing in English with a hint of accent, Lena has a powerful clear delivery that is very much her own. Her singing voice is reassuring; never a sour note or mis-handled phrase.
Writing original Blues music can be daunting. Classic imagery such as trains, snakes, cars and wrong sides of town are so worn out they often sound disingenuous. The ten original Blues Rock songs on IV written by Kettunen and Lindroos do at times veer off into these cliques. All of the music is so top flight that one can easily excuse a few obvious lyrics though. And, there are original approaches on songs dealing with love, societal struggles and mental health to balance. Lead single “Your Kind of Woman” is a forward pass to a doubtful would-be mate (“I’m your kind of woman, you just don’t know it yet”). “Not Your Fault” hauntingly addresses refugee status, abuse and trauma. The joyous call to peace “New Kind of Soldier” is a celebration of peace over war. And, Kettunen’s slashing slide work elevates the galloping shuffle “I Can’t Believe It,” giving urgency and weight to being at rock bottom and still dealing with “my troubles.”
Lena & The Slide Brothers seem to be a high level national Blues act in Finland. Their music is nuanced and professional at the same time as not taking itself to seriously. IV is a tight and highly enjoyable, fully realized piece of music. One hopes that this band of Brothers and Sisters can build their international audience and make their way to the United States so we can all play along with them here.
Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Featured Blues Review – 2 of 4
John Lee Hooker – The Country Blues Of John Lee Hooker
Side A – 7 Tracks/22:20
Side B – 6 Tracks/19:46
One of the true legendary figures in blues music, John Lee Hooker’s career spanned more than six decades, with his first recording getting cut in 1948 for Modern Records. One generation of blues fans discovered Hooker through his collaboration with Canned Heat, the Hooker & Heat package. For others, the film The Blues Brothers was their first encounter with the king of the boogie beat. Nine years after that, he released The Healer with guests including Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt, earning a Grammy Award and achieving a level of acclaim and success that endured until his passing in 2001.
While these were all high points in his career, people often forget that Hooker started out as an acoustic performer. He honed his skills as a young man playing house parties and working on Beale Street in Memphis before relocating to Detroit in 1943, where he played in clubs on the city’s famous Hastings Street, eventually making the switch to electric guitar in order to generate the requisite volume needed to be heard from the stages he was working. In 1959, Riverside Records went to Detroit to record Hooker alone with just an acoustic guitar, taking him back to the start of his career. This reissue is cut from the original master tapes on 180-gram vinyl, complete with a reproduction of the original album cover and liner notes.
Hearing Hooker in this unadorned format is a revelation. While he was never a master technician on guitar, Hooker consistently lays down a strong rhythmic foundation on most tracks. On others, he picks out brief flurries of notes in response to his vocal musings. The opening track, “Black Snake,” features Hooker’s deep, weathered voice over a strummed accompaniment, exuding a primal sexuality that is also present on “Wobblin’ Baby,” which glides along at a brisk pace. On “She’s Long, She’s Tall, She Weeps Like A Willow Tree,” he sings the praises of his love interest. The imagery is familiar but Hooker injects plenty of feeling into the tune. Trains have always been a part of the blues legacy, and Hooker sings dejectedly about the one that took his baby away on “Pea Vine Special”.
Hooker recorded “Tupelo Blues,” about the great Mississippi flood of 1927, the worst flood in US history, several times during his career. The version here is a brooding, understated masterpiece as Hooker slowly tells the tale, adding a few moans to punctuate the sense of the rising devastation. On the following track, “Prison Bound,” the anguish is far more personal as he says good-bye, facing a life sentence. “I Rowed My Little Boat” returns to the flood theme, the storm raging, the children crying, and Hooker struggling to find safety.
“Water Boy” takes the listener into the vista of chain-gang labor, Hooker pleading for liquid relief from the effects of the brutal heat and work. Another standout track finds Hooker dealing with another common theme “Church Bell Tone,” laying down a performance of deep textures that expresses his anguish over the death of a loved one. Hooker works his magic on two classics, “Bundle Up And Go,” and “Good Mornin’, Lil’ School Girl,” which at the time of the recording had not been played time and time again. On the final track, “Behind The Plow,” one can sense that Hooker is harking back to his life at younger age, revisiting a hard way of living on a farm where nothing is easy.
Sonically, the album places Hooker and his guitar right there in front of you, especially if you are listening on a quality hi-fi system. You can hear the details of his fingering and picking while his voice envelops your consciousness, the timing and rhythm in a constant state of flux to suit Hooker’s moods. A top-notch re-issue in all aspects, this one should be heard by any John Lee Hooker or acoustic blues fans that still make a place in their world for vinyl albums.
Interviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 4
Widow Blue – Who’s Going to Take Care of Lucille
CD: 11 Songs, 48:00 Minutes
Styles: Soul Blues, All Original Songs, Debut
Soul and blues have never been mutually exclusive. They’re a perfect pairing, like red wine with beef and white wine with fish. New York’s Art Halperin and his latest band, Widow Blue, blend the best of both worlds on their debut album. Who’s Going to Take Care of Lucille offers eleven songs that will please longtime fans and newcomers to the blues in equal measure. It’s already pleased critics, reaching #10 on Ben Vee’s Roadhouse’s “Best of the Blues 2018.” It presents a near-perfect balance of wallop-packing tracks with slower, more mellow selections.
With his two other bands, Work of Art and the Natural Mystics, Art has toured the U.S., Europe, South America and the Caribbean. He’s been a headliner and an opening act for bands such as Santana, Jerry Garcia, Third World, Jimmy Cliff, The Police, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry. As a solo artist, he’s shared the stage with such icons as Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, and Marty Stuart. Remember the 1983 John Sayles movie Baby It’s You? Work of Art was featured in it.
Widow Blue consists of Steve “Skrilla” Riddick on lead vocals, Art “Ski” Halperin on lead guitar and backing vocals, Al Maddy on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Ed “Ignatz” Stein on keyboards, Sue Williams on bass, and Jon Bates on drums. Special guest stars include drummers Patrick Conlon, Warren Odze, and George “M16” Mussington; vocalists Debbie Major, Sybil Scoby and Coco Michelle; and trombonist Fred Simmons.
The opener/title track is the perfect homage to BB King and his “queen”, a slow burner full of classic blues sound and poignant songwriting. Sybil Scoby laments, “You won’t hear her [Lucille] crying on this dark blue day and age. All you’re gonna hear is silence now that her man has gone away.” Following that is the up-tempo “That’s What I’m Talkin’ About”, and I’m talking about its electric disco vibe. It’ll get people dancing and thinking that its running time (3:53) is far too short. Instrumental “Pow Wow Blues” slows things down a bit, featuring Patrick Conlon on evocative percussion. “Snake in the Grass” is another highlight, featuring a killer acoustic guitar intro & harp by Art Halperin. Sue Williams provides a soft, ominous bassline.
After the roaring rocker “Wonderful Feeling” come the sweet love songs “When Nighttime Turns to Day” and “Back In Your Arms.” On “Nighttime,” notes fall from Debbie Major’s lips like rain on a warm summer afternoon, as they do from Halperin’s electric guitar. “Arms” may be short, but it’s a lusty acoustic ballad with old-fashioned oeuvre. Then listeners behold a “New Sun Rising” – the smoothest, most melodic tune of all. Superb harmonic vocals from Ms. Major and Coco Michelle seamlessly mesh with “Art Ski’s” keyboards in this hope-offering anthem.
Closing things out are “Why Don’t You Treat Me Nice?”, “Slow Blues and a Shot of Gin” and “Broken Heart for Sale.” Number nine’s my favorite, with ragtime trombone by Fred Simmons. The other two are solid “traditional contemporary” blues rock numbers that just might be played at one’s local bar or in an upcoming roadhouse movie.
Widow Blue’s debut is a stunner in several ways: high quality, variety of songs, broad audience appeal, and the musical chemistry among the various artists involved. It’s as tasty as barbecue pork at a “fusion” restaurant, showcasing the flavors of both classic and contemporary blues.
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 40 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 4
Gordon James featuring Carol Selick – Come On Down
CD: 11 Songs, 50 Minutes
Styles: Horn Blues, NOLA Blues, Jazz
“Jambalaya and crawfish pie and fillet gumbo…” Blues fans far and wide will be in the mood for such soul food once they listen to Come On Down, the latest release from New Jersey’s Gordon James. It features eleven songs and fifty minutes of piping-hot New Orleans fare, “jazz and blues and reggae too,” as the opener/title track promises. Gordon’s vocals are reminiscent of Frank Sinatra’s: smooth and understated, with a slight patter style. Those of his wife, singer/songwriter Carol Selick, are clear and melodious with sly undertones on such songs as “Cuddle Queen” and “The First Time I Saw You.” Purists might deem this a jazz album rather than a blues album, but they wouldn’t be 100% right. Besides, it’s worth several replays in one’s stereo or boombox.
Gordon James is not only a performer, but a composer, arranger, producer and recording artist earning critical acclaim from prestigious jazz magazines and websites. Indeed, he has released five CD’s in the smooth jazz category. A graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy and the Hartt College of Music, James has performed with The Soul Survivors, Johnny Guitar Watson, saxophonists Eric Kloss and Paul Winter, and cellist David Darling. He’s also performed with and opened for Pieces of a Dream, Chuck Loeb, Bob Baldwin, Angela Bofil, Roy Ayres, Walter Beasley and Alex Bugnon.
Gordon’s band consists of our leading man on lead vocals, trumpet and flugelhorn; Carol Selick on female vocals; Mike DiLorenzo on piano and B3 organ; Mike Hogan on guitar; Mark Peterson on bass and Gary Dates on drums. Additional musicians include Ron Thompson on piano; Don Shaner on trombone; Greg Grispart on tenor sax and clarinet; Doug DeHays on tenor sax; Steve Jankowski on trombone; Layonne Holmes on background vocals, and Rob Paparozzi on vocals and harmonica.
Starting things off is “Come On Down,” being everything a leading song ought to be: catchy, danceable, and a certifiable earworm. The instrumentation is perfectly blended as well. Check out those smoking solos in the middle, one after the other, making one’s ears ring with pleasure. “The First Time I Saw You,” a swinging ballad, is Carol Selick’s grand entrance. She and her hubby may have differing stories of when they met, but the result is the same – true love. Pure blues fans will savor Mike Hogan’s SRV-style electric intro on “She’s My Barbeque,” as well as his saucy fretwork. “Home on the Bayou” possesses the most magnificent trumpet passages that yours truly has heard this year. Hauntingly beautiful, they’ll make listeners shiver.
“When You Come to New Orleans” and “Cuddle Queen” are short pieces, but they sure are sweet. The first is a ragtime homage, bringing the Twenties roaring back. Don Shaner and Greg Grispart play terrific trombone and clarinet, respectively. The second is a sultry torch song by Selick, where Mike DiLorenzo’s nightclub-style piano takes center stage. Next are the up-tempo “Gumbo Ya Ya” – which dares one NOT to sing along with the chorus – the tongue-in-cheek “Weary Women’s Blues,” Chris Kenner’s “I Like It Like That,” and a sock in the gut to the media’s daily scoop with “Bad News Blues.” The penultimate track, “Have A Little Gratitude,” has enough positive power to dissipate a hurricane. Last but not least comes the band’s rendition of “What a Wonderful World,” and wonderful it is, freshening Ray Charles’ hit with reggae fizz.
Come On Down is a Cajun feast: satisfying and spicy, with just the right amount of sweet dessert!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 40 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.
Blues Society News
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Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaugn, IL
PCBS has some exciting Blues Jams coming up in the month of October. Typically we hold two Jams a month, the 2nd Sunday of the month from 4:00 till 7:00 pm and the 4th Wednesday of the month from 7:00 till 10:00 pm. All our Jams are held at Pipa’s Pub, 604 S. Country Fair Dr. in Champaign. Thanks to our partners at Pipa’s all our Jams are free to the public, bring your instrument and Jam.
In October we’re excited to host an extra Sunday Jam, October 6 at 7:00 pm hosted by Robert Kimbrough Sr. Blues Connection. Robert hosted the Jam after our Inaugural Blues Fest in 2018 and the place was jukin’.
Skylar Rogers & The Blue Diamonds kicked off our Blues Fest this year and wowed the crowd. Skylar hosts Sunday October 13 at the usual Sunday time of 4:00 pm. Legendary Blues veterans Mark Hummel and Billy Flynn host the Wednesday Jam October 23 at 7:00 pm. For more info visit: http://prairiecrossroadsblues.org
The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC
Our local IBC Challenge is being held to select the band that will represent the Charlotte Blues Society in Memphis at the 36th Annual International Blues Challenge in Jan. 2020. This years competition will begin at 8pm sharp. The 2 bands competing are Chad Harris and the Blue Herons AND Tundra. A special performance at 9pm is being planned for the Blues Youth Group, CRANK SINATRA, we hope to have represent us in Memphis. We want you there to encourage these talented young musicians!
The show will be held Sunday, Oct. 6th, at The Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC. Admission is free for members with valid cards and $5 to everyone else. Doors at 7:00; music at 8:00. It will be a great evening of music!
We continue to collect non-perishable food items for Loaves and Fishes. Cash donations are also welcome. 1 can? I can! More info at https://charlottebluessociety.org.
Multiple System Atrophy Coalition – Peoria, IL
My wife was a blues fan. Not an artist, but pretty good with an iTunes mix. It was blues music that helped her battle multiple system atrophy (MSA.
MSA, nicknamed “Parkinson’s on steroids” by a patient and “the Beast” by another, is rare, sporadic and terminal within 7-10 years from onset. During her MSA journey she and her husband Larry (Doc) Kellerman brainstormed how to best raise awareness. They decided to to “recruit” blues artists, fans, supporters and college basketball teams and fans to the cause.
This year the Beat MSA! Event is October 3rd, 5:30 – 9:30 pm at the Monarch Music Hall in Peoria, IL. Visit www.msabgon.org to learn more, make a donation or bid on a silent auction item donated by blues artists, college basketball teams and businesses. All proceeds benefit the Multiple System Atrophy Coalition. This is the third year of the event. Over 70 blues artists and untold blues fans have contributed to beating this disease. We will Beat MSA! with your help. Please join us.
Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL
The monthly shows at the Hope and Anchor in Loves Park continue $5 cover, 8 to 11:30 PM: 10/12/18 The Jimmys
The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL
The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances and other shows held 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. Oct 7 Murray Kinsley & & Wicked Grin, Oct 14 Hector Anchondo, Oct 21 Mark Hummel, Oct 28 Brother Jefferson Band.
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. Texas comes to the Kankakee Valley: November 6 – Mike Morgan & The Crawl – Kankakee Valley Boat Club, November 19 – Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat – Manteno Sportsmen’s Club. More Info at: http://www.facebook.com/friendsoftheblues.
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