Cover photo © 2019 Joseph A. Rosen
In This Issue
Mike Stephenson has our feature interview Dorothy Moore. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including a new book by Blues Hall Of Famer Syl Johnson about his ancestor’s experiences in the Jim Crow era plus new music from Bob Margolin, Annika Chambers, Bruce Katz, Diana Rein, Misty Blues, Sayed Sabrina and 3 Times 7.
We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!
Featured Interview – Dorothy Moore
Interview conducted by Mike Stephenson at the Alamo Theatre on Farish Street, Jackson, Mississippi in 2019. Many thanks go to Peggy Brown of Hit The Road Entertainment and Carol and Ron Marble of Mississippi Delta Blues, Inc.
We are on the street, Farish Street, where I was raised up and I’ve named my record label after that, Farish Street Records, and I added Mississippi so that they know I’m from there. I was born in this area, which is a historic district, and I performed on this street at the Alamo Theatre, which is something similar to the Apollo Theatre, and they probably have this type of establishment in every big city. I know Hattiesburg and Vicksburg had them and so this is where I came where they used to have talent shows here every Wednesday night. A dj used to MC the show and I was like eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen on this big stage, which is as big as some of the movie theaters we go to. It was very frightening being on there but it was a great experience for me, because I call it my classroom for what I’m doing today; I learnt my profession from this stage. On the talent shows back then was nothing but men, no female ever appeared when I was performing. I didn’t set that up, it just happened to be that way. The only person who was my age or close to it was Tommy Tate and he was a very good friend and he lived out in the west of Jackson and he might have been the first person to come and get me to perform with a band, because he was already with this band and the band was all white and Tommy was the drummer and singer, the only black person in the band. They wanted a female artist so Tommy knew me and where I lived and he asked me, so that’s how I got with that band and we went on to sing in a white club. I could perform in this club but I couldn’t sit down in it and have a hamburger or anything like that, because it was as it was in the sixties. I ate in my dressing room but performed on stage and got big tips. It was crazy stuff then but I didn’t look at it so much, I just wanted to perform and that was their problem.
What drew me into singing was my great grandmother who raised me and I started singing in the church choir at the age of five, six and seven. I was a lead singer and that’s where I learned how to use a microphone. The pianist told me how to use it because I didn’t know how to use one and evidently she was a music major to know all of that type of thing; she taught the choir and she taught me how to use that microphone. I sang traditional gospel music in the church, Shirley Caesar type and The Davis Sisters and The Caravans, all that type of gospel music. I knew that music because of the radio. I had a radio but didn’t have a record player, so I learnt sings when I heard them from the radio. I might not get all the words when they played it one time, but I waited until it came on again and then would get the second verse and then wait till the next time and get the third verse. So that’s the way I learnt stuff and I also put the words under my pillow and I woke up the next day knowing it. It was God, I think.
When I got to the Alamo later on, I was singing nothing but blues, until they later on had a gospel talent show and then I would appear on that. I won a lot of times, both gospel and blues shows. There was a house band backing us at the Malaco talent shows, which was the Sam Myers band and he played up and down Farish Street at different clubs. They had a lot of music here back then. The doors would be wide open and you could hear it as you passed through with my great grandmother when she went to pay her bills, like electric bills and getting the groceries and own some loans where she had borrowed some money or put her furniture up for collateral. Then the owner of the loan company would come and put tags on drawers and which ones not to use, because we had borrowed it until she paid for it. She never lost any of her furniture, she paid for it. Also one of the house bands was Cadillac George Harris and we all lived in this area and we knew each other, but Sam and George were older than me. I was the only one in school except Tommy Tate when he would appear. I found out later on they called me the pipsqueak when I appeared at the Alamo, because I was winning all the time. It was mainly the money that attracted me to music and of course it took a commitment. We used to get paid if you won on those talent shows, it was less than $20. My great grandmother escorted me to the Alamo as I was in school and the shows started at 6.00 p.m. and she was my chaperone and she would sit down in the front all of the time and she would tell me where she would be sitting, so when I got through I would go and find her and we would go home after we got our money. Jobie Martin was the MC and he was a disk jockey on W.O.K.J., the only black station in Jackson at that time. His talent show was the greatest thing he could have done for me. I never did forget that, I always made an award for him at The Jackson Music Awards. I paid for his plaque at those awards, so as to respect Jobie for what he had done for music.
I then got discovered by a simple knock at my door by a record producer as he had heard around town that there was a girl singing and he had just opened up a studio and he came to my mother’s home late one night when we were both in bed and she went to the door and this tall white man was there. We wondered what that was about, as the Freedom Riders and the civil rights was going on back then in the sixties, so seeing a white man come to your door was a bit unusual and it was like if you saw a black person on TV, we used to turn it on and up. We would call each other about that. It was Bob McRee who called and he wanted me to record for him. Instead of doing straight recordings, I did background work for other stars at his studio. He would record a single every now and then, but I did mostly background work for other artists that came through using his studio. People like Freddy Fender, a country and western guy, and Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson doing ‘Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries’, I was on that. The Pointer Sisters came through and we did the background for them, it was me and two others who were really The Poppies later on. Later on we became The Poppies because the producer it came to him that idea to have us as a group, because The Supremes and things were happening and The Marvelettes and all those people. Bob’s studio was in Clinton, Mississippi and he had bought up this big movie theater that went out of business and he put all his recording stuff in there and we were with him for two years because after that we became The Poppies. I was the lead singer of that group for everything and we went on to have an album called Lullaby Of Love and that was on the Epic label. Bob took us to Epic to record for a big label. Bob didn’t have a label, he just had a studio and he took us to Billy Sherrill in Nashville who recorded Tammy Wynette. The keyboard player was Larry Butler who went on to be Kenny Rogers’ manager, he was my keyboard player for The Poppies. We all started somewhere I guess. The other singers in The Poppies were Rosemary Taylor and Patsye McCune and we were all going to college and I was in high school going on to freshman when that happened and I majored in voice and minored in piano. We were out on the road promoting that album but I didn’t get any money, it was a salary that we got instead.
After The Poppies I think came Malaco but they didn’t sign me immediately, they waited until I got older. It might have been on my great grandmother’s advice, I’m not sure, but they signed me in 1973. They knew about me because the label was in Jackson and everybody knew about me then, and they all knew about Tommy Tate, as I was singing everywhere like all the colleges and everywhere where there was somewhere to perform. Malaco approached me about being signed by them and I did a bunch of background singing for them. They didn’t have no money going for them then and I finally recorded with them and it was just three sides, as they didn’t have the money to do an album. They didn’t want to invest in an album if you didn’t have a hit as it cost money probably. So they did singles and they did three on me and one of them was ‘Misty Blue’, but they didn’t release it; they released some other songs instead and waited two years later to release ‘Misty Blue’. One of the other songs I did was ‘Cry Like A Baby’ which was written by Ashford And Simpson who were with Motown and, as a matter of fact, Isaac Hayes recorded that same song eventually and he did it for Stax years later I’m sure. Stax wanted me also, but I was signed to Malaco.
I did a bunch of background vocals for Malaco even after I did ‘Misty Blue’. I did work with Jean Knight and King Floyd who went on to make it big and I was singing because it was something I could do, I didn’t think about being a great star or anything. It’s like a basketball player playing basketball, it’s something they can do. I did the background to get some money, a few dollars. I was poor at that time. We didn’t have a car at that time, we walked or caught the bus, like walking to church or walking to the Alamo when I was young. That was me and my great grandmother and I was with her when she had my granddaddy too, but he passed. Me and my great grandmother did everything together. My great grandmother raised me, my mother, her daughter, and her daughter’s son and daughter, so she raised everyone and we called her ‘Mama’ and her name was Minnie.
‘Misty Blue’ became a big hit but I didn’t know it straight away and then Malaco told me and asked me to go on the road performing. I had to get a manager and stuff. By this time Malaco couldn’t afford to release ‘Misty Blue’ all over the U.S. as it was selling too fast, as they didn’t have the money back then, so they got T.K. Productions to distribute, which was owned by Henry Stone and he had people like Latimore and Betty Wright and K.C. And The Sunshine Band and Gwen McCrae, George McCrae and on and on and then he got me. I was married then and had two children. They released ‘Misty Blue’ as a single in November 1975, some people say it was released in 1976 but it was 1975. Three months later in February 1976 it was nominated for a Grammy, just three months. So after ‘Misty Blue’ became a hit I went back into the studio and recorded more songs for Malaco. I was in England picking up an award for ‘Misty Blue’ and on the stage at the London Palladium and I was the opening act, the big stars were a big rock act.
I didn’t know how big and important the London Palladium was. I thought it was like the Alamo, just another stage, and I was interviewed by lots of magazines. They had a whole load of stuff lined up for me when I was there. ‘Misty Blue’ went gold in the U.S. and Canada. So I recorded a bunch of other songs for the Misty Blue album and that came out in 1976. I got tired of making songs happen for other people. I went on to record other albums for Malaco at that time. One was Once Moore With Feeling that had a painting of me on the cover which I didn’t like at all and which I felt didn’t help me at all. I was still doing background vocals for Malaco, as well as for people like Johnnie Taylor, Denise LaSalle and Little Milton. Bobby Bland personally asked me to do background for him but I didn’t and I wished I had of done because he was a great singer and I respected him. I was doing this work even though I was out on the road for myself, but when I was at home and wasn’t doing anything they would call me and ask me to come in and do something, it was like keeping my chops up. I was having fun being with Jewel Bass, another background singer for Malaco. I stopped doing background in the eighties, some time when Thomisene Anderson came in, because she worked there full time, although I did some things with her, us being background singers. I worked with Johnnie Taylor for three months when Misty Blue hit. I was on the road with him. He had Disco Lady at number one and my Misty Blue was number two in the charts. All these artists became good friends of mine and they helped me to dress up and look nice because they looked super and I learned a lot from them. I was also out on the road with The Manhattans and also the 5th Dimension who had that ‘Age Of Aquarius’ thing out.
When Misty Blue was nominated for a Grammy, at the ceremony Gladys Knight and Michael Jackson were the MCs and what they chose to do was sing each song that was nominated and I wondered who was going to sing mine and Michael Jackson did, but it didn’t sound like no ‘Misty Blue’. I was there with my ex husband, sitting right behind Natalie Cole with her sister, and Ringo Starr was sitting right next to me and he shook my hand.
After Malaco, I did the Streetking album, Just Another Broken Heart under Bob Montgomery. I was passing through Nashville and that’s when I did that disco song ‘Just Another Broken Heart’ which was a twelve inch. Streetking was a disco label and I recorded that song and album just before they went out. I was a free agent then. I’ve done a gospel album for Word Records. That label have recorded Shirley Caesar and Al Green and all those people and they had a label called Rejoice and that’s what that record came out on. Kenny Rogers’ keyboard player produced it. I then went to the Volt label and I signed for them after they called me and I was a free agent after doing that gospel album. I did an album for Volt, Time Out For Me, and also Winner, they were in the mid eighties. In 1989 I called Malaco and asked them if they were signing any artists and Wolf Stephenson answered and said “If their name is Dorothy Moore, we are”. So that’s how I got back with Malaco, this was in 1989, and then we did Feel The Love that had ‘He Thinks I Still Care’ on it which came out in 1990. I was still working all over then as well and Malaco have always produced great albums. I signed with them for five years and did some other albums, Talk To Me, Stay Close To Home, and then asked for a release.
After that I stayed off for a while and then I started producing myself for my label Farish Street Records. In 2002 I produced my first Christmas album, Please Come Home For Christmas, I had never done one before. I did I’m Doing Alright and then Gittin’ Down Live and then after that I did Blues Heart in 2012 and I went to Nashville to cut that one.
More recently, and bringing things up to date, I’ve just recorded a new album (2019). That album started by someone asking to do a duet with me, which I didn’t do, but I thought that I should do my own album. I’m very happy that I have gone ahead and done the album. I have Mississippi horn players on there, Mississippi violins and Mississippi background singers and Mississippi arrangers and a Mississippi studio and I’m from Mississippi. It started by me calling a friend who is from Mississippi, Jamie Mitchell, who has a studio and he knew these other guys who had a studio and that’s where we went, to Vicksburg, Hummingbird Studios. The spirit of the studio felt so good and I couldn’t wait to get in there to start recording. Then I went to call up my friends who are writers as I don’t specialize in writing.
I called Jim Weatherly and Gregory Abbot and E.G. Kight and Eddie Floyd, who is a good friend, we toured together in the past and still do from time to time, and everybody sent me a song. Some I got one, some I got two and Jim sent me ten. I listened to them all and I love listening to them, but I picked one of Jim’s, two of Eddie’s, and two of E.G’s and one of Gregory Abbot’s and I have done a Willie Nelson song, ‘Crazy’, as I’ve always loved that song. I’m thinking of a title for the album at present and it may be Happy With The One I Got Now. It’s one of E.G’s songs and I thought that would be a positive thing in any way you want to make that, such as happy with the man I’ve got now, or happy with the job I’ve got now, or whatever. How I picked the musicians is, several of the musicians have played for me already and the arranger had already played for me, his name is Kimble Funchess, he is a trumpet and flugel player. I called him and asked him to do the arranging as my last arranger, Harrison Calloway, passed. He was my past band leader and arranged a number of my past albums.
My brother was also helping on some of my recordings in the past. His name is Housecat, his real name is Melvin Hendrix, he and I have the same father. All the musicians on my new album are all from Mississippi and I chose who I wanted and the arranger chose who he wanted and I love who we got, as they have all played with me before here and there and every now and then. We also have Jessie Primer on sax on the album. There is a nice variety of songs and music on the album. I try to cross the musical board because that’s what I am and do, and from that Malaco didn’t know where to put me. I record stuff that I like. I’m a gospel singer and rhythm and blues singer, pop, jazz, country, I can yodel. I usually have a country number on most of my albums. There is a musical creativeness on my new album, what with all those wonderful musicians and we lived off each other’s creativeness in the studio. Everybody made suggestions on how it should sound or how a song could be arranged. When we recorded the album we were all in the studio, so we could see one another and that helped make it all happen. We are looking for worldwide distribution for the new album.
There was a time when I used to have horns in the band on my live shows, sometimes three and other times four, along with my rhythm section and I used to have background singers as well. I still do a gospel number on my live shows.
Interviewer Mike Stephenson is a UK based blues journalist and photographer who has been a blues fan all his life. He has written articles on and interviewed blues artists and reviewed blues events in Europe and the US primarily for Blues & Rhythm but also for other blues publications.
Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8
Bob Margolin – This Guitar and Tonight
VizzTone Label Group VT-SRR004
9 songs – 42 minutes
North Carolina-based Bob Margolin has been a vital member of the blues community since Muddy Waters hired him as his second guitarist in the early ‘70s, but this CD is a first for him in a career that’s spanned 50 years and included work with a who’s who of music royalty.
It’s the first all-acoustic, solo effort for the native Bostonian, a project that came about effortlessly — inspired by his own 1935 parlor guitar, the memory that Muddy preferred to play acoustic and the suggestion from publicist Amy Brat, one of his partners in the VizzTone Label Group, that it would provide a “fresh adventure” for him.
For Margolin, now age 70, that’s something pretty hard to come by when you consider that he’s a multiple Blues Music/W.C. Handy Award winner as a guitarist, a Keeping the Blues Alive honoree as a music journalist and someone who’s contributed to several Grammy-winning recordings, including Muddy Waters’ Woodstock Album, the master’s final effort for Chess Records.
He’s been performing recently in The Band’s Last Waltz Tour after appearing alongside Muddy in the original concert, and he’s been touring recently in a two-man show with Jimmy Vivino, fingerpicking and trading licks with the longtime Conan O’Brien bandleader and swapping blues stories between the songs.
Vivino appears here for one cut, as does harmonica wizard Bob Corritore. But, like the concept itself, this is a throwback effort with Bob alone with his six-string and delivering a performance with the feel of a home concert — warm, personal and unadorned with gimmickry — as he runs through a set of nine intimate originals that, as he states in the packaging, deliver “blues, love, blessings, challenges, stories and fun. No sugar added.”
The title cut with Vivino, “This Guitar and Tonight,” quickly sets the stage for what’s to come. It’s a slow-and-steady suggestion not to try to guess the future or reflect on love lost in the past. Just sit back and enjoy the music that’s filling your ears. Up next, the minor-key “Evil Walks in Our World” serves up a not-so-subtle view of current world events — fake news, fake politicians and fake friends among them – without pointing fingers and while praying for change.
The Delta-flavored ballad, “Over Time,” recounts a daydream that fuses past, present and future. It includes a conversation Margolin holds with a younger version of himself. The youngster doesn’t recognize himself in advanced age, but Bob fills him in on the pain and pleasure that awaits as the years go passing by.
The dazzling “Dancers Boogie” offers up a finger-picking fiesta as it urges listeners to get on the floor and dance before Corritore joins the action on “Blues Lover,” which describes a lady who’s partying at The Rhythm Room, the harmonica master’s long-running nightclub in Phoenix, Ariz., as it breathes new life into the sounds of an old-school guitar-and-harp duo.
The sweet instrumental “Good Driving Song” is a practical lesson in technique for anyone who simply thinks he can play guitar, while the straight-forward ballad “I Can’t Take Those Blues Away” is a talking blues that describes a conversation with a female police officer who’s just experienced the worst possible of days. The tender love ballad “Together” – the description of the closeness enjoyed in a long-term relationship — follows before the most interesting song in the set, the eight-minute, highly political “Predator,” brings the album to a close.
Bob lays down accompanying guitar parts that duel for your attention in separate channels as he describes John F. Kennedy’s return home to Boston in 1961 after his inauguration – a pleasant memory in and of itself, but disturbing because Margolin’s father was worried – fearful that the President was an easy target for assassination.
The tune goes on to describe Bob riding with Muddy and the band past the White House during the Nixon administration and then playing there for Jimmy Carter a few years later before bringing things forward to current time and stating that neither he, nor Waters or Carter could have imaged what the current administration is doing today. As Margolin says succinctly: “The news is never good.”
Interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking, too, This Guitar and Tonight is available through most major retailers and is strongly recommended listen.
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 8
Annika Chambers – Kiss My Sass
Annika Chambers is a sassy Texas powerhouse of a vocalist who offers up ten cool tracks for the listener to savor. After winning the 2019 Blues Music Award for Female Soul Blues Singer (after three other BMa nominations to boot) the world is really getting to know this talented chanteuse. She has a powerful voice, effuses personality with every lyric and delivers the goods each and every song. This is her third CD with some slick originals and well-done covers for a total of ten really good cuts.
The sassy set begins with “Let That Sass Out,” a number with attitude and a great way to start an album. Chambers sings with authority, Corey Stoot and The Mighty Orq lays out some mean guitar and we are underway! Credit to RB Stone for a cool song, too. “That’s What You Made Me” is next, an angry but sultry cut with Jame Wilhite and the Might Orq on guitar. Chambers sings about what her man made her into, and she’s not too happy about the situation. Nicoya Polar does a fine job backing her here and on the prior and next cuts as Chambers emotes nicely and the guitars wail in support. Following that is “You Can’t Win;” this is a mid- to up-tempo cut with David Carter nailing his solo on guitar. Chambers showcases her skills once again as she builds to a big finish. Ruthie Foster appears on acoustic guitar and back Annika on vocals here and The Mighty Orq plays some creative pedal steel guitar on “What’s Your Thing,” a beautiful and slow blues where Chambers takes us to church with the pleas for, “Love, freedom, and peace.” This is one of the coolest cuts on the CD. “Brand New Day” is a slow original written by Chambers with some sweet vocals, pretty keys by Randy Wall and slick guitar by The Mighty Orq. Chambers sings with restraint but still lets some of that raw power emerge.
“World Of Hurt” is next, with Wilhite on guitar and Orq on resonator. The solos sting and Chambers sings with lots of power and emotion. Wilhite opens “Stay” and then Wall on piano and Stephanie York Blue on the B3 with Chambers come in for a soulful performance. Anthony Terry is on sax here where he really stands out and Chambers just lets it all out for us. Up next ot “Two Bit Texas Town,” with Terry again on sax and Barry Seleen on the B3. This is a slick Angeli Strehli song and Chambers and company do a fine job covering it. Chambers ooohs and gasps and gives quite an interesting performance. “In The Basement” has more strident guitar from Carter and Tony Braunagel joins the fray on drums and backing vocals along with bassist Larry Fulcher doing backing vocals. Wall on keys adds to the mix, too in this party of a song. The album concludes with Chris Smither’s “I Feel The Same.” Chambers’ hubby Paul DesLauriers joins her on acoustic guitar and vocals along with Sam Harrison on percussion in this stripped down but very nicely done number. Chambers sings with ardent emotions and Paul joins in for this pretty duet. His finger picking is pretty darn good, too. Things build and build to a frenzy and then a calmness comes to conclude the tune- well done!
The guests and performers vary from cut to cut, but whoever is on each track does a stellar job backing this singer up. After discovering her voice in the Army (or maybe the Army discovering her voice), she is well on her way to a fine career singing the blues! This Houston, Texas talent really has a lot going for her and anyone who likes soul blues will find something to seriously enjoy here!
Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8
Bruce Katz – Solo Ride
12 songs – 50 minutes
Most blues fans will have heard pianist/keyboardist Bruce Katz play at some point, even if they were unaware of it at the time. A 30 year veteran of the music business, Katz has released 10 solo albums, appeared on over 70 albums by other artists and toured with many others. His resume includes work with the likes of Ronnie Earl, John Hammond, Delbert McClinton, Gregg Allman, Duke Robillard, Little Milton, Maria Muldaur, Jimmy Witherspoon, Paul Rishell, Mighty Sam McClain, Debbie Davies and David “Fathead” Newman. He has also led the Bruce Katz Band for the last 25 years. In 2019, Katz was awarded the Blues Music Award for Best Acoustic Album for Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues with Joe Louis Walker and Giles Robson.
Solo Ride sees Katz continue down the acoustic route explored on Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues, but this time he has recorded 11 original piano instrumentals and one cover version with no other musicians at all. The result is a wonderful release that not only allows Katz to pay tribute to his influences but also lets him showcase his virtuosic-yet-always melodic playing.
Katz kicks off with “Down At The Barrelhouse”, a rollicking ragtime number played with joyful exuberance before leading into “Crescent Crawl”, a song flavoured with the sounds of New Orleans that also includes a smart yet subtle nod to Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”.
The only cover on the album is an inspired re-interpretation of Tampa Red’s “It Hurts Me Too”, with Katz’s left hand laying down an irresistible groove as he cleverly varies the tempo to emphasize the absent lyrics, even while the right hand is dancing around the melody.
“Praise House” acknowledges Katz’s gospel influences as the notes tumble downwards, with a hint of jazz in some of the more discordant moments, while “Red Sneakers” is a stride tune that evokes the style of Scott Joplin both in the slide and glide techniques of the performance but also in the joyful bounce in the music. One can easily sense the simple happiness of walking on the sunny side of the street. By contrast, “Dreams Of Yesterday” is a country waltz that perfectly captures that melancholy sense of longing and loss.
“Midnight Plans” has a beautifully funky middle section while “Easy Living” has a more modern sound akin to a Randy Newman song. Katz picks up the pace again with the breakneck boogie of “Going Places” and the mid-paced bouncing shuffle of “Watermelon Thump”, which together sandwich the pop-influenced “The Way To Your Heart” before leading into the uplifting closing track, “Redemption”, an intense and articulate statement of hope.
Solo Ride is a genuine delight to listen to. One might think that a full album of solo piano instrumentals might become slightly repetitive, but Katz holds the listener’s attention throughout through the variety of styles essayed, the quality of the musical compositions, and the emotional depth and applied elan of the performances. Ben Elliott at Showplace Studios recorded, mixed and mastered the album and deserves praise for so clearly capturing the warmth and power of Katz’s playing.
A very impressive release.
Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8
Diana Rein – Queen Of My Castle
Gulf Coast Records
CD: 15 Songs, 59 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs
In one of her hit songs, blues maven Laurie Morvan asks, “Where are the girls with guitars?” Enter Diana Rein, a Romanian stunner whose parents escaped the country in 1981. She was only three back then, but the die had been cast for her blues career. On Queen Of My Castle, Diana reigns with an electric shredder as her scepter. Her riffs are royal, her solos sensational, and her musical presence that of future blues nobility. Diana’s voice is fresh and youthful, her cords and chords as yet unseasoned by hardships that toughen others. Janis Joplin fans, search elsewhere. “Lilting,” “lovely” and “lively” are three adjectives that describe Rein’s vocal vein. As for her overall style, she presents a choice variety of fifteen original tracks – love songs, angst songs, even one or two gritty growlers. Long car or truck trip ahead for you? This CD’s the ticket.
Once they reached the United States, Diana and her family landed in Chicago, on Halloween, with only $50 and the American Dream in mind. She brought her native work ethic to performing arts school, where tireless effort led to her talents flourishing. Remember Kevin McCallister in Home Alone and Home Alone 2 (who could forget him)? She played his cousin Sondra. Her love of the blues blossomed at age eight, when her parents brought her to a Windy City blues club and encouraged her to play some numbers with the band. The rest is history. She followed her heart to California, where it was repeatedly broken and mended – the creative forge of blues music. At one point where she almost lost hope, Diana promised to make music her life’s work and grab the proverbial bull by the horns. The blues world is far better for it.
Joining Diana (writer, co-producer, lead and background vocals, lead guitar and rhythm guitar) are producer/arranger/writer Michael Leasure on drums; Dave Osti on bass; Drake Munkihaid Shining on keyboards, and Steve Polacek, Vaughn Polacek, Lincoln Clapp, Melissa Bonning, Julia Clapp and Mackenzie Clapp on background vocals.
Right off the bat, Diana proclaims “Yes I Sing the Blues,” in a perky tune channeling SRV to marvelous effect. “Midnight Line” is a riveting rocker that’ll make crowds want to dance, drink, or both at the same time. They’ll sing along to the title track, especially if they need to kick a certain joker in their lives to the curb. “I’m the queen of my castle,” Rein retorts, “and you’ll never be king!” A bit later on, dig the intro to “One Foot In.” It’s bouncy and boisterous. If you love a funky bassline, take a gamble and ramble to number eight, “It’s You.” Dave Osti gets to strut his stuff. “Chill of the Night” urges one to hold one’s partner close, especially in snowy weather. Ditch “Winter Wonderland” for once and give this sweet ditty a try. Afterwards, though? “Worth” packs a wallop, with its opening lyrics being, “It’s a big man’s world under lock and key. Trying to make the time and keep your sanity.” Truer words were never spoken. “Heat” is a blistering Hendrix-style burner, and “Zoe” a perfect specimen of melodic blues.
Diana Rein is a rising star, a ruling Queen Of My Castle!
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 – 5 of 8
Syl Johnson – It’s Because They Were Black: 100 Years of Fraud and Forgery
Paperback: 82 pages
Blues and R&B Soulster Syl Johnson is riding a wave of crowning achievement in this, his 83rd lap around the sun. On December 7, 2019, his book, It’s Because They Were Black: 100 Years of Fraud and Forgery, was published under the Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency imprint.
The book smacks of the very essence of the social system of where Blues music comes from originally. Johnson has woven a true story from the oral history of his own family that indicts individuals in the public and government sector who stole land from African-American landowners, a practice that occurred not only in Mississippi but throughout the south.
Syl Johnson’s great-grandfather, Wallace, was about 14 years old when the Emancipation Proclamation went forth in 1863. The master of the plantation gave each newly freed slave $10 and told them they were free to leave.
But freedom was a hard thing to perceive for the slaves and after leaving the plantation for the town of Holly Springs, Mississippi, soon returned to the plantation complaining that they didn’t know where to go or what to do with the $10.
The plantation owner offered them lodging in the former slave quarters and work, picking the same cotton they had picked as slaves, in a 50/50 split with the owner. They agreed and vowed to work hard.
Wallace worked hard, married and raised a family. By the time his four sons were grown, the land had changed hands and the new landowner John Hudson, instructed his son, Len Hudson to sell some of the land to the Johnson boys, one of whom, Owen, was Syl Johnson’s grandfather. The brothers bought the land in 1916 and paid it off in full by 1921.
Len Hudson had a bride that was thirty years younger than him. Apparently his wife, Annie Hudson coveted the land that the Johnson boys had built beautiful homes on. They were successful farmers and musicians and many folks envied their success.
In an interesting exchange with Owen Johnson before he died, Len Hudson, probably aware of his wife’s stealthy plan, tried to buy back the land from the Johnson brothers. Of course, the brothers wanted to keep it.
“Owen, sell me that land back. I’ll pay you double for it.”
“Why would you pay double for it, Mr. Len?”
“I don’t think you’ll be able to keep it after my time, Owen.”
“I’ll keep it, Mr. Len.”
Sure enough, after Len Hudson died in 1922, Annie Hudson fabricated a charge that there were four outstanding notes against the property that went back to when the land was originally purchased. She claimed that the brothers came in and made four notes, right around $2000 per year on the original purchase price. But the brothers didn’t owe any money from 1916. They paid it off in 1921. Len Hudson, who knew the truth, was dead. And a dead man can’t talk.
And so, through a series of illegal dalliances between Annie Hudson, the Marshall County Recorder of Deeds, the banks and the courts in the state of Mississippi, the Johnson Brothers had to pay rent on their own land. In 1932 they were run off the land with only the clothes on their backs, their hard-earned homestead stolen from them by an infamous flower of the south.
Syl Johnson also reveals in the book that Annie Hudson was rumored to have been passing for white all along. And when she retreated to Chicago with her daughters after the passing of her husband in 1922, she stayed at the Sutherland Hotel at 47th & Drexel, also rumored to have been owned by Al Capone.
Syl Johnson has stepped out of his musician persona to craft a true story of the Jim Crow south that illustrates poignantly, the social mores from which the Blues sprang. Fittingly, last week, it was announced that Syl Johnson will be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame’s class of 2020 along with Bettye Lavette, Billy Branch, George “Harmonica” Smith, Victoria Spivey, Eddie Boyd, and others. Look for an interview with Syl Johnson in an upcoming issue of Blues Blast Magazine.
CyberSoulMan Tee Watts is the former music director at KPFZ 88.1 fm in Lakeport, California. He is currently co-writing the memoirs of Lester Chambers of the Chambers Brothers.
Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8
Misty Blues – Pickled & Aged
11 songs time – 44:57
From deep in the heart of Berkshire County, Massachusetts comes Misty Blues celebrating their 20th anniversary with this their 8th studio album. Fronted by Gina Coleman, this is a band dead set on kickin’ some joyful ass with their boisterous blend of rhythm & blues, blues, funk and jazz. From Gina’s throaty vocals down to the interaction of guitar, keyboards, sax, trumpet, bass and drums this is a musical brew that is sure to satisfy. Gina penned eight of the eleven songs with the remainder being from the hands of band members. Each and everyone a gem.
Old timey blues ala Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thorton and the like inform the rollicking barrelhouse vibe of “Spilt Whiskey”. Banjo, piano trumpet, tuba and what sounds like a clarinet. An ode to “Our Traveling Blues” is one funky, upbeat good time that features Benny Kohn’s piano and Jason Webster on guitar. Gina’s voice gets extra full throated and guttural on the jumping groove of “Let Them Blues”.
“You Thought I Would Fall” is a “Good “riddins” to bad rubbish” slice of bluesy R&B. Ms. Coleman seems to have a penchant for “the spirits” as witnessed on her second of three songs in tribute to the demon alcohol “Sweet Sweet Bourbon”. The band delivers a jazzy R&B instrumental in “It’s A Jungle Out There”. The guitar and saxophone attack on “Take A Long Ride” ebbs and flows.
The upbeat R&B and Professor Longhair style piano along with sax on “Chicago To Memphis” ensure a pleasurable journey for the listener. The shuffling “Mountain Dew” is the last in the trilogy of drinking tunes. Jason Webster takes over the vocal duties for “Need More”, which is ok but it makes you miss Gina. Benny Kohn switches to electric piano for this one. It’s party time as the band closes out with the “Let The Good Times Roll” of “Stoop Stomp”.
It’s a virtual barrel of musicality here from the subject matter and lyrics to the feel good vibe of the musicians. They bring the juke joint into the future. The thing to do would be to take Gina’s advice to heart and pour a stiff one and crank this puppy up.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8
Sayed Sabrina – Thou Art That
CD: 12 Songs, 44 Minutes
Styles: Soul, Torch Singer Blues, All Original Songs
Some blues is “Low Down Dirty Mean,” as the title of an Allman Brothers song puts it. The lyrics mention despairing junkies, cheating partners, dastardly drunkards and broke bums. The soul blues of LA’s Sayed Sabrina, on the other hand, is powerful, positive, and positively powerful. The eleven original tracks on her new album, Thou Art That, are meant to lift weary spirits and heavy hearts. Some of her lyrics can be downright preachy (“Please don’t take revenge and be angry at your own people”), but in her defense, we collectively need more messages such as these in this polarizing age. Sabrina has an optimal set of pipes to be a torch singer. Indeed, Ms. Wetnight wishes Sabrina would have covered a Peggy Lee classic on here. Fans who love the twilight realm between blues and soul will find this CD right up their alley.
Sayed Sabrina is a native L.A. denizen who took part in the punk rock scene of the 1980s. Living on the streets of Hollywood, spending time in group homes and juvenile hall, and eventually becoming a teenage mother, Sayed Sabrina learned how the music industry AND the world worked. She later made a name for herself and found acceptance in the blues community with her previous release Big Boy Blues, a huge international success currently in its third printing. She was ultimately featured on the same bill as B.B. King, Los Lobos, Jimmy Cliff, Dr. John, Leon Russell, and The Temptations, to name a few. However, Sayed Sabrina doesn’t claim to be a blues singer: “More like a singer that knows what it’s like to have the blues. I like emotionally driven music. For Thou Art That, I’ve incorporated the styles that have become a part of me and am blessed and extremely grateful for the brilliantly talented people on this latest project. Together we created something very special.”
Collaborating with Sabrina (all vocals, all piano) are Bobby Watson, Nick Klingenberg, and Michael B. Holden on bass; Bryan Head and Lynn Coulter on drums; Lari Basillo, Vince White, Brian Price, and Carlos De La Paz on guitar; Dave Mason on cello; Cosima Luther on violin; Gary Herbig on soprano, tenor, and alto sax and flute; Mitch Manker on trumpet, and Sarah Morrow on trombone.
“The Pedestrian” begins this CD with a tongue-in-cheek lament: “I am the Pedestrian in the parking lot, dodging cars that want my spot. You’re so serious with your comical self. Better to put that attitude on the bottom shelf.” The unique meter and rhythm of this tune, along with its edgy minor key, make it more than worthy to be the album’s opener. “Star Shines” follows, an homage to La La Land that also brings the Los Lonely Boys tune “Hollywood” to mind. “The Devil and the Good Lord” might almost be considered a monologue or vignette, from the first-person point of view of a down-and-out narrator: “Sitting in a sea foam box, watching cockroaches crawl on walls. I ain’t got no cigarettes neither. That’s okay, ‘cause I quit last fall. Oh, man, but how I miss that first hit…” Eat your heart out, Holden Caulfield.
“Free Consciousness,” “Goodie Two Shoes,” and “Home Is In Your Head” are the most political of the bunch, decrying hate and violence and promoting social harmony. MLK would be proud.
Thou Art That is a sweet serving of soul stew from Sayed Sabrina!
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 – 8 of 8
3 Times 7 – Rain in Chicago
CD: 12 Songs, 50 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Rock, Funk, Soul, All Original Songs
Have you ever been to the House on the Rock in Wisconsin? Opened to the public in 1960 and featured in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods TV series, it features the extensive and eclectic collections of one Alex Jordan. Want to see the world’s largest carousel? It’s there, although you can’t ride it. Entertained by Burma Shave signs? A whole bunch are there, arranged in series. Do you wish to marvel at crown jewels, eerie dioramas, and mystic fortune-telling machines? Check, check and check. Everything you’d ever dreamed of seeing in a museum (or not) is displayed. The newest CD from the UK’s 3 times 7, Rain in Chicago, is kind of like the House on the Rock. It features twelve unique, genre-defying tracks that are hard to pin down but marvels to behold. The only true blues song on the album is number nine, “Graveyard Blues.” The others run the gamut from funk to rock to soul to alternative to all of the above to none of the above. No joke.
Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining collage of postmodern tunes. The band’s lead female vocalist, Jenny Lawrence, is a cross between Norah Jones and Natalie Merchant. She’s got the dulcet tones of the former and the quivering vibrato of the latter, all while providing spice of her own. Her musical partner, David Holdstock, makes his guitar tell quirky stories all the while. Additional musicians include Jax Sax on saxophone; Matt Ainsworth on drums; Phil Marks and Roger Wagner on bass; Dan Mulcahy and Graham Noon on organ, and Oliver Williams and the Brook Choir on backing vocals.
“Money to Burn” sets the tone (however shifting and polymorphic) for the album, a frenetic ballad about love and “what it’s worth to you.” Imagine the streets of London at rush hour, pedestrians skittering every which way, our narrator chasing down an errant partner. That’s the vibe the song gives off: jittery and energizing. Next is the funky “I Like It When It Rains (in Chicago.)” The hilarious liner notes reveal a tweet from Kentucky State Representative Chuck Paul: “Climate change is such a bad thing, right liberals?” Who knew a political song could be so addictive and danceable? Despite its title, “Gospel Blues” is NOT blues, but a ‘50s-style rocker with good harmony on the chorus. The real highlight, however, is “Murder on the Bayou.” Honestly, it should be in a movie, perhaps one based off a Stephen King or Clive Barker novel.
“Don’t take my man just like the other men,” the protagonist warns before committing the titular crime. “I begged you, please, don’t take him, but you did it anyway. I shot her down and I shot again. I warned her once and I shot again.” Horrific and haunting, this song’s spelled “earworm.” Oliver Williams and the Brook Choir provide beautiful background vocals, and Graham Noon provides gently understated piano. If the guitar solo in the middle doesn’t move you, what will?
Rain in Chicago may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but others will hit lucky 21 with 3 Times 7!
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
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society presents our IBC fundraiser for The Smokers Blues Band Sunday January 12 at Pipa’s Pub, 604 S. Country Fair Dr. in Champaign. They’re heading to Memphis later in January as Central Illinois representatives to compete in the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge. Bring your instrument and join in the fun. For more info visit: http://prairiecrossroadsblues.org
Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL
Crossroads Blues Society has many shows coming up in the Rockford, IL area. The monthly shows at the Hope and Anchor in Loves Park continue $5 cover, 8 to 11:30 PM: Sat Jan 11th – Brandon Santini. Lyran Society, Rockford, IL, 7 to 10 PM No Cover Fri Dec 20th – Bob Frank, Fri Jan 3rd – Catfish Keith.Mary’s Place, Rockford, IL, 7 to 10 PM, $10 admission – Wed Jan 15th – Tas Cru
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. December 23 – Brandon Santini, December 30 – James Armstrong.
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