Issue 14-8 February 20, 2020

Cover photo © 2020 Roman Sobus


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Chicago piano icon Erwin Helfer. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including a new book called Guitar King: Michael Bloomfield’s Life In The Blues plus reviews of new music by Bobby Messano, Chris Nole, Sean Poluk, Eddie 9V and Matchedash Parish.

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


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 Featured Interview – Erwin Helfer 

imageThe Windy City has been ground zero for innovators on the keyboards since founding father Leroy Carr first sat down at the 88s in the 1920s and invented what’s considered to be the Chicago blues piano sound. It’s a tradition that’s continued through the efforts of a who’s who of talented musicians who’ve become international names.

From Big Maceo Merriweather to Pinetop Perkins, from Memphis Slim to Otis Spann, from Sunnyland Slim to Barrelhouse Chuck, the torch has been passed down from generation to generation. But there’s one keyboard wizard who’s bridged the lives of many of those stars, but managed to fly under the radar despite possessing comparable talents.

Even though he might not be as well-known as the others, blues, boogie-woogie and jazz pianist Erwin Helfer has been a favorite son among Chicago music lovers for the better part of seven decades. And even though he was about to turn 84 as this article was being written, he’s just as vibrant a player today as he was when he made his debut in the very early ‘50s.

Born Jan. 20, 1936 and raised on the Windy City’s South Shore before moving to the suburb of Glencoe at 12, Erwin is a small man with a large presence as both a performer and teacher. His double-fisted approach separates him from the crowd as he delivers runs that are both lyrical and fluid while being both highly percussive and occasionally dissonant, too.

An extremely modest man whose gratitude flows like a river when paid a compliment, he’s more comfortable heaping praise on others than accepting it for himself – even though he’s earned a lifetime award winner from the prestigious Jazz Institute of Chicago, a list that includes heavyweights Ornette Coleman, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Clark Terry and many others.

Erwin’s a refreshing breath of fresh air in a world full of egomaniacs –especially so when you consider that two of the greatest music critics of the 20th Century considered Helfer a one-of-a-kind talent.

Pete Welding, a lifelong contributor to Down Beat magazine and one of the preeminent blues historians of all time, praised Erwin’s mastery of “the rhythmic and melodic subtleties” of blues piano stylings. And Nat Hentoff, longtime columnist for New York’s Village Voice and a contributor to both Playboy magazine and the Wall Street Journal was equally effusive, once writing that “Helfer adds new lyrical dimension to Duke Ellington’s ‘In a Sentimental Mood,’ while his ‘Swanee River Boogie’ made me feel I was having my own rent party.”

Despite the accolades, Erwin remains grounded, more apt to draw attention to the flaws he perceives in his own performance rather than acceptkind words from others. He started playing piano at age five or six. He developed his own unique playing style, he says, because he didn’t have the patience or memory to learn anything note-for-note.

“I wanted a piano, and my dad was a practical joker,” he told Blues Blast recently. “When my mom and I went out shopping, we came back and there was a little Wurlitzer piano sitting in the living room. My mom was surprised. She didn’t even know about it.”

Helfer fell in love with what he’s termed “the sadness, the darkness and the joy” of blues and boogie-woogie while attending New Trier High School in Glencoe, a small North Shore village that’s become the wealthiest in suburban Chicago. His love for New Orleans jazz came about because of the spirituality he felt in the music after discovering clarinet player George Lewis and trumpeter Bunk Johnson.

“I met a piano player in school, Bobby Wright was his name, and he had all these recordings of New Orleans jazz and Chicago blues and boogie and stride piano,” Erwin recalls. “That’s where I first started hearing this stuff. Before that, I was picking up melodies by Frankie Laine and Johnny Ray, a woman piano player called Del Wood and an English ragtime player, Winifred Atwell, and play in a few keys.

image“But when Bobby played this stuff, it really resonated with me. My dad would take me places, and I made it a point to go out and meet some of the black New Orleans musicians who’d moved to Chicago.

“He was a people person. He played washboard bass and jug, and he did a good job at it. I had a couple of ‘play’ uncles: Charlie, who played ragtime piano, and Si, who played clarinet, and they’d all get together and jam at the house. They sounded like an old black skiffle band — (a styling that fused jazz, blues and folk, began in the South in the ‘20s and was extremely popular in Britain in the ‘50s) – although they didn’t know it!”

Helfer’s first true forays into the blues world came after befriending William Russell — someone who’d eventually become a major force in both the worlds of jazz and classical music. They met at Wright’s while still in school. Russell grew up to be a major influence to avant garde classical composer John Cage because of his work in percussive musical composition, and Russell was influenced by him, too.

“Bill was a very unusual guy – to say the least,” Erwin recalls.

As their friendship grew, Russell began taking Helfer on trips to the South Side, where he brought him face-to-face with some of the most important musicians in jazz and blues. He later relocated to New Orleans, where his work through a grant from the Ford Foundation laid the groundwork for what would become the Tulane University Jazz Archives, a treasure trove for music researchers around the globe.

“He introduced me to Glover Compton,” Helfer remembers fondly. A keyboard player who backed both Alberta Hunter and Jelly Roll Morton in the ‘20s he also was a longtime member of Ada “Bricktop” Smith’s house band, the Palm Beach Six – a group that often included Sidney Bechet, at her popular nightclub, Chez Bricktop, in Paris.

“He introduced me to Mahalia Jackson and took me down to her apartment when she was a ‘hair burner’ – a beautician. She lived on 37th and Prairie. Glover lived right down the street. And he introduced me to Baby Dodds (considered to be the best New Orleans drummer prior to the jazz era).”

Although he can’t recall how today, he also fell under the spell of Cripple Clarence Lofton, the keyboard player who recorded with Big Bill Broonzy in the ‘30s, as well as boogie-woogie pianist Jimmy Yancey, who influenced Meade “Lux” Lewis, Pinetop Smith and Albert Ammons, as well as Jimmy’s vocalist wife Estelle. Known as “Mama,” she hired Erwin for his first professional gig, long after her husband died in 1951.

“She was a holy terror – and a good friend!” Helfer exclaims. “She could swear and drink more than any man on this earth!”

After realizing Erwin’s love for the music and its creators – as well as being well aware of the risks he was taking in the South Side neighborhoods in his pursuits, she told him: “God always looks after children and fools!”

After graduation, Helfer moved to New Orleans – “allegedly,” he insists, “to go to Tulane – and very allegedly.”

Purportedly enrolled as a psychology major, Erwin spent most of his time on the rampant music scene, listening to marching bands, going to parades and funerals and studying the piano stylings of local legends Leon “Archibald” Gross and Professor Longhair, whom he met for the first time when the Crescent City legend was working as a janitor in a record store even though his classic song “Tipitina” was already making the rounds as a 78-rpm single.

image“I can’t say that I really knew him,” Helfer notes, “but he was obviously a really poor black dude who was sweeping the floor – and it really wasn’t anything like Barnes & Noble, if you know what I mean. It was more of a shack or something like that.”

He also become close to Billie Pierce — a vocalist who began her career touring with Ma Rainey — and her trumpet-playing husband, De De, who’d spend his later years as a member of the Preservation Dance Hall Band.

Helfer returned to Chicago and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in music theory from American Conservatory of Music and a master’s degree in piano pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching) from Northeastern Illinois University.

“But I was by no means a ‘scholar,’” he says. “I was always a bad sight reader. I took two years of a piano major and just memorized everything. But I realized I could never cut it in an ensemble class because I couldn’t read fast enough. So I switched my major to theory.

“If I had my druthers, I’d rather be able to play the big Bach organ works or the Well-Tempered Clavier because Bach is my hero. But I’m not wired that way!”

Helfer’s first gigs on the blues scene in Chicago came after Mama Yancey enlisted him to replace Little Brother Montgomery as her keyboard player. A former vaudeville dancer-turned-singer who eventually became a four-time Blues Music Awards nominee, she was headed for a gig at Indiana University.

“Little Brother didn’t want to do it,” Erwin says, adding: “I really hadn’t played in public at that point, but I made the trip, and, apparently, it was some type of success. I’m sure if I heard the tapes today, though, I’m sure they’d be pretty horrible. Fortunately, there aren’t any.”

The pair worked together frequently until Mama’s passing in 1986 at age 90, and Helfer served as her booking agent for her frequent appearances at the popular University of Chicago Folk Festival as well as gigs at Elsewhere On Lincoln, one of the first blues clubs on the city’s North Side, where Erwin also headlined as a band leader, too.

Helfer also made an abortive attempt as a label owner in 1956, launching Tone Records and releasing Primitive Piano, an LP that featured Billie Pierce and pianists Speckled Red, James Robinson and Doug Suggs. The material was re-released in an expanded form by The Sirens Records in 2003 minus one Speckled Red track that appeared on the first-ever release by the Delmark imprint.

He spent most of the ‘60s and ‘70s serving double duty, working with Mama as well as in a partnership with fellow keyboard player Jimmy Walker, who was active from the ‘20s to the late ‘90s in a career in which he backed Homesick James, Billy Boy Arnold, Lonnie Johnson and first-generation bluesman Big Joe Williams. The pair hooked up after being introduced by critic Pete Welding, who was one of Helfer’s longtime friends.

Despite his longevity – and being a memorable character who was often surrounded by clouds of talcum powder, which he used to keep his hands dry in his later years, Walker didn’t set foot into a recording studio until 1964 when he and Erwin traded licks on Rough and Ready for Testament Records and then again in 1974, when they recorded Blues and Boogie-Woogie Piano: Duets and Solo for Flying Fish.

It was a busy period for Erwin. He toured Europe in an all-star lineup that included legendary Chicago guitarists Eddie Taylor and Homesick James as well as Big John Wrencher — a longtime fixture on Maxwell Street and an immensely talented harmonica player who still played with big tone despite having lost an arm in an automobile accident – and made his debut as a bandleader came with Boogie Piano Chicago Style on the German Big Bear label in ’75, followed closely by Heavy Timbre — Chicago Boogie Piano for The Sirens Records, which simulated a house rent party and also featured Walker, Blind John Davis, Sunnyland Slim and Willie Mabon.

image“In retrospect, I wasn’t thrilled by my playing on any of it,” he insists. “But I feel that way about everything I heard. I enjoy the process of doing it, but I’m not all that crazy about it when I listen back.

“It’s gotten me traction though. I’ve got my own style – I know that. Somebody recently heard two measures on the radio and instantly knew it was me. But I never tried to develop a style. I say to my students: Don’t worry about that – just worry about playing.

“I went into my favorite Chinese buffet the other day, and the cashier asked me if I was a pastor because I bring all sorts of people in there. I told her: ‘No, I play blues and jazz piano – I’ll bring you a copy of it.’

“She puts it on the sound system softly in the background. I came in the next day, and she was still playing the same thing. I don’t know how the hell they can stand on listening to that thing all day long!”

Erwin’s run with Jimmy Walker came to an end after about twenty years, Helfer says, “because he wanted to turn it into a comedy act, but he just wasn’t that funny.”

Walker subsequently formed a band with a young Billy Branch and guitarist Pete Crawford, who was also Erwin’s partner in another label, the fledgling Red Beans Records. Before selling the company to the Evidence Music group, they released 14 discs in the ‘80s beginning with Mama Yancey’s Maybe I’ll Cry. Others featured Sunnyland Slim, Branch and the first generation of his Sons of Blues, keyboard players Johnny “Big Moose” Walker and Blind John Davis, and guitarists Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers and Steve Freund.

Helfer released one solo CD on Red Beans during that period and two more in an ensemble with vocalist Angela Brown, drummer Odie Payne Jr., a founding father of Chicago blues percussion, and soprano saxophonist Clark Dean.

Dean had called Erwin out of the blue one day after seeing him perform on WTTW-TV, the local Public Broadcasting channel in Chicago, Erwin recalls. “He and a drummer came over to the house to jam.

“Clark was a great, great person and a wonderful sax player. He brought along a fake book (musical charts) with all kinds of standards – and, at that time, I didn’t like standards. I thought they were really boring, bourgeois cocktail stuff that didn’t do anything for me.

“He put up a chord sheet for ‘I’ve Got It Bad (And I’m Feeling Good)’ – and I really started liking that. And then I started liking an instrument I really had disdain for: the saxophone!”

The friendship that began that afternoon initiated a musical partnership that breathed new life in music Erwin previously abhorred for the better part of 30 years until Dean left us at age 91 a few years ago.

Since the early 2000s, Erwin has recorded exclusively for The Sirens, which renewed operations after a long absence. His first release — I’m Not Hungry But I Like to Eat, aided by tenor sax player John Brumbach — earned a 2003 Blues Music Award nomination for comeback album of the year. He followed it with 8 Hands on 88 Keys, sharing billing with Sunnyland Slim, Barrelhouse Chuck and Pinetop Perkins.

Albums with saxophonist Skinny Williams (St. James Infirmary), blues vocalist Katherine Davis and a young Lurrie Bell (Erwin Helfer Way) and, most recently Last Call, a disc that included contributions from Brumbach and Williams as well as Barrelhouse Chuck, have followed.

Although Chuck’s best known as a student of Sunnyland, Little Brother, Pinetop and others, he also worshipped Erwin, always insisting that he wanted to bring Helfer along for a trip to Spain and Sweden before finally achieving his goal on what would be his final tour before dying of prostate cancer near Christmas in 2016, four months after that album’s release.

Barrelhouse probably would have left us much earlier if Erwin hadn’t jumped into action and rushed him to a hospital at the end of that Swedish tour, literally at the brink of death, completely exhausted because of his illness and the rigors of laying it all out on the road.

image“Chuck was a very sweet man,” Helfer says. “One time, we were playing together at the Chicago Cultural Center, and he walked by when I was playing ‘In a Sentimental Mood,’ and tears were coming out of his eyes. And he did the same thing to me when he played a slow blues. Tears were coming out of my eyes.

“He gave me the longest hug I’ve ever had the last time I saw him. We were great friends. He wanted me to play first at his memorial service, which I did.

“When I went to see him when he was dying, there were a lot of people in that room. Chuck was slanderous,” he laughs. “He’d said bad things about everybody there from time to time (chuckles). But they were all there to say goodbye. Everybody loved him.”

Helfer has always been an eager piano teacher. As an instructor, he conducted seminars at American Conservatory of Music, and he also taught a one-semester course in blues piano at Chicago’s Columbia College.

He devotes a great deal of his time today to about a dozen private students, teaching them to play by ear at first and then introducing them to theory and chart reading as their skills advance, and using a reconditioned 1890s Steinway grand piano handed down from an aunt as well as a lightweight Yamaha P6-series keyboards during lessons.

“I used to be really good with children,” he says. “But adults and a couple of high school kids have taken their place. They say that they want to play what I do and not use music (charts). So we do that. But I teach them both ways – with charts and chords and by ear, too.

“And I also play ensemble with them — with them backing me up on one chorus and me doing it for them on the next.”

For the past two years, Erwin’s held a regular Tuesday night gig at the Hungry Brain, a popular jazz joint on Chicago’s Northwest Side, beginning solo and now accompanied by his regular band, which includes a sax player, upright bassist and drummer.

“It’s a really nice, short gig,” he says, “from 7:30 to nine. It keeps me off the street – and I need to be kept off the street! And it’s close enough to my house that I can ride my bike!”

If you’re heading to the Chicago Blues Festival, Erwin will be returning to the stage there this summer – something he looks forward to every year. At 84, his dream is to play a solo gig on grand piano on the main stage and do what he always does: Have a conversation with the audience while he plays.

“I know they’ll be with me all the way,” he insists. “And I’ll be grateful!”

Check out where Erwin’s playing next – or sign up for piano lessons – by visiting his website: www.erwinhelfer.com

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageBobby Messano – Lemonade

Fishhead Records FHD2-800

10 songs – 38 minutes

www.bobbymessano.com

Veteran road warrior guitarist Bobby Messano teams up with longtime John Fogarty keyboard player Bob Malone and a band of top-flight sessions musicians to deliver this contemporary blues-rock album, which – like the title – delivers a bittersweet view of trying to maintain relationships in a world that’s in constant flux.

This is the ninth CD in the catalog of the New Jersey native in a career that’s included pop, soul, rock and R&B and sessions work backing international talents Gloria Gaynor and Stevie Winwood as well as country star Rodney Atkins.

Messano’s initial foray into the recording studio came on Sire Records in the mid-‘70s with the band Stanky Brown, a group that toured with the Allman Brothers, Boston and New Riders of the Purple Sage, among others. He served as Winwood’s European tour in 1983 before work with Franke & The Knockouts, Joe Lynn Turner, Clarence Clemons and Lou Gramm of Foreigner fame.

He’s been producing solo albums since 1989. His 2011 release, That’s Why I Don’t Sing the Blues, hit the No. 1 spot on the Blues Underground blues-rock charts, and his 2015 issue, Love & Money, was a finalist for the Blues Blast Music Award in the same category. His most recent previous release, Bad Movie, debuted at No. 1 on Sirius/FM’s B.B. King’s Bluesville and charted for ten consecutive months.

Messano handles guitar and vocals throughout with Malone switching off between grand piano and Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes and Hammond B3 organs as well as clavinet. The lineup also includes Carl Dufrene Jr. of the North Mississippi Allstars on bass and Doug Belote (Eric Clapton) on drums and Roddy Romero (Bobby Rush, Marcia Ball) on squeezebox.

A collection of nine originals and one cover, the overall sound comes across with the feel of a live set. “The Bad Guys” opens the action with a folk/rock feel straight out of the ‘60s and Bobby wondering who’s truly in the right, realizing that he’s equally to blame for the current situation. The blues kick in with “Heal Me,” with Messano looking for salvation but coming to terms with the fact that you sometimes “have to pay the price for bein’ good.”

The title cut, “Lemonade,” is an unhurried slow blues that features Bobby on slide and “turning lemons into lemonade instead of Orange Crush” and trading some tasty eights with Malone on organ. The funk kicks in for the instrumental, “Junk Jam,” and continues in “It’s Just the Money That’s Missing,” a musician’s complaint about constantly needing cash out on the road.

The mood becomes somber for “A Thursday in June,” a stripped-down ballad that describes watching from a distance as a beloved lady friend deals with a relationship that’s crashing and burning. But things heat up quickly and the funk flows full force through “I Don’t Want to Miss You Anymore” and “Black & White,” which comes across with a New Orleans feel and Bo Diddley beat and states: “It’s black and white/There are no colors in between/Even if you’re turning green.”

The final original in the set, “I’m Tired of Writing the Blues,” is a hard-driving, autobiographical number that describes 40 years of Messano paying his dues, before a timely, acoustic take on Steven Stills’ “Find the Cost of Freedom” delivers a strong political statement to bring the disc to a close.

Available through most major retailers, and possibly Bobby Messano’s best album yet.

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 – 2 of 6 

imageChris Nole – Piano Blues

self-released

www.chrisnole.com

12 songs, 40 minutes

The piano is equally as important to the Blues as the ubiquitous guitar. The urbane City Mouse cousin to the rustic Country Mouse Delta slide guitar, the piano’s ability to orchestrate and fill a room with joy, catharsis and bad-ass stomping has defined musically important cities such as New Orleans, Memphis, Helena, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Los Angeles. The piano Blues has been defined over the years by often unassuming hard working journeymen and journeywomen, rarely reaching the elite super stardom that their guitar playing counterparts reach. From Scott Joplin to Martha Davis to Sunnyland Slim to Otis Span; from WC Handy to Professor Longhair to Fats Domino to Dr. John; from Little Brother Montgomery to Katie Webster to Marcia Ball to Bruce Katz.

One of the hard working journeymen is Chris Nole. A monster player with a resume that includes Delbert McClinton, John Denver and Emmylou Harris, Nole has been consistently pumping out meaningful music from his Nashville home base for over 4 decades. Chris’ newest homage to the 88 keys is Piano Blues and the simple title could not be more descriptive. Nole works through virtually every type of key tickling Blues form there is. 12 “original” tracks are exercises in form more than stand alone compositions. They move effortlessly through classic stride (“Bird Doggin””), boogie woogie (“J-Bar Boogie), NOLA drag (“It Was What It Was,” “Phat Boy Blues” and “Farewell Sweet Rosie”), menacing Chicago stomp (“C Street Shuffle”) Helena/early Chicago shuffle (“Pine Barren Boogie”) , soulful slow Blues (“Past Midnight” and “Feelin’ Blue”), solo ragtime breakdown (“Low Brow Blues”), robust Gospel balladry (“The Dew Drop Blues”) and jazzy Latin romance (“Blue for You”). But the attention to repertory detail is hardly a detraction. The 12 performances sparkle with diverse tempo and feel and are played with such fluidity, dexterity and emotion that as a whole Piano Blues is a complete work of fully original art.

The musicians are: Chris Nole – piano, organ, accordion; Randy Leago – tenor and baritone saxophones; Pat Bergeson – harmonica; Jon Conley – guitar; T.R. Ilian – bass; Chris Brown – drums

Let’s highlight a few tracks:
The slow “Stormy Monday” swing of “Past Midnight” is a master class in mood and expressiveness. Nole seems to stop time making every 4 beat measure burst with flurries of notes, each bar it’s own micro-statement within the whole. The use of classic replacement and passing chords injects movement and melody into the 12 bar progression and propels this impossibly slow tempoed performance ever forward with urgency and drama.

The sole solo piano work out “Low Brow Blues” forgoes strict time signature adherence to allow for idiosyncratic passages to flow naturally and at their own pace. Part Otis Spann’s duo explorations with Robert Lockwood and part Keith Jarret’s solo Koln meditations, “Low Brow Blues,” as the title hints, stays committed to the Blues scales and conventions while pushing the boundary of song and form.

Nole has an obvious affection for the music of New Orleans. Three of the compositions on this album are from the Crescent City tradition, most effecting is “Phat Boy Blues.” This lusty swaggering take on the classic Fats Domino style is taken at just below medium-slow giving space for lots of blustery bravado. With big wide toned horns and rolling left hand bass key playing, Nole and company slowly bull their way through a China shop.

Chris Nole is a master musician. A technician who has had a fruitful in-demand career. Even though Piano Blues is consistently tasteful and perfectly executed with self-control and precision, Nole is really showing off on this album. He is showing us how deep his knowledge is and how well he can play absolutely any kind of piano Blues music you can imagine. Piano Blues is not only a master clinic in technical skill, it is a moving testament to Nole’s talent and unbound artistry.

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.


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

imageSean Poluk – Never Going To Lose

www.seanpoluk.com

self release

10 songs time – 35:17

This offering from Sean Poluk from Waterloo, Canada is a heady brew of many influences including roots music, folk, blues and international leanings. Recorded in Canada and Spain it employs Latin musicians from Spain and Venezuela. Sean’s vocal delivery tends to be of hushed tones that at times makes the lyrics difficult to decipher. He plays only acoustic or resonator guitar with the remainder of instruments being flute, sax, keyboards, drums and various stringed instruments. The multi-layered background vocals by producer Edith Salazar range from “oohs and ahs” to eerie moans or foreign voices. Due to the various influences a very exotic vibe is achieved.

The intro to the title song with its’ “ooh and ah” chorus and acoustic guitar strumming sounds like The Doobie Brothers. His soft echoed vocalizing obscures some of the lyrics. It’s a funky number with sax and piano. “Little By Little” is a blues based and upbeat shuffle with accented background vocals. Laid back is the word for “Sometimes” and Sean’s lilting acoustic and acoustic slide playing. Haunting backing vocals and keyboard strings along with Tomasito Garcia’s flute contribute to the exotic atmosphere of the music on “Ragged Blues”.

The Lord’s Prayer is recited over the music in “Lord’s Prayer Blues” with female vocals that sound like eerie American Indian strange moaning. The lyrics of “I Don’t Mind” come straight out of a corny country song. “I have a vegan friend, she smokes grass and I don’t mind”; “I like girls that like Tequila”; “I have a friend who drives a Ford and I don’t Mind”. Really? The country vibe remains for “Forever Is A Long Time” as Sean sounds uncannily like Kenny Rogers.

“Nina” is basically a flute driven instrumental dedicated to a puppy(barking included) with the female chorus chanting “Nina” over and over. “Waterloo Is The Last Stop” is about moving there. Things wrap up with the self explanatory “Everybody Lies” a song that has an ominous quality thanks to some haunting background vocals. It also features a nice stringed instrument solo.

Sean and his crew have come up with an interesting concoction of a melding of musical styles with occasional exotic touches. Sean’s original compositions, the first rate musicians along with Edith Salazar’s deft production values have created a mesmerizing musical experience.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

imageEddie 9V – Left My Soul in Memphis

self-released

http://eddie9v.bandcamp.com

11 songs, 41 minutes

Full disclosure: your humble BB reviewer’s favorite style of Blues is the super funky music that the 3 Kings, Albert Collins, Gatemouth, Koko Taylor and many others created in the 70’s and 80’s. It is music that bridges the commercial gaps between Blues artists and the white Rock music that liberally stole from them and in a small way mitigates the injustice. This music is also pure expression from vital artists in their prime interpreting the world around them and processing the groundbreaking invention of George Clinton, Sly Stone, Diana Ross, and countless others in the generation that came after them. Albums like Freddie King’s Woman Across the River, Albert King’s I’ll Play the Blues for You, B.B. King’s Completely Well, Albert Collins’ Ice Pickin’ and Koko Taylor’s I Got What it Takes are seminal works and deeply influential.

Eddie 9V is a kindred spirit. AKA Brooks Mason, 9V’s debut record Left My Soul in Memphis is a funky soulful Blues record that sounds of a different time. Recorded in his double wide trailer in Georgia with assistance only on keyboards from Rhett Huffman, Left My Soul is an astounding mature collection for a 23 year old guitar slinger just getting his career started. Singing with a Freddie King delivery and playing with a Freddie King bite, it is clear throughout that Mr. Volt is deeply influenced by: Freddie King. 10 original songs and a pitch perfect cover of “Look Over Yonder Wall” lifted from, who else but, Freddie King’s Woman Across the River, are performed with snap and consistency and have a washy analog sheen on them, even though this album was certainly recorded digitally.

The feat of recording on your own a full length record that sounds excellent and has real character, makes Left My Soul all the more appealing and infectious. The soul romp title track burbles and bubbles with gooey tremolo slide guitar and underwater organ. Classic slow Blues “Bottle and the Blues” is a B.B. and Freddie rundown. The Bar-Kays backed Albert King inspired “New Orleans” and “Bending with the Kings” are simply more show pieces for Eddie’s tasty incendiary chops, the latter a clear homage to Albert’s “Laundromat Blues Parts 1&2.” The winding and grinding “Ghosts” is an entertaining direct lift of Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me in the Morning” from Blood on the Tracks. But, that’s okay because Dylan lifted his riff from Big Bill Broonzy anyway.

The three final tracks on this album dazzle and create a possible road map for this young artist. “Lo-Fi Love” is a Neo-Soul shake down in the vein of Sharon Jones or Charles Bradley (or really any of the other Daptones Records artists). The difference here is that Eddie 9V is a dirty Bluesman with a stinging guitar-centric aesthetic. 9V knocks the Neo-Soul hipster chill model on its ass and creates something more earthy and messy. “Don’t Test Me” speeds up 9V’s 3 Kings trip and plants it squarely into the drum-hit heavy world of the late 60’s LA scene of Johnny Otis and his son Shuggie. The final track “1945 (Cocaine & Rum)” is a North Mississippi boogie taken hard with more urgency than trance. Eddie’s picking sophistication infuses the boogie with a complexity and the lyrics are evocative. This is an elevated hybrid boogie in line with the breakthroughs of Jimbo Mathus and Cedric Burnside.

Eddie 9V is a huge talent. A slavish devote of the 3 Kings, 9V’s playing is thoroughly connected to the tradition. This direct translation belies a layer of youth and will, one hopes, become ever more individual and idiosyncratic as he matures as an artist. Songs like the final three detailed above and the title track are truly breakthrough moments. These tracks coupled with the shear willful force of talent required to produce such a singular solo effort announce that Eddie 9V is a young Blues voice to be noticed and followed.

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.


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageDavid Dann – Guitar King: Michael Bloomfield’s Life In The Blues

University Of Texas Press

776 pages

Younger blues fans have probably heard the name Michael Bloomfield at some point, but fail to understand the his place in the pantheon of blues guitar players. Almost four decades after his passing, his name is rarely mentioned and his legacy has , for many, faded into the mists of time. Yet there have been two biographies about Bloomfield. The first, Ed Ward’s Michael Bloomfield: The Rise And Fall Of An American Guitar Hero, was published on a limited basis in 1983, then updated in an expanded edition released in 2016. The second title, Michael Bloomfield – If You Love These Blues: An Oral History by Jan Mark Wolkin and Bill Keenom, saw the light of day in 2000, with interview segments from Bloomfield and his contemporaries used to tell his story.

Now author David Dann takes his turn at tracing Bloomfield’s life and career in music, in addition to reaffirming the guitarist’s standing as a “Guitar King” by taking in-depth looks at those moments when Bloomfield was involved in music that changed the world. At 740 pages, his biography stretches well beyond the combined total of the preceding two titles. Fortunately, Dann quickly establishes that he is a skilled storyteller. Despite his extensive research – the “Notes” section runs fifty pages – he never allows the story to get bogged down in the details. Holding a reader’s interest through hundreds of pages is a daunting task in a work of non-fiction, but Dann keeps the story flowing in a way that steadily helps readers develop a truer sense of Bloomfield the artist, and the person.

The first two chapters quickly deal with Bloomfield’s early years in the Chicago suburbs, where he was smitten first by rock ‘n’ roll records on the radio before falling under the spell of blues tunes heard late at night on his transistor radio. His parents bought him a guitar at age thirteen, and it took over his life with a passion that had been missing up to that point. Music further separated Bloomfield from his father, a successful businessman who envisioned that his oldest son would join him in running his company. But the budding guitarist spent most free moments practicing when he wasn’t making trips to Chicago to hear the blues greats in clubs scattered throughout the city.

Two chapters in, Dann has already progressed to 1961, leaving over 600 pages to cover the final twenty years that Bloomfield walked the earth. The chronicle moves from playing the folk clubs on Chicago’s North side through his friendship with Big Joe Williams and on to his band’s tenure at Big John’s, a noted club in the Old Town area. Already the guitarist is experimenting with drugs, partly to cope with insomnia issues. And he has fallen in love, marrying Susan Beuhler but keeping their union a secret from their parents. His first big break comes when his manager is able to generate interest from noted producer John Hammond , who first heard of Bloomfield from his son, John Hammond Jr., the famous blues singer.

The arc of Bloomfield’s career picks up speed once he officially becomes a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, an integrated group that quickly proved that the white members could play music every bit as tough as what was heard in clubs on Chicago’s South and West sides. The author really shines when he tackles the band’s second release, East-West, going into detail on the unique modal tuning at the center of several tracks. Dann offers in-depth analysis of the title cut, giving readers a deeper understanding of what made the track so unique at the time. Due to their rising popularity, the band was now on the road touring constantly, which created more issues for Bloomfield, who had to self-medicate to deal with the effects of his rampant insomnia.

Another portion of the book looks at Bloomfield’s relationship with Bob Dylan. When they first met after the folksinger did a performance at a Chicago venue, Dylan was quickly captivated by the high-energy style of Bloomfield, as well as his amazing knowledge of the first generation of blues performers, many of whom were also favorites of his own. Later Dylan enlists the guitarist help on recording sessions for his his upcoming project, Highway 61 Revisited. Dylan wants to change his approach, looking to adopt a harder-edged amplified sound, and figures Bloomfield is just the man to help accomplish that goal. As Bloomfield relates, “So we get to the session. I don’t know anything about it. All these studio cats are standing around. I come in like a dumb punk with a guitar over my back, no case, and I’m telling people about this and that, and this is the arrangement, and do this on the bridge. These are like the heaviest studio musicians in New York. They looked at me like I was crazy”.

Despite the rough start, Bloomfield’s contributions helped Dylan move his music forward. The change was finalized once and for all at the infamous 1965 Newport Folk Festival. As a long-time supporter of the event, Butterfield’s manager, Albert Grossman, was able to get the Butterfield Band added to the line-up. Their presence gave Bloomfield the opportunity to put together an electrified band to back Dylan for performance at the event. Much has been written about this watershed moment in the history of American roots music. Suffice to say that more than a few attendees were stunned by the wall of sound surrounding Dylan’s songs, driven by Bloomfield’s fierce fretwork at a high volume setting. There was greater acceptance for the guitarist’s efforts with the Butterfield Band, who garnered a host of new fans, many of whom were hearing Chicago blues for the first time.

Just twenty-two years old, Bloomfield had already solidified a lasting place in history for his associations with Dylan and Butterfield. The latter affiliation came to an end after an exhausting tour of England, after which the guitarist had had enough. He did meet the reigning king of British blues guitarists, Eric Clapton, and heard him play with Cream. Bloomfield walked away impressed with the rich tone that Clapton got from his Gibson Les Paul Sunburst, starting a quest to secure one for himself. Back home, he was planning a new venture with his long-time friend, singer Nick Gravenites, and working on the soundtrack for the Peter Fonda feature film, The Trip. Originally referred to as the American Music Band, the group featured a horn-driven approach that mixed blues, soul, and rock into a tight package fueled by Bloomfield’s guitar and their powerhouse drummer and vocalist, Buddy Miles. Eventually their name was changed to Electric Flag, and they tore it up at the 1967 Monterey Pop festival, only to be overshadowed by later historic performances by Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company plus a new artist on the scene by the name of Jimi Hendrix, who literally set the stage on fire.

But Bloomfield soon tired of the grind of running a band, so he once again trotted off to the sidelines. But fate was not done with him. An invitation from a friend from the Dylan sessions, keyboardist Al Kooper, got him back in the studio for a “jam session” that Kooper felt could finally showcase Bloomfield’s talents as a blues player. It worked for the first day. But then Bloomfield’s demons got the best of him, and he headed back home without telling anyone. Kooper has to make a series of phone calls to find a replacement on guitar, finally connecting with Steven Stills. Despite the chaos, the resulting album, Super Session, hit #12 on the Billboard charts and was awarded Gold Record status. That meant that Bloomfield was once again faced with pressure to go back on the road to capitalize on the album’s popularity. His reluctance to tour simply couldn’t be overcome, although his financial debts with Grossman meant that he would make infrequent attempts to satisfy the manager and his fans.

As chronicled by Dunn, Bloomfield spent most of the last twelve years making music for himself, some acoustic, and some plugged in but without the same fierce, biting approach that had made him a star not that many years before. Some of the later recordings have tunes with Bloomfield on piano, showing that he also knew his way around the keyboard. He had an engaging vocal style and a humorous nature that came together on performances like “I’M Glad I’m Jewish,” from a 1977 show at McCabe’s. He enjoyed making music with his friends in low-key environments, far from the bright lights of the big stage. His feelings were summed up in comments he made in 1971 interview, stating “All of a sudden I realized it was the name that was being sold, the hype was being sold. Cats were applauding the idolatry……And sometimes it got very confused with quality and non-quality. Man, this seemed like a very jive thing to me at that time, and it still does”.

Despite his retreat from the spotlight, Bloomfield continued to suffer from his anxieties, magnified by the insomnia and his tenuous financial situation. Efforts to break free from the weight of drug addiction seemed to be working until one evening in February, 1981, when the unresponsive guitarist is found slumped over in his sedan. The author offers some theories as to what may have happened in the hours before his death, and also who may have been responsible for supplying the fatal dose.

No matter how much knowledge you may already have about Michael Bloomfield, reading Dann’s biography will certainly add multiple layers of understanding about his life and the extent of his influence on the lineage of blues guitar playing. Included are twenty-four pages of black & white photos, two pagers of resources for further study, and a two page listing of Bloomfield’s recordings on LP and subsequent CD issues. It all adds up to magnificent tribute to a man who undoubtedly was a “Guitar King,” making this book a highly recommended addition to any musical library!

Reviewer 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 former 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!


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageMatchedash Parish – Saturday Night

Make It Real Records

11 songs time – 53:05

The initial release of this grand amalgamation of talent was conceived by Juno award-winning producer-keyboard wizard-singer-songwriter Lance Anderson to spotlight his discovery of Kitchener phenom Matt Weidinger, a song writer-singer-multi instrumentalist. The band’s name is derived from the Indigenous people’s word Matchedash meaning swampy land and the Louisiana term for county parish, hence Swampy Parish. The group of musicians and singers here were hand picked by the two men. They come with a variety of pedigrees. Among them are William Sperandei who played trumpet with Harry Connick Jr., Jill Zaden who sang background with Janet Jackson for ten years and Shamakah Ali who drummed behind Al Green.

The specter of The Band presides over much of the music herein, particularly the styling’s of Richard Manuel and Levon Helm. It’s conceivable as four-fifths of The Band were Canadians. The virtual cacophony of intertwining instruments and voices are artfully arranged and produced to maximum effect. The overall result is a rich gathering of rustic roots music.

Right from the onset The Band inspiration comes into play with an obvious nod to Richard Manuel’s vocal bent courtesy of Matt Weidinger and the Garth Hudson-like organ meanderings of Lance Anderson on “When It Rains”. Written as a letter to Matt’s grand children, “Where There Is Love” conjures up images of a divine heavenly band with it’s mass backing vocal contingent, luscious horn melodies, slide guitar and percussion. The influence of The Band’s Levon Helm vocal delivery and mandolin and Garth Hudson’s accordion shows up on “St. John’s Matchedash Parrish Hall”, an uplifting ode to church hall dances in days of yore.

Quisha Wint steps out for the lead vocal on the gospel-y “God Gave You Hands” that features punchy horns, Wurlitzer electric piano and zippy percussion. The sole cover tune The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” attains the feeling of a gospel tent revival meeting as the horn section and backing vocalists punctuate Matt’s soulful vocal. The yearning for a brighter road ahead is the sentiment of Matt’s impassioned vocal on “Afraid”. It also includes some nifty slide guitar.

Lance takes lead vocal and keyboard chores on the funky clavinet-organ driven “Not Sold On Getting Old”. Lance emotes again on “Hopeless Romantic”, a ballad about missing a loved one while away. I detect a vague touch of Van “The Man” Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” on this one. An instrumental save for the backing vocalists repeating the title over and over, “Congo Strut” achieves a reptilian atmosphere, not to mention a compelling trumpet solo by William Sperandei and Lance’s smooth keyboard styling’s as well as pervasive percussion ramblings.

“Nothing To Say” laments the human struggles we all face via Matt’s dramatic voicing. Lance contributes the vocal to the closer “This Love Can’t Last”. The band goes out on this joyous song about living in the moment and not worrying when people say love won’t last.

Where does one begin to describe a seamless musical event such as this one without a single misstep or errant note? We just thank the muse that inspires an event like this, a homogenous blending of root music elements.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.


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The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society presents our March Blues Event featuring an open jam following The Instigators, an exciting Charlotte based, four piece Blues band with a command of Southern Soul, R&B, Reggae and Rock influences. Band members are Rob Dayton, Stephen Foley, John Hartley, and Michael Ingmire. Ingmire, a nationally published writer and historian, has written many musical articles about many American musical icons and is also a writing contributor to Politichicks.com and Charlotte Blues Society’s monthly newsletter.

The show starts at 7pm Sunday Mar. 1st, at The Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave, Charlotte, NC. Free admission for CBS members w/valid cards. ($5 suggested donation) or $10 for others.Doors at 6:00pm. Jam at 8:45. Drums provided/Bring your own amps and for a great evening of music! We continue to collect non-perishable food items for loaves and fishes. Cash donations are also welcome. One can? YES, I can!

Other up coming CBS shows: Vanessa Collier on Sun April 5th and Jontavious Willis on Sun May 3rd. For more info on theses visit https://charlottebluessociety.org.

The Great Northern Blues Society – Wausau, WI

To celebrate 21 years of the Blues Café, The Great Northern Blues Society will be starting things off for the weekend by hosting a 21st Anniversary ‘Kick-Off Party’, Friday, March 13th at the Rothschild Pavilion (near Wausau, WI). Doors will open at 5:30 pm, with Soul Symmetry getting things started at 6:30 and the Ever-popular Aaron Williams & the Hoo-Doo taking the stage at 8:30. Friday admission can be bought the night of the event for $10 and/or is included with all Saturday Blues Café tickets, which will be available to purchase at Friday’s event.

Saturday’s Blues Café lineup includes Boom Boom Stevie V. Band with Bruce McCabe on keyboard, at 1 pm, the Bel Airs at 3 pm, Venessa Collier at 5 pm, the John Nemeth Band at 7 pm, and the Ana Popovic Band at 9 pm. Doors will open at noon. We hope you can join us for a weekend of great music, and to celebrate 21 years of good times at the Blues Café. For more information, visit www.gnbs.org.

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign, IL

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society has announced their 3rd Annual Blues Fest will be held Saturday August 8. Watch our website and Facebook page for lineups and other information coming soon.

PCBS hosts two Blues Jams each month. Jams are 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 opened up to all the jammers in the house. Jams are held at Pipa’s Pub, 604 S. Country Fair Dr. in Champaign. Bands hosting upcoming Jams in 2020 include: Feb. 26, the Jack Whittle Band March 8 and Raw Sugar April 12. Bring your instrument and join in the fun. For more info visit: http://prairiecrossroadsblues.org

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

Crossroads Blues Society shows coming up in the Rockford, IL area.
Hope and Anchor in Loves Park, IL 2nd Saturday every month, 8 PM, $5 Cover: March 1 4- Kilborn Alley Blues Band, April 11 – Cash Box Kings,
Lyran Society in Rockford, IL 1st and 3rd Fridays, 7 PM, No Cover: February 21 – Don Collins & the Night Shift, March 6 – Ivy Ford, March 20 Jonny T-Bird & the MPs, April 3 – Dave Fields, April 17 – Billy Flynn & Milwaukee Slim

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. Feb 24 – Dave Lumsden wsg South Side Denny, Mar 2 – Dave Weld & the Imperial Flames, Mar 9 – Kirk Crandell, Mar 23 – Scott Ellison, Mar 30 – Tony Holiday.


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