Don Wilcock has our feature interview with UK Soul man James Hunter. We have 6 Blues reviews for you including reviews of new music from Beth McKee, Luxuriant Sedans, Dr. Helander, Eric Bibb and J.J. Milteau, Peter V And Blues Train and a review of a book by Don Nix called Memphis Man – Living High, Laying Low. John Mitchell has a review and photos from the Springing The Blues Festival in sunny Jacksonville Beach, Florida.
Our 2 videos of the week are a double dose of soul from this weeks interview, James Hunter Six.
We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
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Styles: Gospel and Soul-Influenced Blues, Piano Blues, Roots Rock
The cover art of Mississippi native Beth McKee’s latest release, Sugarcane Revival, depicts the silhouette of a raven standing on a post. Upon the raven’s shadowy body, a sugarcane field blazes, the flames reaching as high as those of any forest fire. One might expect the CD inside to contain songs featuring dark themes, but the exact opposite is true. McKee and her posse will bring listeners’ world-weary spirits back to life with her heartfelt take on Gospel and soul blues, piano blues, and roots rock. She often resembles Bonnie Raitt, in the lower range of her vocals, but Beth doesn’t possess Bonnie’s versatility on the high notes. Her down-to-earth approach is refreshing in these days of slick studio editing. Some might call her sound derivative, but there’s no doubt of her sincerity or passion for music.
Her website reveals: “The appeal of her honest vocals and roots-y piano style was evident on McKee’s previous solo albums, Next to Nowhere (2012) and I’m That Way, the 2010 tribute to Chess Record’s Louisiana legend Bobby Charles. McKee used the albums to establish a solo career after her 1990s success with New Orleans-based MCA Records act Evangeline.”
On thirteen original tracks, Beth McKee performs as lead singer, on acoustic and electric pianos, Hammond organ, and accordion. Also featured are Juan Perez on drums and percussion; bassists Dan Walters, Barry Dean, Tony Battaglia, Todd Warsing, Justin Beckler, and Tommy Malone; guitarists Battaglia, Malone, Beckler, Tim Kelliher, and Tim Lee; John Tegethoff on additional organ; Jason Thomas on fiddle; Charles DeChant on saxophone; Rhonda Lohmeyer on mandolin; Tim Kelliher on ukulele; and additional vocals by Malone, Gerry Williams, Nicole Johnson, and Claire Wofford; and handclaps by Luke and Claire Wofford, Becca Spiegel, and Mackie Price.
The following songs will get blues fans’ blood pumping and mood jumping to great heights:
Track 01: “Long Road Back” – Beth McKee’s primary talents are as a vocalist and pianist, as the album’s opener clearly demonstrates. “Well, it’s a long road back, Highway 49. And there’s a whole lot of miles lying ahead and behind. I’m on my way, and I’m running out of time.” Sounds like life, and not merely a homeward journey. Treasure the full weight of every instrument in this chorus of hope and regret.
Track 05: “Nobody Knows Like Me” – Even the most innocent flirtation with trouble can land one in a world of hurt: “Nobody knows the lure of surrender when you’ve lost your sense of self-will. Nobody hears the bargain being struck when conclusion’s at the heart of the deal.” With a smooth, jazzy piano refrain and guitar flair, track five reaches out to the hidden downtrodden, offering them a flame of hope in a world that’s often ice-cold.
Track 09: “And Everything Changed” – The biblical Eve, Moses, and the prophet Ezekiel all faced cataclysmic events that turned ordinary life into an extraordinary experience: “And everything changed. It was a whole new game. The journey had begun…” Coupled with this inspiring chorus is Charles DeChant’s sensational saxophone.
The raven on Beth McKee’s new CD cover says, “Sugarcane Revival is caw-caw-COOL!”
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 36 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.
Videos Of The Week – James Hunter
James Hunter is an extraordinarily talented and dynamic performer as these 2 live videos show. Click on a video below to see it now! The first one is the title cut off of James’ 2016 Daptone release Hold On from Britain’s BalconyTV show.
The second video is a live performance of the song One Way Love from 2013.
Featured Blues Interview – James Hunter
With the release of James Hunter’s fourth CD in 10 years, Mojo Magazine, England’s answer to Rolling Stone, calls him “the UK’s best soul singer.” “That’s like Mad Magazine being number 1 in a field of one,” he says dryly in a heavy Cockney accent.
Calling from London a month before his May tour of the states, and two months after the release of Hold On!, his first album for Daptone, the 52-year old Hunter comes across as a street savvy scrapper who dances to the tune of his own drummer. He grew up in poverty in a trailer near an onion field outside of Colchester, England, 50 miles from London, the oldest town in England. His speaking voice sounds like he’s from a back alley British pub, while his honey sweet vocals on record are one part Jackie Wilson, two parts Sam Cooke with a twist of Tommy Edwards.
“I’ve had nightmares where I can’t switch properly over to the other and I sing in a Cockney accent and talk in an American one. But that’s never gonna happen. It’s because of the nature of music I’m always listening to. It’s no danger of switching inadvertently from one to the other.”
A kind of street fighter mentality in his conversation makes an interview as much a sparring match as it is an over-the-back-fence blab.
“Did you interview me before,” he asks me early on.
“I did,” I answer. “I interviewed you in 2006 over the phone, and here we are again.”
“Did you get anything out of me?”
“No! You were a tough interview.”
“That sounds like me, yeah.”
“I figure you got 10 years under your belt, so now you’re going to be a lot better at it than you were 10 years ago”.
“I’ll have a go, but I’m not promising anything.”
“I’ll try to ask more pointed questions, and maybe that’ll help. How’s that?”
“Well, in the intervening 10 years you should have tried again half way through, ’cause I was immature then. I’m senile now.”
Hunter left school at 16 and made more busking on the streets of London than he did mending signal boxes on the railway. Early in his career he had a band called Howlin’ Wilf and the Vee Jays, but soon dropped the moniker because the Brits didn’t get the references. Never mind that he misspelled Howlin’ Wolf, and had the wrong Chicago blues label. “I think playing blues was a way of playing rock and roll without people laughing at you,” he says in retrospect. “Once I started doing John Lee Hooker, kind of getting his vibes, I was effectively still playing rock and roll, but without people laughing at me. Calling it blues gave it some kind of legitimacy”.
In the ’90s he toured and recorded with Van Morrison, and in 2006 he made a splash with his debut American release People Gonna Talk. Because of his soulful voice, the press labelled his music retro. But he’s retro the same way Sharon Jones and the Daptones are retro. In other words the feel may be 1959 Memphis, but the songs are all originals and the arrangements featuring two saxophones and keyboards are unique in the history of the genre.
“I’m listening to this stuff in a different way than a lot of people,” he told me in 2006. “I’m not as academic about it. You wouldn’t know to hear me talk. I mean I’m gassing off about it, but my approach to it is more visceral. I think most white people, American or British, are a bit at odds because I think they got preconceptions about that music, and they get a sort of – sometimes, they get the details, but they don’t get the core of it. They get all the dressing, but they don’t have the feel. It’s the groove that people mess up and what usually your British or generally your white acts who do it make up for what they lack in the slinkiness of it – the sexiness of it – like give it some attack.”
Ten years later, he’s honed his unique style and is even more articulate in explaining it. “Being real is far more valid than being authentic. Basically, the key is to write real songs about real stuff and not try to come from a perspective of 50 or 60 years ago. I just go along with what I’m feeling like. I’m almost surprised when people (call me) retro. I just see myself as a contemporary music singer. I’m only aware of differences when other people point them out to me.”
Retro singers are putting plastic seat covers on old couches. Hunter is getting down. “Yes, I do like to put a little edge into it. Three great strengths in music for me are the prettiness of the tune, and you can combine that with a spikey delivery and good grooves, and I think sometimes people think you have to be one or the other, or one of the three. My preference for earlier styles is because they are in lots of ways a bit tougher and a bit grittier.”
The secret sauce in Hunter’s music is his band. He’s had almost the same lineup since his breakout CD in 2006 led by baritone sax player Lee Badau and tenor sax player Damian Hand. Bass player Jason Wilson has been with him since 1988 while keyboardist Andrew Kinslow and drummer Jonathan Lee are relatively new. Hunter now calls the group The James Hunter Six.
“I think the thing is we’ve developed. Over the years we’ve all been together we haven’t learned to respect each other any more, but we’ve developed a musical affinity. The guys can almost read each other’s minds now. They can’t understand each other when they’re using plain speech, but musically there’s quite an empathy, particularly the horn section. We’ve had very competent musicians stand in for one of our guys when they were indisposed. It was never quite the same. They didn’t gel quite the same.
In blues, early electric guitarists like B. B. King and T Bone Walker emulated the saxophone. The two saxophone players in The James Hunter Six return the favor, becoming the centerpiece of many of the songs. I can’t think of another blues band with horn players quite as creative and unique.
“Oh, thank you,” says Hunter. “As a guitarist I favor different keys. Guitarists tend to favor different keys to sax players. They like B flats. So I try writing in sax keys sometimes ’cause with a guitarist if you can get your fingers across the frets, you can plug one chord through it. So there is no real difficulty with that, but also I do try to use them imaginatively including sometimes using the horns as part of the vocals.”
Sharon Jones and the Dapkings have the same attitude about being real vs. vs. authentic as Hunter does. He recalls some dates he played with Sharon and the band. “I was stealing their entire band including the singer bit by bit, but when she got up on stage I mean this was about five minutes. She was up with me, and I could barely keep up with her, and I thought, ‘F**k me, she’s gonna do another two hours of this.’ I was panting for breath.”
Hunter admits he launched his own campaign to sign with Sharon’s Daptone label. “We were looking for a good producer and somebody suggested Gabriel Roth from Daptone, and I had no reservations about that either. I always thought, ‘Yes, he’s definitely the one.’ I tried some unsuitable ones and, well, they suggested some unsuitable ones I rejected until they suggested Gabe and I went, ‘Well, he’s certainly gonna be the closest one to what I want.’ And when we finally did record with him for this other company I decided there and then nobody else had been or was gonna be good enough after him.”
Hunter is rather self-deprecating about his writing abilities although he’s written all of the 45 songs on his four CDs. “I call myself a thesaurus writer. What I’ll do is I make up in my mind one salient word that covers what the song is about, and then I’ll go to the thesaurus, and I’ll try and find every word that pertains to that, every word that has an association with that, and then try and find rhyme a for it. So, that’s what I do basically. That’s the nearest thing to a formula that I’ve got.”
Pulling his leg, I tell him that he’s given away all his secrets. “I have, but I’ve still got a bit of an imagination as well. I mean, all of us can cheat, but I think the better artists do tend to mystify what they do because they’re not scared of competition. I’m not saying I am one of the better ones, but I certainly want to emulate the best.”
Songwriting is not a fun chore for him, however. “Usually when it’s almost too late I start writing lots of stuff. And when there’s a looming deadline, but sometimes a song will just come to me, and that’s the ones that just occur to me. You can’t rely on just waiting for them to come.
“This Is Where We Came In” off Hold On! is one of those, and happens to be his favorite. “This is a more personal one to me because I thought it was a clever analogy, and it indulges my sort of fetish for cinema, and using me as an analogy for a relationship that’s going tits up, you know. I think the phrase cropped up, and obviously it’s a familiar one to people who’ve ever come into a film half way through, and then had to stay in to catch up from the beginning. Obviously, it’s a familiar cinema-going phrase, and it just popped into my head one day, and I thought it was just begging to have an analogy made of it. It was such a musical phrase, and it says so many things, I thought it was gonna be quite an easy one. As a matter of fact that one was quite easy to write.”
So where does this Cockney rebel get his affinity for the sound of old black soul? He told one magazine that it was his grandmother’s collection of 78s that included Jackie Wilson’s “Reet Petite” that set him off.
“It’s true, but when I was asked that question and when I gave that answer, I was sort of clutching at straws to see if there was a defining moment when I got into black music, and I used that as a possible one, but the fact remains there wasn’t really one. It wasn’t like a sudden light went on. I think it was a gradual realization that in any genre I do tend to prefer the music black people were making and for some reason, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It’s just that the groove and the vibe were there.”
His father happens to be Burmese, but he doesn’t feel his affinity is genetic. “I think it’s some ability as a mimic.”
There’s that self-deprecation again. Street busking got him way out in front of ever being purely a mimic. This was hard scrabble London, and he had to fight his ground. “Some of the crack heads would come up to you and say, ‘Hey, you’re on our turf.’ A lot of the beggars around there we kinda got close on a one-to-one basis, and the crack heads and so many of them were just so normal.
“There was one guy that used to sit next to us quietly and in between songs we’d have a conversation, and he’d quietly tell us he was in a half-way house. He was trying to get himself off crack, and yet his income as a beggar was staggeringly good. He knew as soon as he got weaned off crack, he wouldn’t go begging anymore. I thought that’s a shame ’cause you get better pay than most bankers. Obviously, what it was, it all went on drugs, and he was a sweetheart. He was such a nice guy, and he knew when he went straight – and I judge him by his demeanor – I’m pretty sure he made a success of it. He’s just like any bloke.
“If he’d kept up the begging habit after he gave up crack, then he would have considerable income. He was practically on a five-figure income, but not getting to spend any of it on food or shelter because of his addiction. So I said to this guy, ‘If after you kick crack, you maintain your begging occupation, you can do pretty well,’ but as he pointed out to me, he wouldn’t need to beg if he got off that.”
Hunter didn’t do badly on the street, himself. “Two days of busking would equal a week of busting me guts out shifting furniture for 40 hours a week. The people that ran the agency I worked for were just really tarry-fingered scum bags. They would just exploit you any way they could. They’re horrible, horrible people. I did get a bit of revenge ’cause I pushed in their letter box a couple of years after leaving them.”
Hunter lost his wife to cancer in 2008. “I seem to be surrounded by people who are dropping off with cancer and none of them had any bad habits, and I’ve been abusing my body for as long as I’ve know how to do it, and well, I’m not under the delusion I’m bullet proof. It’s just that it does question the wisdom of treating your body like a temple.”
Does he feel guilty that she died and he didn’t? “No, I’ve heard of survivor’s guilt. There may be a twinge of that. I haven’t questioned that, but there’s an element of something, if not guilt exactly. I’d say an awareness of life’s random injustice and how it works out in some people’s favor. How Rupert Murdock manages to live to 80. Then, some really nice people drop off a twig early. You, things like that.”
Hunter was nominated in 2006 for Best Traditional Blues Album. He lost to Ike Turner. “I think it was the nearest (caterogy) they could find that we might fit in. I mean, obviously I would have hotly disputed we were anything of the kind, but if they’d given me a Grammy for Best Country and Western, I would have taken it. It does strike me strange that there wasn’t a soul category. The thing is I wouldn’t have felt easy winning something from Ike Turner ’cause I’ve said this before, but it would have been like beating your dad at arm wrestling.”
James Hunter is a fiercely independent Cockney who plays spittingly spry soul music with a band of crackerjack musicians who sound like they’re from Uranus. But to him it’s perfectly normal. “Orson Wells used this analogy to explain his filming techniques. He told a joke about the bloke who goes to the doctor and says he gets up and brushes his teeth and vomits. He gets these headaches, and the doctor says, ‘What did you say?’ He says, ‘When I get up, I brush my teeth, and then when I vomit. I get these headaches,’ and the doctor says, ‘Do you mean you do that every morning?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, doesn’t everybody?’ As far as you know you’re normal, and that’s true to a degree with me.”
Interviewer Don Wilcock has been writing about blues for nearly half a century. He wrote Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, the biography that helped Buddy Guy jumpstart his career in 1991. He’s interviewed more than 5000 Blues artists and edited several music magazines including King Biscuit Time.
Live Blues Review – Springing The Blues Festival
Springing The Blues, Jacksonville Beach, Florida, 1 – 3 April 2016
Delayed by heavy traffic we sadly missed the main stage appearance of the swinging Toots Lorraine & The Traffic but managed to catch the band briefly on the smaller Blues Lounge stage later in the evening: Toots Lorraine (vocals), Chad Mo (guitar), Dave Frank (keys), Lawrence Buckner (bass), Cody Walker (drums).
Sean Chambers had also had travel issues but arrived just in time to blaze through a set of heavy blues including dips into the Freddie King and Otis Rush catalogues: Sean Chambers (guitar, vocals), Michael Hensley (keys), Todd Cook (bass), Kris Schnebelen (drums).
Making their third consecutive appearance at the festival Selwyn Birchwood and his band enthralled the crowd with their blend of funk and blues, including material from a forthcoming album as well as a good selection from the “Don’t Call No Ambulance” CD. Selwyn played some lap steel but stuck mainly to the guitar that he won at the 2013 IBC’s for best guitarist, brilliantly supported by Regi Oliver on baritone sax, Huff Wright on bass and Courtney ‘Big Love’ Girlie on drums.
Headliner Victor Wainwright is also a great entertainer and showed his boogie piano skills as well as his showmanship as he and his well-drilled band ran through a range of material including an excellent medley of “St James Infirmary” and “Minnie The Moocher” – not an everyday pairing! With Victor were the impressive Pat Harrington on guitar, Terrence Grayson on bass and Billy Dean on drums.
Kim Reteguiz & The Black Cat Bones opened on the main stage, their big sound augmented by a three piece horn section as they ran through a strong set of latin-flavoured material including two Santana classics. Kim fronted the band on vocals with Eve Rojas on backing vocals, Jared Bell on guitar, Shaun Pfaffman on keys, Bernard Johnson on bass, Kent McKinney on drums, Dorian Lopez and Debbie Simmonds on percussion, Will Neal on trombone, Sean Etheridge on trumpet and Jamal Harris on sax. Watch out for a forthcoming album from this band.
North Carolina’s Red Dirt Revelators brought some rough and tumble Mississippi Hill Country blues and boogie to the festival with the gruff vocals and harp of Willie Shane Johnston with Jamie Trolliger on guitar, Clay Ford on bass and Jason Gardner on drums.
Local outfit the Cat McWilliams Band offered a smoother alternative on the second stage with some melodic blues based round the twin guitars of husband and wife Toby and Cat McWilliams, well supported by Tom Rowe on sax, Rob Pittenger on bass and Eric Bailey on drums.
Tom rushed straight across to the main stage to add his sax to the Corbitt-Clampitt Experience show where Brady Clampitt’s guitar and vocals were supported by Isaac Corbitt’s sometimes wild harp, John Alessandrini’s bass and Brandon Buck’s drums. The band mixed some of Brady’s originals with soulful covers from the likes of Little Milton and closed with a brace of lesser known Allman Brothers tunes to the crowd’s delight.
2014 IBC winner Mr Sipp delivered an exciting set of original material which included a crowd-pleasing walkabout. Mr Sipp’s dynamism and skilful guitar work were well supported by Jeff Flanagan on bass and Stanley Dixon Jr on drums.
New Jersey’s Eryn Shewell was accompanied by the aptly named ‘Deep Fried Funk’ – AJ Niilo on guitar, Todd Hunter on bass and Jody Hill on drums – and played mainly Rn’B material though they closed with a rousing version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
Across the festival grounds another local act crammed the smaller stage with a large lineup delivering mainly original material in a soul and RnB style. The Parker-Urban band is led by guitarist John and his wife Juanita who shared vocals with Myrna Stallworth, with Chris Poland on sax, Ricky Alessi on keys, John Mortenson on bass, Krishna Das on assorted percussion and James Holloway (not pictured) on drums.
Highlight of the weekend for this reviewer was the appearance of Toronzo Cannon whose relaxed stage presence, strong sense of humor in his original songs and stellar guitar playing proved a winning combination, a long line forming to buy his new Alligator CD. Toronzo’s superb band all came from Chicago: Luca Chiellini on keys, Dave Forte on bass and Melvin ‘Pookie Styx’ Carlisle on drums.
Closing the day was popular headliner Samantha Fish who had been a ‘most wanted’ returnee from 2015. The crowd danced in large numbers at the front of the stage as Samantha delivered a heavy and upbeat set, switching between four different guitars. The band members were Chris Alexander on bass and Go-Go Ray on drums.
Local man Conrad Oberg had run the after-hours jams on Friday and Saturday and opened the Sunday main stage program with a set of classic blues including a great version of RJ’s “Stop Breaking Down”: Conrad on guitar and vocals, Daniel Hunting on bass and Stefan Klein on drums.
Austin Texas is the home of Jennifer B & The Groove and their set had some country twang alongside Joplinesque vocals and a nod to Jacksonville’s favorite sons The Allmans in a rousing slide-fest on “Statesboro Blues”: Jennifer B on vocals, Nick Boettcher on guitar, Dr D on bass and Dan Frezek on drums.
Diedra Ruff ‘The Alabama Blues Queen’ and her Ruff Pro band gave a crowd pleasing mix of soul, Rn’B and rock (Aretha, Dorothy Moore, SRV and Hendrix on the menu) and closed with an exciting “Proud Mary” done in the way that Tina Turner used to perform it. Diedra on vocals, husband Keithen Ruff on guitar, Ralph Lee on bass and Ezra Williams on drums.
New Orleans’ Colin Lake was a new name to most but impressed with clear vocals and great slide playing on a set of mainly original tunes imbued with that NO/Louisiana feel, drawn primarily from a new CD “One Thing That’s For Sure”. He closed with a brace of familiar tunes in “Let’s Go Get Stoned” and a slide heavy “Rolling And Tumbling”: Colin on guitar, lap steel and vocals, Marc Adams on keys, Bill Richards on bass and Erik Golson on drums.
Jarekus Singleton wowed the 2014 festival and returned to provide a superb set of entirely original material from his “Refuse To Lose” album which his cousin Tyrone conveniently took round the crowd to sell during the set – very enterprising! Another cousin Ben Sterling was on bass, André ‘Smooth Groove’ Russell on backing vocals and percussion, Maya Kyles on drums, Sam Brady on keys and Jarekus on guitar and vocals.
For the sixth year running The Lee Boys closed the festival with their blend of scared steel, funk and rock, the crowd dancing wildly from start to finish. The band on this occasion was Derrick and Keith Lee on vocals, Chris Johnson on pedal steel, Alvin Lee on guitar, Alvin Cody on bass, Earl Walker on drums and a keyboard player whose name I did not catch.
The 26th edition of Springing The Blues was an undoubted success and anyone thinking of coming to the next edition should keep an eye on their website for the date in early April 2017.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Blues and Rock Covers
Two of the most popular adages related to pictorial art are, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and “Looks can be deceiving.” The cover art of Born Certified, the debut album of North Carolina band Luxuriant Sedans, is a stunning case in point. It depicts the side of a fire-red automobile, complete with 1950’s-style fins and pointed headlights. Thus, this reviewer was expecting peppy blues rock in the oeuvre of that decade, with horns and bouncy beats ready for any sock hop. Alas, such was not the case. This CDis a compilation of ten covers and two original tracks that are so bona-fide hard rock that blues hardly enters the frame of this production at all. Sure, there are versions of blues songs on it, like “My Baby’s Gone” (originally by John Nemeth) and “Willie” (Walter Trout), but no one ever called John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” 100% pure blues. Why give this particular playlist a shot at one’s latest shindig?
Two disclaimers in all caps tell the whole story. This release was “MADE LOUD TO BE PLAYED LOUD,” according to the inside cover, and this second one on the back cover (regular text mine, for the sake of saving readers’ eyesight). “This is a recording of real music made by real musicians for real people. Protect an endangered species and support live music.” The volume on Born Certified is all the way up even when it’s down, with the result of rip-roaring chaos. “Shake It” (track three) is as lyrically nuanced as this album agets, but when beer and brouhahas are the main events for an upcoming party, who cares?
According to their website, “The Luxuriant Sedans hail from the fertile musical stomping grounds of the North Carolina Piedmont…The common ground for their backgrounds is blues, but The Luxuriant Sedans is no typical fedora-wearing, licks-off-of-records blues band. Rather, the band’s deep musical versatility takes the blue soul in its music and adds an element of rock-‘n’-roll energy that celebrates taste and individuality.”
The Luxuriant Sedans are Mike “Wezo” Wesolowski on lead vocals, “scorched-earth blues harp” and “guacamole”(?); Ed Bumgardner on electric basses and lead/background vocals; Rob Slater on lead, slide and rhythm guitars, “sonic splendor” and background vocals; Geno “Woo Funk” Grandinetti on lead, rhythm, and “textural guitar voodoo,” and Bob Tarleton on “metronomic drums, the Big Beat and background vocals.” Guest musicians include Peter Holsapple on Wulitzer electric piano; Wally West on horns for track thirteen; Denny Quaver on shaker; Mitch Easter on “superhuman speed-flats tambourine;” and “THE” Sam Moss on “crowd instruction and the final word on ‘Rooster Blood’.”
With all that passion and creativity poured into the band description, what does the Luxuriant Sedans’ music sound like? See above, and also below – a review of one of their two originals:
Track 06: “Wezo Needs a Shot” – “Feeling like I’m running straight into a brick wall. Baby, don’t come around me when I call. I’m sitting at the bar. Don’t stop and rot. Well, I’ve got the morning hung over. Sure could use a shot.” The main attraction is Rob Slater’s blazing guitar, coupled with “Wezo’s” howling harp.
Unfortunately, Born Certified has too many overly-loud, “pre-owned” rock covers.
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 36 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 – 3 of 6
Dr. Helander – Country Boy
12 tracks / 45:59
When is the last time you heard a blues album from Finland? Well, Country Boy from “Dr.” Ilkka Helander is a rare set from the land of a thousand lakes, and it is a fine collection of hard-hitting classic acoustic blues. The Dr. has previously released three albums of mostly original electric blues, so this unplugged album is a big departure from his proven methods as it has ten covers and only two originals. But, apparently this man knows the blues in all of its forms, and this disc really clicks.
For this project, Helander sings and provides the most of the acoustic guitar parts, and Mika Railo joins him on double bass for many of the tracks with Topi Kurki behind the drum kit on four songs. There are also a few outstanding guest artists, as you will soon see.
The Muddy Waters-penned title track is up first, which features none other than Grammy winner Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, and Esa Kuloniemi on slide guitar. “Country Boy” is an awesome song to start with, and this crew does this slow blues jam justice with Muselwhite leading the way along with the doctor’s hearty vocals. In case you were wondering, the vocals are all in English, with appropriate inflections and a touch of gravelly Midwest twang.
If you like Muddy Waters, there is one other tune from his Folk Singer album on this disc, “My Home is in the Delta.” Like many of the other songs on this release the instrumentation is kept to the minimum, this time with just Helander’s acoustic guitar and Railo’s stand-up bass. He dials things back even further with Son House’s “Walking Blues,” with only his voice and dobro. Mr. Helander has a nice touch and feel on the six-string, and he does a pretty mean job with his slide on this one.
There is also a pair of neat Junior Wells tracks to be found on Country Boy: “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and “Hoodoo Man Blues,” both of which feature Little Willie Mehto on the harp. His style is a little more laid back than Musselwhite’s, which allows Helander’s voice to take the front of the stage and he does a marvelous job of howling out these tried-and-true lyrics.
A standout track on this disc is Charley Patton’s “Green River Blues” which has quite a bit going for it. Kurki lays down a slick up-tempo drum rhythm that meshes well with a walking bass line provided by Railo. Also, Kuloniemi’s mandolin is a cool counterpoint to Helander’s well-picked guitar. Of course, it also helps that this is just an incredible song that was written by a blues master.
There are plenty of other cool classic blues covers to be found here, including “Mean Old Frisco” by Big Boy Crudup, Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Hello, Central, Give Me 209,” and Little Walter’s “Just a Feeling.” But as wonderful as these songs are, there is one song that is a little outside the box, and that would be Mike Bloomfield’s “Hey Foreman.” This is probably the newest of the covers (from the mid-1970s), and its original folk blues would have seemed a little out of place if Helander copied it exactly. But he re-worked it with slide guitar from Olli Haavisto, making it a little more Delta than Bloomfield’s version. It works, and it integrates seamlessly with the rest of the songs on the CD.
Helander and Kuloniemi wrote one of the two original tracks on the album, and “$100 Bills” fits right in with the rest of the set. This tune has a driving roadhouse beat with Musselwhite adding his harmonica and Kuloniemi picking his mandolin. This is a very well written track, and is the standout track on the album. The other original, “Big Cold Beer,” also cuts the mustard with its jaunty guitar leads and witty lyrics. Hopefully we can get a full album of original blues from Helander, as he certainly has the writing chops to pull it off.
Dr. Helander did an impressive job with his first acoustic blues album, and Country Boy is a winner. It is a cool history of the blues greats, played with respect and talent, and it is not a record you will listen to once and put away. Check it out for yourself, and also take a listen to his catalog of original electric blues if you get the chance. This fellow is the real deal!
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.
Styles: Tribute Albums, Blues Covers, Traditional Blues
“What I hear now, when I listen to Lead Belly’s recordings and YouTube clips, and what I must have sensed when I was a boy, is the man’s personal power and independence. His sound made it clear that he was his own man. The fatalism and resignation that I heard later in the voices of many of my prewar blues heroes was missing in Lead Belly. He was way ahead of his time.” So explains NYC’s Eric Bibb in the liner notes of his new tribute album, co-performed with Paris’ Jean-Jacques “J.J.” Milteau. Lead Belly’s Gold contains sixteen tracks: thirteen covers of songs Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter recorded, and three original songs written by Bibb and Milteau in homage to their blues champion. This is a CD worthy of any reference-quality collection. Aside from a few tarnished tracks, such as a muted rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” and drowsy “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”, these two modern blues masters have struck the mother lode. Their salute to Lead Belly should stand alongside an album of his original hits.
Playing alongside Bibb and Milteau are Larry Crockett on drums and percussion; Big Daddy Wilson and Michael Robinson on background vocals; Gilles Michel on bass; Glen Scott on drums, bass and Wurlitzer; and Michael Jerome Browne on 12-string guitar and mandolin. Bibb himself performs on vocals, guitars and banjo, with his colleague J.J. Milteau on harmonica.
Yours truly considers the following three songs the shiniest pieces of Lead Belly’s Gold. The first two listed below are live recordings, and covers of some of Huddie Ledbetter’s best. The other one is a studio song written by Bibb and Milteau, concerning their idol’s life.
Track 05: “Midnight Special” – Prison rumor has it that when the “Midnight Special” – a train seen from one’s barred window – shines its spotlight upon you, you’ll be getting out soon. That’s why Lead Belly’s blues classic is a song about hope and regret all the same. “When you get up in the morning, you hear the big bell ring. You go a-marching to the table. It’s the same damn thing. Back and forth on the table – there’s nothing in my pan. If you say anything about it, you’re in trouble with The Man. Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me…” Gilles Michel plays skillful bass here, and J.J. Milteau’s Zydeco harp is awesome!
Track 12: “Bourgeois Blues” – Penned by Lead Belly in 1938, this bold ballad condemns racial segregation in our nation’s capital. “Well, the white folks in Washington sure know how to call a colored man a [N-word] just to see him bow, Lord, in a bourgeois town…” The more things change, the more they stay the same. The catchy bass refrain has a tongue-in-cheek bounce.
Track 13: “Chauffeur Blues” – According to the liner notes, this song is written from Lead Belly’s point of view, as he sings to his former boss John Lomax from the afterlife: “Once upon a time, I drove you here and there, anywhere you wanted to be. Next time around, gonna turn it upside-down. Next time, you’ll be driving me!” Eric Bibb’s guitar drives this hard point home.
Traditional blues fans, grab yourself a potful of Lead Belly’s Gold!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 36 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.
Anyone who’s been fortunate to attend the annual International Blues Challenge, which The Blues Foundation conducts each January, knows firsthand that there are dozens of great bands flying under the radar and deserving attention. As this debut CD reveals, Peter V And Blues Train definitely deserve to be in that group.
Selected as the representative of the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation, the band didn’t garner any honors in the competition, which included 240 bands from around the world, but they turned heads each time they played their stylish brand of contemporary blues.
The band is fronted by Peter Veteska, a native of the projects in rough-and-tumble Bushwick in Brooklyn, a neighborhood rife with gangs and violence. A vocalist who delivers his lyrics in a clean, strong tenor, Veteska also is an accomplished guitarist. He picked up his first six-string in a pawn shop at 13 after saving the $5 a week he made delivering newspapers in Jamaica, Queens. Influenced by Duane Allman, Alvin Lee and several other second- and third-generation bluesmen, he’s self-taught. After displaying talent early, however, he but abandoned music out of frustration by the time he reached 20.
Veteska didn’t pick up the guitar in earnest again until 2008 after the U.S. economy tanked and business at his day job slowed. “About two years ago, I set out to write originals and do my own interpretations of blues classics, having a reference for the past, but wanting to create my own sound.”
If this CD is any example of what’s to come, it was worth the wait. Accompanying Peter on this collection of five originals and six covers, which was co-produced and engineered by Joseph DeMaio of Shore Fire Studio in Long Branch, N.J., are an interesting mix of talented musicians. Drummer Alex D’Agnese, a Wall Street retiree, and bassist Sean Graverson, a union iron worker, are both veterans of the New Jersey club scene. And keyboard Aron Louis Gornish is a surgeon by day and musician at night. They’re assisted here by New Jersey Blues Hall Of Fame inductee Bob DelRosso on guitar. Gary Nouwirth provides harmonica on two cuts and Texas transplant Kelley Dewkett sings lead on another.
A stinging single-note guitar solo kicks off “Trying To Play The Blues,” a self-penned tune in with Veteska lays out his intentions in a way no one can misunderstand. His touch is light and quick and stingingly sweet as he works. His vocal delivery almost approaches rap at times on this song only, but remains consistently on note and sung, not spoken. The propulsive rhythm section is just behind the beat, swinging from the jump, and the band contributions call-and-response on the chorus. The feel continues for “Baby Doll,” and light and pleasant plea for a woman’s affections. Gornish delivers a strong B3 solo mid-tune before another fine guitar run shared with DelRosso.
A pair of Albert King covers — “Wrapped Up In Love Again” and “C.O.D.” – sandwich the next original, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.” Both of the King tunes get new treatment despite their familiar feel. The original is a darker toned walking blues that foreshadows the singer’s departure from a woman who fails to appreciate a hard-working man.
A quartet of familiar covers follow — Robert Cray’s “Phone Booth,” entitled here “Phone Booth Baby,” an acoustic take on Bo Diddley’s 1957 classic “Before You Accuse Me,” Koko Taylor’s “Voodoo Woman” with Dewkett in total command of the vocals, and Elmore James’ “Done Somebody Wrong” – each with an updated arrangement. Two more originals — “But I Don’t Have You,” a Spanish-flavored burner nothing like the Billy Boy Arnold classic, and the love song “I’ll Be There For You” – bring the album to conclusion.
Available through iTunes, Peter V Blues Train is a rock-solid first effort. I, for one, look forward to the band’s follow-up, which is already in production.
Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. 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 – 6 of 6
Memphis Man – Living High, Laying Low
Written by Don Nix
Mojo Triangle Books
If the name Don Nix sounds vaguely familiar, it is probably due to his success as a songwriter. In addition to oft-played tunes “Palace Of The King” and “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven,” Nix also penned the classic “Goin’ Down”. If that is the extent of your knowledge of this fascinating musician and producer, this autobiography will quickly fill in the blanks with a quirky tale that highlights a career full of memorable moments and friendships.
Nix started out as guitar player who fell under the spell of the music brought into Memphis homes on Dewey Phillip’s “Red, Hot, and Blue” radio program. Joining forces with childhood friends guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, Nix made the switched to saxophone as a member of the Royal Spades. The other horn player was the mercurial Charles “Packy” Axton, a man who loved music almost as much as he loved alcohol. The plot thickens when Axton’s mother, Estelle, forms a partnership with Jim Stewart to open a recording studio fronted by a record store. The operation becomes a focal point of the area’s musical community, eventually becoming the celebrated Stax Record label.
After a name change, the Mar-Keys start recording for Mrs. Axton. During one session, engineer Chips Moman left the tape running to capture something that caught his ear. Estelle also fell under the spell of the instrumental and began playing it in the store, where it quickly caught on. Released on the Satellite label, “Last Night” was the hit that launched the band into the big time. A tour with LaVern Baker took the band to Chicago for a performance at the Regal Theater, where the audience gave their music an overwhelmingly spirited welcome. The tour took them through Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, where they had a harrowing experience with a hurricane. They also passed through Tulsa, OK where Nix started a long friendship with Leon Russell. Eventually the road, drugs, and alcohol took their toll, leading to the end of the group.
Back in Memphis, things were changing as Stax Records was making its mark. Cropper had left the band to learn everything he could from Moman, who eventually to start his American Recordings Studio. Nix and a friend spent the summer of 1963, staying with Russell. Once he came home, Nix heard bluesman Furry Lewis at a local club, the beginning of another important friendship in the Nix saga. He divided time between Los Angeles, where he learned studio craft from Russell, and Memphis with his base at John Fry’s famous Ardent Studio.
Nix utilizes a laid-back style of story-telling that covers experiences like joining Russell and Joe Ocker for the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, recording sessions with William Bell, Charlie Mussel white, Albert King, Delaney & Bonnie, and his own Alabama State Troopers tour that included Furry Lewis. Nix also recounts his participation in the Concert for Bangladesh with George Harrison, another close friend and the Freddie King project that he co-produced with Russell for Shelter Records with the classic performances of ‘Goin’ Down” and “Palace Of The King”.
It is a heady tale that includes some of the darker side of the business, although Nix holds back enough to often protect the guilty. Still, there is plenty of history mixed with humorous recollections and Nix’s blunt assessments of some of the personalities he dealt with over the years. His own recording career that covers eleven releases gets slight coverage in favor of his production credits, which totals more than fifty projects. Reading the book provided for review, it became apparent that an editor’s touch would have been beneficial. That aside, this autobiography is easy read that provides an insider’s look at one man’s fascinating journey through a life devoted to music.
Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying life without snow. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and the past president of the Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!.
Blues Society News
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Enjoy the Reggie Wayne Morris Blues Band at the DC Blues Society’s Festival Fundraiser, May 7, 2016 7:30 pm to 12 am. American Legion Post 41, 905 Sligo Avenue, Silver Spring MD 20910. Entrance on Fenton Street near large public parking lot. Tickets $20 door ($15 DCBS members); $25 door ($20 members). Purchase tickets at http://dcblues.org or call (301) 322-4808.
Reggie Wayne Morris was influenced by Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King, but he’s created his own unique “Boogie Woogie Rhythm & Rockin’ Blues” style. The guitarist, vocalist and songwriter co-wrote all of the songs on his latest CD Don’t Bring Me Daylight. He has appeared at the Baltimore Blues Society Festival for nine consecutive years.
This event will raise funds for the free 28th Annual DC Blues Festival which attracts a diverse, family-friendly crowd of old and new blues fans every year to the Carter Barron Amphitheatre on Saturday, September 3, 2016. Unfortunately, the DC grant that helped to fund the Blues Festival for many years is no longer available.
Kansas City Blues Society has inducted these charter members of its new Hall of Fame: Song Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues, Part 1 & 2 ( Vocalion Records,1927, composed and performed by Jim Jackson); historical band leader Bennie Moten; historical promoter Winston Holmes; promoter Willie Cyrus; performers Millage Gilbert, Priscilla Bowman, Provine “Little” Hatch, Julia Lee, Jay McShann, Jimmy Rushing, and Big Joe Turner.
CEO Terry Swope has announced that his award-winning local business Lynxspring, Inc., a provider of smart building ware, has donated $10,000 to the Kansas City Blues Society for Blues in the Schools and the KCBS Hall of Fame.
Kansas City Blues Society is part of the West Bottoms Heritage week, which includes a blues festival on Saturday, April 30th. The event is held in conjunction with 100,000 watt community radio KKFI 90.1fm (KKFI.org) and The Historic West Bottoms Association. The West Bottoms is the former site of Kansas City’s famous cattle stockyards and turn-of-the-century industrial district. It’s experiencing a revival of its old warehouses as antique and arts markets, restaurants, and lofts. More info at http://bluessocietykc.com.
Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation presents Harpin’ Help 2016: A benefit for Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation and Keyport Ministerium Food Pantry on Sunday April 24 from 12:00pm-9:00pm. at Anticipation, 703-5 16th Ave Lake Como (formerly S. Belmar), N.J.
Admission is $15.00 + 2 non-perishable food or food related items (paper towels, etc) OR $20.00 w/o food. All ages show! 8 plus hours of GREAT live music & raffles. Info at www.jsjbf.org.
The Minnesota Blues Society presents the Road to Memphis Competition on 2 dates. Sunday, April 10 the Solo/Duo competition starts at 1:00pm at Schuller’s, 7345 Country Club Drive, Golden Valley. Competing will be Mike Munson & Mikkel Beckman, Jimmi Langemo & Nate Heinz, Trevor Marty, and Nigel Egg.
Then on Sunday, April 24 the Bands competition starts at 3:00pm at Minnesota Music Café’, 499 Payne Ave., St. Paul. Competing will be Mark Cameron Band, Lisa Wenger Band, GopherTones and Harrison St. Suggested $10.00 donation for each event. More info at: www.mnbs.org
The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for the Blue Monday live performances and jam sessions held every Monday night at The Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. April 18 – Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch, April 25 – The Bruce Katz Band. www.icbluesclub.org
Additional ICBC and ICBC partnered shows: April 21 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm
On Saturday April 23,2016 the Detroit Blues Heritage Series will present “Detroit Blues Piano Unplugged” featuring Kerry Price and Matthew Ball, aka , “The Boogie Woogie Kid” featuring vocalist Emma Aboukasm.
This event will take place from 2:00PM until 4:30PM at the historic Scarab Club. The Scarab Club is located at 217 Farnsworth in Detroit’s Cultural Center. A $5.00 donation is requested.
The Colorado Blues Society is entering our 21st year with our Annual Members Party at the Buffalo Rose in Golden, Colorado on April 2. Our Headliner that evening is the Ghost Town Blues Band, a 2-time Finalist at the IBC in Memphis and took 2nd Place in 2014. The Zakk Debono Band is opening for GTBB. The show starts at 8PM and is Free to CBS members, but the public can purchase tickets for $10 and are welcome to attend. CBS received the 2013 KBA for Blues Organization of the Year.
CBS is kicking off our local IBC competition the next day, April 3rd with the opening round at the Buffalo Rose in Golden. Round 2 will be April 17th at the Dickens Opera House in Longmont. The Finals will be back at the Buffalo Rose on May 1. All IBC events start at 2pm with a cover charge of $10 at the door. All funds will go to eventual Colorado Blues Society winners in the Band and Solo/Duo competitions to help with expense at the 2017 IBC in Memphis . Go to www.coblues.org for more information.
The Friends of the Blues announce their 2016 Concert Series. All shows start at 7 pm and are open to the public – and – Food and Beverages available at all Friends of the Blues shows. April 19, Smiley Tillmon Band w/ Kate Moss, Moose Lodge, Bradley IL,Tues, May 10, Skyla Burrell Band, Moose Lodge, Bradley IL,Tues, May 24, Lazer Lloyd, Moose Lodge, Bradley IL,Tues, June 7, Frank Bang & Cook County Kings, Manteno Sportsmen’s Club, Manteno IL, Thur, June 16, Nick Harless Band, Moose Lodge, Bradley IL, Thur, June 23, Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue (Mark Hummel, Anson Funderburgh, Little Charlie Baty), Moose Lodge, Bradley IL, Tues, June 28, Cash Box Kings, Kankakee Valley Boat Club, Kankakee IL, Thur, July 14, Joe Moss Band, The Longbranch, L’Erable IL, Tues, July 26, Nikki Hill, The Longbranch, L’Erable IL, Thur, Aug 4, Albert Castiglia w/ Opening Act: Maybe Later, The Longbranch, L’Erable IL, Fri, Aug 12, Polly O’Keary & The Rhythm Method, Watseka Elks Club, Watseka IL, Tues, Aug 16, Too Slim & the Taildraggers, The Longbranch, L’Erable IL, Thur, Sept 15, Danielle Nicole Band, Moose Lodge, Bradley IL.. For more info visit http://www.facebook.com/friendsoftheblues
The 11th Annual Ventura County Blues Festival on Saturday, April 30, in a new, bigger location at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo, benefits Food Share and other local charities in Ventura County. Also features a Festival-ending All-Star Jam Tribute to the late BB Chung King. Info: www.venturacountybluessociety.org.
The Central Iowa Blues Society is now accepting applications for the 2016 Iowa Blues Challenge. This includes entries for both the Blues Band and Solo / Duo categories. Preliminary rounds begin April 24, 2016 and this year the finals will be held on Saturday, June 18, 2016 at the Downtown Marriott in Des Moines.
Prize packages to the first place winners in each category include cash, 8 hours recording time courtesy of Junior’s Motel, opportunity for paid performances at area events and festivals throughout the year, and entry into and travel expenses for the 2017 International Blues Challenge in Memphis TN.
The 2016 Iowa Blues Challenge is sponsored by Budweiser, Summit Brewing Co., Junior’s Motel, Rieman Music, Zimm’s Food and Spirits, Lefty’s Live Music, River Music Experience, Cityview, Central Iowa Blues Society, Mississippi Valley Blues Society, South Skunk Blues Society and Southeast Iowa Blues Society.
The Blues Society of Central PA welcomes Mark Hummel’s Golden State Lone Star Revue featuring Mark Hummel, Anson Funderburgh, Little Charley Baty with Wes Starr and R.W. Grigsby on Sunday, April 17th 8:00 PM EST at Champions Sports Bar 300 2nd Street Highspire, PA 17034 Admission $15.00.
The Blues Society of Central PA hosts an open blues jam every Thursday evening for 17 years running at Champions Sports Bar, 300 2nd St. Highspire, PA 17034 8:00 PM EST FREE Please drop by and join us if you’re in the central PA area! www.bscpblues.org
Crossroads has lots of great blues events planned for 2016!
The Hope and Anchor English Pub in Loves Park, IL features shows on the second Saturday of each month from 8 pm to midnight. May 14th – The Jimmys
Blues in the Schools is also scheduled for February, Dan Phelps will be doing a two week in school BITS residency with East HS teaching song writing and guitar. The residency will culminate in an evening show on March 17th at East HS at 630 PM. Dan and the students will be performing the songs they wrote and showing the music videos they created based on the novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” This event is free and open to the public.
Friday Night Blues at the Lyran Club in Rockford continues mostly on the third Friday of the month with a few other special dates to boot. Currently booked are: April 15th – Breezy Rodeo, May 20th – Dave Fields. Shows are free from 7 to 10 PM.