Issue 10-2 January 14, 2016

Cover photo by Cristina Arrigoni © 2016

 In This Issue 

We welcome Don Wilcock as a new feature writer this week. Don has our interview with Fiona Boyes. We have 11 Blues reviews for you including music from Cotton Belly’s, Cal Williams Jr., Chris O’Leary, Hank Shreve Band, Mitch Woods, D’Mar & Gill, Joe Lewis Walker, Shari Kane & Dave Steele, Andre Bisson and David Gogo.

Our video of the week is Fiona Boyes performing her song “Big Bigger Biggest”.

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

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 Featured Blues Music Review – 1 of 11 

Cotton Belly’s – Rainy Road

Cabine Production

12 songs – 54 minutes

Based in the beautiful Seine and Marne regions of southeastern France, the Cotton Belly’s are an four-piece ensemble who reinterpret country blues with rock overtones in a manner that’s completely original, extremely catchy and dance worthy while proving once again how truly international the music has become.

Formed in the towns of Essonne and Seine-et-Marne about 11 years ago, the band could have originated in the Mississippi Delta. In fact, the group’s name is no accident. Lead singer/harmonica player Yann “WillyWood” Malek, who doubles on acoustic and lap steel guitars, discovered the blues while on an errand to pick up bread one morning at age 13. An itinerant American musician was playing for tips outside the shop, and Malek was immediately hooked.

Guitarist and dobro player Jerome “Skippy Benson” Perraut actually picked cotton in his youth. At 15, his family hired an American named Slash McGhee as a field hand. He was a skilled guitarist who used a knife as a slide on a cheap Stella six-string, and taught Perraut the ropes. Kiki “Owen Brown” Etienne, who doubles on electric and upright bass, actually found his first instrument abandoned on a train. It was battered and bruised, but changed his life dramatically. They’re joined on drums by another blues enthusiast, Alexandre Charroy.

The Cottons came into their own by working summers along the Breton coast. In 2007, just two years after forming, they won three awards at the Blues Sur Seine competition, one of which earned them a 2008 appearance in Montreal. Rainy Road, their third CD, was produced in part from a grant after winning a contest sponsored by France’s Orange Foundation, which promotes jazz. They also have three EPs to their credit.

Malek’s steady harmonica technique, which is both modern and occasionally echoes Piedmont and Chicago stylings, gives their music a familiar feel while venturing into new territory. The opening title cut “Rainy Road” features a bare-bones intro that features Malek’s bright, rich, melodic vocal. The band harmonizes briefly before launching at a quick-paced shuffle the memory of leaving home after a relationship has crashed and burned. Frequent one-note octave vocal jumps tell the listener that this singer has chops galore. Perraut provides a solid, extended electric solo mid-tune.

The band returns for their normal acoustic roots for “Sobad,” which sings praise for the ability to express the emotion. Perraut’s finger-picked accompaniment fits perfectly. Despite the downer theme, the tune has an upbeat feel. A bass solo kicks off “Medicine” before it explodes into another electrified shuffle with rock and rap overtones. The simple message: Give me drugs to help me deal with my ills. Another fiery, uptempo dance number, “Given,” slows into a harmonica-flavored blues moan before evolving into the next six-minute tune, “Wrong,” which starts slowly as it speaks of loneliness, but changes into a fusion of rock and Hill Country blues.

A bright harmonica solo delivered in traditional Chicago styling kicks off the slow blues “Family Chains” before the upbeat acoustic “My Friend,” delivered with a country blues feel. Both deal with the problems in relationships. Malek channels Sonny Terry for his catchy harp work on “Hard Times,” which is an uptempo acknowledgement of previous difficulties rather than a complaint. Next up, “Soldier” begins with an Arabesque feel but turns into a simple acoustic blues before evolving into more. The Cottons twin up “Tick Tock AM” and “Tick Tock PM,” which deal with the passage of time delivered acoustically and then with powerful electric overtones, before concluding their set with “From This Town,” a bittersweet farewell about moving from one’s childhood home to new challenges in faraway places.

Available through download via Amazon or on CD through the band’s website, Rainy Road is not your old one-four-five blues. It’s highly entertaining and original. The vocals and musicianship are strong throughout, although some of the rapid-fire lyrics are somewhat buried in the mix. On the whole, however, the Cottons’ disc would be a strong addition for anyone with a taste for something different.

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 Interview – Fiona Boyes 

I love it when an “authentic” blues artist forces the blues police to re-adjust their judgment on the validity of that artist’s work even though that artist’s back story doesn’t fit the cliché of who a “real” blues artist should be.

Fiona Boyes is a blonde Australian woman of Scottish descent who never heard a lick of blues until she was in college. When she did pick up on it, it took her several years as a graphic designer before she began playing it on guitar, and – unlike most white blues guitarists who get hooked on the genre after hearing Jimi, Eric, or Keith – her entre was pre-war acoustic blues she heard on Paul Oliver’s History of Blues Volumes I and II. Add to that, she’s married to an Anglican priest and puts her tongue firmly in cheek when she says, “I play the devil’s music. Thus, we keep the whole universe in balance.”

Boyes was already 44 when she made her first foray to Memphis representing the Melbourne Blues Society in the International Blues Challenge in 2003. She won that contest in the acoustic division and in short order began meeting many of the seminal “precious” artists whose recordings had influenced her to become a blues guitarist in the first place. One of the first she met was blues pianist and icon Pinetop Perkins. He of course hit on her.

“Pinetop actually played on a track on one of my albums, Blues Woman, and I wrote a song kind of tongue in cheek with him in mind called “Old Time Ways” which was a mesh up of all those kind of blues lyrics which just used sexual metaphors and rhythms.

“Because Pinetop was such a ladies’ man, he loved it.

“He came into the studio, played it, and he was really cheeky. So we did a couple of takes, and we were thrilled that he was able to come in and wanted to do it. He was in fine fiddle. So after a few takes I think – I’m not sure if it was me or Kaz Kazanoff who was producing – said, “Do you want to play that again, Pinetop,” and he said, “No. Nope! I want to go outside and smoke cigarettes.”

“He looked at me and said, “I’d like to take you home, but I’d only make you mad, ’cause if you can’t do what the womens wants, they get mad with you. And I can’t do the things I used to do.”

“(I said,) ‘That’s alright, Pinetop.’”

“Anyway, we stood outside, and I said to the preacher, ‘Pinetop hit on me,’ but it was to me those kind of interactions and an opportunity to meet the old players that’s just so precious, so precious.”

The preacher Boyes refers to is her husband, Steve Clark. He, too, blows away any stereotypical images you might have about ministers and priests.

“He was actually a Baptist minister when we met. In the intervening years he’s been re-ordained, and he’s now an Anglican priest. So he’s in that high incarnate tradition. But you know what? I’ve got some Baptist as well. In fact, there’s a song called “The Preacher and the Yellow-haired Girl” which is about when we first got together: ‘There ain’t nothing but a yellow-haired gal to make a preacher lay his Bible down.’

“And it’s funny. I say that sometimes I’m married to an Anglican priest, and I play the devil’s music. Thus, we keep the whole universe in balance, but Steve’s actually a huge blues fan and always has been. We have lively theological debates as we drive between gigs, but he doesn’t subscribe to that kind of view of theology. In fact, it’s probably worth a whole interview with him (laugh).

“The funny thing is when we met at that time he was a chaplain to motor bike clubs, and I was playing a little blues bar. It wasn’t actually my gig. I was filling in for a friend, so it was a funny little gig. I was in the corner. It wasn’t actually a biker bar, but it was next door to a Harley store, and it was sort of mutual ground for a lot of people. So I was playing acoustic blues in the corner, and this guy walked in. He was the sergeant at arms of the Hell’s Angels and The Outlaws, and they were having some sit-down negotiations of some problems between the two clubs, and Steve was considered a safe person to do the negotiations with.

“At the time, he looked like a big old biker. He had a big beard, long hair, rode a Harley, and I was playing away on a song you would not normally play in a bar, but I just felt like playing Rev. Gary Davis’s “Mean World Until You Die.” It’s got beautiful fingerpicking, and I just felt like playing it.

“Everyone was drinking and not really paying attention anyway. So I played the song, and everyone just kept on drinking and chatting, but this one guy at the bar sang along, and that was Steve, and he talked to me on the break. So it was much later I found out he was actually a priest, and he’d just come back from some symposium in England at the time where he’d presented a paper on spirituality and the blues, and that was one of the songs he’d used in his presentation.

“So suddenly this guy started talking to me, and the standard conversation that was coming out of him was much, much higher than I would have expected from the average patron at the bar. So that was the beginning of an intriguing friendship which led to wedding bells.”

Fourteen years into her marriage to an Anglican priest, this 56-year-old Australian blues singer/songwriter and guitarist is a grandmother to eight. “They say to be very careful when you get into a relationship with a songwriter,” she explains, “because you’ll be all over the next album whether it’s good or bad. When I hooked up with Steve, I got instant five kids and a three-year-old daughter. So, yeah, I got a head start. What’s that old blues lyric that ‘I want to have a house full of children that all look just like me?’ I’ve got a house full of children. None of them look like me.”

If you haven’t heard or seen Fiona Boyes’ perform, you could imagine that her style might be a revisionist rehash of songs borrowed from Paul Oliver’s History of Blues Volume I and II.

Uh-uh. This self-taught guitarist plays like she has a hell hound on her trail. Yes, she has a deep, abiding respect for blues’ traditions, but those traditions are merely a starting line for a style that’s as paint-peeling raw as anything fellow Australian Dave Hole or Harper puts out and is in that pioneering Australian tradition of rockers like AC/DC and Midnight Oil.

“(There is that) Australian archetype of someone who is brave and fearless, and happy to jump in and easy going and is cheeky and has a can-do attitude and the energy and maybe it’s our anti-authoritarianism. I think we like the idea of characters and, even though the vast majority of Australians live in cities, the rugged outback character is out of our mythology which maybe is why we feel drawn to places like Clarksdale where you have those characters and downhome places.

“(But) sometimes you seem to be in the acoustic blues world at least here in Australia where people play country blues music, and it might be perfectly the way Robert Johnson played it or whatever, but they’re playing it like it’s a history lesson. Nobody can really play Rev. Gary Davis. You do your version of it. Even now and for many years I’ve mostly done original songs, and I like to have a few classic songs to give my own stuff context, but even when I try to do a fairly factual version of someone else’s song, and I think I got that fairly right, I go away and play it, and at some point I listen back to the original and think, ‘Whoa! What happened to me?’

“It used to kind of worry me because I’d think I’m trying to play blues like other people play it, but it just comes out – my fingers work somehow different. Something happens, and it just (ends up being) my version. Now I think that’s a wonderful thing.”

Box and Dice, Boyce’s eight album released in 2015, gets its name from one of the cigar box guitars she plays. The guitar she discovered hanging on a bar wall had dice for the volume and tone knobs. The sound she gets has the barbed wire immediacy of Johnny Winter and the emotional intensity of the best of Rory Block’s work.

“There was a lot of immediacy in the writing and recording of this one. It started really with these two cigar box guitars, two separate guitars. The first one was the one hanging on the wall at the Star Hotel in Yackandandah, It’s a rarity because it’s a six-string cigar box guitar. I actually knew the guy who makes them, and over the years he’d brought them to different festivals, and he more typically makes cigar box guitars that are like broom stick handles. They’re not fretable and often added vintage cookie tins and things, and I’d always looked at those instruments and gone, ‘Great, but I’m a guitarist. What Am I going to do with this?’

“I hadn’t really gotten my head around those sort of outside instruments. So when I saw this one that was six strings, more like a traditional guitar, but with the cigar box body, it was (like) I can probably have a go at playing one, and so I ended up playing it. I went down and found it the next day and bought the guitar, and took it with me. I was actually on tour with Watermelon Slim at the time. So I was messing with playing dobro and it was fun, particularly when we were doing a duo because this crazy cigar box was really fitting in with that demo stuff we were doing. I mean it’s a bitch to play. It’s very hard to keep in time. It’s not braced.

“So I started exploring those rawer sounds. Shortly after that I had an extended tour in Europe. So I took it along really as a bit of fun, and people loved it and said, “Which album is that on?” So that was really the beginning. The Box and Dice is named for that guitar.

“Its volume and tone nobs are dice, but it was just before the recording session that I came up with this four-string cigar box, but I’d never played that technique of lap steel. It’s only got two notes essentially, and so you can’t fret anything. I have to make a full commitment to playing slide. Yeah, so I put it on my lap, and tuned up with at a gig, and I just went, ‘Let’s plug this thing in and see what it does,’ and I’ve been having a lot of fun exploring with it.”

Boyce says she feels like Cinderella being invited back to the ball. She will be in Memphis in May where she’s nominated for the fifth time for a Blues Music Award. This time it’s for the Koko Taylor Award as best traditional blues female. By that time she will have recorded her ninth CD for the audiophile Reference label for whom Doug MacLeod records.

“They took me up to Skywalker Ranch, and because they’re an audiophile label, most of their recordings are classical and large ensemble jazz. So this space is actually the sound stage where they record orchestral soundtrack stuff. It’s a huge space, and Skywalker Ranch is sort of a culture on its own. Within this huge space would normally be a symphony orchestra. They just put one person with an acoustic guitar, and then over there somewhere is a percussionist. So, one, two, or three people in this space that could normally accommodate a symphony orchestra and it’s most astonishing – lots of acoustic baffles. It’s completely unlike a normal recording session.”

Fiona Boyes certainly flies in the face of blues stereotypes, but she respects the heritage and adds a colorful voice to a lineage based on honesty and respect for her forbearers.

“I love the roots of the music, and I love that sense of blues being an ongoing dynamic tradition. It has this stark thread and that thing of mentorship from older players to newer players. So when I finally got around to trying to write my own stuff, I was very conscious of those things, and I think that the beautiful challenge is that you have those signposts that say you have a tradition.

“So there’s this dynamic tension when you’re songwriting in the blues tradition to say you’re writing in a traditional format. So you need to have sign posts that say you’re writing in the format, and yet then there’s this tension of having your own voice in the tradition and telling your own stories. That tension and innovation I find fantastic as a songwriter. I enjoy it, and I enjoy the notion of different regional styles of blues which gives you other perspectives.”

Visit Fiona’s website at

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.

 Video Of The Week – Fiona Boyes 

Click on the image above to see this video – Fiona Boyes performing her song “Big Bigger Biggest” with The Rockwiz Orkestra in June 2014.

 Featured Blues Music Review – 2 & 3 of 11 

Cal Williams Jr. – Low Down & Troubled


10 tracks/30:34


Cal Williams Jr. – Radio Sessions

12 tracks/44:26

It can be tough to keep a career going in the music business. Most artists struggle to get enough gigs that pay a decent wage, allowing them to follow their dream with being tied to a “day job” and forty hour per week schedule. Hailing from South Australia, Cal Williams Jr. has taken a different approach by establishing his own cottage industry. He is the author of numerous instructional books on how to play guitar and ukulele, with separate editions for adults and children. Through Mel Bay USA, he offers books on blues or folk guitar tunings, two more guitar manuals, and one volume devoted to songwriting. In his spare time, he is a member of The Hushes, a trio that weaves bluegrass, folk, and blues elements into a dark acoustical brew.

But Williams Jr. is known in Australia for his solo work. An accomplished guitarist and songwriter, he has five albums to his credit that have received several awards in his native home. His latest releases offer slightly different views of his artistry. Low Down & Troubled is a studio recording while Radio Sessions contains a show recorded live-to-air on Radio Adelaide. The studio set contains eight Williams Jr. originals and two traditional pieces. On the live recording, he runs through three covers and one traditional piece in addition to six originals. Comparing the set lists shows five songs in common on the two discs.

In the studio, Williams Jr. demonstrates his immaculate guitar picking ability on an original folk blues piece, “Sky Was Green” and “Whiff On Me,” a jaunty traditional ode to the cocaine use. Singing in a voice that reaches into the upper end of the tenor range, the singer injects a sense of melancholy into “Alabama,” then sounds wistful on the folk ballad “Jeremiah”. Switching to slide guitar gives another original, “Mean Old World,” a harder edge.

The radio program opens with some intricate slide guitar on originals “Honeychild” and “Seventh Son,” sandwiched around a rendition of Bukka White’s “Parchman Farm,” with plenty of fleet-fingered picking. “Pale Blue Dress” offers a contrast between slashing slide licks and a mournful vocal. Williams Jr. generates some heat with a forceful performance of “Down To The River” before a reverent run-through of Bob Dylan’s classic, “I Shall Be Released”. He cranks up his slide one last time for a turbulent version of “Death Letter Blues”.

There is little to differentiate the fives songs common to both discs. The title track of the studio set gets a slightly longer guitar intro than one on the radio program. Both takes of “Gallis Pole” are equally intense. Versions of “”Broke Down Engine,” “California,” and “Sugar Mama” vary no more than four seconds from each other. While Williams Jr. is a skilled guitarist, his voice tends to float over the rhythmic patterns he creates, seldom engaging the listener on a deep emotional level. The songs start to sound the same by the end of either disc as any sense of dynamics are created by the tempo of his singing & playing. Still, there are a number of strong performances that should be of interest to fans of quieter side of the blues legacy, with the radio show disc the better value with two more songs plus 50% longer run time.

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying life without snow. He is a member 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!.

 Featured Blues Music Review – 4 of 11 

Chris O’Leary – Gonna Die Tryin’

American Showplace Music

11 songs – 56 minutes

Veteran New York singer/harmonica player/guitarist Chris O’Leary is a talented, down-to-earth bluesman who speaks from his heart, and that’s clear as a bell for Gonna Die Tryin’, his latest imprint on the American Showplace label.

A true American hero who spent seven years in the U.S. Marines, O’Leary’s approach deals differently from many harp players on the scene today. After his discharge, he spent six years as front man for Levon Helm’s band, The Barnburners, recorded with Hubert Sumlin and Bill Perry. He delivers straight-ahead blues with a modern feel, aided by horns, which take his sound to another level while giving him space to deliver his ample vocal skills.

This is Chris’ fourth release since successfully making his debut as a solo recording artist in 2010 with Mr. Used To Be. That album earned the 2011 Blues Blast Music Award for best New Artist Debut Release. O’Leary’s most recent work, Live At Blues Now!, was a 2015 BBMA nominee for Live Album Of The Year. He’s backed here by his regular alignment of Chris Vitarello (guitar), Andy Stahl and Chris DiFrancesco (tenor and baritone saxes), Matt Raymond (bass) and Jay Devlin (drums). They’re augmented by Bruce Katz on keys, Vinnie Nobile on trombone and Willa Panvini McCarthy and Libby Cabello on backing vocals.

All of the material here is original, and O’Leary writes about what he knows, some of it humorous, some reeking with images of the battleground, as he paints a clear picture of life in 21st Century America. During the Vietnam era, it wasn’t unusual for a blues artist to record songs about the horrors of war. Today, however, O’Leary is in the minority as he describes current warzones and their effect on valiant folks who serve.

A catchy riff from Vitarello, who’s stellar throughout, introduces “Can’t Help Yourself,” the first cut, the story of Bayonne Bobby, a tattooed ne’er-do-well who’s vowed to settle down with a good woman and make his mother proud. Despite his efforts, however, he simply can’t get out of his own way. O’Leary suggests it’s time to stop trying to be someone else, finishing the number with an electrifying harp solo that stops just short of distortion.

“19₵ A Day” follows with a lyrically rapid-fire take on one of the biggest complaints workers deal with today: companies outsourcing labor to places where folks will toil for the meager wages of the song’s title. The military theme makes its first appearance with references about the government turning its back on disenfranchised veterans who find themselves being shuttled from one agency to another, unable to secure jobs, unless election time is near and politicians actually do something to help in order to sway votes.

“Hook, Line And Sinker,” a love song delivered with a Memphis feel backed by the horn section, follows before the theme darkens once more. “Gonna Die Trying” provides a funky, horrific view of battle using Samson vs. the Philistines for imagery before it evolves into visions of men with guns who have Satan in their ears spurring them on for more bloodshed. He’s got “the rules of engagement and the worst of intentions,” O’Leary says, and “there’s a razor-thin line between righteousness and dyin’.” The theme continues with “Letters From Home,” a seven-minute slow blues opus that details the power of receiving mail and phones from loved ones when at the front line.

“The Devil Drove To Town In A V8 Ford” and “The Machine” are both clever, percolating blues. The first depicts the battle between good and evil with rich visual metaphors, the second being trapped in the pitfalls of everyday working life. O’Leary puts his harp skills on display for the carefully controlled “Walking Contradiction,” which describes a woman who never ceases to amaze, before “Harvest Time,” a love song with a funky Southern feel and lush horn arrangements. The loping “One More Saturday Night” follows before “Tell It To Me Straight” brings the disc to a close.

From the description of the songs above, you’d think that O’Leary’s basically a hard-edged Marine, but don’t be fooled. He’s really a softy at heart. He dedicated the album to his newborn son Jackson, and the pair are depicted in a truly heartwarming image in the packaging.

Gonna Die Tryin’ is full of first-rate musicianship throughout, and O’Leary’s band is definitely a group on the rise. But it’s the material that truly shines. Available from Amazon, iTunes or directly from the label’s website. I’m definitely going to set this album aside for the end of the year and future award consideration.

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 Music Review – 5 of 11 

Hank Shreve Band – Loosen Up!

Boogie Boss Records

12 songs time-55:15

The Pacific Northwest doesn’t usually come to mind as a hotbed of the blues. Hank Shreve and his band could easily dispel that notion. Their brand of R&B and blues tempered by funk and soul is sure to catch the attention of music lovers from near and far. Hank brings his world class harmonica chops and soulful vocals to the party along with his keyboard skills. He enlists two interchangeable and strong guitarists along with a rock steady rhythm section. Having ten well written original tunes along with two well performed cover songs surely doesn’t hurt.

Kicking things off with a soulful song infusing a truly catchy guitar riff along with Hank’s nicely gritty vocals and acrobatic harmonica playing is a smart move. “Feelin Better” does the trick as it combines R&B and the blues in a hearty stew. It leads straight into the title track, a jump blues showcasing Hank’s piano playing, harmonica and Ken Luker on guitar. This one is guaranteed to get you up off your “rusty dusty”. Nifty tom-toms on this one as well… and heck the harp licks get more intricate and tasty as this record proceeds.

Ken Luker once again displays his guitar talents over a reggae rythum in “Out On The Streets”, as it comments on the life situation. The band’s take on Lucille Bogan’s time-tested chestnut “Sweet Little Angel” shows that hank is no slouch on the organ either, as things get funky up in here. The guys nicely execute group vocals on “Hurt Enough”, as they do at other times on this recording. This song also features a soothing acoustic guitar solo by Ken Luker.

“What Ya Gonna Do” skirts southern rock territory with a infectious groove bolstered by harmonica and guitar. The band’s version of Norton Buffalo’s “Is It Love” is a funky blues workout. Stan Welsh provides quick fire blues-rock guitar, just burnin’ up the place as well as Hank’s vocal and harp. “Bad News” talks about a no account woman over a heavy musical assault featuring harmonica as usual.

The funky “Playin’ In The Band” with it’s heavy guitar and nice organ solo could well be used in a live performance as the band introduction song. The slow burning R&B of “Don’t Want You Back” has Paul Biondi contributing some tasty sax work. Hank gets a chance to show off his considerable piano skills on the closing song “Everyday”. The record closes out on an upbeat note.

This band definitely has the right tools for the job. They have an excellent front man who also happens to be a world class harmonica player, as well as having keyboard skills. The guitarists and rhythm section are on the same level of excellence. Plus they have solid songs to go with the musicianship. The energy and execution are here as well. You can’t miss with this one.

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

 Featured Blues Music Review – 6 of 11 

Mitch Woods – Jammin’ on the High Cs

Club 88 Records / VizzTone Label Group

17 tracks / 68:45

Not every blues fan has the resources or time to be able to attend the annual Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, which is a seven-day floating musical festival that tours the Caribbean. This event is a fabulous opportunity to meet your favorite blues artists and hear more live music in a week than many people experience in a lifetime. If you cannot make the cruise, the next best thing would be listening to a copy of Mitch Woods’ Jammin’ on the High Cs.

Mitch Woods is an amazing showman and an American treasure. He is a classically trained pianist who joined the blues fold after relocating from New York to the San Francisco in the early 1970s. Mitch and his band, the Rocket 88s, have released nine albums over the years and their unique blend of Chicago blues, boogie-woogie, and West Coast jump blues is infectious. Woods’ Club 88 Piano Bar has become a fixture on the Blues Cruise, and you never know who might end up sitting in for a song or two. Jammin’ on the High Cs was recorded over two days on the January 2015 voyage and does a nice job of capturing the overall mood of the experience.

“Piano Bar” might not be the best description for what was going on here, though. This is not Billy Joel tinkling the ivories for a miserable crowd that is “sharing a drink they call loneliness.” While Woods does lead the upbeat show from his bench behind the piano, during this hour-plus long set he is joined by a band that includes guest singers, horns, guitars, and even an accordion.

It might seem that a crowded piano bar on a cruise ship might not be the optimal location to record a live album, but this disc is very well produced. Credit for this goes out to the engineering work of Mark Brasel and Scott Burnett, and the mastering of Davis Farrell. Is everything about the recording perfect? Not particularly, but it is enjoyable to listen to and the lively and fun atmosphere carries over very well.

Things certainly get out to a rousing start, with members of A Roomful of Blues joining in with Woods on “Big Mamou,” and their horns are simply wonderful. They appear on a few more tracks, including “Rip it Up” featuring the guitar of Tommy Castro, “Bright Lights, Big City” with Lucky Peterson on vocals, and “Eyesight to the Blind” led by Billy Branch on vocals and harp. As you will hear throughout the disc, Woods has the ability to attract talented folks!

Branch also appears along with Coco Montoya on a stripped-down version of “Boom Boom.” And Club 88’s take on the classic “Rock Me Baby” also has a healthy dose of Montoya’s guitar over Mitch’s hearty voice and hammering keys. And the guest artists just keep on coming: Victor Wainwright and Julia Magness trade verses with Mitch on “Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness,” and it sounds like Victor sat in on the keys as well (this song was the highlight of the disc for me). Popa Chubby sat in for a few tracks, and Dwayne Dopsie brought his Zydeco squeezebox in for “Jambalaya” and a saucy take on “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” which closed out the set.

Interspersed with these songs are asides and anecdotes from Mitch, and his sense of humor and storytelling ability are as good as his skills behind the keyboard. These breaks include the history of how Club 88 came to be, musing about the advantages of cruising in international waters, and a funny story about some folks trying to hold their Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at Club 88.

If you like piano-driven blues or if you have always wanted to go on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, Mitch Woods’ Jammin’ on the High Cs is a must buy. There is not a bad song on it, and many of them are probably already your favorites. If you want to see the show in person, this year’s cruise is sold out but there is still time to save up a few bucks for next year!

Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at

 Featured Blues Music Review – 7 of 11 

D’Mar & Gill – Take It Like That

Airtight Records – 2015

13 tracks; 58 minutes

Derrick Martin (D’Mar) and Chris Gill return with their second CD together, a pleasing mix of Mississippi blues and back porch feel. D’Mar is a seasoned drummer whose eye-catching live performance, once seen, stays long in the memory; Chris Gill is a singer/songwriter and guitar player from Mississippi. They are supported by Jerry ‘Groovemaster’ Jemmott or Kid Andersen on bass, with a few contributions from Bob Welsh on keys, Aki Kumar on harp, Frankie Ramos on sax and Lisa Andersen on backing vocals.

The album is another from the seemingly endless production line at Greaseland Studios in San José, CA, and producer/engineer Kid Andersen also plays second guitar on several tracks. All the material is original with Chris writing seven of the songs himself and collaborating with other Mississippi artists on five others; the only song that Chris did not write is opener “I Fell In Love With The Blues” which was written by Virgil Brawley who also contributed to three others.

That opening tune sets the tone, rolling piano and harp embellishments providing a relaxed feel. “Back To Paradise” also has a relaxed feel but some more serious lyrics as Chris refers to how “bombs shatter life’s fragile balance” and that “brotherhood and love, that’s what we really need”. Chris plays some great slide on “Song For Honeyboy” over some assertive drumming from D’Mar and solid second guitar support from Kid and we come to realize that the title refers to Chris’ guitar, not to the late Honeyboy Edwards.“

Souvenir Of The Blues” is a slower tune with a moody feel as Chris and Kid exchange notes on this minor key blues which is one of the standout tracks here. Chris and Virgil’s “Dancin’ Girl” has more of a Mississippi feel, especially through Chris’ use of the cigar box guitar and vocals that sound distorted as if sung through a harp mike. The romantic “You Never Know” finds Chris missing his girl, almost a reaction to the previous tune where he was clearly tempted by the ‘dancin’ girl’ of the title but here he is unreservedly faithful; just the duo on this one with some lovely guitar from Chris.

“Three Way Inn” sounds like a classic juke joint and a painting of such a place appears on the back cover of the CD. Musically this one has a real retro feel, especially from D’Mar’s interesting percussion effects and Kid’s double bass. On a fun set of lyrics Chris knows he has had a good time drinking because “you can tell by the smell”! Bob’s piano takes us down south to Louisiana as Chris sings of voodoo, hoodoo and New Orleans on “Must Be Love” while the title track concerns the attractions of the Delta but brings in some Caribbean influences blended with rock and roll to provide a very catchy piece.

Chris moves into more of a country blues feel in his guitar and vocal on “Sweet Tooth” which is just a trio performance with D’Mar’s superb brushwork on drums and Jerry’s gently pulsing bass behind Chris’ slide, Lisa adding some nice vocal harmonies on the outro. The cigar box gets a second outing on “Lonesome For Leavin’”, Chris sounding very lost and low down in his vocal as he declares that “They call me a rolling man, I got a tendency to roam”. “Tore Down & Blue” has some good organ accompaniment and Kid’s almost reggae rhythm work behind Chris’ fine lead lines, the whole having a hypnotic effect, another winner. The final track “Since I Saw You” adds Frankie Ramos’ alto sax on a positive song with a slightly old-fashioned feel.

Overall a pleasant and varied album that is definitely worth investigating.

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.

 Featured Blues Music Review – 8 of 11 

Joe Louis Walker – Everybody Wants A Piece

Provogue 2015

11 tracks; 53 minutes

Joe Louis Walker has always been a prolific artist and his latest (and 24th solo album) sees another change of label as, after two very well received albums on Alligator, Joe is now a Provogue artist. This album is a small band format with just Phillip Young’s keys, Lenny Bradford’s bass and Byron Cage’s drums supporting Joe’s vocals, guitar and harp; producer Paul Nelson (Johnny Winter) adds rhythm guitar to two tracks and Damon Grant’s percussion enhances one cut. The material here is a fairly even split between originals and covers, Joe having a hand in writing five tunes.

The title track leads the way with Joe’s strong core riff well supported by the band in the opening section. Joe then sings of the problems of fame when “everybody wants a piece of your love” over bubbling bass, a stop-start rhythm and some aggressive soloing from Joe. Taj Mahal’s “Do I Love Her” suffers from some unpleasantly sharp harp from Joe that, for this reviewer, detracts from the track – a shame as the rest works fine. Tom Hambridge and Richard Fleming’s “Buzz On You” fares far better with a clearer sound, a solid vocal from Joe and an excellent guitar solo that matches the rock n’ roll feel set by Phillip’s piano work throughout. Joe uses his experience of gospel singing to deliver an impassioned vocal on the slower paced original “Black & Blue” which also features a typical JLW solo that builds from some strange noodling to some fiery sustains at its peak. “Witchcraft” is a standard from 1957 though whether original hitmaker Frank Sinatra would recognize JLW’s take on the Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh song is debatable! Joe’s highly charged guitar plays over his own choppy rhythm work, Phillip’s slabs of keyboard and a rhythm section beefed up with extra percussion from Damon.

It is rare to hear a song by the ‘other writer’ in early Fleetwood Mac, Danny Kirwan. His “One Sunny Day” appeared on 1970’s “Then Play On” and was covered by Tinsley Ellis back in the 1990’s. The feature of Danny singing over his guitar is well replicated by Joe though his take on the song ramps up the heavier side of the guitar playing. Joe plays at a gentler pace on the band-composed instrumental “Gospel Blues” which leads on to the traditional gospel piece “Wade In The Water” which is really well done, Joe again using his gospel experience well. A real contrast in terms of subject matter, Buddy Guy’s “Man Of Many Words” is played here in a funky version with what sounds like a horn chorus but must be synthesized. Two originals close out the album: “Young Girl Blues” is a fun shuffle with plenty of piano and some very nice playing from Joe in and around the main riff, as Joe recognizes that he is captivated by a 17 year-old; “35 Years” finds the object of his desire being a little older, but Joe is still in thrall to this lady. This fast-paced little number has a lot of Joe’s slide work and a bit more of his harp work, Paul Nelson playing some acoustic rhythm underneath.

Overall this is an album that has several highlights (“Buzz On You”, “Wade In The Water”, “Young Girl Blues”) and a few occasions where the playing is a bit too wild for this reviewer’s tastes. Joe’s albums always have something that commands attention and his legion of fans are sure to enjoy this latest addition to his catalog.

Editor’s Note: This album is nominated for a 2016 Blues Music awards for Rock Blues Album of the Year.

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.

 Featured Blues Music Review – 9 of 11 

Shari Kane & Dave Steele – Feels Like Home

Self-Release 2015

14 tracks; 54 minutes

Shari Kane and Dave Steele were both touring musicians when they met and married in 1991. Sharing a love of acoustic blues they often played at home for their own amusement while continuing to perform in various bands. For their 20th anniversary they recorded an album for their own pleasure and issued it to a good reception. They now perform as a duo and this CD is the follow-up. It is just the two of them: both play acoustic guitar and sing, Dave taking the lead on most songs; Shari also plays some slide and Dave mandolin. Dave contributed two originals to the dozen varied covers from such classic blues masters as the Johnsons, Robert, Lonnie and Tommy; the Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt get two songs each.

With so many great blues masters it is perhaps surprising that the opening song is Chuck Berry’s “Thirteen Question Method” but Dave sings the song about teenage seduction techniques well with Shari on slide. From the first notes the sound is crystal clear and you can hear every note played perfectly so although the album was recorded at home these two know what they are doing. An early highlight is the gentle interpretation of “My Creole Belle”, a Mississippi John Hurt song which is not frequently covered. More often heard is “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor” and this is another quite relaxed version with Dave’s world-weary voice fitting the song beautifully, especially when he sings “don’t you let my good girl catch you here”; you can imagine Dave casting a glance across at Shari as he sings this one! The two sing in harmony on Blind Blake’s “Early Morning Blues”, a song that dates all the way back to 1926, and combine it seamlessly with Ton van Bergeyk’s much more recent “Ton Of Blues”, a pairing that works very well.

They repeat the trick on “Milwaukee Blues” which is paired with “Beaumont Rag”, both tunes from the North Carolina Ramblers back in the 20’s, and Dock Boggs’ “Country Blues”, of similar vintage, provides a great opportunity for Dave to pick up his mandolin to good effect. The Mississippi Sheiks’ “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” is, of course, often covered and the moody slide that opens this version returns the song to its origins, Dave singing the familiar lyrics well. Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang are the source for the instrumental “Guitar Blues” which has some excellent acoustic work from both Dave and Shari. The album closes with the two Rev Gary Davis tunes wrapped round a RJ classic: first we get an uptempo reading of “If I Had My Way (Samson And Delilah)”, followed by “They’re Red Hot” with mandolin and a duo vocal, closing with the overtly gospel “I Will Do My Last Singing In This Land” which makes a good contrast with “Red Hot”!

Dave’s two originals fit in well with the repertoire on display here. “If I Don’t Jump” has references to St Peter and St Paul and seems to be talking about taking the plunge – into faith or relationships. There is plenty of good acoustic work here from both players on a lively number that even manages to rhyme ‘jump’ with Donald Trump! “The Last Day Of Summer” is a mournful blues about the death of a relative, good harmony vocals on the “Hallelujah” chorus and more mandolin from Dave.

If acoustic blues is your interest there is a lot to enjoy here on a simple but beautifully recorded disc.

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.

 Featured Blues Music Review – 10 of 11 

André Bisson – Left with the Blues


CD: 10 Songs; 39:44 Minutes

Styles: Blues Rock, Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues, Ensemble Blues

More than any other genre of music, the blues may be called a nostalgic one. Pop and rock, for example, have always been about what’s new, the next “thing”, what goes viral, and what breaks new ground. From doo-wop to dubstep, novelty is the raison d’etre of these two musical types. Most blues fans, however, aren’t tired of listening to older songs in favor of newer ones. If that were the case, artists wouldn’t include many covers on their albums, figuring that listeners have grown bored with such standards as “Crosscut Saw” (featured below). However, Canada’s André Bisson knows that the more new blues sounds like traditional blues, the more its target audience of baby boomers, X’ers, and older Millennials will like it. Therefore, Bisson’s 2015 album Left with the Blues contains this same classic sound. It makes for easy listening, but some might wish he had more of a novel style and lyrical variety.

His website reveals: “André Bisson spent a large part of his formative years performing in bars and festivals in his hometown [of Ontario] prior to relocating to Hamilton to study at the acclaimed Applied Music Program at Mohawk College. It was here that Bisson, with his raspy and soulful voice, formed popular bands that would perform classic Rhythm & Blues and originals with his band André & the J-Tones.”

In this reviewer’s opinion, “raspy and soulful” are two adjectives that describe Rod Stewart, whom Bisson vocally resembles. However, Rod hits high notes and performs vocal tricks André can’t, which isn’t really his fault. Not everyone can be “Rod the Mod”. André pleases audiences, whether live or otherwise, and that’s what counts in the music business. To paraphrase René Descartes: “I have fans; therefore I am”, and Bisson has many.

With André on guitar, vocals, and piano are Bil Holinaty on alto, tenor and baritone sax; Loretta Hale on trumpet; Kevin Beeby on vocals and bass; and Glenn Paul on drums. Special guests include Pat Collins on upright bass; Jesse O’Brien on keyboards, B3 and Wurlitzer organs; Jason Logue and Robert Dickson on trumpet; Rob Somerville on trombone, and Crystal Lee on violin. Guest vocalists include JP and Deanna Shalala, Stacey Hunt, Theresa Charters, Rachel Moroz, and Patricia Labignan.

The following track, a cover, demonstrates the full range of Bisson and company’s musicianship:

Track 09: “Crosscut Saw” – “I’m a crosscut saw. Drag me across your log. I’ll cut your wood so easy for you, you can’t help but say, ‘Hot dog!’” This perennial favorite, performed by Tommy McClennan in 1941, makes no anatomical or metaphorical sense. However, it’s probably one of the top ten songs all blues artists play at some point in their careers. Everyone does a more-than-halfway-decent job, especially the band, but this version lacks all-consuming passion.

When “your love is ‘All I Need’, one lives on “Borrowed Time”, and a “Brand New Day” is dawning, one might be Left with the Blues, but also left with more worn clichés.

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 Music Review – 11 of 11 

David Gogo – Vicksburg Call

Cordova Bay Records – 2015

10 tracks; 42 minutes

Guitarist David Gogo remains relatively unknown to US audiences though he tours in his native Canada and Europe regularly. He produced his first album in 1994 and in the intervening 22 years has produced albums in band and acoustic formats; Vicksburg Call is his fourteenth. David plays guitar and handles all lead vocals with Jay Stevens on bass, backing vocals and occasional piano and Bill Hicks on drums. Rick Hopkins adds Hammond to some tracks, Marisha Devoin acoustic bass and Shelley Beeston and Jona Kristinsson add backing vocals to one cut. Special guests Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown plays guitar and Shawn Hall of The Harpoonist And The Axe Murderer play harp on one track each. David wrote six songs and there are four covers.

David has always had a rock aspect mixed in with the blues and this album opens with a trio of ‘heavy’ numbers. David’s slide “Cuts Me To The Bone” on the opener which really rocks out over a thumping core riff from the rhythm section. Kim adds his ax to David’s on the heavy blues of “Fooling Myself” and there is some tough soloing here. “The Loner” was always a strong rock tune in the hands of its author Neil Young and David increases that with an even rockier version here, complete with some heavily distorted guitar effects.

After that opening salvo David brings things back to a quieter vision of the blues with a convincing take on Victor Anthony’s “There’s A Hole” on which Shawn’s mournful harp adds considerably to the moody atmosphere created by David’s resonator work. One suspects that David must have listened to a lot of West Coast rock in his youth as Steve Stills’ “Jet Set (Sigh)” follows up “The Loner” (itself covered by Stills on one of his solo albums) with some more wild guitar breaking out over the chugging rhythm and an excellent vocal from David.

The second half of the album is more melodic as David asks “What’s Not To Like?” in terms of his intended lady with the trio augmented by Rick’s Hammond, David playing some excellent slide on a catchy ear-worm of a song. “Our Last Goodbye” goes to the other end of the scale in terms of relationships, David reminiscing about his last summer together with his girl. The gentle tune starts with acoustic guitar, David overdubbing some slide parts and a fine electric solo as the backing vocalists come in with the Hammond on the chorus – a strong song.

The title track was written by David with E. Johnson and is clearly intended to draw us back to the Delta. It’s another strong song with David’s ringing guitar underpinned by the rhythm section, David recounting a tale of meeting a girl in Vicksburg and now he is “down in Louisiana, waiting on that Vicksburg call” – clearly she left a big impression in a short space of time on David who takes out his frustrations in a short but violent solo. We then get some classic rock and roll in “Coulda Shoulda Woulda” which is great fun in a short and snappy 2.37.

Annie Lennox’s “Why” at first seems an odd choice to close the album but it works well, David sounding genuinely sorry about how the relationship has gone – a touching song played here with great feel, as demonstrated by the closing section where David’s guitar and Rick’s Hammond are quite beautiful.

Overall an album with a range of styles. David Gogo shows here that he has both a sensitive side and a wild rocker contained within the one body. Probably a bit rockier than some of his albums, there are nevertheless plenty of gentler, melodic moments to fit alongside the heavier moments.

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.

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Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign, IL

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society is holding a Fundraiser for our IBC representatives, Friday January 22, at Memphis On Main, 55 E. Main St. in Champaign. Our Solo/Duo representative, Jiggy & the Source opens the show at 8:00 with their unique sound and blues style. At 9:00 our Band representative The Blues Expressions will put on a show featuring their soulful R&B based blues. We’ll be raising money to help our acts head to Memphis, TN where they’ll compete in the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge. Come out to Memphis on Main and show your support for some of the best blues musicians Central Illinois has to offer. Cover is only $5. We’ll have a 50/50 raffle and other fun ways to help raise money for their trip.

PCBS is also a sponsor of the Bentley’s Blues Jam held on the 4th Wednesday of each month. January’s host band is Billy Galt and The Blues Deacons. They’ll play the first set then open things up to all the jammers in the house. Bring your instrument and plan on sitting in. For more information visit our website at

Crossroads Blues Society – Byron, IL

Crossroads has lots of great blues events planned for 2016!

Hamilton Loomis is in town for a two day evening harmonica workshop on Monday and Tuesday January 25th and 26th at the Brewhouse, 200 Prairie St., Rockford IL. The cost is $60 per person and includes a 10-hole harmonica, practice CD, & handouts/materials. Register at or call 832-978-5451. Hamiliton will also be conducting two Blues in the Schools programs on the 26th.

The Hope and Anchor English Pub in Loves Park, IL features shows on the second Saturday of each month from 8 pm to midnight. January 9th – John Primer, February 13th – Tad Robinson, March 12th – Tweed Funk, April 9th – Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys, May 14th – The Jimmys

Blues in the Schools is also scheduled for Friday, January 22nd with two programs for Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames and two more programs with Dan Phelps. In February, Dan Phelps will be doing a two week in school BITS residency with East HS teaching song writing and guitar.

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: January 15th – Martin Lang and Billy Flynn, January 22nd – Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames, February 19th – Ron Holm’s Roy Orbison Tribute, March 18th – Smilin’ Bobby, April 15th – Breezy Rodeo, May 20th – Dave Fields. Shows are free from 7 to 10 PM.

Stay tuned for more upcoming events!

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

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. January 18 – The Groove Daddies, January 25 – The Susan Williams Band, February 1 – Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, February 8 – Gina Sicilia, February 15 – Chris O’Leary Band, February 22 – Dave Lumsden Factor.

P.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555 © 2016 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425



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