Issue 10-24 June 16, 2016

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2016

 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Tommy Castro. We have 11 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Van Wilks, Tinsley Ellis, Blind Lemon Pledge, Walkin’ Cane Mark, Rob Tognoni, King Louie and LaRhonda Steele, Juraj Schweigert, Joyann Parker & Sweet Tea, Solomon Hicks, The Jackson Whites and Tom Shaka.

Our video of the week is Tommy Castro & The Painkillers.

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

 Blues Wanderings 

We made it to the Chicago Blue Fest last weekend. The weather was hot and so were the more than 70 acts on 7 stages at this legendary Blues event. Pictured are Teeny Tucker, Irma Thomas, Eddie Shaw and Shemekia Copeland.

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We will have a multi-part photo review of the amazing performers at this legendary Blues gathering in upcoming issues.

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 11 

van wilkes cd imageVan Wilks – 21st Century Blues

Texas ’51 Records

12 tracks / 52:02 minutes

Van Wilks is no stranger to guitar rock blues – Texas style. He has been playing blues guitar professionally since the 1970’s and serving it up hot! In 1979 he was signed by Mercury Records, releasing his first album, Bombay Tears in 1980. Since that time, he has released eight more albums including 21st Century Blues. He has toured internationally with such acts as ZZ Top, Heart, Van Hanlen and Aerosmith to name a few. He has also been featured on recordings with the likes of Willie Nelson, Eric Johnson and ZZ Top. He has won multiple Austin Music Awards, won awards as Best Guitarist and Best Blues-Rock Band four years in-a-row and has been voted into the Austin Chronicle Texas Music Hall of Fame. 21st Century Blues is his first studio recording in ten years and was produced by Van Wilks. It was recorded and mixed by Chet Himes at Relentless Ranch Studios and Chicken Run Studios in Texas. All the songs on the CD were written by Wilks and feature several musicians including Christopher Cross supplying vocals on “She Makes Me Crazy” (co-written with Cross) and a variety of other talented musicians (different on most tracks) all of whom keep the tracks fresh and unique while creating an experience for the listener where one play is not nearly enough.

According to Wilks, “the new record is my take on contemporary blues”. He also notes that “…this is MY Blues and even though the songs jump from one feel to another, the common thread that holds it all together is my guitar”. From the second you push play and “Strange Girl” begins with a guitar intro that has you reaching to increase the volume, you know this CD is something special. Wilks is a master at drawing you into his songs with Texas-sized guitar intros. “She makes Me Crazy” and “Who’s Foolin Who” has your foot tapping and head bobbing within the first few seconds. The blusier “Golddigger” makes you slink back, shut your eyes and hear the beautiful tones of more traditional blues with a rock twist. This song is blues/rock at its best.

Wilks doesn’t stop here, nearly every song has a masterful guitar solos and riffs with bends, slides and double stops executed as well as any top name blues guitarist. Wilks years of experience and passion for blues/rock is evident, especially in “Drive by Lover” which was co-written with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, a long-time friend of Wilks. This song highlights everything right about using a guitar in a blues/rock song. The guitar phrasing is complimentary to the melody, notes explode like fireworks just at the right time in the song and the guitar accompanies Wilks’ vocals like fine wine and conversation. In every song, Wilks’ gifted vocals are perfectly accented by his guitar, especially notable in “21st Century Blues”.

The other musicians on the tracks are excellent as well. The drums and bass provide a strong backbone for every song while the keyboard, especially in “Just Walk Away” creates a mood for the song that supports the vocals beautifully in this slower song. The skilled drumming in “Livin on Borrowed Time” is quite evident in this rocking song, especially when used as an accent as well as holding down the beat.

The real creativity and hallmark of Van Wilks’ skills in songwriting and guitar, as well as his homage to traditional blues lies in the track “There’s a Sin in there Somewhere “. The song begins with a scratchy, old Leadbelly recording and Wilks on a 1929 National Dobro playing old-time blues. Just when you begin to imagine yourself in the Deep South at a little blues joint, a searing guitar rises from the speakers and pulls you right into the 21st Century Blues. The song fades out with the old recording and takes you back where you started the journey. The song epitomizes the evolution of blues/rock as well as highlighting the level of skill in all aspects of this CD. “Midnight Crossing”, the last track on the CD, is the perfect way to end the wonderful blues/rock trip this CD takes you on. It is swampy blues guitar at its best. Wilks brings you back to a hot Texas summer night with his use of slides and effects. The song itself is more of a poem sung in Spanish by “the voice of a Mexican Angel” with some very creative sounds and guitar playing. It is the work of someone confident enough in his skill to take the blues into another place and time.

This CD is one for every collection. While it is blues/rock, it is also a history lesson of the blues, especially Texas blues. It honors the musicians who paved the way for the music we call Texas blues/rock today while taking that music a step forward. It is aptly summarized by a line in the song, “Just Walk Away”: “Now you’re southbound on the blue train”. Indeed you are, and guaranteed to buy another ticket and turn the CD up louder each time you play it.

Reviewer Kim Derr a life-long blues lover originally from Pennsylvania who recently relocated to SE North Carolina. She left her career as an attorney to pursue blues guitar, bass and mandolin playing and photography interests. She enjoys all styles of the blues. Blues music is her passion, whether writing about it, playing it, listening to it or photographing musicians. There is a story in or behind every blues song and in the musical styles. Blues had her at the first twelve bars on an old guitar!

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 11 

tinsley ellis cd imageTinsley Ellis – Red Clay Soul

Heartfixer Music

10 tracks/41:10 minutes

There’s rejoicing in the land every time Tinsley Ellis puts out a new album, and the release of the soulful Red Clay Soul is no exception. Though he’s been touring and recording over the past forty years, he continues to hone his craft, searching for new sounds and looking for the right notes to fill the bridge or the just-right lyrics to tell the stories in his songs. Like Duane Allman, Ellis wastes no notes, but like BB King, Ellis squeezes in as many notes as he can to his cascading lead runs; there’s an Alvin Lee-quality to Ellis’ graceful playing that washes over us gloriously in all its soul-filled beauty.

Ellis heads back home on Red Clay Soul to celebrate the soul-drenched blues of his home state of Georgia. The winner of the 2015 Blues Blast Magazine Rock/Blues Album of the Year for his last release Tough Love is joined here by a holy host of soul stirring musicians: Muscle Shoals keyboardist Kevin McKendree, Oliver Wood of The Wood Brothers on guitars and vocals (as well as co-writer on “Givin’ It Up”), Lynn Williams on drums and percussion, Steve Mackey on bass, and Wendy Moten on background vocals on “Callin’.” It’s a perfect combination to provide the backing for Ellis’ Ray Charles-like vocals and his down-to-the-bone lead guitar licks.

The album opens with a down-home rockin’ blues, “All I Think About,” a tongue-in-cheek tribute to narcissism: “Even though I ain’t got a dime/I’m a legend in my mind/I ain’t much but I’m all I think about/after microscopic inspection/too much self-reflection/I ain’t much/but I’m all I think about.” The song leads off with Ellis’ throbbing lead guitar with riffs that tingle and slice through to the heart of the tune. Toward the end, he delivers a Kim Simmonds-like doubling lead riff that underscores the sharpness of the tune’s faux self-absorption.

“Givin’ You Up” brightens the corner where we are. It might be the album’s best track, and its double leads provide the foundation for Oliver Woods’ soulful, yearning vocals. The song is pure soul and pure joy, and you can’t stop moving to the groove it lays down. Wood and Ellis wrote the tune ten years ago and deliver an Allman Brothers-like jam on the album; the song opens with a soul shuffle on guitar and then dances off into a tune that would make The Swampers of Muscle Shoals proud.

Ellis channels Al Green on “Callin’,” a piercing ballad of love lost as the singer tries to figure out just why the woman who called him her “only man” now won’t return his calls: “I’m callin’ you just one more time/Hopin’ that you’ll come on the line.” Moten’s background vocals offer a call-and-response to the singer’s disappointed hopes. “Anything But Go” delivers a soulful plea for keeping a relationship just like it is, in spite of its shortcomings; it’s a classic “I-can’t-quit-you-baby” tune: “you can tell me you don’t want me/anything but go.”

“Hungry Woman Blues” is a slow burn, replete with Savoy Brown-inflected lead riffs; on the final bridge, Ellis demonstrates the reasons he deserves the crown for blues leads with his crisp lead doublets. “Circuit Rider” delivers a rockin’ stomp with some crunchy leads in the midst of a tune about the classic blues confrontation between good and evil, as well as the overpowering nature of lust and darkness. On “Don’t Cut It,” Ellis preaches a message of unity—”lonely don’t cut it no more/can’t you see we need each other more and more/just don’t push love away”—and the common need for love.

“Party of One” is a classic jazz blues shuffle about a lone wolf who’s lost in love enough not to stick around long enough with any woman: “paging Mr. bitter/party of one.” “Estero Noche” delivers a Santana-like instrumental, and “The Bottle, the Book, or the Gun” closes the album with a slow, poignant tune about reaching bottom and finding out what’s the best way up: the bottle, the book, or the gun. In one way or another all of them are bound to fail you, the singer warns in this slithering, simmering blues ballad.

Red Clay Soul powerfully blends the grittiness of down-home blues with the sizzling lead guitars of the best of Southern rock (The Allman Brothers, Steve Cropper) and the ethereal, yet gritty, vocals of soul. On this album, Ellis lays down some moving grooves and some haunting instrumentals that we have a hard time shaking out of our souls once the last note finishes.

Reviewer Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. writes about music and music books for No Depression, American Songwriter, Country Standard Time, and Wide Open Country.

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 11 

blind lemon pledge cd imageBlind Lemon Pledge – Pledge Drive

Ofer Records

12 tracks

James Byfield is Blind Lemon Pledge. His style is eclectic and not exactly my cup of tea, but the creative lyrics and weird but cool stories he tells are the high point here.

Byfield starts with a Bo Diddley beat on “Run John Run,” transitions into a creepy song about a stalker called “Moon Madness” and then adds some sax and goes a bit honky-tonk with “Nag, Nag, Nag.” It was an interesting start but his gasping sort of vocal approach did not win me over. “Cora Lee” is a breathy and melancholy song that is next using a flute to change things up. “Birmingham Walk” is a civil rights cut that is very southern in it’s sound. “5 Weeks of Heaven” has some more sax for effect in a driving song with an intense beat.

“She Broke the Ten Commandments” is a weirdly dark song about religion and heartbreak. Jenny Reed’s harp is very interesting and well done here. “You Can’t Get There from Here” is a ballady sort of jazzy cut where I think Byfield’s vocals were decently represented. Then the rocking “O Katrina” tells us about the hurricane destruction of a decade ago. Musically interesting stuff. “You Know You Really Got the Blues” features some nice slide guitar and piano. “Kokomo” is a job layoff song where Byfield gets shorted on his last check and gun play results. The album concludes with “Railroad Mama,” giving us a jug band sort of feel. Nice harp work starts things off and he washboard and jug band sound is cool.

I honestly did not enjoy Blind Lemon Pledge’s vocals. The songs were really interesting and original and the music on the album was good, but the vocals did not impress me. Breathy, slightly off key and eclectic; perhaps there is an audience for that sort of singing, but it left me dry. If you are looking for something very different, this may be for you.

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 11 

walking cane mark cd imageWalkin’ Cane Mark – Tryin’ to Make You Understand

Enable Records

CD: 12 Songs; 47:19 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues, Harmonica Blues

“You have four notes in your whole range. You can’t act, and you can’t dance,” sings a false Freddie Mercury to a false Frank Sinatra in one of the Epic Rap Battles of History on YouTube (yes, it’s a real thing). Some have accused “Ol’ Blue Eyes” of talking his way through many a tune, although in a voice that makes hearts melt and lovers swoon. This is not the case with Phoenix, AZ’s “Walkin’ Cane” Mark Brehm. He simply talks. Moreover, his voice sounds dazed, as if he’s just awakened from a long, deep sleep. It’s a crying shame, because his talent on harmonica is quite apparent. Having learned his first licks from Snooky Pryor, one would expect nothing less. It’s also clear Mark loves the blues, and isn’t tempted to dilute it with rock, soul or jazz. His latest album, Tryin’ to Make You Understand, contains twelve tracks with countless notes on harp and guitar, but very few truly musical vocal sounds. Such is hard to reconcile.

According to his webpage, “Walkin’ Cane Mark was born under a cactus in the heart of the Arizona desert. Surrounded by five generations of bluegrass based musicians, it’s ironic that instead of playing country-based music like his relatives, he quickly followed a passion for gritty blues, R&B and classic soul music early on…A fateful encounter with (Howlin’ Wolf drummer) Chico Chism literally by the back door of a Stevie Ray Vaughn concert would change Mark’s life forever…The great Willie Dixon dubbed Mark ‘Walkin’ Cane Mark’ in 1988 when he was recovering from an injury. ‘He saw me walking around with a cane and knew my name was Mark, and out of his mouth came Walkin’ Cane Mark and it stuck.’ It was also Mr. Dixon who first recognized Mark’s passion for the blues. ‘I asked him if he had a song I could do, and he gave me “The Gravedigger”, saying, ‘Mark, this song is for you — you record it,’ (shortly before his passing Willie heard Mark’s version of “Back Door Man” and said it was one of the best versions he had EVER HEARD). ‘My all too short relationship with Big Willie Dixon was one of the fondest of my lifetime.’

Along with Walkin’ Cane Mark on lead singing and harmonica are Kirk Hawley on guitar and mandolin, Brenden McBride and Gordon Lynde Jr. on bass, and John Rumbaugh on drums.

Out of four covers and eight originals, the following is the keenest example of traditional blues:

Track 03: “Arizona Woman” – This cheeky mid-tempo number sounds more like Chicago blues than Arizona blues, but it’s a good song nonetheless. “Arizona woman,” asks Mark, “how you like your rolling done? You like it early in the morning or in the midday sun.” Wouldn’t that be hot, in more ways than one? Check out the harmonica solo in the middle, because it certainly is.

Yours truly is Tryin’ to Make You Understand that Walkin’ Cane Mark may be Mozart on harmonica, but Sinatra on lead vocals, he is not.

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.

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 11 

rob tognoni cd imageRob Tognoni – Birra for Lira

Blues Boulevard

CD: 13 Songs; 45:32 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Hard Rock, Blues Rock

The cover art of “Tasmanian Devil” Rob Tognoni’s latest CD, Birra for Lira, is some of the most unique yours truly has seen this year. Not only does it feature a foaming stein of “birra,” but also a lira coin (more on that later) and Tognoni himself, a finger on each side of his head, pointing upward to look like devil horns. One might expect some creative blues on the album inside, with Italian-spiced vocals and a touch of mandolin on the instrumentation. Unfortunately, one would be wrong on all three counts. The thirteen tunes presented here are not blues songs. They’re repetitive hard rock songs that may or may not have the word “blues” in the title. Baby boomers who grew up listening to American stalwarts – of a different ethnicity than Tognoni – won’t recognize their kind of music in what he offers. The only resemblance to it is an unnecessary cover of “Roadhouse Blues” by the Doors, included as a live bonus track. Calling “Rob Tog” a guitar monster would be perfectly accurate, but a blues artist? Not so much.

According to his website, he’s proficient in the three P’s: “POWER – PASSION – PRESENCE.” He displays speaker-exploding power as he performs lead vocals, lead guitar, backing vocals and keyboards. Tognoni’s songs are the sort you would hear at a local bar with an extra hour tacked onto its schedule, after all the other bars are closed for the night. No holds are barred here; no prisoners are taken. Such is this album’s greatest virtue/flaw, depending on one’s personal taste. Remember the lira coin mentioned earlier? The word lira comes from the Latin libra, meaning “pound” or “balance.” Sounds pound listeners’ ears, even on the relatively calm track “2:00 AM”, but there’s no tonal, vocal, or instrumental balance to be had here. There’s a reason why sound producers’ boards contain way more knobs than those marked “volume.” Nevertheless, when liquor pours and the dance floor roars, who cares? No one under the influence of either.

Performing alongside Tasmania, Australia’s Rob Tognoni are Slawek Semmenuik on bass; Mirko Kirch on drums; Heidi Manu on backing vocals and percussion. For the live performance of “Roadhouse Blues,” there are Terry Cameron on second guitar; Eric Poole on bass; and Rick Lloyd on drums.

This release’s original title track may not be one’s father’s blues – or one’s own. Here’s why:

Track 08: “Birra for Lira” – With a growling, guitar intro that sounds more like Jimi Hendrix than Jimmy Reed, this is a baffling earworm up there on the level of “Riders on the Storm”. “I’m sittin’ in the sunshine, having such a good time. I like to have you here-a, with birra for lira. I want birra for lira.” Periodically, he interjects “HEY!” and “WHAT?!” into his guitar riffs, as if a waiter were tapping him on the shoulder and asking him if he wants another cold one mid-song.

Throw musical balance, genre purity, and “inside voices” out the window with Rob Tognoni’s Birra for Lira!

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.

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 Videos Of The Week – Tommy Castro & The Painkillers 

tommy castro video pic

Tommy Castro & the Painkillers at the 2015 Big Blues Bender playing “Night Stomp”.

Click on the image above to see this video.

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 Featured Blues Interview – Tommy Castro 

tommy castro pic 1“I didn’t know that I’d be lasting this long,” says Tommy Castro 20 years after releasing his Blind Pig national CD debut, Exception to The Rule. He was 40 at the time. A former drapery and window installer, he had considered calling himself Tommy “The Blind Man” Castro. From a poor downtown San Jose family, he’d played in a succession of bands with names like Night Cry and Johnny Nitro and toured two years with The Dynatones, a Warner Brothers recording act and show band.

Fronting his own band he suddenly he was playing 350 gigs a year – sometimes three gigs in a single day – and the hometown newspaper called his performance the highlight of the 1994 San Francisco Blues Festival in a showcase that included his mentor, Buddy Guy. The paper credited Castro with “charismatic” guitar playing with a band that had a “take-no-prisoners style of play.”

“I had a career as a blues guitar player on the scene, and I don’t feel like I was ready,” Castro says today about his sudden national acclaim. “I was still kinda workin’ on it. Ha, ha, ha. I needed more time. In my opinion, I needed more time to develop my skills as a guitar player, but I already had a gig, and I was already playing almost every night of the week. I’ve been trying to keep up with myself all along.”

His first gig east of the Mississippi was at the Troy Riverfront Arts Festival in Troy, New York, in June, 1996. He played Saturday afternoon just before headliner Magic Slim and the Teardrops. “It was the first time I got to see him live, and he was such an authentic real deal blues guy just like all the other great artists that I listened to and admired and learned from, and I always liked the fact that the guys like Slim were not too slick or politically correct.

“He was at a beer-sponsored event and got up there and said, ‘I don’t drink no beer. (laugh) It makes you fat.’ Oh, man, and then we did a few gigs with him round that time ’cause we were on the same label. We played a lot of the same festivals, and those guys would just roll around in this old van, and Earl, the drummer, didn’t have any cases for his drums or anything, but he would just put one inside another like you did when you’re playing the garage circuit as a kid. You’re a kid. You just had a double set of drums. You’d take a smaller drum and put it in a bigger drum and carry ’em around like that, and I didn’t see anybody do that on a professional level, but Earl’s stuff was all broken up, man, and those guys just sounded great.

“It was that feel, the feel of the way those guys played a shuffle was just so deep and authentic that guys like us really just can’t do, and so I have this huge respect and appreciation for where this music came from. To meet guys like Magic Slim and The Teardrops in those days for me when I was just startin’ to get out, that’s what I wanted, you know. I wanted to learn from and hang out with and see up close the cats this music came from that could really do that. I’ve done a lot of gigs over the years, and I don’t remember all of them, but I remember that one really well.”

It was the first of many encounters with mentors who would help Castro temper his sound. He did two summer tour with B.B. King in 2001 and 2003. “It was joyful. I was like a little kid. I wasn’t a kid. I might have been 40 at the time, but I just felt like a little kid that got to meet his hero. I was trying my best to be cool, but I don’t think I was doing a very good job. It’s pretty hard to hide the grin on my face sitting next to B. B. King back stage hanging out like we’re old friends.

tommy castro pic 2“After that he always remembered me and, whenever I saw him years later, he would always remember who I was, and I always got a kick out of that ’cause I just thought he had so many young guys open up for him over the years, been on so many tours all over the world and all the things he had done. How can he possibly remember all the acts, you know, and all the people, but he always remembered me. He always knew exactly who I was and that really just meant a lot to me. I saw him just a few months before he died. We opened a show for him here in California, and I got to talk to him for a little bit……got a picture of him and I together that night, and that was the last time I saw him.”

John Lee Hooker did his last session on Castro’s 2001 Guilty of Love CD. “We did it at his house, took the remote recording rig out to his house. He wasn’t getting around all that well at that time. It was the end of his life, and it was a week before he died actually that we recorded him. I couldn’t believe it, but we went to his house, and we set up right there in his living room a track that the band had already recorded, and we set a mic. up in front of him, sitting there on the couch. He was sitting on one end of the couch, and I was sitting on the other end of the couch just watching it all go down.

“It was pretty amazing, just John Lee doing his thing on my song. It was like a dream looking over listening to that voice being recorded onto my track. I had phones on, and I couldn’t believe what was actually happening. We hung out a little bit before that and had a few laughs. It was just a really nice visit.

“John was in good spirits, seemed to be feeling fine. He was lounging around his house. He had on a suit he wears just like he does on stage, and he had his buckle loosened up, sitting on the couch. He was just comfortable, but he always looked like a blues man. His daughter Zakiya at his service mentioned that. She said, ‘I never saw my dad wear a pair of jeans or sweat plants,’ and I don’t believe he ever did.

Billboard magazine credits Castro’s latest album Method to My Madness with having “street level grit and soul.” He’s learned his lesson from Magic Slim, John Lee Hooker and B. B. King well. He has B. B.’s tone, and he takes from Magic Slim’s pickup truck brawn and outfits his sound with a supercharger that gives it a polish and punch that’s more common to rock bands like Aerosmith and the Stones than it is his blues mentors.

A veteran war horse who cuts a chiseled figure dressed all in black, this now 60-year-old bluesman who has four grown children retains an unassuming air of a man who does not take his success for granted. “To me it’s a gift. This whole idea that I’ve been able to play music for a living and do what I love to do is amazing to me that it ever worked out for me in the first place because it’s tough. How many people do you know that have the same dream, and it doesn’t work? It doesn’t happen for everybody, and I was completely just really grateful and really excited that my little plans were working out, and I had a career in music, and I’m able to run around the world doing what I do making records and just making my living and doing something I love to do.”

A six-time Blues Music Award winner, his 2014 Alligator album The Devil You Know, earned the Blues Blast Rock Blues Album of The Year, and his then new band The Painkillers was nominated for Blues Blast Band of the Year. Gone was sax man Keith Crossan. He was down to a four-piece unit and paying as much attention to the space between the notes as the notes themselves.

“It’s just a different sound. A lot of music I like doesn’t have horns in it. I remember standing on a pool deck on the Blues Cruise watching Tab Benoit play with two guys backing him up, and it was awesome. There was nothing missing. It was perfect just the way it was, and I noticed that that space in there was something that I liked. I wanted to be able to do something like that. I wanted to do something a lot leaner and without the sound of horns which I had for the previous 15 years probably.”

Bass player and vocalist Randy McDonald was back in the band after a five year absence for The Devil You Know. “I had some ideas about the direction that I wanted to go in musically and him and I put our heads together about what kind of a sound we were going to try and go for and sort of a different concept for the band without horns, and we thought it was only right to change the name from Tommy Castro Band to Tommy Castro and something, and we came up with Tommy Castro and The Painkillers so that people would know that it wasn’t just Tommy Castro losing a horn section. It was an actual shift in direction musically that would focus more on guitar basically. It was going to be more a guitar-driven sound.”

tommy castro pic 3Method to My Madness, Castro’s first totally self-produced CD, came out on Alligator Records in 2015. It has his patented sound, but it’s race track clean and speedway fast. “There was very minimal production on this record. We wanted it to be very live sounding and real sounding, and I didn’t overdub guitar solos. I did on a couple of tracks, but most of those solos were done live with the band.

“I wanted to make a record this time that was more organic and really did have more of me jamming and playing with the band live, and that’s what we got. That’s what we wound up with, but it meant accepting a few little guitar things that weren’t perfect in exchange for the energy of the band and me working together. We had an arrangement, how we were gonna play the song down, but when I went to play guitar, I was just shooting from the hip like I usually do live. You get that when you listen to this record. You can feel it. You can hear it.

“I’m trying to think now what my next one is going to be, but I want it to be different again. I like to make a different kind of record each time. I think it’s important that you don’t just come up with a formula and then repeat it over and over and over again. I’ve been trying to not do that my whole career, especially the last few records.

“This last one I had no special guests. I didn’t work with anybody else but me and the band. And there’s a few people out there that I’m talking to that I would like to work with on my next project. So I think the next one is going to be working with some other artists, but I think the recording approach might be a lot similar to what we just did. I really like the way it feels.”

Castro credits his kids almost as much as his blues mentors with influencing the development of his sound. “It’s kind of an important little thing that came along just before we developed this little Painkillers concept. My kids became teenagers somewhere along the line. My youngest two were still in high school and junior high school, and they started becoming amazing music freaks, both of them, but all of my kids are big music fans, and they all have really good taste in music, thank God.

“I was driving the younger one to school in the morning. We had about a 20-minute drive into town, and the days of me programming the music were over. (Laugh). I started hearing more stuff by Jack White, The Black Keys and Green Day. They were digging up old classic rock stuff like Aerosmith and Zeppelin, and they started listening to just all kinds of really cool blues-related music.

“These kids know good music, and they love good music, and they have amazing catalogs including all of the Beatles stuff. My son found the Beatles, and he had to have every Beatles song ever recorded. They’re still that way, but at that time I was getting exposed to stuff I hadn’t heard much of, and I heard the Black Keys and stuff like Jack White and other bands. Those are the only ones that come to mind because their names are familiar, but there was a lot of other stuff that they were playing in those days on the way to school in the morning that I hadn’t heard of, and it turned out I did like most of what they were playing for me.

“I got exposed to some music that I wouldn’t probably have listened to on my own and what I got out of it was that this is just like when I was a kid. We were listening to blues done by another generation of players interpreting what they heard from Muddy Waters and Albert King or whoever. They were interpreting this music, and we got Cream and the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin and Savoy Brown and Fleetwood Mac and any number of great blues, you know, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Elvin Bishop Group. All of these guys were playing blues music, interpreting it their own way, and this was what seemed to me was going on, but it was fresh. This was 2012 or whatever, 2010 or 11. That’s when my ears perked up and that had a little bit of an effect on where I was going with my sound.”

tommy castro pic 4Castro’s relationship to his kids has turned out to be a mutual admiration society. “Oh, yeah. They’re big fans. They know my songs, and they tell me when it’s good or bad, too. They know the differences. They can tell me when I’ve got something really good. They’ll tell me. They give me their opinion. They like my music. They like my songs. They both play and sing a little, the younger ones.”

Tommy Castro is amazingly unassuming for a blues man with his record of success He takes none of his success for granted. When he was a poor youngster, he used to dress like one of his mentors, Elvin Bishop. I asked him what he would say if he were inducted into either the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the Blues Hall of Fame the way Elvin has been in the last couple of years.

“Uhm, wow, that’s a crazy question. Well, first of all, it would be a shock. It would be a big surprise to me. The Hall of Fame, not everybody gets in there. It seems to me they’ve been pretty good selecting the people they get nominated – that get inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. I don’t see myself as one of them. Maybe one day, I don’t know. I would do what I normally do when I get an award, whether I deserve it or not. I’d accept it and just try and be grateful and respectful of the people who honored me and thank them very much, but I don’t know what to think about those kinds of things. I just go out there. I don’t think of music as a competition. It’s not sports. It shouldn’t be a competition.

“It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Nobody puts out records with the intention of competing in a business, and you want to sell records. You want your career to go places and you want to draw bigger crowds, and you want to sell more tickets, and you want to do all that stuff, but whether or not you’re gonna receive that award a certain amount of people say your record is better than this record over here. Well, they were so wrong so often. They’re so wrong about that so much of the time. For one thing, it’s just a matter of opinion. It’s a matter of certain people’s opinion.

“I (do) think the award shows and the Blues Foundation are all good for business. They’re good for art. They’re good for the artist. They’re good for the whole scene. It’s news. There’s a big event going on, and it’s all about blues music. I think that’s awesome that there are Blues Music Awards, and they induct people into the Hall of Fame, and I think it’s good to honor certain artists that have accomplished certain things. My comment about being a competition, it’s not sports. It’s not a competition.

“We’re creating art. We’re writing music that hopefully will make people feel better when they listen to it and make them happy. Pull them up out of their blues whatever kind of stuff they’re dealing with, make them feel better for a little while. There’s a purpose for it. It’s more like medicine than it is sports. It’s like (laugh) I don’t know. I imagine doctors have award ceremonies for performing the best surgeries or something like that.”

Visit Tommy’s website at:

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.

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 11 

King Louie and LaRhonda Steele – Rock Me Baby

Shoug Records – 2015

11 tracks: 49 minutes

King Louie (Louis Pain) is a Hammond B3 player based in Portland, Oregon who has worked with many fine blues artists from the Pacific NW including Curtis Salgado, Lisa Mann and Karen Lovely. LaRhonda Steele is a gospel-influenced vocalist also based in Portland so their collaboration makes geographic as well as musical sense. The album is all covers from a wide variety of blues and soul influences and takes in Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brothers, BB King and Carole King. Other musicians include Renato Caranto on sax, Dave Iula and Doug Lewis on guitar, Brian Foxworth and Edwin Coleman III on drums; all bass parts are played by Louie on the organ.

The album has plenty of soul, gospel and jazz touches but throughout LaRhonda’s vocals are outstanding, nowhere better than on a great cover of “Phenomenal Woman”, the Maya Angelou poem put to music and previously recorded by Ruthie Foster. This version is just as good with James Mullen adding piano and Sarah and Lauren Steele on background vocals. Equally superb is “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman”, LaRhonda’s vocal taking the Tapestry track even further into pure gospel territory than Aretha did, Renato’s sax work here being a particular feature. The jazzier tunes include “I Love You More Today Than Yesterday”, an obscure hit by a late 60’s band called Spiral Starecase and Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon”, both of which have some fine sax work to support the vocal performance. “What A Difference A Day Made” was a hit for both Dinah Washington and Esther Phillips but here Louie and LaRhonda slow it right down to a sultry ballad which frames LaRhonda’s voice in a gentle wash of Hammond and sax.

Turning to soul tunes the band tackles Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” in a fairly straightforward cover and the oft-covered “Walking The Dog” in a funky version that Rufus Thomas would probably have enjoyed! The Isleys’ “It’s Your Thing” is blended with some jazz-funk influences, particularly in Doug Lewis’ rhythm guitar work. The more conventional blues tracks include Paul Gayten’s “For You My Love” which features an excellent solo from Louie, “Twenty-Nine Ways” (erroneously credited to Big Joe Turner rather than Willie Dixon) which has plenty of ‘cool’ Hammond work and the title track which builds into quite a sultry take on the BB King classic.

Overall this is an album that grows on you. LaRhonda is an excellent vocalist who is bound to gain exposure beyond her Portland base through this release; all credit to King Louie for providing this platform for her vocal prowess and his own keyboard skills.

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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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 11 

juraj schweigert cd imageJuraj Schweigert – Novelty Shop

Self Release

10 songs – 41 minutes

Juraj Schweigert is a Slovakian harmonica player and singer who has released a fascinating album in Novelty Shop. With elements of blues, swing, jazz, rock and even the old prison work song, “Let Your Hammer Ring”, there is much to enjoy in the ensemble playing of Schweigert’s band and his own stellar harmonica playing.

Opening with the upbeat instrumental, “Tropospheric”, a tribute to the chromatic harp playing of Rod Piazza, the band lays down a solidly swinging groove over which Schweigert is able to stretch out. The band’s jazz background is obvious from the lightness of touch of the players, not to mention drummer Juraj Rasi managing to slip in a very short solo on the very first song of the album.

Guitarist Zsolt Szitasi is featured on the jazzy “Is The Dinner Ready Yet?”, one of six songs written by Schweigert, on which bassist Martin Kapusnik also takes a solo. However the focus of the album is very much on Schweigert and his harmonica playing. He plays with a glorious tone, top class technique, a ready ear for a memorable melody and a playful willingness to stretch musical boundaries (but never too much).

The majority of the songs on the album are instrumentals, nearly always led by Schweigert’s harp. Russian Mob” blends a swinging mix of jazz, ska and even some a hint of Latin music, while “Harold The Squirrel” has a jazz-rockabilly edge to it. The title track, meanwhile, starts with a discordant, almost heavy rock edge featuring over-driven guitars, before subtly moving to the head played by Schweigert and Szitasi in tandem, harmonising off one another and then reverting back to the discondant and disquieting opening. “Bald Joe” is a gentle ballad with acoustic guitars backing Schweiger’s harp and a lovely solo from Kapusnik. “Intresque” has something of a ragtime feel, particularly in the drumming of Juraj Rasi. When he does sing, however, Schweigert does a fine job, particularly on the old T-Bone classic, “She’s The No-Sleepin’est Woman” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “The Bluest Blues”.

One of the most interesting (and to this reviewer’s ear, enjoyable) tracks on the album is the final song, listed as a bonus track. Featuring Schweigert’s voice and harp, backing vocals from Juraj Rasi, L’ubos Brtan, Juraj Varga, Michal Varga, David Szabo and Peter Nosik, the keyboards of Valer Miko and wood cutting from Juraj Rasi, Tamas Belicza, Schweigert and Co. take the traditional “Let Your Hammer Ring”, retain the original melody but layer fascinating organ over the top as Schweigert’s harp imitates fujara (a traditional Sloval national instrument) and pipes at the same time as singing an old Sloval highwayman tune. It really shouldn’t work, but it does, and it makes hypnotic listening.

Schweigert also produced the album, catching a top class sound and the CD is equally impressively packaged.

You will want to pick this album up if you enjoy top class harmonica playing or if your tastes extend to a gentler, swinging jazzier side of the blues. Very impressive stuff.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 11 

joyann parker cd imageJoyann Parker & Sweet Tea – On The Rocks

Self-produced CD

11 songs – 48 minutes

As independent entities, Joyann Parker and Sweet Tea were regulars on the Minneapolis blues scene for the better part of a decade until combining forces two years ago. Now, they’re a dynamic powerhouse unit worthy of a broader audience – as this album and their successful appearance at the 2016 International Blues Challenge clearly shows.

A keyboard player and guitarist with a 20-year resume, Joyann is a sultry alto with a clear voice and powerful delivery. She’s worked with Jimi “Prime Time” Smith and Bernard Allison, among others.

Her musical partners are four of the Twin City’s favorite musicians who began working as a unit four years ago. Guitarist/vocalist Mark Lamoine has a background that includes everything from classic country to heavy metal and the blues. Pennsylvania native Mick Zampogna doubles on keyboards and accordion. Bass player/vocalist Michael Carvale has worked nationally with the Lamont Cranston Band and Davina And The Vagabonds.

They were all brought together by drummer Nick Zwack, who, like Zampogna, has worked with a wide assortment of local talent, including Michael James And The Headliners, a band that’s included Jonny Lang in its lineup. JR Hartley makes a guest appearance on bass for one cut.

Together, they’ve self-produced a solid collection of original material that combines funk, soul and straight-ahead blues. Guitar and rhythm section propel the first cut, “You,” a moody complaint about discovering an unrepentant lover running around with another woman and demanding tht he pack and leave. The song serves as a strong introduction of what’s to follow and allows Parker to demonstrate her vocal chops while the band remains strong, but in control throughout.

The mood quiets dramatically for the introduction of “What’s Good For You,” a blues-rocker that suggests again that the man leave – this time because the singer simply isn’t worthy: “I don’t know what’s good for you/But I know it ain’t me.” The music builds in complexity and power as the song progresses, and Joyann’s delivery is memorable in its intensity. A Latin beat introduces the blues “Ain’t Got Time To Cry,” which continues the cheated-on theme and gives Zampogna space for a haunting solo, before the music heats up for “What Happened To Me,” a full-tilt boogie about waking up hungover and being late for work.

“Jigsaw Heart,” a six-minute ballad, follows, describing the pain of loving someone you can’t have, before the propulsive “Hit Me Like A Train,” about being knocked over by a new man without any warning. One bass line powers “Fool For You,” a brisk shuffle, before another introduces “Evil Hearted,” a sultry walking blues about the realization the singer’s mistreated a former lover.

The band gets funky again for “Closing Someone Else’s Blinds,” about waiting at home alone while believing a loved one is cheating at another woman’s home and longing for the man to make up his mind about where he wants to be, before the hard rocking “Go For The Money” delivers the message that cold, hard cash will last a lot longer than material possessions. The set concludes with “Either Way,” another ballad about confusion in romance that seeks a simple answer to the question: “Do you want me?

Joyann Parker & Sweet Tea make a strong debut with this one. Available through CDBaby, it’s highly recommended both for the quality of Joyann’s voice and the musicianship in general as well as the material, which puts new spins on familiar territory as it demonstrates itself to be truly original.

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.

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 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 11 

SOLOMON HICKS CD IMAGESolomon Hicks – Carrying On the Torch of the Blues

Organic Recordings

CD: 12 Songs; 59:25 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric and Ensemble Blues, Blues Covers

According to, how are food products certified worthy of the name? “Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.”

Extrapolating the analogy, what would “organic recordings” be? Harlem, NY’s Solomon Hicks clearly shows us on his new album, Carrying On the Torch of the Blues. He presents seven original tracks (several written or co-written by producer Jeff Levine) and five popular covers. All of them are as crisp and fresh as newly-picked carrots. There are no pesky pop songs, no artificial techno synthesizer/keyboard riffs, no sludgy, mumbled lyrics, no blues-modified hard rock songs, and no “ear-radiating” screech-fests on guitar. This is 100% organic ensemble blues. Purists and casual fans alike will gorge on such a satisfying musical meal.

Hicks’ website reveals: “Twenty-year-old guitar prodigy and singer Solomon Hicks – known by some fans in Harlem as ‘King Solomon,’ ‘lil B.B.’ or ‘East Montgomery’ – has been playing guitar for 14 years. After 2 years of songwriting and recording with his producer/manager, Jeff Levine (a Joe Cocker veteran musical director and keyboardist), his new album entitled Carrying on the Torch of the Blues was released June 2015 on the Organic Recordings™ label…

“Special guest Southside Johnny plays harmonica on the cover version of “Homework”, a roots classic made popular by Otis Rush and The J. Geils Band. Jake Clemons (current member and the nephew of the legendary Clarence Clemons from Bruce Springsteen’s E. Street Band) is featured playing saxophone on the title track.”

Also joining lead guitarist/vocalist Solomon Hicks are Jeff Levine on Hammond B3 organ, grand piano, clavinet, and Wurlitzer electric piano; Gary Dates, John O’Neill and Steve Hoffman on drums and percussion; Rick Brunermer on alto, tenor, and baritone sax; Rob Elinson on alto and tenor sax; Eric Udell on bass; Tom LaBella on alto and tenor sax; John Berry, Curt Ramm, and Mac Gallehon on trumpets; Bob Funk on trombone; Gary Mazzaroppi on upright bass; Freddie Salem on second rhythm guitar; and Angelo “Buddy” Savino on bass.

The following three original selections burn the brightest on this CD, hot as an acetylene torch:

Track 01: “You Don’t Want Me Anymore” – With a medium, swinging tempo and hallowed horn section, the album’s opener is reminiscent of “Tore Down.” However, it’ll tear any dance floor up: “I can admit we had our days, when we would fight and walk away. You told me it was the last goodbye. I look back now and wonder why. I’ll always love you like I did before, but it’s clear to me: You don’t want me anymore.” Breakups are no fun, but this song’s a party in itself.

Track 04: “Jukin’ at the Cotton Club” – One of the world’s most famous music venues gets its due in Fab (Number) Four. It’s a swing/jump blues masterpiece, no matter how many people might call it jazz: “In Harlem, New York City, street 125, there’s a club up there that really jumps and jives, with a band that burns so hot you won’t believe your eyes.” Dig Gary Mazzaroppi’s outstanding upright bass and Jeff Levine’s perky piano.

Track 06: “Foolin’ Around” – Never has a guitar’s wah-wah pedal been put to such creative use as on psychedelic song six. It’s a familiar tale with a funky twist, told from the point of view of a teenager in trouble: “Well, you told me not to rush into the birds and the bees. To wait…until I found the girl of my dreams, but I was hungry. The taste of lust was all about, and now she claims it’s my baby – and that’s some news I can live without.” Time to grow up, kid, and for you blues fans, it’s time to play some air guitar!

Solomon Hicks is grandly Carrying On the Torch of the Blues!

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.

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 Featured Blues Review – 10 of 11 

jackson whites cd imageThe Jackson Whites – Hard Luck Stories

Jersey Delta Records

12 tracks / 59:11

When folks talk about Delta music they are usually referring to the Mississippi River Delta, so it is a change of pace to receive an album of new music from the New Jersey Delta. Maybe (like me) you did not know that there is a rich music scene to be found there, but fine musicians such as harmonica ace Rob Paparozzi, Al Chez (David Letterman Orchestra), Pat DiNizio (The Smithereens), Glen Burtnik (ELO and Styx), and Jack Daley (Lenny Kravitz) all hail from the Delta.

Hard Luck Stories is the debut CD from The Jackson Whites, a loose collaborative of musicians from the New Jersey Delta. Over the course of five years, more than 25 musicians (most of them locals) recorded the dozen tracks on this album. This project was produced by two native sons, Benny Harrison and Bob Zaleski, and was fronted by Robert Van Kull, who wrote all of the songs. Their music is pure Americana, meaning that there are many diverse influences to be found here: blues, folk, country, rock, mountain music, and maybe even Irish drinking songs for good measure. Blending all of these together with smart and witty lyrics results in a powerful piece of work.

“Water,” the first track, has an upbeat melody that contrasts well with Van Kull’s earthy vocal style. There are elements of folk, bluegrass, Louisiana roots thanks to layers of guitars and peppy accordion as played by Kraig Greff. The lyrics are sharp and locally inspired, and in the chorus you will hear a style that is repeated throughout the disc as there are group vocals and harmonies that tie the song together (in this case from Harrison and Leslie Wagner). This segues into “Hard Luck Story,” a light rocker with organ from Harrison and a mandolin break from Jeff Hemmerlin that lends a Tom Petty/Springsteen vibe to the song. Burtnik lays down the bass line for this one, and pitches in on the backing vocals. One of the best lines from the album can heard here: “I’m a hard luck story, I wrote it page by page, I built it bar by bar like an iron cage.”

Ron Paparozzi appears on “Rhythm,” a neat bit of hard rock with distorted guitars and cool harmonica accents. I have to agree with Van Kull that “Rhythm is the hardest word to spell,” but instead of spelling it out the Jackson Whites make it happen with a great backline and solid drumming. You will not usually hear harmonica on songs like this, but Rob does a great job of working it in. He also appears on “Pagan Blues,” a song that provides a heavy dose of today’s reality. The laconic drawl that the lyrics are delivered in also give a bit of a folk or country feel to this blues-rock tune.

The standout track from Hard Luck Stories is “My Laotian Bride” which has a loping folk vibe that starts out with the fiddle introduction from Tim Carbone. This is not the most complicated music in the world, but it is a catchy tune and the narrative is breathtakingly honest and vivid. It details a young woman’s assimilation into American culture, to the point where “she’s as Jersey as a tool booth, never tells the whole truth…” Amen.

The second half of the album is as solid as the first, with some fabulous horns from Brian Benninghove, Al Chez, and Nick Finzer on the super-funky “Yesternight.” To finish the set, the band chose “The Road in the Waxing Moon,” a countrified acoustic song with lovely vocal harmonies, and a bit more pedal steel from Jim Ryan and fiddle from Carbone. This is a cool way to bring a really different album to a close.

Listening to Hard Luck Stories as a whole, it is hard to believe that it took over half a decade to record it as everything sounds like it was cut at the same time. All of the songs have a similar feel and they flow seamlessly from one to another to form a single entity. The lyrics can be gritty and raw at times, but the stories are full of truth and are drawn directly from soul of the Garden State. Head to Jersey Delta Records website to learn some history, and to check out The Jackson Whites for yourself.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 11 of 11 

tom shaka cd imageTom Shaka – Sweet & Mean

Blind Lemon Records BLR-CD1501

14 songs – 73 minutes

Anyone who’s familiar with acoustic bluesman Tom Shaka knows he’s no shrinking violet when it comes to expressing his political views and desire to expose the hypocrisy he sees in governments around the world. The 15 previous albums he’s released in a 40-plus-year career are chockful of pointed and often humorous personal observations.

But most of that is toned down somewhat and restricted primarily to the liner notes for Sweet & Mean, his first live recording in 20 years. A combination of tasty originals and interesting covers, it was captured before a small, but appreciative audience at Zum Schwarzen Ross, a club in Bookholzberg, Germany, a land he’s called home for decades.

A Connecticut native who’s worked extensively with John Lee Hooker, Louisiana Red and David “Honeyboy” Edwards among others, Shaka delivers blues from the root in a powerful, yet subtle style all his own as he accompanies himself on guitar and harmonica, accented by occasional foot stomps. He’s a master picker with an unrushed technique, his pleasantly road weary and sweet where it needs to be.

Released on Germany’s Blind Lemon Records, which specializes in acoustic blues, the disc kicks off with the original instrumental, “Into The Blue.” It puts his guitar skills on display in an extended journey up and down the fretboard before blending seamlessly into a cover of the Howlin’ Wolf classic “Ride With Me Tonight,” on which his harp chops come to the fore in classic country blues styling. He accompanies himself with lower register fingerpicking during the verses.

The theme continues in the original, “Come On Over Baby,” before Shaka uses another, “They Don’t Understand These Blues,” as a means to describe his feelings about the sorry condition he feels the world’s in today. Stylish covers of Hooker’s “I’m In The Mood” and Tarheel Slim’s “Walkin’ My Blues Away” sandwich a taste of the bayou in “Cajun Stomp.”

A series of well-crafted covers follows. First up is Robert Petway’s 1920s standard “Catfish Blues.” Next up, Shaka shows off his Spanish guitar stylings with “Malaguena,” written by Cuban Ernesto Lecuona Casado and a 1960 hit for Connie Francis. A faithful version of Don Gibson’s 1957 country hit, “I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” follows before an acoustic take on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s blues-rock powerhouse, “Pride And Joy.”

Shaka takes another trip to the Delta for an extended cover of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips” before delivering another stylish tasteful original instrumental, “Jazzin’ The Blues,” which sings praise for showing off a pretty woman while incorporating lines from tunes from the past. The set concludes with a bluesy take on the familiar “On The Road Again,” written by Floyd V. Jones and made a standard by Willie Nelson.

Available through, Sweet & Mean will be a joy if you’re a fan of acoustic blues. Shaka delivers his music from the heart, and the Mississippi River runs through it long and deep.

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.

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Capital Region Blues Network – Albany, NY

The Capital Region Blues Network is proud to present guitarist Tinsley Ellis on Monday, July 18th at The Linda (339 Central Ave in Albany). Tickets are priced at $15.00 General Admission and $10.00 for all Capital Region Blues Network Members.

Tinsley Ellis has traveled a million miles, and through that journey he has become a man with clarity about where he stands today and his future destination. As a proud Georgia-based artist, with his new album Red Clay Soul he celebrates a legacy built on four decades of performing, recording and song writing.

Tinsley Ellis has achieved a lot of success and worked with some of the best in the business. He has toured the globe, released 19 albums, and hit the heights of commercial success with songs covered by other artists – notably, Jonny Lang recording “A Quitter Never Wins.” Ellis even gave Derek Trucks his recording debut on Ellis’ Storm Warning. He won Rock/Blues Album Of The Year with Tough Love in 2015 from Blues Blast Magazine and made many “Best Of” lists within Downbeat and others. Tinsley Ellis continues to release compelling music. And he continues to bring it night after night at one venue after another across the globe, sharing his blues-steeped legacy, fine songwriting, and deep pride in being a Georgia-based artist. For more information visit

Mississippi Valley Blues Society – Davenport, IA

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society is proud to present a Midwestern’s-blues-fan-favorite, Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, at The Establishment, 220 19th Street, Rock Island, IL on Sunday, June 26, 2016, at 6:00 p.m. The cost to see this performance will be $10 if you are a Mississippi Valley Blues Society member, or $12 if you have not yet joined the Blues Society (applications will be available at the door).

Reverend Raven and Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys were chosen by the Wisconsin Music Industry (WAMI) for best blues band in 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010, and again in 2015. They also received the People’s Choice Award in 2006, 2008 and 2010. The band has played in the Quad Cities several times since their 2013 appearance at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, but this will be a first-time show at The Establishment, Rock Island, IL. The Establishment features a large dance floor, state of the art sound system, and plenty of seating.

For more info visit

Utah Blues Society – Salt Lake City, UT

The 2nd Annual Utah Blues Festival (UBF) ramps up with more national headliners and a new downtown location – the Gallivan Center on Saturday, June 18th. The UBF is the signature benefit event of the Utah Blues Society (UBS), a two year old 501(c)(3), dedicated to expanding the reach of the blues genre throughout Utah, promoting both local and national touring blues artists, and providing educational programs to further increase the blues’ visibility in our community.

From 1 – 10 p.m., catch The Blues Youth Showcase, Tony Holiday & the Velvetones; the Sister Wives; Jordan Young and national headliners Toronzo Cannon, Bernard Allison, and Ronnie Baker Brooks.

Further info at: and as well as Facebook pages for each.

Crossroads Blues Society – Byron, IL

Crossroads Blues Society has a hot musical summer planned! Big shows in June and July, our festival in August and our regular programming offers a dozen opportunities for blues fans over those months.

The big event for June is Mark Hummel and the Golden State-Lone Star Revue on Saturday, June 25th at the Mendelssohn PAC in Rockford. At 406 N. Main Street, this event is $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Featuring Little Charlie Baty and Anson Funderburgh on guitar! Get tickets at:

July 16th we feature Bryan Lee at Rockford’s Sinnissippi Park. Starting at 6 PM, this is a free show. The park is at 1401 N 2nd Street in Rockford.

The 7th Annual Crossroads Blues Festival at Lyran Park is August 27th. Featuring Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Tad Robinson, Ghost Town Blues Band, Joanna Connor, the Flaming Mudcats and Birddog and Beck! $5 in advance at, $10 at the door!

Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation – Red Bank, NJ

Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation presents Point Pleasant Boro Jazz & Blues Festival Saturday, June 18, 2016 at the Riverfront Park, Corner of Maxon & River Rd. Point Pleasant Boro, NJ from Noon to 8:00 PM. Headliner is Billy Hector Experience Featuring The Midnight Horns plus Food, Crafters, Beer & Wine Garden, Kids activities. FREE Admission!

For more information, go to

Grand County Blues Society – Winter Park, CO

The 14th Annual Blues From The Top Festival, presented by the Grand County Blues Society, happens June 25/26 at Hideaway Park in Winter Park, Co. Features a special Trampled Under Foot Reunion, plus headliners including Eric Gales, Samantha Fish Band, Jon Nemeth, Kara Grainger and more. “Keeping The Blues Alive” Stage features young up-and-coming Blues artists. Portion of the festival’s proceeds benefit Blue Star Connection, which provides access and ownership of musical instruments for children and young adults with cancer and other serious challenges, as well as providing music therapy departments with instruments.

For more information, go to

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. June 20 – Rockin’ Jake, June 27 – Laurie Morvan.

Additional ICBC and ICBC partnered shows: June 16 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm.

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee IL area

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. Thursday, 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

Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

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 began 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.

For more information, go to

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.

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



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