Issue 10-27 July 7, 2016

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Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2016

 In This Issue 

Tee Watts has our feature interview with Chicago bluesman Bob Stroger. We have 14 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Walter Trout, Katy Guillen & The Girls, Janiva Magness, Dave Muskett Acoustic Blues Band, Cécile Doo-Kingué, Slinky & P’tit Loup, Anni Piper, The Jumpin’ Bones, Alexis P. Suter Band, Robert J. Hunter Band, Luther Dickinson, John McKinley, The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson and Blue Cat Groove. Bob Kieser has Part II of the photos and commentary from the 2016 Chicago Blues Festival.

Our video of the week is Bob Stroger.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

BBMAs logo imageHey Blues Fans,

Voting started in the 2016 Blues Blast Music awards last Friday and more than 2,500 of you have already cast your ballots. You can stream music by the nominees before you vote at There have already been more than 7,000 plays of these artists music since the voting started. If you haven’t voted yet the voting link is

Our good friends at the Briggs Farm Blues Fest have a great festival for you this weekend in in Nescopeck, Pennsylvania . Their line-up features Nikki Hill, John Primer, Cedric Burnside, Marcus King Band, Lonnie Shields’ Back Porch Party, Anthony “Big A” Sherrod & The Cornlickers, Clarence Spady, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and The History of Bentonia Blues, Miner Blues and J.P. Biondo & Roy Williams on Friday July 8th.

On Saturday, July 9th, they feature Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, Carolyn Wonderland, Victor Wainwright & The Wildroots, Devon Allman, Lonnie Shields’ Back Porch Party, Marcus King, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Anthony Gallucio & The ReTreads, Dustin Douglas & The Electric Gentleman and Mighty Susquehannas.

Then on Sunday morning they have a special lineup of gospel blues featuring Vanessa Collier, Victor Wainwright & The Wildroots and Alexis P. Suter and the Ministers of Sound. Don’t miss this one!

For tickets and complete info visit or click on their ad below.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

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 Blues Wanderings 

We made it out to the Blues Brews and BBQ Festival in Champaign, Illinois recently. This 2 day free event had some great blues including sets by Edward David Anderson, Slam Allen and Kim Wilson and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Kim had Texas guitar slinger Johnny Moeller with him. Now that is how a guitar should be played!

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This great little fest attracts 10’s of thousands of blues fans each year. It is always the last weekend in June so be sure to put June 23rd and 24th, 2017 on your calendar for next year if you are located anywhere close.

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 Blues Writers Wanted 

Do you really know your Blues and enjoy telling others about it?

Blues Blast Magazine is looking for a few good writers to volunteer to help us out. We need reviewers who know Blues and can write a minimum of one review or story each week. We will provide access to downloads or physical CDs, DVDs and books for review. The writer keeps the album, book or DVD for doing the review. We get music submissions from all over the world. We publish music reviews each week so there is a steady flow of things that need to be reviewed.

We are also looking for folks to write stories for our website, blogging style, and other occasional story assignments. We will assign subjects and stories and also entertain your ideas too.

These are volunteer positions that need a person who really loves the Blues and wants to spread the Blues word! Must have good writing and composition skills, good grammar and spelling!

Experienced writers are encouraged to send samples of previous work. All Blues Blast staff started out as volunteers like this. We have kept those with dedication on as staff writers afterwards.

If you are interested, please send an email to and tell us about your Blues background. A resume is always appreciated too.

Please be sure to include your phone number in your email reply.

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 14 

walter trout cd imageWalter Trout – ALIVE in Amsterdam

Mascot Label Group

2 CDs / 16 tracks / 105 Minutes

Walter Trout has a lot going in his favor – a new lease on life, a tour supporting his excellent Battle Scars album, and a newly released concert album, ALIVE in Amsterdam. The latter is the best live blues album I have reviewed over the past few years, and this project says a lot about Walter and where he is in his life right now.

Trout is a blues guitar hero and singer who has appeared on over 40 albums in his career, including working as a sideman with luminaries of the genre and a five-year stint with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Things looked bad for him in 2013 when his liver was failing, but after a transplant in 2014 he came back as strong as ever. ALIVE in Amsterdam documents this comeback better than any magazine article or documentary could. Many musicians will lay down a live album to help fluff up their catalog or to give their fans something new to buy, but Walter used this opportunity to show all of us that he still loves his craft and that he is just as good as he ever was.

This show was recorded on November 28, 2015 at the Royal Theatre Carré in Amsterdam, and Trout was joined by the well-traveled Johnny Griparic on bass, as well as longtime band members Michael Leasure on drums and Sammy Avila on the Hammond B3 organ. You will also get to hear Walter’s son, Jon Trout on guitar and Andrew Elt on vocals and guitar. This is a tight crew who lay down an excellent groove that allows Trout to do what he does best. As always, there is no set list but there is nothing thrown at these professionals that they are not able to handle.

Walter’s wife (and manager) Marie kicks things off with a quick introduction, and the crowd gives the band a warm welcome before Trout gives them a strong dose of guitar pyrotechnics to lead into ”Help Me.” This heavy 12-bar blues track features plenty of Walter’s guitar and his unwavering vocals, along with a fine organ break from Avila. After this they run through a high-energy take of Luther Allison’s “I’m Back” followed up with a sweet tribute to the late B.B. King, “Say Goodbye To The Blues,” complete with some heartfelt personal remembrances. This song has been huge for him in the Netherlands, and the audience really showed their approval.

Then the band strings together a half-dozen songs from Battle Scars, including “Almost Gone,” “Omaha,” “Tomorrow Seems So Far Away,” “Playin’ Hideaway,” “Haunted By the Night,” and “Fly Away.” If you are not familiar with this material, it might be a good idea to give it a listen. These songs were written during Walter’s recovery, and they are breathtakingly personal and honest. Usually when fans come out to see an artist they want to hear all the old hits, but the crowd at this show was really tuned in and was very appreciative of this new material. What a magical evening!

One of the high points of the album is when an audience member calls out for “Marie’s Mood” and Walter responds, “OK, we’ll do that for you, we’re easy!” Trout is at his most melodic here, and his touch on the fretboard is sublime. Another cool moment is when Jon rocks out with his father for “Rock Me Baby” which really shines with two guitarists up front. As with the rest of this two-hour show, these tunes are well recorded with a slightly bass and drum heavy mix that emphasizes how gnarly this set is.

ALIVE in Amsterdam is a wonderful live album from Walter Trout and his band,and if you are a fan of his music, or hard guitar-driven blues-rock in general, it should be on your list of albums to purchase as soon as possible. It is available either as a two-disc set or as a collection of three heavy vinyl albums, and it will surely get more than one listen if you pick up your own copy. They are currently touring Europe, but will swing back through the United States in August before heading back overseas, so click through his website to see if he is playing near you. It will definitely be worth your time!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 14 

katie gullen cd imageKaty Guillen & The Girls – Heavy Days

VizzTone Label Group

10 tracks/42:06 minutes

On their sophomore album, Katy Guillen & The Girls powerfully deliver their signature blues rock, reaching out and grabbing us with their driving guitars and emotionally compelling lyrics and vocals. In these ten songs on Heavy Days, Genya Ravan meets Alvin Lee meets The Beatles as the trio works out themes of loss, loneliness, love gone wrong, or love that can’t bear the load of the enduring push and pull of a relationship. Guitarist Guillen penned five of the album’s songs; bassist Carrie Adams penned one song (“Cold Was the Night”), and drummer Stephanie Williams joins forces with Adams and Guillen on three songs; the band delivers its own take on Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go.” The trio arranged all the tunes.

“Driving to Wake Up” opens the album with a riff out of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business,” but the tune soon meanders off into a modulation that takes it lead from jazz more than rock. The band then veers off the road from the measured blues march with which the song begins into a frenetic, driving straight ahead rock and roll extended bridge that features Guillen’s blazingly nimble lead runs. The feverish music mirrors the lyrics that capture the distraction that comes with nightmares—”I suffered from a tainted batch of sleep/won’t you donate a restful night to me/driving just to wake up.”

“Heavy Days” opens with a riff from “Baby Please Don’t Go” but soon moves into a stomping rocker, punctuated by a momentary swooning chorus that functions almost as a dream sequence in the midst of an otherwise raucous tune that matches the singer’s emotional roller coaster. The heaviness operates on multiple levels, but it’s the falling that accompanies the weight, as well as both the uncertainty and freedom that accompanies the fall that Guillen’s screaming guitars bring to life.

“Waking Up from You” opens as a poppy ballad, with bright guitars and brighter vocals, but it turns up the heat in the chorus—with echoes of The Raiders’ “I’m Not You Stepping Stone”—with lyrics that smartly match the fervor of the guitars: “that intensity, so good, that you gave to me.” The tune’s structure reflects the twisting and turning that accompanies the bittersweet nature of the relationship.

The singer in “Don’t Need Anyone” struggles at first with a lover’s inattention but soon realizes that the lover doesn’t need anyone. At the same time, the song cuts both ways: the singer also tells herself that she really doesn’t need anyone. There are echoes of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” throughout the song, but especially in the bridge, where Guillen shows off her jazz scat, matching her vocals note-for-note with her leads.

The trio delivers a driving punk blues on “Can’t Live Here Anymore,” which features an Alvin Lee-like guitar solo from Guillen. The band slows down “Baby Please Don’t Go,” punctuating the ache and yearning of the song while retaining its gritty funkiness. In their transporting version, Duane Eddy and Johnny Winter meet soul blues. It’s one of the more compelling versions of the song out there. The album closes with a slow ballad, “Pulling Up from the Grooves,” carried along by Gullien’s crunchy jazz guitar; it’s a dreamy songscape that sounds like it could be off a late Beatles’ album, especially with the addition of Ryan Heinlein’s trombone.

Heavy Days further underscores Katy Guillen & The Girls’ already solid reputation for matching the perfect licks with the just-right lyrics. There’s beauty, there’s power, there’s moving emotion, and there’s simply down-to-the-bone rock and blues on this new album, and no song here disappoints.

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 14 

janiva magness cd imageJaniva Magness – Love Wins Again

Blue Elan/Fathead Records

11 tracks; 43 minutes

Janiva Magness is a frequent nominee and regular winner at the Blues Music Awards and her older body of work across labels such as Northern Blues and Alligator is well worth checking out. This is Janiva’s second independent release on her own label following 2014’s Original. Since then Janiva has remarried and is clearly extremely happy, the songs here being fiercely optimistic about relationships. Janiva has again worked with producer Dave Darling who had a hand in writing all but two of the eleven songs here and contributes guitar, bass and backing vocals throughout. Other musicians involved include Zach Zunis and Garret Deloian on guitar, Gary Davenport on bass, Matt Laug on drums, Ismael Pineda on percussion, Alfredo Ballesteros on sax and Phil Parlipiano and Arlan Schierbaum on keys. Backing vocalists include Brie Darling, Bernie Barlow, Gary Pinto and Janiva’s husband TJ Norton.

Whether the songwriter is Dave or Janiva (who contributed to five songs) the message remains consistently upbeat about her relationship. The title track sets the tone with a great melody, rousing chorus and soulful attack and that soul style continues on the impressive Memphis-style ballad “When You Hold Me” which adds some discreet sax work to the mix. If you want some James Brown style funk try “Your House Is Burnin’” with its insistent rhythm and smoldering guitar work but Janiva can handle a power ballad like “Say You Will” equally well and sounds positively seductive on the sexy “Real Slow”! In complete contrast “Just Another Lesson” finds Janiva backed by simple acoustic guitar which shows off the power and beauty of her voice. “Moth To A Flame” is a fine piece of Rn’B with echoey guitar and the slower-paced “Doorway” showcases the ‘choir’ of backing vocalists to good effect. The anthemic “Rain Down” is a big production with synth strings and a sweeping chorus which stretches Janiva’s vocals before the lone cover, a sparse reading of John Fogerty’s CCR song “Long As I Can See The Light” which really brings out the gospel overtones of the song with a fine piano solo and ringing baritone guitar. The closing track “Who Will Come For Me” retains that gospel feel to Janiva’s vocal as she contemplates time running out on us all, accompanied by some great sax and guitar.

This is far from a straight blues album but will certainly appeal to anyone who enjoys well-crafted songs and a strong singer who uses her voice effectively without recourse to histrionics.

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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 Graphic Design Help Wanted 

Can you help us improve our looks?

Blues Blast Magazine is looking for a person with good graphic design skills to help us with occasional design needs. Must have good layout and typography skills. Needs include designing t-shirts, posters, programs and web ads. Experience with web and print media necessary. “Blues wages” and high exposure for your work.

Also, we frequently have advertisers who need help designing ads for our magazine and could refer them to you as clients.

If interested please email with links to previous work online or to your portfolio. A resume is appreciated too.

Please be sure to include your phone number in your email reply.

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 2016 Chicago Blues Festival Part II 

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On the second day of the Chicago Blues Festival it was HOT, I mean VERY HOT outside. Temps were in the mid 90’s with sunny skies. The saving grace? There was some HOT Blues to see!

We started out at the Front Porch Stage to hear Chicago’s own Fernando Jones. Fernando is a real blues man and also a professor and Blues Ensemble director at Columbia College. He is also the founder of Blues Kids of America, Blues Kids Foundation and Blues Camp. Last but not least he is also a seasoned Chicago bluesman.

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Then it was off to the catch a couple songs by Tears And Drops, a band from Germany and Austria at the Windy City Blues Society Street Stage.

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Moving to the Crossroads Stage we got to hear a few songs of soulful gospel blues by Theo Huff.

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Then we headed back to the Front Porch Stage to hear Barrelhouse Chuck. However Chuck was ill and did not make it to the fest. We hope he is recovering but in his stead Billy Flynn and Westside Andy did a great job of filling in with some great Chicago blues.

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Next we got to hear a great group of Chicago pros at the Windy City Stage that included Taildragger on vocals, Bob Corritore on harp, Illinois Slim and Rockin’ Johnny on guitars, Bob Stroger on bass and Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith on drums. It doesn’t get much better than that!

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Next on our “must see” list was our friend Teeny Tucker at the Jackson Mississippi Stage. As usual Teeny and her band put on a super show!

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We next stopped to hear a few songs from Blues legend Lazy Lester. Lester is still in good form at the age of 83 years young!

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Then we stopped by the Windy City Stage for a couple songs by Gerald “the Soulkeeper” McClendon Band.

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It was time to head over to the Petrillo Music Shell to hear begin hearing the evening’s headliner artists and first up was Wee Willie Walker. Walker treated the crowd to some real soul and the crowd loved it.

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In betweens the headliner acts we headed over to the Windy City Stage to catch a few songs by a new up and coming Chicago blues artist, Ivy Ford. This gal can sing and play so check her out!

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The final headliner we heard was the soul queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas. Man this lady still has it and it was on full display. She was the perfect way to finish off the second day of the Chicago Blues Fest.

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Photos and commentary by Bob Kieser

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 14 

dave muskett cd imageDave Muskett Acoustic Blues Band – Live From The Slippery Noodle Inn

Self Release

13 songs – 48 minutes

Live From The Slippery Noodle Inn does pretty much was it says on the tin, featuring 12 original compositions, played with articulate acoustic accompaniment, subtlety, humour and no little emotional honesty, all recorded at The Slippery Noodle Inn in Indianapolis in November 2015. It’s also a little crackerjack of an album.

Dave Muskett was a semi-finalist at the 2014 International Blues Challenge, his duo, Muskett & Carnes, was a 2015 IBC Finalist and his talent is plain to see on this release. Heavily based around Muskett’s Piedmont-style finger picking, beautifully merged with simple bass, drums and harp accompaniment, Live From The Slippery Noodle provides a master class in well-written and well-played acoustic blues.

Given Muskett’s Piedmont influences, it is not surprising to hear the ragtime influence in upbeat numbers like “Ain’t My Good Girl Now”. The band also essays old-style Delta blues (albeit played with a modern day élan) in “Handyman Blues”, dancing shuffles like “Ain’t Got It All” (with its tongue-in-cheek refrain “Well, if you ain’t got it all, you ain’t got it all to lose”), the Big Bill Broonzy-esque “That Kind Of Walk”, the slide-driven “Rain Song” and “Sweet Mary Jane”, the grooving blues-rock of “Semi-Naked Shoe-Shine” and the Buddy Guy-style Chicago shuffle of the closing “You Gotta Know.”

Muskett sings in a warm, husky voice and alternates nicely between finger-picked accompaniment and single string solo lines. The majority of solos however are handled by Mark Carnes on harmonica, who is also an impressive supporting player, weaving melodies underneath and around the vocal lines. Supporting Muskett and Carnes are the driving rhythm section of Jay Arnold and the outstanding Charlie Bushor who lay back just enough off the beat to nail down a spare but groove-laden foundation.

Lyrically, Muskett is happy to employ traditional blues double entendres as in “Handyman Blues” (where he sings “Now come here baby, I’ll be your handyman. Yeah, I’ll be there in a hurry, baby, fast as a handyman can. If your back gets all rusty or your front porch has sprung a leak, I’ll be there in a hurry, baby and have you done in less than half a week”) or the singalong “Pet That Thing” with its engaging nod to Tampa Red’s “Play With Your Poodle.” He also writes with a sharp wit (as on “She Can’t Give Me The Blues”) as well as open-hearted emotion (on “Sweet Mary Jane”, which he introduces with the line “Let’s just say this is about an old girlfriend of mine that I talk to every day now…..”).

But while the lyrics and melodies of the vocals are obviously important, equally important is the groove and this is a very rhythmic recording. The listener is left in no doubt that the audience was up and dancing to the irresistible drive of the music.

Although clearly heavily influenced by the music of the ‘30s and ‘40s, the band attacks the songs with modern day enthusiasm and pace and the result is a highly enjoyable album. It has hints of Clapton’s Unplugged set in the casual yet professional ambience of the performance but Live From The Slippery Noodle Inn stands very much on its own merits and is a magnificent recording of what was clearly an outstanding night of music.

EDITOR”S NOTE: This album is nominated for Live Blues Album in the 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards. To stream some of the nominees songs click HERE.

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 – 5 of 14 

Cécile Doo-Kingué cd imageCécile Doo-Kingué – Anybody Listening Part 2: Dialogues

Self Release

12 tracks / 53:20

Cécile Doo-Kingué has got a lot going in her favor: she has a unique voice and killer guitar chops, a tremendous sense of musical history and social conscience, and mad songwriting skills. Making her own way in the world, she moved from the Big Apple to the City of Lights before choosing to ply her trade in Montreal, Canada. Her latest album, Anybody Listening Part 2: Dialogues, isthe most compelling disc to make its way across my desk this year, and it has to be heard to be believed.

This record is a continuation of last year’s Anybody Listening Part 1: Monologues, which was a solo acoustic project. As you will hear, Dialogues was cut with a full band, and there are plans for a part 3, Communion, which will be a live album. Part 2 includes a dozen tracks, all of which were written by Cecilé, with the exception of one Hendrix cover. Five of these songs appeared on Monologues and have been rearranged, which provides a cool bit of continuity. Ms. Doo-Kingué handled the vocals (as well as a great deal of the guitar, bass, and percussion), and she was joined by a baker’s dozen of musicians in the studio.

The album gets a strong start with some raunchy slide guitar and distorted vocals on “Riot and Revolution,” a song of social unease. The backline of Fredy V. on bass and Anthony Pageot sets up a driving beat, and the backing vocals from Malika Tirolean and Fredy on the chorus are infectious. CDK’s guitar work is very tight, and her inclusion of Reveille in the middle of her solo break indicates that maybe it is time for mankind to wake up and start doing something.

After the opener, Doo-Kingué takes another shot at four of the tracks from Part 1, and they all take on a different character when being converted from an acoustic format to an electrified band sound. It is neat that these songs have subjects that cover a wide range of situations that we encounter in one way or another in our lives. “Sweet Talkin’ Devil” is a thumping southern rocker that describes carnal longing and temptation. This is a cool contrast from the social disconnection that is run down in the jazzy “Anybody Listening,” which features bass from Cedric Dind-Lavoie and guitar from Daniel Joseph, as well as backing vocals from Nadia Bashalani and Wayne Tennant. Then there is the dichotomy of the humorous lyrics and funky blues-rock of “Little Bit” and the heavy message of “Six Letters” which examines the dysfunction that led to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner.

These songs are very good, but the new material for Dialogues is also rock solid. The standout track of these is “Sunshine Lady” which has a lot going on in the guitar department. Doo-Kingué has a fine acoustic touch, and adds tasteful electric riffs as needed as well as a sweet solo towards the end to counter Tirolean’s backing vocal calisthenics. Cécile’s voice also shows a lot of character here, moving from a smooth tenor to falsetto with ease.

Cécile saved the lone cover for last, and it is a neat re-do of Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 classic, “Manic Depression.” Her arrangement is uptempo and includes some elements of the original, most notably the jazz style drumming and the doubled guitar and bass lines. But the vocal style and melody are cool departures from the original, turning a heavy rocker into a funkfest.

Anybody Listening Part 2: Dialogues is a bold project, and Cécile Doo-Kingué pulled it off well. Though it has varied musical styles and subject matter, this album works well as a whole and every track is intriguing. It will be interesting to see how the material from this disc and Part 1 will be interpreted on the stage for Part 3. In the meantime, Cécile has a very busy summer, with shows and festivals scheduled all over Canada – so see her website for details!

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

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 Videos Of The Week – Bob Stroger 

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Bob Stroger – Just A Bad Boy – En Teatro York 6-12-2015.

Click on the image above to see this video.

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 Featured Blues Interview – Bob Stroger 

bobstroger pic 1Blues Blast spoke by phone with legendary musician Bob Stroger both before and after the 2016 Chicago Blues Festival. His speaking voice is remarkably similar in cadence and enunciation to that of the late Texas Bluesman, Sam “Lightnin” Hopkins. It’s eight in the morning and the eighty-six year old Dean of Chicago Blues bass is just getting around to his morning coffee. Ditto with the coffee on the West Coast where the call originates.

After completing the morning pleasantries we get down to the nitty. We start by discussing his associations in Europe and South America where he tours two or three times a year and generates a lot of press. Bob Stroger is a celebrated journeyman here in the states, but a virtual celebrity in Europe.

“I generally work with three bands when I’m out of the country. When I’m in Italy, I work with Luca Giordano’s band. Luca is actually here now to play the Chicago Blues Festival. When I’m in Switzerland I work with a guy named Bonny B. When I’m in South America, I work with a band called the Headcutters. I look at Europe as home away from home, ” he says with casual seriousness.

Bob Stroger stays busy. When asked about his activity in 2016 he admits to slowing down a tad, but only because he’s having work done on his house.

“Well, this year I kinda cooled down cuz I had to do some work on the house. I’m still quite busy. I’m doing several festivals this year including the Chicago Blues Festival and the King Biscuit Festival. Then I’m off to France and Switzerland. After Europe, I’ll come back home before I do Brazil, Argentina and Chile in South America.

My career has changed direction over the last 10 or twelve years. When Pinetop (Perkins) was alive, I preferred to get the call and go with various bands. But now, I’m more or less doing my own thing, I’m being pushed to do more recording as well as a lot more traveling. When I was working with Pinetop and those guys, I didn’t wanna cut no Cd. All I wanted to do was go up and down the road and play with them.”

Of course Stroger is talking about his tenures with Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Eddie King, Otis Rush and other potent stalwarts of the Chicagofied Delta Blues. Like many of his musical peers, the history of Bob Stroger is colorful and varied. When asked if he hung out at the Chess Records Studio in the old days he gives a synopsis of his career.

“Yes, I was kinda on the outside looking in. You know as youngsters we called ourselves trying to stretch out. When I started off, the Blues was my background.

“The first band we (he and his brother) started was called The Red Tops. After that band broke up, my brother formed another band. Back in those days you had to have a little name so uh, he kinda changed his name and called it the Joe Russell Blues Band. So it was my brother, who was the drummer for us back in those days.

After the Joe Russell Blues Band broke up, I went into trying to play a little Jazz with a guy who blowed saxophone by the name of George Foreman, I think it was. We didn’t get nowhere doing that. We then got with a guy named Eddie King, whom I met in about 1959. Eddie took over the band and we were playing the R&B side and then the Blues side. We had a whole revue with three woman singers. We performed as Eddie King and the Kingsmen.

bob stroger pic2We toured Alaska in the early ‘60s. I played with Eddie King for years. We became one of the hottest bands in Chicago along with the Jaguars, the Scott Brothers and the Wheeler Brothers band. We took a break for a couple of years when 5 of Eddies children were killed in a terrible house fire. The night of the fire we were working at the Eye Spy Lounge. When we came back together we called ourselves Eddie King and the Blues Machine. Eddie’s sister Mae Bee Mae sang lead. As it turned out, Eddie dissolved the band when he went on the road with Koko Taylor. I could’ve gone too, but I couldn’t quit my day job. Back then musicians weren’t making much money and I had a pretty good job. When Eddie went with Koko, I took about a three year break from music. I had been with him so long, I didn’t think I could play with anyone else. Eddie and I remained good friends until he passed on. In a few weeks as a matter of fact, we are going down to do a tribute CD to Eddie King. His old friend Johnny Drummer and I are going to St. Louis to record it. That’s my next project coming up after the Chicago Blues Festival, before I head out again.

I stayed around Chicago and eventually started working with Otis Rush. My friend Jesse Green who was Otis Rush’s drummer at that time, told Otis about me when his bass player left for California. I did my first job with Otis at a place called the Peanut Valve in Old Town Chicago. I stayed with Otis about eight years.”

These days, Bob Stroger is fully able to handle his own business without a contracted manager or agent. “I handle all my business myself. I work with different agents but I never sign exclusively with one. I have a guy I use in South America who gets me jobs down there. If you get me a festival, I’ll pay you a commission. This way I’m not hung up and can freelance and go where I wanna go, you know.

It’s also exciting to have guys working for me. Luca, DK and those guys get things together for me in Italy. I have Bonny B in Geneva. That’s the way I work it. I do mainly festivals, even here in the states. Not too many clubs anymore. When I’m home in Chicago I do a few, but I still do my own thing.

Getting back to the query about Chess records, he reveals that he eventually, he played there, after the Dixon family bought it and named it Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven.”Yeah, I ain’t been in there in quite a while, but I pass by it just about every day when I’m in town. I’ve got to stop by there and see them. I used to work down there on Wednesdays with a band.

I’m not signed to any label either. I didn’t wanna get on that end; people tellin’ me what to do, what to sing, what to play and all that. I kinda like being my own boss. I work where and when I wanna. It’s as simple as that. Me and Kenny Smith were just talking about how when you get on a label, the royalties can disappear and you don’t get paid. But, if you do it on your own, if you don’t make nothing, you don’t get nothing. But, if you do make something, everything is yours. I’m too old now to be going through that. If people don’t know me by now, they’ll never know me. I ain’t got rich in all these years. All I want to do is enjoy. I’m comfortable where I’m at right now.”

Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith is the son of the late Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Like his dad, Kenny is a drummer. Last year Bob Stroger and Kenny Smith teamed up to release a Cd together. Of their association Bob states, “We kinda got this thing together, you know, from father to son. I worked with Willie for years and now I’m working with Kenny. It’s just a pleasure for me to do this. Kenny and I had been talkin’ about it and he thought we should do a tribute to his dad. I actually had an offer to do another CD, but I decided I’d rather do it for family. Willie was like family to me and Kenny and I decided to do it as a tribute to him. Keepin’ the line together.”

The name of the CD is aptly named Keepin’ It Together. Bob Stroger explains the genesis of the project this way:

bob stroger pic3“There’s a song on that CD entitled “In My House,” that Kenny, in the liner notes gives songwriting credit to his late dad, because it came to him in a dream. That’s what kinda started the project off. Kenny Smith said Willie came to him with that song. Everything in that CD is about our lives.“

Indicative of the Blues bond the men share is the song on the album that Kenny wrote for Bob. The track is title “He Took Her.” Kenny sings it and his voice becomes the narrative lament of a man from whom Bob Stroger took his woman.

“Yeah, Kenny wrote that for me, ” chuckles Bob. “He surprised me with it at the studio. That was a fun song.”

With that tidbit, the discussion turns to a relatively late development in Bob’s career – songwriting. “I’m just beginning to do it. You know, in this business you don’t wanna get burned out doing one thing so when you do start to get burned out you try to do something to keep you really pumped up. So now in my later years, I’ve started to try to sing some, you know that’s like learning all over again. That’s a challenge. I just love challenges. I’m fighting a challenge now – singing and doing a little songwriting! I keep a notebook on my nightstand to jot things down if they come to me in the night. Yeah, if something comes through it’s there. I mean, I got notes everywhere. In the car, if something comes up, I start to hummin’ and then write it down. Then I come back, put it all together and see if I can work with it.

Ooh! It’s a job. It’s a challenge. It takes a lot away from playing the bass but I love it. I laugh at myself and I’m still trying to do it. The person who started me doing it was (the late) Willie Kent. He could play and sing so well. I figured I could do it too. I played with him when I first started out in the Joe Russell Blues Band . I will never be a singer’s singer. It’s just a challenge learning to do it. It keeps me going, you know.

“On the Keepin’ It Together album, I wrote “That’s My Name,” “My First Love,” “Come On Home, ” Sweet So Sweet” and ” Born In Missouri.” I’ve got three or four Cd’s that I’ve got songs written on. But songwriting has never been my thing. All the songwriting I’ve done has kinda been forced on me. I’ve always just wanted to play music. The first Cd I did where I wrote was called Bob’s In The House and was recorded in Switzerland at the Lucerne Blues Festival. Big Daddy Fritz, who used to be the boss of the Lucerne Blues Festival wanted to do a Cd on me, so that’s how that came about.

Guido is now the promoter of that festival and we are doing it again this year. We actually started that festival off when I was with Mississippi Heat in about 1995. The acoustic player Robert Belfour was also on the bill. It was held at a Roller Rink.

We turn a sharp corner in the conversation and talk about the continuing kaleidoscope of players that have paraded through his life: “Yeah, I was down in Phoenix recently and recorded a CD with Taildragger. He’s a character.

Back in the day, Carrie Bell and I toured Europe together. Lurrie Bell was a young boy then, about 16 years old. That was the American Folk Blues Festival Tour produced by Horst Lippman. There was Willie Mabon, Eddie Taylor, Odie Payne. We all did that together.

bob stroger pic 4Jr. Wells was another character. We had a lot of fun together. He liked to back up and do the James Brown.

We pause to ponder a quote from Jim Moore, former manager of Big Mama Thornton and current manager of Sugar Pie DeSanto. The quote was about how Memphis Slim was living like a king in Paris when Big Mama played the American Folk Blues Festival in 1964 or ’65. Bob also considered moving to Europe. “Yeah, well I thought about it back in the day. There was a guy in Norway who tried to convince me to move there. Norway was a home away from home.I might’ve been a rich man too, over there, but I had too much going on here in the States at the time. Even now, I’d like to go, but I have a home here and would have to give up too much to live over there.”

We also examine the quote from book Today’s Chicago Blues, written by Karen Hansen where she notes Bob Stroger’s trademark natty apparel. She quotes Stroger as saying that your manner of dress shows respect and appreciation for the music you love. “I came up old school, you know? Dressing the part. You knew who the musicians were when they walked in. For example, if you’re a lawyer don’t go to court in blue jeans, you dress respectably. That’s the way I feel about the music. I’m doin’ something that everybody’s not doin’ and I respect it. I want to dress the part. Not in run over shoes or dirty blue jeans. That’s not showin’ respect for what you love or where you came from.”

We can’t let Bob Stroger getaway without talking about what type of bass he prefers. He also touches on the legendary homemade bass prototype, the plank. “I have three basses. I have a red ’69 Fender Jazz bass that I’ve been playing since the beginning of time. It is the second bass I ever owned. Sometimes you might see me playing my black 60 P bass but my Jazz bass I’ve had almost my whole career. I should retire it but it wouldn’t do me no good sitting on the wall. I carry it all over the world with me. I’m very comfortable with it.

The plank came from Elmore James or Homesick James, I’m not sure which. It was made of wood and was homemade from an old guitar into a bass. We couldn’t afford a bass. It was given to us by Elmore or Homesick. If I still had it, it would be a collector’s item. It’s what I first started playing on. I gave it to a guy named Bobby Hudson who played with Willie Mabon.”

In an interesting bit of Blues trivia it should be noted that Mr. Stroger has appeared in two films. The first is titled The Perfect Age of Rock & Roll, released in 2009 When asked about it, Bob’s response is modest.

“We did that film before some of the legends passed away. Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and myself are all part of that film. We play ourselves as a bar band. Director Spike Lee was somehow also affiliated with it. It didn’t do too much when it was released but I’m told it has been trying to do something in places like Texas and overseas.”

While researching that film, we find that there is a spinoff entitled Sidemen – Long Road To Glory that was just released in April of 2016. Bob Stroger’s stock continues to climb. We placed another call to Mr. Stroger the week following the 2016 Chicago Blues Festival asking him how it was. ” It was great, great, great. It was really touchin’, you know? The tribute for Otis Clay was really touchin’. It really made my year. It was really a great thing. We weren’t workin’ off charts, we were workin’ off what came to us.”

CyberSoulMan Tee Watts is music director at KPFZ 88.1 fm in Lakeport, California. His radio show, Redemption Songs, airs Sunday and Wednesday mornings from 5-7a.m. PST, 7-9 a.m. CST, 8-10 a.m. EST at is road manager for Sugar Pie DeSanto, the last Queen standing from the glory years of Chess Records.

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 14 

Slinky & P’tit Loup cd imageSlinky & P’tit Loup – Movin’ On

Self-produced CD

10 songs – 33 minutes

Slinky Williams and her life partner, P’tit Loup (French for Little Wolf), are an enigmatic pair of string players who lay down a funky mix of acoustic blues with a light, breezy feel no matter what the source of their material, which ranges from New Orleans funk to Duke Ellington and modern blues.

Background information on the duo is sketchy at best. They’re veterans of the European music scene, and are based in Germany despite their roots, which appear to be French and American. Slinky handles most of the vocals while adding mandolin, while she and P’tit Loup double on guitar and percussion. Partners in life as well as on stage, they’ve been making music together since 1972, when they worked in Folk Omnibus, a trio influenced by the folk music movement in Great Britain.

They produced two subsequent LPs with the band Gurnemanz before switching gears to play world music and one disc with the band GAIA. They played rock and jazz during the ‘90s before forming the blues-rock unit, The Xperts. They’ve been working as a duo for the past few years, serving up heaping helpings of old-time blues, swing and jazz while demonstrating prowess on the fretboard. And they recorded Movin’ On at home. Since laying down these tracks, they’re now working with a bass player when on the road.

First up is a cover of Art Neville’s “Cha Dooky-Do.” It’s a tender love song that’s enhanced by Slinky’s alto vocal, which glides from note to note. P’tit Loup answers her lyrics with work on electric guitar. A straight-ahead acoustic version of Jimmy Vivino’s modern classic, “Beat Up Guitar,” follows. The duo’s playing is never forced and slightly behind the beat, driving the music forward.

A cover of another Crescent City standby, Doctor John and Doc Pomus’ “Dance The Night Away With You,” is delivered with an old-time feel as Slinky and P’tit Loup deliver it as a duet. A pair of originals follow. “Movin’ On” provides a platform for each of the artists to deliver a vague verse about their own mysterious origin before teaming up for the chorus, while “The Girl With The Broken Heart” features Slinky on vocals and mandolin in a modern number with a throwback feel.

Louis Jordan’s “Early In The Morning” follows with the familiar refrain “…and I ain’t got nothin’ but the blues…” before the duo make Ellington’s “Sweet Mama” their own with an acoustic blues presentation. Two more originals — “You’re A No Good Man,” a minor-key blues, and “Danser Le Swing,” delivered in French, — follow before a cover of the Professor Longhair standard, “Tipitina,” closes the set.

Available as a download from iTunes or Amazon or by contacting the artists directly (address above), Movin’ On is a sweet confection that melts in your mind too quickly and leaves you wanting more.

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 – 7 of 14 

anni piper cd imageAnni Piper – More Guitars Than Friends

Sugar Daddy Records – 2015

10 tracks; 38 minutes

Australian Anni Piper is now based in Florida where her latest CD was recorded. Anni plays bass and handles lead vocals with Dave Krury on guitar and Frank Hetzler on drums. This is mainly a trio album but the band is joined on some tracks by Mike Franklin on keyboards and on a few tracks by a horn section of Charlie de Chant on sax and Sam Zambito on trumpet. Anni, Dave and Frank wrote most of the material and there are three interesting covers: Rosco Gordon’s “Just A Little Bit” has been done by Etta James and Magic Sam amongst many others; Anni and the band do a solid job here with some tough guitar from Dave; Memphis Slim’s “I’m Lost Without You” is a far less covered song and Anni’s version is excellent with her breathy vocals over a warm rhumba rhythm, the band swinging on the chorus; once recorded by Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women,

“Cold Pizza And Warm Beer” is great fun with Dave’s emphatic riff and amusing lyrics about having a really good time: “it’s just the morning after, I don’t remember who was there, I’ll eat a slice of cold pizza and wash it down with warm beer”. The song name checks Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight as being part of the musical background and Dave takes a great Keith Richards style solo to top off the tune.

The cover artwork shows Anni dressed in a slinky see-through dress on the front and a retro bikini on the back. Both images should be taken tongue-in-cheek as Anni demonstrates on the originals that she has quite a sense of humour. Opener “Wonder Woman” starts with Anni’s bass prominent in the mix and funny lyrics: “I caught you in my lariat of truth; I’m a wonder woman – I wonder what I saw in you”. “Buckle Bunny” is also comic with Anni’s desire for a cowboy type of guy: “chaps in chaps is my number one fantasy”! “Paper Bag” is almost the opposite with Anni clearly not impressed by a potential love rival: “When you lay with that hag, she must need a paper bag”. Musically this is a good tune too with the horns adding drive and swing.

“Shotgun Wedding” takes us into Caribbean territory with a lilting rhythm and calypso guitar, Anni’s guy having “not had a clue” with the result of “what folks round here call a shotgun wedding”. The band gives us a good piece of rock and roll on “Eugene” which has lots of fun rhymes in another tale of love gone wrong: “Eugene, I know just where you’ve been. When you left with my cousin she was a virgin, yes you fixed that, you needed no urgin’”. The song also features some great Rn’R piano and guitar stylings from Mike and Dave. “Blackberry Brandy” has a country feel as Anni explains the attraction of her favorite tipple with Mike’s rolling piano a feature.

To show that not all her songs are comic the title song “More Guitars Than Friends” recounts the sadness behind the star’s façade of the good life. The tune recalls “St James Infirmary” and works well with the horns adding some subtle accents on the chorus and plenty of guitar allusions in the lyrics (“I’m too tightly wound in my strings”; “I’m wrapped up in my strings and cables”).

This is an entertaining album with some fine comic songs, a good vocalist and solid musicianship.

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 – 8 of 14 

the jumpin' bones cd imageThe Jumpin’ Bones – Marrow

7 songs/21.44 minutes

It is always an interesting pleasure to listen to blues music performed by a non-U.S. band. One of the most appealing things about the blues is that it was born of many different styles of roots music and that it still travels the globe being performed, reinvented and interpreted by musicians from diverse nations. The blues continues to be a universal language – which is very refreshing in today’s world and very exciting for the growth of the musical genre.

The Jumpin’ Bones are a rhythm and blues band from Athens, Greece. The band, as it presently exists, was formed in 2014 by three men who have been friends since childhood. They are: Orestis Tsikouris on vocals and harmonica, Dimitris Dakopoulos on guitar, Konstantinos Aloupis on bass and Spiros Gavalas on drums. Tsikouris, Dakopoulos and Aloupis played together in various bands during college. After years apart, they reunited in 2011 as The Blues Meanies, a self-described heavy blues-rock band. As the Blues Meanies, they played many clubs in Athens and released a promising song demo. Gradually, they transitioned towards rhythm and blues and away from blues-rock, adding drummer Gavalas and touring as The Jumpin’ Bones. They have gathered a following in the Greek blues scene, playing large clubs and festivals including a tribute to B.B. King and most recently the international Blues for Peace Project. In the Fall of 2015, they recorded Marrow, an independent seven-song CD at Lizard Sound Studios in Athens, Greece.

When presented with this unique CD, which you must pull from a skull’s jaw to play, your curiosity is sparked as to what listening experience the music will provide. The packaging is quite alluring, with a bare skull on the front, the CD – biting jaw inside and stark colors of orange and black. The music is quite a treat, best described as a raw throwback to early sixties rockabilly with a twist of jump blues and boogie. The CD has a strong connection to the Door’s blues sound, especially “Little Big Man” which is reminiscent of “Roadhouse Blues” and “Love Her Madly”. Even Tsikouris’s deep, emotive vocals are similar to Jim Morrison’s sound.

The skill of Tsikouris ‘s harmonica playing and the great harmonica riffs in the songs are the unifying force in this CD. He plays the harmonica almost like a slide guitar, it glides and soars through the songs and pulls perfect notes out just long enough to hold on and ride with him. The first track on the CD, “T.I.N.A. Boogie”, with a bouncy boogie beat, strong vocals and hopping harmonica riffs, is a perfect lead-in to the rest of the tracks. On top of the skilled rockabilly and boogie drumming of Gavalas in songs like “Gonna Have to Pay” and “Stop Worrying Babe”, the CD has a very enjoyable, throwback sound. This is pretty much what the CD delivers, a nice trip back to the early sixties.

All of the songs were written by the band members except for the “Spider-Man Theme” which has been spun into an old school boogie number with catchy harmonica riffs and a beat that holds on like a fly in a web. This one will stick with you for awhile. One of the strongest songs on the CD, “Hell I Feel Alright”, written by Aloupis (the bass player) has a sticky, swampy intro. It is a slower song with a bass line that does an excellent job of balancing the drums and guitar playing under lyrics that plead “I’ve got nothin but my heart”. This song creatively mixes styles while delivering the blues. “Drummers Heart Blues” is a colorful track. The song tells the story of a drummer who had an “island girl” steal his heart. The drumming in the song is used for emotive effect with transitions and tempo changes that blow the harmonica solos into blues’ bliss.

For the band’s first CD, this is a very enjoyable and worthy effort. The sound at some points is more garage-band than stage suave, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is refreshing to hear a band re-creating the raw, early sixties rocksbilly sounds and even earlier jump blues and boogie blues. The feel is fresh, the harmonica is excellent and the CD delivers seven songs you will want to listen to again. The CD is available on, iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify and Bandcamp.

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 – 9 of 14 

alexis p sutercd imageAlexis P. Suter Band – All For Loving You

American Showplace Music ASM7006

11 songs – 43 minutes

There’s no mistaking Alexis P. Suter, the petite, but ultra-powerful singer, when she approaches the microphone. Her delivery simply is like no other, as this intensely intimate album reveals once again.

The daughter of a postal worker father and teacher mother, a vocalist who studied at Julliard and also sang backup for Harry Belafonte, Mahalia Jackson and others, Alexis grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., in a church and gospel background, which is clearly evident in her commanding presence.

But what truly separates her from the pack is her voice. And, man, what a voice it is! She’s one of the few ladies on the planet who delivers her tunes in full-on baritone or bass as she sings from the bottom of her soul.

A childhood drummer and sousaphone player, Alexis fell in love with the blues the first time she heard it at nine years old. When she and her parents were vacationing in New Orleans, she literally barged in on a rehearsal by the Mills Brothers, the quartet known as the Four Kings Of Harmony, a group that sold more than 50 million copies of the 2,000 recordings released in a 54-year career. Harry Mills, the lead singer, was so taken by her sense of wonder that he invited the family to the group’s concert that night, and the rest is history.

Suter sang in choirs and at small clubs in her youth before emerging as a recording artist in the house/dance realm in 1990, beginning a long relationship with Hipbone Records, a leader in the field, which continues today. She transitioned to soul and rock-tinged blues in 2005 with the release Shuga Fix on the Hipbone imprint. All For Loving You is her second release on American Showplace. She’s joined here by her regular band: guitarist Jimmy Bennett, drummer Ray Grappone, bassist Peter Bennett and backup vocalist Vicki Bey, who’s also a principal in the Hipbone organization. Contributing to the mix is keyboard player John Ginty, who, like Alexis, is a regular nominee for honors in the blues.

Ben Elliott produced, mastered and mixed the CD.  Three of the 10 originals here were written by Suter with the balance of the songs were written by Jimmy Bennett and Peter Bennett and Bell, who co-wrote two and contributed another. The end result is an in-your-face collection of new tunes that deliver a powerful message while having you up and dancing, too. The album fires out of the starting gate with a howl before Alexis launches into her need for introspection in “Talk To Myself,” delivered atop a steady, strong medium-paced shuffle. Next up, “Can’t Find A Reason” questions why a relationship that ended in tears ever started to begin with.

“Another Place And Time” is a slow blues with gospel overtones that features Jimmy’s guitar in a lengthy introduction. It speaks to the inability to say goodbye to someone who might have been the perfect mate in a different situation. “All For Loving You” follows with images of wealth, prosperity and peace as a comparison to the depths of emotion felt for the object of the singer’s affection.

Jimmy comes to the fore again to kick off the medium-fast straight-ahead blues shuffle “Livin’ In A World,” which questions why a lover’s rejecting Alexis’ affection. The pace slows dramatically for the ballad “Fool For You,” about being unable to split from a relationship even though warned by friends, before the band gets funky for “Don’t Ya’ Tell,” in which Suter insists: “Five o’clock in the mornin’/Five minutes to spare/Don’tcha tell nobody/That you saw Big Mama here!”

The rhythm section propels the rocker “So Long,” a complaint about being driven crazy by a desire to “get back over you” before the optimistic “Circumstance” addresses living within one’s means despite being victimized. The final original, “Every Shut Eye,” about overhearing a cheating man talking on the phone, precedes a cover of the Beatles’ “Let It Be,” which concludes the set.

Available through Amazon, iTunes and other retailers, All For Loving You is a rock-solid production from beginning to end and a worthy addition to your collection if your tastes run to contemporary blues, and Alexis’ seemingly rough-hewn vocals are as sweet as they are strong.

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 – 10 of 14 

robert hunter band cd imageRobert J. Hunter Band – Before The Dawn

Self-produced CD

10 songs – 43 minutes

Born in the south of England and based out of London, Robert J. Hunter fronts a three-piece power blues-rock trio that features his gruff vocals atop a musical tapestry filled with the unique sound of his often overdriven guitar.

This is the second release for Hunter, a multi-instrumentalist who doubles on keys and bills his music as dirty rhythm-and-blues. His first album, Songs For The Weary, was well received in the UK and featured a single, “Demons,” that reached the top of the British iTunes blues charts. He’d worked in support of a wide range of diverse talents, including The Animals, Wilko Johnson and Eddie & The Hotrods.

Hunter is backed here by Greg Sheffield on drums, percussion, piano and organ and James Le Huray on bass, mandolin, percussion and keys. Both sidemen provide backing vocals on the disc, which was produced, engineered and mixed by Andy “Hippy” Baldwin. An artist as well as a musician, Hunter also created and designed the sleeve himself in addition to writing all of the material.

Available through most online retailers, the album kicks off with “They Think That I’m Fine,” a driving medium-paced blues atop a repeating guitar hook. The vocals are slightly buried in the mix as Hunter sings about personal troubles hidden from the world. The tune flows straight into “Rumour Mill” via a modulated six-string bridge as it conveys the message that neighbors all know your secrets in a one-horse town. A simple hook propels the beat before Hunter launches a brief solo before returning to the root.

The tempo slows and wall of sound diminishes briefly before slowly building again for “Preacher,” a ballad on which the singer’s vocal skills are fully revealed and he recounts a brush with death and realization of what he truly needs in life. “Three Shake Fold” is a funky blues that deals with the revelation that the singer’s taking too much time loving his lady. It’s followed by another view of romance, “Scared Of Loving You,” in which he’s wary because he’s been used by others in the past.

The ballad “Breakdown” follows and is delivered from the position of someone who’s been stripped down to his essence and comes face-to-face with his flaws and the desire to become a better man, while “Feathers” describes the mental hell and physical ills resulting from the deterioration of a relationship that has just one more chance to survive. It features an extended mandolin solo from De Huray and some truly dark lyrics describing his suffering.

That tune bleeds into “Crows,” about “a chewed up mind” having a way of its own, before Hunter gets funky again for “Running Gun,” about picking one’s self up and starting over again, before the bluesy rocker “Draw The Line” concludes the set.

If you’re a fan of modern blues-rock and would like something truly different, this one’s right for you. The material is fresh and the words strong, although occasionally obscured. I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to the blues and Before The Dawn truly is outside of my comfort zone. But I enjoyed it nonetheless.

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 – 11 of 14 

luther dickinson cd imageLuther Dickinson – Blues & Ballads: A Folksinger’s Songbook, Volumes I and II

New West Records

CD: 21 Songs, 60:14 Minutes

Styles: Traditional Acoustic Blues and Folk

Once in a blue moon – or, in the case of 2016’s Summer Solstice, a strawberry moon – a traditional acoustic blues album comes along that turns fans’ hearts toward the genre’s early days so powerfully that they’d forsake all current “music” for such times to return. To make a long sentence short: this is it. Mississippi’s Luther Dickinson, of the North Mississippi All-Stars, pours his all into Blues & Ballads: A Folksinger’s Songbook, Volumes I and II. Technically, this is a blues and folk album. Purists might not like it, because they want to be reminded of Jim Jackson instead of Jackson Browne. Nevertheless, if listeners close their eyes, they might believe Luther’s twenty-one original tracks were recorded in the early 20th century, not the early 21st.

In the Editorial Reviews section of the album’s site on, Dickinson is quoted: “Blues and Ballads, this acoustic collection of songs interpreted simply, recorded live, solo or with a small group of friends, celebrates my relationship between music, songs, the written word and legacy…I represent the Memphis underground and the mid-south region’s music. This art is not for the masses. It is meant to wither and fade and then rise from the ashes again and again, evolving and mutating.”

With Luther on guitar, vocals, mandolin, piano, and coffee can diddley-bo are Sharde Thomas on drums, fife and vocals; Amy LaVere on upright bass and vocals; Lillie Mae Rische on fiddle and vocals; Charles Hodges on B3 organ and piano; Paul Taylor on tub bass; Jimmy Crosthwait on washboard, cardboard box and maracas; Sharisse and Shontel Norman on vocals; Will Sexton on drums and acoustic guitar; special guest star Mavis Staples on vocals; JJ Grey on vocals; Jason Isbell on slide guitar; Dominic Davis on upright bass; Boo Mitchell on “love and happiness conga”; Alvin Youngblood Hart on guitar and vocals; and Jimbo Mathus on banjo and vocals.

It’s truly impossible to pick the three best songs on this CD, but yours truly shall attempt it.

Track 03: “Bang Bang Lulu” – This serpentine, tongue-in-cheek shuffle features piano, fiddle, and guitar hotter than Hades. Its chorus isn’t tepid, either: “Bang, bang, Lulu – don’t bang away so strong. What you gonna do for bangin’ when Lulu’s dead and gone?” If it doesn’t get people up and dancing, nothing will. Track three is the kind of voodoo-magic tune that makes people wonder if some artists do sell their souls to play the blues.

Track 08: “Ain’t No Grave” – Mavis Staples displays commanding vocal prowess on a dynamite duet with Dickinson. The theme of their waltzing ballad is familiar yet comforting: Death does not have the final say when it comes to our loved ones. “I would hope to be as brave as he was on judgment day. Ain’t no grave hold his body down. Ain’t no grave hold his body down.” This song is haunted. So shall anyone be who hears and ponders it.

Track 15: “Mojo, Mojo” – Speaking of voodoo, where does a blues artist’s inspiration go when it vanishes? Our narrator desperately wants to know: “Mojo, mojo, where you been? ‘Been to hell and back, and back again.’ Mojo, mojo, where’d you go? ‘Believe me, son, you don’t want to know.’” The best thing about this song is the eerie guitar, whom some might imagine is being strummed by a skeletal hand.

There’s an old saying that “true art never sells,” but Blues & Ballads should go platinum!

EDITOR”S NOTE: This album is nominated for Acoustic Blues Album in the 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards. To stream some of the songs click HERE.

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 – 12 of 14 

john mckinley band cd i,ageJohn McKinley – Window On The World

Self-produced CD

12 songs – 50 minutes

Now based in Kitchener, Ontario, a short drive from Toronto, singer/guitarist/songwriter John McKinley certainly must have a different outlook now than he did growing up in Roswell, N.M., as the title of this debut CD seems to indicate.

Influenced by Freddie King, Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa and Robben Ford as well as Texas rockers ZZ Top, McKinley cut his teeth in the rich music scene of the American Southwest, but relocated to the Canadian city in the ‘80s when bassist Pino Palladino – who’s worked with David Gilmour, Pete Townshend and Peter Gabriel – invited him to join his band. Despite being the front man on an album here for the first time in his 50s, he’s beloved in his adopted hometown both for his playing ability and his willingness to mentor younger musicians.

His playing style touches on Texas-style blues-rock and groove/funk while incorporating a strong dose of Latin influence because of his Mexican-American roots. A 2013 recipient of the Mel Brown Award at the Kitchener Blues Festival – named for the legendary bluesman who also called the city home – McKinley wrote all of the material on Window On The World, assisted by son Darius, who handles bass duties.

Rounding out the three-piece unit is veteran drummer Ben Rollo with special guest appearances by engineer Craig McNair and producer/engineer Darryl Romphf and The Divines – Danica Guenette, Wendy Tozer and Emily Barkley — (backing vocals), Danny Castro (percussion), Scott Galloway (keyboards), Melissa Barry (violin), and Rachel Lee Cousineau (vocal on the traditional Native American song “Nibi,” which is incorporated to conclude the final cut). Although uncredited in the liner notes, Romphf also contributes on second guitar.

McKinley wastes no time putting his six-string mastery on display for the first cut, “Dirty Nails.” He explodes out of the box with an extended solo in the song, which is an instrumental blues-rocker. The band gets funky for “One A Ponce A Time,” delivered with nursery rhyme imagery and the drums high in the mix as it describes problems in a relationship with the instruction to follow your heart. Despite the differences in attack from one tune to the next, they fit seamlessly.

“Welfare Mama” is another rocker in Lone Star vein with a Zappa-style guitar solo. In it, McKinley wryly hopes that the woman’s brought her government check. The psychedelic instrumental “Stratitude” precedes “Cuando Yo Me Voy (I’m Outta’ Here),” in which rock meets Mexico head on. Another powerful contribution from the rhythm section drives “Rev It Up” before McKinley’s attack softens again for the loping blues “Keep The Door Cracked Open,” a promise to return home.

The slow blues “P-Nutt-Butt-Ah” describes how a $100 woman and a $50 man meet in the middle to execute their financial plan before the fast shuffle “Life’s A Bitch” relates how different folks describe personal troubles. It contrasts dramatically with “Cool Night Breeze,” a melodic medium shuffle propelled by slide guitar. The Texas-style rocker “Passionate Man” and “Ontarian Song,” an instrumental for McKinley’s new homeland that combines acoustic and electric elements, conclude the set.

Available as a download through iTunes or as a CD through a link on the band website (address above), Window On The World proves that McKinley has plenty to say with his six-string, interspersing one style of music with another. After 30-plus years on stage, it’s about time. Interesting throughout.

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 – 13 of 14 

blind willie johnson tribute cd imageThe Songs of Blind Willie Johnson – God Don’t Never Change

Alligator Records

11 songs – 42 minutes

71 years after his death at the age of just 48, having recorded only 30 tracks for Columbia Records in a three period from 1927 to 1930, and leaving only a single photograph of himself, Blind Willie Johnson remains the gold standard of bottleneck guitar playing. He put such a distinctive individual stamp on his music that it is easy to forget that the majority of his repertoire comprised traditional gospel songs, religious hymns and old “Negro spirituals”. When the space probe Voyager 1 was launched in 1977, it contained a record of some of the greatest recorded music on Planet Earth, as a representation of our highest artistic achievements. The recorded included (amongst others) Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F”, the Australian aboriginal songs “Morning Star” and “Devil Bird”, the Indian raga, “Jaat Kahan Ho” – and Johnson’s “Dark Was The Night – Cold Was The Ground”, an apt acknowledgement of his other-worldly touch, tone, and searing emotional honesty. No less an authority than Ry Cooder has called this track “the most transcendent piece in all American music.”

Now producer Jeffrey Gaskill has released a tribute to Johnson, featuring a number of contemporary roots music’s finest artists covering 11 different Johnson songs, and the result is simply outstanding. Tom Waits, whose thunderous gravel voice carries echoes of Johnson’s own ragged and intense tenor vocals, contributes “The Soul Of A Man” and “John The Revelator.” Lucinda Williams lends her tired and weary voice to “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “God Don’t Never Change.” Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi opt for a relatively faithful interpretation of “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning” while the Cowboy Junkies produce a remarkable version of “Jesus Is Coming Soon” that mixes samples of Johnson’s original with a modern rock edge to produce something wonderful and quite unique.

Johnson refused to play blues music, singing only religious songs, although the call and response of gospel music was at the heart of his music as well as many blues songs of the era, a fact emphasized by The Blind Boys of Alabama’s reading of “Motherless Children Have A Hard Time” and Sinead O’Connor’s reading of “Trouble Will Soon Be Over” as it slowly builds to its powerful climax. There are surprises on the album too, such as Luther Dickinson’s version of “Bye And Bye I’m Going To See The King”, which features the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band to lend a lean Mississippi edge. Maria McKee highlights the optimism in “Let Your Light Shine On Me” with glorious barrel house piano joining in half-way through and Rickie Lee Jones taps into Johnson’s loneliness and desperation in the gloriously worn reading of “Dark Was The Night” that closes the set.

Gaskill deserves great credit for pulling this project together. While Johnson’s own timeless and impassioned performances may never be bettered, his popularity for some reason remains significantly less than that of his near-contemporary and namesake, Robert. With luck, this release will help to direct new listeners to some of the greatest music ever recorded. For anyone who already knows and loves the music of Blind Willie Johnson, this record is a not only a fitting and loving tribute to the man, but also a superb CD that stands on its own merits. An essential purchase.

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 – 14 of 14 

black cat groove cd imageBlue Cat Groove – Too Much Talk

Self-produced CD

10 songs – 37 minutes

Blue Cat Groove is a collection of four award-winning veteran musicians based in Worcester, Mass., who deliver their own brand of rock-flavored rhythm-and-blues.

Assembled two years ago and led by guitarist Samuel Bowen, the band has become a regional favorite at clubs and festivals, and just missed out on 2015 Band Of The Year honors in awards sponsored by Limelight Magazine, the web-based entertainment publication that covers the entire New England region.

The unit is fronted by vocalist Kimberly Hodgens-Smith, a Nashville native, who possesses a dynamic alto voice. She was formerly a member of Crossfire, the Southern rock band based in Knoxville, Tenn., and is a founding member of Trophies Of Grace. Bowen doubles on electric and acoustic guitars. They’re backed by a rhythm section of Jeff “The Doctor” Oosterman on bass and Ohio native Vinnie “Cleveland” Depolo on drums, and all three of the men contribute backing vocals. Alan Handel makes a guest appearance on guitar for one cut.

A follow-up to their debut eponymous release, Too Much Talk was produced by Bowen, who composed all of the originals. Not to be confused with a tune with a similar title that appeared in the Sylvester Stallone film, The Expendables, “Sinners Prayer,” a new number with a decidedly rock edge, kicks off the action. A simple four-note guitar hook repeats throughout as Kimberly belts out a request for mercy if she’s done anyone wrong. The same statement holds true for the next number, “Power Of Love,” which isn’t the Frankie Goes To Hollywood hit, but an original with a syncopated backbeat.

A stripped-down, slow tempo cover of the T-Bone Walker chestnut “Stormy Monday” provides an aural break from the two rockers before it. Kimberly’s sultry delivery is smooth and behind the beat. It precedes the album’s cover tune, “Too Much Talk,” a complaint about a lover who can’t feel the world turning under his feet. It’s the first number on the disc that allows Bowen room to stretch out on the strings.

Kimberly’s Nashville roots are on display during the tender “Heaven Rain Down,” a medium shuffle about a woman who needs help – and needs it now. “Small Things” is an acoustic blues ballad about the problems we face in a world where tiny mistakes can create big problems for folks who have both faith and belief in everything you say. The theme continues in “Is It Safe,” which flows over a tasty, but simple minor-key gitar hook as it questions whether or not a lover is lying when the singer’s perceptions are blinded by love.

“One Of Us” is a deeply spiritual number that speculates what if God “were one of us,” and asks if you could ask Him one question, what would that question be? A funky bass line introduces “Hold Us Together,” about a woman desperate for help to overcome a situation where the man she truly adores is unemployed and life is breaking down around them. The album concludes with an exceptionally strong cover of the Negro spiritual “Wade In The Water,” which was recorded live.

Available through CDBaby, Too Much Talk is a solid effort throughout, and the original material is fresh and worth a listen.

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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Minnesota Blues Society – St. Paul, MN

Annual Minnesota Blues Society Picnic and Food Drive with music by: Wilbur Cole, with Johnny and Filet-O-Soul on Sunday, July 17 1:00-6:00pm at Rosetown American Legion Post 542, 700 W. County Road C, Roseville, Mn 651-483-3535

We provide: Ken Tritz’ pulled pork and turkey sandwiches, potato salad, bottled water. $2.00 beers on patio, cash bar inside. You bring : “sides”, lawn chair, money or non-perishables for Keystone food shelf. (no coolers or outside beverages)

Free to members, $5.00 donation, non-members. More info:

Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation – Red Bank, NJ

The Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation presents the Asbury Park Blues and Brews Festival Saturday, Noon to 8:00 PM July 23, 2016 at Bradley Park across from Convention Center … 1300 Ocean Ave., Asbury Park, NJ.

FREE Admission – Headliner: The Matt O’Ree Band. Food, Crafters, Beer & Wine Garden, Kids activities

Details can be found at

The Great Northern Blues Society – Wausau WI

FREE – GNBS Thank You Concert – The Great Northern Blues Society is sponsoring a Free “Thank-You” Concert for our Members, Volunteers, and Corporate Sponsors on Monday Evening 8/8/16 at the Bull Falls Brewery in Wausau, WI starting at 6PM. The Brewery is located at 901 East Thomas Street in Wausau. We are bringing in one of the Best Blues Bands in the Country, The Chris O’Leary Band to perform for you free of charge. ALL are welcome to attend.

With the help of our Membership, Volunteers, and very generous Corporate Sponsors, we have been able to expand our Community outreach to now include Five separate $500.00 Scholarships to worthy musically inclined students at Wausau East, Wausau West, D.C. Everest, Wausau Newman high Schools, and University of Wisconsin Marathon County Campuses. Without your help this would not be possible.

This free concert is our way of saying THANK YOU for your help. Without your help, we could not be successful! More info at

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

Crossroads Blues Society – Byron, IL

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

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!

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. 7 July 11- Bex Marshall, July 18 – Aki Kumar & Rockin’ Johnny, July 25 – Chris Ruest, August 1 – The Chris O’leary Band, August 8 – Polly O’keary And The Rhythm Method, August 15 – Too Slim And The Taildraggers, August 22 – Jeff Jensen, August 29 – The Hector Anchondo Band.

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. 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

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