Issue 10-29 July 21, 2016

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Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2016

 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Slam Allen. We have 14 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from The Lucky Losers, Mary Jo Curry, Bobby Rush, Mitchell T. & The H.B.’s, Shemekia Copeland, Supersonic Blues Machine, Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, Steven Troch, Louisiana Red, Anthony Charles and the Blues Dolphins, Andy Gunn, Michael Barclay, Big Shoes and Karla And Too Bad Jim.

Our video of the week is a song by Slam Allen.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

BBMAs logo imageHey Blues Fans,

We welcome a new advertiser this week. Sonic Pipe Amplifiers features hand wired class A tube amps for harmonica, guitar and bass. I have one on order called “The Knob” and I am excited to try it out. You can check it out HERE.

Sonic Pipe is located in Chicago and their hottest amp for harmonica players is called the Windy City. For more information visit them at or click on their ad below in this issue.

The 2016 Blue Blast Music Awards are shaping up to be quite a show. Artists planning to perform at the awards at this time are Andy T-Nick Nixon Band, Too Slim & The Taildraggers, Peter Karp, Dave Weld & The Imperial Flames, Bob Margolin, Shaun Murphy, Fiona Boyes, Jonn Del Toro Richardson, Shoji Naito, Big Harp George, Markey Blue, Dave Muskett Acoustic Blues Band, Danielle Nicole, Anthony Geraci & Monster Mike Welch, Andy Poxon & Little Ronnie, Henry Gray, Bob Corritore, Guy King, Eugene “Hideway” Bridges, The Jimmy’s, Jon Spear Band and the Corey Dennison Band.

And right now you can get tickets for the early bird price of only $15! But hurry as this early bird pricing ends July 31st!

Also be sure to check out our General Admission VIP Tickets. No waiting. no line, you can use the VIP entrance and it includes an official 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards t-shirt, poster, and official 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards pin for only $50 (Till July 31st.). (Every year, we run out of official t-shirts, so this is your best bet to get one!)

For tickets and complete info visit

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

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 Blues Wanderings 

Blues Blast made it to The Saloon in San Francisco last weekend to hear some tunes by local legend Freddy Roulette.

Established in 1861 and purportedly the city’s oldest watering hole, this “down ’n’ dirty” North Beach blues joint “jams every night of the week. It is nothing fancy just a hole in the wall with good Blues music. If you are in San Francisco be sure to check it out.

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 14 

cathy lemons cd imageThe Lucky Losers – In Any Town

Dirty Cat Records

11 tracks

The duo of Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz make up the front portion of the Lucky Losers, a San Francisco Bay area blues band recording together on Dirty Cat Records. Both Lemon and Berkowitz share the microphone on vocals and Phil lends assistance with some very nice harp work too. Kid Anderson helped them produce this album at his Greaseland Studios in San Jose. The CD features nine original cuts and a pair of interesting covers. Joining them on the CD are Chris Burns on keys, Marvin Greene on guitar, Tim Wagar on bass and Robi Bean on drums. A plethora of great guest artists appear throughout the CD.

“So High” opens things up. It’s a love song praising the spirit of a love that lasts forever. More rock than blues, the song is up tempo and uplifting. Berkowitz gies a nice solo on harp and Kid Anderson appears on lead guitar here, too. “It Ain’t Enough” follows; it evokes a gospel-ly sort of sultry sound. Johnny Cash’s “Jackson” is next, with the Bay Area duo going country. “Don’t Let ‘Em See Ya Cry” takes us deep into the blues for the first time on the CD. This one is greasy and cool as Lemon takes the lead and the band adds horns for some cool depth. Burns continues to burn it up on keys, doing some nice piano work here. “Blind Man in the Dark” returns to a mid tempo rocking groove with Phil in lead. Nice sax solo here (Terry Hanck makes an appearance). “Can’t Change Ya” is a rocking sort of cut with Lemon and Berkowitz swapping leads. Greene’s guitar solo is solid here as is Berkowitz’ on harp.

“Still Enough Time to Cry” has Phil up front in a bouncy and fun song with more good piano, guitar and harp solos. “Give Me a Sign” opens with some wah wah/reverbed guitar by Jeff Jensen and Lemons’ also with some reverb on the vocals. It’s an interesting cut with a primal beat and nicely distorted harp. Anderson returns to lead guitar in the ballad title track. His subdued solo fits the tone of the song well. Lemons wails about her being tired of being told what to do by people offering useless help. The song has a country tinge and shows Lemon at her best. Berkowitz offers up “Devil’s Dream” next, a psychedelic and demonic take on the blues. Interesting stuff! The album closes to Bobby Charles’ “Small Town Talk,” a cut he co-wrote with The Band’s Phil Danko. The whistling is intact from the original; Phil and Cathy approach it as a duo with some interesting accompaniment making things a little slicker but still cool.

This is a fun album with some bluesy moments. If you want straight up, traditional blues this may not be for you. If you want something original with a blue tinge and a country and rock feel and a very slick production then by all means try this one out! The artists perform with feeling and give it their all.

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 – 2 of 14 

mary joe curry cd imageMary Jo Curry – Mary Jo Curry

Guitar Angels Records

9 songs – 36 minutes

Usually, when a theater company decides to perform a play involving the blues, it recruits a vocalist from the music scene to carry the load. It’s highly unusual for an artist to take the reverse route. But that’s the case with Mary Jo Curry.

The Central Illinois resident studied voice and theater in college before taking her strong, sultry alto on the road with touring theater companies. She toiled before discovering her true love five years ago and making the jump to the blues.

Judging by this tasty eponymous debut CD, which was produced by guitarist James Armstrong, it was the right choice. She delivers this collection of four originals and five covers in addition to contributing six-string herself. She penned two of the songs and hubby Michael Rapier, who shares guitar duties with Armstrong, the two others. Rounding out the sound are bassists Darryl Wright and Lawrence Baulden, drummer Andrew Blaze Thomas, keyboardist Brett Donovan, a horn section of Dick Garretson (trumpet), Mike Gillette (sax) and Larry Niehaus (trombone) and backing vocals from L.A. Davison.

The Mary Jo original “Ooooo Weee” kicks off the set. It’s a loping shuffle that opens with a brief guitar instrumental before she opens her mouth and proves without a doubt that she means business. The song’s a celebration about waking up to discover that the man who’d shared her bed was gone and she was finally free. It features a swinging mid-tune solo from the horns with Garretson taking the lead. Curry’s attack is slightly and perfectly behind the beat.

Rapier’s “Husband #2” follows. It’s a medium-paced blues that features the guitars and is delivered as a full-throated threat to hubby No. 1 that the singer’s on the hunt for a replacement. A traditional take on Junior Wells’ “Little By Little” is up next, followed by a cover of the Tom Hambridge/Richard Fleming number, “Wrapped Around My Heart,” which appeared on James Cotton’s star-laden Cotton Mouth Man CD. It’s a slow, grinding ballad, and Mary Jo holds her own with Ruthie Foster, who handled the vocals on the previous release.

Curry obviously won’t back down to anyone. The next two numbers have been fixtures in two more female blues stars. Written by filmmaker/guitarist Byl Carruthers, “Steppin’” was first performed by his band, the cult favorites Café R&B, and featured dynamic powerhouse Roach on vocals. “Voodoo Woman” was part of Koko Taylor’s arsenal.

A cover of Dennis Walker’s “When A Woman’s Had Enough” precedes two more originals to conclude the set. Mary Jo’s “Homewrecker” is a straight-ahead walking blues sung from the view of one woman singing to another after the first lady’s man has hooked up with the vocalist. Curry’s lyrics make it quite clear that the real homewrecker in the situation was woman No. 1, and not her. The uptempo “Smellin’” brings the action to a close. Written by Michael, it’s delivered from the position of a woman whose nose tells her that her man’s been cheating again.

Available directly through the artist’s website (address above) Mary Jo Curry is a powerful debut release of the first order, she’s definitely worthy of a wider audience. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m pretty sure you will, too!

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 – 3 of 14 

bobby rush cd imageBobby Rush – Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History Of Bobby Rush

Omnivore Recordings – OVDG 147/816651015160

74 songs – 410 minutes

When B.B. King died last year, Bobby Rush became the last man standing, the final link in the chain among bluesmen born in the Mississippi basin and the historic legacy they achieved in the taverns and on the mean streets of Chicago.

While Buddy Guy, who, like Bobby, was born in Louisiana, also could lay claim to the title, Rush believes that King passed the torch to him at their last meeting, B.B.’s final performance in the Magnolia State, when he insisted Bobby share the spotlight on the show. He’s called the Jackson area home since moving back South a couple of decades ago.

Getting to the top of the heap has been a struggle, Rush states in his introduction to the extensive liner notes that accompany Chicken Heads, which are written by blues historian Bill Dahl and loaded with anecdotes that Bobby provided. While stating that times haven’t always been bad, Rush notes that he’s worked at being a better entertainer because some radio stations refused to spin his records and some festivals never booked him in favor of other artists. Today, his act still delivers a strong feel of the chitlin’ circuit, where he developed skills as a first-class showman.

Now at least 80 and possibly as old as 86 – his birthdate his under dispute — and always both a friendly man with a gift for gab and smart businessman, Bobby’s never taken himself or his music too seriously. As anyone who’s ever seen him in concert knows, he speaks directly to the people with a downhome style and songs laced with humor and sexual innuendo, both of which are on display in this collection.

Despite settling in Chicago in 1956, Rush didn’t record his first single, “Someday,” for the Jerry-O label until 1964. It features a powerful tenor sax line and kicks off disc one of this four-disc set. But he didn’t started getting attention until the release of the dance tune “Sock Boo Ga Aloo” on ABC-Paramount a couple of years later. Like all of the tunes I’ll mention in the copy that follows, it’s also included in the compilation that isn’t necessarily in historical order. It featured two of the best guitarists in the Windy City, Wayne Bennett and Luther Johnson, a stalwart in Muddy Waters’ band.

Like James Brown, always a master of funk, Bobby shoots from the hip with “Gotta Have Money,” in which he states Tyrone Davis has it and he wants it, too. It’s the first number of many in his catalog where Rush mentions himself by name. Another dance number, “Camel Walk,” came out of the same session. Next up, Rush moved to the Salem label and teamed with legendary R&B pianist Sonny Thompson, reprising Guitar Slim’s ‘50s hit, “The Things I Used To Do,” and the searing original, “Wake Up,” featuring Cash McCall on guitar.

Several more sides followed before Bobby jumped to the Sedgwick imprint in the early ‘70s, where he achieved his first national success with “Chicken Heads,” a tune that’s been covered by more than 1,000 other musicians, as well as “Bowlegged Woman, Knock-Kneed Man.” Sedgwick sold Rush’s contract to the Jewel Label, based in Shreveport, La., in 1973, where he produced several numbers, including “She’s A Good ‘Un,” which wasn’t released until a couple of decades after he parted company.

Bobby’s next home, Warner Brothers, moved him to the big time with the release of “Get Out Of Here” and “She Put The Whammy On Me,” which was released by London in 1976. Disc three begins with a few cuts from Rush’s stint at Philadelphia International, where he worked with legendary producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff for “Hen Pecked,” “She’s So Fine,” “Buttermilk Bottom,” “I Wanna Do The Do,” the first tune on disc two, and a cover of Jerry Butler’s “Hey Western Union Man.”

Dozens of label affiliations have followed since Bobby moved South in the early ‘80s. Among the standout numbers represented here are “Hoochie Man,” “Scootchin’,” “Undercover Lover,” “Booga Bear” and “Ride In My Automobile.” And let’s not forget some of his more recent hits, which appear on disc four: “Night Fishin’,” “I Got 3 Problems,” “Blind Snake,” “Push And Pull” and “Another Murder In New Orleans,” recorded with Blind Dog Smokin’ and Dr. John.

About the only thing you don’t get here is the full effect of the bottom-heavy dancers Bobby exhibits during his live show. Bobby Rush is a national treasure for every man, and this collection captures him at his best. The music remains as timeless as he is and definitely worth the price of admission.

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 – 4 of 14 

mitch palmer cd imageMitchell T. & The H.B.’s – She’s Lookin’ Good

Topcat Records

16 songs time-45:42

If at the end of this record you don’t find yourself boogalooing down Broadway, I strongly suggest making an appointment to see Dr. Buzzard post haste to see where your mojo done went. Take a dash of Wilson Pickett, a pinch of James Brown, a teaspoonful of Louis Jordan, a sprinkling of Junior Wells and a few others…Mix together thoroughly, and viola…You get Mitchell Palmer, a virtual funk machine. If that isn’t enough, you also get The Hash Brown Band getting all funky and bluesy behind his funkifying. They are tighter than a bull’s posterior. This Texas band consists of just guitar, bass and drums, but I swear I almost hear a horn section. The first few songs are pure soul and funk, then some blues get tossed into the mix. Les Finess and Moe Rithum(pseudonyms’ for sure) supply a full production sound where all the instruments are well defined. When you look up soul singer in the dictionary you will find Mitch Palmer’s picture there. Hey, you can read the remainder of my review if you loke, or you can save yourself some precious time and run right out and pick bad boy up. Hey, get this, this thing was recorded in 1997. Somebody has been holding out on me. How in the San Juan Hills did this gem slip under the musical radar?

The riff from “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” kicks off Rufus Thomas’ “Can Your Monkey Do The Dog”, with Micthell’s great gravelly voice leading the way. A snippet of Rufus’ “Walkin’ The Dog” is thrown in for good measure. The wicked Wilson Pickett’s “Three Time Loser” up the funk quotient along with the super-funk-ilicious title track.

The gender roles get reversed on a version of Jean Knight’s 1971 soul hit “Mr. Big Stuff”, as the narrator cops to the accusations made about him. A Faithful, but way too short version of Buddy Guy’s “A Man Of Many Words” displays a full drum sound and a nice guitar solo by Hash Brown. “When Girls Do It” comments on the fact that women get more attention for the same thing a man does, according to the narrator. “Give It To Me” and “Sawed Off Shot Gun” feature Andrew Baxter Jr. on lead guitar duties. On the latter song the sentiment is rougher than an outhouse corn cob on chili night-“Boom boom, with my sawed off shot gun I’m gonna clean out the whole first floor”.

Hash Brown executes a bluesy guitar solo on the original Fleetwood Mac’s “Something Inside Of Me”. Hash breaks out the wah-wah guitar for “Soul Sister”. The band gets super-duper funky on “Lickin’ Stick” by George Torrence & The Naturals. As soon as you here the opening riff, most folks will recognize this infectious chestnut.

A great take on Otis Rush’s classic “Homework” is the last full length song. The thirty-five second “Stick “N’ Stay” is a band introduction over music. It’s a song that would lead into a break on the bandstand. After hearing all this I doubt that most people would leave this off the stereo for too long.

Mitch Palmer, Hash Brown, Terry Montgomery on bass, Bobby Baranowski on drums along with special guest Andrew Baxter Jr. on lead guitar have put together an experience that is bigger than the sum of its’ parts. This is pure enjoyment from beginning to end. Get yourself your beverage of choice and party on down til’ the cows come home.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 14 

shemekia copeland cd imageShemekia Copeland – Outskirts Of Love

Alligator Records ALCD 6966

12 songs – 44 minutes

Koko Taylor’s daughter Cookie proclaimed Shemekia Copeland the new Queen Of The Blues after her mother’s death a few years ago, and the reason she did is apparent throughout the powerful vocalist’s latest release, her return to the Alligator label for a fifth release after a 10-year separation.

The album title hints at what you’ll find in the tunes. All of the material on the disc deals with the theme that runs throughout the blues: being an outsider in one way or another, whether it be love or something else.

Despite her relative youth – she’s 37 – in blues terms, the Harlem-born daughter of guitar legend Johnny Copeland has been a star in her own right since first appearing with her dad at age 16. She emerged as a recording artist to be reckoned with herself just two years later with the release of Turn Up The Heat, and her pipes and personality quickly propelled her to the top of the blues world. At 20, she earned her first Grammy nomination for the album Wicked.

The accolades keep coming. Not only is she nominated for Female Artist Of The Year in this year’s BluesBlast Awards, Outskirts Of Love is under consideration, along with five others, for Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year. Shemekia’s backed here by Oliver Wood on guitar. A member of the Wood Brothers, Oliver spent years on the road with Tinsley Ellis before releasing six albums with his own group, King Johnson. He also produced this CD in addition to adding backing vocals and co-writing four of the numbers.

Handing the rhythm are percussionist/keyboard player Jano Rix and bassist Lex Price with guest appearances by guitarists Billy Gibson of ZZ Top, Alvin Youngblood Hart and sacred steel master Robert Randolph. Adding to the mix are guitarists Will Kimbrough, Arthur Neilson, Guthrie Trapp and Pete Finney, Matt Glassmeyer on horns, Eric Fritch on organ, Mike Poole on percussion, who recorded the album, and Jason Eskridge on backing vocals.

Wood and John Hahn penned the two opening tunes in an album that draws material from several different mediums. The title song, “Outskirts Of Love,” describes a bride waiting at a bus stop in her wedding gown after she’d already pawned her wedding ring and a young girl in a hallway who’s sent out to play because her mom’s “entertaining,” among others. “Crossbone Beach” depicts a woman being drugged by a gold-toothed man in a bar and awaking at the title location.

Next up, Shemekia dips into dad Johnny’s songbook, something she does on each CD, for “Devil’s Hand,” a loping shuffle about Satan wrecking the singer’s life “like a hurricane.” A Sonny Terry-Brownie McGhee standard, “The Battle Is Over (But The War Goes On),” follows before a cover of Ian Siegal’s “Cardboard Box.” Hart provides acoustic guitar and accompanying vocals as Coleman wails about life in the street.

The Wood/Hahn original “Driving Out Of Nashville” is a first-person description of leaving Music City after an attempt at stardom and the attempted seduction by a recording industry bigwig, whose body is in the car’s trunk. It includes the line: “Country music ain’t nothin’ but blues with a twang.” It’s followed by a cover of country star Orville Couch’s ballad, “I Feel A Sin Coming On,” about the feelings racing through a woman’s mind when she’s on the verge of cheating.

Memphis Music Hall Of Famer Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So,” which questions the motives of a lover, follows before covers of ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” John Fogarty’s “Long As I Can See The Light” and Albert King’s “Wrapped Up In Love Again.” The album concludes with Jessie Mae Hemphill’s gospel classic, “Lord, Help The Poor And Needy.”

It’s a potent collection of material, and Shemekia makes every tune her own with a voice soaked with emotion. Available everywhere, and highly recommended.

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

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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 Video Of The Week – Slam Allen 

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This a video of Slam Allen playing “All Because Of You” in 2015. Click on the image above to see this video.

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 Featured Blues Interview – Slam Allen 

slam allen pic 1Slam Allen was out on a tight wire metaphorically half way across the Grand Canyon playing with a bass player and guitarist he’d never met in a suburban bar on a Saturday afternoon benefit for guitarist Rhett Tyler. He stepped forward, motioned for the band to quiet down and launched into an a cappella version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” The dull roar in the bar came to an abrupt halt. With his eyes closed, the veteran blues man drove that song into the corner pocket. He has lived those words for half a century.

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die

Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

Slam drove home the pain and the promise more than half century after Sam Cooke crossed over from the religious to the secular world with a song whose spiritual message transcends genre. A hush settled over the Flightline Bar in Glenville, New York turning the club into an AME church on a quiet Sunday morning. About as far removed from his 2016 Blues Music Awards showcase in Memphis with his regular band a few weeks before, it was every bit as dynamic. Here is an artist who was born an entertainer.

Slam’s dad was on stage performing the night his son was born. “My dad said to me one day, ‘Boy, you ain’t entertaining anybody.’ I said, ‘I see what you’re talking about now. I’m not giving all of myself to people. I’m not giving them something special when they walk away. They come back, and it’ll be like, ‘I want to see that guy again.”’ So, that’s what I did. I made myself special so that when people see me they know it’s Slam Allen and not some dude up there playing the blues.

Slam calls himself “The Ambassador of The Blues.” His seventh album, Feel These Blues, contains 11 originals that showcase a showmanship that calls to mind climactic encores by icons like Otis Redding, BB, Albert, and Freddie King. A soul man, he reflects the smooth but impassioned delivery of Wilson Picket and James Brown. The only cover on Feel These Blues is Prince’s “Purple Rain,” a show stopper of Slam’s live shows long before Prince passed.

“I really learned the music. I was brought up in it. Since I was a little boy, I was around the music. It’s something that’s just a part of me. It’s who I am. I’m not trying to be anybody else. It’s a part of me. It’s a part of my culture, part of me growing up.

slam allen pic 2“People always compare me to other people and other situations and stuff, and I say, ‘You’re absolutely right because I’m here to keep people reminded of this music that started it all, to have the even younger generation know where the music came from and, by the grace of God now, I feel that title of Ambassador of the Blues is just taking what the masters started and bringing it to a younger generation, making them feel what the original people started – you know – put out.”

The New York State Hudson Valley native was doing the chitlin circuit with Dad at 13, and for a while he was in a family band called the Allen Brothers. “I learned from my dad and my uncle. I used to play drums in the band with them. They would start off a song and not tell you what the song was, and they expected you to know, to be there and not miss a beat and keep that heavy back beat, keep that heavy fire.”

But his memories go much further back than that. “I can remember as early as five years old being up on stage messing around. I remember a song out called “Tighten Up.” I was just drawn to that song many, many years ago, and I used to get up there and dance and sing to that when my dad was playing it in the band. I’ve always been around it, but that’s one thing that really stood out, and there’s another song called “Groove.” These are the songs I just recall off the top of my head that he sung to me as a little kid hearing these songs and just going, ‘Dad, I like this.’ I couldn’t have been more than five years old when I first did this.

“I was probably about 13 when I really got it in my mind (to be an entertainer) and starting to form in a little kid’s head when I said, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ I can remember saying to one of my cousins that very thing. I said to him, ‘This is what I’m gonna do for the rest of my life.’ When I hit the stage for the first time, I was just playing little parties and stuff like that, wasn’t really nothing big time and nothing like that, but just the fact that we were playing something and making somebody happy was what gave me the drive to do this today.

“I was down south with my dad basically playing that chitlin circuit, that thing where you go to juke joints. At the time I didn’t know exactly what was happening to me, but I was getting an education and experience that is long gone now, and a lot of people thought I was older than what I was. I just was glorifying music and wanna be like my dad and so on and so forth.”

His dad, who held a day job and performed on the side, wasn’t sure his son’s passion was such a good thing. “I’m gonna tell you the truth. He was hot and old. He really liked the fact that I wanted to be like him and the music and stuff, but at first he was saying to me, ‘Boy, you better get a job. You better get a job.’ He was looking out – he wanted me to have things. He didn’t want to see me struggle – (things) that were bad for me and stuff, and the way that he seen it was that I should get a job and work and stuff like that, but me and my passion was music and for a while he didn’t really get that.

slam allen pic 3“Even though he played music, he never made it a career for himself. He always worked a job. He came from the old school, an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, and he didn’t believe or he didn’t see that I could make a career out of it. He just thought it was something you could do when you were not at your job.

“One day many years later, he saw me at a festival. I had a young son at the time. He was about three years old, and he’s about to turn 19 in a few days, and that day I had the full band. I had the horn section and everything, and when my dad saw the reaction of the crowd, and when he saw my passion for what I was doing and ever since that day he said, ‘That’s my son, the entertainer.’”

Slam was up for New Artist of the Year at this year’s Blues Music Awards. The only thing “new” about Slam and the artists he competed against was that they all were new to the Blues Music Awards competition. Going into the contest, Slam said, “I got nominated whether I win, lose or draw. Just the fact I am recognized for the accomplishment that I have made and the music I put out there, that’s a great thing for me.” He lost to Mr. Sipp, an established Mississippi native gospel singer/songwriter/producer before he took up the blues.

Slam was James Cotton’s lead singer from 2001 to 2010. He sang on and wrote two songs, “Heard You’re Getting Married” and “Change” for Cotton’s comeback Grammy-nominated album Giant. Slam laughs, “Cotton would sneeze,” and I would say, ‘Bless you’ before he sneezed. I knew it was coming.”

Cotton had been Muddy Waters’ harp player in the early ’60s. Writing in the New York Times, Jon Pareles wrote, ‘The Muddy Waters Band was dominated by James Cotton on harmonica, bounding across the stage and turning his harmonica into a wordless moan, a horn section, a huffing kind of percussion or a train whistle.”

In 2005, Slam explained the thrill of playing with Cotton. “For me, I’ve heard a lot of harp players, and there’s a very select few that can actually play with that soul where they can take one note and have you feel that one note, and you can feel all that history. You can feel all the soul and sacrifice and everything that he went through. You can feel it coming out of the harp.

“It changed my whole life. Just to have that knowledge of working with a legend, hearing the stories that he’d tell, and learning how they do things on that level. It’s something you can’t get from any school, from any book. You have to experience it. For me to do that, there was like hundreds of guys that could have took that spot. I was blessed to get it, following guys like Rico McFarland, even going back to Matt Guitar Murphy, guys of that caliber, just an honor. It was a blessing for me to be there.”

slam allen pic 4Today Slam feels just as strongly. “You know, when you’re performing with a legend, you get to see up close and personal how they operate on a professional level, and you get to hear all the stories and all the experience that he went through with legends. Muddy Waters was a big, big influence on the blues and just to hear these stories and be connected with someone who is connected to the genre is an experience you can’t get anywhere, and you probably can’t get anymore. So it really helped me and opened my eyes on being the professional or seeing what it is through somebody else’s eyes to groom yourself to become a legend. That’s what I walked away from. It taught me how to get out of the garage and get to the main stage. That’s what I walked away from it.”

As wonderful as it was playing with Cotton, the job could not scratch Slam’s itch to do it on his own. “I’m here to remind people of this music that started it all and to have the younger generation know where the music is made and, by the grace of God, take what the masters started and bring it to a younger generation.

“Working for James Cotton is very humbling, (but) you know it’s not you. Your name is not on the marque. You are hired to do basically a job, and my job was to make James Cotton look good. I took it very serious. It wasn’t about me. It was about him.

James Cotton has similar thoughts about leaving the Muddy Waters Band in 1965. He once told me it was a hard decision. “Yeah, it was, but I felt I’d done everything that I could do, and I wanted to play some rock and roll, and I knowed Muddy didn’t like that.”

Slam: “So, when I took the stage I’m coming with the best. In any job if you say to me right now, ‘Slam, I want to hire you to paint my house,’ you better believe you’re gonna have the best painted house that you’ve ever seen, and I’m not gonna stop. I’m not gonna accept pay until I do a great job for you, and that’s my work ethic I have playing music and entertaining people.”

Both of his parents passed before they got a chance to see him play with Cotton.

Slam performed at the Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Awards on May 5th, his father’s birthday. “Everything I do right now musically or whatever is just for (dad), for him and my mom. Both of them have passed on. My mom, she was my biggest fan. She believed in me before I believed in myself. I’m 49 years old. I’ll be 50 September 5th.

“I’m here to remind people of this music that started it all and to have the younger generation know where the music is made and, by the grace of God, take what the masters started and bring it to a younger generation.”

Visit Slam’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 14 

super sonic blues machine cd imageSupersonic Blues Machine – West Of Flushing South Of Frisco

Provogue / Mascot Label Group

13 songs – 56 minutes

West of Flushing South Of Frisco is a curious release. The debut album of blues-rock “supergroup”, Supersonic Blues Machine, it features guest appearances by a litany of blues-rock legends, which at times gives it the feel of a tribute album, rather than a statement of intent by a new band. The band major on their blues influences on their website and in their promotional material and how, in the words of bassist/producer Fabrizio Grossi, “You will feel B.B. King’s presence on stage even though we might be wearing space suits,” but they play music significantly closer to the rock end of the blues-rock spectrum. There is a feeling of displacement when a band claims such empathy and love for the blues, to the extent of even including the word “blues” in the band name, but then releases an album of muscular, modern, guitar-driven classic rock.

Supersonic Blues Machine features the undeniable talents of singer/guitarist Lance Lopez, bassist Fabrizio Grossi and drummer Kenny Aronoff. The combined résumés of the band is incredibly impressive, with different members having worked previously with the likes of Johnny Taylor, Lucky Peterson, Bobby Blue Bland, Steve Vai, Nina Hagen, Glenn Hughes, John Mellencamp and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. And the playing is certainly impressive, with each member displaying rare technical proficiency on their instruments.

The songs are also well-structured and well played, with superb production by Grossi, who also wrote or co-wrote the lion’s share of the tracks, with the sole cover being Bobby Bland’s “Ain’t No Love (In The Heart Of The City)” (which is played closer to the famous Whitesnake cover than Bland’s timeless original) And therein lies the rub. West Of Flushing … is a fine album. It simply isn’t a blues album.

The loping riff of “Bone Bucket Blues” could come from an early Guns & Roses album. “Running Whisky” could be an out-take from ZZ Top’s Eliminator-era (perhaps not surprisingly, given that Billy F. Gibbons co-wrote the track as well as contributing lead vocals and lead guitars). Bad Company would love to have written and released “Remedy”. “Can’t Take It No More” sounds like a cross between early Whitesnake and Alannah Myles.

The guests include the aforementioned Gibbons, as well as Warren Haynes, Chris Duarte, Eric Gales, Walter Trout and Robben Ford. In addition, Serge Simic adds acoustic guitar to some tracks, Garrett Hallbrock adds lap steel, Jimmy “Jimmy Z” Zavala plays harmonica and Sam Lusting contributes Hammond organ. The guitar is very much the lead instrument of choice on this album, however, and all the guests turn in sparkling cameos. Lopez more than holds his own in such august company, often engaging in entertaining duels with his guests – his “battle” with Duarte on “That’s My Way” is a particular highlight.

West Of Flushing South Of Frisco will appeal to fans of Gary Moore, Black Country Communion or even Chickenfoot. If you’re looking for something with more blues than rock, however, you should look elsewhere.

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 – 7 of 14 

rev raven cd imageReverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys – Live at The Big Bull

Nevermore Records

10 tracks

Reverend Raven and his smoking charges hit the stage clockin’ and a rockin’ on the Earl Hooker composition, “Hot And Heavy.” The pace is thus set for the band’s set at the 2014, 23rd annual Big Bull Falls Blues Festival, Wisconsin’s longest running Blues Festival where 80 per cent of this album was recorded at. Two of the ten tracks were recorded at Kochanski’s Concertina Beer Hall in Milwaukee.

Born & bred on Chicago’s south side, the Reverend migrated to Milwaukee and assembled the Alter Boys and have been lauded by the Wisconsin Area Music Industry as best Blues band, a charmed seven times as well as WAMI’s People’s Choice Award three times. They’ve also acquired a Grammy nomination and several Blues Blast Music Award nominations over the years.

Uptempo danceable blues is the order of the day here. Harmonica heavy and guitar driven Reverend Raven and the Altar Boys cook throughout. The lineup on this date is Rev Raven on guitar and vocals, Robert Lee Sellers on drums and vocals, Danny Moore on keys, Benny Rickun on harmonica (tracks 4,5,6,8 and 10), Grammy nominated Westside Andy Linderman on harmonica (tracks 1, 2, 3, 7 and 9) and Big Al Groth on saxophone (track 8).

In addition to the aforementioned opening track, the band covers material from Elmore James, Sleepy John Estes, Muddy Waters and Bobby Rush. Two songs are written by Gerry Hundt and three by Raven himself.

The band delivers a nonstop, driving set and the crowd’s enthusiasm is evident throughout the auditory experience. Searching for visual of the band’s impact during the recording of this project yields a YouTube video of track 6 that is shortened on the album, the Gerry Hundt penned, “Stompin & A Shouting.” In the full video, recorded also on 8/15/14, Raven intersperses a colorful monologue regarding the exploits of the legendary Hound Dog Taylor, Pinetop Perkins and Big Walter Horton with his own mean, tasty slide guitar riffs, juxtaposed against the percussive counterpoint boogie poundings of keyboardist Danny Moore. Benny Rickman adds a nice touch on the harp. The video puts me there with the crowd. We’re diggin’ it!

Other standout tracks include the Muddy tune, track 9, “She’s Ninteen Years Old,” and the loping Bobby Rush composition, “Chicken Heads.” Raven’s songwriting skills are also credible. Check out Track 10, “Looking For Love.”

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 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 – 8 of 14 

steven troch cd imageSteven Troch – Nice ‘n’ Greasy

Sing My Title

CD: 12 Songs; 44:34 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary and Traditional Electric Blues, Harmonica Blues

Sometimes when people order hamburgers at restaurants, they’re offered a myriad of exotic toppings: fried eggs, pineapple, blue cheese, avocado, and roasted corn relish among them. As unique as these are, what a lot of folks long for is sizzling yet simple: Nice ‘n’ Greasy. Beef and cheese will do just fine, thank you, with no vegetable-related colors between the buns. That’s the kind of blues Belgium’s Steven Troch serves up on his latest award-worthy album. Pairing meaty harmonica with saucy vocals, bold bass, and guitar that glides down like a tasty pair of “sliders,” this is just the ticket for anyone who wants a twelve-dish original smorgasbord with classic style.

In the CD liner notes, Grammy-nominated Mark Hummel comments: “I came to be familiar with him through Dave Barrett’s’s Internet harp contest, in which I was a judge. I noticed that two or three contest[s] in a row had me placing the Belgian harp slinger in first place…Troch plays most of this CD unamplified and that makes for a seriously original sound, unlike many copycats I hear out there.”

What more need be said? The twelve selections Troch presents all prove that he and his band are “Top Chefs” of contemporary and traditional harmonica blues. Alongside vocalist/harpist Steven are Rusty Zinn on guitar and backing vocals; Bob Welsh on guitar, electric bass and keyboards; June Core on drums, percussion and backing vocals; the ever-prolific producer Chris “Kid” Andersen on upright bass, electric bass, and backing vocals; and Lisa Leuschner Andersen on backing vocals for track six.

The following songs are the greasiest, most flavorful tracks on the CD, according to yours truly:

Track 04: “The Jinx is on Me” – With an irresistible blues-reggae beat that brings Bob Marley’s Jamaican jerk spice to mind, number four tells the tale of a man whose fortune will always be unfortunate: “You can catch yourself a freight, go way out West. Any old place, they’re going to kick you out of this nest. The jinx is on me. Oh, boy, the jinx is on me. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, the jinx is on me.” No other male tenor outside of opera has ever sung this high, except for Morten Harket on “Take On Me.”

Track 05: “Footsteps of my Dad” – Some of us don’t need a gypsy to tell us we’ve been cursed, as in the previous song. We make our own bad luck, like the narrator of this one: “My dad, he was an evil man. Dad, he was an evil man. Mama hoped and prayed that one day, he’d change his ways, but my dad, he was an evil man.” Following in his footsteps won’t lead to heaven, but Rusty Zinn’s super-catchy guitar solo will.

Track 09: “Wanna Sleep” – Hypnotic and hilarious, number nine echoes a familiar sentiment for all-night partiers: “No time to shower. No time to brush. No time to comb my hair; I’ve got to rush. Black coffee and a quick cigarette ain’t exactly what I call a continental breakfast, but I wanna sleep.” This is a lullaby for adults. Instead of a bottle, listeners will want to suck on a beer instead.

Steven Troch and his hearty harmonica are Nice n’ Greasy!

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 – 9 of 14 

lousiana red cd imageLouisiana Red – Working Mule

Top Cat Records

76:20/Running Time

Louisiana Red has had the Blues from the ground up. His mother died shortly after his birth and his dad was lynched by the KKK when he was still a young lad. Despite his stately birth name of Iverson Minter, Red spent his subsequent early years shuffled between cruel relations and orphanages.

Like a true Bluesman, Red lived his art and breathed into it a fire that has been witnessed and celebrated the world over. By this writer’s count, Red played on at least 81 albums. He expatriated to Hanover, Germany in 1983 and lived their until his passing in 2012. Red was mentored by John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and friends with host of others. His was able to cultivate, channel and meld several styles into a sound and delivery wholly his own. His music was never abandoned here in the States, nor fully appreciated, but he was immensely popular in Europe where he toured extensively.

The tracks on Working Mule were actually recorded over a 13 year period, from 1994 through 2007. A featured artist is, ethnomusicologist Bob Brozman, playing national steel guitar on tracks 8 & 9, “Goodbye Jack Dupree,” & “Early In The Morning respectively. “Guitar” Johnny Nicholas is also featured on piano (yeah, Johnny on piano) on a couple of tracks, track 12, “I Done Woke Up,” & 13, “Same Thing.”

Another highlight is Red’s collaboration with the George Pilali Band on track 2, the Elmore James composition, “The Sky Is Crying.” The band is actually from Greece and steeped in traditional Grecian music. In addition to national steel guitar, bass and percussion they also play instruments that are native to Greece; the sazi, tsabouna and yali tanbur. The result is a stringed lament intro that swings right into a funky, down home guitar and national steel slide romp with Red and George Pilali.

The album also features another band from Greece, with whom Red toured and played with extensively, Blues Wire. They perform 2 Muddy Waters songs, “Champagne And Reefer,” and “What Is That She Got,” on tracks 3 &4. 9 of the 14 tracks presented here are songs written by Red himself. His commentary, observations and asides, evident throughout, give the listener indications of how strong and larger than life Red’s personality was.

There is a wealth of information available about the legend of Louisiana Red, some of it contradictory. Bob Corritore has some great images, including the earliest known photo of Louisiana Red at Also Blues Blast cover girl Teeny Tucker has a stunning shot of her, Red and her guitarist, Bob Hughes. The legacy of Louisiana Red is well worth exploring.

Reviewer 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 – 10 of 14 

anthony charles cd imageAnthony Charles and the Blues Dolphins – Blues from the Kino Border

Self Release

10 tracks / 52:09

Anthony Charles was born in New York City where he received formal training as a musician and he has been playing out in some way or another since the 1960s. His musical path in life led to one of the more obscure expressions of the art form when he worked as a jingle singer for commercials, but the blues had a strong hold on this man. A few years back he decided to learn blues harmonica, and after two years of work in the studio we now have the first album from Anthony Charles and the Blues Dolphins, Blues on the Kino Border. It turns out he is a fine blues singer and songwriter, and is pretty good on the harp, too!

Now based out of Columbia, South Carolina, Anthony got a group of fine musicians together to cut eight original songs and a couple of cool covers for this album. The main personnel for this project include Rick Ramsey on bass, James Casey on drums, Shrimp City Slim on piano, and John Hartness on guitar. A few guest artists pitched in as well, including guitar work from Warren Scott, who passed away during production; this album is dedicated to his memory.

The songs on Blues from the Kino Border mostly follow traditional blues structures, but many of the lyrics come from situations and issues of today. The first song in the set, “Highwater Stomp,” is a shuffle about the effects of hurricanes Sandy and Isaac in 2012. You will hear that Charles has a strong tenor voice, and a nice touch on the guitar. The backline is stout as Ramsey’s bass parts really pops, and Casey is a human metronome on the drums. On this song, guest artists Brittany Turnipseed and Ashley Kent also provide sweet backing vocals as needed.

After the opener, the band picks the tempo up for another shuffle, “Bad Neighbor Blues.” On this track Shrimp City Slim provides a cool background of barroom piano and pulls off a rough and ready solo before Anthony takes the next break on his harp. This is a subject that most everybody can relate to, and the same can be said about the relationship woes that are described in “Kennel Cough Blues” and “Password Blues.” Charles uses vivid imagery and witty exaggeration to bring the lyrics home on these fun tunes.

But it is not all fun and games here, and things get real with “Kino Border Blues.” This song honors the Jesuit priest Peter McNeely who has worked for the humane treatment of migrants in the Nogales area. Anthony howls the lyrics with gusto, and there is a slick Latin feel to this song courtesy of Casey’s steady work on the toms, as well as healthy doses of violin and mandolin from James Graddick. There is also a glimpse at the fragility of our bodies and the need to take better care of ourselves in the slow-rolling “Heart Stoppin’ Blues.” But, most sobering of all is “Transubstantiation Blues,” which takes a hard look at the troubling institutionalized violence that plagues the United States.

There is also a pair of cover songs that the band included to honor musicians that have inspired them. Bessie Smith’s “Jailhouse Blues” is a harmonica-heavy tune that captures the spirit of the original, and the guitar parts of The Reverend Marv Ward and Warren Scott are spot on. There is also “Something in the Milk Ain’t Clean,” a song that was originally done by one of their favorite local artists, Drink Small. This tune closes out the album, and it is wonderfully performed with multiple guitar tracks and fabulous piano from Shrimp City Slim.

Blues from the Kino Border is a solid first effort from Anthony Charles and the Blues Dolphins. This record checks all of the boxes, with thoughtful lyrics, good songs, and strong musicianship. Give it a listen for yourself, and be sure to like their Facebook page so you can keep up on their gig schedule. If you find yourself in South Carolina it would be worth your time to check out one of their shows!

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 14 

andy gunn cd imageAndy Gunn – Miracle of Healing

Market Square Records

11 tracks / 50:14

Blues music can often express a songwriter’s troubles in life, and Scotland’s Andy Gunn has certainly had more than his share of misfortune over the years. He was born with a blood disorder and was given terrible diseases from transfusions in the days before doctors were vigilant about screening blood donations. He has also had cancer twice, survived a heart attack, and even had a serious scrape with the law.

But all along Andy kept playing his music, and to give back to the community he speaks out for other patients who have received tainted transfusions. He is a fine guitarist and songwriter, and his fourth album, Miracle of Healing, is a labor of love that was put together by him and producer Martin Stephenson. Stephenson took care of the acoustic guitars on this project, and he and Andy were joined in the studio by Neil Harland on bass, Kate Stephenson on drums, John Steel on keyboards, Stevie Smith on harmonica, Jim Hornsby on Dobro, and Malcolm McMaster on pedal steel. Jo Hamilton, Susanna Wolfe, and Miriam Campbell provided the backing vocals as needed.

Gunn wrote all eleven songs on this album, and there is not a lot of straight-up blues to be found, but most everything falls somewhere in the blues spectrum. The first few tracks are rhythm and blues, and they are well written pieces with good hooks. “Are We Thru” has a slick 1970s vibe with electric piano and a heavily processed lead guitar tone. Gunn has a sweet touch on the strings, and his vocals are not the most polished but they are effective. Steel’s keyboards also come into play to set up “Black Heart,” as it kicks off with a barroom piano intro before settling into an R&B groove. Lyrics for both of these tunes dwell on relationships that are going sour, but Andy writes more personal lines as the album progresses.

There are a handful of songs with country and Southern rock influences, which the band does very well. “Beyond the Open Door” has a country blues-rock feel thanks to a laid-back bass melody from Harland and restrained pedal steel from McMaster. This slow ballad is a song of hope and perseverance that talks about looking forward to better days after being dealt a few bad hands. Acoustic guitar and organ lend “Hold On” an understated southern-rock feel, and Gunn stretches his vocal range to its limits with the backing vocals providing a pretty counterpoint to his rough delivery. Later on, Andy uses Creedence Clearwater style guitar riffs combined with Smith’s harp to make for a respectable bit of swamp rock in “Trouble Women.” Adding these elements to the rock-solid backline of Harland and Stephenson makes this one of the standout tracks on the album.

The blues-rock tracks are also very listenable. “Freedom Reality” is a slow tempo tune with reflective lyrics of a man who decides to stop wondering what he could have done better, and instead decides to work on his future. The pace picks up a bit for “Harmony of One,” which adds tambourine and acoustic guitars for a more accessible feel. And the band takes a page out of the Dire Straits songbook with “Planting the Seeds” and Gunn totally nails the guitar tone. This man really can play!

Hopefully Andy Gunn will catch a few breaks and get the chance to just focus on music – he certainly has enough stories to last him for a while! Miracle of Healing is not just a catchy title for an album, it is a big part of his life and it is great that Martin Stephenson was there to help get these songs out to the masses. Gunn has some shows and festivals coming up on his schedule, so if you are going to be on the other side of the pond make sure you check his website so you can have the opportunity to support him in person.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 12 of 14 

michael barclay cd imageMichael Barclay – Tracks

Chatterbox Records

15 tracks / 50:38

Multi-instrumentalist and singer Michael Barclay has an extensive history with all kinds of music, having worked as a sideman with artists as diverse as rock pioneer Chuck Berry (back in the 1960s!), jazzman Randy Crawford, and the B-3 master himself, Merl Saunders. Hailing from Northern California, Michael has been steadily churning out self-produced albums that cover a lot of ground, including last year’s very good blue-rock collection, King of Hearts.

Tracks is Barclay’s fifth solo release, and the new album is subtitled “A Blues, Funk, and World Music Ride for the Discerning Traveler.” That does a great job summing up what is going on here, as Michael does not confine himself to any one genre, and he generates many different moods and emotions. He did a lot of the heavy lifting on this disc, as he wrote thirteen of the tracks, provided the vocals, and laid down a good portion of the guitar, bass, organ, piano, trumpet, and synthesizer parts. He was joined by Roger Volz on saxophone for a number of the tracks, and a few other guest musicians filled in as needed.

Michael leads off this album with “California Burnin’” and this gives the listener an insider’s view of living in brushfire country, one of the perils of the Golden State. This story is set to a 1980s style blues-rock soundtrack complete with very well done clean lead guitar work from Barclay and solid drums from guest artist Tommy Miles. Moving to more a more traditional blues subject is “Is it Him or is it Me,” which is about a man who needs to know where he really stands with his lady. This song uses 1980s synthesizer and vocal sounds that give the feel of the low-key rock that Clapton was doing 30 years ago.

There are a few tracks where the lyrics take a backseat to the music and the words are just used to help cement the message of the song. One example of this is “I’m So Weary” which has the same two lines, “I’m so weary / boy oh don’t you know,” set to a smooth Afro Cuban beat. This song uses hand percussion and light-hearted guitar lines from Kendrick Freeman and Andrew Ohren to achieve more of an island sound. Another is “Lucky Streak,” a slow-paced funky rocker with simple instrumentation (bass, guitar, and drums) and a 1980s vibe.

Two cover tunes are also included on Tracks, and they are not the usual ones that everybody else seems to redo. There is a dark version of “I’m a Man” from the Spencer Davis Group (remember Steve Winwood?) that is heavy enough that it changes the mood from a proud declaration into a brooding melancholy. Then there is an upbeat instrumental, “Hoodoo Snake Doctor Blues,” that Johnny Shines originally recorded in 1970. Barclay does a fine job with the organ and guitar here, and his soloing has a very natural feel and pace.

As most of the songs are relatively short, Michael found room for four other instrumentals on this disc and these cover a variety of sounds and moods. “Mike’s Blues” has a funky 1970s blues sound with a slick sax lead, and solos that are traded off from Volz’s sax to Barclay’s guitar to Lowell “Banana” Levinger’s organ. Other guest musicians were brought in for this track, including Bill Boggio on guitar, Terry Baker on drums, and Kent Fosgreen on bass. Michael also experiments with the Jamaica sound on “Reggae Man,” a modern tune that uses keyboards to good effect, including a neat steel drum sample. Then there is “Tracks,” a laid-back jazzy blues song that has a smooth guitar lead and a pulsing bass line. And lastly, Michael closes the album out with “F-bomb” a short solo acoustic guitar track that ties everything together as it reminds the listener of what the blues is all about and where it came from.

This about covers it for Tracks, and Michael Barclay definitely accomplished his goal of providing entertainment for individuals who like variety in their musical collection. Give it a listen for yourself, and please remember to support local independent musicians, as there is a lot of good stuff to be found out there!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 13 of 14 

BIG SHOES CD IMAGEBig Shoes – Shoes’ Blues


10 songs – 41 minutes

Nashville, Tennessee, based Big Shoes describe themselves as a “progressive” blues band, combining traditional blues influences such as B.B King and Ray Charles with more modern influences, including The Allman Brothers’ Band, Bonnie Raitt and the Neville Brothers. The impressive results can be heard on their new album, Shoes’ Blues.

Big Shoes’ members have variously played and recorded with Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, Delbert McClinton, Taj Mahal, Etta James, Bobby Blue Bland and many other blues oriented pop artists. And their combined experience is evident in the unruffled professionalism of the playing.

BB King’s “You Upset Me Baby” may not be the most left-field choice of opener, but the band gets away with it due to the élan with which they address the song, somehow managing that neat trick of sounding at the same time both traditional (in the horn parts and economical-yet-swinging rhythm section) and modern (in the tone of the lightly overdriven lead guitar and the Allmans-esque harmony guitar at the very end of the song). The Allman Brothers’ influence is also discernable in the harmony guitars and duelling solo guitars of “Long Burning Highway”, which has a verse structure not dissimilar to a Little Feat progression. Indeed, echoes of the great Feat can be detected in a number of songs, such as the humorously funky “There Ain’t No Honey” which also contains some glorious Lowell-esque slide guitar.

Big Shoes comprises Rick Huckaby on vocals and guitars, Will McFarlane and Kenne Cramer on guitars, Tom Szell on bass, Andy Peake on drums and vocals and Mark T. Jordan on keyboards. A number of guest also feature, including superb Vickie Carrico on backing vocals (and lead vocals on “There Ain’t No Honey”), Jack Pearson on guitar on “Lonely Avenue”, John Cowan on vocals on “Wrapped Up In Love” and a very impressive horn section dubbed the “Shoe Horns” (Kenny Anderson and Steve Herrman), whose contribution to tracks like “Wrapped Up In Love Again” is outstanding.

Shoes’ Blues features a nice mixture of covers and originals, with Szell, Jordan, Huckaby, Cramer and McFarlane all writing or co-writing songs seven of the songs on offer. The variety of different approaches the various writers take helps to contribute to the overall texture and character of the album.

The three covers are “You Upset Me Baby”, “Wrapped Up In Love Again” and an interestingly rushed version of Doc Pomus’s “Lonely Avenue”, which features a glorious saxophone solo from Michael Gutierrez.

Given the presence of three guitar players in the band, it is impossible from the recording alone to identify which player takes which solos. It is possible however to say that there are a number of top drawer solos, including the beautiful B.B. King flavoured lead on “Hey Baby” (which also features another cracking sax solo from Gutierrez).

It could be argued that Big Shoes aren’t offering anything new with Shoes’ Blues. It is straight-forward modern electric blues. The counter-argument of course is that not enough bands today are producing albums of well-written, well-played and well-produced blues. Shoes’ Blues is such an album.

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 

karla and too bad jim cd imageKarla And Too Bad Jim

self release

12 songs time-39:50

This dynamic acoustic blues duo from Kansas City brings an authenticity along with an energetic approach to the old time blues. With Jim Herbert’s mastery of National and acoustic guitars and Karla Peterie on washboard and mandolin they make plenty of music without any outside help. They both provide vocals separately and together. Jim has a great blues whine in his voice that lends a nice hokey sound to the delivery. That is certainly a compliment. His guitar playing has just the right amount of casualness and looseness to fit in with this repertoire. Karla contributes a voice with a nice rootsy twang. They exhibit the same simpatico musical sound whether it be a cover or an original song. Fifteen years of playing together will do that to ya.

Jim’s melodic National slide guitar under Karla’s lovely mournful vocal on Reverend Robert Wilkins’ “That’s No Way To Get Along” gets us started on our stroll down the dusty blues road. Jim’s delivery makes Gus Cannon’s “Poor Boy Long Ways From Home” sound like his version is itself from the early twentieth century, easily.

On Skip James’ “Crow Jane” Karla shows here as elsewhere on this record how well she delivers a song usually associated with a male vocalist. Her singing just flows so naturally. The first of three originals, “Last Piece”, has Jim on acoustic backed by Karla’s mandolin. Karla’s composition “What Would I Do” is rootsy in the Woody Guthrie style, with her on mandolin and Jim on slide.

The twosome join voices on “Deep Elem”, a song often associated with The Grateful Dead, but it’s erroneously given writers credit to them here. It’s actually a traditional blues. The mandolin and guitar ring out nicely here. Jim’s voice does have similarity to Jerry Garcia’s. Karla gives an authoritative reading “Rollin’ And Tumblin”” as Jim’s National guitar slips and slides at break neck speed over Karla’s washboard scrubbing.

Brownie McGhee’s ode to perseverance, “Life’s A Gamble”, is given a breath of life. The original “Nice Guy Lousy Husband” is a humorous, authentic sounding hokum song done as a duet. “Exactly Like You” is an old-timey foot tapper where the duo trade verses against some lively acoustic pickin’. The program finishes off with “Hallelujah Joe”, a tune by Kansas City Joe McCoy And The Harlem Hamfats, featuring some background shouting. It’s another good timey, old timey number.

No revelations here, just some well done versions of some old acoustic blues songs delivered by two talented folks. Sit back, kick off your shoes and transport yourself to an imaginary front porch somewhere in the deep south and crack open a couple cold ones.

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

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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

Crossroads Blues Society – Byron, IL

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

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