Issue 10-34 August 25, 2016

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2016

 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Kenny Neal. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including music from Smilin’ Bobby, Oz Noy, Big Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore, The Beki Brindle Blues Band, The Blues Bones and The Mick Clarke Band.

Our video of the week is Kenny Neal.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

BBMAs logo imageHey Blues Fans,

Tickets and Vip sponsorships to the 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards are available on the Blues Blast Music Award website,

It is shaping up to be an amazing show with performances by 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, Andy T-Nick Nixon Band, Anthony Geraci & Monster Mike Welch, Andy Poxon & Little Ronnie, Henry Gray, Bob Corritore, Guy King, Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges, Jon Spear Band and the Corey Dennison Band. This gonna be one BIG Blues party!

Get your tickets now at at!

And while you are there 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. (Every year, we run out of official t-shirts, so this is your best bet to get one!)

Our good friends at the the Crossroads Blues Society are having a great blues party this weekend at Lyran Park in Rockford, IL. Their Crossroads Blues Festival is Saturday and it features The Flaming Mudcats from Australia, Joanna Conner Band, Ghost Town Blues Band, Tad Robinson and Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. Tickets are only $5 in advance or $10 at the gate. Tickets and info at

Blues Blast will be there so be sure to say hello!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

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 Blues Wanderings 

Blues Blast made it out to Blue Monday at the Alamo in Springfield, IL for a show by The Jeff Jensen Band. If you have see Jeff you know how entertaining their showmanship is. If you haven’t make a point to check their website and catch them soon.

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Jeff’s latest album is a live album entitled River City Sessions. Check these guys out!

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

smilin bobby cd imageSmilin’ Bobby – You’re The One!

Self Released

9 tracks

Smilin’ Bobby and the Hidden Charms have released a great album featuring this West Side Chicago guitar legend. Bobby Smith turned 77 years young on Sunday, July 17th. His infectious smile gives us an idea where his nickname came from; his stinging guitar make for an exciting performance! These original and cover tracks showcase what this under appreciated and mostly unrecognized guitar wizard is all about. He writes songs and performs with an attitude that tells us his life is ruled by that continual smile. Warren Lathan joins him on bass, Myron Katz on drums and BK Read plays rhythm guitar.

I had heard of Smilin’ Bobby but had never seen him before this year. I have missed out on an artist who puts on a great show, writes cool songs and who is a great guitar player. He approaches the six strings with restraint and takes his music seriously. He picks out a lead as neatly as anyone, sings with great emotion and just puts on a great show. I am sorry to have missed him all these years and wanted to help get the word out so others can enjoy this fine artist. The tracks do not follow the listed order on the cover (which only lists seven songs). The nine tracks here appear to be a re-release of his album “Big Legged Woman” (minus one track and another looks to be renamed) or updated versions of 9 of that album’s songs..

Bobby creates a great West Side groove as the album begins with a super instrumental cut which is “Bobby’s Strut” which may also be entitled “The Scamp.” A sublime guitar picker, Bobby is smooth and refined in his style, layering his lead over the steady riffs of the rhythm guitar and back line beat. This instrumental shows us the man can play! “I Didn’t Know” has a shuffling boogie beat as Bobby expresses his distress over a woman that does not treat him right. A beautiful and sublime guitar solo in the middle and end of the track really lets us know what we’ve missed- he’s the real deal on this Howlin’ Wolf cut.”Cold, Cold Feeling” is a sultry slower blues by Jessie Mae Robinson that hearkens to the smoky days in crowded clubs on Chicago’s West Side. “You’re The One” picks up the beat a bit as he sings his own song about the woman who stole his heart. He picks out another set of slick solos and tells us about how he gives his woman what she wants, when she wants it and where she wants it. “Big Legged Woman” is a cool cut where he tells us of his woman and why she’s the one she wants. A funky beat and a great story here in this one.

Bobby testifies to us and bemoans about what happens after being out with the boys for an extended period. “Gotta Leave This Woman” is an up tempo original piece that Smith tells us he’s got to get out of this relationship. “Little By Little” is a neat cut; a great shuffle that Bobby sells with vocals and guitar; he tells us how “little by little” and “bit by bit” how he’s getting won over in what appears to be a one way relationship. “You Don’t Love Me” gives us his take on the Willie Cobbs classic; a bouncing beat and shouted lyrics make this a charmer. He finishes up with “Mind Your Own Business” where he tells his woman to leave him alone in no uncertain terms.

Bobby is a great, old school musician who is also a charming man, an entertaining musician and a bubbly and effervescent human being. His attitude is off a much younger man who has life ahead of him; here we have a man happy with whom he is, knows his place in the cosmos and enjoying what he does. Bobby travels the world singing his blues and spreading a personal non-religious Gospel of happiness. God bless him—he is a great person whom I am happy to have made the acquaintance; I hope to keep it going as long as I can!

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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 Please Help – Henry Gray Flood Victim

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91 year old legendary blues pianist Henry Gray has lost his home and all his possessions in the flooding that has ravaged Louisiana recently. He is safe and in good health but stated yesterday “I have lost everything.” Henry is one of the last remaining links to the formation of the postwar Chicago Blues of the late 40s and early 50s. He participated in many of the defining recordings of this genre in sessions with Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers and many others. Henry still is a vibrant performer, rocking festival stages around the globe and earning numerous recent awards and nominations. But at his core Henry is simply a musician who earnestly loves to wholeheartedly share his craft with audiences large and small. How daunting it must be for a 91 year old to have to restart his humble life. We have set up a GoFundMe account to help Henry Gray in his time of need. Any donations large or small will make a difference. Also if you can repost this notice it would be greatly appreciated.

Click HERE to donate to Henry Gray.

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

oz noy cd imageOz Noy – Who Gives A Funk

Abstract Logix – 2016

10 tracks; 61 minutes

Israeli guitarist Oz Noy’s latest album was made in New York with the cream of local players and a stunning array of guests as he sets out to pay homage to the funk explosion of the late 60’s and early 70’s. With an even split of originals and covers the album is all instrumental except for one vocal, courtesy of Corey Glover (Living Color). The other guests include Robben Ford, Joe Bonamassa and Dweezil Zappa on guitar, John Medeski on keys, Fred Wesley on trombone, Chris Potter on sax and Randy Brecker on trumpet. The latter is significant as one of the touchstones in this music (for this reviewer) is The Brecker Brothers whose jazz-inflected funk seems as relevant here as James Brown who is also covered. The core band is Oz on guitar, Will Lee on bass (Roscoe Beck deps on one track), Rocky Bryant or Steve Wolf are on drums (Chris Layton and Anton Fig on one cut each), Daniel Sadownick on percussion and Jerry Z on keyboards (with Reese Wynans appearing on one track); a three man horn section of David Guy (trumpet), Clark Gayton (trombone) and Ian Hendrickson Smith (sax) appears on seven tracks.

The album opens with two of Oz’s originals: “Come On” certainly grasps the funk nettle firmly with the smooth horns contrasting with the heavy funk bass/percussion. As with most of the tracks here there is ample time for the musicians to show their solo abilities, Oz playing one of his signature skittering runs as the horns provide subtle backing, Fred Wesley’s trombone featuring in the second half of the tune; “Flashback” is less successful to these ears as Oz takes to the wah-wah pedal, at times quoting from “The In Crowd” over an insistent rhythm before John Medeski adds his eerie-sounding Wurlitzer. Far more enjoyable is the band’s take on Charles Mingus’ “Better Git It In Your Soul” which over the course of its seven minutes takes us on a gentle ride with the core refrain played in unison by Oz and Jerry Z, the horns outstanding in bringing gospel soul to the tune and Randy Brecker’s soaring solo topping the piece off superbly.

James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” is the perfect vehicle for this album’s concept and Oz’s well-controlled wah-wah work works well as the rhythm section builds up a real head of steam before releasing Chris Potter’s exuberant sax to play around with the familiar riff. Oz’s “Ice Man” is presumably a tribute to Albert Collins who knew a thing or two about adding funk to the blues and works very well with a great core riff played by Oz, the horns adding punch and Robben Ford stepping in to deliver a great solo. “Zig Zag” is one of the numbers that the horns sit out but the insistent groove and Oz’s extensive guitar work make the track work fine. “Damn, This Groove” has Dweezil Zappa and Oz exchanging some very distorted and, at times, unpleasant guitar ‘noise’ though the basic tune certainly fits the funk concept and the horns are back to add propulsion to the riff.

That leaves three tracks to consider, none of which appears at first to fit the concept of the album. Sam Cooke’s oft-covered “A Change Is Gonna Come” is played as an instrumental, Oz’s aching Les Paul taking the part of the vocalist over some beautiful organ work from Jerry, the horns making a subtle entrance towards the end of the first verse – a lovely take on the classic tune but not a lot to do with funk, this serves as a nice middle break on the album. Jimi Hendrix must undoubtedly merit a mention in a history of funk but the choice of his most famous ballad “Little Wing” is at first slightly strange but with Corey Glover’s soaring (and at times histrionic) vocal and no fewer than three drummers (Anton Fig being credited for ‘reverse drum fills’) there is no doubt that it’s a stunning version, Oz’s guitar suiting the dreamy arrangement perfectly. Probably even stranger on a funk album is a Thelonious Monk tune but the version of “Five Spot Blues” here works well, at least as a guitar fest, with Joe Bonamassa and Oz exchanging bright solos over an all-star band of Chris Layton, Roscoe Beck and Reese Wynans whose organ work pushes the groove well.

Overall this is an album with several high points and a few low ones but guitar fans are sure to find material here that they will enjoy.

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 – 3 of 6 

big jon atkinson cd imageBig Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore – Party at Big Jon’s

Delta Groove Music

16 tracks / 61:25

House parties with live entertainment usually end up with a loud bands that give a valiant effort at recreating favorite hits from classic rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Allman Brothers. Often there is more enthusiasm than talent, and sometimes it is a relief when the band takes a break. Party at Big Jon’s, the new album from Big Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore is nothing like this, and it is an hour-long set of vintage blues sounds that are served up with enormous talent.

As he was born in the late 1980s Big Jon Atkinson is a relative newcomer on the blues landscape, but he has somehow escaped his generation’s fascination with the shiny allure of videogames and social media, instead focusing his energy on the genre that he loves. Big Jon’s 2014 debut album, Boogie With You Baby, is an amazing piece of work and it was an avenue for his music to reach beyond the fans that were lucky enough to see his live shows. For a fellow that has not even hit 30 yet, Atkinson has earned the respect of fellow bluesmen and his voice has an aged timbre that is beyond his years (in good ways). You would be hard put to find a modern blues singer that has his talent or his unmistakable feel for the music. He is pretty good on the guitar, too!

His partner on this project, Bob Corritore, should need no introduction, as he is one of the premier harp men in the business today. Bob learned from and played with Chicago blues masters, and he brought this knowledge and skill with him to the Sonoran Desert in the early 1980s. Corritore opened the famed Rhythm Room in Phoenix in 1991, and if you are ever in this part of Arizona this is the premier joint to hear quality live music. This man also spreads the good news of the blues gospel though his website and his radio show, and he collaborates, produces, and promotes other blues artists. Bob Corritore is a righteous dude, to be sure.

Party at Big Jon’s was produced by Atkinson and Corritore, and it was recorded last year at Jon’s Big Tone Studio in his hometown of San Diego, California. The tracks were laid down using vintage equipment and techniques, giving the whole project a satisfyingly raw electric blues sound. They got top-shelf help in the studio from guitarist Danny Michel and bassist Troy Sandow, as well as a trio of fine drummers: Malachi Johnson, Brian Fahey, and Marty Dodson. Some very special guests also joined in, as you will soon see. The content is divided between classic blues tunes and originals that were written by this duo and their friends.

The hour-long set is bookended by two songs that Atkinson wrote and sang, and they both have the feel of yesteryear with Jon’s slightly muffled vocals and thumpy double bass from Sandow. “Goin’ Back to Tennessee” kicks things off with a conventional blues lyrical style accompanied by instrumentation that provides space for the guitar leads and Corritore’s tasteful harp work. Bob does not need to wow the listener with crazy harmonica antics, as his phrasing and musicality are spot on for this and every other track on the album. The closer, “My Feelings Won’t Be Hurt” places more emphasis on the vocals, and Big Jon has the ability to howl them out without losing his edge and sounding too rough. It is hard to believe that he has developed this much talent and restraint at such a young age.

Big Jon only provides the vocals for half of the songs on this disc, and there is prime talent that takes care of the rest. A fellow San Diego denizen, Tomcat Courtney, performs his original “Mojo in My Bread” and there is no sign that this octogenarian is slowing down; his delivery of the clever lyrics is beautiful. Sticking with the mojo theme, Alabama Mike tears up Lightning Hopkins’ “Mojo Hand,” and almost outdoes B.B. King on “Somebody Done Changed the Lock on My Door.”

Chicago bluesman Willie Buck also sings one the originals that he wrote (“You Want Me to Trust You”), and takes a run at Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee.” His voice is as smooth as silk on these tunes, and it is a cool counterpoint to Corritore’s grittier harmonica parts. Another Windy City fellow, Dave Riley, does his original “Mississippi Plow”(he was born in the Magnolia State, you know) and Charles Johnson’s “At the Meeting,” a slow gospel blues song that is one of the standout tracks on the disc.

Big Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore did a wonderful job with Party at Big Jon’s. There is a consistent feel to the songs from track to track, despite the mix of older covers and new material, and the different frontmen that participated. The vintage sound is contagious, and this is one of the best traditional blues albums of the year; it will certainly be a contender for next year’s awards season. Check it out for yourself, and enjoy some excellent blues in one of its most enduring forms!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

beki brindle cd imageThe Beki Brindle Blues Band – All Kinds Of Beki

Random Chance Records

15 songs – 60 minutes

Beki Brindle has a blues résumé that many players can only dream of. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, she was lead guitarist for blues legend, Yank Rachell. Over the years, he has backed up many other greats, including Carey Bell, Johnny Mars, Tampa Red, Joe Lewis Walker and Fenton Robinson. In 2014, she was inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame. If she has not come across your radar before, however, her new album, All Kinds Of Beki, is a fine introduction to her multi-faceted skills.

Kicking off with the political “Young Woman’s Blues”, Brindle reminds the listener of the challenges still faced by young women in today’s society: “Some men think they work hard to pay their dues, but they’ve never given birth to a child they could lose. Until they do and they’re forced to choose, they’ll never know nothing about a young woman’s blues.” Her band is top class, laying down an irresistible rhythm over which Brindle lays her guitar and warm, full-bodied voice.

Of the 15 songs on the album, Brindle co-wrote seven songs and Claudia Handler contributed three more. Brindle also covers John Mayall’s “Possessive Emotions” (which features lovely keys from Pete Levin), Sleepy John Estes’ “Floating Bridge”, John Sebastian’s “Darling Be Home Soon”, Little Walter’s “It Ain’t Right” and Matthew O’Dowd’s “God’s Guitar”.

Brindle essays a wide range of styles on All Kinds of Beki. There is the upbeat blues of “It Ain’t Right” and “No Return Blues”; the funk-blues of “I Don’t Want My Baby Back” and the Bonnie Raitt-esque blues-rock of “Young Woman’s Blues”. Acoustic guitars feature on a number of songs, including the REM-styled rock of “Johnny Never” and “It’s Over” with its beautiful Fleetwood Mac-styled harmonies. “Diving Duck Blues” combines Brindle’s modern electric stylings with John Sebastian’s more traditional hybrid mandi-guitar that itself recalls Yank Rachell’s own mandolin playing. Perhaps more left field, “Could I Be The Woman (And You Be The Man)”, could be an out-take from a 1980s Pat Benatar session, complete with compressed drums, synthesizer stabs and heavily over-driven guitars buried low in the mix. “New Shoelaces” features a guitar riff borrowed from ZZ Top’s “La Grange” (itself borrowed from Slim Harpo, of course). The song also includes patented ZZ Top tricks like sudden stops leading into mini drum breaks, key changes for the solos, and lyrics that sound suspiciously like sexual euphemisms: “Some women like a man with brand new clothes. A man who’s recognised everywhere he goes. A man who can take them to all those fancy places. My man’s got old shoes, but he’s got new shoelaces.”

One of the highlights of the album is Estes’ “Floating Bridge” with Brindle’s unsettling, discordant guitar riff and Sebastian’s poignantly restrained banjo perfectly matching the darkness in the lyrics.

Brindle is a fine guitar player but she also has a glorious voice, ranging from the dream-like melancholy of “It’s Over” to the grit of “It Ain’t Right”, and sounding particularly comfortable on the slower tracks like “Darling Be Home Soon” and “Johnny Never”. The songs on All Kinds of Beki are well-written, often displaying a rare lyrical wit (“Nothing To Wear” is hilarious) and are played with precision and emotional commitment. If there is a question mark about this album, it is in the sheer range of genres and styles. There is of course nothing wrong with giving a nod towards one’s influences. In this case, however, the listener is sometimes left wondering which one is the real Beki Brindle.

Overall, however, All Kinds of Beki is a highly enjoyable album of modern blues and blues-rock and a perfect soundtrack to a summer BBQ or party.

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 6 

the blues bones cd imageThe Blues Bones – Double Live

self release

15 songs time-1:45:31

American blues music has a profound influence on European musicians and The Blues Bones from Belgium display that in their choice of subject matter and lyrics. The accompanying music leans more towards blues-rock and rhythm & blues, with straight ahead blues showing up from time to time. This record was recorded live at Hype Studio in Belgium in front of a small audience that is only audible slightly after each song. The bands’ line-up is quite basic with no outside help. The very able lead singer Nico De Cock fronts the guitar, bass, keyboard and drums configuration. Nico has the cool blues attitude in his voice down pat. It’s a nice change of pace that the singer doesn’t play harmonica. It seems like some bands will tack on a harmonica player regardless of his skill level. Nico’s tendency to include some jive talking within a few songs could give him the title of Belgium’s answer to Eric Burdon and Albert King.

The band commits itself just fine throughout with guitarist Stef Paglia and keyboardist Edwin Risbourg handling solo chores quite handily. Although Stef displays some nice soloing on CD 1, he really comes alive and super-charged on the second disc. Edwin’s organ playing shows much imagination. The rhythm section provides the requisite anchor to hold the band down. Twelve of the fifteen songs are band originals.

As the guys kick into the first track “Saved By The Blues” it’s a relief to find that Nico has no accent, making for a smooth listening experience for the American ear. The song is a funky R&B workout with rhythm guitar only. The lyrics are kind of belabored on “Voodoo Guitar” and the song tends to be a tad too long and boring. “Riding Out” gets things back on track as the upbeat tune goes from rockabilly to screaming blues-rock guitar.

“Moonshine” and “Find Me a Woman” feature some fine slide guitar work, along with some nifty bass on the latter song. The guitar and organ have a call-and-response battle on “I’m Still Your Man”. A catchy guitar riff is a highlight of “No Good For Me”.

As afore mentioned CD2 finds Stef Paglia really putting his playing into high gear. String bending, wah-wah and delightful guitar noise, it’s all here. “Broken Down Car” is adorned with a Hendrix-like riff and plenty of string bending and wah-wah. Electric piano, a twangy guitar riff and some nice and mellow guitar start off “I Try” as the guitar solo builds in intensity ala Robin Trower. More dreamy and floating Trower guitar riffing continues into Hendrix meets Trower territory on “Runaway”.

“Cruisin'” displays some nicely chugging guitar work. “Whiskey Drinking Woman” is marred by lots of jive-talking. The song is about the narrator’s woman drinking whiskey off his naked body…Go figure.

What the listener is left with is close to two hours of kickass blues-rock tempered with blues and R&B. There is much to recommend this CD from the highly imaginative guitar and organ playing to the lyrics and blues-rock attitude. Another fine example that blues influenced music is alive and well in the international scheme of things.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

mick clarke band cd imageThe Mick Clarke Band – Ruff N’ Roar – Live At Scratchers

Rockfold – 2016

9 tracks; 53 minutes

Recorded on a warm June evening in 2015, this CD finds the Mick Clarke Band as it says in the title – rough and raw, entirely live with no overdubs or studio ‘fixes’ – this is exactly how it went down on the night. The venue, ‘Scratchers’ is a weekend blues club held in an old pub in leafy Surrey, southern England, and Mick comes from nearby so this is a local gig for the band.

The sound is clear and you can certainly feel the roughness with Mick’s gruff but serviceable vocals, his tough guitar and the steady pulse of Chris Sharley on drums and Eddie Masters on bass. The nine tracks consist of tunes that will be familiar to most blues fans plus a couple of originals. For this reviewer Mick is at his best when playing slide, as he does on the opener, Elmore James’ “Happy Home” whereas the following cover of Lead Belly’s “Good Morning Blues” is really a bit too loose. Chris’ frenetic drums set the pace on Mick’s own “Rocking The Blues” which sets out the band’s musical philosophy with more slide work from Mick.

James Cotton’s “Love Me Or Leave Me” is a less obvious choice of cover and the band’s extended reading of the tough riffing slower tune gives Mick ample opportunity to show us his skills and provides a feature for Eddie’s bass which to be frank is dispensable. RJ’s “Walkin’ Blues” is a standby for many a blues band and Mick’s trio does a decent job, opening with a walking paced rhythm, Mick building the slide work as he goes along to good effect, possibly the pick of the tracks here.

“Little Rachel” has Louisiana rhythms and Mick’s slide work to go alongside and is followed by Mick’s second original “Cheap” in which he confesses that its quantity not quality that attracts him when looking for booze – “cheap don’t worry me, I’m not looking at the label, I’m looking for quantity”. A loping rhythm gets the toes tapping on this one before Hound Dog Taylor’s “Give Me Back My Wig” which is always fun for fans of slide guitar. The closing track is Willie Dixon’s “Give Me Love” which is, of course, the basis of Led Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love” from which Mick does quote (as well as “Cats’ Squirrel” and “Catfish Blues”) whilst mainly keeping to Willie’s original. Another extended version, this one closes with Chris flying round the kit, almost as if there should have been a drum solo but it was forgotten!

Mick Clarke has been around for a long time and made many albums. This one is bound to please his hard-core fans.

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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 Video Of The Week – Kenny Neal 

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Here is a video of Kenny from last month performing “Bloodline”, the title cut from his latest CD. Click on the image above to see this video.

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 Featured Blues Interview – Kenny Neal 

kenny neal pic 1“Hey, man, let’s get out of this place.”

The year was 1991, and Baton Rouge swamp blues artist Kenny Neal was so sure that he’d blown his audition for the Broadway play Mule Bone that he just wanted to get as far away from Lincoln Center as he could get.

“I’d never done anything like that. I flew up there to read for the part. I looked at my manager at the time and said, ‘That reading I just done was awful. No way I’ll get this, but I know one thing. Albert King is playing at the Blue Note tonight.’ So, we went to see Albert King, and we got a flight the next day going back to Florida and we go, ‘Man, they never would call me back. At least we got a chance to see Albert King.’ That’s all I kept saying, and then about a week later they called me and said, ‘Congratulations, we want you,’ and now I’m really nervous about it. I’m going. ‘Whoa, they want me.’ So, I went on and swallowed that pill and went to New York, and they gave me a coach. Her name was Novella Nelson, and she coached me for about three months before I went into rehearsal.”

Novella taught Kenny to trust in the moment, to let things flow. In fact, that has become his mantra in both the decisions he makes about his career and in the way he delivers on stage. In fact, one of his albums is called Let Life Flow (2008 Blind Pig). Being in the present – in the zone as it were – is what guides him in the way he writes his music and in the delivery. Every time he delvers a song it’s different.

“I have a guitar here by my bed, a little black acoustic guitar thatI have in my bedroom, and when I pick up a guitar I never play the same thing ever. It’s like I don’t know what comes to me, but when you just pick up the guitar and sometimes I hit a riff like, whoa, that was a cool riff, and then I’ll get my phone, and I’ll tape it because I know I’ll never play it again if I don’t tape it. So I grab it at that moment, and then I’ll go back and review it and a lot of times they become songs.

“I don’t know where it comes from if you want to know the truth, man. It’s just like my head is full of melody, and it just comes to me like that. I could be outside on my Bobcat or on my tractor and the tractor could be rolling and make a certain type of roaring noise, and I’ll start singing to it because I hear a melody. I hear a rhythm. Even with the windshield, I hate windshield wipers. When my windshield wipers is going, man, I can do so many songs to the windshield wiper.”

Trusting in the moment and letting things flow in response to happenstance have propelled Kenny through a career that includes six albums for Alligator, two for Telarc and his just released Blood Line for Cleopatra. Kenny is the son of Raful Neal, a Baton Rouge singer/songwriter/guitarist who was Buddy Guy’s early musical partner. Raful turned Buddy down in 1957 when the future blues icon invited him to take the train from Baton Rouge to Chicago to seek their fortunes as musicians in the city that Muddy Waters was building as the home of electric blues. Instead, Raful stayed home to be father to Kenny, his first new born in a family tree that would include 10 children. Both Raful, and his wife had been adopted, and as strong as the music’s pull was on Raful, a talented bluesman himself, the pull of establishing a family legacy was greater.

Known for his Louisiana swamp boogie, Kenny would become the first of 10 children in Raful’s new family tree. Kenny has made his brothers, sisters and cousins part of his band throughout his career. He has been around musicians since before he can remember. “It comes to me when I’m performing. I feel like I’ve been here with the guys years ago before my time.”One of his first memories concerns Slim Harpo, most famous for his 1966 hit “Scratch My Back.”

kenny neal pic 2“That’s one of the first things I remember when he brought this trailer to my dad’s – my dad used to share this trailer they would haul equipment in, and I remember he told me to go in. He brought it to my dad’s house for my dad to use it. And he said, ‘Go inside and see if there’s anything left inside the trailer.’ And I went into the trailer. He closed the door, and it went pitch black dark, and I freaked out. So (he put me) down and went into his Cadillac, got a harmonica under his seat and gave me the harmonica and said, ‘Oh, son, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you cry.’ He was apologizing, but I couldn’t stand Slim Harpo after that. I would go out in the back yard. I wouldn’t even come inside and see that guy.”

That said, Kenny went on to record A Tribute to Slim Harpo (True Life, 2005) with his dad. Raful died before the album came out. “After I got older, I realized how special it was to be around these guys and where I got it from. I didn’t like (Slim Harpo) for what he did to me, but when they would get in the house and practice, I would be the little kid that crawls up on my daddy’s lap and sat there watching. So, I was taking it in every time my dad had a rehearsal. I had Slim, James Johnson, Rudolph Richard, all these guys played on that record “Scratch My Back,” and they would be by my house all the time. So, when my dad had rehearsal, I mean that was like a concert time for me.”

Kenny was just 17 when he got the call to play bass with his dad’s former partner.

“Man, I was so ready to leave when Sam Guy, Buddy Guy’s brother, came into the club on a Friday night and put a note in my top pocket while I was playing bass guitar. When I took a break, the note said, ‘Call Buddy Guy. Here’s his number.’

“So, I go to the pay phone, and I call Buddy Guy up, and he said, ‘Phil,’ which is Buddy’s brother, ‘Phil Guy told me you’re playing regularly down in Louisiana, and you’re real good on the bass now. I haven’t seen you in a long time, but if you’re interested, I have a show at Antoine’s in Austin on Tuesday and (see) if you can do it. I’ll call your dad and talk to him. And you think about it, and if you want to do it, you can meet me on Tuesday.’

“Now, you have to remember I’d never left home before, and he tellin’ me to pack my suitcase. I wanted to say, ‘What suitcase?’ I didn’t even own a suitcase. So, I went home that night, woke my parents up and told my mom that Buddy wanted me to come to Chicago and play with their band, and man, she went to crying. She didn’t want me to go. My dad was about ready to get rid of my ass. He said, ‘No, man, I’m a little nervous, but I’m excited.’

“So, I got my little clothes together over the weekend and (got) a ride with one of my friends who was going to Houston, Texas, and they dropped me off in Houston, and I caught a Greyhound bus to Austin. So I caught the bus, and then I got a ride to Austin and met with Buddy. I don’t know how I did that without having any experience, but I did it, and I went to Austin, found a hotel, then made a call at rehearsal and sound check and then Buddy Guy and Jr. Wells at the time they were both together, and Jr. would call out the songs, and I’d go, ‘Damn, my dad used to play this song. I know this. Buddy Guy’d call out songs, and I know of those songs.’ So, my dad had groomed me, man. I was ready for it, and I go, ‘Damn, this is all I got to do’ So, when we did that first night I had the job, you now?”

Kenny had had his first experience with trusting in the moment, and it was sweet.

Securing a record contract with Alligator Records required a bit more perseverance. Somehow Kenny had gotten a hold of Alligator CEO Bruce Iglauer’s home phone number. “I called him and he’d just gotten out of the shower. ‘How’d you get this number? This is my home number. Where did you get this from?’”

That began a relationship that persists today even though Kenny is no longer with the label

kenny neal pic 3“Bruce is just a straight up guy, and he takes care of business as well. He’s always been straight up with his paper work. He’s always been a nice guy. Now, I’ve put quite a few grey hairs on his head. I take some responsibility for some of that grey that he has.

I don’t think he found out what the real blues was until he signed me up. (Laugh)

We’re still close, but he would never be surprised at what I would do next. (When I signed with Alligator) I was a young kid having fun, and I was putting out records, and he was selling records, and at the same time I was enjoying myself, too. I had a great time launching my career.”

By the time Kenny auditioned for Mule Bone he already had established himself with two Alligator CD releases. But this was a different game. This was Broadway. This was acting.

He went with the flow. “Broadway had zero tolerance, and they’re very professional. You can’t miss one word. They’re pros at that. That really taught me a lot when I got back to the stage as a blues performer. You can’t change the writing, but because of my rhythm I could use the same lines, but I could take my rhythm and change it. I could make it different, make it feel different.”

It was like improvising in music.

“Yeah, yeah. I could tell you something four or five different ways, and it’s the same thing. And I got that from not wanting to be bored on stage. So, I knew it was fun when I’d (put) the other actors off guard ’cause they think I’d deliver the same line the same way tomorrow night, but I’d hit ’em unexpectedly. I had fun, man. They used to come to my dressing room, say, ‘Hey, man, why’d you want to do that to me? You threw me off. You got me off guard.’ I’d say, ‘Cause you weren’t paying attention.’ They were probably used to every night being the same thing. You can just get into that same old routine every night, and then I found out a way to have fun. So I had a gas, man, ’cause I could change up the vibe.”

In 2005 Kenny was diagnosed with stage 4 Hepatitis C, a potentially lethal disease. The doctors were shocked when he seemed to be oblivious to his situation. Raful had taught his son the importance of family and in the last 11 months, Kenny had lost his dad, his brother and his sister.

“At that point I was real ill. The sickness I went through and the medication that I went through was nothing compared to what I’d already gone through when I lost my dad, my brother, and my baby sister got murdered. I buried all three of my family members within 11 months. And then right after I buried my family it couldn’t get any worse than me burying my baby sister. Whatever I had to go through, I was ready for it, so I still hadn’t healed from the tragedy in my family. So I went through all of this at the same time, and I don’t know. It was like a big dream, a nightmare. The doctors was talking to me and telling me my condition and how bad it was, and it was kinda strange to them because I was sitting there not even worried about it.

kenny neal pic 4Family was everything, and it was almost like Kenny’s hepatitis wasn’t even on his radar.

“Both (my parents were) adopted. This was the first family tree, and that was more important to my dad and my mother. I think that’s why they had as many kids because they wanted to start their own family tree, and my dad was always caring, loving, always preached to us to stick together and love one another.

“I still say that on stage every night. It’s very important for family to stick together, love one another, and enjoy life, and that’s what he always taught us. That’s why me and my brothers got along. I mean my family, we see each other every day, but when we see each other it’s like we hadn’t seen each other for months. We laugh and talk, and we enjoy the moment, and that’s what my dad instilled in all of us.”

Blood Line is Kenny’s new album. There are eight family members on it playing an array of instruments, and yet things never sound busy. Each instrument plays a role similar to the Tedeshi/Trucks Band. Kenny plays all the lead guitar. The title cut is most typical of his “swamp blues” in a Dr. John meets Ray Wylie Hubbard number about family blood running deep. “Ain’t Gon Let The Blues Die” is an homage to everyone whose died in the genre from Jimmy Reed to Freddie King and Big Mama Thornton and Otis Redding to John Lee Hooker.

The album is produced by Tom Hambridge who produced two of Buddy Guy’s recent Grammy winners, Skin Deep and Living Proof. Hambridge basically brought Guy into the 21st century writing autobiographical songs for him as well as bringing his live guitar runs into focus on record. He didn’t have to work as hard with Kenny.

“I wanted to invite Tom over and work with him because we always said let’s do something together, but when I got to Tom, everything was already down because I was working with another guy, and he didn’t work out for me. He wanted to manage me and all that stuff. He was a vice president of RCA or something like that. He’s retired, and it didn’t work out with me and him. So then I just took the whole project and got ready to do it, and I said, “You know what? I owe Tom one. Let me call him up because I wasn’t too happy about Blind Pig when Tom and I wrote “Down in the Swamp.” (Blind Pig neglected to give Hambridge a co-writing credit.)”

Kenny performs Friday, October 7th at King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, and he will share the podium with me, Bob Margolin, Bob Stroger, and Lonnie Shields for the sixth annual Call and response Blues Symposium at the Festival the next day at noon. Roger Stolle hosts a first half at 10:45 with special guests Sean “Bad” Apple, Hezekiah Early, Mark “Mule Man” Massey, and “Lil Poochie” Watson. Expect Kenny Neal to talk about his “blood line” and how his career has been shaped by family values and memories of his childhood with his dad.

“He used to tell my mom to get me ready on a Saturday afternoon when I was about seven or eight years old, and he would put me in that car with them and go to the juke joint. I would sit outside until it was my turn to play ’cause I wasn’t allowed in there, and he would put me on the bar and give me that microphone, and I never forgot that, man. That was like my – you know Andy Griffith and Opie used to go fishing?”

Visit Kenny’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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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. August 29 – The Hector Anchondo Band, September 5 – JW-Jones, September 12 – The Rusty Wright Band, September 19 – Harper and Midwest Kind, September 26 – Brent Johnson And The Call Up.

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, Sept 8, Laura Rain & The Caesars f/ George Friend, Hoppy Pig, 135 N. Kinzie, Bradley IL, Thur, Sept 15, Danielle Nicole Band, Moose Lodge, Bradley IL, Thur, Sept 29, Reverend Raven and CSAB, Kankakee Valley Boat Club, Wed, Nov 9, Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat, Manteno Sportsmen’s Club, Manteno IL. For more info visit

The Kansas City Blues Society – Kansas City, MO

The Kansas City Blues Society is raffling a cabin for 2 on the sold out January 2017 Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise. Only 500 tickets are being sold. You may purchase tickets for $20 each online at

KCBS has paid out almost $9000 this year to aid local music industry people in financial crisis. It is hosting the 5th Annual Michael Shannon Memorial Golf Tournament on Sept. 7 to raise funds. A fundraiser concert will occur a week earlier.

KCBS is sponsoring Blues in the Schools at Gillis (serving at-risk youth). Every other week, kids get to listen and learn from a local musician and write and perform their own songs. Local blues diva and music therapist and Gillis employee Lauren Anderson initiated this program. Visiting musicians include Jason Vivone, Brandon Hudspeth, and Jaisson Taylor, all former KCBS IBC winners.

Crossroads Blues Society – Byron, IL

The seventh annual Crossroads Blues Festival is ready to go! Held annually since 2010, the festival’s home at Lyran Park has won blues fans over. The park is a natural amphitheater situated on the confluence of the Kishwaukee River and Kilbuck Creek, just south of Rockford Airport. Lyran Park is privately owned by the Lyran Society. They and co-sponsors the Crossroads Blues Society are both non-profit organizations. Located at 4781 South Bend Road, Lyran Park offers a beautiful, shady setting with great acoustics, plentiful free parking and primitive camping opportunities for the festival ($20 per night Friday and/or Saturday). The festival remains on the Saturday before Labor Day weekend, which is August 27, 2016. Gates open at 11 AM, the music starts at noon and runs through 9:30 PM.

Headlining the event is Southern Indiana’s hill country group Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band at 8 PM. Soul blues great from Indianapolis Tad Robinson is on at 6 PM. At 4 PM the Ghost Town Blues Band from Memphis grace the stage. Chicago’s slide guitar wizard Joanna Connor is on at the 2 PM time slot. The day opens at noon with the fantastic band from Auckland, New Zealand who were in Rockford in 2013- The Flaming Mudcats. Birddog and Beck, winners of last year’s Crossroads Solo/Duo Blues Challenge, will be featured between acts. Ken Olufs will conduct a harmonica workshop at 3:30 PM with free harmonicas for the first 25 kids who are 10 and under.

Beverage Garden and BBQ & more..(No Outside Food or Drinks) Bring your chairs and Camping is available. Tickets $20 Day of Show – $15 Advance and SIBS members.

Advanced tickets are once again only $5 and are available through both Crossroads Blues Society and the Lyran Society. They can be purchased mail by check; please include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Mail orders go to Crossroads, Post Office Box 840, Byron, IL 61010. Tickets can be purchased on line with a credit card via PayPal at Ticket outlets are in Rockford and the Stateline area. Rockford: Woodmans Supermarket on Perryville Road, Culture Shock and Guzzardos Music, both on Charles Street; Just Goods Store on 7th Street; CD Source on State Street; Toad Hall on Broadway;. Other locations: Snyders Drugs (Byron, Oregon, Winnebago); Value Fresh Market (Byron); Paradise Guitars and Grand Avenue Pub (Beloit); Cristy’s Bar (Freeport).Proceeds from the festival support Blues in the Schools, an effort Crossroads began 14 years ago. Since then 180 programs have been conducted for 50,330 area students. Please come out and support live music and help keep the blues alive. Call 779-537-4006 with questions.

Long Beach Blues Society – Long Beach, CA

The newly-created Long Beach Blues Society presents New Blues Festival III, on Saturday, September 3 and Sunday, September 4, at El Dorado Regional Park in Long Beach, Calif. Music starts at 10 a.m. each day. Tickets are $30. Blues legend Bobby Rush headlines Saturday’s Main Stage; roots/rockabilly great Lee Rocker headlines Sunday. Thirty original blues acts on 2 big stages. Big LLou Johnson, on-air personality at Sirius XM’s B.B. King’s Bluesville, is Guest Emcee. Tickets/info:

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