Issue 10-45 November 17, 2016

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2016

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Joe Louis Walker. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including an album of roots and blues Christmas music called Christmas Songs on the Lam and Other Songs for the Season plus new music from Barrelhouse Chuck, Jimmy J Pinchak Band, Juke Rockets Blues Band, The Terry Hanck Band, JP and the Razors, Diana Rein and Pistol Pete Wearn.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

barrelhouse chuck cd imageBarrelhouse Chuck – Remembering The Masters

The Sirens Records – 2016

14 tracks; 43 minutes

Chicago pianist ‘Barrelhouse’ Chuck Goering studied the masters of post-war Chicago blues piano, in particular Sunnyland Slim and Little Brother Montgomery. Some 40 years on this disc commemorates what Chuck learned and reminds us all of that great tradition of piano/guitar duets of yesteryear. There are no drums, bass or harp here, just Chuck’s superb piano playing and Billy Flynn (a long-time collaborator) on guitar and mandolin. Two other pianists also contribute, Spain’s Lluis Coloma and fellow Chicago player Scott Grube. The material is drawn from the piano masters themselves: Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, Leroy Carr amongst others and Chuck contributes four original tunes.

What better way to kick off such a tribute to the piano masters of the past than a “Homage To Pinetop Perkins”? Chuck’s twinkling right and rolling left hand excellently complemented by Billy’s deft fretwork. JB Lenoir’s “How Much More” gives us the first of Chuck’s vocals and while he is definitely not the world’s greatest vocalist his serviceable vocals deliver the lyrics clearly. On Johnny Young’s “Keep On Drinking” Billy switches to mandolin and he and Chuck weave some great patterns round the core tune; another of Johnny’s well-known compositions (with Floyd Jones), “Stockyard Blues”, appears later in the disc.

Leroy Carr is the source for two tunes: “How Long, How Long Blues” again features Billy’s mandolin work while the less well-known “Straight Alky Blues” is the longest tune here, performed by Chuck solo and although Billy’s work is great throughout the disc Chuck is more than capable of filling all the space on his own, as he does here! Little Brother Montgomery is also the source for two tunes, “I Just Keep On Drinking” adding yet another alcohol-related song to the disc, Chuck using electric piano for the only time on the disc and “Vicksburg Blues” for which Chuck passes the piano stool to Lluis Coloma while he concentrates on the vocals, Billy sitting this one out. Little Johnny Jones is the source for “Chicago Blues”, a slow blues with Billy on slide while Sunnyland Slim’s “She’s Got A Thing Going On” is another solo piano/vocal performance which Chuck performs superbly, the tune having a definite rock and roll feel.

Irving Berlin’s “How About Me” sounds an odd choice but with Chuck concentrating on vocals, Scott Grube on the piano and Billy playing acoustic slide the tune takes on a real blues feel. Chuck collaborated with Mary-Anne Moss on the uptempo “I Forgot To Remember” which works great as Chuck sees his ex and “forgot to remember I’m not in love with you anymore”. Chuck’s “Double D Boogie” clocks in at 1.40 and acts as something of a half-way interlude on the CD, Billy again using slide, and the album closes with the aptly named collaboration “Chuckabilly Boogie” which leaves us with some amazingly fast piano/mandolin duelling.

Chuck has been in ill-health in recent times but this disc was recorded in early 2016 and he sounds great here so let us hope that he will make a full recovery and provide many more piano highlights in the future. Beautifully presented in a case with lots of photographs of these old masters of the piano, lovers of Chicago piano will lap this one up and it makes a fitting tribute to the masters of the past by one of the present masters of blues piano in the Chicago style.

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 – 2 of 8 

jimmy pinchak cd imageJimmy J Pinchak Band – Blue On Arrival


9 Tracks; 42 minutes

Jimmy J Pinchak has talent. He can play guitar and sing, plus he’s also an actor with some pretty good film and TV credits (appearing with Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis), and he’s 20 years old. Other than that, I have nothing against him.

Seriously, though, it’s great to see young guys coming into the blues and it’s clear from the opening hits and soaring harp note kicking off “Murder”, the first track, that young Mr. Pinchak feels his music. It’s in the growl and style he sings with. He has excellent expression and phrasing.

He is also backed by a very solid band, from the tight rhythm section of Melvin Brannon on bass and David Daniel Diaz on drums, and especially outstanding piano from Gary Swann who accentuates the music with great fills but never gets in the way of the vocals or the song. There is also a terrific harp player on this cut, but he is uncredited – so he’s either a studio musician or he’s a top player doing a favor. He appears later on the CD as well.

Of the eight tracks on the CD, Pinchak wrote six, quite an achievement for someone his age. His guitar style also tends toward a “less is more” ethos, which is very, very refreshing in this day of screaming guitar slingers who only have two volumes, “Deafening” and “Are Your Ears Bleeding Yet?”

The second track, “Hit My Stride” is a hard driving blues rock number with hints of George Thorogood and Edgar Winter. Great Hammond work from Gary Swann and also from Brannon on bass.

Just when it seemed like the CD was going to become entirely blues rock, Pinchak brings it back to pure blues with a solo dobro guitar version of “Crossroads”. Yes, of Robert Johnson and Cream fame. That takes chutzpah, but he pulls it off.

After another good rocker, Pinchak brings it way, way down with a classic slow, electric blues. “Poison” is a really terrific minimalist arrangement with piano, guitar and harp taking turns supplying some really sweet fills. Pinchak also does a very nice solo, again adhering to “less is more”, so the song has lots of air and lots of places to breathe. Although it is amusing to hear a 20-year-old lament “I used to be a bad man – nine years in the pen for armed robbery,” a strong vocal performance gives the lyric some weight.

Pinchak does a very nice job on the Willie Dixon classic “I Can’t Stop” with excellent guitar fills, supported by Swann’s buoyant Hammond. Pinchak maintains a true blues tone on his solos, and that unsung harpist adds just what a Chicago blues tune needs.

What I really like about Pinchak is his commitment to blues music. Not content with just doing “Crossroads” as a solo acoustic tune, he performs his own “Poor One” and “Stuck In Glue” with just voice and acoustic guitar. This shows a respect for the blues men and women who came before; who created, arguably, America’s first musical art form. This depth of respect is rare today, especially in one so young.

I also like that he is a guitar player who doesn’t feel the need to make his CD all about the guitar. On “Best I Could” he lets the piano again have its moments and introduces a really cool trumpet, sometimes muted, sometimes full voice that serves the music wonderfully. This is a band, not a lead instrumentalist with the sidemen there just to play behind endless solos.

As Pinchak is young, there are some youthful rough edges. His voice, which is already good, is only going to acquire gravitas as the young man acquires life experience, which that bodes very well for future efforts. It is rare for actors/musicians to succeed in both careers (Bruce Willis anyone?). I hope Pinchak can do it. If not, I hope he chooses music. He’s got something.

Reviewer Lex Dunn is a writer and musician living on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He has fronted blues bands in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax and looks forward to his next venture on the Island. He is passionate about music in general and the blues in particular.

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

juke rockets cd imageJuke Rockets Blues Band – Hungry Soul


10 Tracks; 53 minutes

This CD was written, performed and recorded by a busy, working, blues band. Their website attests to their weekly Friday and Saturday night gigs at a casino in their hometown of Bangor, Maine. It can be tough for a local band that earns its reputation every week as a live act to make the transition to the recording studio.

Juke Rockets start out very well. They write their own songs. In fact every song on this release is original except “Summertime.” The songs are pretty good and a couple are standouts. Their musicianship, while not virtuoso, is capable and serves their music well.

The band has a good rhythm section, which is tasked with maintaining energy and intensity. This can be tough, especially on the slow songs but drummer Tim Woitowitz keeps the band driving forward on every track. With the contribution of bassist Steve Mellor, the rhythm section is particularly strong on the very engaging “We Threw Our Love Away”.

Lead singer, Carlene Thornton, is quite good, especially on the softer, moodier numbers – good phrasing, full resonance and very good expression. She also likes to belt, and she can really let go. But it is the tracks where she explores a more subtle dynamic range where her voice really shines.

The band gets props for writing their own songs. The opening track, “American Train” smokes along at a good clip and has a nice, fresh approach to laying down a driving train rhythm. “Hungry Soul” is the title track, and this is one of those softer songs where Carlene Thornton’s voice seems most at home, with nice harmonies from Woitowitz and bassist Steve Mellor.

“Mister 7”, the best track on the album, is a sultry, slow blues number where Ms. Thornton sings with depth and sensitivity. The guitar work on the track by Ron Casillo is strong too, with a rich tone and smooth solo.

They should have kept to original songs, or at least not have chosen to include a cultural icon. “Summertime”, written by George Gershwin, one of America’s greatest composers, for his masterpiece opera “Porgy And Bess”, has been covered by Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Janis Joplin, among many, many, many others. It is remarkably difficult to bring originality to it after so many great artists have sung it. You can also hear this cover just about anywhere there’s a woman blues singer, and it has been destroyed in Karaoke bars around the world.

The Juke Rockets try to deliver a fresh arrangement, but neither the arrangement nor the vocal performance are quite successful at delivering the emotional truth of this American classic. Perhaps, it is simply that the song is overdone and needs to be retired, or least to take a long hiatus, from set lists everywhere.

There are bands like the Juke Rockets in clubs, pubs, bars and tents in every corner of the USA and Canada. Some show great promise with innovative, original approaches to existing songs as well as their own compositions. Others are the amateurish weekend warriors, barely capable of playing their instruments, that too many bar owners are booking these days.

Juke Rockets are somewhere in the middle. This CD is uneven, but if they build their future recordings on the strong foundation of “Mister 7”, they will be on the right track. In the meantime, “Hungry Soul” is a solid journeyman effort from a working, journeyman blues band.

Reviewer Lex Dunn is a writer and musician living on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He has fronted blues bands in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax and looks forward to his next venture on the Island. He is passionate about music in general and the blues in particular.

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

terry hanck band cd imageThe Terry Hanck Band – From Roadhouse to Your House – Live!

TVR Music/Vizztone Label Group

13 tracks

This is a fun live CD produced by Terry Hanck and Kid Andersen. It was recorded at the California State Fair in July, 2015 and mixed in Andersen’s Greaseland Studio. Terry is on vocals and plays tenor sax, Johnny “Cat” Soubrand is on guitar and vocals, Butch Cousins is on drums and vocals, Tim Wagar is on bass and Jimmy Pugh is the special guest on keys, a member of Terry’s old Berkely band The Rats.

“Good Good Rockin’ Goin’ On” opens the CD and showcases each member of the band. Hanck blows his sax through the roof, Soubrand wails on guitar, and Pugh lays it out on the keys while the backline is solid. “Flatfoot Sam” is an old Oscar Wills cut with plenty of horn and Terry revives it nicely as the band creates a great boogie woogie beat and interplay supporting his sax work. “Junior’s Walk” is an original tribute to Junior Walker and features more mean horn by Terry. The band is tight in support. “Whatcha’ Gonna Do When Your Baby Leaves You” is a 1958 Chuck Willis cut that Terry struts and strolls through. Sax and guitar solos and a little testifying to the crowd spice this up nicely. The original “Smilin’ Through My Tears” is a slow, rocking blues that hearkens back to the days of sock hops and dancing all night. This cut would have been a favorite of the guys and gals as they slow danced into the wee morning hours. The cover of “I Don’t Love You No More” by Jimmy Norman that was a big sax hit back in the day with some cool baritone sax. Hanck replaces that with his tenor and gives a convincingly cool rendition. The piano solo and work is also fun, and then the guitar joins the fray for more fun. Louis Jordan’s “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman” gets a superb cover as Hanck and company jump and jove as few can.

The Tyrone Davis cut “Can I Change My Mind” from the 1960’s gets covered well as the band gets a little mellow as they swing through this old, great song. Then we get to hear Dave Specter’s “Octivatin’” which is a fine instrumental from his Spectified album. The guitar work does justice to Specter’s cut and Hanck’s horn takes it over the top. “Live To Love” is an original that follows and it’s another nice jump number that is sweet and so is Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away;” Hanck delivers the goods on originals and covers! Hanck and Company complete the set with Hanck’s “Cupid Must Be Stupid,” a fine original that Hanck has done in the past wit many a great artist is support. Huge guitar and sax solos and just great playing by all involved make this special.

I loved this CD. Anyone wanting to hear great sax work with superb originals and fine covers and any lover of jump blues needs to get this fine live album. Kudos to Hanck and Anderson for making it sound good and kudos to Terry and the Band for a fine performance!

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 – 5 of 8 

jp and the razors cd imagejp and the razors ep imageJP and the Razors – Let the Good Times Roll and Covering All the Corners


CD: 7 Songs, 20:17 Minutes

EP: 4 Songs, 10:53 Minutes

Styles: Blues Covers, Traditional and Contemporary Electric/Acoustic Blues

All artists have to start somewhere when they embark on a creative endeavor. Take yours truly, for example, who is trying to write a novel. I started with an age-old scenario, a haunted house, and am proceeding from there, hoping the trope doesn’t turn into tripe along the way. The same is the case with Northwich, UK’s JP and the Razors, who present us with two blues albums: a full-length CD full of covers, and a short EP featuring fresh compositions. Ironically, Let the Good Times Roll and Covering All the Corners could have been combined, to make a 30-minute release with more oomph and variety. Besides, their titles should have been switched around. Covering all the Corners contains the original songs, while Let the Good Times Roll offers tunes so familiar they’re like the backs of blues fans’ hands: Willie Dixon’s “The Same Thing,” Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” and Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway,” for example.

Overall, no one can fault their enthusiasm and energy, but one might get the sense they don’t feel the full depth of the emotion in the music they’re playing. Have they really done enough real-life sinning to equal Hank Sr.’s anguish, as he laments his sorry condition? What about the universal lust applauded in “The Same Thing”? On and their promotional information sheet, JP and the Razors (and I, for that matter) quote Simon Jones of f Roots Magazine: “…[they’re a] bunch of free thinkers who play for the hell of it…” This may be true, but many fans think playing the blues should be more than a casual hobby. People who eat, drink, live and breathe their favorite genre may not be impressed by the nonchalant style of this British band.

According to their website via Reverbnation, “It took a couple more years for front man JP Slidewell to rediscover his song writing boots, but by the mid naughties they were a full on Alt. Country rock band just called ‘The Razors’ playing the likes of The Borderline and The Greyhound in the big smoke, and the likes of The Musician and The Railway further afield. They also played The Britons Protection Festival and started to get noticed more as an ‘Americana’ act.”

JP and the Razors now consist of JP Slidewell on guitar, vocals and harmonica; Dave “Robbo” Roberts on bass guitar and Stuart Arthur Wright on drums.

The following original song is the best of their lot, short and sweet, but it proves that this ensemble has a lot of potential.

EP Track 01: “There’s Something Going Wrong” – Clocking in at a lightning-paced one minute and fifty-one seconds, the EP opener is an acoustic zinger: “You get caught in the middle of a one-way street You take a girl dancing with two left feet. You can’t see right when doing wrong. You always said, ‘Hey, it’ll take too long.” Dig JP’s hot harmonica and bouncy acoustic guitar.

JP and the Razors, if they focus entirely on their original material in the future, will really shine!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 37 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 – 6 of 8 

diane rein cd imageDiana Rein – Long Road

Rude Mood Records

12 songs – 59 minutes

Diana Rein’s sophomore release, Long Road, is a slightly curious album. While holding itself out as a blues release, it actually sits more comfortably in the heavy rock category, albeit one with a blues influence. And then, somewhat confusingly, when you insert the album into a CD reader, it categorises its own genre as “Indie Rock.”

Rein acknowledges Stevie Ray Vaughan as her over-riding inspiration, to the extent of naming her son after him, naming her record label after one of his songs and referencing him in her lyrics, and yet the music itself is a long way away from the blues and blues-rock that SRV played. Perhaps the closest it comes to SRV is in the funky verse riff of “The Real Thing”, although the vocals, chorus and break again veer into rock territory.

Elsewhere, Rein’s primary influence appears to be the classic heavy rock of riff-based bands such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep or even Black Sabbath – the riffs, vocal melodies and vocal performances from “Livin’ Loud”, “Green Light” or “Come Back Home” could have come from an early album by either band. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot a variety on show – the gentle instrumental closer “Peace” has hints of Rainbow’s “Weiss Heim”, while the raucous driving rock of “Wild One” boasts a memorably effective riff. “Down Down Down” has echoes of Band of Sculls in its modern-day stomp, while the chorus effect on the guitars in “Don’t Walk Away” and Rein’s vocal melody give the song an enjoyably 80’s feel. Individual songs often demonstrate significant structural dynamics, such as the segue in “Done Me Dirty” from its opening classic heavy rock riff to the acoustic verse and chorus.

Rein is clearly a serious talent. She produced the album, wrote all 12 songs and, in addition to providing all the vocals, she also played all the lead, rhythm and bass guitars. Favouring a reverb-laden lead tone, Rein is capable of producing some mouth-watering classic Strat tones in her quieter moments. What is generally absent however is any deep feeling for the blues and one has to wonder how much this is related to Rein’s decision to use EZDrummer to provide the drum parts to the album.

A decision to use drumming software rather than a real drummer can be contentious. Drum programming is still a long way from being able to replicate the subtle dynamics made by a living person. This is particularly true for the grooves required in blues and rock where micro-variations in rhythm or volume can dramatically affect the overall sound of a recording. As a result, despite the superb mixing and mastering by Peter Duff, the songs on Hard Road can sound like they are missing an intangible human element. So, for example, on “Wicked” there is a sense of unresolved anticipation as Rein builds and develops her guitar solo but the rhythm section doesn’t quite follow.

There are many enjoyable moments on Long Road and more than enough signs that Rein has a lot to offer. It will be fascinating to see where she goes next.

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 8 

christmas songs cd imageVarious Artists – Christmas Songs on the Lam and Other Songs for the Season

Red House Records

12 tracks

St. Paul Minnesota’s Red House Records works up their first ever Christmas album with Christmas Songs on the Lam and Other Songs for the Season. Featuring a dozen cuts from their artists, it’s a fun and interesting new holiday album that music fans of several genres including the blues will enjoy.

Davina and the Vagabonds give a jumping rendition of “Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)” with nice vocals, piano and trumpet work, Bill Kirchen and Austin de Lone give us a country bluesy “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'” to enjoy. Nice and greasy stuff here. Heather Masse does an original entitled “Mittens” that is a nice country ballad. Prairie Home Companion fans might remember Heather. John Gorka also does an original; “Holed Up in Mson City” is another country tune about getting stuck and unable to go home due to the wintry weather. Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for A Winter’s Night” by the Pines mixes acoustic and electric guitar in a Dylan-esque and rootsy performance. Hauntingly beautiful. Suzzy Roche does “Cold Hard Wind,” another traditional, old school bluegrass song where Roche is on vocals and guitar and Loudon Wainwright backs her on vocals and banjo along with a nice ensemble of artists.

Dale Watson & The Lonestars do the original “Christmas to Me,” a rockabilly country Christmas song featuring Waton’s big baritone voice and Telecaster sound along with some sweet pedal steel. Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams do “Blue Christmas.” Williams vocals are sweet and paced slowly to give a very blue feeling. Campbell harmonizes and plays acoustic guitar, bass, mandolin, and pedal steel. It’s a nice country rendition. “Together All Alone” is next, an original robin & Linda Williams tune from their own Christmas album. The haunting mouth harp is well done and the song helps sell this very good little cut. Charlie Parr does a hill country blues Christmas original where he and his trio pick out the funny but well done “Slim Tall’s Christmas on the Lam.” Jorma Kaukonen does a solo piece entitled “The Baby Boy” where he plays acoustic guitar and offers up vocals depicting the Christmas story. The Wailin’ Jennys do their song “Glory Bound” where banjo. fiddle, guitar, bass, drums and percussion blend with the vocalists on this sweet country cut.

Rootsy and well done Christmas songs and a few songs of the Winter season grace this album. I’m always on the lookout for a new and interesting Christmas album and this is a very fine one! I enjoyed it and think country, roots music and blues fans will find something here to enjoy!

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 – 8 of 8 

pistop pete wearn cd imagePistol Pete Wearn – Service Station Coffee

Footstomping Records

12 songs time-36:49

After making a name for himself on the live blues circuit for several years both as a solo artist and as the frontman of the electric band .44 Pistol, Englishman Pistol Pete Wearn delivers his first full length CD of original material as well as reinterpretations of blues classics. In possession of a classic English blues voice along with being adept on acoustic and electric guitars and harmonica, Pete presents an eclectic blend of blues while employing an able crew of accompanying musicians. His weapon of choice is often slide guitar that is complimented by varying instrumentation that often includes banjo, violin and keyboards. The music here is at once raw and urgent. The rough edges reinforce the blues vibe. A sense of realness is achieved via the music and Pete’s unbridled voice. His music is as true as it gets.

Blues meets Jack White with echoed vocals and distorted electric slide on “Money Lenders In The Temple” as its’ insistent beat nicely beats the listener on the noggin. Slide guitar mimics his vocal delivery on “When I Lay My Burden Down” over an organ drone and subtle violin. The old blues warhorse “Rollin & Tumblin” features acoustic slide, Dan Walsh on banjo and what sounds like foot tapping for percussion. The stark solo acoustic guitar piece “Excuse Me” is about the coziness of Pete’s favorite pub.

A variety of instrumentation (violin, banjo, piano, harmonica, guitar, female backing vocals) is utilized as it weaves in and out on “Eight Miles From Stafford” a tale about Pete’s journey to his home town and where the CD’s title is taken from a lyric. Distorted electric guitar is the sole support on a chilling “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”. The solo approach is also used on the original “When The Sun Goes Down”, this time it is acoustic slide. His down home slide here makes you wanna call yer hound dog.

A rousing version of “Jesus On The Mainline” finds banjo out front with acoustic slide and female backing vocals close behind. The original “I Just Can’t Keep From Crying” is only accompanied by acoustic slide and foot stomping. It briefly quotes from Son House’s “Don’t You Mind People Grinnin’ In Your Face”. Acoustic slide, violin and foot stomping propel “Just Another Sinner”. An old timey string band feel is approximated via banjo, violin, harmonica and acoustic guitar interplay on “Sitting On A Station”. The proceedings finish with a vocal accompanied by harmonica and foot tap on “Police & High Sheriff”, replicating Pete’s raw solo sound to a “T”.

The guy surely has “IT”. “IT” being a love and pure feel for the blues in his presentation. The atmosphere brings you down home even if you have never been there. Not in a museum piece sense, but in the way he along with his musicians meld the old with new sensibilities. I can be a bit of a blues purist as times and this stuff right here suits me and hopefully you just fine.

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

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 Featured Blues Interview – Joe Louis Walker 

joe walker pic 1How does an artist remain relevant over the entire length of their career? Times change, their fan base ages and develops new interests while younger artists bring fresh perspectives and novel approaches to what has been the norm. The creative spark has to run deep to have any chance of remaining relevant. For guitarist, singer and songwriter Joe Louis Walker, the secret is simple.

“I work with a lot of younger people while looking for something that is challenging or different. You have to try to bring fresh ears to the music to reach people that haven’t been reached before. The term blues music is a brand. It means credibility. If Cyndi Lauper or John Mellencamp makes a blues record, that gives them credibility. The guys that invented the music weren’t surrounded by dancing girls or playing out of fake books. They were individuals. The number one change is that the term blues encompasses so much, stuff that fifty years ago wouldn’t have been called blues. Now it has expanded into numerous styles plus expanding geographically. There is just as much blues coming out of England as there is in America. The trick is to make sure we don’t lose the essence”.

Walker is encouraged that blues music is being heard more these days in advertising campaigns in addition to television shows and feature films. But he also notes that there is room for improvement in terms of honoring living musicians who have made significant contributions to the music. “There are fantastic people like Henry Gray, Eddie Clearwater and Eddie Shaw playing traditional blues. But they aren’t held up and promoted the same as people like B.B King or Pinetop Perkins. How many people know that Eddie Clearwater is a wicked guitar player? I’m talking real West side soul, shaking the neck of guitar. Eddie can just flat out do that thing like Otis Rush could do. It’s not a lot of notes but its a lot of feeling. He doesn’t get asked to do a lot of the tributes and Grammy shows, so listeners have to hunt him out.”

Put out of the house at at the age of sixteen, Walker was living in San Francisco and learning how to play. In 1969, he moved to Evanston, IL, just north of Chicago. That gave him the opportunity to take in the blues scene. He was fortunate enough to see legendary Magic Sam and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Some years later, he would reconnect with a member of that aggregation.

joe walker pic 2“I had been out of the house for a couple of years. Johnny Cramer, who is Barry Goldberg;’s cousin, was my musical partner, doing a duo like Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell. He introduced me to Michael Bloomfield, who ended up moving in with me and Johnny. I was a working musician while Michael was pulling back from playing, starting up Electric Flag. He showed up at the right time in my life. He knew what he was doing. I am indebted to him in this lifetime and many more. I grew up around the corner from the Grateful Dead and Wavy Gravy, the anti-star people. I never heard anyone in that generation say they wanted to be a star, to be famous. There was no shortcut if you wanted to play music. You had to put the time in. You couldn’t be a Facebook musician”.

“Michael took me to Chicago to play with Otis Rush and put in a word for me with Charlie Musselwhite. I was nineteen when I played with him. That gave me a realistic view of the blues. With Bloomfield there was more to it than just a lot of notes on the guitar. Blues is the human condition. It connects us all through suffering and gives us something to hold on to when times are bleak. You take comfort knowing that millions of others are feeling the same thing. Nobody gets through life without going through ups and downs”.

Acknowledging that the blues has morphed into a lot of different things, Walker offers some comfort for those who believe the genre is getting watered-down. “ A lot of folks are saying this ain’t the blues, that ain’t the blues. The trajectory was that when Muddy Waters left Mississippi for Chicago, most musicians were sitting down playing acoustically. Muddy changed it, ramped it up with his showmanship and the bottleneck slide. He wasn’t the only guy doing it but it was exciting. But people weren’t paying attention in those days. When I saw Magic Sam, there were six people there – and I brought five with me! Then the English bands like the Rolling Stones helped connect the music with younger ears. Fast-forward to the 1980s and you had the same thing with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray giving it a shot in the arm”.

“These days you have mega-stars doing the music of the older guys. There are two ways to look at that. If they are playing the music of the legends, where is their own music? Or, if people are doing the music of Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf, and Freddie King their way, who is to say they can’t do it. The reality is that they are reaching a whole new generation. If the music is going to stay alive, you’ve got to reach the new generation. As much as I love old blues, whether we like it or not, the young people are making their statement. So some of us put on our musical armor. But the blues is impeachable as music. The founding fathers of blues gave us a template that works not matter what color you are, what your sexual preference is, what country you are from. It has given a lot of people a life they never remotely expected”.

joe walker pic 3While he is traditionalist at heart, Walker gets the appeal of rap and hip-hop music, viewing it as a today’s version of rock & roll. He also feels that attempts to categorize music are exercises in futility. Brought up in the church, Walker returned to his gospel roots in 1975 when he joined the Spiritual Corinthians. “A lot of my friends were dropping and dying. People that I was in the room with, talking to them. It was time for a change. The music is very similar, the delivery can be similar. In gospel you are singing for God, in blues you are singing for your baby. Lots of great singers have come out of the church, because you learn to emote, to tap into the holy spirit. It hits you different. We did an anniversary program with the Soul Stirrers and R.H. Harris was there. I never thought I would meet him. He raised my awareness. I asked him about having just a guitar player to accompany the band. He was adamant that he didn’t need all that other stuff. From that I learned that when you strip away all of the noise, you can really hear yourself sing. Hearing the natural human voice the way it is meant to be heard is the sweetest sound in the world. It is pure, from one person’s soul to yours without 900 watt amplifiers or wah-wah pedals”.

“If a band can’t get you one way, they will just bowl you over. Wolf and Muddy didn’t bowl you over. It was about the nuances. Forget about whether it was in time or in tune. It was a lot of emotions. They made you lean forward to listen to them instead of leaning back to escape a barrage of notes”. Unlike some artists who were chastised for leaving the gospel world for the secular realm, Walker made an easy transition back to the blues, although it cost him one relationship. “I had a girlfriend who claimed she was really religious. She did the same things everybody else did. Like Son House said, preaching the blues wearing a short dress on Saturday night. One night she commented that she liked any kind of music but blues. I said I am going to take you home – and take care”.

Working with the older members of the Corinthians taught the singer to be more focused. Their stories let him know that it was not just about jumping on stage to perform. “There is something deeper to tap into that is uniquely African-American, although anybody can tap into it if they know the story. It is for people who suffer around the world. There is solace in gospel just as there is in blues. If you are in a gospel group and you don’t have any money, nine times out of nine the guys in the band are going to help you. It was the camaraderie and family that appealed to me”.

“You know the song, ‘Stealing In The Name Of The Lord”? I must have heard ten thousand sermons in my life. Maybe two of them started out with the pastor asking people to hold up their hand if they were in need. Mostly it was the other way around. People asked me if I got religion. I already had it! I’m a freak of nature – went to Catholic school in the daytime, Catholic church in the morning and Baptist church at night. I got enough religion to last me eighty- nine lifetimes! Sam Cooke brought so many people to the church. How can he become a bad guy overnight for singing “Cupid, draw back your bow…”. When my friend Mavis Staples was asked how she felt about playing the Devil’s music, she said she didn’t know the Devil had any music. In the Bible, it says make a joyful noise under God”.

jow walker pic 4Walker possesses a restless musical soul. A friend pointed out that he is pictured with a different guitar on cover of each of his twenty-seven releases. The guitarist is fine not having a signature instrument, taking the view that a guitar is a piece of wood and some strings, nothing comes out of it until someone plays it. When the spirit took hold at the 1985 New Orleans Jazz Fest, he left the Spiritual Corinthians to return to playing blues. “It was time for something else. I always have something a little bit different in my music. It might be a nursery rhyme or add something my grandmother used to say”.

“I needed to make my mark. I am really fortunate that all of the labels, producers, and record executives that I worked with have allowed me to be me. Like Bruce Bromberg and Hightone Records – they weren’t a church or three chord blues record label even though Bruce came out of that, as I did. They wanted original songs, which was tailor-made for me. It was a fertile time. As I got older, people expected me to do my own thing, which I am grateful for. I battled, so it easy to relate to younger musicians fighting to get their version out there. It is hard to sing about a little red rooster or having iodine in your coffee unless you had it! In gospel and blues, it only rings true if its happened to you. Willie Dixon once told me that doing a bad version of me is better than me doing a good version of other people. I will never, ever forget that”.

Rejection is one thing that all artists experience. Walker tries to turn disappointment into opportunity. “It sure doesn’t feel good when you are going through it. It makes you more adamant about being an artist. Like the time Robert Johnson wanted to play with Son House, who told him you ain’t got it right now. Go somewhere and go get it. So Johnson went somewhere and got it. But if they hadn’t told him to get it, he might not have amounted to anything. Robert turned failure into success. B.B. King was the poster child for that. He took the blues from the outhouse to the penthouse to the White House. That is why there was such an outpouring of love when he passed. It was like Nelson Mandela, the Pope, and the President all died at once. That poor sharecropper inspired so many people and did it with dignity”.

With blues music today being far more guitar-eccentric, Walker struggles a bit to make sense of it all. He has experienced the conversion from being an accompanying instrument to the current state of up-front, center stage with amps turned up to twenty. Sometimes he longs for the days gone-by when the masters took brief solos instead of stretching out with indulgent, lengthy eruptions. “I’m not saying it is right or wrong. It is just weird to me. Like seeing shows now with sixty-plus old men on the front of the stage, salivating over some eighteen year old girl while playing “Sweet Home Chicago”. My dad use to tell me that blues is grown-folk music. You have to reach a point of maturity, when everything sinks in. Then you can put your life in song. It’s one thing to want to play this stuff. But you have to be realistic. I don’t give a damn how much you practice the guitar. You ain’t never, ever going to play like Hubert Sumlin, never sound like Howlin’ Wolf. Those days are gone”.

“People run around singing “Smokestack Lightning” and have no idea of what it means. It is riding the blinds, getting out of Dodge, let a poor boy ride. My father was from Mississippi. He used to say that it was a good place to be from – and he meant it. He didn’t say it with a lot of vitriol or hate. He knew that if his family was going to have a better life, he needed to get out of there. If you can tap into that, make people feel what it’s like to have to get out of somewhere on cold, dark evil night when you don’t know who is coming for you, you don’t have no recourse – let a poor boy ride. That’s the blues!”

Visit Joe’s website at:

Interviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying life without snow. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and the past president of the Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!.

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Santa Barbara Blues Society – Santa Barbara, CA

The Santa Barbara Blues Society presents Rick Estrin and The Nightcats Saturday, November 19, 2016, at the Carrillo Recreation Center, 100 E. Carrillo St. in downtown Santa Barbara. Doors open at 7 PM; there are free BBQ snacks and there is a large dance floor. Opening act Jeff Joad, “Son of the Mississippi Delta Blues,” will play from 7:15 to 7:45, and The Nightcats will play two sets starting at 8 PM.

General admission is $30; VIP seats, in front of the stage with one free drink, are $40. Multiple discounts are available; call (805) 722-8155 and leave name and number. Further information is available at

Crossroads Blues Sociey – Rockford, IL

December features Dan Phelps at All Saints Church on December 4th. The Jimmys return to the Hope and Anchor for the December 10th show which will also be Crossroads Annual Christmas Party with a gag record exchange! December 16th we feature Dave Fields from NYC to do some Blues in the Schools and an evening show at the Lyran Club Fish Fry! Our big and special treat for December is the amazing Duke Robillard, who will be at the Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center in Rockford on Thursday, December 8th starting at 7 PM. Advanced tickets are $15 and entry at the door is $20. The Mendelssohn PAC is located at 406 North Main Street in Rockford, IL. Tickets and information are available at!

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. November 21 – Brother Jefferson, November 28 – Tas Cru, December 5 – The Mojo Cats, December 12 – Hurricane Ruth, December 19 – Mary Jo Curry, December 26 – James Armstrong.

Additional ICBC and ICBC partnered shows @ The Alamo, 6 pm: November 17 – James Armstrong Presents – Johnny Rawls, December 1 – James Armstrong Presents – Kilborn Alley, December 15 – James Armstrong Presents – Susan Williams.

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