Issue 10-46 November 24, 2016

solomon hicks cover photo

Cover photo by Arnie Goodman © 2016

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with young rising star King Solomon Hicks. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Mississippi Heat, AC Steel and the Galvanizers, Tony Torres, Sammy Eubanks, Lightnin’ Malcolm, Mark Harrison, Layla Zoe and Doug McLeod.

Bob Kieser and Nate Kieser have Part II of the 2016 King Biscuit Blues Festival coverage.

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

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mississippi heat cd image

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

mississippi heat cd imageMississippi Heat – Cab Drivin’ Man

Delmark Records

16 tracks

All the business consulting wizards say the #1 thing for a business to be successful is constancy of purpose. I’d wager that applies to success in any field. If you have a constant purpose, a dependable course of action, or a great team of players who remain on the same page year after year then guess what? You will become and remain a winner!

Well, that’s what Pierre Lacocque and Mississippi Heat have done. The band has gotten industry attention several times. They won the Blues Blast Music Award for Best Traditional Blues Album in 2010 for Let’s Live It Up. Then they put together a band together in 2014 that had one of their most successful albums ever in Warning Shot. The CD charted immediately and remained #1 on Living Blues charts for five months in a row and Mississippi Heat won Band Of The Year in the 2015 Blues Blast Awards! So rather than play the continual sideman to a revolving door of blues stars that graced the band, Pierre stabilized the lineup to give the band consistency. The immensely talented and soulful Inetta Visor remains the lead singer as she has for a long time. Michael Dotson writes some songs and plays some mean guitar, challenging Lacoque to play his harp on a superior plain. The backline of Brian Quinn and Terrence Williams on bass and drums are experienced and know what to expect from each other. Kenny Smith plays the drums on 3 cuts but has basically moved on to the demands of touring, so Brian and Terrence have developed timing and feeling for each other’s playing. Constancy of purpose. And add a host of other great talent for fun and you have another great effort here!

Here we have 16 songs, 11 new ones from Pierre, 3 more new ones from Michael and two very cool covers. The title track takes inspiration from Cab Calloway, drawing on the vaudevillian cabaret style as Inetta gives a breathy and inspired performance. Lacocque blows some dirty harp that his hero Big Walter Horton would be proud of. The band shucks and jives tot eh beat which gets a cool addition from Ruben Alvarez on percussion and Sax Gordon on the horn. Pierre also penned the opener, a bright and sprightly blues called “Cupid Bound.” Visor’s vocals and Lacocque’s harp shine. Dotson also offers up a sweet solo later in the cut. Chris “Hambone” Cameron does a fine job on keys and Gordon’s horn add some nice punctuation to the song, too. “Flowers on My Tombstone” is some well done slow blues Pierre has written and the band stands up to the task, delivering another great performance. Dotson’s thoughtful solo is sweet up front and of course Pierre’s later on is also tasteful. Sumito Ariyo makes his first of two performances here and it is swell. “Icy Blue” is the next song of Pierre’s. It opens with some stinging guitar from Giles Corey with harp layered in well. Harp and guitar solos are big and luscious here as the song gives us a little funky blues to enjoy. Pierre’s “Life is Too Short” is a pleasant country porch sort of Chicago blues with an airy and light sound that adds variety to the mix.

“Rosalie” is another funky cut written by Lacocque. Quinn’s bass opens the piece and sets the tone here; he pretty much carries things on his strong bass line here. Visor offers a forthright delivery and Corey responds with equally forthright guitar work. Lacocque then joins the fray with a one-two harp punch on his solo. The mid tempo rocking “Luck of the Draw” is straight up Chicago blues; Lacocque delivers one winner after another and here we have Dave Specter on lead guitar adding some really good stuff to the mix. “Mama Kaila” is another airy and slow ballad that Lacocque wrote; he and Visor approach this with restraint. Dotson gives an equally touching solo that fits the mood. “Music Is My Life” is another winner where Pierre’s lyrics and music offer us some cool slow blues that the band plays right into. The piano here by Sumito Ariyo plays a big role to counter Lacocque’s harp and it works well. “Lonely Eyes” is a rhumba like cut where the band shows some more variety in another nice little cut written by Pierre. Organ, guitar and piano back the harp up here and then the piano also shares the spotlight. The last of Pierre’s songs close the set; “Hey Pipo!” is a bouncy instrumental with Lacocque and Cameron trading the lead. Everyone joins in the musical fun as they make a fine closing argument.

Dotson’s “That Late Night Stuff” is a driving and rocking blues that he also sings for us. Gordon’s sax plays a nice role here as the band moves the song along behind Dotson’s vocals. He then gives us a big and gritty solo followed immediately by a cool one by Pierre. “The Last Go Round” has a ZZ Top meets Muddy Water sort of feel to it in Dotson’s second of three cuts. Hot licks mixed with a sound that reminded me of “Trouble No More” and harp that Lacocque styles on Little Walter make this a gem. Mike also sings this one. Dotson’s last cut is a edgy “Can’t Get Me No Traction” where he again sings for us in his deep bass voice. Dotson’s style is more dirty and edgy and his cuts are equally excellent. The guitar and harp work here are pretty cool too.

I mentioned there were 2 covers. The old Gregg Allman solo standard (originally made famous by Fontella Bass and Bobby McClure) “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing” has Giles Corey share the vocals in a duet with Inetta. His grit and approach are nice complements to Visor. His guitar is also sweet here (he’s on the whole album with some spot leads) with nice solo work here again. I loved the duet and overall approach here. “Smooth Operator” gained fame with Sarah Vaughn and Visor gives us another great performance to make it hers. Sax Gordon helps sell things with some excellent horn work and the percussive stuff by Alvarez is effective here, too. Well done by the entire band!

After 16 cuts I can honest say there are no duds here – all 16 are really well done and showcase the talents of the band and their friends. This is Mississippi Heat’s 12th album and 6th on Delmark, bringing passion and superb musicianship to the table time and again. Old school blues, funky and soulful sounds, rocking good music, a great boogie and swing and all sorts of other stuff blend together in this great new CD by Mississippi Heat. I enjoyed it and I am sure fans of the band, Chicago blues and the blues world in general will receive this album well- it’s a really good one! I have no hesitation here- go get it now!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

a c steele cd image AC Steel and the Galvanizers – Now or Never

Self Release

11 tracks / 48:24

Philadelphia’s AC Steel and the Galvanizers is a slick band and their new disc, Now or Never, is perfect for listeners who want plenty of guitar with their blues. You may never heard of their frontman, Stephen Solotist, but he took an interesting path to get to this point in his music career.

An awesome guitarist, Solotist and his band flirted with the big time back in the 1970s, opening for big name acts such as the Allman Brothers and Pink Floyd. After shipping off to England for a while and turning down a slot with UFO, he eventually came back to the States and entered the world of day jobs and daily commutes. But he also stayed in the music game, playing gigs with the Jukerockers and the Dukes of Destiny.

Stephen is joined on Now or Never by the Galvanizers, whose members include “Chicago” Carl Snyder on the keys, Rich Curtis on the bass, Bud Manton on the skins, and Arlyn Wolters with the backing vocals (most of these folks are also members of the Dukes of Destiny). The disc was cut at Buckeye Studios in the City of Brotherly Love by co-producer Peter Richan. Ten of the eleven tracks on this album are originals that were written by Solotist, and apparently he is a capable singer and songwriter, in addition to his prodigious guitar skills.

The disc starts off with a taste of edgy blues-rock, “Can’t Keep the Big Man Down,” and this tune is the story of Kevin McCann (the singer and guitarist for the Little Red Rooster Blues Band), who is recovering from Guillain-Barre syndrome. Joining into the fray with his harmonica is another Rooster member, Dave Holtzman, and he has a sweet tone!

The mood changes dramatically for the next song as a pair of locals join in: Wanamaker Lewis on banjo, and Larry Feldman on fiddle and mandolin. This instrumentation gives “What Would Muddy Say” more of a roots feel, as Stephen ponders how historical figures such as Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and Frederick Douglass would interpret the state of society today. The vocal harmonies between Wolters and Solotist really make this song special. Lewis and Feldman also help out on the lone cover on this disc, an acoustic and folksy take on Robert Johnson’s “Come On in My Kitchen,” featuring harp from John Colgan Davis (another member of the Dukes).

The band also lays down a few tracks that are more whimsical, and some listeners may find the funky “Little Cat Purr” to be adults-only material. There is also a slow-burning ode to the misuse of alcohol, “Tequila Seals the Deal,” and the mother of all stalking songs, “Love Hate Letters.” And finally, the album finishes up with “Too Many Guitar Slingers,” an uptempo blues piece where Stephen bemoans the surplus of guitarists on the market, and he warns “if you want to get paid and have it made in the shade, don’t become a become a guitar slinger.” Snyder throws down a nice piano solo here and Curtis also get the chance for a bass solo, driving home the point of this song. For a change of pace, there is also a cool instrumental featuring AC’s guitar, and “Steelman’s Stroll” is a fun two and a half minute romp, just in case anybody doubted Solotist’s guitar slinger qualifications.

Now or Never is a neat album from AC Steel and the Galvanizers, and their particular brand of guitar-driven blues is fresh and fun. Please note that should you happen to purchase a copy of this CD, a third of the funds will be donated to Kevin McCann to help defray the expenses for his medical care. And, if you get a chance, head over to the band’s website and check out their gig schedule. They have some dates coming up, and if you are anywhere around Philadelphia area you should make the time to see one of their shows. There is a lot of experience in this group, which should translate well to the stage!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

tony Torres cd imageTony Torres – A Real Gone Time

16 Tracks; 66 minutes

Guitar Slingers of the world, unite! This is your CD. Tony Torres is an unabashed slinger who blends blues riffs with high octane leads. He’s very good at it, but he is also versatile enough to change up the mix. Dramatically.

After the full-tilt blues rocker of the opening title track, “Real Gone Time” and the rhythmically complex “Let’s Rock It”, he shifts into the strange and strangely pleasing “Surf Queen” which combines early 60s surf style guitar with a slightly Latino feel. His smooth vocals also give the song a unique sensibility.

“5 O’Clock Blues” is another hybrid. Its lyrics are classic blues – “It’s 5 o’clock in the morning, and you ain’t here with me, don’t know what you’re up to, don’t know why you leave me be.” But the musical vibe is a mélange of 60s electric country, early 60s rock, a pinch of surf guitar and a whole lotta attitude. It really works.

He takes this feeling even further in the engaging “Cowboy Surfer” which you could also describe as Ghost Riders in the Surf. It is a peculiar and wholly original sound and I found myself getting completely immersed in it.

The more I listen to this CD, the more respect I have for Torres’s ability to fuse a wide range of influences into his song writing and arrangements. Of the 16 tracks on this CD, he wrote or co-wrote (with Dave Costarella) 13 of them. And they reveal an impressive range of styles, but it is especially how they fuse different styles into something new and fresh that is truly impressive.

“Marie, Marie” is a rocker with strong Cajun influences. The beat is Cajun, the guitar is rockabilly in Cajun rhythm and the voice goes from sounding slightly French to singing in Spanish. That is one musical gumbo.

Then Torres abruptly shifts gears on “Tongue Tied” into a power trio instrumental exploration that has traces of Hendrix, Mountain, and other guitar screamers from the past. He follows this up with another instrumental, “Ribbon In The Sky” that recalls Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana. It’s a laid back, sweet groove with some really intricate but tasteful guitar licks.

And to show even more versatility, Torres lays down some driving slide guitar on “Baby Come Home.” He wraps up the CD with “El Gato”, a unique take on traditional Mexican rhythms and chord structures with an overlay of blistering lead guitar. Sort of Metallica meets Los Lobos.

This album is many things, but what it isn’t is blues. There really isn’t a straight blues number on it. But it rocks and rolls and takes more left turns than the Indy 500.

Tony Torres can play. His voice, while not a great serves the music well – it fits his musical style, or rather, musical styles. If there could be one criticism of the CD it is that it may be too eclectic. It shifts gears so many times in so many directions, that musical whiplash is a ready threat.

Still, in a world where music seems more and more to be put through a blender, Tony Torres is an original, and that is gone, man. Real gone.

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 

sammy eubanks cd imageSammy Eubanks – Sugar Me

Underworld Records

10 tracks

Sammy Eubanks was born in California and now calls the Pacific Northwest his home. His style is what I’d call honky-tonk blues shouting, belting out his songs with gusto. He plays guitar and sings, Bob Britt and Matt Hauer are also on guitar, Chris Kimmerer plays drums, and Reese Wynans is on keys for all but one cut where Scott Saunders fills in.

Eubanks opens with the original cut “all Blues to Me and follows it up with an equally energetic “Stop That Grinning’,” a Skeeter Brandon cut. Eubanks shouts his way through both. The first is a straight up blues rocker while the cover is honky-tonk blues rock. Both are a lot of fun and feature lots of guitar. Mato Nanji’s “Blues All Morning” is a more understated tune but they keep the beat fairly brisk and keep things moving. The guitar solos again well and here we get a little more taste of the organ. Willie Dixon’s “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” gets a driving ZZ Top sort of beat to throb and bob as Eubanks blazes through this one. More big, fuzzy guitar and a rockabilly sound make this fun. “My Baby’s Gone” gets what seemed to me a slight tempo boost (as if Los Lobos didn’t make it fast enough) and a sense of urgency to the lyrics as Eubanks blasts through that one well and Saunders provides the keys here.

The original title track begins the second half og the album. The tempo drops way down (for these guys) but Eubanks still gives it some oomph as he sings and the beat still drives to get you on your feet. The guitars prevail again, making it another big number. “No Excuse for the Blues” is a D.K. Stewart song, another NW Blues stalwart. It has a Delbert McClinton sort of feel to it and Delbert is a major influence for Sammy. His vocals again are cool and over the top. They go acoustic to start with on “Born To Love You,” a Mark Collie tune. The slide is sweet here. Country meets rockabilly, and it’s done well. The volume goes up for Don Robey’s “”It’s My Life Baby.” The approach here is not like Junior Wells’ Eubanks gives it edge and volume and lots of guitar, making it more like a rockabilly ballad than blues. Nice piano work here on this cut. Things conclude with the original “I’m Gonna Leave You,” a song about a lover who threatens to leave if he doesn’t come home. Shouting blues and up front guitar sell this one.

If you like rocking blues with a rockabilly flair and big, vocals, this will trip your trigger. Eubanks has won accolades three times as best vocalist from the Washington Blues Society and seven times from the Inland Empire Blues Society. He’s got a huge set of pipes, the songs pretty much have driving beats and the CD is just a lot of fun!

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 

lightnin' malcom cd imageLightnin’ Malcolm – Foot Soldier

Shake Down Records

11 tracks

Hill country blues remain alive and well due to artists like Lightnin’ Malcolm. He plays guitar, drums and sings all at the same time as he began his career. He’s a superb one man band. His first release was in 2005’s Juke Joint Dance Party but what got him noticed was his work in 2006 when he and Cedric Burnside collaborated for Two Man Wrecking Crew. In 2009 he released Renegade, winning a BMA award for best debut artist. His album Rough Out There garnered more attention in 2013. Whether he’s performing solo or with what he calls “a power duo” when he works with Cedric or another drummer, Malcolm delivers a high energy and room filling sound that wins over audiences. He strives to do that with the first song of every performance; he believes that you have to because, “You ain’t gonna get another try.”

Here we have 11 original cuts featuring the big sound we’ve grown to love from Malcolm. “Done Wrong” comes out and grabs you by the throat on the opening note and does not let go. The driving beat and hill country guitar won’t let you go. “Tree” slows things down a bit to give the listener a bit of a rest with it’s tribal beat and steady groove. “Hero” features some fancy finger picking as Malcolm offers up a sweet instrumental. He returns to the big sound with “Don’t Bitch,” a rhythmic cut that once again grabs you and won’t let go. Malcolm breaks out the slide for “Waves,” a hefty five and a half minute instrumental that makes sure you keep listening.

“Gates of Hell” opens to some big distorted guitar sounds that might come from the likes of Ozzie Osborne, but Malcom reigns them in and starts the thump of his beat, transforming the distortion into another interesting power instrumental. It’s not for the faint of heart. He uses the distortion as a punctuation mark to his delivery. In “Getting’ Dark” Malcolm gives us a somewhat of a lament as he winds through this dirty down tempo cut. “Treat That Women Right” cleans things up as the kick drum’s cymbals crash in support of the echo-filled vocals. “Best Friends Wife” is a cool slow blues about dreaming about sleeping with his best friends wife. “Good Boy” has Malcolm testifying to his virtue and wanting to do that woman right. He closes to “Big Jack,” a more up tempo instrumental that gets your toes tapping and your feet wanting to move.

As I noted, hill country blues may not be for the faint of heart, but if you get into the driving, throbbing primal beat with big guitar and vocals that range from clean to completely guttural and raw, then you’ll love this one! I’ve been a fan since I saw him live in 2006 and I think he’s got another winner here!

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 – 6 of 8 

maek harrison cd imageMark Harrison – Turpentine


13 songs – 49 minutes

Mark Harrison is approaching “national treasure” status in the UK. In an era when the British blues scene is dominated by rock bands with a blues influence playing over-driven, over-loud and over-long guitar solos, Harrison’s exuberant music harks back to a much earlier age, featuring only acoustic instruments in a variety of line-ups, from full band to Harrison alone with his guitar. The musicians are all top notch players, but it is the song that matters, not the player.

On his latest album, Turpentine, the songs themselves also stand out from the crowd both through their construction – sitting squarely within the blues genre but rarely relying on simple 12-bar progressions – and through the stories they tell. Harrison wrote all 13 tracks on the album and, as with his previous releases, he turns his pen to a wide range of topics, from acute observations on the challenges of living in the modern world (“Hardware Store”) to taut reminders of how the original purveyors of blues had it so much harder than we do (“Shake That House”). There is often a moral to be found in the verses, although not always the one the listener might expect – in “The Treaty Of Dancing Rabbit Creek”, Harrison relates the story of Chief Greenwood Leflore and the Choctaw Nation losing their land in what is now known as Mississippi in the 1830s, but with an added twist.

Of course, he also addresses more traditional blues lyrical concerns, but he does so with rare wit and invention. In the opening track, “Black Dog Moan”, his opening lines are: “I’ve got a girl in Meadowland and I really love the bits of her that I can stand. The rest I can take or leave, and I’m pretty sure she feels the same about me.” It’s a great kick-off to a great album.

Harrison sings and plays guitar, and is superbly supported throughout by Charles Benfield on double bass and Ed Hopwood on drums, percussion and harmonica. Guest Paul Tkachenko adds subtle mandolin, piano, organ and accordion to various tracks. Hopwood in particular has a gift for playing minimally yet utterly musically at the same time. Harrison’s finger-picked guitar is continuously inventive and rhythmically driven. On “Hell Of A Story”, his 12-string guitar recalls the ragtime playing of Blind Willie McTell, while the instrumental “Dog Rib” features a lovely, slightly discordant, slide melody. Interestingly, Harrison’s main guitar is actually a 1934 National Trojan, a wood-body resonator guitar that used to belong to the great Eric Bibb and there are certain similarities between the two artists, both of whom openly display their folk/blues influences in well-constructed songs featuring intelligent, often uplifting lyrics and adroit finger-picking. There is also a gentle joyousness to the music of both. Even on potentially downcast tracks such as “So Many Bad People (Out There)”, Harrison’s slide playing conveys a sense of hope, or at least the possibility of hope.

Superbly produced by Tim Bazell, Turpentine is a very impressive release from Mark Harrison. There is a confidence and maturity about the album that suggests the musicians knew they were working on something special. Highly recommended.

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 

layla zoe cd imageLayla Zoe – Breaking Free

Ruf Records RUF 1228

11 songs – 70 minutes

From the opening strains of the psychedelic rocker that opens this album to the tender blues ballad that brings it to a close, singer/songwriter Layla Zoe delivers what her fans have come to love: An original voice who’s unafraid to tackle difficult themes in song.

A powerful alto whose 2013 release, The Lily, was listed among Downbeat magazine’s blues albums of the year and a lady who’s an accomplished lyricist and always places highly in songwriting competitions around the globe, Zoe fronted her own band in the Canadian west at age 14. This is the tenth release since her 2005 debut in a career that’s included collaborations with guitar greats Sonny Landreth and the late Jeff Healey.

Landreth makes a guest appearance on this one, which includes ten new tunes and an interesting Rolling Stones cover. She penned the words to all of the originals here, aided by multi-instrumentalist Jan Laacks, who plays lead and rhythm guitars, organ, lap steel and percussion in addition to producing and composing all of the charts.

The tunes touch on everything from the death of a close friend to both sides of romance and murder as Zoe attempts to put listeners back in touch with their emotions. “I rip people’s hearts out, then put them back in,” she says.

Recorded at Megaphon Tonstudios in Arnsberg, Germany, the album features powerful, full arrangements that touch on several genres, but a minimal lineup of musicians. The only folks adding to the mix are Gregor Sonnenberg on bass, organ and keys and Hardy Fischotter on drums and percussion.

A trippy guitar line initiates the opener, “Backstage Queen,” a no-holds-barred, six-minute acid trip that describes a young groupie with a “five-star body.” She’s moving fast, but has no idea where she’s going. “Why Do We Hurt The Ones We Love” begins as a ballad, but picks up speed as it progresses as it relates the concerns of a woman who wonders what she’s done wrong and why the man she loves – and has probably lost – doesn’t call.

Slide master Landreth features prominently on “Wild One,” a blues with melodic guitar lines, as Layla describes a lady who says words that “no girl ever speaks” and who will “touch you in places you can’t find on a globe.” She’s “not a vegan, she likes your kind of meat.” Next up, Laacks’ solid, somber riffs on six-string highlight “Highway Of Tears,” a potent statement about nameless women who’ve been slain and buried deep in the Canadian Rockies never to be found.

A staccato rhythm pattern introduces the title tune, “Breaking Free,” a blues-rocker in which the singer has decided to separate from her man after repeatedly trying to prove herself to him without success. “Work Horse” is up next. It uses equine imagery as it condemns music industry executives who cheat them out of their cash while working them to death. “Sweet Angel” carries the horse theme forward in the opening line of an image-filled ballad that deals with the loss of Zoe’s best friend, Marsha. Since she’s gone, Layla sings, any time she wants to talk with her all she has to do is pray.

The opening bars of the rocker “Run Away” change the mood instantaneously as it depicts a man who’s struggling and yearning to break free, played off against a woman with similar desires who’s both wild and unchained. “Wild Horses,” written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard and the only cover in the set, is delivered as an acoustic ballad before two upbeat songs about romance — “A Good Man” and “He Loves Me” – bring the disc to a close.

Layla Zoe’s a strong singer with original ideas that deserve to be heard. Available through most major retailers, Breaking Free is worth a listen, especially if your tastes run to the more modern, rock side of blues.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

doug macleod cd imageDoug McLeod – Live In Europe

Under The Radar Music Group – 2016

9 tracks; 61 minutes

In recent years Doug McLeod has won several awards including the BMA for Acoustic Artist of 2016 and was Blues Blast’s Male Artist Of The Year in 2013. Those accolades are well deserved but Doug is not a new kid on the block, having been around for a long time, playing in bands as well as solo and writing songs that have been recorded by the likes of Alberts Collins and King, Coco Montoya and Joe Louis Walker. Doug learned from the old-time greats and in particular absorbed the need to be real, “never play a note you don’t believe and never write or sing about what you don’t know”.

As he criss-crosses the globe to bring his music to his audiences that is how he goes about his work, always connecting closely with his audience. This album was in fact recorded in 2006 but remained unissued because Doug was unwell on the night and felt that his voice was not in good shape. However, encouraged to take another listen Doug had to agree that the concert was worth issuing. We only get the songs and not Doug’s often hilarious in between patter though there are examples such as the beginning of “Bad Magic” when he humorously talks of how difficult it is to pronounce the name of the Dutch town in which he is playing.

On these nine tracks all you hear is Doug – voice, guitar and left foot – and excellent stuff it is too. All the material is original apart from Bukka White’s train song “Panama Limited” which is adapted by Doug as “The New Panama Ltd” and wanders eloquently across 14 minutes as Doug talks first of discussing the train with David Honeyboy Edwards, then moves into the song with plenty of fine slide work on his steel guitar. All of these songs have clear blues DNA but two stand out in particular: “Cold Rain” has lots of slide and Doug’s plaintive vocal and “Long Time Road” is classic blues with the ringing guitar and foot-tapping rhythm superbly maintained by Doug.

Doug’s sense of humor shows through on tracks like “Home Cookin’” in which his girl is hopeless in the kitchen or “Turkey Leg Woman”, a kind of tribute to the larger lady “with the built-in cushion”. During the intro to the latter Doug is at pains to explain that although the song is his the inspiration comes from the Mississippi Hill Country traditions of RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough and at the end explains to the audience that his voice is not what it should be but that he has enjoyed playing for them. From the extended applause and whistles it sounds like the feeling was reciprocated! Encore “The Master’s Plan” is a co-write between Doug and Danny Jesser, a quiet, reflective song to close the evening.

Fans of well-played acoustic blues will treasure this recording and add it to other recordings by Doug McLeod, a master of the genre.

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 Interview – King Solomon Hicks 

solomon hicks photo 1There are plenty of people in the blues community that have a hard time accepting younger players as legitimate blues musicians. The argument goes that the youngster hasn’t had to deal with life on its own terms, hasn’t loved & lost, hasn’t suffered enough to really feel the music. There is no doubt that many of those listeners would be put off by a teen-aged guitarist and singer being referred to as “Lil’ B.B. King” and “East Montgomery” (in tribute to the legendary jazz artist Wes Montgomery). If they take the time to listen, virtually everyone of the naysayers will be quickly won over by the pervasive talents of King Solomon Hicks.

The guitarist acknowledges that he still has some living to do. “On one hand, I agree with those concerns. I starting realizing that one night at B.B. King’s playing with Junior Mack’s band. He is one guitarist I really admire. Hopefully I can sound as good as he does when I grow up. He took a solo, then I took one. We were using the same twelve notes. Junior was putting so much emotion into his licks. I was doing my best but it just wasn’t sounding as good. You can practice as much as you want when you are young to develop certain skill sets on your instrument, but you aren’t really playing until you’ve lived a certain amount of life. When I play the blues, it is me reflecting on my past, telling my own story. Back in the day of Robert Johnson’s time, what they had to deal with day-to-day is totally different than what somebody born in 1995 is experiencing.”

Hicks got the support of his parents right from the start when his mother got him guitar lessons when he was six years old. While he didn’t learn much theory or how to read music, Hicks did get instruction on playing R&B. His mother listened to Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, which broadened her son’s musical horizons. “ My Mom got me enrolled at the Harlem School of Arts and the Jazzmobile, a great program run by the jazz pianist, Dr. Billy Taylor. What really got me started was when she took me around to clubs in Harlem like the Lennox Lounge and St. Nick’s Pub. I was sitting in on jams with musicians like Patience Higgins on tenor sax and later on with jazz organists Charles Earland and Jimmy McGriff. Playing with musicians who actually knew what they were doing was my actual training.”

“One of the first guitar players I can say was a mentor was Melvin Sparks, who is an “acid’ jazz player (combination of jazz, soul, and funk). I could play a little bit and was just starting to get into Hendrix Santana, and AC/DC – wasn’t playing much jazz. When I was about thirteen years old, somebody told me to go down to the Cotton Club. I went down, sat in, and did a song. The owner liked me. Soon I was doing two songs. Ed Cherry, who had a lengthy tenure with Dizzy Gillespie, was the guitarist. He was about to go on tour with the Roy Hargrove Big Band, so he was looking to give up the Cotton Club gig. So I took it over. The band was reluctant at first, didn’t want to take me seriously. But I had learned how to read through the Jazzmobile program, so I just kept keeping on. Through eighth grade & high school, I was doing three to four shows a week at the Cotton Club. Both of my parents were very supportive. My Mom was the one who would always take me to the clubs when I was too young to get in.”

Hicks cut his first recording with the Cotton Club All Stars big band at the ripe old age of fourteen. Working the club prepared him for larger stages and for his first tour, which took him to Norway right out of high school. He also appeared at the Cotton Club in Japan. He started to gravitate away from jazz once he started hearing some real blues and roots music. “Junior Mack was one of the guys that gave me personal mentoring. He introduced me to how to play legit blues, not like the jazz or swing blues you hear in New York City. While jazz is a big part of my repertoire, I have the most fun playing blues. That is how I write my music. It doesn’t always have to be about swing.’

solomon hicks photo 2“The New York scene is very competitive with plenty of great talent. My Mom would put mein these situations where I had to sink or swim. Some of the clubs are closed now. I did a lot of practicing, messing up, and falling on my face. But eventually I started learning how to swim better. It has lead to me opening for the rock band KISS last year. I never thought in a million years I’d be doing something of that nature. Next year we are going on the Keeping The Blues Alive cruise with Joe Bonamassa, Gregg Allman, and Eric Gales, who are some of my idols.”

Now twenty-one years of age, Hicks has four recordings under his name. The latest features a live show recorded at the Iridium Club in New York, available at his live performances. The previous release, Carrying On The Torch Of The Blues, was a mixture of originals with several exciting covers including the Otis Rush tune, “Homework,” with Southside Johnny on harmonica. Also featured is a memorable rendition of “I Saw Her Standing There”. After a rocking intro, Hicks turns the Beatles hit into a smoldering slow blues with his biting guitar tone offering a contrast to his warm vocal.

“What I am focusing on now is my songwriting and getting my playing to the next level. It’s about the experience and the stories. You can’t rush it. You have to keep practicing your scales, make sure your fingers have enough blood flowing through them. I’m probably not going to be playing from the gut until my forties or fifties, when I’ll something to say. So I’m getting my band together and trying to make the songs as tight as possible. And sometimes I like to take songs people remember and put my spin on them.”

Another highlight for Hicks are his multiple appearances at the legendary Apollo Theater. “I have done several of their Christmas shows and been a part of their Amateur Night Super Top Dog competition. I also appeared live on the West Coast in California for Live at the Apollo. The first time was very scary and quite intense. You have to wait in a long line. You get there at 1 am and by the time 6 am rolls around, the line is wrapped around two blocks. You can barely see into the audience. They don’t allow you to boo the kids. If you are older than eighteen, they clap if you are good. If you aren’t, they boo you off the stage and the Sandman comes. There is no other experience like that in New York”.

After going through the usual array of guitars, Hicks finally settled on a Benedetto guitar, a brand well-known in the jazz community. He uses a GA-35, which gives him an unbelievable tone plus allows him to do whatever he needs to for blues or jazz. The company thought enough of his abilities to give Hicks an endorsement contract. The guitar is fitted with La Bella strings that are molecularly modified to be longer-lasting. After an array of Vox and Fender amplifiers, Hicks is currently using a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe for his tube amp, “because once you go tubes, you can’t go back!”. He also has a Roland Cube 80, “ …great for taking around the city on the train, an amp that works rain or shine, even if you drop it or somebody spills a beer on it”.

New York City has a vast and varied musical landscape that Hicks finds very invigorating, especially for his songwriting. “I have a love for a lot of different styles – Latin, hip hop, even some modern stuff can be heard on my playlist. I feel I am a blues musician with a jazz mind, thinking about things like why does it make sense to bend a note here. How do I deal with the pain, use my voice and guitar to rise above it to better place. With songwriting, I am trying to relate to artists like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, or Kanye West while keeping the blues element in place. I want to connect with older listeners who know Al Green as well as people my own age. It’s the same stories between men and women, just a matter of how do you connect.”

solomon hicks photo 3“I start out with the music, working on the bass line initially. I’m not going to use Pro Tools. There has to be a real drummer, three horn players. I work out the songs at home, then get a rehearsal space to get the band to learn the tunes. The lyrics come later because I never know what to say right off the bat. My preference is for simple funky, grooving stuff. I still want to have the traditional I-IV-V blues progressions too, so even though I am branching out, when you hear my vocal, the story, and definitely the guitar, you will recognize it as the blues. Another of my favorites is Chris Cain. I saw him live once and the next day I wanted to quit. You can’t play like he does unless you have been through some things. Not too many artists have that kind of effect on me.”

Preferring to play with a rhythm guitarist or an organ player backed by a bass and drums, the demands of being a band leader are another element that Hicks has to deal with. Experience has taught him not to put all of his eggs in one basket. He maintains a deep list of qualified players that can wrap their head around his music. The sound of the Hammond B3 organ really moves him, especially when the player can make full use of the organ pedals. It gives the band a unique sound and fills up plenty of space. Rehearsals are a must so that the original material is played to the best of everyone’s abilities.

Right from the start, Hicks knew he needed a catchy stage name. At one of the first jazz clubs he played at, someone suggested the Prince Solomon title, but another voice chimed in, stating that Hicks was a king, not a prince. It was meant as a joke but the title stuck. “Solomon Burke was known as King Solomon, so I added the Hicks to personalize it. I stuck with the name because it is big shoes to fill. Some listeners say it is obnoxious. I don’t do use it for bragging rights or as a gimmick. People actually call me that”.

As a member of the millennial generation, Hicks is well-versed in all things related to social media outlets. He uses YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms to keep his name in front of his fans. “It can make a big difference if you really use it. Once in awhile someone will post a video of you messing up on stage, which isn’t ideal. I am working on a new video that will highlight some new music. During our tour recently in Spain, I made an announcement at the end of shows that fans could find me on social media at King Solomon Hicks. When I got back to the hotel, I’d post a picture from the show, asking people that were there to comment. Within an hour, I would get multiple responses with comments about how much they enjoyed the show, asking when would we be back. I couldn’t believe people were actually listening to my announcement. But I made those connections”.

Hicks has already learned the importance of getting visual feedback from the audience at his live shows. “We might do a B.B. King or Bobby Blue Bland song, then we’ll do one of my originals. I pay attention to how people react to it – do they go to the restroom, are they on their phone, or are they dancing or actually listening. The tour of Spain taught me something. I don’t speak Spanish, so there was a bit of a language barrier. Doing the originals can be hit or miss. I’m not trying to get an award for composition from Berklee or Julliard. My joy has always come from moving people.”

Visit Solomon’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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 King Biscuit Blues Festival – Part II 

The second day of the King Biscuit Festival was another great one. We started off by catching a set by Blind Mississippi Morris on the main stage.

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Blind Mississippi Morris comes from a talented lineage. His cousins, Robert and Mary Diggs, led the famed Memphis Sheiks. Morris is also a cousin of the late, great Willie Dixon. Blind since age 4, Morris is the consummate Bluesman. His singing and harp playing were a great way to start off the day.

On Friday there were 2 other stages that kicked off so we headed to the Lockwood Stage to catch The Mississippi Spoonman.

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Mississippi and Arkansas delta blues artist The Mississippi Spoonman is Bob Rowell. He is a fan favorite at King Buscuit. As vocalist and spoons master he pleases both young and old and is as unique as delta blues music itself.

Then we headed back to the main stage to see my friend Mike Wheeler. Mike is a up and coming Chicago Blue Legend. He spent several years backing Big James Montgomery but has been on his own now for a few years and just released his second album on Delmark Records called Turn Up! 

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Mike’s band are all Chicago pros including Larry Williams on bass, Cleo Cole on drums and Brian James on keyboards.

Next up on the main stage was Kenny Neal. Neal’s current album is called Bloodline and was released on Cleopatra Records in July. It has received wide airplay on blues radio stations all over the world.

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Next I headed back to the Lockwood stage to catch a few songs by Robert Finley. Finley is one of the artists sponsored by the Music Maker Relief Foundation. He has a commanding stage presence that is easy to see in these photos.

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We stuck around at the Lockwood Stage to catch a few songs by C.W. Gatlin Band before heading back to the main stage to see Mike Zito.

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Mike Zito has recorded with Eclecto Groove Records and Ruf Records. He is a founding member of “Royal Southern Brotherhood” with Cyril Neville and Devon Allman. His latest album is called Make Blues – Not War.-

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Zito was followed by Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets, a favorite act that has played almost every year at King Biscuit.

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Anson was followed by Rebirth Brass Band.

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Then we heard a few songs by The Wampus Cats back on The Lockwood stage.

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They were followed by Lonnie Shields Band and then we headed back to the main stage to see John Mayall.

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John Mayall’s musical career spans over 50 years having founded the band, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers in the 1960’s. Over the years many celebrated blues and blues rock guitarists, such as: Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, Mick Taylor, Walter Trout and Coco Montoya started their careers as guitar players in the Bluesbreakers.

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This time for the first time ever, John performed as a trio without a supporting guitar player. We were treated to him singing lead vocals, playing piano, harmonica and even guitar. Quite an impressive show from a blues legend at 82 years young!

It was a fitting end to the second night of an amazing festival! Coming soon, Part III of the King Biscuit Blues Festival fun!

Photos and commentary by Bob Kieser and Nate Kieser as marked

 Blues Society News 

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The Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

The SBS Annual Member Party will be held on December 3, 2016 at the VFW Post #67, 2784 Stockton Blvd, 3:00-10:00 pm. SBS IBC runner-up Todd Morgan will open; the Anthony Paule 8-piece band featuring Wee Willie Walker is the headliner.

This event is FREE to all SBS members! If you’re not a member yet, go to and join now, avoid the crowd at the door.

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 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: December 1 – James Armstrong Presents – Kilborn Alley, December 15 – James Armstrong Presents – Susan Williams.

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

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