Issue 10-47 December 1, 2016

Cover photo by Lisa Gray © 2016

 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Bernard Allison. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Lurrie Bell, Blues Cargo, Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat, Michael Skinner, The Cadillac Kings, Dan Bubien, The Fremonts and Jim McCarty & Friends.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

Festival season is over in most parts of the US and winter is coming on.

That means that the best prices for your 2017 blues advertising are about to end when our Fall Advertising Sale ends on December 15th, 2016

So don’t miss the chance to get 50% more advertising than our usual “Best Value – Combo Ad Packages”.

These ads can be used anytime in 2017 and are perfect for a new album release or advertising your 2017 Blues festival.

Details are available in our ad below or by clicking HERE. But hurry as these great rates expire on 12/15/16!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

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Blues Blast Magazine is offering a fall advertising sale. This special pricing will be our lowest pricing of the 2016-2017 season.

This combo advertising package normally includes an ad in 4 issues of Blues Blast Magazine and an ad on the sidebar of our website for a month for a discount price of only $375. During our Fall Advertising Sale we are giving you six issues of Blues Blast Magazine and a 6 week ad on our website for the same low price (50% more for FREE!) This package affordably adds significant impact to your Blues advertising and promotion campaign. It is a great way to kick up the visibility of your new album release, Blues event or music product around the globe!

Blues Blast Magazine is a great way to promote the Blues. More than 36,000 opt-in Blues fans read our magazine each week. They are located in all 50 states and in more than 90 countries. We get more than 2,000,000 (That’s TWO MILLION) hits and more than 65,000 visitors a month on our website.

Normal 2016 ad rates are $150 for an single issue and $175 per month for website ads. BUT, for a limited time, you can advertise in six issues of Blues Blast Magazine and on our website for a month and a half for only $375. This is a $1160 value based on single issue rates!

To get this special rate simply reserve and pay for your ad space NOW! (Offer ends December 15, 2016.) Ads can be booked to run anytime between now and September 30, 2017 for your 2017 Blues festival, album release or other music related product.

With this special rate, your ad can be viewed more than 300,000 times by our readers who want to know about your Blues events and music! Reserve your space today! Space is limited and will be sold on a first come first served basis.

NEW!!! – Upgrade the sidebar ad on our website to a top banner ad for increased impact and visibility for only $110 more. (Subject to availability)

This sale price ends on December 15, 2016. To get more information email or call 309 267-4425 today! Other ad packages, single ads, short run ads or long term bulk rates for publicists and record labels are available too. Call today for an ad plan that fits your needs.

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

lurrie bell cd imageLurrie Bell – Can’t Shake This Feeling

Delmark Records

13 tracks

If I had to choose a current musician that exemplifies what Chicago Blues is all about the name that comes to mind first is Lurrie Bell. While others are also huge favorites of mine, no one elevates the playing of traditional Chicago Blues to the level that Lurrie does.

His guitar style is uniquely his own, chopping at the strings with a style and tone that separates him from contemporaries and predecessors. Having cast out the demons from his life, the music he has produced since is perhaps the best he’s done. CD after CD showcases the talents of the man born into the Blues and was baptized in a twelve bar baptismal font.

This new Delmark CD features Bell with his regular Chicago backers. Melvin Smith is on bass and Willie “The Touch” Hayes is on drums, the smoothest and coolest back line anywhere in the world, let alone Chicago. The talented Roosevelt Purfoy graces the various keyboards here and the outstanding Matthew Skoller is on harp. This band is superb and so is Lurrie. Featured are six originals and seven covers, all of them so well done.

They open with the original “Blues Is Trying to Keep Up With Me,” a beautiful shuffle featuring all the members of the band doing what they do best. Bell picks out a great solo, then later Purfoy does another good one and at the end Skoller closes with his own nice solo. “Drifting” has Bell growling out the lyrics. Skoller solos first and then Bell comes in for his. The band closes with a cool, long instrumental run. Slow blues is next; “I’m So Weary” features Bell testifying vocally and with some stinging guitar work. “One Eyed Woman” is Bell going acoustic with Skoller in support. The two of them do some down home front porch blues that made me thirsty for a big, old lemonade as I listened to the humorous lyrics. “This Worrisome Feeling” follows, a beautiful, original slow blues. Bell is gritty and cool vocally and strums out some interesting stuff on guitar. Purfoy on piano ads depth behind Bell. “Sit Down Baby” is another fine cover by these pros as is “Hold Me Tight.” Both are bouncy and danceable stuff. Great organ work on the latter, too.

“Sinner’s Prayer” has Bell deftly growling out his testimony for us. Purfoy helps set a somber mood in this one. Bell’s “I Can’t Shake This Feeling” is new straight up Chicago Blues with the boys taking turns up front. Nice dirty harp work here. “Born With the Blues” is grittier yet, and the boys do Carrie Bell’s song up sweetly. He picks up the tempo with his own “Do You Hear.” Skoller squeaks out some high stuff and everyone does a great job blasting through this one. “Hidden Charms” has Lurrie growling in his best manner about his baby’s hidden charms. He closes with “Faith and Music,” another song where he testifies to us. An original piece, it is him and his electric guitar telling us that his faith and music is all he’s got and got him through his life. Fantastic!

I love this album. It is Lurrie at his best. It’s a no brainer buy– go and get this now! It’s another amazing effort by Lurrie and his band, showcasing real Chicago Blues!

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 

blues cargo cd imageBlues Cargo – On Time

Melon Music

12 songs time-62:59

The international reach of the blues continues to amaze along with the way the blues sound is absorbed in many foreign lands while creating new blues that doesn’t imitate, but retains authenticity. The Greek band Blues Cargo has been spreading the blues now for close to thirty years and if this their current recording is any indication, blues is alive and well. The core band consists of guitar, bass, keyboards, sax and drums along with help from two harmonica players. Their brand of blues is tinted with R&B and jazz colorings. This very talented ensemble knows their way around the blues and delivers a totally enjoyable blues experience.

The band leads off with a worthy version of Freddie King’s template for blues instrumentals “Hideaway”. It’s one of the four cover tunes included here. They add Nikos Skiadopoulos on harmonica and sax and piano are also present. Guitar wizard Stelios Zafeiriou handles the guitar ably that would surely make mister King give his approval. “The Wheel” speaks of the hard working man’s lot in life to the back drop of Chicago style blues guitar, piano and sax. Bass player Dimitris Ioannou supplies the on point vocals here and elsewhere on the CD. He bemoans the lack of time on jumping “Time” that includes nice organ soloing by George Lagogiannis along with the requisite guitar goodness.

Harp players Nikos Skiadopoulos and Iakovos Krokos both play on “Cloud No 11”, joined by Stelios on slide guitar. Much in the fashion of today’s world the narrator berates politicians on “Stop Messin’ Arround (With My Bread). Yes sports fans…that’s how they spelled around, not one of my famous typos. “Corruption” follows suit with much the same sentiments. Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Broke N Hungry” gets an upbeat big city Chicago sound with acoustic piano, sax and a super funky bass part. The guys tone things down on the slow blues of “Don’t Knock On My Door”, that is true to classic slow blues as each note simmers.

The virtues of true love are exalted on what else, “True Lady”. Robert Cray style blues rub elbows with a slight George Benson ersatz jazz vibe on “The Cheating Song”, another slow burner. Two cover songs bring the proceedings to a close. Jimmy Dawkins’ “If You Gonna Love Somebody” and Chris Cain’s “Wake Up And Smell The Coffee” send the listener off in grand Chicago blues style.

Although it’s understood that blues music is low on the totem pole of popularity, it’s fan base and musicians are strong in keeping quality blues alive and thriving. Bands like Blues Cargo are proud torch bearers with talent to spare. After listening to this totally enjoyable record it’s plain to see that the blues aren’t going anywhere.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

jim suhler cd imageJim Suhler & Monkey Beat – Live At The Kessler

Underworld Records

15 songs – 70 minutes

Jim Suhler is an interesting one. Almost a Texas institution, his biting yet melodic guitar playing and smart, sassy song-writing should have made him a household name a long time ago. Unfortunately, the fates sometimes conspire against the best efforts of us mortals. As a result, despite the fact that Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat have been garnering rave reviews for over 22 years now, Suhler may actually be better known as George Thorogood’s lead guitar player, rather than the leader of one of the best blues/rock/roots bands currently on the circuit. (As an aside, an oft over-looked fact about Thorogood is that he used his Live Aid performance in 1985 to publicize the blues. While every musician at the show deserves praise for performing for a very laudable cause, Thorogood also recognized a opportunity to introduce the largest TV audience in the world to his own blues heroes, inviting Albert Collins and Bo Diddley to share the stage with him and giving them both some priceless PR. No other artist did this.)

Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat’s latest release, Live At The Kessler, captures the band’s blistering performance at the Kessler Theater in Dallas, Texas, on 28 November 2015, underscoring yet again the authority of their live shows. Featuring 13 tracks that originally appeared on the studio albums Panther Burn, Tijuana Bible, Bad Ju Ju and Suhler’s solo acoustic release, Dirt Road, together with two new songs: “Doin’ The Best I Can” and “Reverie”, Live At The Kessler is a superb picture of a moment in time as Suhler and his compadres tear the place down.

Kicking off with the upbeat shuffle of “I Declare”, the band immediately settles into an ass-kicking groove, highlighted by great solos by both Suhler and pianist Shawn Phares. There are ballads such as “Prayin’ For Rain” and the outstanding instrumental, “My Morning Prayer”. There are upbeat dancing numbers like “Scattergun”, “Doin’ The Best I Can” (with its hilarious opening couplet of “I can’t play like B.B. King. When I try, I break a string. But … I’m doin’ the best I can”) and the Slim Harpo-esque “Restless Soul”. And there are quieter acoustic moments such as “Texasippi” (with Tex Lovera’s cigar box interlacing with Suhler’s guitar for added texture) and the dreamy “Reverie”, which also features a guest appearance by Tim Alexander on keyboards.

Monkey Beat, with Chris Alexander on bass and vocals, Shawn Phares on keyboards and Beau Chadwell on drums, are masters of the dynamics of a song, knowing exactly how to bring the audience along with them on the ride. The introduction to “Sunday Drunk” stretches out over a leisurely one and half minutes before erupting into the smoking rock’n’roll of the first verse.

The band plays with transparent fire, coming across at times like a cross between early ZZ Top (the Reverend Billy G. must be furious that he didn’t come up the riff to “Tijuana Bible” himself) and early Rory Gallagher (in both the thoughtful lyrics to the songs and the slashing slide guitar on tracks like “Doin’ The Best I Can”). Suhler’s voice combines vulnerability with intelligence and suits the songs to a tee.

There is nothing pretentious or overly-serious about Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat. Live At The Kessler is a top-notch recording of a stellar good-time blues/roots/rock’n’roll band, playing music to drink and dance to. Glorious stuff.

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 – 4 of 8 

michael skinner cd imageMichael Skinner – New Arrangements


13 Tracks; 57 minutes

This is not a Blues Album. It is an eclectic mix of R&B, Funk, Jazz, Gospel, and Blues with a little 70s’ cheese thrown in. The CD really grooves with Skinner on drums and a variety of great musicians backing him up. He uses a full array of horns, piano, Hammond, harp, even synth, and a really terrific group of back-up singers.

Skinner co-wrote 10 of the 13 songs and brings about 40 years in the business to the arrangements on the CD. He has also brought along a sound or two in the background that many of you may not have heard since the 70s. But the songs work, for the most part.

The truest blues number is “Dog On A Short Leash”, but there are a few others that definitely have a large measure of Blues in their mix, notably “She’s Bona Fide”, “You Rock Me”, and “Don’t Be No Fool”.

If you like 70s style R&B, , you’ll really get off on “Something About”, “Finding My Way” and especially “Our Love Is A Good Thing” that sounds so much like 1974 that you’ll be looking for Al Green over your shoulder. And who doesn’t love Al Green?

Skinner also enjoys funk and you can hear his enthusiasm on “Is That My Baby” and “Dam Near Midnight”. The other tracks round out the musical exploration with some funk/blues fusion, jazz/blues fusion all with a wash of R&B over it.

You can tell Skinner has played as a studio musician with a lot of different artists over the years. He has absorbed the best of them, stirred them around in his creative soul and set them free on this CD.

The only track that doesn’t work in any of the genres Skinner explores on this release is, ironically, the title track. “New Arrangments”. On every track, Skinner looks for something unusual to bring into the song. O this cut, he brings in a healthy dose of 70s R&B of the camembert variety. It doesn’t really feel like it fits, the blend is off. I understand he’s going for a an updated Barry White, Soul Train groove, but it just comes across as dated.

Skinner has a very good voice and easily shifts styles from easy listening R&B to funk. He also does an above average job singing blues. If you want a bit of a walk down memory lane, this CD is a good choice. Because even with all the influences, this CD has an overall nostalgic feel. Depending on your mood, that can be a very good thing.

Skinner has taken the best of the old, added some fresh spices and indeed has come up with some very nice New Arrangements.

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 – 5 of 8 

cadillac kings cd imageThe Cadillac Kings – The Secret Of My Success

33 Records – 2016

14 tracks; 59 minutes

The Cadillac Kings are undoubtedly the top rhythm and blues band on the UK scene and their latest album that may well be their best yet. The line-up remains stable from the previous release: Mal Barclay on guitar and vocals, Tim Penn on piano and accordion, Paul Cuff on bass, Roy Webber on drums and vocals, singer and main writer Mike Thomas adding slide and harp. Mike wrote ten tracks, adapted one tune and there are three covers.

Opener “For Richer, For Poorer” has great T-Bone Walker guitar from Mal and Mike’s cynical humour as he advises on marriage: “Get married in the morning, that’s the sensible way; then if it don’t work out you haven’t wasted the whole day”. Tim’s piano is at the heart of “Five Won’t Getcha Ten” as Mike tells of ‘a real heartbreaker’ and “Wasted” has some depressing news: “when we reach the age of 50 we get the face we deserve”! Tim’s accordion drives “Cadillac Shake”, an ode to classic cars and Mike’s harp adds to the shuffle “I Ain’t Gonna Miss Ya”, another tale of romance gone west. “Left-Handed Woman” is another comic song done in Jimmy Reed style and “One Step Forward” references Bo Diddley with maracas and shimmering guitar. The band hits a rocking groove on the title track in which Mike seeks his Dad’s advice – get five women with all the virtues and make sure they never meet! “Stalking Blues” is a darker song, apparently inspired by watching “Fatal Attraction” and “Everybody’s Out” uses a Charleston tempo as the band swings like crazy and Mike vents his frustration about selfishness.

Turning to the covers, the piano leads on Professor Longhair’s New Orleans classic “In The Night” while TV Slim’s “Flatfoot Sam” has Tim’s rocking piano, Roy’s rhythm work on the rims and Mal’s scorching guitar break. Rockin’ Sidney Simien’s “No Good Woman” features Mal’s echoey guitar and Mike’s harp to evoke the swamps of Louisiana. Mike adapted Henry Glover’s “California Sun”, relocated it to Louisiana and renamed it “Soleil de Louisiane” to provide a rocking finale to the disc.

This disc has everything that fans of the band expect: great playing, appropriate reference to their influences and some hilarious lyrics on the originals. Unfamiliar with the CK’s? Check them out and buy this terrific disc.

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 – 6 of 8 

dan bubien cd imageDan Bubien – Grinding These Gears


CD: 10 Songs, 47:05 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues and Blues Rock, Roots Rock

Can the blues be beautiful? Is that adjective only fit for genres such as classical and instrumental music? To the second question, the answer’s no, and to the first, yours truly pumps her fist in the air and shouts, “YES!” Pennsylvania’s Dan Bubien proves it on his sophomore studio album, Grinding These Gears. The gritty title might lead people to suspect its thirteen original songs of being 98% screaming shredder, and 2% everything else. Au contraire! Bubien brings out the beauty of the blues through another applicable “B” word some bands dismiss: balance. No one musical element, even lead guitar or vocals, overpowers another. All mesh together like the colorful threads in the world’s best artistic tapestries. Genre diehards might think this is more of a rock album than a blues album. They’d be right. However, to ignore it would be oh-so-wrong.

Dan Bubien’s 2013 debut, Empty Roads, has already garnered much critical acclaim, including the “Best Self-Produced” award at the International Blues Challenge for that year. It charted as high as #14 on the PA Roots Charts and #41 on the Worldwide Blues Charts. He and his posse have made several festival appearances throughout his home state, as well as the Blind Raccoon Showcase in Memphis. He’s performed with bands such as Ana Popovic, Magic Slim, Tinsley Ellis, and Shemekia Copeland. Such company can only bolster his already fantastic prospects.

Performing alongside Bubien on vocals, lead guitars and bass are Andy Taravella on drums and vocals, and Joe Munroe on keyboards, vocals and bass guitar. Additional musicians include Tim Mabin on keyboards; Gary Ripper on bass guitar; Eddie Manion on sax for the title track; David Bufalini on trumpet, and Jeff Davis on saxophones for “Second Hand Man.”

The following songs are the best gems polished by Dan’s relentlessly Grinding These Gears:

Track 01: “Palest Rider” – In biblical imagery of the Apocalypse, Death is portrayed as a rider upon a pale horse. No wonder this opening number is so bone-chilling – especially its intro and mid-song guitar solo, howling to a heaven that may or may not hear it. When the end of life hunts our narrator down, he’s not prepared to “go gently into that good night.” Tim Mabin guest starts on keyboards reminiscent of “Riders on the Storm,” and Gary Ripper plays bass guitar.

Track 06: “Second Hand Man” – David Bufalini and Jeff Davis comprise the horn section on this mellow ballad, an accusation against a partner who’s less needy and more greedy: “I don’t want to be your second hand man, the one you come crying to when your other man can’t. Time for to ramble, so believe what you can, but you and I’ll only be where we began,” Dan warns her.

Track 10: “The Struggle is Real” – 21st-century-speak for “life is hard,” the title and refrain of the album’s closer is the catchiest thing since a cold. Sung to a backdrop of clanking chains and grinding gears, this stunning stomp marks not only the relentless series of problems we must face, but the relentless march of time as well. Are we all just cogs in a machine, or even worse, slaves to such machinery as the “grander scheme of things”?

Dan Bubien from Aliquippa is all-equipped to play beautiful, balanced blues!

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 – 7 of 8 

the freemonts cd imageThe Fremonts – Alligator

Truax Records – 2016

15 tracks; 50 minutes

The Fremonts hail from San Diego and this is their fourth album release. The band adopts a mono recording approach which gives a real vintage feel that recalls Chess, Vee-Jay and particularly Excello records of yesteryear. The material here is mainly covers though there are three originals included. The band is Mighty Joe Milsap on vocals, Patrick Skog and Tony Tomlinson on guitars, Troy Sandow on bass and Alan West on drums though most members of the band also play additional instruments. A number of guests are featured including Bob Corritore and Ben Hernandez on harp, Matthew Thomas on piano, Sharifah Muhammad on backing vocals and Johnny Viau on sax.

The three originals include the instrumental “Blues Hungover” on which bassist Troy plays some tough harp, the catchy “Swinging Ten Pounds” which lyrically recalls other songs about laying railroad tracks such as “John Henry” and a lovely ballad “Have Some Faith” which benefits from Sharifah’s B/V’s and some gentle picking from the guitarists. Mighty Joe has an unusual voice, deep and resonant, that takes a little getting used to but repays patience as it does grow on you. “Have Some Faith” is particularly well done and a standout track.

There are two songs each from the repertoires of Fats Domino and Frank Frost: “I’m Ready” and “My Girl Josephine” are familiar songs and are well done by The Fremonts, both fairly lo-fi with a ‘muddy’ rhythm track aided by handclaps; “Jelly Roll King” has some excellent harmonica from Ben Hernandez and booming vocals from Joe while “My Back Scratcher” sounds like a close relative of “Scratch My Back” and has the sort of Excello/swamp feel associated with Lazy Lester and Slim Harpo. More Excello style music appears with Silas Hogan’s “Everybody Needs Somebody” on which Bob Corritore plays some great harp, at times sounding like a wheezing accordion, and on Charles Sheffield’s “It’s Your Voodoo Working” which has appropriately ringing guitars and Johnny Viau’s sax to the fore.

The band also does a fine version of Brook Benton’s “I’ll Take Care Of You” which has some excellent guitar work and heads up to Memphis for re-workings of Rufus Thomas’ “Can’t Ever Let You Go” and the soulful “It’s Easy When You Know How” which again features Johnny’s sax, as does the very different cover of Bill Withers’ “Who Is He And What Is He To You” which opens with bird noise before moving into a threatening mood with the sax and Joe’s vocal sitting on top of some interesting percussion. RL Burnside’s “Going Down South” closes the album in minimalist style.

This was an album that grew on me as I listened to it a few times. It may well do the same with other Blues Blast readers.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

jim mccarty cd imageJim McCarty & Friends – Live From Callahan’s II

Self-Release – 2016

9 tracks; 72 minutes

Jim McCarty is best known for his stints on guitar with Mitch Ryder and Buddy Miles. He lives close to Callahan’s Music Hall in Michigan and these recordings are the second volume of Jim sitting in with bands that were playing the club. The quality of the recordings is good with Jim’s guitar clearly picked out on one channel which makes it easy to compare his playing with the other artists who are, with one exception, all guitarists. The material is mainly drawn from the standard blues repertoire and Jim offers some brief comments on each of the collaborations. Unfortunately the supporting musicians are not credited though it is safe to assume that these are the regular touring bands of each named artist.

The CD opens with two solid cuts from Coco Montoya whose shuffle version of Buster Brown’s “Fannie Mae” is a staple of his live set and he always does a song by his old employer Albert Collins; on this occasion it’s “Put The Shoe On The Other Foot”. Both are lengthy workouts and there is ample space for both guitarists to shine. Tommy Castro is up next with “Let Me Love You Baby” which is clearly an edit as we join the tune mid-way and a great run-through of two old favourites from the Mitch Ryder era, a medley of Little Richard’s “Jenny-Jenny” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” which provides some high energy rock and roll. Also edited is the version of Little Milton’s “Homesick For My Baby” which Nick Moss and Jim extend to over ten minutes though it was obviously longer as the track fades out! Kudos are due to Michael Ledbetter whose vocals at the beginning are excellent.

However, after that the CD drags a bit: does the world need another cover of “Everyday I Have The Blues”, even with the late Johnnie Bassett, a Detroit favourite, involved? The only non-‘classic’ is “Excello Boogie” from Jim’s band Mystery Train on which Jason Ricci plays some of his trademark harp; combined with distorted vocals and guitar this was the least enjoyable track here for this reviewer. Joe Louis Walker and Jim deliver a tribute to Michael Bloomfield with two songs associated with MB – “I Got A Mind To Give Up Living” and “Born In Chicago”, the former working well with JLW singing soulfully and playing some subtle guitar on the slow blues before exploding into a frenzied solo. “Born In Chicago” is less successful with a ‘shoot-out’ section between the two players which rather detracts from the song though such is the stuff of jams!

This album will appeal to fans of extended guitar jams and offers snapshots of Jim sitting in with a lot of well-known players from the current scene.

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 – Bernard Allison 

bernard allison pic 1If your music comes from the heart, it’s solid. No other rules count. That’s basically what Bernard Allison learned from his iconic dad, the late Chicago blues master Luther Allison.

“Knowledge is great, but it always goes back to feeling things, especially for someone who grew up around nothing but feelings from Koko Taylor to Muddy Waters to Howlin’ Wolf. That’s feeling! Howlin’ Wolf would get on the floor and roll around or Guitar Shorty doing somersaults. Blues guys do that.”

Bernard had spent two years learning every riff on his dad’s first record, Love Me Mama (1969 Delmark) before his father ever knew his son knew how to play. Dad insisted he get a high school education before going on the road. But as soon Bernard graduated he started touring with Blues Queen Koko Taylor in 1983. “I joined Koko Taylor like a couple of days after I graduated which I think my dad had a lot to do with because him and Koko were so close.”

In 1989 he flew to Europe a week before his dad recorded a live German album and ended up living with him in France and touring Europe for two years. “I knew pretty much all his (Dad’s) moves, but he was more impressed with how much rhythm knowledge I had. So, he would often put me in charge and then assign me to be the bandleader. When I got there, I didn’t agree with a lot of the European musicians and how they played behind my dad. (Compared to) all those earlier bands like the ’70s bands – his Motown years – it was too boxed in for me.”

Bernard told his father, “I’m going to put some flavor in here and take you out of this box these French musicians have put you in.” At that point Dad was less concerned about whether his recorded sound matched the quality of his incredibly electric live performances. He told his son, “I’ll do whatever just to have a record out. I gotta prove myself when I play.”

Bernard hated France because the language and food were so different. “(Dad) took me to see a local blues band, and I’m like, ‘Wow, they sound like Otis Rush and Magic Sam, but then when I’m introduced, they can’t speak English.’ (But) they can sing English.’ I’m like how does that work?”

When they weren’t touring, father and son would go to California Music in Pigalle, an artist’s section of Paris famous for the Moulin Rouge and its red light district. They’d play with local kids who came in to learn the ropes. “My dad had the biggest heart. He was all about the youngsters and carrying on and teaching them the proper way and not just about music, but about life and the road and everybody wants to be on stage. They want to be on stage but they don’t want to do the work that leads up to it. You can’t do that.”

France was always a bigger market than the United States for both father and now his son, and the audience appreciated that these American musicians were playing outside the box, even if the French band they had supporting them had trouble getting beyond the technical aspects of blues and finding the heart of the music. Luther would later fire his French band in 1994 when recording Soul Fixing Man. This, his first Alligator LP, was produced by veteran blues producer Jim Gaines. Bernard remembers his dad’s call. “I didn’t understand it because I had rehearsed the band for a good month,” recalls Bernard. “We really mapped out these songs and arrangements. My dad said, ‘They can’t play it.’”

bernard allison pic 2Almost three decades after Bernard left his dad’s band, he still spends three seasons a year in Europe playing 1000 and 2000-seat concert halls instead of clubs. “So, for us to have that type of following that understands our music and appreciates music is night and day, and to see my crowd and some of my dad’s fans, but I grew up with my crowd, and it’s the coolest thing for me to tour Europe because I pretty much know everybody. I’ve come once a year to that town since ’89.”

“People say, ‘Well, you’re always in Europe.’ It’s like ‘Yeah, they allow me to be me other than put me in a box ( as many do in the states) and say Bernard Allison, West Side Chicago blues. I’ve never been a West Side Chicago blues player. I have a right to dib and dab in every genre of music to create Bernard Allison, and I do some of my dad’s stuff. That comes naturally to me. I’m not gonna go and copycat him. He always said, ‘Don’t copy it. You can pick all the notes off, but don’t try and be me. Be yourself.’”

Even though Bernard sounds little like his dad, Luther had a huge influence on him, advising him that if it’s a good song, don’t play me, play you. “Like my dad was a big fan of Otis Rush. He got on stage with Otis Rush. He was like a kid in a candy store because that was passed down to him: Freddy King, Magic Sam, Earl Hooker. And I learned that early on. Having Dad’s record collection and having all these greats at my house talking, telling road stories and jamming. I’m like wow. This is crazy. So, I just absorbed everything by sitting and listening and I’d go to my room and try to play what I just heard.”

“I didn’t read, (but) I can pretty much play anything I hear, and at that early age of 10 when I first started and I learned my dad’s Love Me Mama album note for note, I could only learn it if I slowed it down. It was going too fast, and I never asked my dad to show me anything. I played for two years before he knew I played from listening to Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon.”

“It’s like, ok, I gotta get this stuff down before I present it to my dad, and let him know that I can play. If I hadn’t have done that, I don’t think I would have grasped it, and by not being a reader, there’s no way of me simulating anything. I could go hear Buddy Guy live, but now it’s moving too fast for me. I can see the feeling but to have the option to slow those records down, and to have a record collection that a lot of people have no idea who these people are.”

“My dad could sing. He’d give me goose bumps doing some song on stage. And I’d be like, “How do you do that?” Like “Puppy Love.” Like I say Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke. He loved that kind of stuff. But I think he lost – he didn’t necessarily lose it, and got with the French musicians. I think he felt that, ‘Ok, I gotta tone it down some for these guys to get where I’m coming from,’ which goes back to that whole box.”

“(Mama) had a box of old 78 (rpm) records. So, we were exposed to so much music, and once I started doing my first album, my dad’s like, ‘Don’t just lean so much on the Chicago side of things. Go and interpret some of your sister’s and brothers’ favorite songs ’cause you know it.’ And I’d never really thought about it like that. My one brother loved Sly & The Family Stone. My mom liked Mahalia Jackson, and I’d go back to reference these things. So, every time I start thinking about doing a new record, I’d always call my mom. I’d say, ‘Mom, what’s a good old song that you think I could pull off?’ Nine times out of 10, I’d remember it.”

bernard allison pic 3Great feelings are color blind on the blues stage, and no one knew that better than Luther. It’s just one of the lessons he instilled in a young Bernard. “A lot of the older guys dislike per se the white players, and they say they’re trying to do something they wasn’t born with which I disagree. Stevie (Ray Vaughan) was a half Indian, so anybody can do anything they want. The blues is probably one of the only musics other than maybe jazz or gospel that is passed down to the next person, and I tell any new artists, ‘If you do my song, that’s why I’m recording. Take it! And put yourself into it. Keep that song alive.’”

“If it wasn’t for Johnny Winter and the Stevie Ray Vaughan, for example, Robert Cray and a lot of other big names would never have existed because they brought this other power to the table. When I heard Stevie on the radio, I was like, ‘S**t! Albert King’s got a new song.’ Then after meeting them, and playing with Stevie, he reminded me of my dad. He reminded me of B. B. Just that big heart, and he understood that he didn’t own that. It was just his approach to it. He’ll tell you ’cause I thought, “Voodoo Chile” was Stevie Ray’s f**king song. He said, ‘Are you crazy?’”

“My whole slide approach is totally Johnny Winter’s. I knew Johnny before as a kid. He used to come to the house, him and Edgar with my dad primarily. And I used to be afraid of him. I couldn’t figure it out. Every time my dad would say Johnny and Edgar are coming, me and my brother would basically hide in the closet. We’d never seen pink eyes, and things like that. Then once I got with Koko Taylor, Johnny had just signed with Alligator (Koko’s label) so we got a chance to tour out as a package with him, and he remembered me.”

“One day I asked him ‘I would really like to learn how to play slide,’ and he said, ‘The first thing you gotta do is open tune that guitar’ where my dad never played open tune slide. He played just regular straight up and just put a slide on your finger and he’d figure it out whereas open tuning, that’s where Johnny’s sound and technique come from because he’s pulling off all those open strings just like Eric Sardinas. He’s basically Johnny Winter. So, when Eric and I first met and played together, we’re playing the same notes because we both had that same influence from John.”

“Stevie was a sweetheart of a guy, and he really supported – just like my dad – the younger generation of players trying to teach them, not to teach them music or teach them notes, but teach them a little knowledge and make ’em build that confidence like if you really want it, it’s not gonna come to you on a plate. You gotta work for it. So, first of all, you gotta have your education. That’s first off. You can’t go touring and can’t count your money.”

Dad also had a great impact on Bernard concerning the drug habits of his mentors Johnny Winter and Stevie. “My dad shared a story with me early on when he realized what I was planning. Once, before I went out with Koko, he said, ‘If you ever get out on that road, you’ve got to learn how to say no. Don’t ask them for anything. It’s gonna be there.’”

“He had a headache at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, I think it was 1972. He had a headache right before he went on stage, and he asked somebody backstage if they had aspirin. Sure, they gave him aspirin. He got on stage, and he says he saw 16 guitar necks. The gave him acid.”

bernard allison pic 4“So, he told me, ‘Don’t ask for anything. They’re gonna be there. I already know you’re gonna dabble. You can try something once. Don’t try it.’ Everybody takes things differently.’ I started smoking with Koko because Pops Taylor smoked all the time. I didn’t ever have to smoke. There was so much smoke. Wow! But I tried it. ‘Oh, this is kind of weird.’ Even today, I can’t play and do that. If I do, I just solo all the time. I forget about arrangements. That’s probably why I didn’t get into Hendrix.”

“Actually, when I met Stevie was during Texas Flood. So, that whole period up until he went into rehab I knew him. I was out with him quite often, and even today I do a lot of stuff with (Stevie’s brother) Jimmy (Vaughan) when he goes out, but that was a sad moment, but we saw it coming. He saw it coming as well. The body just can’t take that, you know. When he passed away, he was on fire. He was clean. He was playing things that he had been playing, but he never really heard it (until he got clean).”

“We opened for Stevie I think it was what Alligator Records called Blues Explosion when I was with Koko. It was Koko, John Hammond and Sugar Blue. Stevie headlined. Grant Park was just packed. We finished our set. They’re roaring for Stevie to come out. Stevie’s hammered. He’s got a white cream suit on, and he had gotten in an argument with his wife. He had spilled red wine all down one side of his suit, and his manager said, ‘Stevie, get out there! They’re gonna tear the park up.’ So, an hour went by, about an hour and 15 minutes. They stood him up, walked him to the side of the stage, strapped his guitar on him and pushed him out right next to backstage. I’m like there’s no way he’s gonna be able to play s**t. And that’s the best I’ve ever heard Stevie. He didn’t look up one time.”

Bernard Allison’s latest album In The Mix was released in 2015 It’s as influenced as much by soul as it is Chicago blues. He hopes to have a new CD out next fall after his next European tour. For that he’s reaching back into his 83-year-old mom’s record collection for songs by Brook Benton and Jackie Wilson.

It was another great blues man who brought Bernard’s mother together with his dad in the first place. “You know, Bobby Rush is my Godfather. Bobby is responsible for my parents getting married. Bobby was playing bass with my dad at a place called Walter’s Corner in Chicago, and Bobby and my mom went to school together. So, my mom would always say, ‘He (Luther) never talks to me.’ My dad was more focused on just playing music. He wasn’t thinking about the girls and things at that point And Bobby told my mom, ‘This is what you gotta do. When we finish this set, take his guitar and take it home.’ My mom lived maybe three or four blocks away, and she took the guitar. When my dad came back up on the stage, he’s like ‘Somebody stole my guitar,’ and Bobby’s going, ‘I know where it’s at,’ and gave him the address so he had to talk to my mom.”

Bernard would like to record an album with childhood friend Ronnie Baker Brooks, the son of Luther’s friend and fellow Chicago blues veteran Lonnie Baker Brooks. On the CD Bernard would do Ronnie’s dad Lonnie Brooks’ material and Ronnie would do Luther.

Bernard sees blues as bright and wide open to innovation. “Rap and some other stuff is gonna disappear. It’s like numbers on the clock. Once you drop off the clock, there’s only so much other stuff coming, but I like to give every music a chance.”

Visit Bernard’s website at:

Interviewer Don Wilcock has been writing about blues for nearly half a century. He wrote Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, the biography that helped Buddy Guy jumpstart his career in 1991. He’s interviewed more than 5000 Blues artists and edited several music magazines including King Biscuit Time.

For other interviews on our website CLICK HERE

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Mississippi Valley Blues Society – Davenport, IA

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents Bruce Katz and the Bruce Katz Band at Harley Corin’s, 1708 State Street, Bettendorf, IA on Monday, December 5 starting at 7:00 p.m. The cost to see this brilliant performance will be $8 if you are a Mississippi Valley Blues Society member, or $10 if you are have not joined the blues society (application will be available at the door).

For more information contact: Steve Brundies 563-508-7660 or visit

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. 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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