Issue 10-49 December 15, 2016

coco montoya cover photo

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2016

 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Coco Montoya. We have 12 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Kenny Neal, JJ Thames, Robert Finley, Big Dog Mercer, Liz Mandeville, Tomi Leino Trio, Adrian Galysh, Pass Over Blues, Soul Shakers, Spencer MacKenzie, Katie Webster and Roland Johnson.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

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 TODAY, 12/15/16! Call bob at (309) 267-4425 to hold your ad spot today.

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 12 

kenny neal cd imageKenny Neal – Bloodline

Cleopatra Records – 2016

11 tracks; 45 minutes

Next time you run into one of those people who say that “blues music is depressing” just play them this album (especially “I’m So Happy”) and they should change their opinion because Kenny Neal’s new album is joyously positive, despite recent problems caused to Kenny and his family by flooding in his home area of Louisiana. Since 2010’s Hooked On Your Love Kenny has only issued a Christmas album, no doubt in part a result of Blind Pig’s demise, but he has now found a new home at Cleopatra and this album is a keeper. Kenny remains a genuine triple threat on vocals, guitar and harp and wrote eight of the eleven tracks here. He is supported by lots of family members, Noel on bass and no fewer than seven Neals on backing vocals! The McCrary sisters’ gospel tones are also involved in the B/V’s and a superb horn section of Dana Robbins and Tyler Summers on sax, Quentin Ware on trumpet and Billy Huber on trombone fill out the sound considerably. Other musicians involved include Bob Britt and Steve Dawson on guitar, Chris Carmichael on strings, Tommy Macdonald on bass, Lucky Peterson, Kevin McKendree and John Lancaster on keyboards and Tom Hambridge who plays drums throughout and co-produced the album with Kenny in Nashville.

The CD opens with Kenny’s slippery slide featured on “Ain’t Gon Let The Blues Die”, a gospel-tinged and horn-driven tune that name-checks many of the great blues musicians from Robert Johnson to Koko Taylor, Kenny promising to “keep the music alive”. “Bloodline” explores Kenny’s family links to the music, Kenny switching to harp on a swampy tune and “Plain Old Common Sense” is a great horn-infused shuffle with soulful guitar from Kenny who makes a plea for people to learn from their mistakes. Willie Nelson’s frequently covered “Funny How Time Slips Away” receives a respectful string arrangement over which Kenny’s guitar soars in the solo. Kenny’s toe-tapper “Keep On Moving” has a great horn arrangement with swirling organ, making it one of the highlight tracks here though the cover of Tom Hambridge and Gary Nicholson’s “I Go By Feel” gives it a close run. Buddy Guy cut this fine song on his last album Born To Play Guitar,and Kenny’s version stands up well in comparison, the horns adding an extra dimension to Kenny’s subtle and emotional guitar playing.

The previously mentioned “I’m So Happy” is a co-write between Kenny, his daughter Syreeta and Tom Hambridge, a gloriously positive song with more fine guitar and horns. Kenny follows many before him by writing about a car in “Blues Mobile”, appropriately fast-paced with Kenny’s harp leading the way with some excellent rocking piano driving the song. “I Can’t Wait” is another Hambridge/Nicholson song, this time with Seth Walker added to the credits: it’s an acoustic piece featuring Steve Dawson’s Weissonborn guitar over a sparse hand percussion arrangement, Kenny delivering the lyrics about getting home to his loved one very convincingly as well as adding some great back-porch harp. Two more originals close out the album: in “Real Friend” Kenny reminds us that when times are tough you need genuine friends for support and he’s ready to take that call – trumpet, sax and guitar solos all add to a feel-good song; Kenny pays heartfelt tribute in “Thank You BB King”, a very fast-paced shuffle in typical BB King orchestra style that includes references to Lucille and “The Thrill Is Gone” as well as some very BB-like guitar playing.

Bloodline is nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album in the 2017 Grammy Awards. This is a fine album from Kenny that many blues fans will enjoy and comes recommended.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 12 

jj thames cd imageJJ Thames – Raw Sugar

DeChamp Records/Malaco Music Group DCH 30003

13 songs – 55 minutes

JJ Thames follows up on her well-received debut album, Tell You What I Know, with this release, and it should help elevate her into the upper stratosphere of modern soul-blues performers.

Recorded once again for Grady Champion’s DeChamp imprint at legendary Malaco studios, it’s produced by another rising star, guitarist Eddie Cotton Jr., who plays lead guitar and shares writing credits with Thames (pronounced “Timms”) on all 13 tracks. It’s a polished collection that comes across with an old-school feel.

Now known as the Mississippi Blues Diva, JJ’s actually a Detroit native trained in jazz and classical music. After first performing at age nine, she turned to the blues in her late teens. Now based out of Jackson, Miss., where Malaco is based and in her 30s, she’s an actress and novelist as well as a chittlin’ circuit veteran who’s worked with a galaxy of soul-blues superstars – including Denise LaSalle, Peggy Scott Adams, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Marvin Sease – after touring as a backup singer with The English Beat, Slightly Stoopid and other reggae rockers.

Her powerful voice and natural, never-rushed delivery set Thames apart from many of blues belters today. Her songs are often autobiographical in nature and packed with positive affirmations dealing with love, hope, empowerment and pain.

Joining her and Cotton on this one are guitarist Joe Seamons, mandolin player Ben Hunter, keyboardist/flautist Darryl Sanford, drummer John “Lanky” Blackmon, bassist Anthony Daniels and a horn section of Kimble Funchess on trumpet, Jessie Primer II on tenor and baritone sax and Robert Lamkin on trombone. Israel Angel Torres contributes a spoken intro to one cut, and LaTarsha Sanford and Carol DeAngelis add handclaps on another.

The disc begins with a straightforward gospel number, “Oh Lord,” featuring Hunter and Seamons, and serves as JJ’s plea for help on her musical way. It takes only a heartbeat for the action to heat up once the invocation’s out of the way. “Hattie Pearl” bursts out of the gate. It’s a Southern rocker that describes a big, pretty, large-living country girl. “I’m Leavin’,” a fast shuffle, follows with Thames vowing to split from a man who’s both a liar and cheat. She’s cutting out in the morning, she warns, “the only thing I’m leavin’ behind is you.”

“Leftovers” follows. It’s a soul-blues tune of the first order. Set atop a relaxed shuffle, it begins with Thames assuring another woman that she’s not interested in her man, that she “doesn’t do leftovers/I want my own.” Cotton’s single-note guitar run kicks off “Woman Scorned,” a complaint about being ignored. It flows neatly into “Only Fool Was Me,” which continues the message in the form of a bittersweet ballad.

The cautionary soul-blues “Bad Man” precedes “Hold Me,” a breezy ballad in which JJ tries to solidify a marriage that’s gone through rocky times. Next up, she flips for bad-boy musician from the wrong side of town in “Don’t Stop My Shine.” When a friend tries to warn her, she insists: “I may be a preacher’s daughter/But I’m gonna be a sinner’s wife.”

The funky “I Don’t Feel Nothing” deals with falling out of love before the heart-rending “Plan B (Abortion Blues)” kicks off with child saying hello and I love you before the singer describing the difficult choice she has to make in a clinic visit. The title song, “Raw Sugar,” about a jezebel in a cheap motel, follows before “I Wanna Fall In Love” concludes the set.

Available through iTunes and other online retailers as well as direct from the Malaco website, Raw Sugar will leave you with a sweet taste in your mouth if soul-blues is your bag.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 12 

robert finley cd imageRobert Finley – Age Don’t Mean A Thing

Big Legal Mess Records – 2016

9 tracks; 36 minutes

This album has a great back story. While in the army Robert Finley sang soul and Rn’B in a band but when he returned to civilian life back home in Louisiana he found it impossible to make a living from music, so worked as a carpenter and occasionally performed solo for fun. After stopping work, partly due to failing eyesight, Robert has now produced an album – at age 62! So, a dream come true, but is it any good? Answer is a resounding YES, a deep soul album with Robert’s superb vocals (not dissimilar to another latecomer to the recording scene, Frank Bey) and a first rate band of Memphis musicians. Members of the Bo-Keys are joined by a who’s who of current Memphis players: Howard Grimes, Marc Franklin, Jimbo Mathus (who also produces), Al Gamble, Kirk Smothers, Reba Russell, Harold Thomas, Daunielle Hill. To top things off seven of the nine songs are Robert’s originals.

The album opens with a cover of George Clinton’s “I Just Want To Tell You” which is classic Memphis soul with Robert’s superb vocal supported by backing singers on the chorus, the baying horns and funky backbeat, a terrific start to the album. The title track “Age Don’t Mean A Thing” follows, clearly a heartfelt statement from Robert and a message that we could all heed. Starting with a slow-burn groove and lilting guitar the song celebrates Robert’s ability to belie his age.

Robert then demands “Let Me Be Your Everything” on a catchy number with a latin feel though when the horns come in it can only be a Memphis recording! “It’s Too Late” is a heart-rending ballad with semi-spoken lyrics and “Snake In The Grass” a medium-paced soul tune with the horns adding punch to the chorus as Robert bemoans the presence of a rival in his home – and this one definitely has legs!

David Gates and Bread’s mega-hit from 1970 “Make It With You” is slowed down and transformed into a soul ballad, the guitar and organ supporting Robert’s tender vocal brilliantly, the horns sitting this one out. “Come On” brings the spirit of James Brown into the room, even the 1-2-3 horn flurry at the end of each verse, the backing singers egging Robert on to ever greater efforts, Robert responding with the deeply soulful “You Make Me Want To Dance” which has a wonderful horn arrangement and is another standout track.

The album closes with “Is It Possible To Love 2 People” in which Robert’s ‘happily married man’ also has a family with another woman. The answer to the question is almost certainly ‘No’ but Robert checks it out with his doctor and psychiatrist anyway as the band plays on with another fine horn arrangement. Sadly we never discover the outcome but maybe Robert is holding that back for a second album – with material as good as this I certainly hope so because fans of old school soul music will love this record which comes highly recommended.

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 – 4 of 12 

bog dog mercer cd imageBig Dog Mercer – It Ain’t Easy

Self release

10 songs – 41 minutes

The front cover of It Ain’t Easy features an atmospheric black and white photo of Chicago’s Sears Tower at night, together with Marty Mercereau’s “Big Dog Mercer” logo and the legend “Chicago Blues And Rock” and this an album for which the phrase “it does what it says on the tin” could have been coined. It Ain’t Easy comprises 10 great blues or blues-rock songs, played with serious attitude and no little skill and instantly transports the listener to a darkened Windy City bar. Although this is a studio album, it has enough rough edges to suggest that it could have been recorded live (albeit with some double tracking for the guitars).

Even the track listing on the album suggests a live set, opening with three classic blues tracks to entice the audience in before moving seamlessly to Mercer’s own songs. The choices also indicate a total confidence in the band’s abilities. Opening with Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” could be seen as slightly hackneyed but Mercer’s threatening, slashing slide guitar and the irresistible groove of bassist Matt Cartwright and drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith provide an indelible flow and pulse. Likewise, the second track, Wolf’s classic “300 Lbs Of Joy”, is wholly owned by the 6′ 10”, 300+lb Mercer. The third track is Chess session ace Gene Barge’s less well known but wonderfully funky “Me & My Woman”.

Mercer is backed by two different rhythm sections on It Ain’t Easy with Cartwright and Smith on half the songs and Mike Boyle on bass and D. Bernal on drums on the other five (with Jeff “Wally” Walroth adding piano to “Blue # 44”). Both trios rock like men possessed.

Mercer plays slide guitar with a ferocious attitude. On “Revelation”, the opening lick hints of Son House before erupting into a rock chorus that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Deep Purple album. The wonderfully titled “The Truth About Your Friends… Unfortunately” sounds like an updated “Rollin’ And Tumblin’”. Indeed, the pace and intensity of the album is unrelenting, with only the country-rock-ish “One For Gabby” stepping off the metaphorical pedal. Even “Canadian Sunset” (played here as an instrumental) has a tension and vigour one would not usually find in a jazz standard.

Not unlike Eric Sardinas, Mercer successfully treads that delicate line between blues and blues-rock. “Blues # 44” sounds like a modern day Howlin’ Wolf track with its combination of electric instrumentation and a song structure that hints of both Chicago and Mississippi. The title track sits comfortably in the rock genre, but features a beautiful slide solo. “I’m Not A Good Man” has echoes of Dickie Betts-era Allman Brothers both in the chord structure and the major pentatonic guitar melody.

If you like your Chicago blues played hard and in your face (and, let’s face it, who doesn’t?), you will enjoy It Ain’t Easy. Mercer and Kenny Smith as co-producers deserve special credit for capturing such a sparkling sound on the recording. Very impressive.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 12 

liz mandville cd imageLiz Mandeville – The Stars Motel

Blue Kitty Music

11 songs – 42 minutes

Veteran vocalist Liz Mandeville used the marquee of one of the few motor inns remaining on the city’s North Side for her previous album, Heart ‘O’ Chicago, but the theme’s gotten far more personal for The Stars Motel, which involves her collaboration with four other guitarist/songwriters.

The residence in the crosshairs this time is a place off the beaten path even though the sign depicted on the cover is from another real and ill-fated motel that’s now torn down. The title actually refers to the basement of Liz’s home, which doubles as a recording studio as well a haven for out-of-town guests. The concept began to emerge in 2013 when Scott Ellison needed a room when touring from his base in Tulsa, Okla., and every hotel room in the city had already been booked. Mandeville agreed to put him up – under the condition that they write and record three new songs during his stay.

The following year, guitarist Dario Lombardo, a former member of Phil Guy’s band, arrived from Turin, Italy, to play the Chicago Blues Fest only to find that his reservations had been cancelled. That fall, former International Blues Challenge semi-finalist Rachelle Coba dropped in from Miami en route to the Blues Blast Music Awards. And six more songs were born.

Still short of an album, she teamed with Japanese string-bender Minoru Maruyama, who’d worked with her previously, for two songs, and Florida-based Detroit native Doug Deming for another. All five guitarists play on this disc and provide backing vocals. The album is a major departure for Mandeville, who usually writes all of her own material.

It’s produced by Jim Godsey, who contributes percussion, and features about 20 musicians, including Joan Gand (keyboards), Andy Sutton, John Parris and Robbie Armstrong (drums), Matt Cartwright, Heather Tackett-Faludo, Darryl Wright and Matt Kohl (bass), Dizzy Bolinsky (harmonica) and a horn section composed of Steve Hart (tuba) Charlie Kimble (sax), Jeannie Tanner (trumpet) and Johnny Cotton and Alex Leong (trombone). Liz also adds guitar and washboard.

Ellison’s guitar solo introduces “Too Hot For Love” before Liz’s full-bodied alto delivers the saucy lyrics familiar to folks who’ve known her since emerging on the Windy City scene in the ’80s. In this one, she advises her man to hold off on his heat until wintertime because it’s simply too warm in the summer for romance. Mandeville takes the lead on guitar with Lombardo on rhythm for the new, but familiar “Blues Is My Boss” before she teams with Coba for the catchy “Everybody Knew But Me.” It’s a Latin-flavored send-up with Cajun overtones about a love cheat.

The mood slows for the ballad “One Dance,” about longing for a married man, but vowing never to reveal her desire. The mid-tune single-note solo from Maruyama burns with emotion. Liz’s attitude takes a 180-degree turn for “Try Me,” which boasts “I’ve got a whole lot of soul/In my jellyroll” as she sets her sights on a new guy.

Mandeville demands the “Truth” when a lover gives her mixed signals and sings praise for “Reefer And A Glass Of Wine,” a fine jump blues that features Deming on the six-string, before getting introspective again for the slow blues “What Could Have Been,” a regret about having been so messed up, she’d missed the queues from a male admirer.

“Bad Blues Habit” compares the music to heroin: “Need it every day/Gotta have it every night./Without my blues shot/I just don’t feel right” – a great call-and-response song number. “River Of Blood,” a haunting flashback about slavery, and “What Do Blues Men Like?” – you guessed it: women of all types – bring the release to a close.

Available through CDBaby or direct through the artist’s website, it’s definitely worth a stay at The Stars Motel – especially if you like modern Chicago blues that’s as comfortable as a broken-in pair of shoes.

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 – 6 of 12 

tomi leino trio cd imageTomi Leino Trio – Hip Shootin’

Homework Records

CD: 10 Songs, 33:30 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary and Traditional Electric Blues

Here’s a trivia question for you, Constant Readers: Name a place that’s almost always cold, full of ice and snow, and where magic happens if you listen closely. If you said “the North Pole,” good guess, but try somewhere a bit lower in latitude: Finland! That’s where the Tomi Leino Trio hails from, with a straightforward yet sizzling sophomore album named Hip Shootin’. In their native country and throughout mid-Europe, they’ve become highly successful – so much so that their sold-out debut CD, Get On Down, was recently reissued. According to their promo info materials, “[Hip Shootin’] was recorded at Suprovox Studios, straight to a two-track recorder, and the band’s spontaneous and tight team play, together with their authentic sound, was well-captured…[The band also has] a long working history together with American blues masters like James Harman, Mark Hummel and R.J. Mischo.” Featuring four original songs and six covers, this album displays the Trio’s wicked skills on electric chopper, blues harmonica, and drums.

If the dictionary had an entry for “guitar hero band,” it might read, “See Tomi Leino Trio.” Leino and his colleague Jaska Prepula (who also plays upright bass) know how to get the most out of hot-pepper raw barroom riffs. Tomi also blasts blues harmonica with nuclear intensity, taking no prisoners on songs like Frank Otis Frost’s “Jelly Roll King.” As for his vocals, they may remind some of Tim “Too Slim” Langford and his posse the Taildraggers. Meino and his colleague Prepula talk-sing through their numbers, conversing with their listeners and attempting occasional harmonies, like on tracks six and nine. This isn’t wholly off-putting, but people who appreciate powerful pipes might want more. Mikko Peltola does a fine job on drums as well.

The following three selections are the best of the Trio’s originals:

Track 02: “Elaine” – The subject of this song is a “woman like a hurricane,” according to the chorus of this Piedmont-style stomp. “Oh, Lord!” Tomi cries in astonishment, and it’s no wonder: Elaine’s stormy passion packs too much of a wallop, as does the guitar solo in the middle. With a hook that just won’t quit worming into people’s ears, this tune’s a winner.

Track 05 “Hip Shooter” – While listening to this casual, loping instrumental, one might be reminded of a Wild West scene: a sheriff and a stubble-bearded bad guy striding into the town square for a showdown at high noon, and having a heated argument beforehand. Who’ll be the first to draw their pistol? Will justice win out? Hopefully the “Hip Shooter” will be the lawman.

Track 07: “Can’t Stop Loving You” – Here Leino shows off some of his sensational harmonica talent, and the harmony on the refrain isn’t bad either. No melancholy Phil Collins ballad is track seven, although the former is more famous. With time and publicity, hopefully it will reach the U.S. charts. One minor flaw is this lyric: “I send you a letter, but you never reply. I want to know what it’s all about.” Those two words may rhyme in Finland, but not England.

Three Hip Shootin’ Finnish have finished their second real-deal electric blues album!

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 12 

adrian galysh cd imageAdrian Galysh – Into the Blue


9 tracks/38:51 minutes

Adrian Galysh brings a lifetime of experience to his new album. He first started grinding his axe when he was twelve-years old, and his influences range from Randy Rhoads, Peter Gabriel, and Eddie Van Halen to classical composers such as Arvo Part and Carl Orff, as well as the new Age music of Vangelis. An in-demand session player, he’s performed or recorded with, among others, Rob Beach, Robben Ford, Dweezil Zappa, and Carlton.

Joining Galysh on Into the Blue are Kacee Clanton on vocals—on six of the nine tracks—Joey Heredia on drums, and Paul Loranger on bass; Andy Najera lends saxophone on “Messin’ with the Kid,” and Alan Okuya delivers organ, Wurlitzer, and piano on five tracks; Carl Verheyen serves up some tasty lead riffs on “Messin’ with the Kid,” while Johnny Hiland does much the same on the classic “Further On Up the Road.”

The album’s opening song gives us a taste of the forceful musical power to follow. “Let Your Hammer Ring” may as well be called “let your guitar sing,” as Galysh delivers his powerful lead riffs and commanding vocals. He’s firmly carving a blazing rock and roll path with his stinging leads, and he follows heads with authority down this path on the songs that follow.

“Messin’ with the Kid” is a delightful, tongue-in-cheek, throw-down-the-gauntlet tune that features a Steve Miller Band-like chorus punctuated by Galysh’s lightning riffs. “Unloveable Me”—penned by Galysh and Clanton—delivers a slow burn of regret over a lost, or impossible, love. The structure recalls “Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down and Out),” the song that follows this one on the album. Clanton’s smoky, sultry, sad vocals can’t hide their power, and Galysh’s aching lead runs on the bridge reply to Clanton’s plaintive vocals. It’s a perfect call-and response song, and in many ways it’s the best song on the album. Galysh and Clanton’s version of “Nobody Knows You” can’t rival the Derek and the Dominoes version, but Clanton’s vocals provide the highlight of this song and this entire album; it’s hard to imagine some of these songs without her throaty pipes.

What would it sound like if Black Sabbath played the blues? “The War,” another Galysh-Clanton tune, gives us our answer. Yet, the Black Sabbath would never be able to equal Galysh’s crisp, burning, clean guitar, and Clanton’s soaring and soul-stirring vocals. If we had only these two songs from the pair, we’d have an almost perfect EP; they make a magic here that’s hard to match. Galysh moves toward the close of the album with the classic “Further on up the Road,” and he showcases his ability to run the frets in the service of the song. It might have been nice if Clanton had added her voice to this one, too.

Into the Blue carries us across the great divide and into the stratosphere with Galysh’s never-waste-a-note guitar playing and Clanton’s passionate and robust vocals.

Reviewer Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. writes about music and music books for No Depression, American Songwriter, Country Standard Time, and Wide Open Country.

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 12 

passover blues cd imagePass Over Blues – No Fruits – Without Roots

snnstft Verlag

15 songs time-50:26

Blues based music delving into singer-song writer territory with a slant on the state of the world’s condition and personal relations delivered from the German perspective of Pass Over Blues and it’s guiding light Harro Hubner. The band employs blues instrumentation in songs that have a modern bent. There isn’t too much of anything here that you could call straight ahead blues, but there is a definite blues attitude and much creative energy at work. The instrumentation ranges from spare to full ahead band pieces. The core band of electric and acoustic stringed instruments harmonica and a drummer is supplemented by keyboards and sax. Harro supplies the weather worn gravelly vocals with blues attitude.

A brief spoken word intro leads into a Bo Diddley beat on a bass drum before being picked up by the full band on “The Life”. It’s a pondering on life. “I Got The Blues So Bad” is a generic I got the blues song taken slow with mournful harmonica and nice and bluesy guitar. Harro speaks about the fall of communist East Berlin, his home town, on “What They Said”. He basically talks his way through it. Andreas Geyer lays down a comfortable cushion of mellow Hammond-B3 organ to nicely compliment Harro’s harp. An old timey string band feel is brought to the playful “Get Off Your Tush”, a plea to couch potatoes to get off their a**es. Harp, banjo and Dobro create the laid back vibe.

Thomas Hahnemann’s sax plays tandem lines with Roland Beeg’s electric guitar on the snappy instrumental “Fat Mama”. “Nobody” is about personal freedoms presented over bluesy-jazzy guitar along with Harro’s excellent harmonica playing. Focusing on nature to take one’s mind off of the bad state of world affairs is the thrust of “That’s What’s On My Mind”. “Speechless” covers a similar topic as it speaks about the corrupt values of much of the human race. Melodic sax kicks off a song about relationship confusion in “The Distance-Part Two”. “Hello Old Friend” is a lovingly tender bit of heartfelt advice to a friend where the music matches the message as it is sung over acoustic guitar, upright bass, sax and spare percussion.

Personal relationships are revisited on “The Way Back”, a tune that features some intense guitar soloing. A melancholy mood is portrayed on the short and sweet “It’s Summertime”, a back porch-y Dobro and harp tune. “There Was A Time” is a short upbeat piece about being freed from desperation. The band wraps things up with the slow instrumental “In The Middle Of The Forrest” that incorporates some exquisitely pensive electric guitar that ends the recording with a moment of Zen.

Great creativity and thought was put into this project. It is in many ways devoted to the world outlook and personal issues. The choice of instrumentation takes the listener through many atmospheric moments. It is no small task to pull fifteen well crafted songs out of the air. This band should be a vital force on the blues and roots music scene.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 12 

soul shakers cd imageSoul Shakers – Winter Blues Guitarmageddon

Blues Broker Records

CD: 10 Songs, 54:29 Minutes

Styles: Traditional Electric Blues Covers

Who says summer is the only time to enjoy a blues festival featuring an all-star lineup? According to the promotional info sheet of Pennsylvania’s Soul Shakers, “On February 26, 2016, blues lovers of the Greater Scranton, PA area converged at the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple to shake off the Winter Blues for an evening of live performances by some of the best blues performers in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The fundraiser for the Scranton Cultural Center was christened the Soul Shaker’s Winter Blues Guitarmageddon. With hundreds in attendance, the Soul Shakers Rhythm Section (Sharon O’Connell, Bill Coleman and Eric Brody) provided the musical backdrop for an all-star roster of some of the best blues guitar acts in Northeast PA, including Phyllis Hopkins, Bob McCartney, Doug Hubert and his seven-year-old son, guitar prodigy Eamonn Hubert, Clarence Spady, and Teddy Young for their exceptional performances.” Peter Florance, Bob O’Connell and Jon Ventre also stars in this grand gathering.

Overall, Guitarmageddon delivers what its title promises. Phyllis Hopkins does an especially keen job on the second number. One will find plenty of smoking electric shredder here, but absolutely no original songs. Why? Yours truly has a theory and its corollary: 1) As mentioned earlier, this concert was a fundraiser. Therefore, 2) the Soul Shakers were required to play to the crowd. Crowds at blues shows always crave songs they know, such as B.B. King’s “Five Long Years,” “Before You Accuse Me,” and Taylor and McDaniel’s “I’m a Woman.” As a whole, the Soul Shakers exude mid-key positive energy: enough to get people’s toes tapping, but not enough to make them start dancing in the aisles. Two highlights are tracks three and four, on which Doug Hubert and young Eamonn Hubert display their prowess. “He’s only been playing two years,” the father says of his son. “I shudder to think where he’s going to be in two more!” Perhaps in a place where the student surpasses his teacher?

The following cover evokes the most emotion in the middle of this rocking blues festival:

Track 05: “Love in Vain” – Robert Johnson may have been famous for selling his soul to the Devil, but this rueful ballad of his depicts a different hell: “Baby, don’t get on that train, on that train. Please don’t make me cry.” Clarence Spady’s vocals might remind one of Rod Stewart’s in “Maggie May,” and his guitar work? Absolutely superb. Not only does he know how to play dozens of notes in lightning-speed succession, but to give each one the right amount of volume and emphasis. “Love in Vain” is worth pushing the REPEAT 1 button on one’s next playlist.

Blues cover compilations are like milk in some people’s refrigerators, and beer in others’ – staple foods, always welcome and rarely allowed to become stale. Guitarmageddon may not break any new musical ground, but once listeners hear everyone’s chopper sing, who’ll care? All of its all-stars put their best foot forward, even if they’re only seven years old!

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 – 10 of 12 

spencer mackemzie cd imageSpencer MacKenzie – Infected with the Blues


8 tracks/28:30 minutes

There is no question that musicians should be judged by ability and not by age, and that is certainly the case with 16-year-old blues guitarist Spencer MacKenzie. He’s already won the Niagara Music Awards Rising Star award, and he was selected to perform at the 2016 Youth Showcase at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. He also received a scholarship from the Blues Foundation so he could attend the Fernando Jones Blues Camp in Chicago this past summer.

Young blues and rock guitarists often try to play too many notes, opting for flash and wasting too many notes along the way. More mature guitarists learn that it’s style not flash that wins the day. MacKenzie has learned this lesson already, though, and he’s not after flash but finding the right phrasing and licks for each song. In this way, his guitar playing is crisp and clean even as it delivers some down-to-the bone licks. MacKenzie’s vocals lack the power of his guitar playing, for he hasn’t yet developed the growl of a good blues vocalist; but if he keeps this up, as he promises to do on his first song on the album, the voice will grow into the licks.

MacKenzie declares on the album’s opening track that he’s been “Infected with the Blues”: “I got the blues/Runnin’ through my veins/People say I’m too young/Oh, that’s a shame/I fell into Muddy Waters/I came out jelly fever/I’m gonna play this guitar/I’m gonna make you a believer.” The power of this opening lies precisely in MacKenzie’s clean and right-on-the-money licks. He’s got the blues power in his soul, and it comes blazing out of his fingers. This original composition—one of three on the album—lets us know that MacKenzie has arrived ready to spread his infection all around so that we’ll soon catch it.

On “Goodbye Lucille”, MacKenzie’s tribute to B.B. King, the young guitarist manages to capture much of King’s own spirit in his string-bending, slow-burn opening lead riffs. He’s clearly listened deeply to King, for he delivers a tune that embodies King’s soulfulness and his pointed guitar runs. Again, MacKenzie’s vocals lack the depth to match his heart-rendered guitar playing; the power will come, for you can hear it in his hear on this song.

The other five tracks on the album are covers and include a humorous and deftly delivered version of Memphis Minnie’s “Kissing in the Dark” and a cover of Ahmet Ertegun’s “Mess Around” that chugs along with a barrelhouse piano driving the jump blues of the original. MacKenzie probably shouldn’t have chosen to include Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” since it’s been covered much better by so many other artists. MacKenzie’s version moves along too lightly and not forcefully enough to capture the power of the song. It’s one of those songs that should be sung by an artist who’s faced down some of the political and social issues the song raises.

In spite of the weakness of the album’s final cut, this is a very strong debut by a young guitarist who clearly has the blues in his soul and they’re not going away.

Reviewer Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. writes about music and music books for No Depression, American Songwriter, Country Standard Time, and Wide Open Country.

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 Featured Blues Review – 11 of 12 

katie webster cd imageKatie Webster – The Swamp Queen – I’m Bad

Wolf Records

16 Songs/64.5 minutes

I must be honest, I had not heard much about Katie Webster other than knowing she made some great boogie-woogie albums with Alligator Records in the 1980’s. After listening to this fine compilation of songs which span her career, I gained much respect for this “two fisted”, piano playing, swamp boogie queen.

This compilation was recorded live in Athens, Greece in 1990 and mastered by Praxis Studios in Athens by Kostas Parissis. It is the seventh in a series of Louisiana Swamp Blues, each which highlight the career of various swamp blues performers, most lesser known. Katie is the only musician on this CD on piano and vocals. The live recording provides a glimpse of Katie’s personality, her command of her music and interplay with the very receptive audience.

Katie, born Katie Jewel Thorne, is best known for her barrelhouse, boogie – woogie piano and her incredible vocals. She learned this style of piano in her childhood years in Houston listening by radio to Fats Domino, Little Richard, Albert Ammons and the like. Her father was a ragtime pianist who turned to gospel music when he joined the ministry. He also had a tremendous influence on her music. She loved ragtime and boogie – woogie and would play this music until her mother came home from work when she quickly switched to gospel so she would not be scolded for playing the “devil’s” music. At age thirteen she set off to make her way in the music world on the “crawfish circuit” from Dallas to New Orleans. She began her career playing in the bands of Slim Harpo, Lighnin’ Slim, Lazy Lester, Lonnie Brooks and Otis Redding to name a few. She played with Otis Redding until his untimely mid- 1960’s death. She then left the music world, returning in the 1980’s as a solo performer. She was very popular in Europe, doing over thirty tours there in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. In 1993, she suffered a stroke while touring Greece, but returned to music the following year although slightly handicapped with a weak left hand and poor eyesight. Even handicapped, she never missed a beat and sounded as good as ever. She caught the attention of Alligator Records in 1988 and recorded three albums on the Alligator label. These releases finally gave her the recognition she deserved. Katie passed in 1999 leaving an amazing legacy of over five hundred recordings both with other bands and individually, all that featured her incredible piano skills and some her vocal prowess as well.

The songs on this CD, such as “Katie’s Boogie”, “I’m Bad”and “Two Fisted Mama” (all of which she penned) exemplify her barrelhouse boogie – woogie style. She plays the piano with a force like no female I can think of. One hand keeping a perfect rollicking rhythm while the other is playing incredible melody and bringing home the boogie – woogie style. All the while her voice flows with the music telling a story, often with humor or emotion. Her vocals are an instrument of their own, she has great control and can turn up the volume to fill a room or be so soft as to gently carry a song to a very deep, emotional level such as in “It’s Good to See You”. She also has a swampy growl to her voice that provides a prowess when the song is fitting.

Katie also pays homage to her gospel roots with a stirring medley of traditional gospel songs, “Precious Lord Take my Hand”, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Down by the Riverside” to name a few. Her gospel playing is right out of a Southern Sunday morning Church service, she touches the keys with sincere devotion and inspiration. Her vocals adapt perfectly, rising and falling as her spirit is moved by the music. It is almost like listening to a different musician than the boogie-woogie Katie, but because she carries gospel roots into all of her music, it is really part of her special style.

She has a few covers on the CD of Otis Redding songs. She was very close to Otis and deeply respected his music. Her version of “Sittin on the Dock of the Bay” and “Try a Little Tenderness” are very moving. You can feel the love in her music. I was quite taken with her version of “Sittin on the Dock of the Bay” and in my mind, it is the finest version I have heard aside from the original.

To round out the CD, Katie covers “So Far Away” by Mark Knopfler, “Honest I Do”, the Jimmie Reed classic and “Hobo Blues/Boogie Chillen'” two Johnnie Lee Hooker standards she combines into a medley. She also does a very tender version of “Sea of Love” written by Philip Baptiste aka Phil Phillips.

I recommend this CD as an addition to any collection of blues recordings. Katie Webster’s talent on the piano has yet to be outdone by a woman in the blues world (in my opinion). She also has the vocal skills to carry the listener on a beautiful journey. It is a great musical experience to hear this woman play perfectly timed rhythm with her left hand as her right hand dances and pushes the piano keys to deliver each note just as she wants it – all the while her voice is soaring with, above and below the piano. Her gospel songs are as good as gospel gets. Part of the beauty of the blues is the history, the legacy carried forward by contemporary performers. It is always a nod to the past. So often the women of the blues we nod to are the famous vocalists. Katie Webster is so much more. This CD is available on

Reviewer Kim Derr a life-long blues lover originally from Pennsylvania who recently relocated to SE North Carolina. She left her career as an attorney to pursue blues guitar, bass and mandolin playing and photography interests. She enjoys all styles of the blues. Blues music is her passion, whether writing about it, playing it, listening to it or photographing musicians. There is a story in or behind every blues song and in the musical styles. Blues had her at the first twelve bars on an old guitar!

 Featured Blues Review – 12 of 12 

roland johnson cd imageRoland Johnson – Imagine This

Blue Lotus Recordings BL-01

10 songs – 38 minutes

Sweet voiced Roland Johnson has been a local favorite on the St. Louis soul-blues scene for decades, covering classics made famous by James Brown, Sam & Dave, Solomon Burke and Bobby “Blue” Bland in a succession of bands, making all of the old tunes seem new and thrilling audiences whenever he appears.

That’s why Imagine This must seem like a dream to him. Referred to by some folks as the “Otis Redding of St. Louis,” this CD is the first ever released under Johnson’s own name. Now 68 years old, Johnson’s a nattily dressed, finger-popping performer who’s way overdue to debut to a wider audience beyond venues like Beale On Broadway and BB’s Jazz, Blues And Soups where he regularly appears.

Roland possesses a rich, melismatic tenor voice that deserves to be heard. He’s backed here by co-producers Paul Niehaus IV on bass and keyboards and Kevin O’Connor on drums, guitar and baritone sax. They’re assisted a host of talent, including Kellie Everett on alto and tenor sax, Adam Hucke on trumpet, David Gomez on tenor sax, Alison Derrick on viola, Andy Hainz on cello, Abbie Steiling on violin, Lew Winer III on soprano sax, Phil Westmoreland on guitars, Ethan Leinwand on piano and Renee Smith, Devin Cahill, Jackie Teuber and Rachel Wilson on vocals.

The recording was mastered by Dave Gross at his Fat Rabbit Studios in Montclair, N.J. The end product is a rock-solid collection of brand new tunes that come across with the timeless feel of the soul-blues created in the late ’60s. Johnson wrote nine of the 10 songs on the disc, with Westmoreland – who’s worked with Fontella Bass and Oliver Sain — contributing the other.

The action starts with the spritely “Can’t Get Enough,” which sings praise for a new love. Johnson’s voice floats effortlessly as he delivers rapid-fire lyrics. “Promised Land” carries the theme forward. Roland’s standing before his lady with love’s arrows in his chest, yearning for her to walk with him hand-in-hand to the place in the title.

Next up, is “Mother,” a tender, bittersweet, slow blues. It’s a remembrance of all the good things a mom provided while missing her deeply now that she’s gone. “Keep On Dancin’” urges folks onto the dance floor to keep “the lows from gettin’ you down” while “The Things You Do,” another love opus, quickly changes the mood, highlighted by vocal octave jumps atop a medium-fast shuffle.

“Yours And Mine,” written by Westmoreland and featuring Smith on second vocal, claims the singer’s current romance is one that folks write songs and make movies about, and “Sweet Little Nothings” describe how Johnson hangs on his lover’s every word.

“Ain’t That Loving You” – not to be confused with songs by Jimmy Reed and Luther Ingram – follows before the title tune, “Imagine This,” a fast shuffle, portrays the lady like a genie in a bottle, making all of his dreams come true. The album concludes with the somber, mostly acoustic “Someone To Love,” about missing a sweetheart who’s no longer at the singer’s side.

Available through CDBaby and other online outlets, Imagine This is a very pleasant surprise for anyone who loves old school R&B. You’ll want to give it several listens like I did.

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.

 Featured Blues Interview – Coco Montoya 

coco montoya pic 1Out of nowhere came this call from a man with a heavy British accent. “This is John Mayall calling. I have this tape of you dedicating a song to me for my birthday.”

Coco Montoya thought it was a joke.

“I want to talk to you if you’re interested. I’m putting together a Bluesbreakers. Mick Taylor is leaving.”

Coco hung up. Five minutes later his phone rings again. “No, this is really John Mayall.” This time it sunk in. “I was like, ‘Oh, it really is f***ing John Mayall.’ How would he know I’d played a song for him dedicated to his birthday? It must be him.”

Years before in the early ’80s, Mayall happened to be in The Cat and The Fiddle, a Laurel Canyon hangout for British rock musicians, and heard Coco play Otis Rush’s “All Your Love I Miss Lovin’.” Coco had learned it off Mayall’s 1965 Bluesbreaker “Beano” album featuring Eric Clapton on guitar. Coco had worn out seven copies of this legacy album that he loved so much. So, when he found out that Mayall was in the house and that it was Mayall’s birthday, he performed it.

“I did a pasteurized version of it. I decided ok, I’ll dedicate a song to one of my heroes here celebrating his birthday. It was a chance thing and I went for it.”

At the time Coco was a would-be blues guitarist tending bar after a stint as a drummer in Chicago blues veteran Albert Collins’ band. Mayall was calling Coco to offer him the slot once occupied in the mid-’60s by Eric Clapton in the Bluesbreakers, the band that had given Clapton his blues creds. Coco picks up his Cinderella story.

“I remember we went to the Central Club during the day. John Mayall was holding auditions for a bass player and drummer, and he had me there. (He told me,) ‘I like what I got here. We’ll be leaving in a few weeks for an Italian town. We’ll have a couple of rehearsals.’ Literally, it was two or three rehearsals. I mean it might as well have been none, but I told him, ‘I need to think about it.’ He was, ‘I’ll give you three days, and I’ll move on.’

“I had to think about it because I wasn’t in the music business anymore. It put me back in the music business which I didn’t have a real good taste of from my last go round. I loved music, but I realized I didn’t like the business too much, so it took John Mayall. Even if I lasted a month, I was a Bluesbreaker for a month, you know? I said, ‘S***, this is another opportunity I’d better take advantage of,’ so I said yes, and that’s how that happened.”

During Coco Montoya’s five-year tenure with Mayall he shared guitar playing duties with Walter Trout. “The game was who is gonna be louder and who is gonna be faster that night? Who was gettin’ over more? John could see it. He knew it, and he capitalized on that in a lot of ways. He knew when he had something good going on. Me and Walter had a chemistry that really worked, and I’m not sure any of the other guitar players he had would have been able to work that form. That was the only time I could think of that he had two at the same time.

“Walter Trout is a fireball as everybody knows. He comes out to play, and I come from the Albert Collins thing, so I was a crossbreed of Albert Collins type thing when I was up, and when I was down I was more like Eric (Clapton) where I would take a back seat.”

It’s one thing to fall into an opportunity like the gig with Mayall once, but for Coco Montoya this was lightening striking a second time. His first shot at the big time was with Albert Collins. “I saw him do a matinee in Culver City at the place I always played drums at every weekend. He wanted my number. I gave him my number and never thought anything about it.

“Several months later, he was desperate for a drummer. The guys he had had bailed on him. So, I knew that was what was going on. After playing with the guy, I just said, ‘Look, I’ll go home whenever you get somebody who can really do you justice.’”

coco montoya pic 2Collins told Coco, “Do you really want to learn this music? I love what you’re doing. You stick with me, son. You stick with me, and I’ll teach it to ya.” Coco told Albert, “As soon as you get somebody, I’ll go home. I’ll get on a Greyhound bus and I’ll go home.” That same day they hit the road.

“Yeah,in a matter of hours we were gone. I was frightened to death, and it was one of those instances where I probably didn’t understand either why would I accept doing this? Why would I even take a chance doing this, you know? I was scared. There was no doubt about it, but for some reason I knew I wasn’t going to get another chance like this to experience this, so I jumped in the cold water. I just did.

“We played the University of Eugene in Oregon, and there may have been 3 or 400 people, maybe 5 at the most, but to me that was like Woodstock. It was a sea of people. I was scared to death. The guys were running the gig down to me as we were driving up Interstate 5 heading up to Oregon. Yeah. I did it cold turkey, and I was definitely not a blues drummer at that time. I loved the music, but I was not well versed in it.” But he was hooked.

“It was like the first orgasm you ever had.”

Switching to guitar with Collins was an easy transition. “What was great meeting up with Albert was he was of the same mind. I understood him. He understood me because we weren’t technically gifted. We didn’t have any technical knowledge going on. Albert just did what he did. He didn’t question it. He didn’t try and dissect it. I don’t think Albert ever knew pentatonic nothing. I remember all the years I never heard that word, and didn’t know what the hell it meant and actually didn’t give a s**t what it meant.

“But it was just because of the way I learned, and so here’s two guys that I could understand. I could feel. He wanted me to feel what was happening. ‘Watch me, listen to me, you know, so I can tell you about this music,’ and he did. I remember after the first six or seven months of playing with him, I knew when he was going to stop, when he was going too fast, when he was gonna go back in his head. I knew when he wanted a break in the song. I knew when he wanted to bring it down. You just feel it which is perfect for me because that’s all I’ve ever known about music is what I feel.”

Collins brought Coco into the world of the black road warrior telling the young white man from the West Coast, “You’ve gotta know when and where to pick your fights,” warning him, “You’re fixin’ to s*** and fall back in it.”

There was the time in Mississippi when the band’s van got a flat tire. It was Coco’s job to deal with the gas station. The attendant said to him, “Alright, you gotta fix this tire. Guy’s got a van full of niggers, and we gotta get ’em out of here.”

“I got hot headed,” recalls Coco. “I wanted to get out and do something about it. And I was hurt. I didn’t like what he said, and Albert grabbed me. I remember him pinching my thigh. I was about to get out of the car and say, ‘What the f***, you fat son of a bitch. What did you say?’

“And Albert said, ‘Uh-uh, son.’”

“That’s one of those times you’re fixing to s*** and fall back. He said, ‘You calm down, son. You don’t want to fight. You can’t even win this one. Fix the tire and let’s get the f*** out of here.’ And I listened to what he said, I realized, I’d finally gotten out of the car. A Whole bunch of s*** would have started that we couldn’t finish. But it was my introduction to watch this man go through this kind of indignity, all this kind of s*** going on and to see him still be gracious and be a humble and wonderful person. I said, I’m amazed. I’m amazed by this man, amazed the s*** he had to put up with.

coco montoya pic 3“I was an insecure kid. That’s all there was to it. I wasn’t popular in school. I wasn’t athletic. My mom and dad busted up. I’m sure that probably had something to do with it. Not a very secure kid, so when it came to doing things and what I knew from being in school I learned that basically people are cruel, and people are mean, and people are gonna make fun of me. So, basically I stayed on my own to pursue this thing. I kept it (the job as drummer for Albert Collins) to myself.”

On the road with Collins he soon discovered that everyone in the band was carrying a gun. “I’m looking, ‘Why is everybody’s chest sticking out over there?’ Found out everybody had a gun but me, and if that s*** were to start, I would have been a squirrely little mother f***er. After a while I was packing like everybody was some in these s*** places he had me playing in. I got in my mind, I better be able to protect myself. For then it was another day in paradise. I would do all the non-black things in my head saying, ‘God, it’s really bad if I have to shoot somebody. I’m going through all these things, but if I do, I’m going to go to prison.’ I’m questioning everything. I came to a conclusion I didn’t want to carry a gun anymore.”

Albert Collins introduced Coco to B. B. King. “I remember Albert Collins telling him, ‘My drummer has a little confidence problem,’ and B. said, ‘What are you worried about, son?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I just wanna be the best I can be for Albert, you know?’ And he said, ‘Son, all you gotta do, you go up there on that stage and you just go up there with the attitude you’re just the baddest mother f***er there is. Ain’t nobody better.’ He says, ‘The only thing I want you to do when you’re done, you leave it up on the stage. Don’t bring it down with you. Be humble when you come off that stage.’ He says, ‘That’s what you gotta do because it will always be there when you go up there looking for it. Be humble, son. And what you do then, you magnify it.’”

Both Albert Collins and John Mayall helped Coco find his own voice on guitar and vocals. “Albert Collins used to say it all the time, ‘B. B. King’s my brother. I love him, but I don’t want to sound like B. I don’t want you to sound like me. I want ’em to know who I am.’

“Albert said he walked into a music store, and outside of the store you used to put speakers and blast the music to get people to come in. That was a long time ago, and (Albert’s signature song) “Frosty” was playing. He walked into the store, and there was a guy in the store buying stuff. He listened to the first couple of bars, and the guy went, ‘Goddamn it. There’s that f***ing Albert Collins. I can’t stand that man. I can’t stand that music,’ and Albert said, ‘I laughed. I smiled’ and, being young, I said, ‘Didn’t that hurt your feelings?’ He said, ‘Oh, no. Son, he knew who it was!’ And I started laughing. I had one of those ah-ha moments. He said, ‘Yeah, that’s all that matters. No matter that he liked it or not. The fact that he knew immediately who the f*** that was.’”

Coco Montoya has appeared on a dozen albums with John Mayall. He’s appeared on CDs by B. B. King, Debbie Davies, Tommy Castro, Solomon Burke and Finis Tasby. His solo albums have been produced by Jim Gaines (Songs from The Road 2014), Keb Mo (I Want It All Back 2010), and Paul Barrere (Dirty Deal). “Oh, my God, look at these guys walking in on a session. I’m meeting all my heroes. I was just listening to Jim (Gaines) and knowing the quality and the education and the history of this guy. He brought the best out in me, and at that time it was incredible. A first rate experience. Jim was incredible.

“Paul Barrere is a good friend, a guy I made friends with and got to know really well through Richie Hayward from Little Feat who is no longer with us. It was kinda cool because we became friends first, and then the idea of working together was secondary thing which really was wonderful. It really helped take the pressure off everything. He took me places again where I haven’t been, maybe take chances which is great. It’s like, ah, I want to be in my comfort zone. Well, not today. We’re gonna f*** with you today.

“The same kind of situation where I met Keb because his manager was my manager who was Albert Collins’ manager in the old days until his death. So, there was a connection. We first established some knowledge of each other and then when the opportunity came to be another album, Keb threw in his hat in the arena, and said, ‘I want to do something with you that’s gonna be a little different. Everyone knows you can play guitar. You proved that on the other six albums or whatever, five or six albums. So, I want to concentrate on some vocal stuff.’ He ran me through the ringer vocally (I Want It All Back 2010 on Ruf.) It’s the album I have which was great. It was a great experience. That for me as a musician as a player is the most liberating situation.

“It was a great thing, because I listen to what I listen to. I like what I like. I don’t give a s***, f you want to call it back, blue, brown or whatever you call it, whatever the hell you want. I just like what I like, and I’m not gonna dislike it because it’s a pop song. I’m not gonna dislike it because it’s a country song. I’m not gonna dislike it because it’s jazz. If I like it, I like it. Same thing. So, being able to do an album, and then take chances and do a different kind of album was very different for me. But very good for my soul because there is a lot of me. That is a part of me.

coco montoya pic 4Coco released a live album, Songs from the Road, in 2014, his first live CD as a solo artist. “I was scared of that. I was very frightened of that. That to me is a bare, naked situation. It’s not like a studio thing. So, for me I had a place where I felt I was afraid. Yeah, I didn’t want to do a live album, but I had admitted in interviews that I’m not the most perfect guitar player. I definitely clam. You’re gonna hear clams in my show.”

But, I asked isn’t that what blues is all about?

“Exactly, but there are times when I forget the rules that I had learned, and that’s one of these incidents where I realized, you know what? The imperfections are the beauty. That’s really what’s going on that I’m forgetting. It’s like, hey, the little bit of clams and imperfections to me are real for me especially in a day and age when you can take a nobody and there’s a billion of ’em right now that can’t sing but are the cutest things on the earth, good looking, can’t sing a f***ing lick, doesn’t matter because they can fix all that and make you perfect, and that’s why music is so sterile.

“That’s why Playboy doesn’t do any photos anymore because all the women look like mannequins because they got done airbrushing them up so much that they look like plastic. It’s like all those little beauty marks. All those little imperfections were the beauty of the woman. The same thing with playing. It’s just really true, and I had to really remember that. Come to that and say, ‘You know what? I wanna do a live album because this is what I do every day. Why am I afraid? Because everybody who sees me will more than likely hear me clam something. So, what am I afraid of? They still come to the show. They still love it.”

It sounds like he’s still trying to convince himself.

“Well, yeah, there’s a thing about me. I try not to get too full of myself, and I got heroes. I got my people I look at, and I’m amazed by them how incredible consistently they are. It’s amazing, but I am who I am. At 65 years old, you get to that place where, you know what? This is who I am.”

Coco is very good at what he does, but also very lucky. “Absolutely, that’s the one thing I think, lucky to almost a guilt – putting me in guilt because there’s two opportunities that happened to me in life with John Mayall and Albert Collins. How many guys get two chances in the music business? I actually got out of the music business, was working a straight job. My old career as a drummer was over. I was done. I quit.

“I love that Roger Dangerfield line. ‘I quit. Ya know how good I was doing when I quit? I was the only one who knew I quit.’ It’s perfect. It’s true. So, I’m done. I had my experience. I’m gonna do a day job. So, how many times do you get lucky to come back and also end up playing with people you’ve admired all this time? If it wasn’t for the Beano album I probably wouldn’t have discovered all the blues stuff. It took me a while to wrap my head around the guitar sound that Clapton was doing.”

“I’m working on an album deal at this point. Hopefully, if all goes well, it’ll be out April, May, somewhere around there. We’re still negotiating right now. There’s not really anything to say on that subject.”

Visit Coco’s website at:

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

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Crossroads Blues Sociey – Rockford, IL

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! 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 19 – Mary Jo Curry, December 26 – James Armstrong.

Additional ICBC and ICBC partnered shows @ The Alamo, 6 pm: December 15 – James Armstrong Presents – Susan Williams.

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