Issue 11-1 January 5, 2017

monster mike welch cover photo

Cover photo by Laura Carbone © 2016

 In This Issue 

Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Monster Mike Welch. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including reviews of new music from Tim Gartland, Sunday Wilde, Bobby Radcliff, McDowell Brothers, Chicago Gospel Keyboard Masters, Si Cranstoun, Lady “A” and Milky Whites And The Bluesmen.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

tim gartland cd imageTim Gartland – If You Want A Good Woman

Tastes Good Music

12 songs – 44 minutes

Like your blues laid back and soulful Southern style? Like your harmonica smooth and old-school, devoid of overblows and pyrotechnics? Like your tunes simple and deep? Then this CD’s right for you.

Tim Gartland fell in love with the blues after seeing Muddy Waters in concert near his home in Warren, Ohio, when he was just 14. Born into a large musical family, he gravitated to the harmonica early. Three brothers were guitar players and he sought a way to fit in to the clan’s jams.

After graduating from Kent State University, he moved to Chicago and began what turned out to be a 25-year career in business. But the blues always beckoned. He hung out at the clubs and studied harp with Jerry Portnoy, Muddy’s reed-bender for most of the 1970s. And he cut his musical teeth on stage by sitting in with Pinetop Perkins, Carey Bell, Bo Diddley and others.

Tim relocated to Boston in 1991 for work. That’s where he co-founded The Porch Rockers, a group that eventually released three albums. He didn’t make the leap to music fulltime until 2010 or so, 12 years after being a finalist in the Boston Blues Challenge. In the time since, he’s released two previous CDs – Looking Into The Sun and Million Stars – and written an instructional book, The Talking Harmonica.

Gartland moved to Nashville in 2015, where Kevin McKendree, a longtime bandmate of Delbert McClinton, produced this album. It’s a good fit. Despite his Rust Belt and New England background, his relaxed attack on diatonic and chromatic harmonica and his baritone stylings are a perfect fit in the Music City landscape.

He’s backed here by Tom West on keyboards, Tom Britt on electric and slide guitar, Lynn Williams on drums and Steve Mackey on electric and upright bass. Wendy Moten — whose song “Come In Out Of The Rain” peaked at No. 5 in the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts – provides backing vocals, and McKendree adds piano and organ on three cuts.

All of the material here is original. The loping “What The Blues Look Like” runs down all of the themes popular to the music in one neat package to start the set. Gartland’s attack on the reeds features single-note runs, and his vocals are molasses sweet. Next up, Tim has an “Hour’s Worth” of whiskey but “an evening to kill” in a medium fast shuffle highlighted by West’s work on the keys.

“I Had It All” is a slow blues regret on chromatic about losing the love of your life through your own ignorance, while the title tune, “If You Want A Good Woman,” relies on a country feel as it advises to be a good man and to give the lady reasons to believe in you. The ballad “I Come When You Call” is a love song of the first order, while the funky instrumental “Eight Ball” gives Gartland space to stretch out on the diatonic.

“If That’s What You Call Love” questions a woman’s words in contrast to her actions before “Introduce Me To Your Hat” suggests that the subject should be himself/herself instead of changing appearance in an attempt to be someone else. “Too Many Groceries” is a bit of blue-eyed soul about someone who’s “as subtle as a train wreck.” It alludes to her issues by stating she has “too many groceries for one bag.” Gartland refers to the constant bombardment of pharmaceutical ads on TV in “Where’s The Cure For You” before tipping his hat to Willie Dixon in “Willie That’s Who” – the “man who put the wang in the dang doodle and was born the seventh son” before a speedy instrumental — “Go West!” – brings the set to a close.

Available through Amazon and CDBaby, and strongly recommended if you enjoy good tunes with great messages and a relaxed, down home feel.

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 – 2 of 8 

sunday wilde cd imageSunday Wilde – Blueberries & Grits

Hwy11 Records – 2016

10 tracks; 38 minutes

Sunday Wilde is a composer and musician from Ontario, Canada. She travelled to the Delta to record these songs for her sixth album, Blueberries & Grits, the title reflecting the products of her home (blueberries) and the Delta (grits). Sunday wrote half the tracks, the others being covers, several of celebrated blues artists. The whole album has an old-time feel courtesy of Sunday’s piano, Jack Reno’s upright bass and Rickey Martin’s simple drums; Billy Earhart (Amazing Rhythm Aces) plays a vintage pump organ on four tracks, Roger Reupert trumpet on four, Sturgis Nikides dobro on four, April Mae washboard on two, Johnny Cass, Gary Vincent, Dave Fecca and Robert Hughes add guitar to five tracks between them and Mandy Lemons and Watermelon Slim backing vocals to two.

Sunday has a distinctive vocal style that will not be to everybody’s taste, certainly this reviewer struggled to get used to it. A track like “That Man Drives Me Mad” finds her at her most idiosyncratic though “One Of These Days”, a duet with the extremely gravelly vocals of Jack Reno gives it a good run for its money. On the other hand the gentle Americana feel of “Too Many Troubles” works well with nice plucked guitar. Opening cut “Show Me A Man” is probably the best example of the old-timey style with jazzy trumpet blended with bluesy dobro and Sunday’s piano to the fore. Closing track “Come On In”, written by Gary Vincent, is pure gospel.

The blues covers include a stripped back version of Willie Dixon’s “John The Conquer Root” that works very well with Sunday’s piano and Roger’s trumpet subtly backed by the eerie sound of the pump organ and some interesting percussion sounds. A similarly minimal approach to the oft-covered Louis Jordan’s “Early In The Morning” worked less well to these ears. A sprightly version of Bessie Smith’s “Sorrowful Blues” was perhaps the strongest track on the album with the dobro and piano playing well together.

Fans of early blues will find something to enjoy here and Sunday’s existing fans will probably enjoy her take on another style of blues material.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

bobby radcliff cd imageBobby Radcliff – Absolute Hell

Krellno Records

11 songs time – 32:35

Bobby Radcliff doles out his music in a raw and spare fashion. His back-up is bass and drums, while he takes on the guitar and singing chores. A few guests step in on guitar and drums. It sounds like everything here was recorded live in the studio. Bobby’s guitar playing is loose and lively, skirting blues, rock, rockabilly and jazz and who knows what else. His voice is appropriate for the material. The one qualm I have with the production is the strange way the drums were recorded. They are mostly buried deep in the mix, at times it sounds like no cymbals were used. Quite often it sounds like the drums were recorded over the phone. It has to be intentional, but why? The music presented here is real. It can best be described as Bobby Radcliff music.

Bobby’s poignant voice shines through on the title song, as it does throughout this recording. The crystal clear tone of the guitar and bass put the icing on this tune. “Airplane People” brings in a New Wave-y vibe as the narrator rants about the airlines taking his old lady away. The lively guitar compliments the free form vocalizing quite nicely. The New Wave influence continues as Bobby draws the lyrics out on the mid-tempo “Sweet Emily”. “Jefferson Air Raid” is the first of five instrumentals and it is fresh, energetic and short and to the point.

Next up is a contender for a Halloween song. The echoed vocal and spooky atmospherics make “Who RU?” a natural for the holiday. The instrumental “Agony Booth” skitters along quite nicely in New Wave fashion. The “I gotta be me” sentiment touted on “Everybody”, a song that features some wicked slide guitar. The drums are brought to the fore a bit more on the instrumental “Broiled Owl”, a song that also includes jump guitar meets fifties rock guitar by Bobby and guest Rockin Johnny Burgin. Beautifully upbeat guitar propels “Krellno Hop”, another instrumental. A Caribbean tinge is given to the closing instrumental “Sly Mongoose”. Bobby’s guitar tone bounces along just splendidly here. Although there is no vocal this song sounds like an instrumental that Leon Redbone could of penned.

A pleasing but short exercise in quirky vocals and wonderfully fifties inspired guitar. Everything about this disc shouts exuberance and raw energy. Keep an eye peeled for this guy if his live show is anything like this effort. “We have a winna!”.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

mcdowell brothers cd imageMcDowell Brothers – Tribute To Inspiration

Even If Records – 2016

13 tracks; 49 minutes

The McDowell Brothers are very young (as of this release Carlton is 16 and Peyton 13) but have already been playing for several years, notably with Fernando Jones’ Blues Kids’ Camp. Carlton plays guitar and piano, Peyton bass and they are accompanied here by several older players who are their inspiration. The opening two tracks feature the solid vocals of Brother Jacob Schultz, “Runaway Blues” being a gentle, jazzy piece with Carlton duetting with himself on rhythm and lead guitars, so it is perhaps not surprising that his keyboard additions sound a little distant. A similar issue arises on “Left Me In The Cold”, a song credited to Peyton though he does not appear on it: Carlton plays rhythm and Jamiah Rogers plays drums and lead guitar, the drums sometimes at odds with the rhythm work and the lead solo strangely detached. “Party All Night (To The Blues)” finds songwriter PJ Willis on vocals and the brothers on guitar and bass though the bass solo is added by John Falstrom and the guitar solo is by Frank Anestos. The appropriately entitled “Jam” finds the brothers with Sam Jones on drums, Carlton again overdubbed on lead and is followed by Fernando Jones’ “Brothers”, another meandering instrumental with some impressive bass work from Peyton and more overdubbed guitar from Carlton.

A Jimmy Reed section starts with the Seeds Of Reed (children and grandchildren of JR) on vocals on two of Jimmy’s tunes, “I’mma Love You” and “Close Together” backed by the brothers and Jerome Sullivan on drums. Carlton’s lead fills are good but the two tunes are plodding and the drums seem to be too loud in the mix. Another instrumental “Delta Interlude” has Fernando Jones on high-pitched harp and Carlton on organ and guitar before Kara Willis sings her lyrics to the soulful ballad “I Want To Know”, a tune penned by the brothers. “Soul Groove” has the brothers with an uncredited drummer, another instrumental that sounds fine with some nice guitar and piano (both Carlton). Both Jim Messina’s “Pathway To Glory” and Billy Preston’s “With You I’m Born Again” are played as instrumentals, the jazzy take on the latter’s gentle melody being the better fit for the brothers. The closing track “Mother” is a duet between Carlton’s lead guitar set over his keyboards and the acoustic guitar of the tune’s composer Kerry Junior.

There is little doubt that these two boys can play well and, as neither brother sings (at least for now), the predominance of instrumentals is not surprising though several are similar in style and feel. The large amount of overdubbing of Carlton allows us to appreciate his talents across keys, lead and rhythm guitar but does give a rather sterile feel to some of this music.

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 – 5 of 8 

chicago gospel keyboard masters cd imageChicago Gospel Keyboard Masters – Lift Me Up: Chicago Gospel Keyboard Masters

The Sirens Records

CD: 14 Songs, 50:29 Minutes

Styles: Magnificent Gospel Covers, Piano/Keyboard Mastery

What better way to start 2017 than with a soaring CD entitled Lift Me Up? All of us could use a little wind beneath our wings to bolster our resolutions. Readers, if you’ll recall, The Sirens Records released one of last year’s masterpieces, Erwin Helfer’s Last Call. This is another surefire winner from 2016, a recording of a studio session one year earlier than that. The back of the CD cover states, “On August 20, 2015, The Sirens Records gathered six keyboard masters and stewards of the Chicago gospel keyboard tradition…Lift Me Up engenders a spirited Sunday church service in the studio and moves each musician to play with fervor, so that their music reaches new, unprecedented heights.” Indeed: One gripe from blues fans may be that this is not a blues album. Nevertheless, blues and gospel have always been fraternal twins: born from the same musical womb, with one being ‘light’ and one ‘dark,’ the ‘black sheep’ of the family. While gospel melodies praise the Lord, blues has often been called “the Devil’s music.” Like yin and yang, the two rest side by side in synergistic balance. You can’t have one without the other.

The “six keyboard masters” showcased here are Richard Gibbs (also on bass), Elsa Harris, Bryant Jones (also on vocals), Lavelle Lacy, Terry Moore, and Eric Thomas. Performing along with them are tambourine player Donald Gay, De Andre Patterson, and Dorothy Robertson on vocals, Curtis Fondren on percussion, and Gregory Gay on tambourine. What is astounding about these keyboard virtuosos is their sheer artistry, both collective and individual. They can pack notes in like sardines, without having them seem all crammed together when they issue forth from their instruments. These wonders from the Windy City make their pianos and organs tell stories, specifically of a personal fall and redemption through Christ. The word “gospel” means “good news,” and the high-energy, iridescent tones of the tunes here promote it. One will hear familiar favorites here, like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “I’ll Fly Away.”

Out of the fourteen cover tracks on Lift Me Up, these three will propel listeners the highest.

Track 01: “Swing Down Chariot” – The album’s opener, also known as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” is usually played in a melancholy, contemplative way. Not this time. Descending on a trail of fire instead of tears, this “Chariot” blazes with high-tempo glory. Eric Thomas pounds his piano as if there were truly no tomorrow, and Terry Moore’s outstanding organ follows suit.

Track 02: “Without God I Could Do Nothing” – According to most Christians, their Lord doesn’t only provide salvation from sin. He is the motivating force behind all of life, as Donald Gay humbly sings. “Without God, I would be nothing. Without Him, I would fail. Without Him, my life, my life would be rugged, like a ship without a sail.” Richard Gibbs stars on piano and organ during this medium-slow number. It doesn’t plod, but it does give one ample time to reflect.

Track 11: “He’s My Everything” – This instrumental goes from sweet and lilting to a hand-clapping, foot-tapping good time with the smoothest of transitions. Eric Thomas stars on organ, and Bryant Jones takes the lead on the ivories. Together, they’re the perfect keyboard pair.

Gospel and blues fans, if you’re feeling down, tell these Chicago keyboard greats, Lift Me Up!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 37 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

si cranston cd imageSi Cranstoun – Old School

Ruf Records – 2016

16 tracks; 53 minutes

Londoner Si Cranstoun is a rising star of the rock and roll/vintage scene in the UK and this debut on a major label will introduce him to a wider audience. Si has reworked numbers that have worked for him live on stage and blended those with some new tunes, so existing fans will find something new to enjoy while those new to Si can see what he is about. Si wrote 14 of the tracks here with just two covers. Si handles lead vocals and plays guitar, bass and keys, with Mez Clough on drums, Stewart Panaman on bass, Don Faulkner and Drew Davies on saxes, Jon Radford on trumpet and Patrick Hayes on trombone; keys are either Paddy Milner or Neil Casey, guitar Simon Picton or Jay Gipson.

The album opens in grand style with the title track which opens with the chords from “Jailhouse Rock” before the band comes in, piano pumping, saxes underpinning Si’s excited vocal – completely infectious rock and roll! “Vegas Baby” is even better with a nod to Jackie Wilson on the ‘rrrring’ chorus, the catchy rhythm backed up by doo-wop vocals and a fine horn chart, possibly the pick of the whole album. Most of the tracks are short and sweet but “Nighttime” makes it to the five minute mark, the piano providing a blues background to Si’s impassioned vocal which draws on Sam Cooke’s style to good effect, as does “Around Midnight” which has a superb horn arrangement. Si can also do ballads as on “Right Girl”, a classic 50’s ballad with insistent piano and another solid horn arrangement. With so many tracks it is not possible to comment on everything here but there are several tracks to which attention should be drawn, if only to demonstrate the range exhibited. The upbeat doo-wop of “Jukebox Jump” is great fun, latin rhythms feature on “Elize The Brazilian” while “Run Free” takes us close to soul rhythms with superb horns. “Skinny Jeans” is a comic tribute to a shapely figure and Si even finds room for his own ‘Christmas record’ in “A Christmas Twist”. Si’s father was a promoter of ska music back in the day and “Commoner To King” draws on that background with a loping ska beat on a possibly autobiographical song.

The two covers show some of Si’s influences. Billy Swan wrote many songs in the rock and roll vein and “Lover Please” is reprised here. Louis Jordan’s “Big Bess” is one of his less well known tunes and the band does it full justice with the baritone sax at the bottom of the arrangement, the trumpet at the top and tenor sax taking solo honours, piano twinkling away as Si sings the lyrics excellently, another standout track.

Possibly the oddest thing is that the CD is released on Ruf, a label best known for the rockier end of the blues spectrum so this CD is a departure for the German label. If rock and roll and the sounds of the 1950’s are your thing, do check out this very enjoyable CD.

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 – 7 of 8 

lady a cd imageLady “A” – Loved, Blessed & Blues

Lady A Productions

10 songs time-41:54

Seattle native Lady “A” sings about the blues, but doesn’t sing the blues. Her music falls into the categories of soul, R&B, funk and a touch of blues and gospel. Her husky and deep voice is suited for this type of music. This music won’t stay in your head, but would work in a live setting, as it is upbeat and rousing. Their are references to other soul artists, love, sexual innuendo and the usual preachy stuff. Two musicians supply all the music. Producer Dexter Allen on guitar, bass and piano. Co-producer plays drums and keyboards. Both provide a strong rhythmic foundation with brief solos. The occasional basic blues guitar is thrown in to the mix.

The title song references various artists such as Bobby Rush and Johnny Adams. The lyrics talk about blues, but it is a R&B-soul song. “Honey Hush” isn’t the old blues chestnut but an original as are all songs here. It’s a tribute to the southern life style done up in a nicely funky grove. “If You Don’t Want It-Don’t Waste It” is mildly sexual and breaking off a relationship that sounds like old school soul. “Tired Too” is about frustrations in a relationship. “Love Calling” is a slow and soulful love song.

Some catchy wah-wah guitar fits in nicely with the bouncy groove of “Trouble On Mind”. Boisterous synth-horns punctuate the tough groove of “Happy”. Dexter Allen lends his capable voice to this number as well as a rare guitar solo. Miss “A” longs for her home town on the funky “Take Me Back To Seattle”. She touches on her gospel side on the slow burner “Somebody Here, Needs You Lord”.

Nothing to write home about here, but the music is well produced and the sentiments are real and deeply felt. The backing music is basic and well performed. If this is a genre you like, this recording is sure to fit your needs and provide you with enjoyment. I’m sure the Lady puts on an energetic live show.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

milky whites and the bluesman cd imageMilky Whites And The Bluesmen – Texas Drivin’ Blues

Riff Productions

12 songs time-51:10

If you have a hankerin’ for Texas style blues-rock with a macho testosterone attitude done up by a bunch of guys from Canada, you’ve come to the right place. Milky Whites and his “Bluesmen” serve up a heapin’ helpin’ of songs ’bout women, cars and guitars, something of their own version of Z.Z. Top, complete with babes posing on the cover and inserts. Milky handles the main guitar chores with the best of blues-guitar slingers. His “singing” ranges from “Who hit me in the throat?” to a gruff and stiff delivery. His backing players on drums, bass, sax, clarinet and backing vocals serve their purpose fine. This music isn’t about creative song construction, it’s about wailing guitars and tough guy attitude.

The CD begins with part one of three parts of “It’s Me…No It’s You” that are short spoken snippets over guitar and bass that are pretty dumb and leave you with nine songs. “Bluesday” introduces us to really hoarse vocals along with well played guitar and slide guitar. “Billy And Those Blue Dress Blues” features a fine guitar display and nifty sax from Dan Jancar. It’s a sh*t-kicker typical of the Canadian Texan. “Texas Drivin’ Blues” is, uh, a song about macho driving that features Milky’s usual fine, take charge guitar playing.

The over long “When I Dance With You Baby” is a slow duet with Maddi that amounts to a showcase for guitar and Dan Jancar’s sax playing. The vocal on “Strange Emotions” is less harsh with electric and acoustic slide guitar. One of a million “They can’t take away your dreams’ songs. The dirge-like “I’m Tired Of People Dying” sounds like the singer is next. The life of a “bluesman” is portrayed on “Tomfoolery”, that is powered by Milky’ guitar and Sonny Stone on saxes.

“Funk U” is basically an instrumental except for chants of “funk you”. It’s just what the name implies, a nicely funky workout on guitar and sax with some tricky bass playing by Ed Blockland towards song’s end. “I Told Him Not To Take The Turn” is kinda a Canadian Texan version of Meat Loaf that includes some fluid slide guitar.

Their you have it music lovers, check your brain at the door and strap yourself in for some screamin’ guitars in the hands of a guy who knows his way around a guitar. Well partners I think I best be moseying along, I got strong hankerin’ for some armadillo stew with a side of Canadian bacon.

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

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 Featured Blues Interview – Monster Mike Welch 

monster mike welch photo 1Several moons have passed since Monster Mike Welch first took the greater Boston area by storm – quickly followed by the rest of the free world – with his amazing guitar playing as a pre-teenager.

Fact is, Welch has now been playing the blues in the public arena for over 25 years.

But before blues lovers start to think of Welch as a jaded and stodgy curmudgeon (at a stately 37 years of age, no less!), they should get a load of the way he gushes with youthful energy and an almost unbridled enthusiasm when discussing the latest project to make its way onto his always-full plate.

“There’s a lot of things going into 2017 that I’m really excited about. Towards the end of this year (2016) I made a record with Michael Ledbetter, which should come out in the spring of next year,” he said. “Right now, the exciting thing is the record we just made. We played the Chicago Blues Festival together as part of the Otis Rush tribute and it was just such a natural fit, that instead of waiting for our schedules to clear up, I said, ‘OK. That’s it. We’re going in and making a record together.”

No doubt most blues fans are instantly familiar with Michael Ledbetter, but for those who may not be up to speed – he’s been the golden-voiced singer, rhythm guitarist and front man for the Nick Moss Band for close to a decade now. Ledbetter (who is also a distant relative of the one-and-only Huddie William ‘Ledbelly’ Ledbetter) is an amazingly-gifted singer and it’s no surprise that Welch is as pumped-up as he is for the work the two recently completed in the studio. Come next spring, the world will find out just how Welch and Ledbetter go together better than peanut butter and jelly.

“He’s so great and is such a good guy. He and I just had this instant, intense connection. I’m an OK singer and can get by, but if I were a great singer, I’d sing like Mike Ledbetter,” Welch said.

For the past 15 years or so, Welch – who was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the Instrumentalist – Guitar category this past spring – has been logging a ton of road miles as the guitarist for Sugar Ray & The Bluetones (Sugar Ray Norcia – vocals and harp; Welch – guitar; Anthony Geraci – piano; Michael Mudcat Ward – bass; Neil Gouvin – drums). The venerable group’s latest album, Seeing is Believing (Severn Records), hit the streets in early October.

“One of the things that makes The Bluetones what they are is that it’s a band that’s playing the blues as a five-way conversation on stage. It could be just little nuances, but the music is constantly shifting to where we’re all playing and reacting to each other. That means we end up supporting each other in a way that is not necessarily unique, but it is pretty finely-tuned for as long as the band’s been together,” said Welch. “That’s something that I’ve learned from those guys that I bring into every other situation that I play in. That to me, it is a big part of what makes this music interesting. It’s the constantly shifting interaction that gives it life and makes it interesting for people to listen to. I think a lot of people may not realize why they’re reacting to it, but they still do react to it. And I think that a lot of what people in the audience hear and how they react to what they hear, starts with the musicians on stage listening to each other.”

That interplay and ‘five-way conversation’ that helps set Sugar Ray & The Bluetones apart on the bandstand is also key to the way that the group ends up crafting songs when they close the studio door behind them and the red light goes on for a recording session.

“It (the way they create new material) has a lot to do with how long the band’s been together. When one of us brings in a song, we kind of know how the other musicians are going to react. We might have little discussions about this part or that part, but I’ll put it this way … I’ve been in and out of this band for about 16 years almost and I think I’ve been a part of maybe four rehearsals during that time,” he laughed. “There’s a certain amount of telepathy and there’s a certain amount of just relying on knowing what the other person is going to do.”

monster mike welch photo 2Just by looking at all the different projects that Welch always seems to be juggling, whether playing in The Bluetones or with The Knickerbocker All-Stars or on an Igor Prado Band record or with Anthony Geraci’s Boston Blues All-Stars, the man doesn’t seem to take many days off. However, he also says that just looking at his schedule can sometimes be a bit deceiving, as well.

“It can be (challenging to balance all that he’s got going on) and with the Ledbetter record coming out next year, there’s going to be even more of that. But the other thing about this business is, yes I appear to be busy, and there’s some months that I have so much to do that I don’t know what to do with myself and then there’s some months where I’m sitting at home, twiddling my thumbs,” he said. “The bottom line is that when someone that I love and respect asks me to go and play some music, my response is never ‘no,’ it’s ‘how do I make this work?’ And that can be difficult, especially when you have three things to do in a month and they all fall on the same date. And then you’ll have nothing that wants to happen in the two weeks on either side of that. That can definitely make it a balancing act.”

In addition to his top-notch guitar playing, another facet of Welch that makes him such an in-demand musician is his ability to tailor his talents to whatever the current situation calls for. While some guitarists can do what they do, and not much else, Welch has proven time-after-time that he can almost be like a chameleon and immediately fit right in on the bandstand or in the studio with whoever he’s playing with on any given day.

“I think it helps that I’m a fan of a lot of different kinds of music. If I’m playing with someone who has more of a blues-rock thing going, well, I grew up on The Stones, Clapton and Hendrix. And for someone that’s playing more of a traditional blues thing, that’s what I’ve been concentrating on for so much of my career,” he said. “I genuinely love a wide range of blues-based music and I think that comes through in my playing, anyway. Having love for all of this music makes it easier for me to fit into different situations. Another thing that was instilled in me early on was the value of playing with your ears. Every decision I make on stage is based on what the singer is doing and what the rhythm section is doing … I’m a very reactive player. Even when I’m soloing or doing my own thing, I’m constantly reacting to what everyone else is doing on the stage. That makes it easier to play with people that I may not have played with before, because my ears are wide open and I’m trying to complement what they’re trying to do.”

Mission accomplished.

To call Welch a well-versed conversationalist on guitar would be a whale of an understatement. Simply put, the dude can flat-out wail on the instrument. Much more than just speed or volume, however, Welch has a deft touch that at times gives way to all his early influences – from Keith Richards and John Lennon to Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. And while he’s been able to craft a seemingly-natural ability to channel a good deal of the jazz/swing feeling that’s long been a hallmark of the east coast blues scene, Welch says that style may not have been in his original guitar-playing wheelhouse.

“I really don’t think of having that swing or jump-blues thing in my playing. I’ve had to develop that because of some of the people that I’ve played with,” he said. “I mean, there’s some T-Bone Walker in there … that stuff is there, but for me, my guys were always B.B. King and Magic Sam and Otis Rush. And of course there’s Albert King, Albert Collins, Freddie King and guys like that. But I always gravitated towards the Chicago kind of thing, especially early on. But there is that element (swing and jump) in The Bluetones, just because of the sound of Ray’s voice. But as a guitar player, I don’t feel that’s where I naturally gravitate towards. If anything, I feel that my take on that kind of jump-blues has more of a B.B. King-kind of phrasing in it than it does T-Bone Walker.”

Even though the blues wasn’t born in the Northeast corridor of the United States, Boston – along with the whole east coast – has nevertheless always had a vibrant and highly-energized blues scene and is responsible for launching the careers of scores of blues men and women over the years.

monster mike welch photo 3“The thing about the east coast scene is, that for a while, it felt fairly insular. For instance, people from the west coast, or from the south or from Chicago maybe did a better job at getting results from playing on the road for people. But I feel it’s still a very healthy scene and does have some deep roots. In Boston, it’s a scene that really stretches back to the early ’60s folk revival,” Welch said. “There are a lot of groups and a lot of musicians here that know exactly where they come from. The thing about it is, it’s not one of the areas that originated it, you know? It’s an area that learned this music from recordings and then from visiting musicians. There’s some impact there, it’s different than if the roots stretched back to the originators. But these days, as far as younger musicians go, we live in such an information age – and a lot of the originators aren’t around anymore – that I feel that regional differences still happen, but they’re not nearly as pronounced as they were when I started in the ’90s. I mean, you don’t have to live in the same area as someone to watch full shows they might play, thanks to YouTube.”

Welch started leaving his personal mark on the Boston blues way back in 1992 when he was a tender 13-years-old. That was the year that he played at the grand opening of the very first House of Blues club in Cambridge, Mass. It was also on that fateful night that the ‘Monster’ was first placed in front of Mike Welch.

“The host band that night was the Blues Brothers Band with Dan Aykroyd as the host and emcee. He was the one that gave me the nickname, Monster Mike. When you’re 13 and have never been in the paper in any way and then it says something about Dan Aykroyd giving you your nickname … you know, I feel like I was stuck with that. It’s funny but I went through an ‘artist formally known as’ stage when I was about 18 or 19 years old. I was like, ‘That’s (Monster Mike) not my name.’ It was the woman who eventually became my wife that told me – when I was dating her – ‘Every time I say I’m dating a guitar player named Mike Welch, they go, ‘Monster Mike Welch?’ So it was like, ‘Maybe if you want to keep getting called for gigs, you should be OK with being called Monster Mike Welch,'” he laughed. “So I gave into her wisdom on that one. But it’s interesting now that I’m older. I’m very grateful for that connection with Aykroyd and the House of Blues and what it did for me, the way it set me up for the career that I eventually had. I did feel differently about it when I was 18 or 19 as to the way I feel about it now.”

Despite any nicknames that was ever thrown his way, even back when he was a teen-aged guitar playing Phenom around Boston, Welch – who nabbed the 1995 Boston Music Award for Best Blues Act – had little doubt that one day he would carve out a living for himself by playing the blues.

“At the time, I was like, what else can I possibly do, you know? It didn’t seem unrealistic to me back then (playing guitar for a living). It seems fairly realistic now … but I assumed that I was in it for life (back then),” he said. “The blessing is that I’ve actually been able to do that, as reality creeps in. I’m very grateful for everything that I went through back in those early days, because I was able to make some connections that honestly, if I’d had the same level of talent but had been a little bit older, I wouldn’t have had those connections.”

His age back then was kind of like a double-edged sword for Welch. On the one hand, it did draw him some attention that he may not otherwise have had, but on the other hand, some people were simply content to just think of him as some kind of a novelty act – or flash-in-the-pan – because of his young age.

“I struggled with that all the time. It was something that I tried to avoid. I tried not to play up to anything that could be seen as being a novelty act. I definitely didn’t want to be dismissed as such. I think it’s a large part of the reason why my early records are all original songs,” he said. “It wasn’t because I didn’t want to record versions of some of my favorite (cover) songs, it was because I felt like I needed to give people something that wasn’t as simple as guitar acrobatics from a novelty act. But none of my favorite music was guitar acrobatics from novelty acts, anyway. I think some of my decisions (back then) were compensation for not wanting to be seen as immature or shallow … even though there were a few things were I was immature and shallow. But I was certainly conscious of all that back then.”

monster mike welch photo 4It was when he was around 7 years old that Welch first started showing a real interest in playing a musical instrument.

“Yeah, when I was about 7, I had an older cousin that was about 13 and he played Beatles songs on guitar and I thought that was the absolute coolest thing I’d ever seen. It’s funny, but in some ways I feel that my progression through this music – even though it happened 25 years later – was almost like someone who saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and then worked their way backwards,” he said. “I got into The Beatles first and then The Stones, Clapton, Hendrix and then from there went back into the blues stuff. The thing about The Beatles is, it’s music that is melodic and is clever in emotional impact and those are things that make it appealing to kids. The thing that I responded to about The Beatles, even early on, was John Lennon’s voice – that edge he had to his voice. I feel like that was the first place that I heard what I would later be looking for in the blues. That kind of set me off on the path of looking for something that made me feel that way.”

Welch’s first three albums (These Blues Are Mine (1996); Axe To Grind (’97) and Catch Me (’98)) were cut for Tone Cool Records – a label that basically started out in the basement of founder Richard ‘Rosy’ Rosenblatt back in 1985.

“Yeah, he’s (Rosenblatt) local to here (Boston) and I knew him as a harmonica player and I also knew he had a label. And as I was building up my own thing, it was fairly natural that I made my first records for Tone Cool. It was not only because of his proximity, but also because he was really doing great work for the Boston-area arts,” said Welch. “You had Toni Lynn Washington and Paul Rishell and of course right after my record came out, you had Susan Tedeschi. So that was a very natural fit and I made three records for him, which were three records that set me up for what I’m doing now. For me, those three records (on Tone Cool) are kind of hard for me to listen to. For me, it’s like looking at my high school yearbook, you know?”

Even though Welch has been playing the blues professionally for over two-and-a-half decades at this point in time, by traditional bluesman standards, he’s still a young pup at under 40 years of age. Understandably, he has no intentions or plans to change course or swim in a different direction any time soon … especially because of the potential that exists for his newly-forged collaboration with Michael Ledbetter.

“The whole reason I did this (started play music as a young man) in the first place was because of the emotional expression. Even when the emotions being expressed were immature, at least I was still expressing something,” he said. “The thing that I’m the most excited about is the project that I did with Michael Ledbetter. He’s still going to be doing shows with the Nick Moss Band and I’m still going to be doing shows with Sugar Ray & The Bluetones, but we’re definitely talking about going out and playing together. We had Laura Chavez as a special guest on the record and we want to make sure she’s included, too. She’s just so great. My whole reason for doing everything that I do is to play with people like that.”

Visit Monster Mike’s website at:

Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He’s also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.

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The Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

The Central Iowa Blues Society announces the 2017 Winter Blues Fest Friday, February 10 and Saturday, February 11, 2017 at the Downtown Marriott – 700 Grand Ave in Des Moines, IA featuring sixteen blues acts under one roof out of the cold!

This year’s line-up covers a wide variety of blues styles, featuring Paul “Mayo” Mayasich, Heath Alan and Justin Appel, Brandon Santini, JC Anderson Band, Davina & the Vagabonds, Bare Bones, Dewey Cantrell, Shane Johnson’s Blue Train, Scottie Miller Band, Hot Tamale & the Redhots, MN blues challenge winner- Mark Cameron Band, Omaha blues challenge winner- Tim Budig Band. Plus Rockin Blues’ on Saturday with Jeff Banks Band, Toronzo Cannon and Ronnie Baker Brooks.

Admission Friday $20, Saturday $30, both nights $45, both nights for CIBS members $40. Marriott blues fest room rates – going fast! Friday night 5:00 pm, Saturday 4:00 pm, Guitar Workshop Saturday 1:00 – 3:00 pm. Saturday afternoon free guitar workshop with Piedmont, folk blues guitarist, Andy Cohen. Also Scotty & the Wingtips will perform and also host the After Hours Jam starting at 12:30 am Sunday.

Tickets and additional info at Tickets also available at

Southeast Iowa Blues Society – Fairfield, IA

The 6th Annual “Rockin’ in the Blue Year” January 7th, 2017 at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center, Fairfield IA. Kicking things off will be Joe & Vicki Price two of Iowa’s Blues icons, then taking the roof off will be Brandon Santini, one of Blues hottest young gunslingers with the harmonica and more swing than you can stand!

Doors open at 6:30 and the Blues begin at 7pm with Joe & Vicki followed by Brandon at 8pm. Tickets in Advance $15 and SIBS members, $18 Day of Show call (641)-472-2787

For more information go to or call (641)-919-7477

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. January 9 – Studebaker John, January 16 – The Groove Daddies, January 23 – The Good, The Bad & The Blues, January 30 – Slam Allen, February 6 – Maurice John Vaughan, February 13 – Dave Lumsden & Friends, February 20 – Southside Johnny, February 27 – Jeff Jensen.

Additional ICBC partnered shows: January 5 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, January 19 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, February 2 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, February 16 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm.

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