Issue 11-18 May 4, 2017

 In This Issue 

Tee Watts has our feature interview with harmonica legend Lee Oskar. We have 9 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from John Németh, Ricky Nye, Mike Zito, Roddy Barnes, A Lead Belly Compilation, Sparky Parker, Cary Morin, Harpdog Brown and Raphael Callaghan.

Rick Nation has photos and commentary from the 2017 Juke Joint Festival. Our video of the week is Lee Oskar.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 9 

john nemeth cd imageJohn Németh – Feelin’ Freaky

Memphis Grease

11 Tracks/38:35

One of the best vocalist working today, John Németh has received a multitude of nominations for Blues Blast and Blues Music Awards, with four consecutive BMA nominations for the B.B King Entertainer Of The Year Award. His live shows highlight his dynamic stage presence, super-tight band, and a wealth of original songs that range from down-home blues to fervent ballads.

His latest release offers eleven originals in a variety of styles, ranging from the tender love song, “My Sweet Love,” to a taut appeal to rise up and dance on “Get Offa Dat Butt”. Breaking out his harmonica, the singer punctuates the title track with potent wails while beseeching a woman to take a walk on the wild side. “You Really Do Want That Woman” builds on one of Németh’s best known songs, “Do You Really Do Want That Woman”. He acknowledges the effort and sacrifices necessary to maintain a relationship over a horn-driven arrangement complete with a loopy guitar line.

“S.T.O.N.E.D” is not a celebration of getting high – instead, Németh lifts up a passionate plea for open minds, truth and righting the wrongs of the world. “I’m Funkin’ Out” doesn’t offer much lyrically but Marc Franklin on trumpet & flugelhorn plus Art Edmaiston on tenor & baritone sax command the listener’s attention, adding a dose of spice to the brooding track. Németh pours out his troubles on “Kool-Aid Pickle,” trapped by a conniving woman with no end in sight.

Several tracks could have been part of Németh’s previous project, the award-winning Memphis Grease. “Rainy Day,” complete with strings, finds him lamenting the error of his ways that left him broken and alone. The track is brimming with the classic Hi Records sound, especially with Charles Hodges from the Hi Rhythm section on the Hammond organ. The band creates a similar groove on the dark tale of love gone bad, “Gave Up On You”. Németh tries to exorcise his pain, reflected in blasts from the horns while Hodges adds an additional layer of tension with well-placed organ swells.

Saving the best for last, Németh showcases the full range of his vocal skills on “Long Black Cadillac”. As they do throughout the disc, the rhythm section of Matthew Wilson on bass and Danny Banks lay down a rock-solid foundation and guitarist Johnny Rhoades stokes the fire with shimmering fills. It is a fitting ending for a disc that provides plenty of highlights while proving that John Németh continues to be one of the top-tier performers for soul & blues music. You certainly can’t go wrong with this one!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 9 

ricky nye cd imageRicky Nye – Gettin’ Loose!

1-2-3 Records

11 Tracks/37:26

If you aren’t familiar with the name Ricky Nye, it certainly isn’t due to a lack of effort on his part. His smooth vocals and splendid keyboard efforts have been featured on fourteen previous recordings under his name in addition to cuts on several piano compilations. His latest has him backed by his Paris Blues band for the fourth time. Based in the Cincinnati, OH area, Nye has received numerous local blues awards, including CEA award, Blues Artist Of The Year, for two consecutive years. The band is comprised of Anthony Stelmaszack on guitar, Simon “Shuffle” Boyer on drums, and Chris Douglas, Nye’s regular upright bass player.

The disc opens with a Furry Lewis tune, “I Will Turn Your Money Green”. The band cruises along at a sprightly pace with Nye laying down a litany of woes until Stelmaszack tries to reverse his fortunes with some striking guitar picking. Nye’s fingers give his piano a workout on Memphis Slim’s “Miss Ida Bea,” then he turns “San Antonio Rose” into a magnificent boogie-woogie romp. Dipping into the Nat King Cole songbook, the band sets a swinging pace on “For You My Love,” with Stelmaszack once again creating a strong impression. He follows that up with a blazing solo on an instrumental take of the Chuck Berry classic, ‘Memphis”.

Highlights from the second half of the disc include the good-time instrumental, “Shaggy Rag,” an original performed acoustically, and a showcase for Nye on the instrumental, “Shave ‘Em Dry,” composed by the legendary piano man, Jimmy Yancey. Nye’s fingers roll across the keyboard, spinning out three minutes of piano magic. On another original, “I Miss Your Love,” he switches over to the Hammond organ, giving the contemporary blues track a full, rich sound. Little Willie Littlefield’s classic, “K.C. Lovin’,” gets a rollicking treatment with plenty of piano and a fat guitar tone. “How Long Blues” from Leroy Carr is a standard that every blues pianist has to know how to play. Nye’s version focuses on his vocals with Stelmaszack on acoustic guitar. The title, “Radiate Them 88’s,” tells you all need to know about rousing finale.

This is one of those discs that sneaks up on you, impressing track after track with lively performances and solid musical interplay that makes every song a delight. The players are quite comfortable working together, and with Ricky Nye setting the pace, the disc never wavers from generating an enthusiastic affirmation of the blues that will have you pushing the Repeat button on your CD player. Well worth a listen!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 9 

mike zito cd imageMike Zito – Make Blues Not War

Ruf Records

12 tracks

Mike Zito has taken the blues word by storm and he has become a force to be reckoned with over the past two decades. Releasing his first album Blue Room in 1998, he has reached an even dozen with the release of this album. A founding member of Royal Southern Brotherhood and leader of his own band The Wheel, Zito seems to have limitless energy. He signed and recorded with Ecleto Groove and now records with Ruf Records. As a producer, he has worked with Samantha Fish, Laurence Jones, Albert Castiglia, Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos and others; Tom Hambridge produced this CD for Mike. Originally from St. Louis, Zito was heavily influenced by that blues tradition. He has won several Blues Music Awards over the last 10 years and is currently touring with Tommy Castro and the Painkillers on the Six Strings Down Tour.

Zito provides vocals and guitar, Hambridge is on drums and one harmony, Tommy MacDonald is on bass and Rob McNelley is on guitar. Walter Trout appears on guitar for “Highway Mama,” Kevin McKendree appears on organ and piano for several tracks, Jason Ricci is on harp for a pair of songs, and Zach Zito is on guitar for “Chip Off the Block.” Hambridge had a hand in all ten original cuts and Zito was involved in writing half of them with him.

Right off the top we get some primal guitar with Zito and Trout trading licks on “Highway Mama.” Wicked slide guitar is featured here, getting the blood flowing in anticipation of the energy and fun to follow. B3 and piano add to the mix. Zito howls with the guitars backing him in this high energy and driving blues rocker. “Wasted Time” follows, a driving blues cut with a stinging guitar lead and huge solo. Things get toned down a bit with the ethereal start of “Red Bird” but then a big mid-tempo back beat begins and the guitar and vocals light off. A heavy and long guitar solo is a prominent feature on this track. The tempo gets driven way up for “Crazy Legs,” reminding me a lot of ZZ Top. The guitars wind and wind in a whirl of excitement behind Zito and then the solo blows up into a frenzy of guitar goodness. The title cut is good old slow blues with Jason Ricci blowing some dirty harp as Zito asks, “What are we fighting for?” Ricci gets the big solo here and he is featured throughout- well done! “On the Road” is another cut with a forthright beat, huge guitar solo and nice B3 organ and piano. “Bad News is Coming” is a slow Luther Allison blues with B3 and piano, more strident guitar. Zito’s vocals are filled with grit and passion and the band builds sweetly to support his solo. He does another verse/chorus and then things take off again to go out.

“One More Train to Ride” has Ricci return with his harp. Hambridge adds his vocals and the piano work by McKendree makes for a delicious mélange of music. “Girl Back Home” is a slow country blues ballad with vocals and slide trading off the lead. The boogie woogie and barrelhouse cut “Chip Off the Old Block features both Zitos and some big time piano work. Both guitarists get solos and build the song into a cool piece overall. “Road Dog” is more sublime slow blues with organ and piano and a deep guitar lead. The final track is Clarence “Bonton” Garlow’s “Route 90,” originally from 1954. Based on aCajun chord progressions, Garlow’s song was taken by Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” and the Beach Boy’s “Surfin’ USA” as adaptions of the song as have other artists over the years. It’s been covered by Johnny Winter, Gary Primich, Los Lobos and a few others. Zito and McKendree keep things moving wildly as Zito sings about the stops from Louisiana to Texas and blazes on his guitar as McKendree goes wild on the ivories. Not for the faint of heart!

Everything here is tight and interesting. The dozen cuts that are recorded here energize the soul and aptly demonstrate Zito and his talents. He’s at the top of his game here. His fans will love this and those unfamiliar with Zito will get a taste of his enormous talent. This is a winner and is highly recommended!

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

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 Featured Blues Video Of The Week – Lee Oskar 

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This is a video of Lee Oskar at the NAMM show in 2015 demonstrating his harmonicas at the Fender booth. (Click image to watch!)

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 9 

roddy barnes cd imageRoddy Barnes – ODD


13 songs – 40 minutes

ODD is the ninth solo album of pianist, singer and songwriter, Roddy Barnes. The album title is both a play on words (the middle letters of Barnes’ first name) and a reflection of the broad spectrum of blues-based music contained within it. Barnes plays piano and sings, primarily supported by the multi-talented Jeff Covert on bass, drums, guitar and backing vocals.

Opening with the witty, upbeat “Enough Stuff”, which contains some glorious guitar contributions from guest, Bob Margolin, it is immediately clear that the focus of the album is on the songs themselves, rather than the songs serving as an excuse for the players to demonstrate their substantial technical chops. Indeed, Barnes modestly wrote different songs with different musicians in mind, to spotlight them rather than himself. The result is a great success – a delightful collection of well-constructed songs, all played with an engaging verve.

Gaye Adegbalola, Resa Gibbs and Gina Deluca all contribute guest vocals (Deluca’s sulty take on “Bones” is particularly striking). Jackie Merritt adds sweet harmonica to three tracks; Andra Faye adds mandolin to “Not Always Waltz”; and Ian Walters dispenses magnificent barrelhouse boogie woogie piano in the rollicking instrument duet “Dido Yarn Boogie”, a sort of “duelling pianos”. Most poignant of all, however, are the recordings featuring the late Ann Rabson, to whom the CD is dedicated. Barnes’ heart-felt tribute to Rabson in the liner notes underlines the respect and affection in which he holds Rabson, who plays guitar on “Not Always Waltz” and adds beautiful whistle and guitar on the instrumentals “Go Lucky” (which also has some lovely uncredited violin playing) and “Easy Breezy”.

Barnes demonstrates a sly wit on the rocking “Keep Your Feet On The Road”, with its knowing nod to Stealer Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You” on the vocal fadeout. Indeed, it is quickly clear that anarchic humor is a fundamental element of ODD. Accompanied solely by his piano, the ostensibly happy “Don’t Worry” contains the mordant chorus: “Don’t worry. It’ll be OK. We’re all going to up and die some day” while “Dreaming (A Stalker’s Love Song)” is a riot of informed bad taste, calling to mind the masterful Tom Lehrer. Likewise, the reverb-drenched 60s-influenced “Aliens” conveys a hilarious message to visitors from outer space: “Aliens, can you hear my humble cry? I hope this can reach you somewhere up in the sky. You’ve been coming here for centuries and we still don’t know just what you need. You abduct us and probe us and steal away into the night. Then you don’t even bother to call us or to write. Just a little candy or some flowers. A touch of romance. Otherwise it feels like a dirty one-night stand.”

With 13 songs packed into 40 minutes, no track outstays its welcome. Only the torch ballad, “The Fall” lasts longer than four minutes. The result is a very enjoyable album that will make you want to immediately hit “play” again and then to investigate Barnes’ other releases. Barnes himself accurately summarizes the album in his liner notes when he writes: “The CD is named ODD, as it is. Odd but wonderful.” That it is.

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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 Juke Joint Festival 2017 

Juke Joint. For most of us this phrase conjures up images of an old, clapboard or shotgun style building, on the edge of town, with hand painted signs detailing the Do’s and Don’ts that will be tolerated by the proprietor. Inside is a variety of mismatched tables and chairs, lighting often provided by strings of leftover Christmas lights or beer signs, or both. Maybe a bandstand, or a small stage, or an old upright piano, or a jukebox, but definitely a dance floor.

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(Above – Red’s Lounge, Wade’s and Pete’s Grill)

In Clarksdale, Mississippi, those sights can be found, not on the outskirts of town but smack in the middle. Joints like the iconic Red’s Lounge or Pete’s Grill fit that description. But what about a semi collapsed movie theater, or the former Bank of Clarksdale, or an art gallery, or a grounded paddleboat? And then there’s Ground Zero Blues Club, co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman and Clarksdale mayor Bill Luckett, which was voted the Number 1 Blues Club in America by All these “joints” and more are bursting at the seams each April for the annual Juke Joint Festival, which encompasses roughly 12 square blocks of downtown Clarksdale.

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(Above – New Roxy, The Bank and Levon’s. Below Hambone’s and Ground Zero Blues CLub)

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Friday night’s lineup at Ground Zero included Clarksdale sweetheart Heather Crosse and her band, Heavy Suga and the SweeTones, followed by Nashville Cat, Stacey Mitchart.

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(Heavy Suga and The SweeTones features Dick “Poet” Lourie on sax, Heather Crosse on bass and Walt Busby on guitar)

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Stacey Mitchart

The Juke Joint Fest website describes the event as “half blues festival, half small-town fair, and all about the Delta”. Although some related events occur on Thursday and Friday, the party officially cranks up Saturday. The day starts with a 5K run, followed by a parade. Then several locations offer breakfast, with background music from local musicians. At 10 am 14 daytime stages roll out a plethora of music acts, solo to full bands, who entertain the crowds, busking for tips only. In this case, a “stage” is pretty much any flat surface with an electrical outlet. With this year’s rain storms, some were transformed to “Acoustic” stages when the electricity failed.

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During the daytime Juke Joint Fest is billed as a family event, and it lives up to its billing. There were over 100 street vendors offering food of every sort, art, crafts, apparel, and souvenirs. The kid zone offered a climbing wall, mechanical bull, bungee jumps, and a variety of carnival rides. Also returning this year…Pig Racing!

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Saturday night the festival turns adults only, as twenty “joints” open their doors to patrons. Purchase a $25 wristband($20 if you buy it in advance) and admission is free to any of the venues. Stay all night in one, or spend a few minutes in each to really sample what the Blues is all about. There’s even a free trolley to transport music lovers among the venues. From 18-year-old Christone “Kingfish” Ingram to 85-year-old Leo “Bud” Welch, the JJF musicians play their hearts out for their fans. These are but a few of the acts featured during the prime spots. Many of the venues were SRO and had lines of people waiting to enter. It is almost impossible to hear them all in one night!

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Saturday entertainment featured Mississippi Bigfoot, Kat Riggins, Lucious Spiller, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Watermelon Slim and James “Super Chikan” Johnson

On Sunday morning following Juke Joint Fest, the festivities continue with the Cat Head Mini Blues Fest, held in front of Cat Head Music and Folk Art, and the Second Street Blues Party, held at the Rock & Blues Museum. A perennial favorite, Reverend Peyton’s Big Dam Band provides a mixture of Blue & Gospel music to get the crowd in the spirit. Both events offer a 5-6 hour lineup of artists, some of whom played earlier in the weekend. There’s also BBQ ribs, greens, and slaw fixed on site by Red Paden and his crew. The perfect way to top off the festival.

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On Sunday morning following Juke Joint Fest, the festivities continue with the Cat Head Mini Blues Fest, held in front of Cat Head Music and Folk Art, and the Second Street Blues Party, held at the Rock & Blues Museum. A perennial favorite, Reverend Peyton’s Big Dam Band provides a mixture of Blue & Gospel music to get the crowd in the spirit. Both events offer a 5-6 hour lineup of artists, some of whom played earlier in the weekend. There’s also BBQ ribs, greens, and slaw fixed on site by Red Paden and his crew. The perfect way to top off the festival.

As Juke Joint Fest 2017 drew to a close, many blusies had already made their reservations to attend next year’s festival to be held April 14, 2018. Lodging is available though the rooms go quickly. There are several chain hotels and motels, but I’d suggest trying to immerse yourself in the Blues richness that is Clarksdale. There are rooms at the historic Riverside Hotel, or the Clark House, or atop Ground Zero Blues Club. But where else can you, with all honesty, say you stayed at the “Hooker Hotel”?!

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Rick Nation is a freelance writer and photojournalist based in Bryant, AR and a member of The Blues Foundation. While he has a deep appreciation for classical music, his love of the Blues and old time “Honky Tonk” music keeps him searching out live music venues in the region, and slipping over to Memphis and Clarksdale, MS whenever possible.

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 9 

lead belly cd imageLead Belly – The King of the Twelve String Guitar

Wolf Records

24 songs time-68:59

The Austrian imprint Wolf Records has released twenty-four of the iconic folk slash blues singer Lead Belly’s best and most well known songs on one CD. His remaining catalog of songs is extensive. The songs included here were recorded in New York City between 1935 and 1944. Huddie William Ledbetter was discovered by American musicologists John and Alan Lomax in 1933 while he was incarcerated in a prison farm. There they recorded him for the Library Of Congress and returned a year later to record hundreds of his songs. A petition from the Lomaxes and his great recordings hastened his early release from prison according to legend. Previous to recording Lead Belly performed with the legendary bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson around Dallas, Texas. The instrumental “Blind Lemon (Memorial Record)” appears here as his nod to that era of his life.

Lead Belly served several prison terms over the course of his life, adding to his legend. His crimes included murdering a family member and a stabbing. His repertoire consisted of songs he heard and adapted along with songs from his own pen. I as many people are mainly familiar with his material from the many cover versions of his songs from folk singers, bluesmen and rock performers alike. As he died in 1949 I was vaguely familiar with him from various documentaries over the years, but never fully realized the power and expressiveness of his voice. The songs here are performed by him with his twelve-string guitar, accompanied by The Golden Gate Quartet, Josh White on guitar and vocals and with blues harmonica great Sonny Terry.

Other than many of his songs covered by various and sundry folk and blues performers, a few received wider recognition from rock performers. Creedence Clearwater Revival recorded a memorable interpretation of his “Midnight Special”, while the New York based rock band Ram Jam scored their only hit with a vamped up and elongated version of “Black Betty”. Britisher Lonnie Donnegan started the skiffle craze with his energetic and revved-up version of “Rock Island Line”. Over the years snippets of songs he performed were incorporated into newer songs. He was known to borrow lines from other songs. A line from “Cat Fish Blues” pops up in his “Easy Rider”. His influence on music culture is felt to this day.

Tunes such as “Pick A Bale Of Cotton”, “On A Monday”, “(Good Night) Irene”, “Rock Island Line” and “Midnight Special” were staples of the folk movement. Lead Belly performed along side of folk and blues contemporaries of his day such as Woody Guthrie, Josh White and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. Sonny Terry’s signature exuberant harmonica playing propels “On A Monday” and the blues of “Outskirts Of Town”. He also appears on what is usually considered Lead Belly’s signature song, “(Good Night) Irene”.

Lead Belly’s songs were widely popular during his life time. His strong voice combined with his dexterity on the twelve-string guitar made his songs compelling to audiences of his day. At one point he had his own radio show. As on two songs included here, he could deliver just as well with no instrumental accompaniment, as on the medley of “Looky Looky Younder/Black Betty/Yellow Womens Door Bells(On a Monday)”. On “Rock Island Line” he is backed only by the vocal Golden Gate Quartet, who appear on three other songs in this collection. Folk singer Josh White lends guitar and/or vocal support on two tracks.

Aside from some of his more frivolous songs, he did more serious things like his commentary on the treatment of blacks in “The Bourgeois Blues” and “T.B. Blues”.

The quality of the recordings vary from crystal clear to scratchy, as apparently some songs were only available from old 78’s, but everything is very listenable.

From his more familiar songs to the more obscure ones, they are all compelling and worth a listen, as they are an important part of this country’s musical heritage. This CD is a good starting point for the uninitiated to Lead Belly’s vast catalog of American music. This is a treasure trove of this man’s music.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 9 

sparky parker cd imageSparky Parker – Live In Houston

self release

10 songs time-46:53

Houston’s Sparky Parker has paid his dues in various bands-Bayou Monster and Mojofromopolis. He currently plays in Diunna Greenleaf’s Blue Mercy Band and Funky Mustard. He now brings his considerable guitar chops and vocal skills to fronting The Sparky Parker Band on this his debut release. This live recording from Dan Electro’s Guitar Bar was a perfect choice for their first time out, as it showcases the bands forceful and cohesive attack. Bass man Larry Evans is an integral part of their sound, not content to stay in the background. He drives the rhythm amazingly as he locks in with the powerful drumming of Kevin Barry. Sparky’s vocals are well suited to this music. His guitar playing is well informed in the blues and blues-rock genres. He can play straight ahead blues or zoom into the stratosphere with soaring beautifully distorted notes flying from the strings.

The band hits the mark full on with their tight rendition of Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me” at the onset. There isn’t much in the way of guitar soloing on this one, but hold on tight, things get cooking as the CD progresses. The original “Treat Me Mean” finds Sparky lighting up the proceedings with his smokin’ guitar licks as the rhythm sections interplay is showcased. It’s in the tradition of old traditional blues. The only give away that it is current is the blues meets blues-rock guitar playing. On another self-penned tune “Games”, Sparky’s playing is solid blues. Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killin’ Floor” starts out slow, then switches gears a few times. Sparky plays some classic style blues before kicking in into overdrive. Here as elsewhere his voice is smooth and soulful with just the right touch roughness. Distorted blues-rock guitar fires up Muddy Waters’ ode to testosterone, “I’m Ready”. Their soulful take on Magic Sam’s “That’s All I Need” is a beautiful blues stroll. Willie Dixon’s “She’s Dangerous” finds our hero squeezing out sparks from his axe.

The second tune from Muddy, “Long Distance Call” positions Larry Evans’ walking bass line underneath Sparky’s string bending exhibition. The final original tune “Like You Say You Do” delivers a similar sentiment to the classic “If You Love Me Like You Say, Why Do You Treat Me Like You Do?”. It’s a really nice easy rolling shuffle. Muddy’s “Catfish Blues” is a blues-rock extravaganza replete with Hendrix style distorted gonzo guitar, clocking in at just under nine minutes.

This is definitely a keeper. The line between blues and blues-rock is blurred as Sparky’s playing goes to and fro between genres and it’s all good. With his locked-in rhythm section at his every beck-and-call, we have here one dynamic trio. Can’t wait to see what they come up with next. For now, check out this tasty little bluesy morsel.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 9 

cary morin cd imageCary Morin – Cradle To The Grave

Maple Street Music

11 songs time-40:39

Oh wow! This CD is a revelation. Any description I can give it I’m afraid wouldn’t be enough. Singer-songwriter-finger-style guitar player Cary Morin has conjured up many images in his pensive and sometimes mystical songs using just his warm voice and an acoustic six-string guitar. No outside help. His songs encapsulate various influences, be it Americana, folk, blues, jazz, Native American Indian images, etc.. Being a Crow Indian, the native American references come naturally to him. The combination of creative lyrics and intricate guitar work becomes mesmerizing at times.

The soul stirring vocals on the title track come from deep down in his soul. The closing song “Watch Over Me” is an alternate version of the title track, the two serving as bookends to the recording. Both contain the refrain “Watch over me, I’m only a child.” His finger-picking guitar style gives the impression of two guitar players, as he plays the bass strings simultaneously with the melody. It is displayed well on the jumpy and jazzy “Laid Back” and of course throughout the CD. He shows his support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their struggles with the pipeline construction in the very poignant “Dawn’s Early Light”.

“Lay Baby Lay” is one of yer old toe tappers. The guitar just bounces along, it will have you moving. “Mishawaka” seems to be about dying that uses the river journey as an analogy for death. The spirituality and mystical quality just gets you where you live. Willie Brown’s “Mississippi Blues” features really nice melodic guitar. This is the only real blues song, although the blues show up in places during this musical journey. Cary gets into Indian mythology with the cosmic “Ghost Dog”, a haunting tune. “Trust” speaks of the connection between nature and human beings.

He covers Phish’s “Back On The Train”, the first of an unusual choice of cover song. It uses a train ride as an analogy for life. Next up is a crazy good version of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” as a mellow, rootsy, lilting and beautiful take. The aforementioned “Watch Over Me” ends our journey.

Being this is his fourth CD, how did he slip under my radar? What we have here is something truly magical and moving. As Cary’s lyrical imagery weaves together with his intricate guitar playing, you will surely be swept up in this special experience.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 9 

harpdog brown cd imageHarpdog Brown – Travelin’ with the Blues

Dog House Records

14 tracks / 46:31

It is always cool to geta new blues CD out of Canada, as they are often very entertaining. It seems like there is a lot of support for all genres of the music scene north of the border, and this community helps artists get a good foothold in the business. The new album from Harpdog Brown, Travelin’ with the Blues, is no exception and this harmonica-driven disc is chock full of solid tunes and sweet guest artists.

With seven albums under his belt, Harpdog Brown has been plying his trade since 1982, and after taking a decade off to help raise his son he is right back in the thick of things. He is a well-regarded singer and harp man, and over the past few years he has released two albums and won consecutive Maple Blues Awards for harmonica player of the year. This man is certainly still in his prime, as you will hear on this disc!

Travelin’ with the Blues has pretty much everything going for it. Little Victor produced this album, and it was cut by the go-to guys in the blues business: Jon Atkinson at Bigtone Records and Kid Anderson at Greaseland Studios. If you ever wish to make your own blues album, head up to the San Francisco Bay area and hit up one of these fellows and you will not regret your decision. Brown provides the vocals and most of the harmonica for this project, and joining him in the studio are Jordie Edmonds on guitar and Pat Darcus on bass. There are special guests galore, and blues fans will probably be able to recognize most (if not all) of the names.

Many of the 14 tracks on Travelin’ with the Blues are solid originals that were written by Brown, his bandmates, Little Victor, the guest artists, and Harpdog’s longtime collaborator, Wayne Berezan. Regardless of who wrote the songs, they all fit together well and there is a glorious 1950s feel to the proceedings thanks to Atkinson’s magical analog studio equipment. This is apparent on the opener, “Better Days,” a cool bit of Chicago electric blues that Wayne wrote. It features Harpdog’s hearty vocals and plenty of dirty guitar from Kid Anderson, not to mention a hauntingly distorted harmonica break. Berezan also penned the ballad “Sacrifice,” which allows Big Jon Atkinson to show off a bit of his guitar and drums as Carl Sonny Leyland sets the mood on the piano. Both of these tunes highlight how solid Brown is with the vocals, as he has a tremendous sense of timing and drama, as well as flawless enunciation.

The originals also include a few standup tunes that Brown wrote. These include “For Better or Worse,” a 1950s rocker with Kid Andersen and Little Victor on guitar, “What’s Your Real Name” (the story of how Harpdog got his name), and “Home Is Where the Harp Is,” a re-do of a song from earlier in his career. These last two include some fancy guitar work from reggae master Rusty Zinn, another nugget of California gold.

There are also a couple of noteworthy instrumentals worked into the set. Brown and Little Victor wrote “Moose on the Loose,” with a melody that hearkens back to the Champs’ “Tequila,” and an unexpected harmonica duet of Harpdog and the legendary Charlie Musselwhite. Then there is the closing boogie, “Hayward Blues,” a pick-up track that was recorded at the end of a session. This one has a healthy vamp from Jordie Edmonds (who wrote it) and Jimmy Morello, and a fun honking harmonica part from Harpdog. Though this one is only 95 seconds long, it is a wickedly fun way to close out the set.

The covers include a handful of neat tunes. The band’s redux of Otis Span’s 1954 Chess Records single “It Must Have Been the Devil” is amazing, and California jazz master Carl Sonny Leyland does a fine job of occupying Spann’s place behind the piano. There is also Willie Dixon’s “Bring it on Home” which was originally cut by Sonny Boy Williamson II in 1963 and then covered on Led Zeppelin II. This version includes Jimmy Morello on the skins, and it is great to see that he is recording again! And finally, going a little further back in time, there is Jesse Thomas’ “Another Fool Like Me” and Muddy Waters’ “Hard Days Blues.” The latter is the standout of the cover tunes, and Brown’s quirky vocals are well accented by his harp as Little Victor lays down smooth guitar fills on this classic tune.

As if 46 minutes of quality music is not enough, if you buy the hard copy of the CD you will also get 16 pages of liner notes with brief bios for the guest artists as well as producer’s notes for each of the tracks. This wealth of information is a welcome addition, and a neat throwback to the days where listening to music was a primary activity, not something that was done as an accompaniment to other everyday chores.

Harpdog Brown has a winner with Travelin’ with the Blues, and any fan of the harmonica or classic blues would be happy to have a copy of this disc in their library. Looking over Brown’s website, there is a passel of Canadian shows scheduled for this spring and summer, so if you are going to be north of the border, you might want to check out his schedule. He is a master of the harp, and certainly worth seeing in person!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 9 

raphael callaghan cd imageRaphael Callaghan – Said and Done

Blue Cee Recordings

CD: 14 Songs, 53:13 Minutes

Styles: Mellow Acoustic Blues and Folk

“Acquired taste.” “Niche market.” “Subgenre.” What do the following three terms have in common? Depending on one’s personal preference in blues, they might describe the kind of music Liverpool’s Raphael Callaghan plays on his new album Said and Done. A more-than-forty-year veteran of this magazine’s main focus, Raphael presents fourteen mellow, low-key acoustic offerings. Many might (rightly) call this a folk album, as Ms. Wetnight has previously called the Von Howlers’ debut a thrash-rock release. Several of Callaghan’s original songs, like “Too Much Rain, Too Much Water,” “Keep Calm and Carry On,” and “Skip’s Kokomo Blues” truly belong in the folk genre. They don’t have the rhythm or edge that blues has – or, at least, as purists recognize it. Instead, these renditions flow like quiet rivers, and Raphael’s mellifluous voice adds to the pacifying effect. Blues fans, don’t slip this CD into your player if you’re having a raucous party involving alcohol by the bottle, not the glass. Rather, give it a listen when you want a relaxing spring evening at home, maybe sipping a cold one out on the deck.

Callahan’s vocal style is far more John Lennon than John Lee Hooker, tailor-made for most of Said and Done’s songs. How did this England native come to love an American-born art? He comments on his webpage: “So it’s 1964, I’m 14 or 15 but look much younger, gearing up for dreaded [O-level exams,] missing John Lee Hooker and SBW at the Cavern because they’d never let me in! So I try a Saturday afternoon session at another Liverpool basement club, Hope Hall, where Alexis Korner’s Blues Inc. are playing regularly, and it’s a life-changing experience. Blues Inc. have a featured vocalist, Herbie Goins, who’s great on James Brown and jump-blues numbers. But it’s when Alexis takes lead vocal that I hear real, deep blues singing up close and personal for the first time. And his killer guitar. And what’s this? Electric double bass! What a sound, what a player. Of course, it’s Danny Thompson.

“Before the year is out I see the band half a dozen times at Hope Hall, twice at the Cavern, once at the university and become friends, particularly with Alexis and Danny. Then it’s Howlin’ Wolf with Hubert Sumlin at the Cavern and Big Joe Turner at Reece’s Ballroom – and that’s IT. The blues has got me and will never let me go.”

Callaghan is an understated wizard at acoustic guitar, vocals and harmonica. Alongside him are Christine Purnell on bass guitar, “Tom” on dobro, banjo, and mandolin, and Paul Owens on sequenced drums and bass.

The best, most traditional blues song on Callaghan’s latest is also one tinged with gospel:

Track 11: “Don’t Let the Devil Drive” – If life is a journey, even one comparable to one you’d take in an automobile, then Raphael has a warning for you: “Keep your foot right down to the floor, but keep on the right side of the law. Don’t let the Devil drive. Don’t let the Devil drive. Keep your hand on the wheel. Don’t let the Devil drive.” All of Callaghan’s key talents and elements are top-notch here: vocals, harmonica and thrumming acoustic guitar.

When all is Said and Done, Raphael Callaghan plays a melodic set of low-key folk blues!

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

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 Featured Blues Interview – Lee Oskar 

lee oskar photo 1How does Lee Oskar perceive his connection to the Blues?

“Number one, Blues is a feeling you’ve got inside. So let’s take it outside of the cliché that people think is the Blues. From ancient times, wherever there has been humanity, there has been Blues. It doesn’t matter if they’re playing a Seraiki in Pakistan or a Folk song played on a shamisen in Okinawa. There’s the Blues. They’re talking about the same thing. They are crying about the same thing. Even when you hear Classical music performed, there’s the Blues. The Blues is bigger than just the 1, 4, 5 chord changes.

Number two, when you talk about the 1,4,5 chord changes, the formula which is called American Blues, should never be abused. Man, those changes are so harmonically moving. For somebody to just think they are playing some cookie cutter stuff – now I’m getting cynical here – with their brain rather than their heart and soul and try to mimic somebody’s record, they’re playing a little riff, they think they’re playing Blues. Then they put on a pair of shades and go on stage with a name that mama never called them. They’re the Blues? All these clowns to me, are mimicking.”

Sensing possible resentment from detractors Oskar continues:

“Now that I got that off my chest, everyone’s gonna hate me, but the thing is for me is that when I play the harmonica, I’m either a horn section or a singer. Ray Charles is my idol. The way he phrases, the way he sings, is like no other influence. My other major influence is the late Charles Miller, original saxophonist for War, who took the novel idea I had of being in a horn section to fruition. Musically he was way above me, but would stoop down to my level because he recognized what I had – my feeling in playing hook lines. He was bigger than life to me because he was willing to play down to my limitations in playing hook lines. And through that, we became a horn section. That was a dream come true. With that said, I always loved the American Blues. I can’t even explain it. Since I was a seven-year-old kid, when I didn’t even know what Blues was. Music was music.

I heard a guy playing a Boogie piano in Copenhagen in a summer camp and it just drove me crazy cuz those chord changes were so contagious. Unbelievable. Since then, I’ve always loved playing what they call Blues, from my heart. It’s always been my own voice, my own style.”

The conversation shifts temporarily to the early days of War, the band that rose up out of Long Beach, California, with an uncommon for the time, mix of Funk, Latin, R&B, Rock, Reggae and Blues.

“I decided to do my own solo album after War had a bunch of hits. At that time, we believed everything belonged to War – we were loyal to each other, playing music together, jamming, all that. I came into the studio with some compositions I had written and when the guys tried to play them, it just didn’t connect right. So I realized right then, that we all have things we compose. That everything we did didn’t have to be under the umbrella of War. Maybe Papa Dee would write an opera or something. So those things came out of me and I decided to do a solo album.

The album I did was not the typical thing that people would hear from a harmonica with the cliché Blues thing. I knew it was gonna be a surprise to people when they heard it. And it was. Then I thought, well, later in life, when I come out with a so-called Blues album, people are gonna be surprised again and love it. What I didn’t realize is that by then, there would be so many cliques and cliché things, that it would be a bourgeois middle class kind of a thing. And the amazing thing is, until recently, the biggest Blues Festival in the world has been held in Norway. They’ve made an industry out of a little town. It’s very homogenized and safe.”

The story that the great Chicago Bluesman Jr. Wells used Lee Oskar brand harmonicas and was actually buried with a tray of them, forms the basis of the next question and Lee explains the facts behind the myth.

“Well, he was definitely a big fan of my harmonicas. That was what he played. A lot of people knew about that in his family. It wasn’t one of those things that somebody snuck into his casket. I think it was a good gesture, that the harmonicas he was using should be with him. The family even asked me to play at his funeral, but Sugar Blue, the harmonica player, needed and wanted to be connected so I remember basically suggesting for him to do it. It was very emotional. There were a lot of people who wanted to be connected with Jr. Wells in so many different ways. There was a lot of energy, all over. As great as he was as a musician, he was just a wonderful human being. Even though he would sometimes get a little tough with people working for him, he was the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back. He was just being him. Some people who don’t understand marketing would put him in the wrong scenario.

For example, he went to this company who makes educational “how to” music videos. In my opinion Jr. Wells shouldn’t have been in that arena as a teacher. It should have been called An Intimate Moment With Jr. Wells. That would have been great, brilliant. But the way it’s presented is stupid. I blame it on people who can’t connect with what someone’s real shit is.

When Jr. Wells got a hold of a Lee Oskar Harmonica, he liked it. We eventually met and became friends. He wanted to do so many things. But the people around him didn’t understand maybe and he was not supported in the best way. Perhaps they had good intent, but they didn’t get it.

How did Oskar conceive of his harmonica company?

“I was frustrated with what existed out there. When I started making a little money playing with Eric Burdon & War, I spent a lot of it on harmonicas. Out of every ten I bought only one was good. So I was tinkering for a lot of years and had some good ideas about what would make a great harmonica. It became my goal and mission to go out and find a place that already existed where I could make harmonicas. So when I was in Japan, very fortunately, I found out about a company called Tombo. This year marks their 100th anniversary. It’s been 35 years that I have been associated with them. Back in the late ‘70s, when I came across their factory, I made arrangements with the owners who are 5th generation harmonica makers now, and fans of my music. I wanted machines set up to do the ideas and designs I had in conjunction with their expertise. So we have done that successfully and my product is all over the world. The bottom line as to why I make harmonicas is because I needed a better tool. So my dream came true there. It’s very consistent. Their quality control, craftsmanship is like no other. I’m very proud that we have been making the same product for 35 years.

Other manufacturers are catching up, copying actually, my ideas and concepts, I believe. We have interchangeable parts, alternate tunings. The Lee Oskar Harmonica System is good for people from all walks of life. It’s great for composing hook lines for songwriters. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing “Oh Susanna,” Oompah music or Chicago Blues. I make the tunings where they all can play you. You don’t have to play it until you get good. You can play Reggae, African, Clave, Latin, Tango or Yiddish music. Between the four different tunings we make forty-three different models. Then, you can mix and match the reed plates and even create other scales. You can use these tools for all kinds of genres of music.”

Did he played in a lot of bands in his native Denmark before he migrated to the U.S.?

“No, there wasn’t even such a thing. The culture in Denmark, even though it was much hipper than a lot of places in the world, was under the musical influence of Britain and the U.S. So apart from hardcore Jazz, there wasn’t much of an industry at the time. Me playing harmonica was kind of like a novelty thing to people, so that didn’t fly. Maybe if I had walked in with a saxophone it would have been better. My situation was, I started with the harmonica at six years old. When I got it, it was the novelty that summer. Everybody had a harmonica. I just fell in love with the sound. It sounded to me like a symphony. I was connected with it from the get go in my own soul. I probably sounded like shit. The next year, the novelty was the yo-yo, but I kept on going with the harmonica. After that, it was the hula hoop, but I kept playing harmonica. Everybody left me alone. As a kid, they didn’t think I was a prodigy in music, thank God, so they didn’t interrupt whatever groove I was on, by getting more excited about me than myself and say you should be playing violin or piano. I was pretty illiterate, not very good in school. The point is, nobody interrupted my development and it evolved and I became what I am because I was able to do what I loved.

lee oskar photo 2It was the music that compelled me to come to America when I was eighteen. The USA was bigger than life. Normally, if you had any idea to go somewhere, it would be on a little vacation or something. I went because I wanted to make it in the music business, not even knowing what the music business was about. It was that whole image from childhood, when I’d pretend I was composing and conducting when I was six years old with my harmonica. I was totally in love with it and wanted to be that in any way possible. America was the place. It was huge.”

The liner notes on Lee Oskar’s first solo album describe the great feeling he had when he first stood on Broadway in New York City. They go on to state how disappointing it was as a young immigrant after the initial euphoria evaporated.

“I wasn’t prepared when I got here. Financially or anything. When I first came to New York, just the stretch of the eyes seeing the size of cars and the visual of stop signs was very scary. Not speaking English, it was very unfamiliar and frightening. At the same time, I was in awe of all the big and amazing things. Similarly, when I eventually went back to Copenhagen as a member of War, my city seemed so tiny! I was sharing a room with Jerry Goldstein, the manager, who had picked up a woman. So I gave him the room and walked around Copenhagen for a day and it seemed so unbelievably small, walking to places I wouldn’t have walked when I lived there. I would’ve taken the streetcar or something.

New York has changed since then. About ten years ago I went back to do the Letterman show as a guest of Paul Shaffer. I couldn’t believe that New York seemed like the safest place in the world to me. It seems L.A. and New York have switched places. It’s like the reverse now. L.A. was a safe place in ’66 and now it’s become what New York was back then.

The first time War came to New York, I considered myself an authority and I told saxophonist Charles Miller one should never go to Central Park at night. He said, “Aw man, let’s go.” He talked me into it. There’s this big wall around Central Park which we jumped over to get in and scared a guy who was covered with newspaper trying to sleep. When Charles approached some people and they saw us, they thought we were the bad guys! They all ran! Another time, I got set up by a woman I was talking to. You know, if you pay attention, you know it’s a bad vibe, but I didn’t pay attention. We were in Greenwich Village in a vacant lobby and two guys come out with knives. New York was no joke.”

I note to Lee that his idol and deceased member of War, Charles Miller, reportedly died at the same seedy L.A. motel that revered singer Sam Cooke was slain at in 1964. Charles Miller was the victim of a sloppy robbery attempt in 1980.

“That’s what I heard. In some ways, I still haven’t grieved or accepted Charles’ passing. It’s a weird feeling. He was brilliant. He was a one of a kind genius. He never made me feel uncomfortable in my limitations. He would always work with what I came up with. He never put me in a situation where technically, it was too difficult for me. He had a sense of my limitations and capabilities within the harmonica and made the playing field level and made it work beautifully.”

After leaving New York, Oskar came to California.

“Let’s see. I was in L.A., basically on the streets there. I was trying to put a band together with some people and hoping to get a record deal. I met Eric Burdon during this period. There was a club called Thee Experience on Sunset Blvd where they would let me in for free. The owner was Marshall Brevitz. It was way east of the Whisky A Go Go and all that. It was the place to be away from the Strip. They would let me in there and I would jam. There was a band there that had come in from Florida named Blues Image. They were friends of Marshall Brevitz and their guitarist was Mike Pinera. Eric Burdon would come in to jam and he and I connected that way.

Marshall Brevitz would change the cover charge according to the popularity of who he had playing there. Any major band who played the L.A. arena would find out that Thee Experience was the place to come jam after the concert. So he would reel in anybody, you name it. Instead of going to the Whiskey A Go-Go, they would come to Thee Experience and jam. As I said I was trying to put a band together as well. I went out to the Valley to this place where they always seemed to have ten bands wanting to play but only room for five.

A guy named Chris Huston, who later became the sound engineer for War’s records, came up to me after one of those gigs, gave me his card and said he liked what I was doing. He had a recording studio. Keep in mind that I had tried to go to A&M Records prior to that and the receptionist kicked me out. I thought she was the record company. I had no idea what a record company actually was. I just wanted a record deal. I wanted to prove to them that I was worth it. I asked for $400 and they were like, “Get this crazy hippie out of here.”

So when Chris Huston gave me his card and said he had a recording studio, it was like a dream come true. I thought I might get some free studio time when nobody was using it. So I go to see Chris and tell him my dream and he says, “Well, you’d have to sign a deal with me.” And me, in my naiveté said, “Why would I sign a deal with you? I want a deal with A&M Records.” So I’m sitting in the lobby, depressed, tired, thinking of going back to Denmark cuz a lot of shit has happened, on the streets and elsewhere, that I won’t go into right now. I was about to give up. So this guy comes in the lobby from the studio with a comb and a piece of paper making a kazoo sound and it was Jerry Goldstein clamoring for a harmonica player. They say to him, “Yes sir, Mr. Goldstein, he’s on the way up right now.” So this kid comes in that Jerry takes in the studio for about a minute and sends him back out. I guess he didn’t sound very good. So I’m sitting there with the only harmonica I own. It happened to be in the key of F. I blurted out, “I play harmonica.” I was kind of embarrassed because I think he had already seen me there. But he said, “Come on in.” So I go in and put the headphones on and I wasn’t even thinking. The tune was in C and I just riffed over it with my F major diatonic harmonica. I was so lucky! I was playing in no-taste, 5th gear. There was nothing musical about it. I was just so excited, it was crazy. Then, when the tune was done, Jerry got so excited, he gave me ten bucks! I gave the band five bucks because I was so grateful. Then I took this parking meter lady out for pizza and left my funky harmonica as a tip. What was I thinking back then? It was a depressing time.

Then I went to the Whiskey A Go Go. It was owned by Mario and Elmer. Mario was always at the door and let me in free. They had a celebrity booth and in it there sat Eric Burdon, Chris Huston, Steve Gold and Jerry Goldstein. One of them says, “Hey, there is Lee Oskar, he’s a great player.” Burdon says, “Yeah, I know, I’ve been playing with him.” So that was where Eric and I really connected even though we had jammed together before. That’s when he let me know he wanted me to be a part of his new band.”

The complete history of the band War starts of course, with the inception of Eric Burdon & War and their ensuing hit single “Spill The Wine” which rose to # 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1970. That same year the band achieved planetary notoriety for being the last band that Jimi Hendrix played with publicly before his untimely death on September 18, 1970.

Despite the subsequent exit of Burdon, War continued as a hit making machine throughout the ‘70s. While successful on wax, dirty work and skullduggery was also going on behind the scenes, courtesy of business partners Jerry Goldstein and Steve Gold whose names still ring a far out bell in the consciousness of the music industry. Some musicians are resentful in their wake. When asked if he was resentful Oskar gives the following history lesson.

“Oh, I’m resentful for maybe the more correct reasons. First of all, the dynamics between the seven original members of War in relation to Steve Gold and Jerry Goldstein, has had so many different phases. It started as the seven of us backing up Eric. We were totally in the moment musically, all of us being manipulated to play music. We got to jam all the time and create. I was excited to be with at home with people who loved playing. It was my first band. With that, there was a platform of business to be applied to it.

lee oskar photo 3At the time, Eric Burdon was as big as Mick Jagger. I was in awe. He had gone from the Animals to Eric Burdon & the Animals, to Eric Burdon & the New Animals. He had this fantasy of getting into movies, I think. I was staying on his couch. We went to see Phil Spector and I’m in awe again. I was like a freakin’ groupie. We go into Phil Spector’s office which was in this old Victorian building on Sunset. It was really dark in there except for this big window behind him. Basically, we’re seeing a silhouette. Can’t even see his face. The sun is right on me and Eric. I’m hearing his voice talk to Eric about producing his next album. Eric was deciding whether he wanted to go with Phil Spector or Steve Gold and Jerry Goldstein. I don’t know anything about Jerry and Steve. I just know—Are you kidding me? Phil Spector?

Eric decided to go with Steve Gold and Jerry Goldstein because he wanted to be in the business as much as he wanted to be a superstar. He wanted to be business worthy and get part of that wealth. After going through all those things with Mike Jeffery who was the manager of Jimi Hendrix as well as the Animals, looking back, I get it. You don’t want to be looked at as just some musical commodity. You want to be in with the machine too. Regardless of who Eric chose, I was still in awe of how we were going to build this whole thing.

Things started to get weird after we had a few hits. Like, you see a billboard on Sunset of the next album before the artist(s) knows there is a next album. Deals are made without you being included. It was a divide and conquer kind of thing. We ended up leaving Gold & Goldstein’s Far Out Productions and forming our own company. But with that said, we didn’t know what we were doing. And one by one, each guy went back to Steve and Jerry. Everybody had to individually sign new contracts. They came to me last and said, “We have a contract for you Lee.” I said, “If we’re a family, why should we have a contract?” They say, “Because of this and that,” so to speak. So they give me this thick contract and I didn’t know that everyone else had already signed. A couple of days later I take the contract into Steve Gold and Jerry Goldstein’s office and said to Steve, “Let me ask you something. If you were to be my manager, and Jerry Goldstein is the record company, would you want me to sign this contract?” Steve Gold says, “I haven’t read it yet.”

I was like, “are you serious?” Which, I get now as a businessman, I’ll sometimes read an agreement later that my attorney might draw up and have me sign, for example. But at the time, it was very problematic for me. You’re having me sign an agreement with you guys and you haven’t even read it? So then, I said to them, “If I sign it, would you then read it and make sure it’s good for me before you sign it?” Then they left me alone, so I didn’t have a contract. Come to find out, everybody had re-signed except for me. It was divide and conquer. Jerry Goldstein owned the masters to the records. We rarely saw statements. Everything we got was a freakin’ advance, never earned. We never saw money that was earned. It was always called an advance. You always owed the company. So, it was all these things wearing on everybody and we weren’t taking care of business as a unit even though we liked to say we did, we weren’t. So some years went by.

When I did my trademark for Lee Oskar Harmonicas as I started manufacturing, I didn’t want my exposure to overshadow everyone else’s, if anything went wrong. So they wanted us to sign new contracts. I admit I wanted to do it for the camaraderie but I also wanted two provisions to be changed. One was that if anyone breached the contract, then everyone would be liable. In other words, if somebody breached, they could go after my trademark. So I had them change that.

Number two was the contract was terminated with my obligations a year and a half later if there is no proof and burden on a record being produced and released in good time and business. That was because they kept us in the studio and billed us for it yet hadn’t been releasing records.

So when I left the band, the guys still continued and did stuff without me, without Jerry Goldstein’s permission. They had another guy in the band who Goldstein knew was not me, but they had a court proceeding somewhere that held me as infringing on the War trademark, even though I wasn’t with them at the time. Even though I had everyone sign an affidavit stating that I wasn’t performing with the band at the time, the fuckin’ judge said, “Well, Mr. Lee Oskar, if you weren’t there, why aren’t you suing them?” I said, “Your Honor, I’m not gonna sue my friends and colleagues. I blame this on Mr. Jerry Goldstein.” So the judge didn’t want to buy it. All those kinds of legal things were going on. And once it’s been tested by a bunch of attorneys, somebody please help us cuz nobody can afford to fight the shit, you’ll get these attorneys who will shoot, in representing the guys, but they don’t know how to aim. And when we get shot back at, we’re deeper in the hole.

Then the Federal judge in circuit 9, (you can read all this stuff, it’s public record), Judge Keller, didn’t want to hear about all this crazy stuff. He didn’t know who we were. I bet if we were the Letterman (Pop trio that originated in the late ‘50s) he would’ve come off the bench and represented us. With us, to him, it was frivolous stuff; racketeering, etc., a parade of attorneys coming in. So he rules in Goldstein’s favor in owning the name War. Then Goldstein asks the judge if we can be prohibited not only from calling ourselves War, but also from formerly known as War, or calling ourselves Raw, which, if you hold it up to a mirror is War. Next!”

How did original war member Lonnie Jordon end up on Jerry Goldstein’s good side?

“There was a legal ruling when, at one time there were a handful of groups calling themselves the 5th Dimension. The law was written stating that you had to have at least one original member for the use of the trademark to be valid. So in my mind, Lonnie Jordan has become the yo-yo for Jerry Goldstein. He has no ownership in the name War. People may think that. He may want people to think that. But he’s under Jerry Goldstein’s thumb. He is somebody that Jerry can use so he can exercise the right to put out a band called War.

Now, I will say that there are people like Sal Rodriguez who have played in this phony band for almost twenty years now. So according to my knowledge of trademark law, if Lonnie Jordan was to for example, have a mental breakdown and suddenly couldn’t play, Jerry Goldstein has built up War where unknowing people don’t look at it as a phony band or a tribute band. Goldstein presents it as the evolution of War. With that said, a guy like Sal Rodriguez, if Lonnie is not there, can be presented as someone that consumers count on as an original member, because under trademark law, it’s defined as what consumers depend on. In Goldstein’s evolution, the current members take precedence over those of us who were the original members. It’s based on the premise that trademark law protects the consumer, not the manufacturer or originator. So they can argue that for the last twenty years, people have gone to see these shows and Lonnie Jordan and Sal Rodriguez and whoever were playing, not Lee Oskar, Howard Scott, Harold Brown & B.B. Dickerson. We’re not allowed to use the name War at all. Or formerly known as War. We cannot use that name in any way in conjunction with selling tickets for a show. Let me give you an example. There’s a club called Jazz Alley in Seattle. John Dimitriou is the owner. He’s got nonprofit status tied into the club. It’s supposed to be all about the music and in reality is a platform for a good tax deduction. Of course if you think without being cynical, it’s for the love of the music. He’s had a lot of things in there, the best of the best. On par with Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London. The reality is, he’s gotta make money. He even told me he doesn’t care about the club part. He loves cooking! He loves the food part. The guy that used to book the gigs for Jazz Alley, whose name I can’t recall and is now deceased, reached out to the Lowrider Band years ago to inquire if we would like to play there, knowing of course, that we don’t call ourselves War anymore. I said, “We’d love to.” But he offered a deal that was very, very low in compensation. If I told you the amount you would say, “Damn, that’s even lower than I thought.” So I said, “There’s no way we can do that.” Some years later, John called and asked if we’d like to play. I told him how much we had been offered before and he couldn’t believe it. He came up with a 3 day agreement for the Lowrider Band with the understanding that they couldn’t say War or formerly of War in their promotion. We agreed to everything and signed the contract. I was so excited. Next thing you know A few days later we get a call that he’d been threatened because he used the name War on his website. I called him up and this is what he said.

“Lee, I’m so glad you called. I’m so upset. They’re gonna close me down the whole weekend. Business is going to be down. Those assholes are stopping us from having a show with you,” and blah, blah, blah.

“But you knew that you couldn’t use the name War in the promotion.”

“But I got it from Wikipedia.”

lee oskar photo 4“John,” I said. “It’s journalism on Wikipedia. But if you put it on your site, it’s not journalism. But let’s do this. Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to pay us the 50%. We’ll do a raincheck and after a period of time, come back and do it right.”

“Okay, thank you so much and blah, blah, blah.” Then when I go to call him back, he’s not answering the phone. Sure enough, they booked the bullshit War. So I call him up and leave him a message. I said, “Imagine, B.B. King was not born under that name. Imagine that B.B. King was a trademark and his manager got a ruling that he owns the name B.B. King. Imagine that the manager owns the publishing and the masters on B.B. King. Imagine that the manager gets a restraining order on the real B.B. King which will not allow him to perform as the B.B. King we know. And you know that but you are going to go ahead and hire somebody else to sing and play as B.B. King because the manager owns the trademark.

I put it to him just like that and of course he was very defensive. But after the War band played there, he had the nerve to call me back and leave me a message saying, “Lee, I gotta talk to you. This was the best weekend I’ve had in my whole career at the club. It was sold out every night. I’ve never had that many people or this amount of success. It was amazing. I wanna talk to you. Maybe now, you guys can come in and play.” That then, is the world Lee Oskar, Harold Brown, Howard Scott and B.B. Dickerson have had to live in since Jerry Goldstein and the legal system closed shop, took their toys and went home, on the remaining 4/5’s of the original band.

The next question posed to Lee Oskar is, “Can the publishing of this information be a possible liability for you?

“That depends,” says Lee. “If it’s strictly journalism and is not used in any way to sell tickets, it’s okay. Let’s say they somehow tied this interview into a gig we were playing where it could be viewed as promotion, then yes, I could go to jail. In a way, I’m putting you as a journalist in the same spot so you can feel where I’m at. Now the burden is on you too. By the way, for you to be on the other side and the way you ask your questions, thank you. You’re getting me to talk about my life. I should pay you as a fuckin’ therapist! You know, the high powered attorneys and forensic accountants who worked on this had seen many things. But they admitted they’d never seen anything like this case at all.”

So is Goldstein just that intelligent and shrewd?

“My comment is this. Lonnie Jordan is a liar and a thief. Jerry Goldstein is an honest thief. I’ll tell you why I say that. He believes that everybody is playing the same game. He just believes he’s smarter. What he doesn’t realize is that the ways of Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler are past. People don’t do business like that anymore. Goldstein apprenticed under them back in the day. When he related that to me years ago, he revealed that he didn’t want to be under them, he wanted to do his own thing. So rather than surround himself with negotiators, he surrounds himself with litigators. He constantly has to put walls up because everybody is standing in line, trying to collect unpaid bills or royalties, or just complaining, whatever. He is very good at perceiving right down to the last possible millisecond, what the deadline is. Until you have crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s, you’re not even on the map with him.

It may sound strange, but I respect Jerry Goldstein more than I respect Lonnie Jordan. Recently I had to negotiate with Jerry Goldstein to get my stuff back. The My Road Our Road album and my Before The Rain album. The contracts were terminated as new publishing laws came into effect. After thirty-five years you can claim it and I did so a couple of years ago. In all fairness to Jerry, he agreed on a compromise with me which I appreciate because even if it had been a slam dunk case as far as the laws that have been put on the books, there are still gray areas that he can challenge. So, everything I’ve said is not to talk bad about Jerry but to explain the dynamics and show what people put priorities on.

I think where he lost out in terms of us was we all wanted to be part of something great. We all would’ve gotten along if Jerry had informed us as we went along and been more forthright about the economics involved. The bottom line is that there are two separate worlds. Two different animals. One is called business and one is called legal. Many people confuse them. In the legal world, he had us sign certain things that we weren’t aware of, that were in his favor. In fairness to us as the group War; Charles Miller, Papa Dee Allen, B.B. Dickerson, Harold Brown, Howard Scott myself and Lonnie Jordan, as much as we wanted to know and understand, that was discouraged.

So I characterize what Jerry Goldstein had as short term greed. If he had long term greed and been honest in common with us and made sure that we all benefited too, we would still have wonderful business today. We wouldn’t be fighting. I wouldn’t even know about terminations. Today we could all be making lots of money, embracing the music, really collaborating on things rather than trying to milk a legacy, perpetuated by these phony bands. For the most part, they haven’t even re-recorded our tunes. There’s nothing creative there. They’re just milking, milking, milking. It’s sad to me that everybody is practically in the poorhouse because the golden egg was dismantled in such unfortunate, bullshit ways.”

Part of the legacy of the golden egg that was the band called War (Then called Eric Burdon & War) was their September 16, 1970 gig where the guitar mastery of Jimi Hendrix was displayed for the final time, as he sat in with the group. I asked Lee if he considered that a turning point in his career.

“I wouldn’t call it a turning point but it was a big deal to me. Not for the same reason it would be for others. What was a big deal for me was that it was the second time being on the same stage with him as he was one of the greatest, and he knew my name. I had first played with him at Devonshire Downs some time before Ronnie Scott’s. Eric Burden and I went down to see Hendrix there and sat in with him. He was leaning against the wall, not feeling so good and said to me, “Lee, am I playing ok?” I was more flattered than feeling what he was going through.”

What does Oskar have cooking musically in the near future?

“I’m really excited. Glad you asked. I’m not getting any younger. The Lowrider Band is a rare commodity that only gets gigs once in awhile. I have composed and recorded and have so much in the future that I want to keep doing. My focus, starting in May and June will be to record and build another company that will license all this stuff from me. We’re gonna be exploring movies, T.V., you name it. I’m producing a couple of things right now. One is this Japanese saxophone player, Takamura Miyazaki. A beautiful, beautiful player who is playing Lee Oskar compositions. It’s almost done. And then I have this project called Cricket In A Box Africa and it’s another slice of all these different musical elements that are put together as I’ve always wanted. Today you might call it World Beat. I’m looking forward to going with Mark Johnson, Producer of Playing For Change, to Mali to play with the people there. The kids in the schools in Mali and South Africa will be using Lee Oskar harmonicas. There’s so many different spins.

They are building a school in Mali where they are teaching with the Lee Oskar D Natural Minor harmonica. When I heard the people being recorded by Mark Johnson in Playing For Change, man I was blown away. The way they played it was a piece of the D minor pentatonic American Blues scale that was the basis for the War song “Cisco Kid.” I was like holy shit, I found the holy grail where Jesus was born!

No matter where you are on the earth, people talk, laugh and cry about the same shit. The scales you use musically might be major or minor. The materials you use to make your instruments and the food you eat is gonna be based on where you live. If you live in the desert, you’ll probably eat cactus and snake. If you live near the ocean chances are you’re eating fish.”

Lee Oskar reiterated his passion for the Blues.

“Ray Charles to me, Coltrane, you name it, any of the Jazz cats. To me, they all come from the Blues. Miles Davis is the Blues. Nina Simone can tear your heart out with the Blues. Those cookie cutter people who try to mimic some cat sitting on the back porch, it’s like, give me a break. The real deal is the real deal. When mediocrity kicks in and everybody is trying to milk it with some formula with these other clichés, the brain is in it but the heart is not even connected.”

Visit Lee’s website at:

CyberSoulMan Tee Watts is music director at KPFZ 88.1 fm in Lakeport, California. His radio show, The CyberSoulMan Review airs Tuesday afternoons from 3-5 PST. He is road manager for Sugar Pie DeSanto, the last Queen standing from the glory years of Chess Records.

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Mississippi Valley Blues Society – Davenport, IA

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents “New York Boss Man” Dave Fields and his band at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 11, at Frick’s Tavern, 1402 W Third Street, Davenport, IA. The cost to see this performance will be $8 if you are a Mississippi Valley Blues Society member, or $10 if you have not joined the Blues Society (application will be available at the door).

The band has played in the Quad Cities several times, but this will be a first-time show at Frick’s Tavern, Davenport, IA. Frick’s, built in 1872, is the oldest bar in Davenport, and second oldest in the state of Iowa. The owners have recently refurbished the building which included creating a performance area with an outdoor patio on the second floor. The Mississippi Valley Blues Society looks forward to presenting this performance at this newly restored venue.  For more info contact Steve Brundies: 563-508-7660 or visit

The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation – Falls Church, VA

The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation presents tThe 24th Annual Tinner Hill Blues Festival takes place June 9-11, 2017 in Falls Church, VA. This 3-day music event features Blues, brew & barbecue, all weekend, all over town. It kicks off on Friday with “Blues on Broad” in restaurants and bars on (and off) Broad Street. Saturday’s highlight is a ticketed all-day concert in Cherry Hill Park featuring Mud Morganfield with The Nighthawks; Tas Cru & His Band of Tortured Souls; Beverly “Guitar” Watkins; Linwood Taylor, and Kareem “Lil’ Maceo” Walkes with special guest, Slam Allen.

Saturday night’s Blues Crawl will take place in many restaurants and bars in the town and feature Blues bands. Sunday’s free gospel/blues picnic features the Carter Gospel Singers and The Barbour Travelers. Visit our website for a complete list of events:

Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

The Central Iowa Blues Society celebrates LIVE music at Springfest, Memorial weekend at Jasper Winery, 2400 George Flagg Parkway on Sunday, May 28, 2017. Music on the lawn from 2:00-9:00 pm, starting with Iowa Blues Hall of Famer, Rob Lumbard, followed by Kansas City’s own Amanda Fish, Rockin’ Rhythm & Blues with The Bel Airs and then Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal. Josh was recently a contestant on The Voice.

The gates open at 1:00 pm for this FREE event brought to you by Central Iowa Blues Society, Fat Tuesday Productions and Jasper Winery. For more information go to

Cascade Blues Association – Portland, Oregon

On Sunday, May 21, the Cascade Blues Association presents “CBA 30, Once in a Lifetime Concert,” featuring more than 50 blues and roots musicians joining together to celebrate the organization’s 30th anniversary of supporting, promoting and preserving blues & blues-related music in the Pacific Northwest. This event will be held at the historic McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland, Oregon. Tickets are $15.00 general admission, and a limited number of VIP tickets for $75.00.

Artists participating in CBA 30 will include Duffy Bishop, Lloyd Jones, Terry Robb, Mary Flower, Karen Lovely, Bill Rhoades, Norman Sylvester, Ty Curtis, Rae Gordon & The Backseat Drivers, The Strange Tones, Kinzel & Hyde, Too Loose Zydeco Band, Bobby Torres, Robbie Laws, Louis Pain and many more!

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. May 8 – Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch, May 15 – Harper and Midwest Kind, May 22 – Chris Antonik, May 29 – John “Catfish” Evans, June 5 – The 44’s, June 12 – Rockin’ Jake, June 19 – Adrianna Marie & Her Groovecutters, June 26 – The Bridget Kelly Band.

For more information visit

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