Issue 11-19 May 11, 2017

Cover photo by Jay Blakesberg © 2017

 In This Issue 

Terry Mullins has our feature interviews with both Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ to talk about their careers their new TajMo album collaboration and tour. We have 9 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Ronnie Baker Brooks, Beth Hart, Alexis P. Suter, Southern Avenue, Billy Flynn, Corey Ledet, The Kokomo Kings, John Mayall and Scott Ramminger.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 9 

ronnie baker brooks cd imageRonnie Baker Brooks – Times Have Changed

Provogue/Mascot Label Group

11 tracks

Ronnie Baker Brooks steps to the plate with Times Have Changed to give us a modern and updated blues that fully ventures into soul and funk. After all, its Ronnie Baker Brooks and that is his gig- modern sounding stuff with a big and delicious guitar sound. It’s pretty cool stuff.

Brooks surrounds himself with horns and strings and more guitars and vocalists and Hammond organs and electric pianos and makes it all blend together into a soulful and funky set of tunes that go back and forth into the blues and other genres with ease and aplomb. One minute it’s straight up Chicago and then he’s down on the Chitterling Circuit. He even verges on hip hop and certainly into rap on one cut and it’s cool. Baker goes way back for the covers and does six originals (five which he had a hand in writing).

“Show Me” is a Joe Tex tune that Ronnie does with Steve Cropper and Big Head Todd assisting on the guitar. Brooks slows the pace down just a bit from Joe Tex, adds a Steve Cropper Blues Brothers-styled guitar lead in and the horn section to make this one a lot of fun and exciting. Cropper gets to give his own guitar solo and the horns blare throughout. Brooks does a bang up job on the vocals and sets a great tone for his new CD with a nice hook of a tune. Willie Weeks is on bass, Steve Jordan is on drums, Felix Cavaliere is on organ, and there is a four piece horn section also on the cut. Next is “Doin’ Too Much” where Brooks gives us a Bobby Rush styled performance where he funks it up. Big Head Todd helps on guitar and vocals. Leroy Hodges is on bass, Charlie Hodges is on organ, Jordan is on drums and Archie “Hubby” Turner is on electric piano. The guitar is stinging and the groove is cool. Nicely done.

“Twine Time” features Lonnie Brooks on guitar and the vocal intro, Jordan, Weeks, Hodges, Turner and the horns. It’s a slick instrumental with the father and son guitar showcased in this soul cut originally recorded in 1965 by Alvin Cash & The Crawlers. A little rap enters the picture in Baker’s “Times Have Changed.” It begins as a soul blues cut and stays that way until near the end. Al Kapone raps and takes this out. Michael Toles is on rhythm guitar and there is a three piece string section that fleshes out the soul part of the blues in a nice manner. Jordan, Weeks, Hodges and Turner are the backing band.

“Long Story Short” is a funky blues with most of the same players. Jonathan Richmond is on electric piano and the horns return, but Baker sings and plays on this original song and he’s the featured artist. Big guitar solos and fills are in your face and well done. Angie Stone is featured on vocals along with Brooks in “Give Me Your Love (Love Song).” Brooks does not attempt the Curtis Mayfield falsetto and leaves the high stuff for Stone. I like the duet version and they have flute, horns and strings along with organ and the guitar to fully funk up this slow, soul classic.

More Joe Tex in “Give The Baby Anything The Baby Wants” has more Big Head Todd assisting on guitar along with Eddie Willis. Brooks gets down and funky and gives a very convincing performance. “Old Love” is the Clapton Cray collaboration that Baker collaborates with Teenie Hodges on guitar and uses Bobby Blue Bland on vocals to make special. Bland and Brooks sell it vocally and the organ and guitar do the same instrumentally along with the string section. Felix Cavaliere penned “Come On Up,” helps sing and plays organs. Lee Roy Parnell gives a big guitar assist and Brooks blazes with the horns behind him.

“Wham Bam Thank You Sam” is a Brook original; Hodges is back on guitar and the organ, piano and horns also return in this funky number with a full-fledged set of backing vocalists. Brooks delivers the goods once again. He concludes with another original, “When I Was We.” Hubby Turner is featured on electric piano and does a good job. Strings and a couple of rhythm guitars along with the piano and organ and big backing vocals makes this soul ballad slick and memorable. Baker is a tenor version of Barry White crooning and oozing charm.

I’ve seen some folks comment that they were expecting a straight up blues album. Well, that may have been Lonnie Brooks they were thinking about because Ronnie takes his blues way into funk and soul with modern sounding arrangements and even a little hip hop flavor. He even paid homage to rap on “Times Have Changed.” It all began as blues and the blues begat all this other stuff that Ronnie weave and blends expertly into the mix. He take a bunch of old songs and a bunch of new ones and makes them his own. It’s more soul than blues and that’s perfectly okay because Brooks shows us how they mix and how they work together. It’s a nice little album. Brook’s fans along with the soul tinged blues loves will eat this up and enjoy it as I did.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 9 

beth hart cd imageBeth Hart – Fire On The Floor

Mascot Label Group/Provogue PRD 7506-2

12 songs — 49 minutes

Fiery Los Angeles-based songbird Beth Hart follows up on her critically acclaimed 2015 bittersweet release, Better Than Home, which earned international recognition, with this tour de force, which is packed full of high-energy, high-power blues for the modern age.

This is the ninth release as a leader for the California native, a 2013 Grammy nominee for Seesaw. She garners acclaim whether she’s traveling the world as the leader of her own group or providing vocals for a string of guitar heroes, including Jeff Beck, Slash and Joe Bonamassa, on their own tours.

Hart rose to prominence in 1999 with the release of her second album, Screamin’ For My Supper, A single from that album, “LA Song (Out Of This Town),” reached No. 7 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40 chart and became No. 1 in New Zealand. A 2014 Blues Music Award nominee for top contemporary female artist, she’s also had two top singles in Denmark, and another disc, Leave The Light On, went platinum, an unbelievable accomplishment for someone based primarily in the blues world.

Recorded in three days by Oliver Lieber — who’s produced Chaka Chan, Lulu and Foreigner, among others — at his home studio in Toluca Lake, Calif., Fire On The Floor features the contributions of several top talents, including guitarists Michael Landau, Dean Parks and Waddy Wachtel, bassist Brian Allen, drummer Rick Marotta and keyboard players Jim Cox and Ivan Neville, aided by Lieber on guitars and percussion and Hart on piano with guest appearances by Eric Leeds and Brad Shermock on horns and Paul Peterson on bass.

Beth penned all 12 of the tunes on this one, most of which deal with seeking an escape from the hard times she described in her 2015 CD. A sweet run on the keys introduces “Jazz Man,” a throwback tribute to the music form, with Hart firing out of the gate with a potent alto voice that’s simultaneously dark as smoke but sweet as honey. “Love Gangster” begins as a ballad but quickly evolves into a Latin-based plea for a “lady killer soul shaker.”

She’s successful, if the next number is true. In “Coca Cola,” she’s in the midst of a new affair, and her new man tastes like the title. Not to be confused with several similarly named songs, “Let’s Get Together” is an uptempo shuffle delivered from the position of a woman who’s been “cooped up all alone/Barely breathing by the phone.” But disappointment follows in “Love Is A Lie,” a blues that states: “You can call it a game/Choose your own name/When it’s stuck in the vein/There’s no greater pain.”

Hart takes a break from the romance theme to describe a “punch drunk street punk” in the funky “Fat Man.” He’s a “fat man in a little coat/Sucking red vines and rum and Coke.” Another view of love follows in the title cut, “Fire On The Floor.” It’s a powerful, slow-blues lament that states: “Love is a fever/And it’s burning me alive/It can’t be tamed or satisfied.” Even so, Hart keeps crawling back for more.

A pair of similarly themed numbers follow. “Woman You’ve Been Dreaming Of” is a quiet slow blues that speaks to a man who’s talking in his sleep about another woman despite being married with kids, while “Baby Shot Me Down” is a funky, upbeat tune with a Latin feel. But Beth gets her revenge. Instead of hiding away, she confronts him and makes him pay. In the aftermath, however, she finds it’s a “Good Day To Cry.” That ballad precedes two brighter ballads that bring the album to a close. In the tender “Picture In A Frame,” she yearns for her guy to return home. There’s more yearning in “No Place Like Home,” which sings its virtues from the view of someone who’s spent too long on the road.

Slick and beautifully textured throughout, this release is contemporary blues at its best. Make no mistake: Even though Beth Hart’s audience extends well beyond traditional circles, there’s no mistaking that blues is strongly imbued in every cut of Fire On The Floor. Fresh and highly recommended.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 9 

alexis p suter cd imageAlexis P. Suter Ministers Of Sound – Live From Briggs Farm Blues Festival

Hipbone Records BFR-102

12 songs — 63 minutes

Brooklyn-born Alexis P. Suter possesses one of the deepest, most powerful voices in the entire world of music, and her bass/baritone delivery is familiar to blues fans far and wide, but this album casts her in a light than most concert goers never get to see.

A deeply religious person whose first training as a vocalist came in church and gospel choirs, she’s an anachronism in the music world. Unlike many of her peers from the South who were forced to choose between their religion and their love for what some folks perceive as the Devil’s music, Alexis keeps her feet planted firmly in both worlds despite being a multiple Blues Music and Blues Blast Music Awards nominee.

Recorded on a Sunday at the 2016 Briggs Farm Blues Festival in Nescopeck, Pa., this album marks the recording debut of her band, Ministers Of Sound, as she delivers a deeply emotional, non-denominational message of faith to an eager, enthusiastic crowd. Suter founded the group, which works under the acronym AMOS, in 2013 to perform what she terms “roots music of inspiration and love.”

Despite the name, however, the AMOS lineup is identical to Alexis’ regular ensemble. Anchored by Dave Keyes, one of the most in-demand keyboard players in the New York metropolitan area and a star in his own right, it features Chris Bergson on guitar, Ray Grappone on drums, Tony Tito on bass and Vicki Bell on backing vocals. As an added treat on this one, Blues Music Award winner Victor Wainwright contributes his voice on one cut.

The action begins with a version of the Sister Rosetta Tharpe classic “Didn’t It Rain.” Alexis’ powerful voice sets the stage with the audience becoming more animated as the spirit moves them with each succeeding cut. Written by Suter and Bell, “Them Days” — about overcoming oppression — follows and leads perfectly into “Faith, Grace, Love, Forgiveness,” which features the vocals of Keyes, who wrote it.

Another Suter/Bell composition, “Love” picks up the tempo as it delivers the message that we all have to get along and help each other in a loving manner. A take on Leon Russell’s “Song For You” follows and features Wainwright, who shares vocals with Alexis, before a cover of the ballad, “Piece Of Clay.” Made popular by Marvin Gaye, it deals with the struggle for self-identity, while another original, “Free” — inspired by Levon Helm — gives Suter space to stretch out vocally.

The Bergson-penned “Goin’ Home” — about being ready for a heavenly reward — precedes a cover of the Sam Cooke standard, “A Change Is Gonna Come” before a version of the traditional spiritual, “When I Rose This Morning.” Another gospel classic, “Wade In The Water” — first published by the New Jubilee Singers in 1901 — follows before a version of John Lennon’s “Let It Be” concludes the set.

The music here is perfect for folks of all faiths. Filled with universal messages throughout, it never targets folks of one religion despite Alexis’ deep Christian faith. Available through Amazon, iTunes and other retailers, it’s powerful, inspiring and will strike a chord with believers everywhere.

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 – 4 of 9 

southern avenue cd imageSouthern Avenue – Southern Avenue

Stax Records

10 tracks / 38:47

Southern Avenue is a street that cuts across Memphis, and it also happens to be then name of a band that does a marvelous job of representing all of the musical sounds of this diverse city. Their eponymous debut album takes a solid guitar-blues base and then captures pieces of many genres, including gospel, rhythm and blues, soul, rock, jazz, and even a touch of country. This is American music at its finest, and to top it off the band is signed to the newly revived Stax record label!

The band’s guitarist, Ori Naftaly, came to the United States from Israel to compete in the 2013 International Blues Competition. He decided to stay, and after touring on his own for a while he joined up with a powerful vocalist from Memphis, Tierinii Jackson, and things just clicked. Southern Avenue was born, and Tikyra Jackon (Tiernii’s sister) pitched in on drums and backing vocals, with Daniel McKee on bass and Jeremy Powell on keyboards. Within a year, the band was touring and playing festivals, was chosen to represent Memphis at the IBC, and got signed to the aforementioned Stax record deal.

Southern Avenue is a fresh and original release, with nine new songs that were written by Ori and Tiernii, and one cool cover. The disc was cut at Inside Sounds in Memphis and Zebra Ranch in Coldwater Mississippi, and Kevin Houston took care of production, recording and mixing. You may be familiar with Houston from his work with the North Mississippi Allstars, Lucero, and Patty Griffin.

The set kicks off with a hard-hitter, “Don’t Give Up,” with a cool acoustic intro that quickly evolves into a blazing country rocker with a little help from the slide guitar of Luther Dickinson (also a member of the Allstars). But the real shining star here is Tierinii, who has parlayed her previous experience of singing in church and cover bands into a true leading lady role. Her voice is nothing but soulful; it is powerful and clear, and her range is certainly enviable.

Next up on the songlist is “What Did I Do,” an upbeat soul tune that features organ from Powell, sweet vocal harmonies from the Jackson sisters, and tight horns from Houston and Suavo Jones (the Bo-Keys). This is followed by the jazzy R&B of ““It’s Gonne Be Alright” and the lone cover tune on Southern Avenue: “Slipped Tripped and Fell In Love.” The latter is a neat tune that was written by George Jackson and recorded by Clarence Carter in 1971. It has since been re-done a few times, including an interesting 1982 take by Foghat. In this case it is a fun and funky piece that is built around Ori’s guitar and Tikyra’s snare drum. The horns of Art Edmaiston and Marc Franklin join in to make this an epic track that is one of the standouts on the disc.

Tierinii lays down a single ballad for this project, and it gives the listener a chance to really hear what this woman can do, showing that there is a lot going on here. On “Love Me Right” there is a lot of texture to her voice, and she demonstrates the ability to go from smooth to jagged in a heartbeat. The overall effect is very emotional and heartfelt. This is a cool contrast to the in-your-face outrage of “Rumble,” which includes the soon to be classic lines: “You can see the crazy on my face / You can smell it running through my veins.” This is obviously not a woman to mess with!

This is a relatively short album, and before 40 minutes are up it is over, ending with “Peace Will Come.” This song has gospel lyrics over a country rock beat, and it features a few more Jacksons on guest vocals: Ava, Laurie, and Bradley. This the last opportunity for Naftaly to lay down a guitar solo, and as always it is tasteful and smooth without creeping into the realm of self-indulgence. This song builds consistently to the end, and as it finishes up it is apparent that this was the perfect choice for closing out the set.

Southern Avenue is a hit, and after just one listen it is obvious why this band was the hometown choice for the International Blues Challenge. The band is worthy of the Stax Records label, and this is one of the best debut albums of the year. It deserves a listen, and be sure to take a peek at their website as they have a heavy touring schedule through the end of summer, including shows all over the states and a few festivals in the Netherlands. If this album is any indication of what their live show is like, it would be a great idea to make the time to seek them out!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 9 

billy flynn cd imageBilly Flynn – Lonesome Highway

Delmark Records

17 tracks

Born in Green Bay, Billy Flynn was playing outside a local club in 1970 where Jimmy Dawkins, Billy’s idol, was going to play. Billy had grown up loving Dawkins along with Luther Allison, Johnny Littlejohn and Mighty Joe Young. Dawkins heard him, invited him in to go on stage and then took him under his wing and into his band where he stayed for the remainder of the 1970’s. He then played with Sunnyland Slim, Little Smokey Smothers, Jim Liban and the Futuramics, Billy Boy Arnold, The Legendary Blues Band, Mississippi Heat, Kim Wilson, Barrelhouse Chuck, The Cash Box Kings, Mark Hummel, and so many other greats.

Joining Billy on this extraordinary Delmark release are keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy, bassist E.G. McDaniel, drummer Andrew “Blaze” Thomas, trumpet player Doug Corcoran and sax man Christopher Neal. Dietra Farr adds her vocals to the first trakc and “Hold On” and Dave Katzman plays rhythm guitar on “The Lucky Kind.” There are 16 originals, all written by Billy, and one cover that comprise this album’s contents.

The CD opens with the rocking rockabilly styled “Good Navigator.” Billy begins the vocals and then shares them in a duet with Deitra Farr. The two trade off and then go into a call and response before a nice, long guitar solo by Flynn. They both return to vocal trade licks in this danceable and jumping cut– a nice start! Things slow down in “If It Wasn’t for the Blues” with Billy doing a mid-tempo blues for us with a forthright guitar line than he spars with vocal. Purifoy comes in with a nice piano solo and Billy also gives another lengthy and cool guitar solo. Well done. In “Small Town,” slide guitar and Billy’s vocals start things off. Billy then gives us a pair of solos on harp and then guitar. He comes back on vocals and guitar to complete a slick and sultry piece. “Lonesome Highway” is slow blues done right. Guitar, organ and horns team up in support of Flynn’s vocals to produce authentic slow Chicago blues done right. The guitar stings in the solo and throughout. The organ builds in its support and helps take things home. Flynn then delivers the lone cover in superb fashion. He takes the 1964 Billy Page tune “The “In” Crowd” (originally sung by Dobie Gray” in a Motown like R&B cut and then turned into a jazzy instrumental by the Ramsay Lewis Trio in the same year) and makes it a slightly more up-tempo jazzy blues instrumental with the guitar in front and the organ right there behind it. Flynn shows versatility and talent in this swinging version of the song.

“Never Had a Chance” has a funkiness to it that Flynn sells well. The horns and organ help out and then Billy lays into a sweet guitar solo. Billy sings and plays with a cool restraint. Things start jumping with “Waiting Game,” the next cut. Flynn plays harp and guitar and Purifoy fills nicely on piano. “Hold On” offers some more clean harp with Farr and Flynn again in a mid-tempoed duet. Flynn soloson guitar and then gives us some more harp to savor. Dietra and Billy take us home together. “The Lucky Kind” reminds me of an Otis Rush sort of cut with a breathy Flynn on vocals and that stinging style of guitar. Corcoran offers up a big trumpet solo that was killer and Billy goes out on his guitar in beautiful fashion. “Jackson Street” is a slower blues about a girl who live over on Jackson Street, another cool throwback of a song steeped in the Chicago blues tradition. Piano, harp and guitar play off each other and then harp and guitar take the front seat and are featured before Flynn finishes with one more nice chorus. “Long Long Time” is a jumping blues that swings. The Mad Hatter Purifoy gives his all on a nice piano solo and in his overall support. Flynn’s solo work remains stellar and showcases more sides of Billy’s talents. “The Right Track” is a little more of the same, with piano and guitar solos with a strident and forthright bluesy approach.

The high paced “You Are My Lover” follows. Things jump with Flynn’s harp opening things up. Flynn’s guitar stings and rings in another swinging track. “I Feel ‘Um” opens with an ethereal organ intro and then some jazzy sax in an R&B number with Flynn on vocal and guitar again showing diversity. The sax solo and fills with sax and organ help make this one more funky and special. “Blue Express” is a nifty instrumental with the horns blazing and the boys shouting ,“Hey,” in rhythm with the beat. “Sufferin’ With the Blues” takes the tempo down with a soulful guitar and slow blues sung by Flynn. The rousing “Christmas Blues” concludes things, offering us the B.B. King side of Billy Flynn. His guitar rings in the style of Lucille herself as Billy Flynn offers up some traditional blues for the Yuletide season. Organ and sax appear in support and Neal’s tenor sax solo is excellent and later Billy launches into his final solos on the CD for us to relish on the guitar.

Billy has ten albums of his own under his belt, including the great double CD Blues Drive. One of his 10 prior CDs is not blues, it’s an all-instrumental surf music album entitled Big Guitar. He appeared with Beyonce Knowles on the Grammy winning recording of “At Last” from the film Cadillac Records. Billy did all the guitar work for the film– Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Etta James, and The Beach Boys; his style is all styles and all are perfect. His blues guitar and mandolin work has appeared on dozens of albums in addition to his own.

So when you are one of the most truly accomplished and fantastic blues guitar players in the entire world who has over 40 years experience under your belt, what do you do for an encore? Well, in this case you finally release an album of your own on a big blues label! Not that his prior releases were bad; in fact, they are outstanding! It just seems odd to me that while Billy has tons of great music to his credit and has appeared on a plethora of other artist’s major label recordings that he did not have one of his own. Now he does.

Flynn is truly a renaissance blues man and it is about time he has a major release on a major label. In his resume This is a CD that belongs in all blues fans’ collections. Billy is one of the best at his craft and this album showcases that for us. Get this one now!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 9 

corey ledet cd imageCorey Ledet – Standing On Faith

Self Released

8 tracks

Corey Ledet continues to build upon the work of zydeco aristocracy like Clifton Chenier and Buckwheat Dural by blending funk, reggae, R&B and maybe even a little poppy hip hop into his music. With Ledet, who plays accordion, drums, washboard and sings, are Jesse Delgizzi on guitar, bass, moog and vocals and Cecil Green on keys. Corey and Jesse’s vocals are done well as they play off each other throughout the album. Ledet wrote all but one of these songs.

The CD opens with a funked-ed up long intro that was compared to a Prince intro. He moves into “Push Me Away,” a tune that is partly traditional, with the pumping accordion sound, and partly new, with a reggae infused lyric line. I enjoyed that one a lot. “Love Never Felt So Good” takes the posthumously released Michael Jackson tune (that he and Paul Anka first messed with in 1983) and turns it into a funky R&B zydeco tune. The accordion takes the place of the vocals and weaves it’s way interestingly through the tune; by the end of the song you’ll be nodding how cool that was. The moog and keys makes it sound like an orchestral based cut. Lots of fun! “Standing On Faith” is a pop tune with a pumping and driving accordion beat and punching snare. This title cut is easy and breezy and also a lot of fun. Ledet testifies and gives thanks to God and offers up a gospelly pop zydeco cut that is enjoyable and cool. The moog and keys take us out with a big finish.

The R&B flavored “Take Me There” is a thoughtful ballad that Ledet does well on with impassioned vocals. “New York City (Right On Rhythm” returns to the zydeco tradition with blazing accordion, drum, hoots, trills and hollers. 4:38 of driving and good zydeco fun! “A good Day” blends reggae and R&B into this song of zydeco optimism and sunshine. Zydeco R&B closes the set out with “Street Light.” The accordion feels like a natural extension of R&B as Ledet weaves it into the thread of the song. Big bass and guitar solos near the finish help funk-ify and sell this one.

The 35 year old Ledet has 25 years experience in the world of zydeco that he is working on taking to new places while building on the storied zydeco tradition. I found the album to be fresh and interesting. I don’t think zydeco needs to be purist and never changing. I thing fans of the genre will appreciate Ledet’s work here and his updated approach to the music!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 9 

kokomo kings cd imageThe Kokomo Kings – Artificial Natural

Rhythm Bomb Records

CD: 10 Songs, 32:05 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues and Blues Rock

On its most basic level, “basic” means “fundamental; rudimentary; simple.” In the two-thousand-teens, however, it’s become a derogatory term. A “basic person” is someone who only wears the basics in the latest fashion trends – the opposite of trying too hard. Such a criticism may be true but unkind. Consider Sweden’s Kokomo Kings and their latest album, Artificial Natural. It’s full of electric blues and blues rock, basic in the traditional sense. They cover several classic themes: women, drinking, and fishing (for women) among them. Nor do the Kings try any instrumental riffs full of showy tricks. This is manual-handsaw blues, not pricey-compound-miter-saw blues. It’s sharply-edged, with keen, clean-cutting sound reminiscent of Too Slim and the Taildraggers. They don’t break new ground in terms of lyrical content or vocal showmanship, but then again, that’s not their goal. The Kokomo Kings play foundational fare, and that’ll be enough for fans. Others might wish they’d added a little more barbecue sauce to their steak-and-potatoes style.

Their bio via Rhythm Bomb Records’ website reveals the basics of who they are and what sort of music they perform. “The band is a collaboration of some of Sweden’s and Denmark’s absolute top players. After years of backing a long list of international blues artists like James Harman, Mud Morganfield, [and] John Primer…they decided to start a new band and do their own thing. Guitar player Ronni [Busack Boysen] received the award ‘Danish Blues Artist of the Year’ in September 2013…Since the start, they´ve performed at clubs and festivals in Sweden, Denmark, United Kingdom, Germany, Finland, Norway, France and Spain.”

The Kokomo Kings consist of Samuel “Harmonica Sam” Andersson on vocals and harmonica; Ronni Busack Boysen on lead guitar; Magnus Lanshammar on bass and rhythm guitar, and Daniel Winerö on drums.

On ten original tracks, they go all out in terms of instrumental intensity, with dry vocals that betray no trace of their home country’s accent. The title track is definitely a winner.

Track 06: “Artificial Natural” – Standards of beauty change over time, and in our narrator’s opinion, our current ones mark a devolution: “To get rid of their pale skin, get an artificial tan. To rebuild some of their curves, they go see the doctor man. He stuffs ‘em full of plastic, and he cuts’ em with a knife. That’s not the kind of woman I want for my wife. My women and my hot dogs – I want them with real meat. Fat cream in my ice cream, you know, that’s hard to beat.” With a catchy rhythm beat from Magnus Lanshammar, this is a naturally-danceable number.

Artificial Natural has basic blues, but for a quick stay at the bar or an outdoor festival, it’s the (Rhythm) Bomb!

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 – 8 of 9 

john mayall cd imageJohn Mayall – Talk About That

Forty Below Records FBR 015

11 songs – 48 minutes

John Mayall enlisted the aid of a Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer for Talk About That, his latest release in a career that stretches back to the early ’60s, but have no fear! With James Gang/Eagles superstar Joe Walsh along for the ride, the undisputed Godfather Of British Blues delivers a heaping portion of the music four generations of fans have come to know and love.

Now approaching his 84th birthday, Mayall didn’t embark on a music career until his late 20s. An art school graduate, he was influenced as a guitarist by Big Bill Broonzy, Josh White and Brownie McGhee, by Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis as a keyboard player and Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter and Sonny Terry as a harmonica player, but was working as a graphic artist in 1962 when he learned that Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies opened the first blues bar in Britain.

That was all John needed to hear. He relocated from Manchester to London and began assembling what would become the Bluesbreakers. After a rocky start, the ensemble became one of the most influential bands in the world of blues with a lineup that included Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce before they founded Cream and Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie before going off on their own as Fleetwood Mac.

A California resident since the late 60s, fronting the Bluesbreakers until retiring the name in 2008. Since then, he’s been working in a tight four-piece ensemble that includes Texan Rocky Athas on lead and rhythm guitar with Chicagoans Greg Rzab and Jay Davenport on bass and percussion. Like the four CDs that preceded it, Talk About That is on Mayall’s own Forty Below Records imprint. It’s the 65th album in his storied career, and he designed the packaging himself.

Walsh, who’s always considered John to be one of his music heroes, sits in on two of the eight originals Mayall wrote for the disc. Rounding out the sound are a horn section comprised of Ron Dziubla (saxes), Mark Pender (trumpet) and Nick Lane (trombone).

The album kicks off with the original, “Talk About That,” a steady, steady, stripped-down driving blues rap in which Mayall sings his own praises: “I’m a good-looking fella/Some women tell me so/Many respectable ladies/Comin’ through my front door/…Things could be a bit different/With age, I’ve been told/But I don’t care a damn thing about that/You can say what you think about/Talk about that.”

So there!

The horns join the action for “It’s Hard Going Up (usually subtitled But It’s Twice As Hard Coming Down),” a tune written by Memphis songsmith Bettye Crutcher and made popular by harp player Little Sonny, before Walsh sits in on “The Devil Must Be Laughing,” a burning slow blues that recounts a nightmare in which fanatics kill innocents. The dream becomes realty when Mayall reads the newspaper the next morning.

“Gimme Some Of That Gumbo” serves up a taste of New Orleans and brightens the mood dramatically as the horns drive the tune forward before John takes out his harp and covers “Goin’ Away Baby,” Jimmy Rogers’ familiar Chicago blues standard. Walsh returns to action for “Cards On The Table,” a medium-tempo walking blues, before Mayall slows things down again with the ballad “I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You.”

“Don’t Deny Me,” written by rocker Jerry Lynn Williams, gets the full horn treatment before three more originals — “Blue Midnight,” about the sudden departure of a lover, “Across The County Line,” an uptempo horn/harmonica number, and “You Never Know,” an easy-going piano blues — bring the set to a close.

Available through all major marketers Talk About That proves once again that Mayall is a musical treasure. It’s comfortable, yet fresh throughout — and strongly recommended.

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 – 9 of 9 

scott ramminger cd imageScott Ramminger – Do What Your Heart Says

Arbor Lane Music

14 tracks

Saxophone player Scott Ramminger gives us all original songs on this jumping and jiving album featuring a cool horn section and keys as part of his band; an assortment of vocal talents back him on the songs, too.

Doug Belote (with a little help from Johnny Vidacovich) is on drums, George Porter Jr. (with help from Roland Guerin) is on bass, Shane Theriot is on guitar, David Torkanowsky is on keys, Rick Troslen and Greg Hicks are on trombone, and Eric Lucero is on trumpet. These guys do a smashingly good job and are a tight band.

“Living Too Fast” is a nice opener and features Tommy Malone in vocal support and has a nice piano. It’s a medium tempo-ed jazzy sounding blues that swings. Bekka Bramlett joins in for vocals on “Someone to Disappoint.” There is a nice sax solo on this one. Next up we have Francine Reed who sings with Scott on the title track. The sax gets the first solo followed by the piano; the song has a metered tempo and it’s fun little cut over all. The sultry “Hoping That the Sun Won’t Shine” features Bramlett returning to sing. It’s a cool ballad with a restrained sax solo that melds well with the song’s somberness. “Give a Pencil to a Fish” is a cute and funky cut with clever lyrics. The McCrary Sisters back Ramminger here with a gritty performance. Nice organ solo work and a guitar solo add to this one. The slow blues of “Winter is Always Worse” is dark and deep. Vocals, guitar and sax share the spotlight in this well done and soulful number.

Funky trumpets intro “Get Back Up” where the McCrary Sisters help Scott get down and get funky. Sax, guitar and organ get solos– another good cut! Janiva Magness joins Ramminger for “It’s Hard to Be Me,” a jumping little number. Scott gives a prolonged solo and Magness’ backing vocals are solid. The next song features Tommy Malone and “a cast of thousands” which is really seven male backing vocalists. “Mystery to Me” is a another jumping cut and the band and singers have a ball turning in a great performance. Slow blues follows with “Off My Mind” as Ramminger talks his baby out of killing him. Another trio of solos as before with heavy horns is featured here.

The MCCrary Sisters return for “I Need a New One” and “Walk a Little Straighter.” The former is a moderately paced lament to old age with another sax-guitar-organ solo grouping while the latter is a driving cut about a review of life at the pearly gates. Sax and the Mcrary’s are big here and the horns and piano backing are fine. “My Girl For Life” is an R&B ballad with organ, horns and guitar pacing themselves sweetly with the feeling and tempo. Roddie Romero helps on vocals in the fast and jumping boogie woogie “Stubborn Man.” Ramminger and Theriot offer solos and Romero adds his accordion to the mix to good effect. Later, Torkanowsky adds a piano solo which takes us out and closes an overall fun and exciting album.

I enjoyed the CD and it’s swinging sound. Great horn work, solid vocals and guitar, well done keys, star powered backing vocals and a pro backline make for a superb sound and a really well done album. I enjoyed the songs top to bottom and Ramminger delivered on each! Well done and well worth trying out!

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 Interview – Taj Mahal 

taj mahal photo 1There are plenty of personal ways to realize when you’re reached iconic status as a performing musician.

Chief among them would be what kind of car you drive, what kind of house you live in and how big a bank account you deposit your money into.

While all those signposts are certainly not to be ignored, there is one thing that can top all the above when it comes to see just what kind of a rarified-spot a performing musician holds in the public conscious.

That would be when you find yourself animated and appearing as a guest (playing yourself) on a highly-popular kid’s cartoon series.

That prestigious honor, friends, belongs to the Maestro, the one-and-only Henry Saint Clair Fredericks – better known as Taj Mahal.

The Maestro found himself animated (complete with trademark straw hat and a pair of bunny ears) on an episode of the PBS Kids series Arthur back in 2003 (“Big Horns George” was the name of the show he appeared on, along with an animated version of Koko Taylor).

A year after that, he found himself knee-deep with another PBS Kids animated series, this time composing the theme song for Peep and the Big Wide World.

“What happened was, in the 1980s I didn’t really have a record label and was kind of freelancing from the backend of the ’70s, doing one-offs and things. And while I had that big slack time there, I had written a bunch of children’s songs and put out an album (Shake Sugaree: Taj Mahal Sings and Plays for Children). These people (production team and creators of Peep and the Big Wide World) heard that I did that and asked me to come over and create a theme for their show. We literally went in one afternoon and saw some of the cartoon and we created a theme right there … right on the spot. It was a tune that had kind of been hanging around with me for a while and that was a good place for it. A lot of kids will come up to me (at his concerts) and say, ‘Are you going to play that song in a ‘wide, wide world’?’ The kids also really like that song “Squat that Rabbit” (from his 1991 album, Like Never Before).

You don’t have to be a certified, card-carrying member of the Blues Lovers’ Association to know that Taj Mahal is a little more than just a contributor to children’s afternoon television programming.

The New York-born, Massachusetts-bred musician is more like a living legend and has long been one of America’s premier singer/songwriters and musicologists. He has the peerless ability to basically pick up any instrument – be it a guitar, harmonica, piano, banjo … etc., – and play it like no one has heard it played before. He boasts a resume of recorded works that stretches longer than most folk’s arms. He’s a Blues Hall of Famer, is the Official Blues Artist of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and is the recipient of the American Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

He’s a national treasure and is also on the precipice of his 50th anniversary as a performing artist.

But as one might suspect of a work ethic that’s burned so brightly for so long, Taj has never really allowed himself the opportunity to look back on all that he’s done.

That’s because he’s still focused primarily on the future.

“No, I really don’t spend a whole lot of time looking at what I’ve done. It’s sort of like I’m a sawyer and it’s time to chop wood and stack wood and now I’ve got a lot of stuff stacked up and I look around and go, ‘Oh, what are we going to do with all this stuff?’ But I think I’m beginning to take a little look back … I mean, I’ve done a lot of stuff,” he said. “And a lot of the stuff I’ve done may be stuff that a lot of people don’t know about. But I refuse to get down about that (about people not knowing some of the things he’s done). I just get the work done and that’s really it. I just don’t want to be at a point where I have an idea to do something and I waffle on it. I don’t want that to happen and look back and see that I missed a chance to do something good or to do something personal that I wished I had done, you know?”

His latest project is something that’s been kicking around as an idea for years; a collaboration and studio album with Keb’ Mo’.

The resulting effort of that long-awaited union is fittingly titled, TajMo (Concord).

taj mahal photo 2“We’ve had almost a musical father/son connection for a long time. I was instrumental in getting one of his big album situations in place (Keb’s first record deal with Epic Records). He’s just a hell of a guitar player and I’m amazed at some of the things he put out there. And I’m really happy with the path that we created (on TajMo), because you know, for about 25 years I was pretty much the only guy out there who was plying those kind of waters. And now, quite a few young people have seen that opening that I came through and said, ‘That’s an opening that I can come through … playing my own music the way that I want to play it and the songs I like to play and people will either get me or they won’t.’ And he’s (Keb’) done a really good job of creating that.”

The connection between the two go back a few decades, back to when Keb’ first saw the Maestro perform up close and personal at a student assembly in his high school in Compton, California.

“Early on, I played at a high school of his, so there’s a lot going on there. Then we’d done a few things together and played a few shows together over the years and we also talked about doing something like this together. And eventually we got it to a head and it happened.”

Back in the day, Taj had heard about Keb’ Mo’ before he actually got a chance to hear the music that he was creating early on in his career as a budding blues player.

“People would come up to me and say, ‘Have you heard Keb’ Mo’? Have you heard Keb’ Mo’?’ Well, what they were saying and what I was reading said he reminded them of me. After I first heard him I said, ‘Well, we really don’t sound alike, but our approach to the music is similar.’ But that was several years ago, way back somewhere in the ’90s. That would have been the first time I heard about him and then finally heard him play. I know I heard him on the radio back then.”

The album’s creation spanned close to two-and-a-half years, with the duo getting together to record as time permitted between tours and other projects the two separately had going on.

TajMo features guest stints from Bonnie Raitt, Joe Walsh, Sheila E. and Lizz Wright.

“It’s really been a great situation all the way and everybody’s learned a lot about each other through the process. It’s really been great … I love it,” Taj said. “The approach (to creating music solo versus writing with someone else) really doesn’t change for me, other than you’re just writing with someone else. What it is, I go to the end of what I can say (in a song) and they pick it up from there. A lot of times when I’m writing, I’ll run into a block – not a writer’s block – but the song just ends right there for me. So with somebody else, I can say, ‘Here’s the song so far.’ And then they go from there. I don’t do that a lot. That’s kind of a personal space for me.”

Back in late 1968 Taj was involved in sort of a musical meeting of the minds, even though the finished results were not available for mass public consumption until many years later.

Along with British groups like Jethro Tull, The Who and the Dirty Mac (a one-off comprised of John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono, Mitch Mitchell and Keith Richards), Taj took part in a filmed concert event on a soundstage in London that was made out to look like a circus tent and put on by The Rolling Stones. Fittingly enough, this event was called The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. While most of the British rock-n-rollers of that era were always quick to cite American bluesmen as their inspiration, concert events featuring blues acts with rock-and-roll bands, while they did happen, they just didn’t happen all that often. Especially with a blues artist that was still considered an ‘up-and-comer’ like Taj was at that point in time. This film could have possibly opened up some additional doors for Taj in the late ’60s, but it’s release was shelved until some 28 years later, in 1996.

“Well, it’s sort of like spilt milk (the official release being delayed by almost three decades). I can’t worry about that now, you know? But you know they (The Stones), well Mick (Jagger), primarily, had been up for a lot of days. The Who and my band and Jethro Tull, we were like hardcore touring bands on the road back then. Those guys (The Stones) weren’t touring at that time and Mick kind of felt that their performance was kind of stilted (which was the long-circulated rumor as to why the project’s release was pushed back for so long). But if you look it at through a spyglass it’s a moment in time and history on planet earth. So you know, it’s like you can’t spend what you ain’t got and you can’t lose what you never had. That’s just the way it is. But The Stones were the most generous band … they accommodated us the best that we’d ever had. They’re really very, very, very generous. I had a wonderful time recording that.”

Over the ensuing years, Taj would sit in and guest with The Rolling Stones on several of their world tours, playing songs like “Corinna” and “Six Days on the Road.”

Taj’s performance of ‘”Ain’t that a lot of Love” was featured in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. Bonus footage on the DVD features another three songs (“Checkin’ Up on My Baby,” “Leaving Trunk” and “Corinna”).

taj mahal photo 3“I have enjoyed that it finally did come out and that a lot of people were like, ‘Wow.’ That’s the only representation at that time in the United States of The Taj Mahal and The Great Plains Boogie Band, which was an interesting quartet if there ever was, you know? Were we really a self-contained band.”

One of the key components of that quartet was the late, great Jesse Ed Davis, an immensely-talented guitar player that never really seems to get all the acclaim that he is rightfully due.

“When you hear all these guys that are, quote – playing the blues, most of those guys are regurgitating or memorizing somebody’s licks and stringing them all together. I said most, I did not say all. Very few of them have their very own signature blues sound. But Jesse Davis did. Jesse Davis had an incredible blues sound, which also filtered in a little country and a little rock and some R&B. He was a really fantastic arranger and was a great sideman. Even back then, a lot of guys were stuck in the playbook of what had already been played. We were creating stuff that had never been played before.”

Some of that ‘stuff that had never been played before’ included a melding of the blues with rock, topped off with a lot of southern soul. The resulting dish? How about the genre that came to be known as southern rock and helped dominate the 1970s.

“Just look at what happened with “Statesboro Blues” (Taj’s version of the Blind Willie McTell song first appeared on his eponymous debut album in 1968). “Statesboro Blues” completely launched the whole southern rock-and-roll thing. It launched Duane Allman and the Allman Brothers, The Marshall Tucker Band … you name it. There were quite a few others that tried to jump in with that sound at that time. But Duane got that sound directly from Jesse Davis’ playing on that first album. I didn’t realize for many years that he (Jesse Ed) was quite upset, because he thought that because Ry Cooder was on the record, people thought it was Ry playing slide on “Statesboro Blues” instead of him. No, no, no. On the album, Ry is listed as a rhythm guitar player; not as a lead or slide guitar player. Lead and slide was Jesse Davis. I always listed the musicians and what they did on my records.”

With as many world-class musicians as he’s played with and as many genres as he’s cross-woven into his own music and with as many fans as he’s made over the past five decades, it would seem like Taj has accomplished all that he possibly could.

However, there’s still more to be done, he says.

“Sure, there’s things still left to be accomplished … make lots of money,” he laughed. “But really, a lot of this stuff has been a labor of love for me. The fact is, a lot of other artists wouldn’t do this stuff. I felt like if someone didn’t take the initiative to do it, nothing would happen.”

Not only were other artists only too eager to shy away from the blend of the blues with world music that Taj was crafting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but it seems that most of the major record labels on the scene back then also wanted little to do with it.

“Even after the music was made, it had to get distributed and if the labels didn’t see the financial payoff in it, they wouldn’t do it,” he said. “But I just stopped worrying about that. Let the music play. Let it be recorded … let it be documented, you know?”

It’s fairly common to hear world music influences in all forms of popular music these days. Fact is, it’s a real challenge to even go for half of a day and not hear some of that influence on songs on mainstream radio or in commercials viewed on television. But back when Taj was helping to pioneer just such a blend by inserting bits of reggae, the South Pacific and strains of Latin percussion and the sounds of jazz into his tunes, it was fairly uncommon to hear.

“Well, that’s my background. My background is southern American and Caribbean, so I have both migrants and immigrants in my family. So the Caribbean side was really connected to the British Empire, so that was one of my points of view. And then the South Carolina side was connected to education, so there were a lot of different elements. Both my parents listened to a lot of different kinds of music, as well as the popular music of the ’30s and ’40s. They were like in their late twenties when I came along. They were very active people. My mom danced right up until her late eighties. So the music has always been a big thing in my life.”

taj mahal photo 4After being inspired and engulfed by music for the duration of his childhood, it wasn’t long before Taj decided that he was destined to help spread the word.

“I just heard the value of people needing to hear music. The tendency was that they would wear out a particular vein of music and then everybody would be looking around for what’s next. So I just got busy and brought stuff out. That’s what musicians are supposed to do; expose people to things they’ve never heard before. That’s our job.”

Even though he has sold more albums than you can shake a stick at and is in possession of a pair of Grammy Awards, one really does get the sense that Taj would still be five decades into playing music if he had not sold any records or been bestowed any awards. To put it bluntly, he’s long been more concerned about people being able to have the opportunity to hear the music than what financial rewards may be attached to that.

“When I go into these vaults (at record companies), I can only stay so long, because I get crazy thinking that there’s all these tapes – that because someone did not think they were commercially viable – have never been put out for people to hear. Those tapes represent the culture and humanity at the time (they were recorded). But, there are some people that have been working on that. There’s a great project coming out called American Epic that comes out May 16 on PBS. It’s going to open up some of those vaults and show people exactly what’s going on. People will get a chance to know about a lot of great stuff from the past that’s shaped what we’re listening to now. American music is like a mosaic; you could live a hundred lifetimes and never get to the bottom of it. It’s fantastic, but due to commercialization, you only get to hear so much.”

As the Maestro is quick to point out, there is a difference between the way an artist creates art and the way that the public at large may go about consuming said art, and a lot of that has to do with their location on the globe.

“When you meet the original griots in Africa (a griot is a west African storyteller/musician/poet/historian), they are not worried about what anybody thinks. They are worried about what they know. You know, they could have records from the 13th century and nobody in the audience (in Africa) is going to get upset. Here (the United States), you make reference to yesterday and people are like, ‘Well, that was yesterday.’ But time is not linear … time is cyclical, you know?”

He doesn’t tour the world for months on end like he used to and Taj seems at peace with that. But just because his schedule has a few more holes in it these days doesn’t mean he’s ready to lay on a hammock on some beach, full-time, either.

“I’ve got some time to do a few other things these days. I’ve spent a lot of time giving to the world, you know? I have an amazing family and incredible grandchildren and I want to spend more time with them,” he said. “I play whenever I want to and I plan on pushing forward for a while. But I play at home and I create things around me, wherever I am.”

Doesn’t matter if he’s in Massachusetts, Los Angeles or even Paris … wherever he’s at, the wheels of creativity are constantly spinning for the Maestro.

That’s kind of what happened when he moved to Kauai, Hawaii in 1981. What started out as some guys getting together for some fun and a bit of fishing, morphed into Taj Mahal and the Hula Blues Band.

“I was in Hawaii for 20 years and ended up creating the Hula Blues Band with a bunch of guys I was hanging out with. That was fantastic. I’ve always got some kind of project going on … always.”

Visit Taj’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. His first book, Blues In Modern Days was published in 2014.


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 Featured Blues Interview – Keb’ Mo’ 

keb mo photo 1He may not have ultimately turned out to be an architectural designer, but Kevin Moore still has his drafting teacher in high school to partially thank for what his adult vocation turned out to be.

Moore – better known as Keb’ Mo’ these days – was a senior in high school in Compton, California back in the late 1960s. That’s when his drafting teacher suggested that he go to a school assembly to see this young bluesman by the name of Taj Mahal play and sing.

As it turns out, that had a vital impact on what Kevin Moore would do just a few years later.

“I really didn’t know just how important Taj would be to me when I first heard him. I was 17 when I first heard Taj Mahal at my high school. Then like a year-and-a-half later, a friend of mine gave me a copy of The Natch’l Blues (Taj’s second album from 1968). And I wore that one out,” Keb’ recently said. “I listened to that steady for about two years, riding around in my car. And then, I went along my way making music and Giant Steps came out (in 1969) and we all started listening to that thing, me and all my friends did.”

It would be several years on down the road, after seeing him in concert two or three more times, before Keb’ actually had the chance to meet Taj.

“Yeah, it was about 15 years later. I finally met him and then we would bump into each other on the road and I even got to open for him some in the mid-to-late ’90s. I had the chance to really talk to him then. And later after that, we kept running into each other more and more.”

One of those meetings on the road ultimately led to their pairing on TajMo.

“It was in about 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia when Taj suggested that we do something together. He probably meant get together to write a song, but I took it all the way,” laughed Keb.’ “I went crazy and we made a whole album. You can’t blame him for that … I’m probably to blame for that. He was probably just wanting to get together and jam or something like that. I said, ‘OK.’ And then we made a record.”

Even though they had never sat down and really wrote and worked up songs as a duo before, the chemistry between Keb’ and Taj was instantly undeniable and ideas started flowing left and right. Despite the fact that they were a couple of musicians that had never composed together before, the results more than speak for themselves, with both their personalities able to breathe and shine through in the end.

“Of course it changes (the approach to songwriting when working with someone else) when you have another input in there, but the goal is the same,” Keb’ said. “When I write, I have a specific message I would like to convey or a specific thing I’d like to shed a light on. That doesn’t change. When someone else comes in, they supply maybe even more input on that subject. But whether it’s one person or whether it’s 16 people writing together, the goal is the same. For me, that never changes.”

In addition to the original compositions they jointly created for TajMo, the album also features a couple of songs originally penned by other artists. Sure, there’s a version of Sleepy John Estes’ “Diving Duck Blues” (which also appeared on Taj’s 1968 debut album), but there are also songs inked by Pete Townsend and John Mayer on TajMo, which might catch some folks a bit off-guard.

First appearing on The Who’s 1975 album The Who By Numbers, “Squeeze Box” is given a fresh coat of paint by Taj and Keb.’

keb mo photo 2“We did the record bi-coastal, so we would share ideas and Taj would send songs and then I would have suggestions about certain things and if they resonated with both of us, we would do them. And I thought we needed some songs outside of the realm of who we are, and I thought “Squeeze Box” was one of those kinds of songs. I think it brought some fun and more familiarity to the record. Especially with an album that had so many songs that people had not heard before.”

Like any good blues song worth its salt, “Squeeze Box” is filled to the bursting-point with sexual double entendres coming from the brilliant mind of Townsend.

“Yeah, there’s a whole lot of double entendres in the blues and in that song. That’s a great song with great lyrics,” Keb’ said. “That song (“Squeeze Box”) and the John Mayer song (“Waiting on the World to Change”) brought something contemporary that people already knew to the record. Even though The Who song is old-school and that John Mayer song is probably 10-years-old now (“Waiting on the World to Change” is from Mayer’s 2006 album Continuum and also won a Grammy Award), they’re still contemporary songs. And over the time that we did the record, “Waiting on the World to Change” and its themes came back into play and became relevant once again. It came back, so that was kind of interesting.”

Whether they intended for those two songs to do so or not, “Squeeze Box” and “Waiting on the World to Change” might also help people that are not already blues fans ease into the genre a little bit more. After all, blues music has never really been the type of music that dominates commercial radio or is routinely found perched at the peak of The Top 40.

However, Keb’ says all that has little to do with the importance of the music itself.

”Just because it doesn’t sell as much as other stuff don’t mean it’s not at the top of the heap. Even though the blues may not always be at the top of the charts, it actually was at the top of the charts at one time with Jimmy Reed. Reed actually hit the top of the charts and a lot of people don’t know that, or they forget that,” he said. “All these songs that these artists like The Rolling Stones were doing (back in their early years) were blues songs. The blues may not have always been popular, but the blues have always been important and undeniable. I’m tooting the blues’ horn based on results, not on whatever else there may be.”

Those results have certainly long spoke for themselves.

“When I started doing the blues, people started telling me to run … to get out of there. They were telling me that I wasn’t never going to make any money playing those blues. Of course, I didn’t listen to them. And you know, I didn’t make a whole lot of money, but I did make some,” he laughed. “But I look at the impact that something has. This music is far-reaching, much farther than its financial arms and legs. I never will downplay the blues as something that’s unpopular.”

That’s why Keb’ feels that there is still room and hope that the blues as a genre will continue to grow and keeping reaching new generations of listeners on down the road.

“If you were to ask an artist like Stravinsky or Chopin if they thought there was room for classical music to expand and become more popular, they of course would say, ‘Yes.’ But you don’t get into that because you think the music you’re playing is going to become mainstream. Classical music, like the blues, like jazz and other genres that were not as popular, had a major impact on all forms of music. If you’re a musician, you have to study some jazz to understand some harmony. You have to study some classical, too. Just because some of those forms of music are not as popular as others, doesn’t mean you don’t have to at least understand some of them. I mean, I wasn’t popular in school, you know? But this blues music is like weeds. You’re trying to make your yard all nice and green and pretty and I don’t care what you do, you cannot stop weeds. And the blues is like that … you cannot stop the blues. They’re going to pop up somewhere.”

Visit Keb’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. His first book, Blues In Modern Days was published in 2014.


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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 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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