Issue 11-35 August 31, 2017

 In This Issue 

Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Lee Roy Parnell. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Manitoba Hal, Leo Bud Welch, Gina Sicilia, Andres Roots, Blue 88s – Unreleased Piano Blues Gems-1938-1942, Gary Cain Band, Tom Baptist and Mark Robinson Band.

Our video of the week is Billy Flynn.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

Our friends at the Paramount Blues Festival as having a great Blues show for you this weekend in Port Washington, WI.

On Friday September 1 they feature Lil Davy Max, Matthew Curry, Marquise Knox and the Greg Koch/Marshall Trio with special guests Jim Liban, and Billy Flynn. Then on Saturdy they will have Starkweather bay band, Cathy Grier, Jonny T-Bird, Joe Filisko & Eric Noden, Jonny Millard & Friends, Alex Wilson band, The Katz Sass, Davy Knowles, Water Street Hotshots, Shemekia Copeland and Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues with : John Primer, Corky Siegel, Eddy Clearwater and Sam Lay. On Sunday they feature Ozaukee Kids, The Muddy Crows, Big Al & Jonny T-Bird, Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys with Westside Andy, Sue DaBaco & Double Down, Nelson Street Revival, Whiskey of the Damned and Starset

You don’t want to miss this one! For tickets and complete festival information visit or click on their ad below in this issue.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

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 Blues Wanderings 

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Great Blues and great weather at the Crossroads Blues Festival last weekend. Above are Perry Webber (The Jimmys), Donald Kinsey (Kinsey Report), Ivy Ford and Doug Deming. We will have a complete photo review of the fest in an upcoming issue.

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

manitoba hal cd imageManitoba Hal – Live In Ghent

Hal’s Kitchen

24 songs – 85 minutes

Well, this is refreshing. A two-CD live recording including covers of over-played classics such as “The Thrill Is Gone”, “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Key To The Highway” might not be top of everyone’s wish list. Equally, a two-CD live recording of a solo performer playing blues on a ukulele might sound like a one-trick pony being stretched too far. When it’s a two-CD live recording from Canadian blues artist, Manitoba Hal Brolund, however, your only complaint might be that there should be a third CD. Live In Ghent is a belting release that bears repeated listening and leaves you wanting more.

Brolund’s command of the ukulele is dazzling. Opening with an aching cover of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen”, he immediately has the audience (and the listener) in the palm of his hand, playing with a technical mastery, emotional depth and a nuanced understanding of dynamics. The second song, Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole” sees the introduction of Brolund’s clever use of live looping technology – a key mechanism to enable him to fill out the sound and maintain variety through the set – as he strums the initial chord progression then fires off single note salvos of blues licks over the repeated progression. Also a fine singer, Brolund has a powerful, emotionally-charged baritone voice that fits his material perfectly.

A regular and popular visitor to Europe, Brolund recorded Live In Ghent in April 2016 at the Missy Sippy Blues & Roots Club while on a tour of Belgium and its easy to hear why he has built up such a dedicated fan base there. Despite not having played the Club before, the warmth of his personality shines through in nearly every song. On “Automobile”, he impersonates a horn solo with enthusiastic grunts. In the introduction to “Atlanta Moan”, he says, sotto voce: “All those of you with cameras out there, feel free to use ‘em.” He gleefully inflicts on his audience the sing-along “Tastes Like Chicken”, with its hilarious opening couplet: “It’s one of life’s great mysteries, no-one really knows. It’s a basic human question, Lord, and I guess that’s how it goes, but if you took a poll and you asked everyone across this nation, how comes everything always tastes like… chicken?”

As for the oft-covered classics, the transition from guitar to ukulele backing gives them all a new lease of life. “Baby Please Don’t Go” is given a total make-over, unrecognisable from the Them or Big Joe Williams versions. “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me” draws out and builds upon the folk-influences in Mississippi John Hurt’s original. “Sweet Home Chicago” is played at a breakneck pace with lightning-fast note choice. Little Walter’s “My Babe” is transformed into a finger-picked workout with additional chord changes added. And Howlin’ Wolf’s “Built For Comfort” features a hypnotic loop that is a long way from Hubert’s original iconic guitar playing. Songs that one associates with slide guitar (“You Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond”) are played with fingers, while a Brolund original, “Evangeline Blues”, features some lovely slide played on a steel string baritone uke. Even a cover that is played relatively straight, such as “They’re Red Hot”, sounds new and different because the uke sits at a different position in the frequency spectrum than Robert Johnson’s guitar.

With a collection of classics blues songs played with imagination and life, a few smart original songs and top class sound quality, Live in Ghent captures a fine artist at the top of his game. It’s a great release.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

leo bud welch cd imageLeo Bud Welch – Live at the Iridium

Cleopatra Blues

2-Item Set: CD: 17 Songs, 59:38 Minutes, DVD: 60:53 Minutes

Styles: Classic and Traditional Blues, Blues Covers, Electric Blues, Live Album, DVD Included

When it comes to blues by African-American masters who’ve lived more than four-score years, one can’t get more classic than Mississippi’s Leo “Bud” Welch. Yours truly decided that she’d “save the best for last” when it came to her current crop of CD’s to review. Without a doubt, she made the right decision here. Welch’s Live at the Iridium is a fantastic concert album, a two-item set that includes an audio CD and DVD. On the periodic table, the element iridium (chemical symbol Ir) has been named such for its multi-colored compounds. One thing’s for sure: “Bud’s” blues continues to be some of the most vibrant and treasured. Even though you’ll find many classic covers here, such as “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” “Five Long Years,” “My Babe” and “Got My Mojo Workin’,” these are definite pluses, not minuses. Welch also features a couple of gospel tunes, such as the opener “Praise His Name” and closer “Me and my Lord.” On a long road trip or home-bound night, this set is perfect for listening and viewing.

His website tells considerably more “About” him: “Leo ‘Bud’ Welch Sr. was born in Sabougla, Mississippi in 1932. Bud picked up a guitar for the first time in 1945. Bud and a cousin would sneak and play the guitar while the actual owner of the guitar (Bud’s older cousin R.C. Welch) was away working. As he became confident in his ability to play guitar, Bud was caught red- handed by the owner of the guitar, playing the forbidden-to-touch instrument. Bud’s older cousin was so impressed with his playing that he gave Bud free rein to continue playing the guitar. By 1947, at age 15, Bud could play well enough to perform publically and garnered the blessing of many elder guitar players. Bud was offered an audition by BB King but could not afford the trip to Memphis…Leo’s debut album Sabougla Voices was released January 7, 2014, just two months before his 82nd birthday, and his sophomore album I Don’t Prefer No Blues was released on March 24, 2015 just two days after his 83rd birthday.”

After doing a Google search for the following song’s title, I was rewarded with results for a certain stomach-soothing drug. As it turns out, Leo “Bud” Welch does one of BB King’s jingles:

Track 12: “Pepticon” – This song is a commercial, but, man, does it sell! “You want to jump, have some fun? You want to jump, have some fun? You want to jump, have some fun? Get you a bottle of that old Pepticon!” Who would have thought I’d be stomping my feet and snapping my fingers to a blues-infused advertisement? The background is just as revealing: “The DJ’s didn’t have the luxury, as they do now, of putting in a CD or a tape and playing their commercials. The DJ’s had to write their own jingles and perform their own jingles, to show gratitude for some of their sponsors.” Pepticon was one of BB King’s sponsors, so the rest is hilarious history!

The DVD, as well as showcasing all the live-performed songs, also has a bonus interview with Welch. One of his keenest insights is this one: “I’m teaching my own self [to play guitar]. Yeah. I didn’t have nobody else. I heard a song, I get the guitar and play it…One of the first songs I learned how to play was ‘Baby, Please Don’t Go.’” He proceeds to do so, his fingers making sweet overtures on the strings. Clearly, he’s in love with the blues, as are our Constant Readers.

Need a classic blues pick-me-up? Let Leo Bud Welch: Live at the Iridium give you a lift!

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 Video Of The Week – Billy Flynn 

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This week we feature real deal guitar player, Mr. Billy Flynn. Billy is playing “Liquor Store Blues”at the 2015 Blues Music Awards. (Click image to watch!)

You can see Billy playing with the Greg Koch/Marshall Trio along with special guests Jim Liban at the Paramount Music Festival in Port Washington, WI on Friday September 1st.
For information and tickets to the Paramount Music Festival visit  or click on the Paramount Music Festival ad in this issue.

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

gina sicilia cd imageGina Sicilia – Tug Of War

Blue Elan Records

11 Tracks/39:47

Over the last ten years, singer Gina Sicilia has released four full-length recordings plus two Eps, all showcasing her remarkable voice. While not a true blues singer, Sicilia’s original music contains elements of the music, while leavened with a strong soul and R&B foundation befitting her Philadelphia home town. Her latest recording examines three years of change and turmoil in her life, a piercing examination on the vicissitudes on love.

“I Don’t Want To Be In Love” places the singer’s heartbroken voice over the twin guitars of co- producer Dave Darling and Zach Zunis. The following track, the original “Damaging Me,” is equally downhearted lyrically, causing mournful quivers in Sicilia’s voice. But the musical accompaniment rocks hard with Ron Jennings on guitar, Ken Pendergast on bass, Scott Key on drums, and Walter Runge on organ injecting a glimmer of hope for the future. “I’ll Stand Up” shows the singer’s defiant side as she vows to never give up. The stripped-down arrangement features Darling on electric and acoustic guitar plus Arlan Oscar on Hammond organ fashioning church-like backing.

Sicilia’s bleak world view colors several other original songs. “They Never Pay Me” is her plea for equal respect and pay from various entities in the music community. She is alone and heartbroken on “Abandoned,” while the healing waters of the river mix with her tears on “I Cried,” working through the pain in hopes of finding redeeming salvation. Jennings on guitar takes one of the few instrumental solos while Joel Bryant on organ fashions some reverent gospel seasoning. “Heaven” is an upbeat tune with Sicilia projecting a vibrant exuberance that is a stark contrast to the rest of the disc.

It takes a lot of confidence to do a song that Patsy Cline and Candi Staton have covered. Sicilia is stunning on “He Called Me Baby,” her voice rising up with power and grace, singing with a sense of freedom that makes this cut the highlight of the disc. She gets a vocal assist from Charlene Holloway on a cover of the Exciters hit, “Tell Him”. Taking a darker tone than the original, Sicilia once again impresses with a stirring vocal that never succumbs to the temptation to scream or indulge in unnecessary vocal gymnastics. Her emotions surge to the surface on the Beatles “All My Loving,” accompanied primarily by Darling’s melodic guitar work, connecting with listeners with a passionate delivery.

There is plenty of darkness inhabiting the emotions that run through this album. But Sicilia manages to find enough hope to keep herself, and listeners, ready for a brighter day. She is a singer well-worth listening to.

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!

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

andres roots cd imageAndres Roots – Winter

Roots Art Records

13 songs – 41 minutes

Andres Roots is an Estonian slide guitar player, songwriter and bandleader. He may not be a household name in the USA, but he recently celebrated 20 years in the music business with a vinyl-only compilation entitled Roots Music that went to #1 in the Estonian album chart, going on to become the best-selling blues album in the Baltics.

Roots’ new album, Winter, is an excellent introduction to his music. With 13 self-penned, primarily acoustic, blues songs, he lays the emphasis solidly on the song rather than using the song as a vehicle for his undoubted six-string virtuosity. Only one track lasts longer than four minutes. The others punch in and punch out with impressive efficiency, but there is much to enjoy in their stripped-back power.

There are three instrumentals on the album. The upbeat “Tea For Alex” highlights the fine interplay between Roots’ guitar and Raul Terep’s drums. The sleeve notes suggest that the multi-rhythmic“Spanish Run” also features only Roots and Terep, although it does sound like there is a bass guitar (or down-tuned six-string) in the mix. The closing track, “Silver Lining” also includes some bouncing, Louisiana-styled piano from Louie Digman.

Winter is a genuinely international effort, featuring Roots on guitar or dobro and Terep or Andrew Mikk on drums on every track. Peeter Piik adds upright bass to just three tracks and engineer Asko-Romé Altsoo adds “additional instrumentation” to “All In The Cards”. Also appearing are Brits Richard Townend (vocals and guitar), Steve Lury (vocals and harmonica), and Louie Digman (vocals and piano); Fin Ismo Haavisto on vocals and harmonica; Americans Bert Deivert (vocals and mandolin), James Dalton (vocals) and Howard Fishman (vocals and acoustic guitar); Estonian Mikk Tammepõld (vocals); and Latvians Lorete Medne (vocals) and Edgars Galzons (helicon). In addition, while the majority of the album was recorded, mixed and mastered in Tartu, Estonia, tracks by some of the guest musicians were recorded in New York City; Karlstad, Sweden; Lahti, Finland; and Mundon, England. With such a large number of contributing musicians – particularly with eight different lead singers – and the variety of recording locations, it is a tribute to Asko-Romé Altsoo that the album holds together so well and sounds so consistent.

Roots is an impressive songwriter, pitching the songs very much within the blues stable yet keeping them interesting and avoiding clichés. “Morganfield Blues” is a loving tribute to the great Muddy Waters, with the band producing a very convincing impression of Muddy’s Folk Singer band, while Roots displays a surreal lyrical wit on tracks such as “Thanks For Bringing Me Down” where Howard Fishman sings “Waves inside my oven. Rays in my VCR. Urchins on Mars. Voices in my car. Thanks for bringing me down. Beam me up, Scotty. Don’t leave me hanging around.”

There are all sorts of highlights to enjoy on Winter, from Lorete Medne’s dreamy, floating vocals on “Solitaire” to Steve Lury’s seriously impressive whistling and distinctly English singing on “Someplace Nice” and Andres Mikk’s superb second-line drumming on “Karlova Blues”. Underpinning it all however is Roots’ melodic, tasteful yet emotional slide guitar.

Winter is a very impressive release from Andres Roots. If you are a fan of modern acoustic blues artists like Roy Rogers and Hans Theessink, you’ll definitely want to check it out.

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

Blues 88s cd imageVarious Artists – Blue 88s – Unreleased Piano Blues Gems-1938-1942

Featuring Curtis Jones, Roosevelt Sykes, Willie “Boodle It” Right, Poor Boy Burke

Hi Horse Records

17 songs time-47:49

Hi Horse Records has unearthed fifteen never released piano blues songs from the late 30s-early 40s, along with two previously released. During that time piano blues was extremely popular. The piano blues typically covered subjects such as having the blues, sex, women and other observations of life in those times. It was pretty raw stuff, often devoid of melody in the vocals, although the piano accompaniment was quite lively and dexterous.

The one player most prominently displayed here is Roosevelt Sykes. You could consider this a Roosevelt Sykes album with five bonus tracks from other artists. Willie “Boodle It” Right is just the vocalist on his one track. Joshua Altheimer provides the piano playing.

The two songs credited to Poor Boy Burke are surrounded by mystery. The liner notes conjecture that it is really St. Louis Jimmy Oden recording under an alias as he was contracted to a different record label. St. Louis Jimmy Oden was the author of the blues classic “Going Down Slow”. As Roosevelt Sykes was his usual piano accompanist, the liner notes suggest that he was present on these tracks as well.

Roosevelt Sykes was a major blues star in his day. He penned such blues classics as “Driving Wheel”, Night Time Is The Right Time” and “44 Blues”. He virtually pounded the keys. He toured extensively including Europe.

“My Blues Is Risin'” by Curtis Jones is a typical period piece. He possessed a good blues voice and was a quality piano player. The only drawback is the “tinny” guitar that is low in the mix. His other contribution “Levee Side Blues” shows his slower side.

Willie “Boodle It Right’s sole contribution here “Xmas Blues” isn’t a Christmas song at all. The title refers to the lyric-“Ah, if you try to give a woman everything she need, Ah, she will cause you to take Christmas in your BVDs”. It’s a song about greedy woman. Joshua Altheimer handles the piano chores. He played on over fifty sides with Big Bill Broonzy.

Poor Boy Burke’s(probably St. Louis Jimmy Oden) “Bad Condition Blues” is a classic about run down woman. “Your Loving Ways” also features strong voice along with probably Sykes’ sturdy piano skills along for the ride.

The twelve tracks by Roosevelt Sykes run the gamut from slow low down blues to upbeat swingers. Subject matter includes the sure fire blues subject of women, the military draft and various life observations. He leads off with “Mellow Queen Swing”, with his signature lively piano thumping. His sparse accompaniment consists of upright bass and/or electric guitar throughout. The classic blues form of double entendre is represented by the car analogies of “Floating Power Blues”. One of two released songs “Training Camp Blues” bemoans the draft and missing one’s wife during the duration. The upbeat “Back Biting Snitchers” has some really nice boogie woogie piano. Sykes’ portrays himself as a mind reader in “From The Cradle To The Grave”.

A good representation of this popular category of the blues is laid out here.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

gary cain band cd imageGary Cain Band – Twangadelic Bluesophunk

self release

10 songs time-37:42

Cambridge, Ontario, Canada’s Gary Cain puts his power trio through it’s paces on their auspicious debut CD. As a youth Gary spent many of his teenage hours learning Angus Young’s guitar solos note for note off of AC-DC albums. He takes his cue from their and other speed freak guitarists, while playing with taste and restraint when necessary. Drummer Donnie Mcdougall and bass man Tom Nagy are the sturdy foundation supporting his every move. Gary’s vocals are a bit rough and at times a bit smoother to fit in nicely with their brand of music. All of the songs are Gary Cain originals that are about 90% rockers with some blues rock, country and yes, a snippet of reggae thrown in the mix. Pure power trio here with no outside assistance.

The band dives in the deep end right from the git go with Gary’s lively and dexterous guitar slinging of a catchy and skip along riff on the boisterous “Live Wire”. His voice has just enough grit for their brand of music. Twiddling and scraping guitar propel “Pipes And Spoons”. From what I can gather it’s about drugs. The guitar gets slightly jazzy and string bending on “Though I Heard You Say”. The guys are tight as all get out and Gary’s guitar is in sync with his vocals on “No Foolin'”. If a cooler guitar riff exists, I don’t know about it.

Twangy speed freak country-ish guitar is just what you get on the instrumental “Twang Strut”. They throw in a 15 second reggae break in the middle and it makes sense. Their is an “explicit lyrics” warning on “Last Dance”, and the only explicit word is sh*t. The Angus Young school of guitar is best displayed on this track. The instrumental closing track “Faith Healer” mines the Jimi Hendrix-Robin Trower dreamy-spacey guitar vein with mesmerizing atmospherics.

Rockin’ guitar freaks have I got a CD for you! It’s very well executed with nothing left to chance and all the while remaining fresh and energetic. No slap dash guitar trio mess here. No deep lyrics, but hey that’s not what this music is about. This is as good as this genre of music gets. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

tom baptist cd imageTom Baptist – Here’s The News, It’s The Blues

Self-Release – 2017

11 tracks; 49 minutes

Tom Baptist is a Florida-based musician who wrote all the songs and plays all the instruments on this album. A look at his website shows that he has also produced albums in the areas of ‘Island Astrology’ and ‘Dream piano excursions’ but here he is concentrating on blues-related themes and tunes. Of course one problem with producing everything oneself is that the musician may not always be equally strong in all areas: Tom is essentially a keyboard player and the drums here might be artificial, certainly the guitar elements sound like they were produced on the keyboard. Tom sings in a semi-spoken, conversational style and the songs contain some semi-autobiographical lyrics. Most of the songs are limited by the sole performer issues but the following may interest Blues Blast readers:

Track 6 “Funky Shoes”. A semi-spoken lyric about what seems to attract Tom’s interest, played over some fine piano and a funky bass line.

Track 9 “Here’s The News, It’s The Blues”, fast-paced piano blues with lyrics about everything conspiring against you. Tom barrels along on the piano on the strongest track here, albeit wrongly labelled as 8 on the sleeve!

Track 10 “Monday Morning Blues” is that feeling you get when you have to get back to work after the fun of the weekend. Tom reckons that “I guess the best thing today is what I brought for lunch”. The lyrics are interesting though the keyboard effect that may be intended as a horn section does not really work.

If nothing else, credit to Tom for adding his take on the blues to his other interests.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

mark robinson cd imageMark Robinson Band – Live At The 5 Spot

Blind Chihuahua Records – 2017

8 tracks; 42 minutes

Mark Robinson famously followed exactly the title of his first CD – Quit Your Job – Play Guitar – and this is his third album. Recorded at home in Nashville, the album finds Mark on guitar and vocals with his regular rhythm section, Daniel Seymour on bass and vocals and Rick Schell on drums and vocals. Guests Chip Clarke sits in on drums on one track and Ben Graves (harp) and Mark T Jordan (keys) boost the trio for one cut. Mark had a hand in five of the songs, one came from one of his collaborators and there are two covers.

Opener “Baby’s Gone To Memphis” was written by friends Davis Raines and Michael Conner Rogers. It’s a fast shuffle with plenty of space for all the players to show their abilities. Mark’s deep voice works fine here but is slightly less suited to the second track, a cover of the Temptations’ “Can’t Get Next To You” which has a lot of wah-wah over a rather plodding beat. “Poor Boy” was a track on Mark’s first album, a co-write with Davis Raines and it follows a country blues structure with Mark on what sounds like a dobro. A new song “One Way Ticket” shows a more soulful side to the band with Mark’s bright guitar work well received by the audience. “I Know You’ll Be Mine” references the Mississippi Hill Country style as Mark sings quite aggressively that the girl has given him ‘the look’ and he is confident that she will end up with him: “I’ve got some whiskey, I’ve got some cocaine, I’ve got the keys to your car”. Who could resist such an offer!

Chip Clarke replaces Rick for “Under Her Spell” that Mark wrote with lyrical assistance from Mike Cullison to combine the theme of “Love Potion Number 9” with a relaxed latin groove. Things get more upbeat with “Drive Real Fast” which runs to over seven minutes with added keys and harp beefing up a classic blues riff-based tune, complete with a spacey middle section from which Mark emerges to provide a fine solo. Things do not let up with the closing cover of Eddy ‘The Chief’ Clearwater’s “Wouldn’t Lay My Guitar Down”, a fine piece of rock and roll with machine gun riffing from Mark.

This is an album that undoubtedly gives you a real taste of what the band must sound like live.

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

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 Featured Blues Interview – Lee Roy Parnell 

lee roy parnell pic 1Lee Roy Parnell has never struggled to find a home, no matter where he’s at.

He’s as comfortable playing on the main stage at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas as he would be jamming at the Stax Museum in Memphis or on the bandstand at the hallowed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

He’s as much at ease swapping guitar licks with The Allman Brothers Band and John Hammond Jr., as he is singing with Trisha Yearwood and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

And to no one’s surprise, that’s just the way the ultra-versatile Lee Roy Parnell prefers it.

“I’m a blue-eyed soul singer and kind of an R&B/blues guitar player. That’s how I see it. There’s certainly country influences in there, as well. And rock-and-roll, too, for that matter. But by and large, I consider myself to be somewhere between roadhouse rock-and-roll and R&B. That’s how I see it, anyway. I love many different styles of music, but for me, it all goes back to the blues. Blue-eyed soul, jazz, rock and country all have the same daddy and that daddy is the blues. Muddy Waters said, ‘The blues had a baby and they called it rock-and-roll.’ And he was right.”

The Texas born and bred songwriter/guitarist/singer and bandleader’s latest album – Midnight Believer (Vector Recordings) – more than checks off all the requisite boxes. It’s bluesy, it’s soulful, it swings and most importantly, it’s straight from the heart. If there was any justice left in the music business – or if today’s corporate radio staffers had any of the moxy that program directors a few decades back had – a handful of cuts from Midnight Believer would be splayed across several different formats and would be in regular rotation on terrestrial radio.

You’d be forgiven if you have to stop and think for a minute about the last time that a new studio album from Parnell hit the streets. After all, more than a decade has lapsed between his last album – 2006’s Back To The Well (Universal South) and Midnight Believer.

“You know, I was talking with Jamey Johnson this morning and he said that he saw that I had a new album coming out. I told him it was my first one in 11 years … I told him I make one every 11 years, whether I need to or not,” laughed Parnell. “And then he said, ‘You know what they say about time flying when you’re having fun?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard that several times in my life.’ And he goes, ‘Well, I’ve found that time flies no matter what you’re doing.’ And I think that’s probably true. But I think that time just got away from me.”

Part of the reason that ‘time got away’ from Parnell over the last decade has a lot to do with his domestic situation.

“Yeah, I’ve got a young son that turned six recently and by the time that my last album had kind of run its course, I was really involved with him. My kids are spread out; my oldest son is 36 and then I’ve got a daughter that’s 32 and a grand-daughter that’s nine. And then little Jack came along. I was always present with my children, but as you get older, you view your time with them a little different,” he said. “So I just really focused on him. Well, he’s getting ready to start kindergarten this year and I looked up and wondered where the time had gone.”

In addition to your son going from crawling to walking to running, a lot of other things can happen in a decade, especially where the business end of the musical universe is concerned.

“Yeah, that’s another thing – the music business is so much different these days … whoa! Who’d have thunk it, right? (Record) labels are so much different now than they even were when we did Back To The Well. We had a fairly good budget when we went in to do that record – nothing like we did at Arista (Parnell was at Arista for almost a decade in the ’90s) – but we didn’t need that kind of a budget. This time, it was all out of what I refer to as ‘Hip National Bank,’ which is your wallet,” he laughed. “So I’d hit the road and go out and make some money and when I got home, if I had some left over, I put it into the record. So all those things kind of put together helps to explain why it took me so long.”

Not one to dig his heels in and refuse to learn and grow with today’s ever-evolving music industry – and the way that an artist prepares to ready their efforts for public consumption – Parnell is rolling with the punches these days.

“I can tell you this – the way we’ve made records in the past is not the way we’re going to make records in the future,” he explained. “I mean, I’ve got five or six (songs) lined up for the next record. I’m thinking that on this next record, we’ll go to Muscle Shoals and I think it will be maybe 18 months – on the outside – before my next record comes out. I think I’ll be cutting an album about every 18 months or so from now on.”

Re-invigorated and re-energized after issuing Midnight Believer, Parnell rapidly fires off several projects he’s eager to check off his to-do list, including one that should make blues lovers jump for joy.

“I’ve never done a duet-kind of project where I’ve got together with my friends and that’s on the list. And I’ve never made a flat-out blues record and we probably need to do that, too,” he said. “Then there’s a gospel-kind of project that I want to do, something along the lines of what I did with the Fairfield Four on “John The Revelator” (Featured on his 1999 album, Hits And Highways Ahead – a song that was made popular by Blind Willie Johnson and Son House that earned Parnell and the Fairfield Four a CMA nomination in the Vocal Event of the Year category). And then I’ve got some more of my old stuff that I still want to do. It takes a little while to figure out who you is and who you ain’t … and well, it takes some of us longer than others to figure that out.”

lee roy parnell pic 2First and foremost, Parnell has always been an exceptional songwriter, as his induction in the Texas Heritage Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2011 would attest to. His songs (including those that he’s penned for others) have regularly found a home inside the Top 40 and have even garnered Grammy considerations. But apparently songwriting doesn’t flow as easy as a water from a faucet for Parnell and sometimes his songwriting pump needs primed, as was the case for Midnight Believer.

“I had kind of hit a dry spell and I think we all (songwriters) do, whether we admit it or not. I have never really been one to push too hard on writing, because I can almost hear forced writing. It just wasn’t flowing yet and Greg Barnhill – who is a great friend and a wonderful writer – came to me and lit a fire under me to get busy again. I didn’t know what to think of it at first, but once we started it went fast and the songs piled up pretty quickly.”

He had already earned his stripes as a first-rate musician in Texas before Parnell pulled up stakes and moved to Music City in 1987. Upon his arrival, he soon discovered that Nashville likes to operate by its own set of rules. However, Parnell quickly discovered a handful of like-minded souls who were hell-bent on chucking those so-called rules right out the window.

“People associate me with playing slide guitar and I understand that … it’s true. But when I first got to Nashville, I was dissuaded from playing slide guitar. They did not understand slide guitar, nor did they want that,” he said. “I said, ‘Well, that’s tough, because this is what I do.’ I was 31 when I made that first album (his self-titled debut in 1990) and at that time, Nashville was kind of a hot-bed for Texas singer/songwriters. Steve Earle called that time ‘the great integrity scare of the early ’90s.’ Rodney Crowell and Roseanne Cash and Emmy Lou Harris, along with Guy Clark, although he wasn’t really on country radio, had laid the groundwork for my generation that came to town. Myself, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle … we were all on the scene then. But by ’92, most of them had thought about it and said, ‘Nah, we’re not doing this. We’re going home.’ It was kind of funny, because we all couldn’t believe what we had gotten away with, anyway. It was very regulated and I’m a very non-regulated kind of guy.”

With his boots always touching the ground at the intersection where R&B and country and blues and rock-and-roll form a crossroads, it might seem like Parnell has to have a few different headspaces to enter when he straps on his guitar and gets ready to play.

However, that’s not quite the case.

“I’ve got to be honest … I think all that comes natural to me. For one thing, what I do is pretty simple; I play pretty much melody and I play around with the melody and play harmony stuff that associates with the melody. I’ve been a melodic-sort of player, so once you kind of have the melody in your head, it really doesn’t matter what you’re playing. It’s really kind of all the same,” he said. “I think I just hear the song and then play for the sake of the song. That’s always been my point of view. I mean, I know there a ton of guitar players out there that can really blow, so I just try and do my own thing.”

Don’t let him fool you; Parnell can ‘blow’ with the best of them.

He’s been involved in a couple of go-rounds of the ‘Guitar Army’ tour (with more shows on the way), with cats like Robben Ford, John Jorgenson and Joe Robinson. He also has a Gibson Lee Roy Parnell Signature ’57 Les Paul Goldtop, which should come as no shock after hearing him rip up-and-down the fretboard. Heck, Parnell even owned a 1956 Goldtop back when he was just 15 years old and played that axe well into his 30s.

“On the ‘Guitar Army’ tour last year, we had Robben Ford – who is a monster player – and Joe Robinson – who is also a monster player. Those guys have a lot more information than I do. I thought, ‘How in the world am I going to do this (play onstage with them) and not embarrass myself?’ But you know, you get out there and you find that you do what you do,” he said. “I really, really enjoyed playing with them.”

As he was finding his way around his instrument back in his formative years, Parnell was influenced by the usual suspects. But quite possibly the biggest influence on Parnell’s guitar playing came from someone who is not a household name to many; Reggie Young. Although his name may not be bandied about among casual fans, they undoubtedly have heard Young’s work many, many times. Young was lead guitarist of ‘The Memphis Boys’ and has played on well over 120 hit singles, including some from the likes of Elvis, Johnny Horton, Willie and Waylon, Jerry Lee Lewis and Dionne Warwick, just to scratch the surface.

“When it comes to playing regular guitar – not slide – I probably got everything I got from Reggie. He played on all those great Memphis soul records and then when he came to Nashville, he really didn’t change his style at all. Again, he’s a melody player, so he’s capable of doing it all. I got a lot from him,” said Parnell. “I tried to follow the same path that he did by not changing when I got to Nashville. Mike Reid (legendary songwriter who co-wrote Ronnie Milsap’s Grammy-winning “Stranger In My House” in 1984) once told me, ‘If you start trying to chase the music business, you’re always going to be behind the curve. But, if you do what you do and stay true to yourself, every so often your path will intersect with that of the music business.’ A good case in point of that is Ray Charles. He never quit and we all know what he ended up doing.”

lee roy parnell pic 3As accomplished a guitar player as he is, Parnell takes equal pride in being able to craft a song and then turn around and sing that song, as well.

“I really don’t think I can separate the guitar playing from the songwriting and the singing. I think for me, it’s a third, a third and a third. One feeds the other, really. Once I write a song, then I have to execute it with the singing and the guitar playing. But when I was a kid, I was probably more focused on the guitar than anything else. The guitar playing was what was cool and fun. I really sang out of necessity back then. As I got older, my voice became identifiable, as did my guitar playing. So what you have then is a sonic stamp and you’re using that sonic stamp to express those songs that you’ve written. Those things all go hand-in-hand in the end.”

A couple of years before he cut his self-titled debut for Arista Records, Parnell’s first real brush with Music City was as a songwriter for Polygram Music. The experience that he gained there turned out to be invaluable for him.

“I was a working day songwriter and had an office on the second floor of the building and was surrounded by guys like Bob McDill (Ray Charles, Juice Newton) and Rory Bourke (Kenny Rogers, Kenny Chesney) and Charlie Black (Johnny Paycheck, Earl Thomas Conley) … guys that had been writing songs forever. There are certain fundamentals that go with writing that you’d don’t necessarily have to adhere to, but you’re sure better off if you know them to begin with. You can always break the rules, but it’s nice to know what they are. Working there was a really good thing for me to do. There’s a lot of things you hear today on country radio and even blues radio programming that sounds forced to me. I never want to force anything or make anything cute. I mean, I run from cute as fast and as far as I can. I want to touch the listener. We all have disappointments and we all have challenges and we also all have victories. And of course, love is the one thing that helps us to tie into one another. Someone told me this one time and I hadn’t really thought about, but I think they’re right. They told me I play guitar for the guys and I write these songs and sing these soul ballads for the girls. I don’t think that’s a hard-and-fast rule, but by and large, I think that’s probably true.”

Growing up in Texas, Parnell was bitten by the blues bug at a fairly early age and despite what he plays – or even who he plays with – these days, the blues are most definitely at the center of it all.

“I was crazy about all the blues greats and still am. I mean, I stole some things from B.B. King and Freddie King – well, we all did. B. was a dear friend of mine and man, we’ve lost some good ones the past couple of years. I’ve lost some tight friends and musical heroes. And (Merle) Haggard was a very dear friend and Guy Clark was one of my very best friends,” Parnell said. “And that’s just a handful of them. But you know, all those guys were lifers and they all did it for the right reasons. None of them ever – that I can recall – were anything but true to themselves. That was the template that I was working off of. I had some very good teachers and they taught me well and I’m here to carry on for as long as I can. Hopefully, somewhere along the way, I can help somebody the way that they helped me.”

One may not get a clear picture of it by turning on commercial radio stations these days, but the heartbeat of roots-related music is still pounding strong and doesn’t appear in any need of resuscitation at this point in time. The way Parnell figures things, that steady and ever-present pulse is going to continue well into the future, with blues music supplying the power to the engine.

“Well, once again, like Muddy said, ‘The blues had a baby and they called it rock-and-roll.’ Well, they also called it R&B and they also called it country music, too. The blues is something that’s existed long before we started recording it,” he said. “It will exist long after we all get bought out by Google and continue to stick our faces in our phones and walk around … I mean, I don’t know, man. Sometimes I think I am not of this world. Sooner or later, everybody’s going to get tired of this crap and we’re going to get back to organic living.”

While it’s easy to get discouraged – and while technology seems to dominate our every waking second in 2017 – perhaps there still is hope that our younger generations will one day shun some of that and get back to the basics. One bright hope in that regard appears to be six-year-old Jack Parnell.

“My son loves the blues. He sits and listens to old swing/jump records and old Bob Wills’ records from the ’40s and he loves it. He listens to vinyl. It really touches him and he can sing that stuff like crazy. His favorite artist in the world is Little Walter, so go figure! His first favorite song was “My Babe.” And his favorite TV show is “The Andy Griffith Show.” Black-and-white only, please.”

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

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The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances held every Monday night at The Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.

Blue Monday Schedule: Sept 4 – Maurice John Vaughn, Sept 11- Paul Bonn & the Bluesmen, Sept 18 – Billy Galt & the Blues Deacons, Sept 25 – Wicked Grin, Oct 2 – The Chris O’Leary Band, Oct 9 – The Drifter Kings, Oct 16 – Levee Town, Oct 23 – Bex Marshall, Oct 30 – Lionel Young.

Additional ICBC partnered shows:@ 6:00 PM, Sept 22 – Hurricane Ruth, CD Release Party @ Third Base, 8 pm, Sept 30 – Rockin’ Johnny Burgin @ Third Base, 8 pm, Oct 5 – James Armstrong Presents ~ Kingdom Brothers @ 6:00 PM, Oct 19 – James Armstrong Presents ~ Soundfire @ 6:00 PM. For more information visit

Central Iowa Blues Society -Des Moines, IA

Iowa Blues Challenge Finals – The preliminary rounds are complete and the lineup is now set for the 2017 Iowa Blues Challenge Finals on Saturday, September 16, 2017 at Des Moines Social Club, 900 Mulberry St, 5 pm Admission at the door is $15, $10 for members of any Iowa Blues Society with a current card.

Competing in the Solo/Duo bracket at 5:00 pm will be Bruce Kort & Forrest Rische, Freight Train Frank Strong and Kevin BF Burt. The 3 contesting bands starting at 7:15 pm are Blue Scratch, Avey Grouws Band and Hound Dog Shy. Winning acts will represent Iowa in Memphis at the 2018 International Blues Challenge.

Special thanks to our sponsors Budweiser, Exile, Iowa Public Radio, Zimm’s, Rieman Music, Junior’s Motel, Lefty’s, Des Moines Social Club, Vividpix, Central Iowa Blues Society, South Skunk Blues Society, MS Valley Blues Society and Southeast Iowa Blues Society. For more information go to

Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

The Sacramento Blues Society will be hosting the fabulous Golden State-Lone Star Blues Revue on September 3, 2017 at the world famous Torch Club, 904-15th St. This band consists of Mark Hummel and RW Grigsby representing the Golden Gate and Wes Starr and Mike Keller from Texas. Keller was once a member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and is stepping in for Little Charlie Baty, who is on yet another endeavor. Music is from 4:00-7:00, 21+, $15 SBS members, $20 public.

Also, it is with great pleasure that we announce the 2017 Sacramento Blues Society Hall of Fame Inductees. They are: Bill Scholer, Fred “Deacon” Baker, Kenny “Obie Dee” Van Cromphaut, Stan Powell, and Tim Wilbur. And special HOF Induction Presentation for the late Jay Peterson by 2010 SBS Hall of Fame Members Rick Estrin and Charles Baty.

Please join us for the Induction Ceremony on Sunday, September 24, 2017 from 1 pm – 5:00 pm at Harlow’s, 2708 J St, Sacramento, CA (SBS members $10, non-members $15) followed by an after party from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at the nationally known Torch Club, 904 15th St, Sacramento, CA.

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Long Beach Blues Society – Long Beach, CA

The Long Beach Blues Society is proud to present New Blues Festival 4, Saturday, September 2 and Sunday, September 3 (Labor Day Weekend) at El Dorado Park in Long Beach, Calif. 2017 Contemporary Blues Album Nominee Janiva Magness and Serbian-born guitar great Ana Popovic, along with Blues legend Guitar Shorty and Chris Cain, headline a strong 2-day Main Stage lineup. Vendor Village, Craft Beers on Tap, BBQ Vendors, Gourmet Food Trucks, and more. The Golden Groove Stage will feature performances by many of the Southland’s best Blues acts.

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Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Nov 14 – Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat, Manteno Sportsmen’s Club. More Info at:

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