Issue 11-36 September 7, 2017

Cover photo © 2017 Marilyn Stringer

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Johnny Rawls. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Michael Packer, Micki Free, Jeff Dale & Jeff Stone, The Mark Cameron Band, The Cash Box Kings, James Rosocha, Durham County Poets and Joseph Veloz.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

michael packer cd imageMichael Packer – I Am The Blues: My Story Vol. 3

Iris Music Group IMG 968-3

14 songs – 42 minutes

New York-based guitarist, vocalist and activist Michael Packer delivers his swan song with this album, the third chapter in his musical autobiography, which was in the can and released only a few days after he lost his life to liver cancer on May 6, 2017.

Age 66 at his passing, Packer lived the life of a true bluesman. As he detailed in previous releases, he spared no detail in describing his path from early stardom to alcoholism, drugs, homelessness, jail and eventual redemption. He laid it all on the line, exposing warts others certainly would have hidden in the past.

Born in Manhattan and raised in nearby Bedford Hills, Michael’s first paying gig came at age 15 at the legendary Bitter End in Greenwich Village. At 19 in 1969, he formed the country rock band Papa Nebo, which included future Grammy-winning jazz fusion saxophonist Bob Mintzer of the Yellowjackets. They were so good that Ahmet Ertegun himself signed them to his Atlantic Records label.

Relocating to San Francisco, he and George Thorogood played on the streets for tips at the height of Height-Ashbury before he returned to New York in 1973 to form Free Beer, a band that produced three LPs on Buddah and RCA that all charted in the Billboard Top 100. But drinking and drugs took their toll. Michael abandoned music in the late ’80s and eventually spent a year in the infamous Rikers Island after being convicted of theft.

Packer became a respected member of the New York blues community after turning his life around, releasing a succession of albums that featured his laid-back vocals and unique guitar stylings influenced by both Lightnin’ Hopkins and B.B. King in the process. But his charitable efforts were larger than life.

He was a prime mover in the regional Blues Music Halls Of Fame, and he singlehandedly started the Blues For Peace movement. Several concerts overseas successfully raised money for the United Nations refugee program, but proved problematic back home, where one show scheduled for the White House in 2016 was cancelled at the last minute because the stage was one or two inches in height out of specifications and another in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square never happened because a portable electric transformer blew up moments before show time, nearly killing Packer’s drummer in the process.

This release features Packer in both acoustic and electric formats. The description in the header of this review is slightly misleading because there are actually only seven songs, all original on the album, each of which Michael introduces with a spoken monolog. None of the backing musicians are credited in the packaging, but are all top notch. One cut, which was recorded live at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago for a Hall Of Fame induction ceremony includes guitarist Mike Wheeler on guitar, bassist Melvin Smith, drummer Willie “The Touch” Hayes and keyboard player Roosevelt Purifoy.

The opener, “Blues For Peace,” is a simple acoustic number that describes the heartache he endured at home after successfully launching his campaign in Mexico, Australia, France, Ukraine, Israel and Iran with another planned for Cyprus cancelled because of travel problems related to political unrest in Turkey. Michael’s delivery is wistful despite his obvious inner pain. “Fields Of Sorrow” is an electric blues co-written by Ed Jackson. It recounts the eerie feeling Packer’s band felt while walking along the grounds of Hobson Plantation in Mississippi after a festival in which David “Honeyboy” Edwards joined them on stage. The spirit of the slaves who toiled in that field was so strong, it was overpowering and they were forced to leave.

“Yo Staten Island” incorporates “Born Under A Bad Sign” into a rap that recalls the death of Eric Garner, the large black family man who was killed by police using an outlawed choke hold after stopping him for selling individual cigarettes on the street a couple of blocks from Michael’s home. “Flash Flame” describes the ill-fated Washington Park performance, while “Chicago,” which features the all-star lineup described above, is a slow, sweet number that pays tribute to the Windy City and the blues.

Packer obviously knew that his time was numbered, as revealed in the final two sections. “Do It All Over” is a thinly veiled love song to a lady loved, lost and who still remains a friend, while the closer, “Mr. Packer,” serves as an aural epitaph.

Michael went down fighting, still planning to get out of the house to play an afternoon benefit at a church festival on the morning he died. It’s obvious that he made peace with himself before he passed — and his story is definitely worth a listen. Available through Amazon and iTunes.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

micki free cd imageMicki Free – Tattoo Burn Redux

Mysterium Blues Records

11 tracks / 52:20

Micki Free had the perfect introduction to the bluesier side of rock and roll when his father was stationed in the military overseas and his sister took him to a Jimi Hendrix concert in Germany. This mind-blowing experience inspired him, and when the family moved back to the states and Micki started his own rock band, where Gene Simmons discovered him when they opened up for KISS. Free continued to refine his guitar and vocal chops, and in the 1980s he joined the rhythm and blues / soul group, Shalamar, earning three Grammy nominations and one win! Since then he has been creating his own material, collaborating with other Native American artists, and working with a few names you may have heard of before, such as Carlos Santana, Prince, and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.

Micki’s latest project is a remastered version of his 2012 album Tattoo Burn, with two new original songs added to the mix. Tattoo Burn Redux is a thoughtful collection of original modern blues tunes that feature incredible musicianship, including killer guitar work from Free. If you look through the liner notes you will also see that he also acted as the producer and songwriter, and sang the lead vocals. He was joined in the studio by a stellar line-up of supporting musicians, including Bill Wyman (The Rolling Stones), Cindy Blackman-Santana (Santana and Lenny Kravitz), David “Hawk” Lopez (Crown of Thorns and Power Station), Kenny Gradney (Little Feat), Mark “Muggy Doo” Leach (JP Soars and Bernard Allison), Brother Paul Brown (The Waterboys), Jack Dailey (Lenny Kravitz), and David Santos (Billy Joel and Elton John).

Tattoo Burn Redux kicks off with one of the new songs, and “God is on the Phone” is a tight duet with Howard Hewett, Shalamar’s frontman. This funky blues has a lovely melodic bass line and searing guitar leads that lay just under the Hammond B3 and gospel lyrics. This is a strong start, and it is backed up by the title track, which is a more conventional blues rocker with a heavy mid-tempo beat. These two songs are very different, but they are both well written and Free’s sweet vocal and guitar work tie them together so that the transition is seamless. This synergy carries over throughout the album, enabling it to work as a whole despite the varied influences of blues, rock, soul, funk, gospel, and roots.

There is not a bad song on this CD, but there are a few standout cuts that should be noted. An ode to go-juice, ”Mojo Black Coffee,” is a full cup of old-school blues with a heavy riff and sublime harmonica from guest artist Randy Singer, who certainly knows how to blow a mean harp. The opposite of this is “Six Feet Down in the Blues,” which features amazing keyboards (including dramatic chords on the organ and fine improvisation on the piano) that plays well off of Micki’s guitar leads. Mr. Free has an amazing touch on the six-string, and his emotional output rivals that of any other bluesman I have ever heard.

The album ends with a pair of seasonal tunes that you might want to work into your next holiday party playlist. “Five Minutes Till Christmas” is a spicy serving of electric blues that is fun and different than the standards that are already boring when the radio stations start playing them the day after Thanksgiving. And the closer, “Sometimes in Winter,” a Hammond-fueled ballad that features Micki’s voice at the top of his range, choir vocals from Shea, Wendy Moten, and Trish Bowden. This is the other new tune, and it is cool that Free bookended this release with two strong originals that his fans have not heard before.

It is hard to say why Micki Free is not more of a household name, but he should be. Tattoo Burn Redux is a noteworthy release, as it is a serious set of soulful blues and rock that is performed flawlessly. I highly recommend that you head to the Mysterium Blues Records website to hear it for yourself, and while you are at it check out his Native American flute album, as it is a beautiful blend of flute, guitar, voice, and nature sounds. It is not the blues, but it does provide a great perspective for Micki and where he is coming from!

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

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

jeff dale jeff stone cd imageJeff Dale & Jeff Stone – The Southside Lives

Bluestone Records

11 songs time-37:21

Jeff Dale steps out from his regular duties with Chicago’s Jeff Dale & The South Woodlawners to pursue this mostly acoustic venture with friend since the age of seven Jeff Stone. Dale handles vocals, acoustic guitar and cigar box guitar, while Stone handles the harmonica. Drums and bass appear on five songs. The eleven songs penned by Jeff Dale are personal blues recollections about growing up in Chicago and their on going blues life. The lyrics are highly personal and heartfelt and enhanced by Dale’s gruff, yearning and expressive voice. Jeff Stone’s harp skills are top notch and gels well with Dale’s guitar and voice to create front porch blues atmospherics.

“Honeyboy Story” tells Honeyboy Edwards’ stories told through Jeff Dale, recounting his adventures and misadventures. Honeyboy was one of Dale’s mentors. The guitar and harmonica create contrasting rhythms, moving the groove along quite nicely. He bemoans folks keeping chickens in Chicago in the comical “Rooster”. “Leave the chickens for the country or tonight I’m having rooster stew”. Don’t mess with Jeff.

Jeff talk-sings his and the other Jeff’s memories of growing up on Chicago’s Southside in “The Southside Lives”. “Hooked Up To A Plow” was inspired by a saying of Honeyboy Edwards. It includes some nice slide guitar and great harmonica as elsewhere on the disc. The rigors of a traveling bluesman’s life on the road is expounded on in “The Old Blues Hotel”, that sports more tasty slide work. A yearning for a world of peace and justice for all is expressed in “The Dream”. Vocals, plaintive harp and hand claps are the only backing on the infectious “The First Time I Met the Blues”.

Cool drumming by Wendysue Rosloff along with Pat Ciliberto’s bass shuffle along on the tale of a cheapskate woman-“Tight Ass Mama”. Slide echoes the vocal on the moving, bare bones recounting of Jeff Dale’s mother’s death “Mud On My Shoes”. The upbeat “Broke And Burned” is about burning life’s emotional bridges.

The two Jeffs are in sync musically and emotionally on this highly personal joint effort. The acoustic intertwining is unobtrusively supported by the rhythm section on five of the songs here. The guys manage to update the blues tradition of the guitar-harmonica duo with style and rough-edged grace. They uphold this tradition proudly.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

mark cameron band cd imageThe Mark Cameron Band – Live At Blues On The Chippewa

COP Records – 2017

11 tracks; 44 minutes

The Mark Cameron Band is an experienced outfit from Minnesota. They have recorded many CDs over the years but it was 2013’s One Way Ride To The Blues that brought them to a wider audience, consolidated by the 2016 release Playing Rough. This live album, recorded at the Blues On The Chippewa festival in August 2016, reprises seven tracks from Playing Rough and one classic cover, together with four other Cameron originals. Mark fronts the band on guitar and vocals with Sheri Campbell on sax, flute, percussion and vocals, Bill Keyes on harmonica and vocals, Scott Lundberg on bass and vocals and Dan Schroeder on drums. Gary Eckhart, a stalwart supporter of Blues Blast, provided all the photos for the CD booklet.

The album was recorded almost by chance when Scott noticed the high quality audio gear at the festival and suggested the band ask to be recorded, so the album is exactly as the audience at the festival enjoyed. Opening cut “Doctor In The House” bounces along with Bill’s harp to the fore, Mark singing of how the blues can ‘infect’ you once it takes hold; “Somewhere Down The Line” opens with Mark’s neat guitar work, a tale of being misled in your career which also doubles as an intro to the band before “Dicey”, a funky blues with sax and a spoken vocal. Sheri’s flute adds an other-worldly touch to the slow blues “Borrowed Time” before two upbeat tunes that must have got the crowd moving: “Mojo Shuffle” opens with Mark’s immortal line “Tell me what is mojo? Well I know it when I see it” and “Hammered By The Blues” is one of those ‘churning’ blues that gets you rocking in your chair. At just short of six minutes it’s the longest tune here, the band generally keeping the solos short and sweet.

Howling Wolf’s “Killing Floor” is the sole cover and it’s a solid version with Sheri name-checked for her egg shaker solo in the middle! Three more cuts from Playing Rough follow, starting with the title track, a catchy tune in which Mark tells us about what sounds like a difficult relationship with a ‘bad, bad girl’: “the first kiss you bit my tongue”! Mark then switches to slide dobro for a semi-acoustic pair of songs: “Done Me Wrong” and “Rusty Old Model T”, both tunes having some country blues references. We keep on an automobile-related theme with “Back Street Boogie” which makes a good closing number with its upbeat rhythm, sax support and catchy chorus.

The Mark Cameron Band has a stated intention of delivering ‘foot stompin’, butt shakin’ music’ and this live album does just that.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

cash box kings cd imageThe Cash Box Kings – Royal Mint

Alligator Records

13 tracks

The Cash Box Kings are on Alligator Records. Who’d-a thunk? I hired these guys for our first festival back in 2010. They were surely on the rise, given the talent in the band, and they released many great CDs over the years by themselves, on Blind Pig and now on Alligator, the premier label for blues. They’ve headlined festivals, travelled the world and garnered all sort of accolades, and do you know what? They deserve it!

The boys have come a long way, with fantastic vocals, some outstanding harp, and two great guitar players. Barrelhouse Chuck has been featured on piano on prior CDs and the band dedicates this album to him, one of the most talented and exciting piano players whom I have had the pleasure to hear, know and love. Joining Oscar Wilson on vocals, Joe Nosek on harp and vocals, Billy Flynn and Joel Paterson on guitar is Lee Kanehira on the piano and he does a beautiful job. No one can fill Chuck’s shoes but Lee is a super piano player in his own right and makes this jumping CD fill out nicely. Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith returns on drums for the first, fifth and seventh cuts and Mark Haines is on drums on the rest of the songs with percussion except for one track. All do an excellent job. Brad Ber is an outstanding upright and electric bass player and is he always a stalwart for the band.

Mel Ford plays some rhythm guitar on seven cuts and anything Mel ever does is good stuff. I was glad to hear him join in here. Alex Hall is featured on drums on “Flood.” The C-Note Horns join in on the fifth track; they are Al Falaschi on tenor and baritone sax, Darren Sterud on trombone and Jim Doherty on trumpet. These guys are all stars. Falaschi also adds his horns to a couple of other tracks. The band has wisely added some great special guest with these guys and Kanehira on piano!

A rousing and stomping version of “House Party” opens up the CD with the CBK’s in their zone. They jump and jive with Oscar howling out he lead and Joe offering up some greasy and distorted harp. Paterson and Flynn tear it up on guitar and Falaschi’s horns add some nice stuff to the mix, too, along with some piano. “I’m Gonna Get My Baby” is another classic where Wilson gets some response from the band to his calls. More slick harp here, too, and the piano gets a little more exposure here. It’s another one that will get you up to dance. Muddy Water’s “Flood” is next, and Wilson and Company give it its’ due. True to the original, the boys play some slick slow blues for us as Oscar testifies. Kanehira’s piano gets a pretty solo that would make the old masters proud. Billy follows with his own guitar solo and then Nosek builds on that with his harp. One of my favorite slow blues songs and these guys nailed it.

The first original is “Build That Wall,” a tongue in cheek narrative and social commentary. Nosek gets his first shot fronting the band with his song and he does a fantastic job. This jump tune features barrelhouse piano, lots of call and response, a huge Chuck Berry-styled guitar solo by Billy and lots lots of hand clapping to add to the beat. It’s a great new song! “Blues for Chi-Raq” follows that, another original penned by Joe and Oscar. This one bemoans the violence and problems in Oscar’s neighborhood. All the horns are here, Flynn and Paterson are both in the fray, Kenny Smith is on drums again, and Nosek’s harp is part of the great mix as Oscar testifies to us. The old Robert Johnson “Traveling Riverside Blues” gets a nice and stripped down cover here with Oscar offering some hot vocals and Joel playing some electric guitar and slide.

The next new cut is “If You Got A Jealous Woman Facebook Ain’t Your Friend.” The title tells it all. Oscar wails, Paterson and Flynn tear the house down and Nosek blows some more mean harp. It’s a jumping tune for sure! “Daddy Bear Blues” is also new, a thoughtful and pensive sort of cut with nice piano work, Nosek offering up a tasteful vocal and Flynn tinkling on his Mandolin. Well done! Next up is “Sugar Sweet,” a Mel London song that Muddy first released in 1955 as a Chess side. Nosek amps up the harp here from the original and Oscar’s vocals are smooth in contrast to Muddy’s. Kanehira’s piano also plays a bigger role and Flynn’s guitar was up to the task- well done again! “I’m A Stranger” is an old Lightnin’ Hopkins’ slow blues and the band does it up nicely. Wilson, Flynn, Nosek and Kanehira all play a big part and make this sound good.

Wilson’s “I Come All The Way from Chi-Town” is up next, a down tempo, stripped down slow blues with Paterson on electric guitar and Nosek on harp behind Oscar. It’s very cool and minimalistic in it’s approach; it’s got an electric front porch sort of style to it. A rousing version of “All Night Long” follows with Oscar calling out the melody and the boys responding. The sax is back, the piano is huge, Flynn is masterful and the tune rocks as the band obviously has a good time. The CD concludes with Nosek’s “Don’t Let Life Tether You Down.” Haines beats out a great groove, Kanehira plays with great chops and Flynn and Ber add to the mix as Nosek leads the final charge in this optimistic and fun little number that ends up on a positive note.

The guys hold nothing back and offer up a juicy and sweet album for all of us to savor. It’s hard to beat their recent prior stuff but they have- this is a really fine album and it belongs in any blues fans collection. These guys can jump and swing with anyone- go buy this one now! You won’t regret it!

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

james rosocha cd imageJames Rosocha – Avalon


CD: 9 Songs, 47:17 Minutes

Styles: Mellow Instrumental Jazz, Bass-Based Jazz

When a bassist takes center stage on an album, it’s like watching a delicate balancing act at the circus. How can such an artist make sure s/he’s the main event, and plays the main instrument, without seeming over-the-top? Bass guitars don’t have the range of lead guitars, or (in most cases) the sexiness, the va-va-voom of lead guitars. James Rosocha, veteran of the jazz genre, aims to fix that. Yours truly knows that the title of the publication you’re currently reading is Blues Blast Magazine. She also knows that sometimes, it’s almost impossible to demarcate the line between blues and other genres – in this case, jazz. However, Rosocha’s newest release, Avalon, is most clearly jazz, with barely a blue note to be found on its nine tracks (one cover, eight listed originals, and one ghost track). Even though Rosocha’s mellow and atmospheric instrumentals have been featured on TV channels galore, Ms. Wetnight believes it would be perfectly suited for one particular station broadcasting 24-hour forecasts and natural-disaster documentaries. Don’t get me wrong: This is anything but Muzak. It’s just not down-home blues.

This bassist has garnered tons of accolades over the years, as detailed on his webpage. “Bassist James Rosocha holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He’s toured the United States and Europe as a long-time member of the BD Lenz group. Together they’ve released nine albums under the New York jazz label Apria Records and can be heard on a number of television shows such as MTV, VH1, USA, A&E, Nickelodeon, Travel Network, Food Network, Spike TV, Comedy Central and a long host of others.

“A student of New Jersey’s late jazz legend/guitarist Harry Leahey and Steve Morse Band/Dixie Dregs bassist Dave LaRue, James has been fortunate to share the stage with trumpet legend Randy Brecker, guitarist Hiram Bullock, drummer Joel Rosenblatt, saxophonist Jay Beckenstein, pianist Jeremy Wall of Spyro Gyro and Phish leader Trey Anastasio. He appears alongside Trey in the new Phish Companion book, which documents the band’s history and music.”

Playing in Rosocha’s ensemble are the man himself on bass, keyboards, and (relatively rare) vocals; Steve Kramer on piano; Audric Jankauskas on guitar and synth solo; Josh Orlando, Kevin Soffera and Scott Jordan on drums; John Christie on percussion; Dave Haywood on guitar and vocals; BD Lenz on guest guitar; Kendall Scott on vibes and second keyboard; Nick Rolfe and Thomas Alexander on guest keyboards; and Geoff Mattoon on tenor and soprano saxes.

The song below is the edgiest on the CD, perfect background music for reading gothic horror.

Track 07: “Reverie” – At times, our memories aren’t exactly fond. Neither are they beautiful, because sometimes the truth is ugly. “Reverie” brings this to mind, along with loss, heartbreak, and pent-up resentments that simmer within a relationship until they happen to boil over. “Reverie” calls up the image of a driver on a lonely highway in the dead of night, yearning to escape the ghosts that haunt him, but unable to manage this feat. The shadows keep closing in. This instrumental plunges listeners into the darker depths of the psyche, where fear holds sway.

In the mood for mellow instrumental jazz? Take a trip to Avalon with James Rosocha!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

druham county poets cd imageDurham County Poets – Grimshaw Road

Self Release

14 tracks / 57:10

A wide variety of new music comes into Blues Blast Magazine, and some of it is a harder to pigeonhole into a category, which is where we find the Durham County Poets. These fellows come to us from southwest Quebec, but their sound is straight out of the south, with a definite hill country feel. Their latest album, Grimshaw Road, is a wonderful blend of blues, folk, gospel, country, rock, soul, jazz, and maybe even some Cajun influences. Maybe it is best to just call it Americana or roots music and leave it at that – either way it is unique and very listenable.

Durham County Poets have been around since 2011, and Grimshaw Road is a their third disc. The band has been popular at festivals and clubs in their home country, and this project should prove palatable for audiences south of the border too. The band is fronted by Kevin Harvey on vocals and harmonica, and he was joined in the studio by David Whyte on guitar and sax, Neil Elsmore on guitar, Carl Rufh on bass and trombone, and James Preimel on the drums. This CD runs almost an hour, and has fourteen tracks with only two covers. All of the band members pitched in on the songwriting and each song plays out like a poem that is set to music, which seems like a basic skill, but a lot of bands seem to forget about this.

The title track kicks off Grimshaw Road, and the lyrics use vivid imagery to describe a moment when the right path in life was chosen. This somber tune might be one of the bluesier songs on the album, with a lush acoustic sound that builds from the start. Harvey is a fine singer, and his smooth vocals are a perfect fit with the subject and style. The mood and sound changes for each track after this, but each of them fits in with the next, allowing the album to work well as a whole.

As the album progresses, the listeners get to experience this for themselves. There are plenty of folk-inspired tunes, but there is also “Monday Morning” with its Louisiana feel thanks to the horns and innovative percussion (not to mention a well-placed electric drill). “Bowlful of Lazy” has definite jazz influences, with spoken-word vocals and Jody Golick’s smoky sax work. And there is even a bit of swing with “Outside Cat,” which is a hip story of a man who “plays by his own rules.”

It is hard to pick favorites on this CD, but there are a few songs that stand out. “Hard Times” has a lazy Louisiana barroom feel with guest artist Tony Costantini on piano. When this is mixed in with the trombone of Rufh and the innovative drumming of Preimel the results are a guaranteed good time. The other knockout is “Club Mellow” which almost approaches the world of blues-rock with its distorted guitars and killer groove.

The two covers are not ones that many blues band choose to revisit. The first is “Diamonds on the Water,” which was written and recorded by Canadian folk legend Penny Lang in 2006. The band rearranged this tune with a few more layers of guitars, including some excellent 12-string playing from guest artist Michael Jerome Browne, a three-time Canadian Folk Music Award winner. It does not lose its peaceful acoustic feel in the translation, and the vocal harmonies are a lovely addition. “On Your Bond” is the other cover, and Blind Willie Johnson recorded (and possibly wrote) this traditional song in 1930 as “You’ll Need Somebody on Your Bond.” The original has a bare bones sound with just vocals and slide guitar, and this revision is a more complex (yet mellow) country rock song that delivers the assertion that gaining entrance to heaven is a legal contract, and that you are going to need somebody on your side if you want to make the cut.

The Durham County Poets’ talent did not lose anything in the studio, as this disc is well produced with a good balance of instruments and vocals and a clear sound. Also, the band has included a booklet of the song lyrics for all fourteen songs, which is a thoughtful addition in an age where liner notes have become quite rare. It would be nice if more artists would do this for their listeners.

Grimshaw Road is a solid collection of roots and blues from Durham County Poets, and each song is a story that is worth listening to. The band has plenty of gigs coming up, so check in at their web page to see where they are playing. If you are in Ontario, Quebec or the Northeast United States you are in luck as they are hitting a lot of venues this summer and fall. While you are online you can also listen to their new music, and I think you agree that all blues fans will find something there to enjoy!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

joseph veloz cd imageJoseph Veloz – Offerings

Big O Records

CD: 8 Songs, 34:51 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Funk, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Blues Covers

Periodically, yours truly calls the blues songs and CD’s that artists send her “offerings”. It was only a matter of time before she received an album with that very title, from Michigan’s Joseph Veloz. He and his band have dedicated eight eclectic tracks to Someone far higher, in the grand scheme of things, than an aspiring blues critic. The gifts Joseph presents to God, and to funk and blues fans all over the world, are vibrant with instrumentation and a 1970’s party atmosphere. Heads up: You have to be in the right mood for this music, the right frame of mind. Imagining a rowdy roadhouse with peanut shells on the floor won’t be conducive to it. From the first song to the last, Offerings offers “something completely different” for those who are looking for it. On three original tracks and five covers, Veloz and his posse push the envelope of these two genres. Our protagonist brings his bass to the forefront, proving to lead guitar lovers that his instrument of choice need not be relegated to the background. This is delightful and refreshing to hear.

Joseph offers some autobiographical details on his website. “As a child I was inspired early by jazz, soul and classical music recordings that I heard in and around my home. I took that passion and applied it to education. Beginning at the age of eight, my aptitude and understanding of music history and theory just added to my natural ability to perform. With studies at Blue Lake Music Camp and Interlochen National Music Camp as a teenager, I became an outstanding classical upright bassist for my age, earning positions in both the Michigan Youth Symphony and the Saginaw Symphony, respectively. I continued my education with studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI and Jazz studies at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, IL. There I applied my accumulated experience to bass guitar and immersed myself in the Chicago music scene, most significantly, the blues scene!”

Performing alongside boisterous bassist Veloz are Jim Alfredson and Jim David on keyboards; Dylan Dunbar, Erich Goebel, Greg Nagy, and Shawn Kellerman on guitar; John Lee on piano; Ray Podhornik on trumpet; David Rodenburg on sax, and Andrew “Blaze” Thomas and Scott Veenstra on drums.

Right from the get-go, these artists invite us to fall down the rabbit hole into a weird wonderland.

Track 01: “Just Jammin’” – As a kid and teenager, I would fill sheets of notebook paper with random drawings, sketching whatever came into my head at the time. This album’s opener reminds me of those pages and those good times. It’s a marvelous instrumental mishmash, beginning with Jim Alfredson’s outta-sight, outer-space keyboard work. Get out of your seat and on your feet, live crowds and those at home. Don’t worry about how you look when you dance the Funky Chicken. After all, these guys are “Just Jammin’,” and they want you to join them.

If you love funky blues, then Joseph Veloz and company have made eight Offerings just for you!

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

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 Featured Blues Interview – Johnny Rawls 

johnny rawls pic 1As most people reach the age when Social Security and Medicare kick in, they start making plans for their retirement. With his sixty-sixth birthday coming up in early September, Johnny Rawls hasn’t considered slowing down or changing his lifestyle. He is simply having too much fun! “To make it plain and simple, I love what I do. I live for what I do. It’s not a hobby to me. It is a way of life and a living. I take it very seriously”. Rawls still continues a schedule that has him playing 250-300 shows a year. He rarely gets to spend much time in his Wisconsin home.

Growing up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the youngster didn’t have to look very far to find some music. “I grew up around music. It was next door, down the street, around the corner. It was in the juke joints and in the churches. I started out playing clarinet in 4th grade. Then I went on to saxophone and trumpet in the high school band. When I was thirteen or fourteen, we started fooling around with the guitar. The girls liked all of the guitar players! That wasn’t hard to figure out. But joking aside, I liked the guitar started off songs like “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay” and “Soul Man”. I wasn’t too much into guitar players. But my idol was Steve Cropper. He played on hundreds of gold records and came up with significant, trademark guitar licks. He was my guitar hero – not Jimi Hendrix or Carlos Santana”.

Unlike many singers of his generation, Rawls did not grow up singing in the church. He stuck to playing guitar for one excellent reason. “I didn’t start singing until I moved from Mississippi to Wisconsin. Do you realize how many great singers I was around? There was O.V. Wright, Otis Redding, Johnny Taylor….I wouldn’t dare open my mouth around those people. When I was a teenager, Tommy Tate played drums and the lead singer in my band”. (Tate was unsung soul singer with several minor hits) There were so many legendary singers that singing was the last thing on my mind”.

In the ninth grade, Rawls was asked to play in a dance band by Carl Gates, his high school band director. The band provided support for Taylor, Wright, Z.Z. Hill, Jimmy Hughes, and Willie Hightower. It allowed Rawls to get to know the great soul singers as they toured through Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alabama, playing saxophone in the band.

“My brother was two tears older than me. He was able to go to all the big shows like Tina Turner or Sam & Dave. I couldn’t go. So when he got home, I was always asking about what were they driving, what were they wearing, how many pieces in the band. Then, all of a sudden, in a blink of an eye, I was on that same stage. I had imagined it all – then there I was up there. It was a dream come true. We were getting paid $11 a night. People used to raise families on $40 a week. I’d was making $25 for working a weekend. It was like I had a job at a lumber yard or something. Back then you could feed a family for $3 a day. Cookies were two for a penny. Those days are long gone”.

johnny rawls pic 2After moving to Milwaukee, Rawls stayed out on the road. When he was twenty-three, Rawls got a call from O.V. Wright, asking him to put together a band to back the singer. Wright had tracked him down through Gates. That was the beginning of a long stint as Wright’s bandleader. “ Like Bobby Bland told me one time, O.V. Wright and Little Willie John, two of the greatest singers that ever lived. Being are on stage with someone as great as O.V., standing beside him every night, you learn about soul, about timing, and movement. I was naturally gifted with a lot of it but I soaked it all in like sponge. He always told me never make the promoter mad – and always get paid before you sing!”.

Asked about the difference between blues and southern soul blues, Rawls was very clear on where he stands. “Everybody has different terminologies. White writers often refer to the “chitlin’ circuit,” which offends a lot of the older black artists. You have to separate the music yourself. Southern soul now is artists like OB Buchana, TK Soul, and Sir Charles Jones. Soul music used to be Wright, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett. What I am doing is soul blues, which is mixture of Sam & Dave with gospel. When you add it all up,a great song is a great song – and it is all God’s music”.

“My songs have a good rhythm. I like everybody dancing at my shows all night long. I get booked on festivals and big shows because I keep them dancing. You have to have common sense. Why would you get on a festival in front of two – three thousand people to play a slow-ass blues song? I was on a festival in California two weeks ago. I saw a band end their show with a slow Minnie Riperton song. I couldn’t believe it! Whatever momentum had going, they killed it all. That’s not common sense – shows a lack of knowledge and experience. I than God that I know better”.

After Wright passed away, Rawls recorded an album with singer L.C. Luckett, Can’t Sleep At Night, that received plenty of critical acclaim. Luckett was family, a cousin ten years younger than Rawls. Now that he was getting noticed for his own efforts, the singer started his own career and has never looked back. Eventually he signed with John Stedman of JSP Records in England, not only as a recording artist, but also as an A&R agent to find artists and produce their projects for the label. He discovered and recorded nearly twenty artists during his tenure. His favorite project, In My Time, was with a big-voiced singer and guitarist Percy Strother, originally from Mississippi, later settling in Minneapolis.

Rawls is thankful for the time he spent with legendary singer, Otis Clay, collaborating on two projects. The first one, Remembering O.V., was a tribute to his former boss. Rawls and Clay sang together on three tracks. That recording won a 2010 Blues Music Award in the Soul Blues Album category. For the next one, Rawls wanted to simply produce the album, but Clay had other ideas. “Otis told me, no, Johnny – let’s do one together. They’ll never know what hit ’em. And he was right. I was with O.V. for about ten years and I only spent a few years with Otis. But I became much closer with Otis. He became a great friend of mine. We were really close. Guys like Otis are naturally great – great person, great personality, everybody loved him. And he had so much gospel in him. He had so much power….listen to him sing “When The Gates Swing Open” – oh, my God. Nobody could do that.”

johnny rawls pic 3In 2008, Rawls started working with Catfood Records, headed up by bass player Bob Trenchard. His latest release, Waiting For The Train, is his eighth release for the label. But the guitarist does more than just record. “If you look on the record, it says Catfood but it also has Deep South Soul Records, too. That is my record label. So it is also my label. It all started about sixteen years ago. Bob asked me for something for this band, Kay Kay & The Rays (Texas Justice). I did it and we developed a friendship from there and started doing things together. We write music and lyrics, sometimes sharing things. He might write most of a song, sometimes I write one. I will fix them up, put the music and arrangements to the songs”.

As a songwriter, recording artist, and label owner, Rawls offers an interesting perspective on the effect of downloads and streaming services on musicians pocketbooks. “It’s a bad thing – but it’s a good thing! My song “Born To The Blues” got me 600,000 – 700,000 screens on it. I didn’t make a lot of money but almost a million people know who I am now. It’s a better thing than getting paid. I can see, as I travel across the United States, that people are aware of who I am because they heard me on Pandora, or on Bluesville, and Music Choice. It has helped me all over the world”.

He feels his new release is one of his best, and appreciates the helping hand provided by producer Jim Gaines. “ He has worked with so many artists – Santana, Tower of Power, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Neville Brothers, and more. He has the experience, a real pro. He knows every crook & turn, every beat up and down. He can do it all – produce, engineer, and mix the songs. He’s become a good friend. Every time I record, it just keeps getting better and better. My Momma didn’t tell me that. My fans tell me that. It’s different when your Momma tells you things. It doesn’t matter what you do. There could be a real ugly baby and your Momma would be saying, “Oh, that’s such a pretty child”. Everything sounds good to your mother.”

Over the course of his career, Rawls has been nominated for several Blues Blast Music Awards plus eighteen Blues Music Awards. Out of all of the artist he has known, worked with, and all of the experiences from decades of living on the road, there are several things that mean the most to him. “The first was opening for B.B. King for a show in 1986 in my hometown of Hattiesburg, MI. The other is that I am on a Mississippi Trail marker with my two idols, Tyrone Davis and Little Milton (Campbell). That means more to me than a Grammy or an Oscar. When you win a Grammy, they forget you. But that marker will stand forever, long after I am gone. I’ll be sixty-six soon, in pretty good health, everything is working, so life is good. I’m going to keep the good soul music coming!”

Visit Johnny’s website at:

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

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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 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: Sept 7 James Armstrong Presents ~ Frank Parker & Friends @ 6:00 PM, Sept 8 Bisquit Miller @ Third base, 8 pm, Sept 21 James Armstrong Presents ~ King T’z @ 6:00 PMSept 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

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.

For more additional information:

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

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

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