Issue 11-37 September 14, 2017

Cover photo © 2017 Joseph A. Rosen

 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Blues rocker Mike Zito. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including a book by Mitsutoshi Inaba about “Sonny Boy” Williamson plus new music from Johnny Rawls, Delta Wires, Mick Clarke, Blind Lemon Pledge And Friends, Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca, Tom Killner and Charlie Morris.

Bob Kieser has photos and commentary from the Crossroads Blues Festival.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

johnny rawld cd imageJohnny Rawls – Waiting For The Train

Catfood Records CFR-024

10 songs – 42 minutes

Johnny Rawls calls upon Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines for the much awaited follow-up to Tiger In A Cage, the 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards nominee for soul blues album of the year. That release was edged out in the voting by Curtis Salgado’s Beautiful Lowdown, but was a sensational release that climbed to the top of multiple charts and remained there for months. And this pleasing CD should receive equal attention.

Born in Columbia, Miss., in 1951 and raised in Purvis and Gulfport, Johnny emerged as someone to be reckoned with in the soul-blues community while still in high school, playing guitar behind some of the biggest names in the business — including Joe Tex, Little Johnny Taylor and Z.Z. Hill — when they needed local backup during tours. By the time he reached his early 20s, he was serving as band leader for O.V. Wright, one of the greatest voices and songwriters the genre has ever known.

Rawls kept the band together after Wright’s untimely death in 1979, and made his debut as a solo artist six years later. In the mid-’90s, he paired with L.C. Luckett for two albums on the Rooster Blues imprint before going solo for a four-release run on Britain’s JSP Records. He really started making waves after starting his one label, Catfood, with Bob Trenchard in 1997.

Two of those releases, Heart And Soul in 2007 and Red Cadillac in 2009, were Blues Music Award nominees. And another, Soul Brothers with Otis Clay in 2015, earned the pair Blues Blast honors for soul blues album of the year. The 2014 Living Blues Magazine male artist of the year, all six of his most recent efforts have climbed into the top 10 of charts around the globe.

Waiting For The Train was recorded at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas, and features Rawls delivering six originals — five co-written with Trenchard and one penned by Trenchard and Catfood label mate James Armstrong — as well as four interesting covers.

He’s backed here by The Rays, a unit that’s been together for two decades — originally as Kay Kay And The Rays — and includes Johnny McGhee on guitar, Trenchard on bass, Richy Puga on drums and Dan Ferguson on keys. They’re aided by Andy Roman and Nick Flood on saxes, Mike Middleton on trumpet and Joel Chavarria on trombone and augmented by Jon Olazabal — from the California band The Dirty Heads — on percussion and Janelle Thompson and Shakara Weston — members of the neo-soul group S4TF — provide backing vocals.

In what could have been the theme song for Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Texas and the Gulf Coast, the original “Rain Keep Falling (‘Til I’m Free)” opens the set. It’s an uptempo blues with an upbeat outlook even though its message is that the raindrops, like trouble, will keep coming down on the singer until he’s left this earth. The tempo cranks ups for Trenchard and Armstrong’s “Las Vegas,” which uses references to the demise of Siegfried & Roy’s lion act as a device question a lady’s faith, asking if she believes that “God hears you — and even the Pope.”

The mood becomes quiet and somber for “Waiting For The Train.” It only takes a bar or two for you to realize that Rawls is singing about his own mortality. An unhurried take on Bobby Womack’s “I’m In Love” follows before the funky “California Shake” describes surviving an earthquake and “Blackjack Was A Gambler” uses pure Memphis stylings to describe a killing at a card game.

A trio of covers — Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” Tyrone Davis’ “Turning Point” and Syl Johnson’s “We Did It” — follow before a ballad, “Stay With Me,” revisits the theme of approaching demise.

Waiting For The Train is a beautifully conceived album. It’s thoroughly modern and delivered with taste and style. It’s smooth, tight and in the pocket throughout, giving Johnny and his beautiful pipes plenty of space to deliver his message. Available direct from the artist at the address above or through CDBaby and other online dealers, it’s definitely up your alley if you love modern soul with an old-school feel.

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

 Crossroads Blues Festival 

Back in August we went to the Crossroads Blues Festival in Byron, IL. The fest is put on by Steve Jones and the Crossroads Blues Society. It is held at Lyran Park which is a really nice venue with a sloping hillside for folks to sit and a stage at the bottom right in front of a lazy river.

This was the 8th edition of the fest and this one day event is s cool secret just an hour from Chicago. This year the fest opened with the Ivy Ford Band. First saw her at the Chicago Blues Fest in 2016. This show had her playing lead guitar and singing her heart out just a couple weeks after giving birth to a baby daughter, Vivian. Impressive set.

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Next up was Corey Dennison Band. These guys killed it again. Keep an eye on the Corey Dennison Band and check out their next album, I think you will like them!

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Next up was The Jimmy’s, a band from Wisconsin. Their latest album was nominated for Live Blues Album in this year’s Blues Blast Awards. If you have not heard them, check them out!

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The next act was Kinsey Report. With Donald Kinsey leading this great group you just can’t go wrong. This is real deal Blues!

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The final act of the day was Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones from Florida. Doug is an amazing guitar player and song writer. Put them on your short list if you have not had the pleasure of hearing them. You won’t be sorry, I promise.

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The fest also had bands playing in the shelter area between sets including Blue Blast Award nominee Dan Phelps. a youth band called Brutal Wedgie plus workshops on harp by Joe Filisko and a Blues guitar workshop by Paul Kaye. The Crossraods Blues Fest is the last Saturday in August each year so put August 25th, 2018 on your calendar now so you don’t miss it next year.

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

delta wires cd imageDelta Wires – Born In Oakland

Mudslide Records MSCD 1706

10 songs – 42 minutes

The Delta Wires have been thrilling fans for more than 30 years with their own brand of horn- and harmonica-driven West Coast blues, and this album finds them at the top of their game as they deliver a collection of seven thoroughly modern originals and three covers.

A seven-piece ensemble, the band was formed by bandleader Ernie Pinata. An Oakland, Calif., native and student at California College Of Arts And Crafts at the time, where he earned a master of fine arts degree, he’d been playing harp in jams around the Bay Area since age 16.

At the time, the local music scene was nothing like it is today. It was dominated by artists that included L.C. “Good Rockin'” Robinson and Hi-Fi Harris, who delivered traditional blues. It was enhanced by propulsive horn bands — led by Tower Of Power and local favorites Syndicate Of Soul — as well as the recent arrivals of two established legends, John Lee Hooker and Charlie Musselwhite.

Pinata decided to deliver a college paper that traced the history of music from the Mississippi Delta to the South Side of Chicago. He gathered a group of musicians for a performance that would bring his words to life. In so doing, the Delta Wires — a name that ties together blues roots and the modern, electric sound — was born.

Known for their tight, energetic arrangements and versatile sound, the unit are 2008 International Blues Challenge finalists and might remind some folks of their Bay Area predecessors or hint of ’60s powerhouse Blood, Sweat & Tears, but they’re decidedly original.

Led by Pinata on harp and vocals, the lineup includes childhood friend Tom Gerrits on bass and backing vocals, percussionist Tony Huszar, a bandmate for 17 years, and Richard Healy, who joined full-time on guitar three years later. The horn section features Gerry Jonutz, a founding member of the band Cold Blood, on saxes, David Bowman, a former member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, on trombone and John Christensen, a music educator who’s recorded with Kenny G., on trumpet.

The horn section kicks off the original “Sunny Day,” which settles down quickly as Pinata sings praise to the easy-living lifestyle of summer in which you can hang out free of worry in your backyard all day. His tenor vocals are silky smooth. A cover of Billy “The Kid” Emerson’s “Fine And Healthy Thing” is up next with a smooth arrangement that would put a smile on the originator’s face. It’s amplified by a tasty, but brief, mid-tune harp solo as the horns swing throughout.

A rapid-fire guitar run kicks off “Vacation,” an uptempo complaint about having to deal with rush-hour traffic that adds to the drain of working a day job and realizing that the city is so expensive, it’s impossible to live within one’s means. The action tames for the jazzy “Your Eyes,” with Gerrits featured as Pinata delivers a love song that deals with feelings of separation after being away from the lady for just a few days. The tune gives Christensen and Bowman space to stretch out.

“Days Of The Week” — a steady-tempo walking blues — and “Devil’s In My Headset” keep the message going forward. Another original, “Fun Time,” follows before a pair of covers: “I Don’t Care” and “In The Middle,” the latter an instrumental written by horn master Pee Wee Ellis. Another syncopated original, “All I Have To Give,” revisits the love theme described above and brings the CD to a close.

Funded through a Kickstarter program and available from CDBaby, iTunes and Amazon, Born In Oakland is welcome addition to your collection if, like me, you love the big sound of a horn band that possesses major skills.

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 – 3 of 8 

mitsutoshi inaba book imageMitsutoshi Inaba – John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson

The Blues Harmonica of Chicago’s Bronzeville

The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group

211 pages hardcover

Most blues fans have heard of Sonny Boy Williamson. When you hear a Sonny Boy recording, more often than not it is from Alex “Rice” Miller, known as Sonny Boy II, who recorded “Don’t Start Me Talkin’,” “Bring It On Home,” and “Help Me” for labels like Trumpet and Checker Records, a division of the Chess label. But the original Sonny Boy was a harmonica player who grew up in a small town in Tennessee rather than the Mississippi Delta region that many blues artists called home. When he was eleven years old, his mother gave him a Hohner Marine Band harmonica for Christmas. From then on, the harp was his constant companion.

After a few years, Williamson began playing with local blues veterans Sleepy John Estes, Yank Rachell and Hammie Nixon. He got some harp lessons from Nixon, who often partnered with Rachell, a fine singer and blues mandolin player. Estes was a blind guitarist with an emotional vocal style. While Williamson developed his sound and style on the harp, he also was schooled on the art of songwriting. It is not often that a twelve or thirteen year old can write an enduring classic like “Good Morning, School Girl,” about a young girl placed off-limits by her father.

By 1934, Williamson was traveling to St. Louis to work in the city’s clubs, where he made a connection with singer and piano player Walter Davis, who was a talent scout for A&R man Lester Melrose. It was an important connection as Melrose was a driving force behind the Bluebird Record label, an offshoot of the RCA Victor label. Under his guidance, the Bluebird label enjoyed a lengthy stretch as the nation’s premier blues record company. Williamson’s first recording session as a leader took place at the Leland Hotel in Aurora, Illinois in May, 1938 with Big Joe Williams and Robert Nighthawk backing him on six songs, including “Good Morning, School Girl”.

From that point, author Mitsutoshi Inaba traces Williamson’s life, providing in-depth examinations of subsequent recording sessions for more than 120 tracks that the harmonica cut during his short career. The author also takes a look at key sessions where Williamson provided backing for artists like Williams, Rachell, and Henry Townsend. There are also breakdowns of songs with tablature provided by the author, who learned how to play blues harmonica in order to better understand Williamson’s style. Two key parts of the research for the book were provided by Jim O’Neal, co-founder of Living Blues magazine and an early collaborator on the project. The unpublished interviews with T.W. Utley, Williamson’s half brother, and Fred Utley, his uncle, contain information that allows Inaba to go beyond the music in developing his portrayal. Included in the book are twelve pages of b&w photos, extensive notes, and a complete discography of all the tracks Williamson cut under his name.

Once Williamson moves to the Bronzeville neighborhood in Chicago, his recording career gets put on hold by a wartime shortage of shellac for record production, then a lengthy musicians strike. But his style was evolving, as he added songs with more swinging, upbeat tempos in addition to using amplifiers to add volume to his already robust sound. Inaba details the saga of a young Billy Boy Arnold meeting Williamson, which led to some treasured harmonica lessons. Finally, the author makes an attempt to sort through the many explanations for Williamson’s death in 1948 from head trauma, suffered at the hands of a still unknown assailant.

Another major addition to the book are comments from Joe Filisko, one of the top acoustic harp players in the world in addition to being a noted harmonica instructor at the Old Town School Of Folk Music in Chicago, and an acknowledged expert on early blues harp styles. While the author lays out the details of Williamson’s life and music, Filisko’s remarks speak to the impact and influence that Williamson had on blues harmonica. “If you play the harmonica like Sonny Boy I, when you play with the guitar player, you get the really full, powerful sound…I think he figured out how to play the coolest licks…but he he also figured out how to do it with a very big full sound. I think he brought out the essence of the harmonica……I believe that Sonny Boy’s style and licks became so synonymous with blues harmonica that it may have been difficult to be taken seriously as a player if you couldn’t sound like him”. If you have more than a passing interest in the blues harmonica legacy – or want to broaden your knowledge about one of the key innovators of the music – add this one to your reading list.

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 

mick clarke cd imageMick Clarke – Diggin’ Down

Rockfold – 2017

13 tracks; 53 minutes

Britain’s Mick Clarke is an experienced guitar player and vocalist who records at home ‘deep in the Low Weald Badlands’…or Surrey as we Brits know it! What started out as an instrumental album grew into a mix: five instrumentals, ten originals, three covers. Stated as being recorded by Mick and the ‘Rockfold Rhythm Section’ the fact that no credits appear suggests that Mick played everything here and the tongue-in-cheek ‘bass and drums by Ebay’ comment in the sleeve notes adds to the suspicions. Mick is well known for a rough and ready style and he states that he gave his ‘1963 Watkins valve amp a good rattling – anything to avoid a clean sound’ and he certainly achieves that on some typical Brit blues and boogie.

Taking the instrumentals first “Bluestring” takes a riff from the old Graham Bond tune “Walking In The Park” as its starting point and grooves along pretty well; Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams” was reworked by the late Roy Buchanan and Mick follows the same approach though he does go a little over the top; “Rhumbatism” has keyboards added as Mick duets with himself, some dirty riffs over a rhumba beat laid down by the drums and bass; the title track closes the CD in churning blues-rock mode but for this reviewer the pick of the instrumentals is the attractive “Yes It Is” on which the drums work well and piano appears in the middle eight before Mick’s guitar returns to dominate the outro.

Mick is not a particularly strong vocalist and he self-deprecatingly refers to his ‘cheek’ in taking on Howling Wolf on a version of “Smokestack Lightning” which thunders along in full-on rock mode, Mick adding some echo to his vocal. The other cover is of no lesser a star than Elvis and “Any Place Is Paradise” is covered here with some pretty rough and ready guitar which Mick claims is an attempt to play like Scotty Moore. Amongst the other songs Mick gets all Led Zep on us in “Zeitgeist Boogie”, recalls attending a ZZ Top concert in “Noodle Bar” and targets some contemporary issues such as Donald Trump’s election and Brexit in “Hard Hat” which has some excellent slide work and is the pick of the vocal tracks here.

Fans of Mick’s work will enjoy this. For folk new to Mick this album blends his usual tough style of blues and boogie with some instrumentals that vary the diet somewhat.

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 

blind lemon pledge cd imageBlind Lemon Pledge And Friends – Backwoods Glance

Ofeh Records

12 songs time-50:56

Blind Lemon Pledge(James Byfield) reverts from a band to a person on this release. By coincidence I have his 2010 release I Would Rather Go Blind. The band was a bit of a “blues light” configuration then. Acoustic guitar and no electrics to be found. This time around he focuses on Americana, what I always called roots music. Quite a departure from his previous effort. The music takes from folk, country, Cajun and a tad of bluegrass. Acoustic guitars once again along with harmonica, dobro, keyboards, bass, fiddle and percussion. The songs mainly consist of meandering reflections of rural life. At times it takes me back to the Hootenanny TV show era.

“Polly Come Out” is a light weight old timey folk diddy. Blind Lemon’s voice is pleasant. “Moon Over Memphis” is a lovely and lilting lament with just the accompaniment of acoustic guitar and lush piano courtesy of Jimi Edwards. Most of the songs are of the similar ilk. Marisa Malvino and her lovely voice makes her only solo vocal turn on “Sisters Of The Coal Mine”, a lament on the plight of the countries coal miners.

“Ma Belle Cherie” takes on a Cajun flavor. The upbeat “Celine” is updated from its’ inclusion on the “I Rather Go Blind” CD. It’s a pleasant enough little diddy.

This CD is a bit too folkie for my taste, but there is no doubting the quality of the instrumentalists with the flowing intertwining of their instruments. The dobro playing of Tom Cline is particularly well done, giving the proceedings a comforting old timey vibe. If you are looking for a change of pace in your listening regiment, this could be just the ticket you are looking for. The production values provide a crystal clear musical palate. Folkies will no doubt find much enjoyment in this CD.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

mick kolassa cd imageMick Kolassa and Mark Telesca – You Can’t Do That!

Swing Suit Records

CD: 11 Songs, 33:07 Minutes

Styles: Acoustic Beatles Blues, Beatles Covers

In life, some things are so ubiquitous that any attempt to imitate them or “change them up a bit” can be easily spotted. One of them is McDonald’s fries. Companies like OreIda put out frozen “Fast Food Fries” in order to satisfy a craving, but there’s nothing like the real deal. Another worldwide ubiquity is the Beatles: the band, the brand, the music, the merch. Who knows how many hundreds, probably thousands, of performers have covered their songs? Michigan’s Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca aren’t the first, and won’t be the last. Nevertheless, they’ve given their best shot at trying to blues-ify some of their favorite tunes by the Fab Four. You Can’t Do That! is a collection of eleven covers, remarkable in their lack of remarkability. The sample I review later is notable because it sounds the most like traditional blues, and is a more-than-pleasant arrangement. Beyond that, do I have much more to say? Would the Beatles? The jury’s out in the second case. As for the first? On vocals, these two do not sing. They talk. This cannot be overstated. On guitar (both men), percussion (Kolassa) and bass (Telesca), they’re clearly better, but guest star Jeff Jensen is better still. What classics from the mop-tops will you hear? “Can’t Buy Me Love” – moderately interesting; “Lady Madonna” – gloomy and depressing; “You Can’t Do That” – obviously; and “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” – ugh. Still need more info? Check out their bio below, and my last sentence for a final verdict.

Mick’s little corner of the Web reveals a little background: “I’m Mick Kolassa, also known as Michissippi Mick. I am a lifelong musician and hardcore blues fan who also happens to be on the Board of Directors of the Blues Foundation. My love of the blues began 50 years ago and with this and my previous album I am able to share that love with you. You can see that I love all styles of blues, and I also love to find the blues song hidden in tunes that most people wouldn’t think of as blues. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together.”

Along with Kolassa and Telesca are guest guitarist Jeff Jensen, James Cunningham on drums and other percussion; Eric Hughes on harmonica and guitar; Marc Franklin on trumpet and flugelhorn (!), and Tommy Boroughs on fiddle and mandolin.

The following selection is the best blend of Beatles and blues, by far.

Track 03: “I Feel Fine” – Sing along, anyone over 50 (and also anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past 50 years or so)! This slow burner is a keeper for sure, along with Eric Hughes’ terrific harmonica. This time, it’s perfectly okay to converse while performing, because such a tone is perfectly fitting for this cover.

Ms. Wetnight hates to say it, but when it comes to blues-ifying Beatles songs in a mediocre way, You Can’t Do That!

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 

tom killner cd imageTom Killner – Live

Cleopatra Records

CD: 12 Songs, 60:10 Minutes

Styles: Guitar Monster Blues, Rock Covers, Blues Covers, Live Album

What are some of the main differences between a live and a studio album? Why do some fans prefer one type over the other? Yours truly has often pondered this question, and come up with a few theories. Consider British blues guitar phenom Tom Killner and his latest Live release, which came out on June 2nd of this year. On the plus side, our shredder sensation is free to jam for as long as he wants on each of his twelve concert tracks. That’s why several of them are over five minutes long. On the minus side, if he doesn’t play covers the crowd knows like the back of their hand (“Whipping Post”, “Foxy Lady”, “Cocaine Blues”, “With a Little Help from my Friends”), he might lose them. So many artists walk this kind of tightrope when they play live, maintaining a delicate balance between new and classic material. This reviewer wishes Killner would have included even one of the former, because his original debut, Hard Road, was a hit. As for this CD? Live takes off like a bullet train and doesn’t let up on its relentless energy. It’s the musical equivalent of a superhero movie: super-flashy, super-loud, and super-familiar. Although Tom is from Great Britain, not a trace of his accent reveals itself when he sings.

Blues historian Dave Thompson has written Killner’s bio, available to read on his webpage:

“‘I was originally drawn to the blues because nothing else really grabbed me,’ Tom says. ‘My friends all listened to metal and pop, but I’ve never been one for following trends in music. The blues I love because of the raw power, and because of what it could make me feel. No other music did that for me.’

“Tom’s south Yorkshire hometown of Rotherham is scarcely renowned as a hotbed of music, either, although the late Joe Cocker hailed from just down the road in Sheffield, and it’s not so far to the Black Country either, where the British blues were smelted in the fiery forge of the island’s industrial heartland.

“‘I try to add as much energy to the live show as I can each night,” explains Tom. ‘No two shows are the same, and no song is played the same. Every night, I try and mix as many influences in as possible – Blues, Soul, Southern Rock, Funk…and it seems to be keeping everyone happy!’”

Alongside lead guitarist and vocalist Killner are Jack Allen on guitar and backing vocal; Oliver Tallent [that’s not a typo] on bass; Jake Ashton on drums, and Wesley Brook on keyboards.

The following cover stands out not only because it’s pure traditional blues, but also because it’s one of three songs that doesn’t blast one’s ears.

Track 04: “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” – Written by Billy Myles and popularized by Freddie King and Eric Clapton, this would’ve been the perfect anthem for Lancelot and Guinevere had the blues been invented in the Middle Ages. “Well, have you ever loved a girl…so much that it’s a shame and a sin? Well…don’t you know she belongs to my best friend.” Wesley Brook is absolutely fab on his keyboard introduction.

Check out Tom Killner Live if you love guitar monster blues!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

blue coast sessions cd imageCharlie Morris presents: The Bluescoast Sessions

Bluescoast Records – 2017

15 tracks; 79 minutes

Charlie Morris is a mainstay of the Tampa Bay blues scene in Florida. These recordings were made over the years with a range of local artists as well as visitors from outside Florida. The sessions were live and there are very few additional ‘splices’ across this generously filled CD, many of the tunes being pretty lengthy jams. Charlie wrote most of the material here, some in conjunction with the featured artists, plays guitar on all the tracks with a revolving cast of support musicians and also handles most of the vocals.

Lucky Peterson is featured on two tracks, the first of which has Betty Fox singing strongly on the punning title “Lucky Money”, Lucky and Charlie exchanging guitar solos enthusiastically; “One Word: Funky!” finds Lucky shifting to organ for an instrumental which also gives solo space to the rhythm section on these tunes, Benny Sudano on bass and Dave Reinhardt on drums. Damon Fowler plays lap steel on the moody “13 Little Bluesmen”, a slow tune in which the bluesmen gradually drop out, rather like the old nursery rhyme, and puts some attractive country licks into “Sitting By The Roadside”, both tunes having Tim Heding on organ, Mike Chavers on bass and Tom Bell on drums. Another local guitarist Jimmy Griswold locks horns with Charlie on “Yakety Clams”, a sort of deep-fried Florida version of “Yakety Yak”, Dave again pounding the skins with Andrew Lack on bass and Kevin Wilder on organ.

Bill Wharton aka ‘The Sauce Boss’ is renowned for cooking gumbo while he plays but here it is just the music on three cuts: with Dave Reinhardt again on drums and Rob McDowell on bass “Make Her Little Heart Sing” brings Sandy Atkinson to the mike on a country-tinged shuffle, “Sauce Train” belts along at high speed while an extended “Fly Gumbo” does rather outstay its welcome with George Harris on spoken vocals. George also appears on two other lengthy jams, sharing guitar duties with Charlie and a rhythm section of Tom Bell on drums and Steve Vitale on bass: the rather suggestive “Kick It, Lick It Or Leave It Alone” has a lot of guitar and “What Your Mama Done Did” adds Lori Cherry’s vocal to an upbeat shuffle with some nice uncredited organ work.

Organ features also on two tracks with Shawn Brown, a well-known blues, jazz and gospel performer in the Tampa Bay area. Yet another rhythm section is in operation here with Jeff Avrin on bass and Eric Elsner on drums: the short and pacy “Buckle Up Baby” has Charlie’s jangling country guitar set against Shawn’s organ while “Tell Me The Truth” adds Josh Nelms on lead guitar, Alan Craig and Betty Fox give a hand on backing vocals and Shawn shows his gospel side. TC Carr’s harmonica features on two tracks, Mike Chavers on bass, Tom Bell on drums and Charlie, as ever, on guitar and vocals: the rocking “My Baby Don’t Cook” is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the girl who doesn’t spend time in the kitchen because she is too busy loving her man; “The Last 12” is a gentle instrumental with excellent harp, both these tracks figuring among the stronger cuts on the album. The final track “Da-Nah” finds all the guitarists from the many sessions playing a classic Albert King riff – see if you have been listening attentively and can spot who is who!

Overall this album has some good moments although some of the longer tracks border on the overindulgent, as is sometimes the case with jams. On the positive side the album shows that there is a wealth of talent in the Tampa Bay area.

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 – Mike Zito 

mike zito photo 1“Once I got into the Royal Southern Brotherhood (2012), Johnny Winter said to me, ‘Man, why are you in this band?’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s a great opportunity, and my manager has kinda put it together,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, but it’s not blues. Why are you playing in this band? I don’t understand,’ and I said, ‘I’m just doing what I’m being directed to do, and it’s gonna help my career. It’s gonna help boost my career.”

“He said, ‘I hear ya, but, Mike, you’re a good blues player, and that last record Pearl River (2009), that’s a good blues record.’ He didn’t say anything bad about the Royal Southern Brotherhood, He just said, ‘This isn’t a blues band. I don’t know why you’re in this band. Mike, you’re a really good blues guitarist. We need you to play blues. You should be playing blues, not this.’”

Johnny Winter understood and Mike Zito learned from Winter that the trick in rocking the blues is not to let the energy bury the heart. It has to do with spontaneity. The truth has to be strong enough that it surfs the top of the wave and never gets buried in the undertow. It’s like tai chi. You use your opponent’s thrust to carry him through and conquer. The power of rock can be the enemy in blues, but the real opponent is not the 110-decibel stringed attack of a shredder guitarist but life’s challenge channeled into a primal scream, a cathartic release from the frustrations that threaten to bury the spirit.

If the artist stays on top and lets his emotions rule, the propulsion of the music underscores the message. It’s tricky. And it usually takes experience as a road warrior to pull it off. Mike Zito found the balance between energy and real emotion in the work of Johnny Winter, Walter Trout, and Luther Allison, all of whom released their primal scream in their music. All struggled with substance abuse. All discovered that their music was stronger than their addictions. Each threw himself into communicating that revelation to their fans.

“The goal is to just continue to try not to think so much about what I wanna play and play whatever is gonna come out,” says Zito. “Apparently, that’s what I’m supposed to do and that thing of being very comfortable with yourself. Some people are just not made for that, and the more I do this and the longer I’ve been sober – almost 14 years now – I’m very comfortable. If I go on stage and I play a bad note. I don’t care. It’s ok. I’m trying to get to the good – trying to do something. I’m not just playin’ that. I’m trying to get to whatever it is I got going on, and I’m comfortable with that, I’m realizing now that’s exactly how all my heroes (do it).”

“I feel like now is the time to do this. I’m doing it, and I’m gonna keep doing it. I wanna make more records that are fun, that are fun for the genre, that are fun for me to go play that hopefully people – you know, always liked blues when it’s sad and awful, but like B. B. King said, ‘It really should make you feel better. It should be enjoyable.’

It was Walter Trout who helped Zito get clean, just as Carlos Santana helped Trout years earlier, basically with an intervention.

“I started playing music. I got into drugs and alcohol really bad, and it mostly put an end to it all. I had chances to get into this in the late ’90s. Bruce at Alligator was talking to me and Thomas Ruf. Walter Trout was bringing my records to Ruf Records in 1997, but I just got so bad on drugs. Walter played with me and saw I was so messed up, that he sat me down and gave me so much shit and yelled at me and chided me. And so, it (getting a record contract) didn’t happen back then, thank God, because it wouldn’t have worked out. I’d have blown it all.

mike zito photo 2“When I was opening up for him in St. Louis and I was on drugs, he knew it. He had known me for a couple of years by then. Like I say, he grabbed me and threw me and told me the story about how Santana had done the same thing to him. And he said, ‘Look, Mike, you have the responsibility to the music and to your family and to yourself’ and he said. ‘Look, you can’t play these shows. You’re too shitty.’

“I was trying to break out. Tommy Castro would come to town or Tab Benoit or Walter Trout. When one of those guys was coming to town and doing a show, I was the guy who got to open up. I was trying to make inroads, and Walter had become quite an influence on me and that was really like, ‘Oh, man. I don’t get to do these shows with you.’ And I think I made him mad. It didn’t get me to quit doing drugs the next day, but I know that within a couple years, 2003 was when I cleaned up. He was one of the first ones I called and told him. And when I told him, he cried on the phone and said, ‘Any time you want to call me, night or day, any time you need to call somebody if you need a drink or need some dope, you need to call me and I’ll talk to you.”

Trout plays on “Highway Mama” in Zito’s latest album Make Blues Not War, and Zito appears on Walter Trout’s new CD, We’re All in This Together.

Walter was still recovering from a liver transplant that almost killed him when he cut “Highway Mama” for Make Blues Not War. “I hired an engineer, and they went to Walter’s house, and they brought in a whole recording setup, and they put this amp over in this big living room and miked it all up, and then he sat in the kitchen all day at his house and worked out the guitar.

“And what’s really funny is he called me and he goes, ‘All right, I’ve been doing this track for four or five hours, but I don’t want it to be overdone. I’ve got one I really worked on. I think it’s really good. Then, the second one sounds like a damned teenager in the garage, and I gotta be honest with ya. That’s the one I like.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s the one I like, too.’ He spent three hours working on one and at the very end, he thought, ‘Well, I’ll just play whatever the hell I’m feeling.’ And, of course, that’s the one we ended up using.

Zito’s entry into the blues, like most great practitioners, was not simple or easy. “Well, I didn’t have a hard life (growing up). That’s for sure, but you don’t know you’re poor when you’re a kid. We just lived in a four-family flat for 15 years in the middle of south St. Louis. There were five of us in five rooms. I didn’t know that was unusual. There was plenty of other people on the block living the same way. I can’t say I had hardship. We always had food. My dad worked at Anheuser Busch, and they were so much older than me. He was born in like 1922.

“So, their big thing was we always had food on the table. We went to Catholic school. They wanted us to have the best education we could. So, we were not the worst case by any means. I didn’t realize things were the way they were until later. We ate neck bones and pig’s feet all the time because we didn’t have any money. I love neck bones and pig’s feet. They’re great, but no one played music at all.

“When I asked for a guitar, they thought I was crazy. But they bought me one out of the J.C. Penny catalog in 1977 or ’78, and so they weren’t not supportive. But I don’t think they ever realized you could do this. It was like. ‘Come on, you know. You need to get a job. We don’t play music. You know, you just need to be a down to earth person and go work.’ I think those were my mom’s exact words. Ha, ha. Ha. But they lived to see me become successful, and they were very proud. Like wow. You stuck with it. That’s really good. They saw me starting to support my family and stuff. But that was kind of early on. It was just very average lower middle class.”

mike zito photo 3Zito spent a decade working in a local guitar shop while playing in local clubs seven nights a week. He was a founding member of the Royal Southern Brotherhood with Cyril Neville, guitarist Devon Allman (son of Gregg Allman), bassist Charlie Wooton (of Zydefunk), and Yonrico Scott (former drummer for the Derek Trucks Band). The group released its self-titled debut album on the Ruf label in 2012. He left that group in 2014. He’s released 12 solo albums for Electro Groove and Ruf Records and won several Blues Music Awards am\nd a Blues Blast Award working with four great producers: David Z, Tony Braunegal, Jim Gaines, Anders Osborne and Tom Hambridge.

“I have been very blessed. I’ve worked with all of those guys, and it’s been like going to school. I take notes. I pay attention. I’m not in there goofing off. I get a chance to work with these guys. I kinda want to know what they’re doing. I want to learn something. I can say they’re all a little different, and they’re all a lot the same.

“Tony Braunigal as a producer is a more like the music. not turning the knobs or the mixing or any of that kind of stuff. Tony will forever be in my heart because he helped me make my first real album, the Today album (2008), and I was with him and David Z together, but Tony came to my house in Nederland, Texas and stayed with me. We went through the song book, and picked out all the songs, and we talked about arrangements. We didn’t make everything perfect before we went in, but he made it comfortable for me ’cause I went into the studio with (James “Hutch”) Hutchinson from the Bonnie Raitt Band and Benmont Tench from Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. I went into the studio with these guys and below nerve racking the first time. But he made things comfortable that way.

“David’s wide open. He’s got lots of ideas, but he comes from making more pop stuff, and he got into making blues records We made Pearl River together. He knew what I wanted to do. We wanted to record a live blues album. We recorded 14 songs in one day. We had been playing on the road, and we had all these tunes, and they were blues tunes, and we knew all of them, and I remember we set everything up, and we played the first song for a soundcheck and he said, ‘Ok, got that one! Watcha got? What’s next?’ And we were like, ‘Whoa! I didn’t even know we were doing it yet.’ He goes, ‘That’s fine. Let’s just keep going,’ and that really turned me onto like, ok, no, I see. I get it.”

“Pearl River,” the title song features Cyril Neville. and it won the Blues Music Award as Song of the Year in 2009.

“Cyril wasn’t there, but we did that song that day. Cyril was living in Austin at the time after Katrina, and so we had to send him the tracks. He wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music, and then we sent him the tracks. I learned a lot right away from David Z there. He’s got a thing. He says, ‘Look, you either got it or you don’t. That’s that, and it doesn’t even mean you’re either good or you’re not, but it’s like today right now. You either can do this right now or you can’t do this right now. And if you start playing the guitar solo, and you want to do it over, if we do it more than three times, we ain’t got it. So, let’s move on. We’ll come back and do it again tomorrow because it’s not going to be any good again not really, ok?’

“Anders Osborne (Keep Coming Back, 2015) again is more like Tony Braunigal. He didn’t get as involved in mixing, but that was a very different great record, and great experience. Just really different because he didn’t want the musicians he brought in to even know what key the song was that I was going to play. He didn’t want anything rehearsed at all, and I dug that.

“I would start to play the beginning of the song, and then the band just fell in, and they were not my band. They didn’t know the song, and they had no piece of paper that told them anything about the song, and if he caught me telling the bass player, ‘Hey, it’s in the key of E,’ he didn’t want anybody to know what happened. He wanted it to happen. So, we did that album in a day and a half. It was very quick.

“That’s probably the least blues records I made where it’s more 4-chord songs rather than three-chord blues. But I was concerned. I kept writing songs, and I kept going, ‘There’s a little bit of departure,’ and he was like, ‘No, we can make anything blues. You’re gonna play anything like from the heart. That was the thing I took away. That was like alright, there’s a formula that goes with blues. You take blues as an art form like jazz. There’s a 12-bar. There’s an 8-bar. There’s a formula.”

mike zito photo 4“I didn’t work with Jim Gaines until we did the Royal Southern Brotherhood, and by then Jim was a legend. I picked his brain on all the Stevie Ray Vaughan stories and Carlos Santana I could get out of him. They all have a different approach and Jim’s very talented obviously. He’s also very sweet.

“In the studio with Jim Gaines if you’re doing something maybe he doesn’t like, he’ll say, ‘You know, that’s pretty good. If we tried this.’ It’s a smooth way of making a person feel comfortable and going, ‘Yeah.’ He gets that out of people. David Z will go, ‘Man, that sounds like shit. This is not working. So, let’s do something something else.’ And you’ve gotta be able to take that. You have to be able to roll with that. That makes me laugh. I start laughing like you did. Oh, I’m out, but obviously there are people that are fragile. They’re not ready for that.

“Tom Hambridge (who produced Make Blues Not War) is a producer I’ve wanted to work with all of my life since I bought Just Won’t Burn by Susan Tedeschi, and I’ve loved that record. I was like ‘Man, this is great. I liked her, and I liked the tunes on the record and I was like, ‘Who is this Tom Hambridge guy?’ I started following him, and I’d just slowly start seeing him do more records and more records and more things. Then, he starts doing the Buddy Guy stuff. I met him on the Delbert McClinton cruise seven years ago. I said, ‘Man, I have been dying to make a record with you.’ And he’s like, ‘Man, let’s do it. Let’s do it. I was just getting into the Royal Southern Brotherhood. There’s all these things going on. It just didn’t line up, and every year I see him on the cruise, and every year I tell him I wanna make records. And he goes, ‘Well, you told me last year, and I didn’t hear from you. I’m ready.”

Hambridge really got into Zito’s head with the song about his son “Chip Off the Old Block.” “As time got closer to the recording, we stated getting an idea on what we would do, and I said, ‘Look, my son is 21. I want him to come down and play on this record, great guitar player, and I’ve never had him do this before, a song for him, and I told him, ‘For the life of me, it’s my son, and I keep coming up with what to me seems corny. Maybe something like “Chip Off the Block” or something,’ and he said, ‘Man, I’ve got it. We talked for about an hour, and we went back and he wrote that song, and that song kicks ass, and my son I think he plays awesome on it.’

“Tom and I come from rock and roll, and old rock and roll and into blues and we’re not far apart in age, and we like the same stuff, and he likes to rock and let it all hang out and again, we do the record the same way. We were in the studio two days with the band and cut the entire album, and we wrote “Make Blues Not War” after the end of the first day. Two days later, we had the album done. And he takes it off and mixes it.

“They’re all great producers. I like all those. I would make records with all of them again. Tom can write all the tunes for you. He can bring the A game. He can play the shit out of the drums. He knows how to mix and master that record. There’s so much I learned watching him. I said, ‘Man, he can do it all. It’s very impressive, and he’s a nice guy of top of it.

This spring Zito toured with Tommy Castro and his band The Painkillers and plays on the Elvin Bishop song “Rock Bottom” on Castro’s just released Stompin’ Ground CD. I saw them on the third stop of the tour in Albany, New York. It was like they’d played together since they were kids. “Tommy’s pretty much a straight shooter. He doesn’t really jam a lot. I mean he’ll get up and do a blues ……but their show is pretty straight forward. They do the tunes, but he’s really on this kick now. He wants to make sure we get loose, man, and we always kinda let things happen. By the time we hit Albany, the show was pretty good, you know. We did one rehearsal. His band is fantastic. I give a lot of it to the band. They seemed like they were up for the task.

“They’re already talking about next spring again, another tour, you go out for another month. I know there are some things we talked about (too many bands have stayed home) Of course, he’s got a tour bus, so we’d go with him. It would be great to get my group up on stage. We could all play at once. (Chuckle)

“I play on his next album. We did an Elvin Bishop cover. I was just on tour in California, and I was calling him to ask him if he was around, and maybe he wanted to come see me when I was playing to sit in, and he said, ‘Well, I’m making a record, and it happens to be in the exact same time.’ Kid Andersen has a studio in the same town I was playin’ in and he said, ‘Why don’t you come by the studio, and then you’d play on the tune, and that ended up as the first song of the night every night of the tour we did. We played the Elvin Bishop song (“Rock Bottom”) every night. It was fun. It worked out. That’s a great record.”

Mike Zito just won the Blues Blast Rock Blues Album of the Year Award for Make Blues Not War. Well deserved, the album represents all that’s good about todays’ blues scene. “For a while there wasn’t a lotta great songwriting in the blues. A lot of rehashed old shit. Since I’ve gotten in this game the last 10 years, a lot more better songs and newer art and the genre’s stretching out some.

“I feel like now is the time to do this. I’m doing it, and I’m gonna keep doing it. I wanna make more records that are fun, that are fun for the genre, that are fun for me to go play that hopefully people – you know, always liked blues when it’s sad and awful, but like B. B. King said, ‘It really should make you feel better. It should be enjoyable.”

Visit Mike’s website at:

Interviewer Don Wilcock has been writing about blues for nearly half a century. He wrote Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, the biography that helped Buddy Guy jumpstart his career in 1991. He’s interviewed more than 5000 Blues artists and edited several music magazines including King Biscuit Time.

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Blues Society of Central Pennsylvania – Harrisburg, PA

Saturday, October 7th, the Blues Society of Central PA welcomes the Billy Price Band w/ special guests, Charlie Owen & Pocket Change to Champions Sports Bar 300 2nd St. Highspire, PA 17034.

Admission is $20, $15 for BSCP members. Doors open at 7PM, 8PM showtime. For more info visit

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 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 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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