Issue 11-45 November 9, 2017

Cover photo © 2017 Roman Sobus

 In This Issue 

Bill Dahl has our feature interview with Smiley Tillmon. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Shaun Murphy, Peter Ward, Brian Carmona, Sean Wheeler, Jason Buie, Mike Brookfield, Steve Howell and Jason Weinheimer and Bette Smith.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

shaun murphy cd imageShaun Murphy – Mighty Gates

Vision Wall Records

13 Tracks/50:06

Most people have some experience with the adage, “Life ain’t fair”. Often invoked as a way of accounting for situations that seemingly defy reality, those three words remind us that sometimes there is no explaining some of the twist and turns along life’s highway. That sentiment certainly applies to Shaun Murphy’s solo career. While other singers with only a shred of her talent wail, warble, and scream their way into the spotlight, Murphy has received little acclaim for a series of recordings featuring her amazing voice. Despite doing backing vocals for Bob Seger over the decades as well as several Eric Clapton tours, and fifteen years as the lead singer for Little Feat, she continually seems to be overlooked and under-appreciated for her solo efforts.

Her latest kicks off with solid shuffle, “I Don’t Need Nobody,” courtesy of Tom DelRossi on drums and John Marcus on bass. The song was written by guitarist Kenne Cramer, who’s tasty licks ride the swells played on the organ played by Kevin McKendree, who also produced the project. Cramer also penned “Blues In The Morning,” a track sure to be a hit with the dancers as McKendree gives his piano keyboard a thorough workout.

Murphy had a hand in composing seven tunes, starting with “Out Of My Own Way,” is a rueful lament that could be Murphy’s theme song, as she knowing relates the value of pushing on through all that life throws at you. The band kicks it into another gear on “Slightly Free,” and Murphy’s voice easily matches the tougher sounds, unleashing several primal cries in response to Tommy Stillwell’s galvanizing guitar work. His efforts are a focal point as the singer maintains a sense of emotional restrain, mourning a broken heart on “I Never Loved You”. On “A Night Like This,” Murphy captivates listeners as she caresses each note, building layers of emotional texture in a performance that amply illustrates the extent of her talent. Another standout is the ballad, “I Never Stopped Loving You,” her voice beautifully rising over McKendree’s delicate piano accompaniment. “That Kind Of Time” finds Murphy making it clear that she no intentions of waiting around, hoping for a lasting relationship. Once again, Stillwell’s playing is first-rate.

It is great to hear someone crank it up on several Frankie Miller tunes. Miller was a brawny Scottish singer and songwriter who had a major impact on Seger, eventually falling victim to a brain hemorrhage that left him unable to perform. “Down The Honky Tonk” features ringing guitar chords and a driving beat with Murphy’s gritty nature on full display. The pace may slow on “Be Good To Yourself,” but the singer’s voice soars over the guitar-driven arrangement with the greatest of ease. Cramer and Stillwell join forces on “Walk In My Shadow,” a crunching rocker from Free, the band Paul Rogers fronted. Murphy once again achieves the perfect balance between tone, articulation, and a muscular vocal presentation. The title track is a Dobie Gray composition with gospel overtones that allows Murphy to lift up an impassioned, eloquent plea for a better world.

Blues, rock, ballads, it doesn’t matter – Shaun Murphy takes each song and gives it a personal touch, her voice never failing to touch some part of your musical soul. It is time for listeners to start paying attention to this outstanding vocalist.

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

PETER Ward cd imagePeter Ward – Blues On My Shoulders

Gandy Dancer Records

13 songs – 51 minutes

When New England-based singer-guitarist Peter “Hi-Fi” Ward decided to step into the limelight after decades playing in support of other musicians, he didn’t mess around. He enlisted the aid of Ronnie Earl, a former roommate, Gordon “Sax Gordon” Beadle and Sugar Ray And The Bluetones, including his brother, bassist Michael “Madcat” Ward, to get the job done.

A native of Lewiston, Maine, he, Mudcat and younger brother Jeff played the blues in a family band as teenagers after schooling themselves with LPs and exposure to Muddy Waters, Taj Mahal, Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells in concert. Still underage, he played bass behind legendary drummer Ola Dixon in New York before moving to Boston, where he backed several major touring artists, including Jimmy Rogers, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Lowell Fulson. And he commuted on weekends to Rochester, N.Y., where he worked with guitarist Joe Beard, the man credited with influencing Son House to perform after going “missing” in the late ’30s.

In the early ’80s, Peter toured with the Legendary Blues Band in a lineup that included several of Muddy’s former sidemen, appearing on their first two albums, Life Of Ease and Red Hot ‘n’ Blue. Always working, but in the background, he stages an annual fundraiser for breast cancer research in memory of his late wife, blues deejay Mai Cramer, with headliners who’ve included Lurrie Bell, Jody Williams and Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson. In 2010, he and Herb Remington, an original member of Bob Wills And The Texas Playboys, co-produced the album Goodbye Liza Jane: Hello Western Swing.

An avid, often humorous, songwriter and stylish guitarist, he’s penned all but one of the 13 tunes on this disc, delivering a solid set of traditional, old-school blues in the process. Peter handles guitar and vocals backed by a rhythm section that includes Mudcat, Bob Berry and Joe Delia on bass and George Dellomo and the Bluetones’ Neil Gouvin on drums. Neil’s bandmates — harp player/vocalist Sugar Ray Norcia, guitarist “Monster” Mike Welch and keyboard player Anthony Geraci — all contribute on multiple cuts, as does Beadle. Eric Kilburn sits in on mandolin for one song, and Rusty Scott provides Hammond B3 organ on two others.

Ward’s laid-back vocals play call-and-response with Norcia’s harp to open “She Took It All,” a steady-walking blues that describes a woman walking away with just about everything — even his goldfish. But he insists he’s not bothered at all. “Which Hazel” is up next and has nothing to do with the topical astringent. Instead, the medium-fast rocker, a tip of the hat to Chuck Berry, deals with a romantic interest in two women as different as night and day but sharing in the same name.

The feel continues for the title tune, “Blues On My Shoulders,” with the distinct contributions from Welch and Norcia before Sugar Ray takes command of the mike to deliver the melodic slow blues “Collaborate,” Peter’s tribute to Lonnie Johnson and Robert Lockwood Jr., which is loaded with truly tasty, smooth lyrics that could have come straight out of the ’50s and features stellar horn and harp solos.

The instrumental “Shiprock,” a tribute to his late wife influenced by a trip they took to Navajo land, puts Ward’s guitar skills on display before he questions “What Can I Do To You?” as a clerk just hired to work in a downtown store surrounded by beautiful female customers. Earl makes his distinctive first appearance for “It’s On Me,” a horn- and guitar-propelled promise to pick up the tab even though the singer has very little money.

The keyboard work of Scott is featured throughout the instrumental, “Southpaw,” Peter’s ode to lefthanded swing guitarist Dickie Thompson, before the slow blues, “A Little More,” features a full arrangement featuring Monster Mike as Ward sings about realizing why his woman left — because she always wanted more than he could deliver. Earl and Geraci trade licks on “On The Ropes,” an instrumental with a Duane Eddy feel, before the acoustic “Colletta” recounts a bad marriage. An uptempo cover of Jim Johnson’s familiar “Kansas City Blues” follows before “Drummin’ Willie,” Peter’s aural slow-blues tribute to Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, who kept the rhythm for Muddy and Legendary and drove the band across country before fronting bands as a harp player, brings the CD to a close.

Available through Amazon, CDBaby and other retailers, Blues On My Shoulders is a pleasing taste of what music used to be before pyrotechnic guitarists took command of the airwaves. Strongly recommended for both its original material and musicianship throughout.

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 

sean wheeler cd imageDesert Legend Sean Wheeler – Sand In My Blood

Little Village Foundation

11 songs time-35:36

Now for something completely different…On this his first solo release self proclaimed desert legend Sean Wheeler has managed to create something that is at once riveting, stark, gritty and moving. A lifelong resident of California’s Coachella Valley low desert he was previously in the hardcore punk band Mutual Hatred and the punk n’ roll band Throw Rag. He brings his gruff voice and punk sensibilities to this extraordinary CD. The main thrust here is Sean’s voice along with the spy movie-meets-The Adams Family guitar tone of Billy Pittman. Much here is just them alone with the occasional percussion, keyboards or harmonica. His voice set against the atmospheric guitar is a match made in musical heaven. The two original songs along with nine covers from various genres of music blend together to create an experience that is as unique as possible.

Adams Family guitar adds an ominous tone Reverend Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”, the only other instrument being bass. Sean’s gruff growl of a voice fits the feel perfectively. A Captain Beefheart song I’m not familiar with, “I’ Glad”, has normal lyrics and is calm, not a typical Beefheart song. Only guitar and bass with a yearning vocal. The original “Hey Cowboy” lopes along with the addition of some basic drumming. The guitar tone is wonderful here as it is throughout the CD. Sean’s rougher than an outhouse corncob on chili night voice fits right in here. Gil Scott-Heron’s funky “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” is backed solely by guitar and finger snaps.

“Wayfaring Man Of Grief” a poem by James Montgomery set to music has a serious, haunting quality to it. Kid Andersen contributes harmonium to “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today”, about as quiet as Sean gets. Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” receives a maniacal and sinister vocal assault. It works just fine thank you very much. A song with the lyric “Tell your heart’s tenants I’m moving in” is alright in my book, that’s what you get in “Now That You Know(Funky Wicked World). Aki Kumar adds his harmonica to the toe-tapping “Men Like Me Can Fly”. Clifton Chenier’s “I’m Coming Home” is a soulful and moody slice of rhythm and blues.

Less is definitely more in the case of this recording. A deeply felt voice, guitar, spare percussion, occasional keyboards and harmonica are all this special rough hewn music need. Open your mind and broaden your horizons with this lowdown masterpiece.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

jason buie cd imageJason Buie – Driftin’ Heart


11 songs – 39 minutes

Jason Buie is a Vancouver Island-based singer, guitarist and songwriter who has been around playing across Canada, the USA, Japan and Europe for over 20 years. Driftin’ Heart is only his third album, following 2002’s Urban Blues and 2009’s Live At The Gator, but it is a highly impressive slab of modern blues-rock, with much more blues than rock on display.

Driftin’ Heart opens with the hard Texas shuffle of “Fool From The Start”, with Dave Webb’s great organ playing nicely backing up the T-Birds-style guitar riff. Buie sings with a gruff, road-worn voice that suits both the music and his own muscular lead guitar playing. It is also a cleverly written song, sitting squarely within the blues tradition but with subtle digressions away from a standard 12-bar structure.

Buie handles all the singing and guitar playing on the album. He has also assembled an excellent band with John Hunter on drums, George Fenn on bass and Dave Webb on piano and B3. Hunter and Fenn are a rock-solid rhythm section who give the music real drive while Webb’s musicality and understated contributions help to smooth off some of the rockier edges from the songs, keeping them very much within the blues field. Buie’s guitar playing is fluid and brawny, with a pronounced Stevie Ray Vaughan influence, particularly on tracks like “Fool From The Start”, “Suits Me To A Tee” and “Government Man”. He keeps his solos short and punchy, often smartly but briefly nipping outside the traditional blues scales, for example on the title track.

Buie and Hunter co-wrote seven of the tracks on the album, which take in a broad range of classics blues styles, from the Howlin’ Wolf-esque “Government Man” to the West Coast jump blues of “West Coast Daddy”, the swamp pop ballad “Stay The Night” (which contains one of Buie’s most heart-felt vocals and an utterly impassioned guitar solo) and the Texas grind of “Last Love Affair”.

The five covers are all relatively well-known but are played with high energy and none is played as a straight copy of the original. Amos Milburn’s “House Party” is played sans horns but benefits from the upbeat backing vocals of Rick Salt and Marisha Devoin. Sue Foley’s “Annie’s Driftin’ Heart”, re-named here “Driftin’ Heart”, was originally recorded with just Foley and her guitar. Buie’s version is given a full band treatment with more delightful piano from Webb. Jimmy Rogers recorded a number of versions of “You’re Sweet”, but none with the modern punch of Buie’s version. And Jesse Mae Robinson’s “Cold Cold Feeling” is played as a Magic Sam-esque major/minor key ballad.

Driftin’ Heart is a relatively short album, with 11 clocks clocking in at 39 minutes, but there really isn’t any filler here. If you like the modern blues-rock of Stevie Ray Vaughan or Kenny Wayne Shepherd, you will definitely want to check out Jason Buie. Let’s hope it isn’t another eight years until his next release.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

mike brookfield cd imageMike Brookfield – Brookfield

Golden Rule Records

11 songs time – 48:26

Dublin Ireland based blues-rock guitarist Mike Brookfield would make recording innovator Les Paul very proud as he utilizes Les’ over dubbing technique to the nth degree with his layering of guitar parts to create a very satisfying guitar album. His arranging skills produce very pleasing textures in his music. His more than adequate voice seals the deal. The only other musician on the CD is drummer Andrew Lavery. Mike composed all the music while former drummer-lyricist with the legendary Celtic rock band Horslips, Eamon Carr contributed the imaginative lyrics. The songs are an amalgamation of blues-rock, rock, pop and a smattering of blues.

Multi layered acoustic and electric guitars inform the spiritual bent of “A Message For Willie Johnson. The electric leads just sing out clear as the proverbial bell. “Beaten To Death By The Blues” seems to be an ode to an unspecified tragic music figure delivered with blues-rock grit. If you haven’t had enough of zombies, have we got a zombie song for you-“Zombie Craze”. Some blues feel shows up in “Suitcase Blues”. It’s not over until it’s over is the sentiment of “Don’t Close The Gates”, a song empowered by some nifty slide guitar. Atmospheric crazed guitars serve as the intro to the wah-wah infused “Living In A Better World”.

“Letter From The Devil” touches on corrupt politicians and such. Ladies and gentlemen it’s crunch time-welcome to “Hi Class Shoes”. Distorted rhythm guitar underpins some wicked slide guitar. Sadly “Gun Crime” is a fitting song for our current state of affairs. I don’t quite get the lyric-“Gun crime is outta control, I still shoot ’em full of rock and roll”. Comes off kind of flippant to me. “Written In Chains” begins life as a slow dirge then goes out in a blaze of guitar glory.

You say you’re looking for a slice of guitar heaven? No need to look any further. This guy has an arsenal of guitar licks that just won’t quit. It’s all put together so well. Not only is Mike a guitar wiz, he handles the production chores. Even when things get a bit heavy, the music never sinks into muddled guitar noise. This guy has got a definite handle on how to piece together guitar parts in just the right way. Drummer Andrew Lavery supplies the necessary “oomph” to support the guitar assault on your senses. Blues-rock in the right hands can be a powerful force, Mike Brookfield has the right hands.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

steve howell cd imageSteve Howell and Jason Weinheimer – A Hundred Years from Today

Out of the Past Music

CD: 10 Songs, 35:16 Minutes

Styles: Blues Covers, Acoustic Blues, Duo Album, Pre-War Blues

Dear Constant Readers: For those of you who’ve never perused my reviews, you should know something. For those of you who have, you’ve heard this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. I’m not partial to blues CD’s full of covers, and review them as “picks” if I absolutely must. Why? I’m interested in artists’ own creations, their new takes on a genre born of timeless adversity.

However, Texan Steve Howell and Arkansas’ Jason Weinheimer have found a clever loophole. The ten selections on their newest album might well be played A Hundred Years from Today. They’re classics any aficionado would recognize, from Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Goin’ Back to Florida” to Mississippi John Hurt’s “Got the Blues/Can’t be Satisfied” to the title track by Joe Young, Ned Washington and Victor Young.

Performing as a duo, Howell and Weinheimer pay homage to pre-war blues and a vintage style that never goes out of style. For some, especially those new to the genre, it might be underwhelming and too reminiscent of folk music. Steve Howell’s dry talk-singing, combined with Jason Weinheimer’s melodic but understated acoustic guitar, is an acquired taste. One might ask: Where’s the juice, the oomph, the pizzazz? In truth, this kind of music doesn’t rely on such things, but on a “peaceful, easy feeling,” as the Eagles said. This is kick-back-in-your-“Rocking Chair” blues, not boogie-and-chug-a-beer blues.

This duo’s Internet biographies, provided by Blind Raccoon, provide some revealing details: “When Steve Howell first heard Mississippi John Hurt’s happy style of finger picking country blues in 1965 at the age of thirteen, he immediately knew that the tame, folksy style of strumming the guitar was a thing out of the past for him. As his journey progressed, Mississippi John Hurt begat Blind Willie McTell and Leadbelly, who begat Robert Johnson, Son House, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Blake and a host of other black acoustic guitar players and vocalists. His interest in rural, folk-blues styles and the history of the music led him to learn more about how this music came to town and melded with the horn-oriented bands prevalent in the cities, creating a strong affinity for him with the traditional jazz and New Orleans music of the first half of the twentieth century.” As for veteran performer Jason Weinheimer, he “has recorded albums by John Moreland, Buddy Flett, and Jim Mize, among many others. In addition to his studio work, he plays bass in a few bands, most notably Steve Howell & the Mighty Men. His solo album Skies Are Grey was released in 2016 under the name The Libras.”

The following song is a very, very oldie (1929), but a goodie, originally by Hoagy Carmichael.

Track 10: “Rockin’ Chair” – “Fetch me that gin, son, ‘fore I tan your hide.” These ten words woke yours truly up from a trance, making her blink in disbelief. However, what’s more unbelievable is the transformation Time can wreak upon a body – and a mind. Howell’s guitar is at its slowest and most contemplative, and his voice hoary with years. “Old rocking chair got me, cane by my side,” our narrator begins. “Can’t get from this cabin, going nowhere.” When the thrill of life and youth is gone, and “Judgment Day is near,” what else is left to celebrate?

Blues lovers, if you enjoy songs that’ll be played A Hundred Years from Today, check this CD out!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 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 

brian carmona cd imageBrian Carmona – This Is Me

Self-produced CD

10 songs – 41 minutes

Based in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia for the past 15 years, Brian Carmona is a Brooklyn-born guitarist/songwriter who delivers his own brand of blues rock with Latin, R&B and funk influences on this all-original, self-produced debut CD.

A first-generation American whose mother hails from Colombia and the product of a musical family, Carmona’s a soulful vocalist. He picked up the six-string at age 11 and developed his own distinctive style, influenced most by the three Kings — B.B., Freddie and Albert, Carlos Santana, Albert Collins and Jimi Hendrix while also playing drums, bongos and other percussion instruments along the way.

Carmona composed all ten of the tunes and handles guitar and lead vocals on This Is Me, backed by Shannon Leggete on drums and backing vocals, Von Jose Roberts on bass and Cal Hamlin on keys. Nate Delesline sits in on drums for one cut. Although new tunes, the music is rooted in the sounds of the ’60s and ’70s.

“Once Again” opens the action with pleasant simple guitar hook as Carmona recounts repeated attempts to contact a lady who drives him wild. He’s got a strong, clear baritone, and remains in complete control on the guitar as he provides chords and rhythm behind the vocals, filling in the gaps with steady single-note leads, most prominent in the last 45 seconds or so. “By Myself” is a loping blues set atop a steady four-note rhythm pattern that describes the singer’s pain in realizing he should have kept his lady to himself.

The title song, “This Is Me,” is a bittersweet rock-fueled love ballad. In it, Brian demands that his lady pack her bags and leave, this time for good. A medium-fast shuffle, “Blind,” lopes out of the gate next and deals with a woman so beautiful that the singer’s unable to see anyone else. It features a solid organ solo mid-tune.

Next up, “Makes Me Wonder Why” kicks off with a double-note guitar riff that echoes The Allman Brothers and continues the relationship theme. This time, Carmona realizes he can’t survive with the lady’s love and touch even though he tells her he’s doing fine without her. The music gets funky for “Nothing Is Wrong” — this time, the singer professes there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for the lady — before the straight-ahead slow blues “Baby Girl” features some tasty fret work as it describes the title woman as he watches her from a window as she’s walking down the street.

Carmona’s background is evident in “Tell Me Baby (What You Want),” a percussive pleaser with a Latin feel, before two more love songs — the uptempo rocker “You’re The One For Me,” which picks up the window theme, and “Be Mine Tonight,” an aurally different, swinging, stop-time blues — bring the album to a close.

An interesting first offering from someone worthy of a follow-up, This Is Me is available only through the artist’s website (address above), but it’s definitely worth a listen.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

bette smith cd imageBette Smith – Jetlagger

Fat Possum/Big Legal Mess Records

CD: 10 Songs, 36:41 Minutes

Styles: Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues

As a society and a world, we love our comparisons. We not only ask who’s better than whom, but also who is similar to whom. It’s the reason why the acronym RIYL (Recommended If You Like) is such a thing on the Internet. In her promotional materials, NYC’s Bette Smith has been compared to Betty Davis, Betty Wright, Lauryn Hill, Bessie Smith, and, of course, Etta James. We all need a baseline to go on when we discover new artists – “who do they sound like?” – but this tactic is overused. If everything tastes like chicken, then what, exactly, does the proverbial chicken taste like?

In a word, Bette Smith’s voice is particular to herself and herself alone. It has a glinting, almost girlish edge that adds a touch of the unusual to the usual vibrato and belted notes. This joyful Jetlagger sounds like she’s having a ball, even in the midst of dealing with a “Manchild” and enduring the “Shackle & Chain” of too much romantic closeness. On four covers and six originals that should climb the Billboard charts in no time, she and some of Fat Possum Records’ best musicians show that they’re one of a kind. Sometimes it’s hard to understand their lyrics, but their spirit (along with the Holy Spirit) comes through loud and clear.

Bette Smith grew up in the rough Bedford-Stuyvestant neighborhood of NYC, where she sang gospel, soul and blues.

Accompanying her as she sings lead vocals are Jimbo Mathus on guitars, keyboards, and background vocals; Bronson Tew on drums and background vocals; Matt Patton on bass and background vocals; Scott “Pako” Goolsby on second guitar; Starlin Browning on guitar for “I Found Love”; Jamison Hollister on violin; Marc Franklin and Kirk Smothers on horns, and Susan Marshall on additional background vocals. (Sometimes Bette harmonizes with herself, and Ms. Marshall’s vocals team up with hers in this situation.)

The following three selections are some of the best of soul blues that this year has to offer.

Track 01: “I Will Feed You” – The first thing that will jump out at listeners, and send shivers down their spines, is this song’s intro. A chorus of wailing voices climbs the scale, slowly and mournfully, as if grieving the loss of a loved one. “Whatever you want, whatever you need, the love that you want, I will feed you,” Bette informs her paramour, sounding coquettish and sincere at the same time. Jimbo Mathus’ lead guitar soars, too, robust and strong as an eagle.

Track 03: “I Found Love” – I found a sticker on the front of this CD that suggested lucky number three as one of its premiere offerings. A cover from the band Lone Justice, starring Steven Van Zandt, it speeds along like a bullet train, hard-driving and exhilarating. Dig those drums by Bronson Tew – not everyone can hold that pace or keep the energy constantly high-octane. The powerhouse background vocals have great harmony and tempo, all voices perfectly equalized.

Track 08: “Moaning Bench” – We all need to repent of our reckless, wanton ways sometimes, but some people have no concept of this concept. “Your mama was a [stripper] dancer, and your daddy was a guitar man. You grew up in the back of a bar,” Bette tells the target of this lecture. “Well, the bloom has left the rose, and the rose is falling off of the vine.” Who, specifically, is she talking about? “You a shameless wench! Go down…on the moaning bench!” Baptist churches used to have them, and this song’s subject is long due for a visit.

Who does Bette Smith sound like? Bette Smith, of course: a jubilant Jetlagger!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 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 – Smiley Tillmon 

smiley tillmon image 1It’s a reasonably safe bet that if you live anywhere in the Chicagoland area—the Loop, outlying neighborhoods, far-flung suburbs, any side of town—the Smiley Tillmon Band will find its way to your neck of the woods for a gig before too many weeks pass. They’re that busy.

“A couple of weeks ago, I did five in a row, but I can’t do that,” says Tillmon. “At my age, I can’t hack it because it takes too long to recuperate. But we do very well. We do about two or three nights a week. It’s good.”

There’s an obvious reason why the guitarist’s booking schedule is so jam-packed. As his nickname indicates, Smiley knows how to have a good time and makes sure his audience does too. After 55 years of playing the local blues scene, he remains happy to serve up the blues and soul standards that people never seem to stop craving. Tillmon does them his way, and his band—guitarist Kate Moss, bassist Tom Rezetko, and drummer George Baumann—provides just the right grooves to make Smiley smile.

Rezetko has been with Tillmon for a decade, serving in a variety of essential roles. “He’s my buddy and my manager,” says Smiley. “It’s like a chemistry. He seemed to understand where I was coming from, and I could understand where he was coming from.”

“It’s went really, really fast,” says Rezetko of their time together. “It’s been great. He’s just such a good friend.”

The two joined forces in 2007. “I met him through a guy named Marco. He’s a drummer. And he was working at Guitar Center out in Country Club Hills in the suburbs. I was strumming on a guitar, and he noticed when I was strumming. He said, ‘Hey, man, I like what you’re doing!’ So he invited me to a place in Blue Island called the Hideaway,” says Tillmon. “So I went by there. They had a jam session there. And Tom was playing there with a guy named Ronnie Prince and a guy named Kevin.

“I came up and started playing with Tom and Kevin and Ronnie. So me and Tom liked the way we sounded together. We did a few gigs with this guy named Marco, and after a while it looked like me and Tom had a little more in common than me and Marco did,” says Smiley. The deal was cemented when Tillmon and Rezetko dropped by another local jam. “We looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, man, let’s see if we can take this thing to another level!’”

Guitarist Kate Moss has been with Smiley’s combo for nearly five years, her slashing Freddie King/Magic Sam-influenced leads contrasting strikingly with Smiley’s fluid fretwork. “She just put another level on it. She took us places that I can’t give enough gratitude to Kate,” says Tillmon. “We like to complement each other, because she has a certain style of playing, and I have a certain style of playing. And it wouldn’t be a benefit if we all played the same thing. You need an off-and-on and a wet-and-dry, that kind of thing. I think the contrast makes it pretty good. She’s such a great player.

“Kate and Tom gave me the exposure so I could be where I needed to be.”

Tillmon was inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame on October 15. “You never expect this. You just try to do the best you can,” he says. “Thinking that I was deserving enough to be a part of it, now that really caught me by surprise. But you appreciate things like that, because you work hard and try to do good. So if somebody recognizes you trying to do good, that makes it all worthwhile.”

smiley tillmon image 2Smiley’s path to that honor has been singular. He was born Moses Tillmon in rural Jefferson County, Georgia. “In the cotton fields, because I wasn’t born in the city,” he says. “When you’re born in the woods like that, they just name the county because there wasn’t no town. And there’s no hospital, so you’re born in the house, the midwife, that kind of thing. But I survived.

“I stayed there in Georgia ‘til I was about ten years old, picking cotton and stuff in the meantime. Then my mom moved to Florida, Fort Lauderdale. So when I got to Fort Lauderdale, I went to school there and started picking beans down there in the beanfields. So one field to the other field,” he says. “I loved to sing. My mom was a pretty good piano player. I always wanted to play. So I finally went to the pawn shop and bought a guitar for ten dollars and bought a little chord book to try to figure out what to do. Eventually things started to happen for me. So I just kept working at it.”

There wasn’t much blues in the air where Tillmon was growing up, but he dug other genres. “I heard a lot of church music,” says Smiley. “I used to listen to country music, really. There was a lot of country music—the Grand Ole Opry, stuff like that. Because there weren’t too many black stations down there, so you could hear country music and stuff like that. And every once in a while, you would hear stuff out of Gallatin, Tennessee. There was a station that played a lot of stuff.” Hoss Allen’s broadcasts over Nashville’s WLAC-AM were eagerly anticipated. “He would play stuff by Louis Jordan, the guys out of the ‘40s and ‘50s,” Smiley says. “Every once in a while, you would hear it. His theme song was ‘Swanee River Boogie.’ I never forgot that.”

When he was old enough to get into the local clubs, Tillmon watched some of the greatest R&B performers on the planet perform live. “There weren’t too many places a lot of black artists could go at the time. This was in the ‘50s,” he says. “But there was a place between Fort Lauderdale and Miami called the Palms of Hallandale. And every time a good artist had a hot record, you could be sure that’s where they were going to come, because that was one of the big spots. I saw guys like Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. I liked that group. The ‘5’ Royales, and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland when he was a young guy. B.B. King. All the guys came there. Little Willie John.

“You were inspired by all these guys. The ladies liked them. They had a lot of pretty ladies, so I wanted to be a part of that too! So hey, man, it looked like a pretty good idea,” says Tillmon. “The Palms of Hallandale, that was a hotbed where I heard a lot of the great players play.” The “5” Royales’ amazing guitarist Lowman Pauling mesmerized young Tillmon. “Oh, man, that guy that had that guitar hanging down low. He could pick it, man,” Smiley says. “He had this thing where he played those hot licks on it called ‘Think.’ I thought that was so cool when he hit those hot licks. I was impressed by him, man. And that (guitarist) with the Midnighters, Cal Green. He could play too. So those were the ones that really inspired me.”

Then there was the flamboyant Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones, who would dye his hair to match his brightly colored suits and shoes and stroll through the audience thanks to a cord that was several hundred feet long. “I never met him, but I saw him. That’s when he had ‘The Things That I Used To Do.’ He could get it, man. He could really play,” says Tillmon. “He had that sound that nobody else had. It was sort of funky and jazzy, and he played real melodic, not just beatin’ on the guitar. He played lyrical kind of solos. That’s what I liked about him,” says Smiley. “He was saying something. He wasn’t just up there making noise. Guitar Slim was the man. He could get it. I was exposed to a lot of good people. I just sucked it all in, because I liked what they were doing.”

Pauling, Green, and Slim weren’t Tillmon’s only influences on guitar over the years. “I love B.B. I never like to copy his style, but I like the way he plays, and he was a good player,” he says. “I really love jazz too. I like George Benson. I like Wes Montgomery, but I actually like George better than Wes. And a guy named Grant Green. He’s a heck of a player. It’s like fixing a stew. You take something from everybody and put it in the pot and stir it up. So my pot is stirred up with some of everybody.”

Smiley’s first experience in a recording studio was with Miami singer Billy Miranda, possibly the session that produced Miranda’s explosive 1960 rocker “Run Rose” for Chicago’s Checker Records. “There used to be a club in Fort Lauderdale. It was a great club called the Downbeat,” he says. “I actually saw James Brown there, when he started out back in the ‘50s. Those guys used to come through there. I worked with Billy Miranda there, and then I worked with him in Miami at a place called the James Club.

smiley tillmon image 3“We did some stuff for a (producer) that lived in Miami Beach called Bobby Dukoff. It wasn’t my record. I was just on a session with this guy named Billy Miranda,” he continues. “You’re trying to get started, you don’t know what you’re doing. So you take it where you find it.”

Living in sunny Florida exposed Tillmon to an exotic musical strain. “When I went to school in Fort Lauderdale, a lot of kids’ parents were from Nassau. So there were a lot of Nassau kids around there, and they always liked to play calypso, do the limbo, and all that kind of thing,” he says. “At that time, Harry Belafonte was really popular, so everybody wanted to be like Harry Belafonte, that ‘Day-O’ kind of thing, and ‘Island In The Sun.’ So that’s what you could hear on the radio a lot. Naturally, you hear things on the radio you like, you try to do it.”

Tillmon left Miranda to join Sammy Ambrose & the Afro-Beats, who specialized in calypso. Ambrose was a Miami singer who doubled on drums; the rest of the Afro-Beats consisted of Charles Wright on the other guitar (not the fretsman who later fronted the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band), bassist Sammy Williams, and Joe Sanders on percussion.

“You know how you go to clubs and see people, and you talk and see what happens?” says Smiley. “I lived in a place called the Sir John Hotel. I moved to Miami after I graduated school in Fort Lauderdale. We just started playing, man. And I went to the see their show. They did the limbo and all the Caribbean stuff, and I liked that too. Because I’ve always liked everything. I don’t like to be labeled, because I love all kinds of music. You just sort of do good with what you do. But calypso was an amazing thing. I really enjoyed that.”

The Afro-Beats toured widely, venturing as far north as Montreal and Quebec City. They cut a 45 in New York that came out on the West Side label in the states and CMI north of the border. Coupling “Nitty Gritty” and “The Canadian Twist,” it was a lot more R&B than calypso. The band even had managers with an office in the Brill Building. “Our managers at the time set that up for us,” says Tillmon of the single. “We got some mileage out of it. We got some gigs out of it. I didn’t get no money, but we got some gigs!” When the Afro-Beats broke up in 1962, Ambrose stayed in New York (he would cut the original ‘64 version of “This Diamond Ring,” covered in pop chart-topping form by Gary Lewis and the Playboys). Smiley set his sights on a different metropolis.

“I didn’t want to go back to Miami, and I had met some people in Canada that knew people in Chicago. You know, you get off and you go to breakfast with different people, and you talk to people and ask them about whatever,” says Tillmon. “I knew one person in Chicago. I had got his number: Phil Upchurch. I met him when I was in Miami. I kept that number. He used to work with this guy called Dee Clark. You remember ‘Raindrops’? Before it came out, Phil gave me that record. (Phil) had one really big record called ‘You Can’t Sit Down.’

“When I left Canada, I had talked to a guy called Jump Jackson,” he says. “He was a drummer. He lived in Chicago. So when I decided to come to Chicago, I called those people to let them know I was in town. Jump Jackson hooked me up with this guy called Singing Sam.

“I went to this place called the Trocadero on the South Side of Chicago. It was about 47th and Indiana,” says Smiley. “Matt Murphy used to play with this band called Singing Sam & His Sparks. Singing Sam, I’ll tell you who his dad actually was, was Sam Chatmon. the guy (from the) the Mississippi Sheiks–‘Sitting On Top Of The World.’ That was his dad. I used to see him every summer. He used to come up here to Chicago.” That’s when Moses Tillmon received his lifelong nickname. “We were on the bandstand, and everybody used to call me Moses. And I like to have fun and laugh. (Singing Sam) said, ‘I ain’t gonna call you Moses. I’m gonna call you Smiley!’ That was in 1962. So I’ve been wearing it ever since.

“When I got to Chicago, everything was a lot of blues and a lot of soul music, that kind of thing. But blues was kickin’,” Tillmon says. “I ran into guys like Jimmy Johnson, Jody Williams, Lefty Dizz, Lonnie Brooks—he was Guitar Jr. then. So you know, I learned from those guys. They helped me out. A guy named Lacy Gibson. All these people, man. I’m in a debt of gratitude to all the people that helped me out.”

smiley tillmon image 4Tillmon worked during the mid-‘60s with keyboardist Billy “The Kid” Emerson, by then a South Side fixture but a Sun Records artist in Memphis a decade earlier with his Sam Phillips-produced classics “When It Rains It Pours” and “Red Hot.” “I worked some places with him. I worked some places in Waukegan, I can’t think of the name of ‘em, and some places in Chicago Heights. There used to be a hotel down there. And around the city,” says Smiley. “No big deal. Because he didn’t have no record then. He was just out there jobbing like everybody else. He had the name from ‘Red Hot.’ That’s where he had his little name from. We were all just out here, trying to make that little $15 a night. Lucky to get that!”

Smiley’s rhythm guitar was overdubbed onto “A Dancin’ Whippersnapper,” one of Emerson’s mid-‘60s singles on Billy’s own Tarpon label. “I wasn’t really that good a musician to be a session player, but he just liked what I was doing,” Tillmon claims. The song was penned by Emerson and newcomer Denise Craig, soon to find stardom as Denise LaSalle. “She used to work with Billy. She used to work with Singing Sam. She was always good, but she just needed a little tweaking up and a little nurturing. Billy really got her going,” says Smiley. “We started out with her in ‘64, ‘65, something like that.” The South Side was Tillmon’s primary stomping grounds. “I didn’t play the West Side a lot. I really liked to play the South Side,” he says. “But I used to work the West Side with Lee Shot Williams. I used to work over there with him a lot.”

Smiley’s first bout with full-time status as a musician ended in 1977. “My family came first,” he says. “I’m a family man. I had five kids, so I couldn’t be going nowhere.” So Tillmon found himself a day job. “I worked at a school district, maintenance and special ed, for 30 years to 2007, when I retired,” he says. “I took gigs, but that wasn’t my main thing at the time. I was working at the school. I was still playing though, when I had a chance to, when the job would allow me to.”

Sometimes that meant turning down very tempting offers. “Dick Shurman wanted me to play second guitar for Albert Collins. He brought me all the records and the albums that my buddies were on—Allen Batts was on there, and Johnny B. Gayden. I couldn’t do that because I was still home at the time. But Dick Shurman has always looked out for me,” says Smiley. “He helped me a lot. He always believed in me.”

Tillmon’s retirement from his day gig a decade ago resulted in a renewed commitment to playing his blues, this time as the leader of his own band. “I’m full speed ahead trying to play music now,” he says. “It was time to get back on the trail. Things have been going well since then, since I hooked up with Tom. He’s the best.”

Maybe that’s why Smiley is smiling more than ever these days. “That’s my whole attitude,” he says. “To play and have fun.” But those one-liners that he occasionally trots out to serve as between-songs patter? That’s another issue entirely.

“Sometimes the joke’s on me, because they’re sort of shaky,” he laughs. “I’m trying to get through the night. That’s all I’m trying to do. Man, I don’t know how good it is. But whatever helps me make it through the night, I’ll do it as long as it’s positive. I need a writer for some jokes. Do you know a good writer? I need it bad, man!”

Check out Smiley’s website at:

Interviewer Bill Dahl is a lifelong Chicago resident who began writing about music professionally in 1977. He’s written for Vintage Rock, Goldmine, Living Blues, Blues Revue, Blues Music Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and the Reader, and is the author of The Art of the Blues, a 2016 book published by University of Chicago Press, and 2001’s Motown: The Golden Years (Krause Publications). Bill was awarded the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award in journalism in 2000.

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Washington Blues Society – Seattle, WA

Washington Blues Society presents the 2017 Snohomish Blues Invasion! Since 2009 the Washington Blues Society has presented the Snohomish Blues Invasion; a one-day mini festival pub crawl event in historic downtown Snohomish. The event has become so popular among blues fan that the event was voted the “Best Non- Festival Event,” at the Best of the Blues awards in the spring of 2017.

The Blues Invasion returns to Snohomish Sunday November 19th 2- 10 PM. Over 25 acts will appear in venues on historic first street, including the newly remodeled Stewart’s tavern, the Piccadilly Circus Pub, along with two all ages venues, The Oxford and the First and Union Kitchen. The event also includes a silent auction of music memorabilia and a 50/50 raffle. $10 donation for a wristband to gain entry to all the venues.

Proceeds go to the IBC fund to send entrants to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis TN. The 2018 entrants representing Washington state are The CD Woodbury Trio and the Benton /Townsend

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: Nov 13 – Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat, Nov 20 – Joe Asselin Trio, Nov 27 – Black Magic Johnson, Dec 4 – Studebaker John, Dec 11 – Ed Selinger and Edmopolitans, Dec 18 The Mary Jo Curry Band. For more information visit

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

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

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