Issue 11-46 November 16, 2017

Cover photo © 2017 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Bill Dahl has our feature interview with Billy Boy Arnold. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Corey Dennison Band, Dudley Taft, Third Coast Blues Collective, Roy Book Binder, The Patrik Jansson Band, Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers, Jesus on a Tortilla and Johnny Oskam.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

corey dennison band cd imageCorey Dennison Band – Night After Night

Delmark Records – 2017

13 tracks; 62 minutes

Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Corey Dennison is now a fixture on the Chicago club scene. The band’s second release on Delmark continues the successful blend of blues, soul and Rn’B shown on their self-titled debut, a CD that garnered several nominations including a Blues Blast nomination for Best Debut release in 2016. Corey wrote seven songs in tandem with Gerry Hundt, one by himself and there are five covers, including one by Carl Weathersby for whom Corey played guitar for twelve years prior to setting up his own band in 2013. Corey plays lead guitar and handles the vocals; Gerry Hundt plays guitar, organ and harp with Nik Skilnik on bass and Joel Baer on drums.

The band sets out its stall with an opening run of six originals that demonstrate the range of their talents. Opener “Hear My Plea” rolls along over a core riff as Corey begs for forgiveness in heart-rending style, a mix of soul, gospel and blues in his voice and some tasty licks from his guitar. “Misti” appeared on the last Kilborn Alley CD The Tolono Tapes but here is sung by Corey and is an early highlight, full-on soul-blues as Corey plays delightfully over warm organ while “I Get The Shivers” is a rocking shuffle which gets you moving and must be terrific live. “Better Man” is a slow and soulful piece that opens with Corey talking of those who have gone before him, and how those influences have made him what he is today. Possibly autobiographical, it is a strong song that delivers an emotional punch. We then move into soul/funk territory with the infectious “Phone Keeps Ringing” and “Nothing’s Too Good (For My Baby)” which sounds like a Motown track with its steady rhythm and tambourine but is Corey and Gerry’s take on the Motor City style, albeit with Memphis name-checked in the lyrics.

Carl Weathersby’s “Love Ain’t Fair” is a classic slow blues, beautifully played by Corey on guitar and Gerry on organ before the band’s eclecticism is well demonstrated with a lovely version of “Are You Serious”, a 1982 hit for Tyrone Davis, Corey getting great tone on guitar over funky bass and delicate percussion. “Nightcreeper 2 (Still Creepin’)” is a sequel to a title from The Tolono Tapes and the spoken intro is a conversation between Corey and an uncredited Andrew Duncanson before the band gets down and dirty on the funky tune. The last original finds Corey and Gerry exchanging licks on the extended slow blues “It’s So Easy” before three covers: The Cate Brothers’ “Stuck In Chicago” is another soulful piece; “Troubles Of The World” was most famously sung by Mahalia Jackson and Corey plays it in an upbeat style with a touch of funk but still retaining the gospel core of the song; “Down In Virginia” closes the album with a swagger as the band rock out on the Jimmy Reed tune. On each of these three cuts Corey’s guitar work is outstanding and suits the different styles of the three tunes perfectly.

This album is a strong follow-up to the band’s debut and should further underline their status as one of the leading young bands on the Chicago scene, as well as enhancing their reputation in the wider blues world. Readers can buy this one with confidence!

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 – 2 of 8 

dudley taft cd imageDudley Taft – Summer Rain

American Blues Artists Group Label

11 songs time-52:31

Think Deep Purple without the organ pyrotechnics, Blackmore’s Rainbow, Golden Earring, a touch of Robin Trower or any of the 70’s hard rock guitar centered bands. Then have I got a guy for you. Dudley Taft is the name and crazy raging guitars is his game. Heavy killer chords, distortion, wah-wah, fuzz pedals…Pick your poison. His youthful sounding rock and roll hero voice doesn’t jive with his outlaw-hillbilly look. You get meaningful lyrics and sometimes it’s “lyrics smirics”. His rhythm sections supplies the necessary muscle to power this hard rockin’ beast. Reese Wynans of Stevie Ray Vaughn fame provides organ.

Spacey guitar kicks off “Fly On Love”. I have no idea what “Dark Blue Star” is all about, but it doesn’t really matter here in guitar-land. Trade mark Robin Trower “floaty” guitar permeates “Live Or Die” along with some heavy beat you over the head drums. “Edge Of Insane” comes off sounding like Deep Purple with the emphasis on guitar over organ. Acoustic guitar fights it out with an electric on the dreamy “Moonbeam”. It also features a bit of some nicely textured slide guitar.

If you are a card carrying air guitar geek just drop your ears anywhere on this disc and you’ll find yourself in the mist of guitar nirvana. The guitars are heavier than Popa Chubby on “Come With Me” as opposed to the slow, pensive and deliberate guitar on “I Lost My Way”. “Find My Way Home” crunches along with acoustic guitar mingling with electric. It probably has one of the better set of lyrics. The title track “Summer Rain” features melodic string bending in a lovely stylized rock setting.

If you miss the guitar glory of the seventies you can bask in this album and bring back memories of Uriah Heap and such cosmic guitar-drenched rock gods. Dudley does do right on the guitar(pun intended). Thundering drums and bass propel this powerful music. Ok the words can tend to dwell a tad on the rock and roll cliché side, but it’s all in the spirit of good rockin’ fun. Ok sports fans, break out those air guitars and knock yourselves out.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

third coast blues collective cd imageThird Coast Blues Collective – Music Friends


12 Tracks/52:48

Put together by producer Kurt Koenig, who also plays bass throughout, this release shines a spotlight on the Milwaukee blues scene. More than thirty musicians and vocalists made contributions to the twelve tracks that were primarily composed by some of the participants. The opening cut shines the spotlight on Jim Liban, the legendary harp player who once fronted the band, Short Stuff. Joined by his son Matt on drums and Todd Merriweather on Hammond organ, Liban delivers a succinct assessment of life as seen through the rear-view mirror. The noted guitarist, Greg Koch, contributes some stinging licks, then Liban treats listeners to a subtle harp coda. Vocalist John Sieger co-wrote “Voodoo Rain” with Koch, who lays down a twisting, enthralling solo that is a vivid testimonial to his acknowledged guitar skills.

“Do You Duty Judy” was penned by Perry Weber, another veteran currently playing guitar for the Jimmys. His boss, Jimmy Voegeli, adds some rollicking piano on the hearty shuffle that includes another Liban appearance as Weber does his best to convince his wife to give him some good loving. The brothers Pruitt – David & Dick from the BelAirs – turn in a fun vocal duet on a cover of “Farmer John,” urged on by Aaron Gardner and Mike Pauers on saxophone and flute plus Jamie Breiwick on trumpet. Koch shines again on the languid take of Little Richard’s “Directly From My Heart To You,” beautifully sung by Robin Pluer, once a member of the R&B Cadets with Sieger and Paul Cebar. Steve Cohen pulls plenty of sounds out of his harp to wrap around her voice. Named the Best Guitar Player in 2016 by the Sheperd Express Reader’s Choice Awards, Andrew Koenig is compelling on Prince Conley’s dark tale of love’s obsession, “I’m Going Home”.

The second half of the disc offers some widely disparate styles. Bill Camplin utilizes the perfect vocal approach for Cohen’s “Comeuppance,” giving the barroom tearjerker the right amount of country pathos. “Song For Everything” features Sieger and Pluer plus the horns on a track that flows from contemporary R&B through jazz and back. Another highlight is “Spanish Wine,” with the dynamic Susan Julian on vocal plus a robust interlude from Gardner on sax. “Boogie Sol Hoopli” was written by guitarist Pete Roller, who uses his slide guitar to add many dimensions to the standard boogie riff with help from Cohen, Koenig on bass, and Bob Mueller on drums.

Any song that Michael Ledbetter sings typically rises well above the norm as his operatically trained voice commands your attention. On Koch’s “Sho Nuff,” the singer uses his meticulous phrasing and impressive range to create an intimate performance, backed by a swinging small group complete with horns. Equally fine is the closing number, “Recession Blues,” written by Jim Liban, featured on harp. Also contributing is Ledbetter’s former boss, guitarist Nick Moss, and Marc Wilson on percussion. The rhythm section lays down a rolling foundation for the singer, his voice gliding through the taut assessment of the nation’s financial plight. The last three minutes feature Liban at his best, his harp dancing around the melody, saying plenty with just a few notes.

Add it all up and you have a fine celebration of the Milwaukee blues scene and a number of the key players. If most of these names are unfamiliar to you, make a point to get a copy of this one. It holds up over repeated listens – and just might make you add Milwaukee as a musical destination the next time you are traveling through the Midwest.

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 – 4 of 8 

roy book binder cd imageRoy Book Binder – In Concert: Road Songs & Stories

PegLeg Records

18 songs – 60 minutes

Singer, songwriter, guitarist and teacher, Roy Book Binder has cemented his place in the world of American roots music and particularly acoustic blues over the last nearly 50 years. He took lessons from and toured with the Rev. Gary Davis in the 1960s, a time when he also “re-discovered” the great Medicine Show Entertainer, Pink Anderson (whose given name Syd Barrett combined with that of Floyd Council to produce the appellation of one of the world’s greatest rock bands). He has played with everyone from Robert Lockwood Jr. to Jorma Kaukonen. And the release of In Concert: Road Songs & Stories, his first live album in over a decade, is a wonderful reminder of what a fine performer he is.

Featuring a fine mixture of originals and covers, In Concert: Road Songs & Stories was recorded in 2009 at the Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in North Bethesda, MA. The album opens with the original “St. Pete Blues” before launching into high speed ragtime of “Black Dog Blues” from which it is immediately obvious that Book Binder’s adroit finger-picking skills remain in fine fettle. The influence of the Rev. Gary Davis remains discernible throughout in the alternating thumb bass-lines and finger-picked melodies of Book’s own compositions such as “What You Gonna Do?” as well as covers of songs like Davis’s classic “Candyman”.

Book Binder has never been the greatest of singers, but his half-spoken, half-sung approach fits the songs well and he delivers each track with a wry intelligence and wit. Indeed, sharp humor remains an essential element of any Book Binder concert. In the introduction to “New Age Woman Blues”, he dryly notes “This one here is one I wrote for my first wife, may she rest in peace…. in Biloxi, Mississippi, with her new husband.”

The 18 tracks on In Concert : Road Songs & Stories include three standalone spoken introductions (presumably to enable radio stations to cut straight to the music), which range from the hilarious (such as his tale about Jazz Gillum and his own brother-in-law, Rock Bottom) to the historically fascinating (his story about the Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Boy Fuller and Peter, Paul and Mary).

It is probably worth noting that In Concert: Road Songs & Stories is a different concert recording from the Book’s great DVD In Concert at the National Storytelling Festival, even though both releases share some of the same tracks (like “Rag Mama”, “CC & O Blues”, “Keep A Knockin’” and “Electricity”). This is no doubt to be expected given that the concerts were recorded only two years apart.

Book Binder introduces “It’s Gonna Be Alright Someday” with a mock-apology about the “happy little optimistic song” and how he wrote it one morning when he woke up in a good mood: “Usually a blues guy doesn’t wake up feeling that happy. And if he does, he tries to suppress it. Can’t be too cheery.” But when all is said and done, his music is happy music. It is uplifting and life-affirming, rather like the man himself. And with crystalline production, In Concert feels like you’re sitting in the front row at a Book Binder concert. Great stuff.

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 

patrik jansson cdnb cd imageThe Patrik Jansson Band – So Far To Go

Sneaky Foot Records

9 songs time-43:33

Just what the world needs another guitar slinging blues-rocker, right? When you are this good and have great style, great chops and arrangements, ok I’ll take it. Sweden’s Patrik Jansson and company deliver the goods. He puts his effects pedals to good use with talent. His voice is strong and confident throughout. With some outside help his outfit of guitar, bass, drums and keyboards execute some riveting guitar rock. Well constructed songs all from the hand of Mr. Jansson and well thought out guitar solos make all the difference in this type of music being “hum-drum” or pleasurable. This guy definitely falls into the second category. Having a capable band in the studio is the icing on the cake.

Starting off an album with a duet can be a chancy proposition for most, but here when the partner is someone of the quality of Therese Thomsson, it works just fine. It’s a cool romp with jazzy guitar and organ. What’s a blues-rock CD without a bit of Stevie Ray Vaughn inspired guitar rhythm under the lead guitar part. Gustaf Andersson’s organ adds to the funkiness of the song. Oh yeah, these guys are just as effective on the slower stuff as in “Keep Taking Your Chances”. Electric piano is a nice addition on this one along with organ. The piano adds a soothing texture.

The title track is an inspired and upbeat rockin’ gem with Patrik’s omnipresent guitar goodness in fine form as usual. “Those Days Are Gone” is another slow-burner fueled by organ and horns. The funky instrumental “That 70’s Thing” gives the horn section and organ a chance to shine along with the guitar. Patrik puts his wah-wah pedal to good use here. Patrik once again dusts off his wah-wah pedal for the harmonica-guitar-horn driven “Too Blind To See”. Mikael “Mike” Fall sure knows his way around the “Mississippi Saxophone”. The haunting melodic instrumental “Sweet T” brings the recording to a lovely ending with its’ ethereal guitar and organ sending the listener off on a cloud of joy.

Guitar based rock and blues-rock doesn’t get any better than this. From the high energy cuts to the slow pensive moods this music deserves to be heard. Good music crosses the world over. Seeing music this passionate from distant lands makes one feel a oneness of musical spirit.

Do yourself a big favor and seek this CD out.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

rod piazza cd imageRod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers – Live At Fleetwoods

Big Mo Records – 2017

CD1: 8 tracks; 47 minutes

CD2: 9 tracks; 60 minutes

Now here is a great surprise, a vintage Mighty Flyers set from 1994, previously unreleased. Recorded at Mick Fleetwood’s short-lived club in Alexandria, VA, this is the same band that released Live At BB King’s and the CD makes a good pair with that set, having an almost completely different set list. The band at that point was Rod on harp and vocals, Honey Piazza on piano, Alex Schultz on guitar, Bill Stuve on bass and Jimi Bott on drums, for many fans the strongest incarnation of the band with outstanding quality in every department, Jimi and Bill providing a real pulse to the music that allows the three front line players to fly. Although there is no introduction to the band the two discs appear to cover the entire show, Disc 1 closing with the usual “Rockin’ Robin” and a promise that they will be back; Disc 2 also includes a shorter “Robin” and an encore designed to send the crowd away buzzing.

Disc 1 opens with “Talk To Your Daughter” (attributed to Jimmy McCracklin) which provides a solid start to the show, a relaxed pace with solos for everybody, allowing Rod to introduce the band to the audience. Audience noise on the discs is limited and unintrusive but the appreciation for Rod’s efforts in his extended solo can be heard. An early piece of Little Walter follows in “Aw Baby” before a superb “Hydramatic Woman” (Joe Hill Louis) which is a close relative of Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” but also seems to show the influence of The Red Devils’ “She’s Automatic”, a band that Rod was sure to have heard back in LA. Alex gets an instrumental guitar feature with his own “Westside Lex”, reminding us of what a great player he is and that we don’t hear him often enough these days. After the Rn’B of “Hear Me Knockin’”, Honey is featured on one of her legendary boogie piano and drum duo pieces, “The Stinger” – fantastic stuff! Rod pays tribute to his mentor on an extended, semi-spoken “Tribute To George Smith” before the usual set closer, “Rockin’ Robin”.

Disc 2 has two extended jams: a rocking take on Big Joe Turner’s “Low Down Dog” swings terrifically with Alex and Honey taking extended solos before Rod takes the tune home with impressive staccato drums from Jimi; Percy Mayfield’s slow blues “Are You Out There” is the vehicle for a long harp exploration that also finds Rod using the harp mike to sing the opening line of each verse, creating an impressively loud sound. Rod’s “Love And Money” is labelled as running nearly 11 minutes but in fact the track also includes reprises of “Hear Me Knockin’” and “Rockin’ Robin” that signals the end of the show, the exciting “Tangled With A Woman” then appearing as the encore. Honey’s twinkling piano work is exceptional on Rod and Honey’s “Bad Bad Boy” and “T-Bone Jumps Again” is another feature for Alex’s sublime guitar playing. Rod returns to Little Walter on “Mellow Down Easy” and a relaxed take on “Key To The Highway” works well. Roy Brown’s “Ain’t No Rockin’ No More” is a definite highlight with Rod on top form vocally and the whole band rocking superbly (check out Rod’s lung-busting single note effort in his solo).

The sound quality is excellent throughout the two discs and this is a must-buy for all fans of Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers.

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 – 7 of 8 

Jesus on a Tortilla – Tonite is the Night


CD: 12 Songs, 36:09 Minutes

Styles: Chicago Blues, Blues Covers, Harmonica Blues, Mono Recording

“You’ve never met this kind of music”, says the tagline of Tonite is the Night, the sophomore CD from Chicago’s Jesus on a Tortilla. No, that wasn’t a typo, and yours truly doesn’t have aphasia. That’s really the name of this energetic but unseasoned band, presenting four original songs and eight popular covers. The good news is that JOAT shines on instrumentals. The bad news? It can be summed up in two words: “mono recording.” This is intentional, according to their webpage: “Through the choice of our instrumentation and recording techniques, we tried to faithfully reproduce the typical sound of the early electric blues recordings. You will hear a true mono live recording, like a blues ensemble would have done at that time.”

Okay, but that’s only half the story. The other half is that modern musicians know mono is very tricky to pull off. If a band’s overall sound isn’t full-bodied enough, the results sound tinny and imbalanced. My headphones, which still Beexcellent™, proved this point. I had to turn the volume almost all the way up, because I forgot this CD wasn’t recorded in stereo. My ears are ringing at this moment. I could hear the great harmonica loud and clear, though, even on my headphones’ lowest setting, so that’s a plus. The heavily-accented vocals and their deadpan, conversational tone might make one think something got lost in this translation of classic blues. You’ll hear “BB Boogie”, “I’m Leaving You” by Howlin’ Wolf, and “Flying Saucer” by Little Walter, among other standards, but these renditions could leave you blinking in bewilderment.

Their bio on the Web says, “Jesus On A Tortilla is a project born in 2011. Across time, thanks to the growth of the group members, we embraced the Chicago Blues style, reproducing as closely as possible the main lines of the genre. The tracks selected for this album have been carefully chosen and represent a true example of the postwar Chicago blues scene from late 40’s to 50’s.” JOAT’s promotional info sheet reveals that they’ve played in clubs in Italy, France and Switzerland, and have performed as an opening act for such blues greats as Lurrie Bell, Hein Meijer and Marco Pandolfi.

Jesus on a Tortilla is a quirky quartet consisting of Lorenzo “Mumbles” Albai on vocals and harmonica; Kevin “Blind Lemon” Clementi on guitars; Matteo “Evans” Ferrario on drums, and Massimiliano “Ximi” Chiara on double bass. Special guest Henry Carpaneto stars on piano.

The following song is one of the band’s original instrumental tracks, displaying their chops.

Track 05: “Marvellous Swing” – “Mumbles” Albai is killer on the harmonica, as yours truly stated earlier. Even through the mono recording’s limitations, it shines through with brassy brilliance. “Ximi” Chiara is also fantastic on the double bass, which adds a unique touch to this number. Sometimes in the blues, the bass doesn’t get enough credit for the hard work it does.

Hopefully, with vocal training and more experience, Jesus on a Tortilla will be to more fans’ taste. Alas, to answer the claim that “you’ve never met this kind of music,” the truth is that, if you’re an aficionado of the blues – yes, you have, and from more polished ensembles. Tonite is the Night to give them a listen, for sure, but will they merit multiple play-throughs? You decide.

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 – 8 of 8 

johnny Oskam cd imageJohnny Oskam – In My Shadow


CD: 9 Songs, 47:39 Minutes

Styles: Guitar Monster Rock, Ensemble Rock, All Original Songs

True confession – I’ve only used this tagline once, and hope never to do so again. This is NOT a blues album. California’s Johnny Oskam is a rocker, pure and simple, along the lines of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Don’t let the quotes on his website, from blues rock greats like Coco Montoya and Jonny Lang, fool you. (“I wasn’t expecting all that,” said Lang, and “He can play, man!” was what Coco commented.) From start to finish, In My Shadow is a hard rock CD with a touch of acoustic flair on one particular number.

Ms. Wetnight knows that she’s listed “Guitar Monster Blues” as a descriptor for quite a few albums lately, but this one tops them all. It takes the cake. It exemplifies the old adage that “some folks like to hear themselves talk,” although in this case, Oskam’s shredder does the speaking (and shrieking). An unspoken rule of our genre is that one can’t put the word “blues” in a rock song and magically transform it into a blues song. However, that’s just what our hero does on track two, “Deep in my Bones.”

The big upside to this release is that it’s great for what it is: a take-no-prisoners thrash rock showcase. On vocals, Johnny is average but amiable. On guitar, he’s above-average, but more B- than B+. In these days of techno-synth savagery, scales and arpeggios don’t impress crowds like they used to.

His well-designed corner of the Web reveals some promotional praise: “Drawing his influence from the likes of blues greats such as Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, as well as rock acts from Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin to Soundgarden and Rival Sons and everything in between, Johnny Oskam fuses together elements of rock and blues from all over the spectrum to form an altogether original sound. The most notable feature of this young, undiscovered talent is his songwriting ability, which easily competes with the top writers of today’s industry. His songs can be hard-hitting and heavy, yet dynamic and soulful at the same time. His influences can be heard in all of his songs, but he is by no means just a derivative…Some young guys write songs to get chicks [more on this later/brackets mine], but this young man has a truly honest and real soul. ‘I’m not trying to be anyone else but myself,” Oskam says. “Why would I want to copy somebody else when nobody else can be me but me?’”

Along with Johnny on lead vocals and guitar are Katin Burns on drums and percussion; Marc Encabo on bass guitar; Kyle Schafer on keys and background vocals; Jonathan Eastly on keyboards; Michael Oskam on background vocals, and Emilio Tello on rhythm guitar and background vocals.

The following song, the raw opener of this album, shows listeners exactly what they’re in for.

Track 01: “Badlands” – For those of you unfamiliar with the U.S. landmarks, the Badlands of North and South Dakota are foreboding, barren hills and plateaus where almost nothing grows. Traversing them is very difficult, and Oskam has found these same obstacles within his mind. “I don’t care what the doctor said. I’ve gone crazy in my head. I can’t cross that begging wall. Slip my fingers and I fall.” With an introduction that would set Hendrix’s teeth on edge, this song is a sliver of madness, allowing us a glimpse into our protagonist’s tormented, unrelenting state.

A close friend of mine, the Purest Purist when it comes to the blues, once told me, “I don’t like what these young folks are doing to [it].” He won’t like In My Shadow, but hard rockers will!

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.

 Featured Blues Interview – Billy Boy Arnold 

billy boy arnold image 1Attendees at this year’s storm-shortened Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans were treated to a very special set from Billy Boy Arnold. The Chicago blues harmonica legend blasted out a non-stop parade of his seminal mid-‘50s singles for Vee-Jay Records, backed by a band that knew his repertoire intimately.

The set was prompted by Stomp boss Ira “Dr. Ike” Padnos. “It was great,” says Arnold. “Ira’s a fan of the Vee-Jay stuff, so that’s what he wants me to do. I love to do it.”

Those Vee-Jay classics form a sizable part of Arnold’s legacy. Arnold was working as Bo Diddley’s harpist when he waxed “I Wish You Would” for Chicago’s “other” great postwar blues label, Vivian Carter and Jimmy Bracken’s Vee-Jay Records, in May of 1955 at Universal Recording Corporation.

“I was playing with Bo Diddley at the time. We were doing a thing at the Trianon Ballroom with Ruth Brown. And I had wrote a song called ‘Diddy Diddy Dum Dum.’ I was playing the same riff on the harmonica that I (would) on ‘I Wish You Would.’ Bo Diddley only played the guitar behind it. I did the singing and the playing. And Leonard Chess heard the song. He was there that night. He told Bo, ‘That’s your next record!’” Behind-the-scenes machinations scuttled that.

“Bo told me, ‘I’d better take you to another record company, because Leonard don’t particularly like you!’ And that was because he thought I was a smart-alecky kid,” says Billy.

“So I went to Vee-Jay and told Jimmy Bracken, ‘I’m Bo Diddley’s harmonica player, and I’ve got a song, and Leonard Chess don’t particularly like me.’ So he said, ‘Well, come by tomorrow and I’ll have Calvin (Carter, Vee-Jay’s A&R man) listen to it!’ So I went by and I talked to Calvin, and they set up the session. I went and got Jody Williams on guitar, and the rest of the band was there in the studio when I got there: (pianist) Henry Gray and Howlin’ Wolf’s drummer, Earl Phillips. And then they had a bass player named Milton Rector, who was the first electric bass player that was in Chicago.

“Calvin Carter told me, ‘Write a new lyric on the song. We don’t want no competition with Chess, so write a new lyric.’ That’s why I wrote a new lyric, which came out ‘I Wish You Would.’ I wrote it right there on the spot. ‘I Wish You Would’ really established me and put my name on the map.”

Even though he recorded a variation of the song as “Diddley Daddy” with Little Walter on harp (Billy played on the hypnotic flip, “She’s Fine, She’s Mine”), Bo wasn’t happy. “He thought that I betrayed him. But I didn’t betray him. I was going to sing the song. The song would have come out with me singing and playing harmonica, and Bo Diddley just playing the guitar,” says Arnold. “After that, we went back in the studio to do some stuff with Bo, and Leonard told me, ‘You know, when I first met you, I didn’t like you. When I first met Little Walter, I didn’t like him!’ Because Little Walter was cocky, young and cocky.”

Williams brought in “I Was Fooled,” the rolling blues on the other side of Billy’s first Vee-Jay single. “That was Jody’s song. I was caught off guard. I didn’t have a lot of material ready,” says Arnold. “When we went to Vee-Jay, Jody was going to record for them. He had a song called ‘I Was Fooled,’ and I had ‘I Wish You Would.’ So the people at Vee-Jay asked Jody, ‘Well, let Billy Boy do this song, because he’s suited to that type of material.’ So Jody let me do ‘I Was Fooled.’ They did two sides on Morris Pejoe, two sides on me, and two sides on Earl Phillips. That’s how the session went down. Henry Gray was Morris Pejoe’s piano player.”

“I Wish You Would,” issued under the handle of Billy Boy with no last name, did well enough regionally to earn Arnold several more Vee-Jay sessions. The first transpired that October. Arnold penned “Don’t Stay Out All Night,” the blazing shuffle that formed half of his encore single. “I used to like ‘No More Doggin’’ by Rosco Gordon. So I kind of liked that beat,” says Billy. But it was the other side of that Vee-Jay platter that really had legs.

“Calvin wrote ‘I Ain’t Got You,’ and they recorded it on Jimmy Reed,” says Arnold. “But they didn’t like Jimmy Reed’s take on it. It was sort of draggy and slow, you know. So he asked me to do it.” Williams dreamed up the distinctive break lick. “Jody was a very creative young guitar player. He had a beautiful tone on the guitar, and he was very creative. Now if I had have made those records with some of the ordinary blues guys around Chicago, they wouldn’t have been effective,” says Arnold. “Jody did his best work on my sessions.”

billy boy arnold image 2The Yardbirds, with Eric Clapton on lead guitar, revived both “I Wish You Would” and “I Ain’t Got You” in 1964, testifying to Arnold’s influence on the British blues explosion. “It really gave me a boost all the way around,” says Billy. “It was a great compliment.”

That same date also spawned Arnold’s next Vee-Jay outing, “Here’s My Picture,” sporting a storming two-chorus Gray piano ride. “That came from Sonny Boy’s record, ‘Black Gal Blues,’” says Billy. Songsmith Jesse Cryor was responsible for the tough flip side, “You’ve Got Me Wrong.” “They would have different guys come by as writers, and they would have some material and (we’d) record it,” says Billy.

Williams was supplanted by young guitarist Sylvester Thompson, later known as Syl Johnson, at Arnold’s next Vee-Jay date in November of ‘56. “I went to Oklahoma and stayed about a month with Earl Hooker. And I came back, I didn’t have a band or a gig. So Shakey Jake said, ‘You’re looking for a band? I know two young guys, Syl (Thompson) and Odell Campbell. I know two great young guitar players!’ So he introduced me to them,” says Arnold. “‘I Ain’t Got You’ had just came out, and it was pretty hot around Chicago. So I started playing at 2711 Wentworth, and I got Syl on guitar and Odell Campbell, and a guy named Duke Tyus on drums.”

Syl’s clippity-clop boogie guitar groove fueled “Kissing At Midnight,” half of Billy’s next Vee-Jay offering (Magic Sam would later borrow its groove for his instrumental “Lookin’ Good”). “I wrote the song, and Syl Johnson came up with that beat that he had heard down in Mississippi,” says Arnold. “I gave him half of the writers’ on that. But I wrote the song.” Arnold also wrote the other side, “My Heart Is Crying.”

Billy waxed his last Vee-Jay session in September of ‘57. Syl’s slashing licks were all over the vibrant “Prisoner’s Plea.” “This guy, C.L. Hawkins, took it there,” says Billy. “Vee-Jay asked me to do it.” The churning “Rockin Itis” brought Billy full circle to the elastic underpinning of “I Wish You Would,” but he had nothing to do with penning it. “Theodore Twiggs was a writer for Vee-Jay,” says Billy. “Him and Calvin Carter and Al Smith got together on all of that.”

Vee-Jay’s braintrust didn’t measure up to that of Chess when it came to production. “They were nice people, but they didn’t have what Leonard Chess had. If you recorded in Chicago, you’d be better off to record for Leonard Chess,” he says. “(Vee-Jay’s bosses) weren’t really deeply into blues. They brought blues guys in and took them down to the studio and let the blues guys record what they were going to record. They didn’t have much input. Leonard was trying to milk the cow of every drop of milk that was there. He was hands on. He would tell you what to do.”

Arnold wouldn’t return to the studio until two days prior to the end of 1963, but it was a historic occasion. More Blues on the South Side, produced by Sam Charters for Prestige Records, appears to have been the first electric Chicago blues album (as opposed to a collection of hit singles) cut in a studio. And for the first time, record buyers learned Billy Boy’s last name.

“Sam Charters was in Chicago, looking for somebody to record. And somebody mentioned Junior Wells,” says Arnold. “But Bob Koester said, ‘Well, Billy Boy Arnold would be a good guy to record!’ And Sam Charters got in touch with me. I wrote all that stuff on there that’s original in a couple of days, because I knew that if you make a record, nobody wants to hear you keep singing Muddy Waters stuff, and Fats Domino. You’ve got to come up with some material of your own. So I got all that together in a couple of days and selected the musicians—my brother (Jerome Arnold) on bass, Lafayette Leake on the piano, Junior Blackmon on drums, and Mighty Joe Young, who was my guitar player for a couple of years, on the guitar.”

billy boy arnold image 3Arnold had been gigging steadily on the South and West Sides in the years between label hookups. “We were playing all-black clubs at that time. The white people hadn’t started coming into the clubs,” he says. “Club Columbia I was playing on 63rd, and the Rock and Roll, right across the street from it. I played Sylvio’s, co-starring with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters at Sylvio’s in 1957.

“They had three bands. Each band would play an hour. Continuous entertainment. They had Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters and my band. Elmore James was playing there, but he had had a heart attack, and he was kind of taking it easy. But to play Sylvio’s and to be opposite Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf was a great honor. It really was a lot of prestige. The people liked me because I had charisma. I wasn’t probably as good or had the experience that they had, because I was much younger. But I had the charisma, and the young women liked me. The younger people catered to me. And I was singing all the blues—I was singing everybody’s songs.”

A serious student of blues since he was a lad, Billy was probably the first Chicago-born blues artist of note. He encountered no interference from his family regarding his love for blues—specifically those of harmonica pioneer John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson. “My grandfather had a hotel and a restaurant in Toledo, Ohio, and he would send my mother records from the jukebox,” he says. “One record he sent her was called ‘G. M. & O. Blues’ by Sonny Boy Williamson.

“I was just fascinated how to make the harmonica sound like that. So I asked my mother. She said, ‘That’s that guy that made ‘Mattie Mae.’ We had the record by him when I was seven years old, my aunt did,” he continues. “My father was talking to my mother casually. And he said, ‘That guy came in the Club Georgia the other night, and everybody was hollering, “Hey, Sonny Boy, and throwing money to him!”’ I thought a guy like that would be out in California, like a movie star somewhere. And I realized that he lived in Chicago. My father’s brother had a butcher shop at 31st and Giles, right a couple of doors from the Plantation Lounge, where Sonny Boy played at the night he got killed. I was at the butcher shop, and a guy passed with a guitar, and I flagged down anybody with a guitar. I ran outside, and I asked him, ‘Did you know Sonny Boy?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I know Sonny Boy—he lives at 3226 Giles!’”

On the first Saturday afternoon in 1948 after he came into possession of the harpist’s address, Billy convinced his cousin and their pal to accompany him in an unscheduled visit to Sonny Boy’s home. “We rung the doorbell, and this well-dressed guy came to the door, and he said, ‘Can I help you?’ I said, ‘We want to see Sonny Boy!’ He said, ‘This is Sonny Boy!’ I said, ‘We want to hear you play your harmonica!’ He said, ‘Come on up–I’m proud to have y’all!’ He lived on the second floor. So we went upstairs, and the pianist Johnny Jones and a young lady were there as guests. And he told them, ‘They came to see Sonny Boy!’ So I said, ‘Sonny Boy, how do you make the harmonica say “wah-wah-wah?”’ He said, ‘Well, you have to choke it.’ So he started demonstrating to me how to choke it.

“I said, ‘Well, I can sing just like you, if you play one of your records!’ So he put the record on. I thought I could. I couldn’t even play, but I knew all the words. So I’m standing there tooting on the harmonica and singing his song, and he got a big kick out of that. And he told Johnny Jones, ‘He’s gonna be better than me!’

“I met with him two more occasions before he got killed. The third time I went by there, I rung the doorbell, me and my cousin, and the lady said, ‘Who are you looking for?’ I said, ‘We’re looking for Sonny Boy!’ She said, ‘Haven’t you heard? He got killed! They crushed his brain!’ So that a blow to me. But that wasn’t going to stop me from trying to learn how to play the harmonica.”

Little Walter’s early ‘50s emergence, first with Muddy Waters and then on his own, next captured Arnold’s ear. “He became my idol then, because Sonny Boy was gone,” he says. “I knew that Walter was a magnificent harmonica player.” Walter’s use of amplification on his harp wasn’t quite as innovative as it appears. “Sonny Boy played amplified harmonica in the clubs,” notes Billy, who called the Club Georgia to speak to his idol shortly before they met and got an earful. “That was a big, huge sound,” he says. “It was like violins and everything. And it didn’t sound nothing like he did on record.”

billy boy arnold image 4Billy made his own recording debut in 1953 for Collenane Cosey’s minuscule Cool label. “Her brother-in-law recorded for M-G-M Records under the name of Peach Tree Logan. And Blind John Davis and Peach Tree Logan were buddies for years. Peach Tree would sing, and Blind John used to play the piano with him occasionally. So they were starting up a little independent record label. Blind John told ‘em, ‘Well, I know a boy that plays the harmonica.’ They said, ‘Well, bring him over!’ So they brought me over there. I had a song called ‘Hello Stranger,’ and ‘I Ain’t Got No Money.’ So they heard me and they were impressed with me.”

That platter gave Arnold his lifelong nickname. “When the record came out, they said, ‘We have you a new name! We called you Billy Boy!’ Well, I didn’t particularly like that, because I’m in an adult setting,” he says. “Billy Boy sounds too immature. But what could I do?” Mrs. Cosey’s son Pete became a ‘60s Chess Records session guitarist.

Billy joined forces with Bo Diddley in 1951, when the guitarist still answered to Ellas McDaniel. “I was walking past this restaurant, and I saw two guys with a guitar and a washtub with a stick on it. Of course, I knew they were musicians. So I walked in and I introduced myself, and they said, ‘We’re going to the Midway Theater, right up the street, and do an amateur show. Come on and go down there with me!’ They didn’t invite me to participate, just go down there to hear them do it. I told him I played harmonica, and Ellas said, ‘Well, we play on the street corners every Saturday. Come by my house in the morning and play on the street with us!’” says Arnold. “So I went down there that Saturday morning, and we started playing on the streets.” Jody Williams eventually joined them on guitar.

Arnold’s ongoing desire to be a recording artist spurred him to bring a dub of several of Bo’s songs to United Records (where they rehearsed for two weeks in Al Smith’s basement to no avail) and Vee-Jay (a secretary declared she didn’t like their sound after a few seconds of auditioning their disc).

“So we go across the street to Chess. Little Walter was packing some records for Leonard, because Leonard had to go up to the bank to take care of some business,” says Billy. “He said, ‘We don’t need nothing right now!’ He tried to shoo us off. Just as he was saying that, Phil Chess came out of the back. And he knew me. He didn’t know Ellas or nobody else. He knew me. He said, ‘Hey, man! What’s up? What you got?’ I said, ‘Well, we’ve got a dub here!’ He said, ‘Well, let me hear it!’” Phil dug it. “He said, ‘Well, I tell you what—I want my brother Leonard to hear this. Can you bring your equipment by tomorrow at two o’clock?” So we said, ‘Okay!’”

One song with a very unusual beat really impressed Leonard. “He said, ‘Well, we’ve got to get a song together on this hambone thing!’ Bo was saying, ‘Papa’s gonna buy his baby a diamond ring.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you say, “Bo Diddley’s gonna buy his baby a diamond ring?”’ And Leonard looked at me and said, ‘What does that mean? I don’t know. Wait a minute! I don’t want to put nothing on the record that’s gonna offend the black public!’ I said, ‘No, it just means a little comical guy.’

“When I first met Bo in 1951, we were playing on the street corner. And the bass player said, ‘Hey, Ellas—there goes Bo Diddley!’ A little short guy on the opposite side of the street, about four feet tall, and he was extremely bowlegged. Well, he was a comedian at the Indiana Theater.” The lyrical changes were made and the groundbreaking song was committed to tape.

“We didn’t come in there with a song called ‘Bo Diddley,’” says Billy. “His name was Ellas McDaniel & the Hipsters. To our surprise, the record came out ‘Bo Diddley’ by Bo Diddley. That was Leonard that did that. And it was a smash hit. ‘I’m A Man’ was the flip side.”

Bo Diddley’s thundering hambone rhythms made him a star. And more than 60 years later, Billy Boy Arnold’s career is still going strong too, as his more recent tribute CDs to Sonny Boy and Big Bill Broonzy elegantly underscored.

“I’m always working on stuff to record,” he says. “I want to do an album with a few Muddy Waters songs that you don’t hear, and a few Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup songs. I’ll call it My Type of Blues, (or) My Favorite Blues.” And you don’t have to travel all the way to New Orleans to see him play.

“I didn’t ever intend to stop,” says Arnold.

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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Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

The Sacramento Blues Society will be hosting their Annual Member Party December 2, 2017, at the VFW Hall, 2784 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA. 7:00 – 11:00 PM. The IBC runner-up, the Zach Waters Band, will open followed by the award winning Ben Rice Band from Portland, OR.

Admittance is free to all SBS members. Go to to join in advance or membership can be obtained at the door. Wheelchair accessible. 21+.

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 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

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