Issue 11-5 February 2, 2017

Cover photo by Laura Carbone © 2017

 In This Issue 

Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. has our feature interview with Grady Champion. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including a Blues guitar instruction DVD titled Women Of Country Blues Guitar from Erin Harpe plus reviews of new music from Ronnie Earl And The Broadcasters, Bruce Katz Band, Ty Curtis, Rev. Rabia, Ross Neilsen, Vaneese Thomas and Colin James.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

ronnie earl cd imageRonnie Earl And The Broadcasters – Maxwell Street

Stony Plain Records 2016

10 tracks; 69 minutes

A new Ronnie Earl disc is always welcome and Maxwell Street is another stellar entry in Ronnie’s long discography. On 2015’s Father’s Day Ronnie worked with horns for the first time in many years but this time around it is the core of the Broadcasters that we hear: Ronnie on guitar, Dave Limina on keys, Lorne Entress on drums and Jim Mouradian on bass; sadly Jim passed away after the release of this album so this may be his last recording. As has been the case for several years now Diane Blue provides vocals (here on five cuts, the rest being instrumentals) and Nicholas Tabarias plays second guitar on some tracks. The title of the album references the late David Maxwell who played with The Broadcasters, as well as the one-time meeting place for blues musicians in Chicago. Ronnie wrote five songs here (one with Diane), there is one by Dave and four covers from a typically diverse range of sources.

The whole album is a delight but the two openers find Ronnie at the very top of his game: “Mother Angel” recalls mid to late 70’s Santana (think Borboletta) as Ronnie exchanges intricate guitar stylings with Nicholas all over a warm organ and percussion wash; Dave’s “Elegy For A Bluesman” features Dave’s piano and Ronnie digging hard into his most emotional playing as they develop this fine tribute to David Maxwell. Ronnie pays his own respects later on with “Blues For David Maxwell”, as well as paying tribute to another fallen giant “In Memory Of T-Bone”. Diane’s first vocal is on her co-write with Ronnie “Kismet”, a straight blues with Diane’s strong, almost gospel vocal suiting the semi-religious lyrics and some terrific blues guitar from Ronnie. Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble” has been recorded many times but this is a ‘luxury edition’ which takes its time (it is 11.42 minutes long!), Diane again excellent on the familiar lyrics, Dave’s organ and Ronnie’s anguished guitar centrepiece supported sympathetically by the rhythm section.

Gladys Knight scored a hit with “(I’ve Got To Use My) Imagination” which is probably the most upbeat tune here with Diane’s sultry vocal and Ronnie’s punchy lead lines and acts as something of a break from the more intense slower tunes that dominate the album. Ronnie’s instrumental “Brojoe” is also an upbeat tune, a driving shuffle with Ronnie playing some tough guitar and Dave taking a percolating organ solo. Eddy Arnold’s country ballad “You Know Me” has another excellent vocal performance by Diane underpinned by Dave’s piano and Ronnie’s brooding guitar which sits just behind the vocal when listening on headphones. Another blues classic, Deadric Malone’s “As The Years Go Passing By” closes the album with a final winning vocal/guitar combination.

As with most Ronnie Earl albums this one makes great late-night listening and probably features as much great guitar playing as any of his extensive discography. With the bonus of the excellent Broadcasters and Diane Blue’s vocals on half the tracks this is an album that should be added to the collection of all Ronnie Earl fans and deserves to bring his playing to a new audience.

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 

BRUCE KATS CD IMAGEBruce Katz Band – Out From The Center

American Showplace Music

11 Tracks; 61 minutes

Considering the stellar cast of musicians Bruce Katz has played with in his career – Delbert McClinton, Duke Robillard, David “Fathead” Newman and John Hammond for starters – and considering he was a professor at Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Bruce Katz can play the keys. But man, how he plays. He is a true master of both piano and organ.

On this CD, he is joined by his usual band mates, Chris Vitarello on guitar and vocals, and Ralph Rosen on drums, along with superb back-up from Peter Bennett on bass for five of the tracks (Katz plays Hammond B3 bass on the other six tracks) and Jimmy Bennett on lap steel guitar for a couple of tracks.

So, now that we’ve established Katz’s and the band’s chops, let dive into this terrific CD. On this album, they boogie, they jump, they swing, they shuffle and they conquer.

The CD takes off quickly with “Don’t Feel So Good Today”, written by Katz and drummer Ralph Rosen. This is a full-tilt boogie that Katz just rocks on the piano. When you listen to this song, you’ll start feeling better very quickly.

The next song, “Schnapps Man”, written entirely by Rosen, shifts gears into a jazz/rock organ-fueled instrumental that demonstrates just how talented this band is. This is a remarkably varied CD with all the band members bringing a lot of different influences and sensibilities to the work. This song incorporates a few of them – jazz, soul, and a touch of funk.

“The Struggle Within”, writte by Chris Vitarello, is a heart-wrenching slow blues with beautiful guitar accents and riffs supported by Katz’s B3. It also illustrates that true blues resides in forms beyond 12-bar .

In keeping with the various styles this band is capable of, “Blues From High Point Mountain” is comprised of many influences. There is some sweet jazz chording on both guitar and piano, but there are also hints of country, or perhaps more accurately, Ray Charles’s version of country, in some of Katz’s licks.

“Out From The Center”, the title track, is very, very far away from blues. It is very reminiscent of John McLaughlin from around 1971. For a moment, I was carried back to a smoked-filled basement, my head on my girlfriend’s lap as she bent over to kiss me, her long, straight hair tickling my nose. Dreamy, ethereal and a leap back in time.

The rest of the album continues morphing across genres.

Some highlights:

“All Torn Up” – great mid-tempo shuffle. This is a lesson on how to play blues organ.

“Bessie’s Bounce” – goes to show that blues includes a very many different styles. This is a honky-tonk, blues stride piano tune that shows off Bruce Katz’s astounding versatility.

“Another Show” – another mid-tempo, piano driven tune with excellent vocals from Chris Vitarello. Actually, his vocals throughout this CD are superb. They match the arrangements perfectly.

“Think Fast” – Vitarello leads off with some brilliant guitar licks. He and Katz then continue to pass off leads to one another for four minutes of driving, 88 octane mayhem.

Not every song on this CD is a masterpiece, but they demonstrate the depth of songwriting in the band. Katz, Vitarello and Rosen all contribute solo and collaborative songs encapsulating many styles and nuances. What makes this a truly outstanding CD is the virtuosity of every musician. In addition, the production is outstanding, and the mix, flawless. This is a must-have CD.

Reviewer Lex Dunn is a writer and musician living on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He has fronted blues bands in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax and looks forward to his next venture on the Island. He is passionate about music in general and the blues in particular.

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

ty curtis cd imageTy Curtis – Blame Me

10 Tracks; 45 minutes

Ty Curtis has cred. He came out of Salem, Oregon when he was very young (he’s just 29) in 2007 to take second place at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. He has been widely praised at a leading figure in the next generation of blues players. His earlier albums, Cross The Line in particular, would support that claim.

This album steps away from that earlier vibe. The songwriting is much more rock than blues oriented. But not just rock, it sounds like the songs have been heavily influenced by 70’s rock. The chord progressions, the arrangements, the playing style all harken back to that time. And when it does move away from rock, it goes more toward blue-eyed soul than blues.

Curtis has a terrific voice, and on his earlier work you can really feel its unique timbre and expressiveness. On this album, it sounds more like Paul Rodgers of Bad Company than of Ty Curtis. I love Paul Rodgers’s voice, but I have also been impressed by Ty Curtis’s voice. The mix on this CD does not do his voice justice. It is a little buried in the music, which strains the emotional connection that in the past riveted the listener with its immediacy.

So within this context, how is this album? Solid. Curtis is a very good guitarist and he doesn’t confuse shredding with musicianship. His solos serve the songs, with great tone and expression.

The CD launches with “That Good”, a mid-tempo rock song in the Bad Company style. It is well supported by Jeff Bryant’s superb work on the B3 and an overall terrific band.

This is followed by “Blame Me”, a really great high-energy rocker that, to my mind, would have been a better candidate for the lead track on the album. Everything works here – guitar, Hammond, rhythm section. It’s well crafted to grab and hold the listener.

A standout track is “Heaven Save Me”, a lyrically interesting, slow lament that illustrates Curtis’s blues roots. There are hints of the Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald in the vocals – Curtis’s grit replaced by smooth ballad tones. His guitar work fits the mood perfectly with a sweet, mournful tone.

“Shake It Up” continues the somewhat melancholy mood. In fact, while this song is not exactly like the previous one, it is certainly in the same wheelhouse. That would sum up any criticism of this album. The songs are very good, but there is a sameness to them. Chord patterns are similar, dynamics are similar, mood is similar.

There is one song that is unlike any other on the CD, and that is “Urge And Temptation”, a reggae rhythm tune that steps out of the mold. Not sure that it really works, but it does make a nice change.

Ty Curtis is an excellent musician and shows a lot of promise as a songwriter. Like any artist, the road he follows will take him down many paths. This particular part of the journey is a nice one to tag along with for 45 minutes, enjoying an excellent band, a very good musician and an outstanding singer.

I know I’ll be watching for his next CD.

Reviewer Lex Dunn is a writer and musician living on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He has fronted blues bands in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax and looks forward to his next venture on the Island. He is passionate about music in general and the blues in particular.

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

rev rabia cd imageRev. Rabia – Future Blue(S)

Mayakesa Music

12 songs – 49 minutes

Born in Sacramento, Calif., and a veteran of the San Francisco blues community for the past 30 years, Rev. Rabia was born too late to be part of the Flower Child revolution, but that hasn’t stopped her from carrying the spirit of that era forward through her music, as this album demonstrates.

A Delta blues woman at heart despite her roots, she learned guitar in her teens and worked solo for a decade before working extensively with legendary guitarist Robert Lowery and harmonica player Virgil Thrasher. Today, she teams with her husband Keizo Yamazawa, a studio guitarist in his native Japan, who’s also a music journalist and photographer.

Future Blue(S) is produced by Mike Wilhelm, a founding member of the influential band The Charlatans, the first psychedelic rock band to emerge in the Bay Area in the ‘60s, and Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia’s favorite guitarist, in addition to being a former member of The Flamin’ Groovies, one of the forerunners of punk rock.

But don’t let that dissuade you. This is definitely a blues album, albeit sonically different than what you normally come across in today’s market. It’s a follow-up to Never Too Late, a release she recorded with Thrasher in 2010.

This production will have a familiar feel to anyone old enough to have lived through that era as it delivers a set of mostly acoustic blues. All three guitarists contribute to the mix, aided by Scott Slagle on drums, congas, maracas and cabasa, and Gary Bouley, who contributes lead guitar on one cut. The material includes five Rev. Rabia originals interspersed with reworked covers that span from the first generation of the blues to modern times.

The action kicks offs with “Wanna Be A Hippie,” a richly layered, autobiographical blues, in which Rev. Rabia admits she was born too late and states: “I missed the Summer Of Love/Can’t afford to live in the Height” as Wilhelm and Yamazawa trade leads. It’s the only number with a true psychedelic feel.

Rev. Rabia’s rich, sweet alto vocals are accented by occasional octave jumps on “Be Careful What You Wish For,” a minor-key pleaser that features Keizo on slide. It’s a skill she uses on several of the tunes. Two solid covers — Charley Patton’s “Pea Vine” and Tom Waits’ “Eggs And Sausage (In A Cadillac With Susan Michelson)” with its familiar references to nighthawks at the diner – follow before the original “Code Blue,” an uptempo blues about the singer’s intent to romance her man until he turns the title color.

The theme continues with “I Worship Men,” an interesting thought because the reverence continues despite the realization that her most recent guy had someone else on the side. A quintet of covers — including a slow, sugary version of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Automobile Blues,” a faithful take of Willie Brown’s “Future Blues,” John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” Chris Whitley’s “Poison Girl” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “The Soul Of A Man” – follows before the original “Pack It Up,” about wondering “how many clothes a shoebox will hold,” brings the action to a close.

Available through CDBaby, Microsoft and other online retailers as well as directly through the artist’s website, Future Blue(S) is forward looking in title only. If your bag is acoustic blues, this one’s a delight and perfectly suited for you.

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 – 5 of 8 

ross neilson cd imageRoss Neilsen – Elemental


CD: 11 Songs, 43:30 Minutes

Styles: Atmospheric Blues Rock, Country Blues, Ensemble Blues

A silhouetted raven, with open beak and curled tongue, graces the cover of Ross Neilsen’s Elemental. Blues fans, if this reminds you of Edgar Allan Poe, you’ll be forgiven for thinking this CD contains only the darkest shadows of your favorite genre. Surprisingly, it doesn’t. On his sixth studio album, Canada’s Neilsen combines atmospheric blues rock, country blues, and ballads for a refreshing experience. Some die-hards might be in the mood for more guitar shredding and grittier vocals, but others will appreciate Ross’ lower-key approach to the blues. Reminiscent of a young Neil Young or Tom Petty, Neilsen pours his heart out through keen songwriting skills and keen musicianship. In the course of Elemental, he plays wicked-good acoustic and electric guitars while providing lead and background vocals. His singing is a bit nasal, at odds with his shamanic tough-guy persona (see inside cover for photo). However, anyone who hears him will know he means every word, whether rough or reflective.

According to his promotional material, “Music has taken Ross throughout Canada, Mexico, the Olympics, the Pan Am Games, the Hill Country region of Mississippi, the swampy rivers of Louisiana, and even to Macon, Georgia, where he was privileged to play the holy grail of blues, rock and soul: Duane Allman’s 1957 Les Paul Gold Top.” Wow. Yours truly wonders if Ross felt “Skydog’s” spirit flowing through his fingers as he strummed those strings.

Playing along with him are Steve Marriner on harmonica, guitars, keyboards, drums, vibraphone, and background vocals; Jim Bowskill on guitar, mandolin, pedal-steel guitar, violin and background vocals; Darcy Yates on bass; Matt Sobb on drums, tambourine, and background vocals; Ed Lister on trumpet; Brian Asselin on sax; and Kelly Sloan on background vocals. Jim Jones is also credited for “good times,” which are just as important to a band as performing.

The following three tracks are the most traditional, and have the sharpest razor-edge:

Track 01: “Elemental” – The album’s original opener features a killer background-vocal refrain and a protagonist whose relationship with her lover isn’t all sunshine and flowers: “You’re the river, baby; I’m the storm. You wear me down as you flow back home to the sea, to the sea, to the sea, with pieces of me. You’re the river, baby; I’m the storm.” It’s catchy, edgy, and entirely fitting of its title. Its subject and romantic object are compared to water, earth, fire, and air.

Track 02: “Black Coffee” – Brace yourselves: you’re in for a loud, raucous blues stomp that could make you sit up ramrod-stiff on your barstool. “All this cream don’t satisfy,” Ross sings about his favorite hot beverage. “Baby, give me some black coffee. Fill it to the top. Don’t you worry, baby. I can’t drink a lot.” Steve Marriner’s howling harp will raise your hackles.

Track 10: “Ballad in Low E” – The sole cover on Elemental is one of a fabulous Willie P. Bennett song, with a gritty cowboy-style guitar intro and sly comparisons to being a “rainmaker who cannot make the rain” when it comes to love, this CD’s penultimate track is the one that will propel everyone onto the dance floor. This should be on BB King’s “Bluesville” on Sirius XM.

Will you hear boring blues from Ross Neilsen? Quoth his raven: “Nevermore!”

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

Vanesse thomas cd imageVaneese Thomas – The Long Journey Home

Segue Records

12 songs – 56 minutes

After many years as a soul/R’n’B singer and songwriter, Vaneese Thomas continues her exploration of her blues roots on the magnificent The Long Journey Home. Her previous album, the critically-acclaimed Blues For My Father, was warmly reviewed in Blues Blast Magazine (24 August 2014) and earned two Blues Music Award Nominations. Thomas’s latest release finds her digging even deeper into the blues and with startling success.

The album opens with “Sweet Talk Me”, on which it is immediately apparent that Thomas has something different going on. The track kicks off with Al Orlo’s solo guitar, quickly joined by the piano of Paul Mariconda, before the entire band picks up the roots-infused rhythm. The song grows and develops through the first verse so that by the chorus there is slide guitar and a gospel voice backing floating beneath the vocals as the song evolves from what appeared to be a straight-forward blues-rock song to a jubilant combination of blues, R’n’B, soul and gospel. And this approach is at the heart of an album that becomes more impressive with each listen.

“Sat’day Night On The River” swings with irresistible groove and features a wildly raucous sax solo from Cliff Lyons. Soul and gospel influences feed into “Prince Of Fools” while “I Got A Man In TN” grinds with a gritty rock ‘n’ roll attitude. The acoustic “Revelation” is an upbeat foot-stomping country-blues declaration of love (“Like a lightning bolt out of the blue, I’ve got a love that’s true”). Mariconda’s piano excels on the lazy shuffle of “Lonely No More” while “Country Funk” successfully mixes a country-ish introduction featuring violin, banjo and dobro with a rock guitar riff-based verse and a funky chorus.

Thomas wrote or co-wrote 11 of the tracks on the album and, on each song, her powerful, impassioned vocals drive the emotional narrative with stellar support from her road band together with a number of guest artists.

The album has some serious disposition throughout, not least in the striking acoustic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” (with beautiful violin from Katie Jacoby that manages to incorporate the famous riff of the original).

One of the more arresting songs is the poignant and topical minor key blues of “The More Things Change” on which Thomas celebrates the civil rights movement in the USA whilst noting that the struggle continues today. With apposite timing, she sings: “Politicians are yelling about what they’re gonna do. They’re talking about freedom but they’re not giving it to you. Sam Cooke tried to tell us that a change is gonna come. But I’m still here awaiting and hardly a damn thing has been done. Well, ain’t it funny, ain’t it a shame. The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

The Long Journey Home is essentially a love letter to the city of Memphis, Thomas’s home town, and what a love letter it is. Warmth and love exude from every track and, fittingly for a city that claims to be the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll and soul and home of the blues, the result contains large doses of each part of the rich musical heritage that is the Memphis sound.

With top-notch production (by Thomas and her husband, Wayne Warnecke), great songs and superb musicianship, The Long Journey Home is an absolute belter of an album.

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 – 7 of 8 

colin james cd imageColin James – Blue Highways

True North Records

13 songs time-44:46

Our great neighbor to the north, Canada, never seems to run out of their supply of talented and authentic sounding bluesmen. I give you my latest find, Colin James. I know he has been around a while, I knew the name vaguely, but this is my initial introduction to him. It was well worth the wait. Colin and his band mates imbue this recording of covers by blues icons with a freshness and enthusiasm that is only superseded by their grasp of the blues. In the liner notes he states that this is a collection of tunes by artists that have influenced his taste in blues. Colin’s guitar skills are very evident, as well as having a voice well suited to the blues. His musicians are with him at every turn.

Freddie King’s “Boogie Shuffle” is the kind of song that would be used to kick off a live show. That is appropriate here, as everything was recorded live in the studio. The band injects energy in this number. Fleetwood Mac’s “Watch Out” is killer and you can hear some of Peter Green’s inflections in Colin’s vocal delivery. Tommy Johnson’s “Big Road Blues” is done up ala Canned Heat replete with some way wicked slide guitar. Slide appears again on “Bad Bad Whiskey”. Coleen Rennison provides background vocals here and elsewhere.

A song associated with Freddy King and later The Jeff Beck Group, “Going Down”, stands proudly up against both versions. Muddy Water’s “Gypsy Woman” is taken at a slow and appropriately loose pace. The presentation of “Goin’ Away” takes the listener way down south with down home sounding slide guitar. “Lonesome” shuffles along quite nicely thank you and Colin’s guitar is spot on. Colin doesn’t have as commanding a voice as Jr. Wells nor the swagger and attitude in his voice, but never-the-less he delivers a decent take on Jr.’s “Hoodoo Man Blues”.

Colin melds Howlin’ Wolf and Jimmy Reed in “Riding In The Moonlight/Mr. Luck” as his acoustic guitar battles it out with Steve Marriner’s lively harmonica work. A horn section appears in the R&B tinged “Don’t Miss Your Water”. Mournful slide guitar on Blind Willie McTell’s “Ain’t Long For Day” is akin to a wayward wind beckoning the listener down south. Things get capped off with an enthusiastic reading of Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal”.

Canada just keeps giving the world great blues. Some how the blues strike a chord with many Canadian musicians and they absorb the nuances of it in way that is uncanny. If it’s the water, the weather there or whatever, I just hope that the magic doesn’t stop.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

erin harpe dvd imageErin Harpe – Women of the Country Blues Guitar

Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop

Blues Guitar Instruction DVD / 124 Minutes

There are dozens of titles available at Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, and there is a diverse collection of artists that provide the instruction. One of these fine instructors is Erin Harpe, talented guitarist and vocalist with serious on-stage experience. Her contribution to the catalog is a two-hour lesson, Women of the Country Blues Guitar. This is a not only a cool opportunity to learn some classic tunes, but it is also an important history lesson for the learner. The subjects of this lesson include artists that you probably have heard of, such as Memphis Minnie, but there may be a few surprises for you too.

Memphis Minnie is one of the best known women of blues guitar, having recorded over 200 songs between 1929 and 1959. Erin Harpe guides the student through seven of Minnie’s tunes, and after playing through a song (and singing it too!), Erin provides a little history and a description of how to play the song along with split screen examples. Where necessary, Harpe goes through solos in more detail too. Each of these is broken up neatly into chapters so the learner can jump back and forth to the parts they need more help with. Memphis Minnie songs in this lesson include, “I’m a Bad Luck Woman,” “Nothing in Rambling,” “Can I do it for You,” “ Where is My Good Man At,” “What’s the Matter with the Mill,” and “When the Levee Breaks.”

A similar learning strategy is used with the other four songs, each of which was originally performed by artists with fascinating backstories. Geeshie Wiley and L.V. ”Elvie” Thomas made their way from Houston, Texas to Grafton, Wisconsin, to record country blues for Paramount Records, and you will find “Pick Poor Robin Clean” and “Motherless Chile” included in the lessons. There is also “I’m So Glad” from Mississippi’s Jessie Mae Hemphill. Jessie started playing guitar in 1930, but never was in the limelight, and did not start releasing albums until the 1980s. Lastly, there is the mystery of Mattie Delaney from Mississippi, who recorded only two songs in 1930 for Vocalion Records. There is nothing written about her after this, and it is beyond cool that her version of “Down The Big Road Blues” has not been forgotten.

As some of these songs were originally recorded in open G tuning (also know as Spanish tuning), Erin demonstrates tuning the guitar in this manner as well as some common chords that are used with this tuning. This is a handy reference and it is nice that Harpe guides the learner through this before teaching the songs that use this tuning.

There are a few bonus features on the Women of the Country Blues Guitar DVD. For starters, there is a .pdf booklet on the disc that includes tablature and lyrics for each song. This document does not come up on the DVD menu, but you can find it with Internet Explorer (PC) or Finder (Mac). Also, there are audio tracks by the original artists for each of the ten songs in the lesson; this provides a nice comparison to see how close the student is to achieving competency with the source material.

This DVD is a professional project with good lighting, clean editing, plenty of camera angles, and crystal clear sound. The guitar cuts through nicely, both through headphones and laptop speakers, but it would be nice to play it through a quality pair of speakers if you have the opportunity. It is helpful that the learner can move along at their own pace, though these lessons would probably be most appropriate for intermediate and higher level students. There are plenty of other blues DVDs available from that would be more appropriate for beginners.

If you are looking for a good value in guitar instruction it would be a fine idea to head on over to Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop website and see what they have to offer for you. For less than the price of one in-person lesson you can pick up a DVD or two that will get you a good head start towards your guitar playing goals.

Stefan Grossman is a music publisher AND a serious guitar slinger. He hails from Brooklyn, and was taught by the esteemed Reverend Gary Davis as well as other legends that include Son House, Skip James, and Mississippi John Hurt. After endless touring, in the late 1960s he started to produce instructional albums with play-along tablature, including his famous 1967 LP, How to Play Blues Guitar. As time went on the catalog grew and these titles became available on CDs, VHS tapes, and DVDs; now there are downloadable lessons too!

Women of the Country Blues Guitar from Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop has a lot going for it, as Erin Harpe is an outstanding teacher, and this is a well-made DVD with compelling subject matter. Better yet, it is also a great value, as the learner only has to pay $29.95 for a two-hour lesson. Even if you are not a guitar player, it is fascinating to see how the songs are constructed, as well as the effort that goes into learning and playing these tunes!

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

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 Featured Blues Interview – Grady Champion 

grady champion pic 1Grady Champion certainly lives up to his last name. He fights fiercely to keep alive the tradition of the blues that musicians such as Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Johnson, and Buddy Guy passed along, while at the same time championing younger artists, such as J.J. Thames, who are contributing their own unique style to the blues. Champion loves the blues deeply and wants above all to keep it going, in spite of the challenges he thinks the music faces these days, and the best way, he thinks, to keep the music from losing its soul lies in preserving tradition and holding onto it as the foundation from which innovation in the blues arises.

You don’t have to listen to more than one song on any of Champion’s albums to know that he’s having a good time—bringing the blues party—honoring his roots while still growing beyond them. On his two most recent albums, 2014’s Bootleg Whiskey and last year’s One of a Kind, both released by Malaco, Champion demonstrates his canny ability not only to write songs that challenge the status quo but also to reach out with powerful rhythm and blues riffs that reach back to the field shouts of Mississippi blues shouters and to the blues jazz tones of the best of Stax and Muscle Shoals. Bootleg Whiskey contains two songs that illustrate Champion’s no-holds-barred approach to his music.

The haunting “Who Dat” asks a simple question—“is it failure or is it fame?”—that cuts many ways in Champion’s funky, down-to-the-bone delivery: the song clearly could be a protest of police brutality, an indictment of the history of facelessness that plantation masters handed to their slaves, a questioning of his own identity as an artist, an indictment of a society that allows covert police actions to arrest and jail innocent blacks. The soulful “South Side,” with its Don Covey-style riffs, celebrates the place in every city where everything is a little rougher (“crime light be a little higher”) but much more joyous: “on the south side, there’s a party on every block/on the south side, they party around the clock/on the south side, you get the very best food in town.” It’s a party song, pure and simple, and “my music is party music,” Champion laughs.

The party continues on Champion’s most recent album, One of a Kind. “House Party” opens with Champion’s wailing harmonica, which punctuates the entire song with it palpable, punching raw blues bends. Champion and his band invite us to a good time in this song; it rockets you out of your seats at the first note of Champion’s harmonica, and he delivers a simple message in the lyrics: “you’ll hear some blues/a little soul, too/rock and roll/it’s a house party y’all.” The title track of the album recalls a fervent tune like Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Members Only,” which it resembles sonically. The beauty of this song lies in its mastery of the soul tune that ably weaves in a blues structure and leaves you aching, sad, and wistful by the time the song’s over.

Champion closes the album with “GC Boogie,” a straight-ahead harmonica blues funk instrumental that won’t let us sit still, no matter how hard we try. Champion lives up to his name and his hopes on this album, too, enlisting young drummer Sam Scott and young bassist Ken Smith, as well as blues veterans Elvin Bishop on slide guitar and Eddie Cotton on guitar; Champion shares writing credits on all songs except “Life Support” and GC Boogie,” which he penned himself. Although he’s a little disturbed that the Blues Foundation snubbed One of a Kind, he remains focused on his music: “God has blessed me to be able to do this every day and has given me this talent, and I’m gonna keep using it,” he declares.

Champion might have come late to the blues, but music has always been in him and a part of his life. He grew up in Canton, Mississippi, where he was born the youngest of his father’s 28 children, and grew up working hard on the farm. When he was eight, he discovered his passion for music when he started singing in the gospel choir at church. Gospel influences still weave through his music even now, with the Crowns of Joy providing background vocals on Bootleg Whiskey, and heavenly harmonies lifting almost every song on all his albums. Yet, as strong as that influence might be, he quickly admits that he was born and raised around country, soul, and blues as much as gospel.

grady champion pic 2When he was 15, his life changed when his mother moved the family to Miami, Florida; he was there only one year before he returned to Mississippi to finish high school, but it was long enough for him to discover the musical strains of hip hop. When he graduated he returned to Florida, and though music was still in his soul, he tried a few other occupations, like boxing, before returning to his passion, taking a job as a DJ. He spent some time promoting music for the rap label Sun Town Records, which helped him learn about the business side of music, and he carries the lessons he learned there into his work today. “Even in the blues world,” he says, “I promote differently. I hit the street, and I take my own money and put it behind my own records. I still believe in the idea of street teams. I might not have people in different cities working as my teams, like the old days, but I get in touch with fans in areas where I’m performing and ask them to use social media to promote my shows in that area.”

Although Champion still incorporates hip hop styles into some of his songs, he lost interest in rap when it got too violent. “I was looking for a more mature music,” he says. He started listening to a public radio station in Miami and heard Sonny Boy Williamson for the first time. “It touched my soul,” Champion comments, “and a couple of years later I picked up the harmonica. I eventually started playing blues clubs around Miami, and in my 30s I got serious about playing the guitar.”

It wasn’t too long before Champion self-released his first record, Goin’ Back Home (1998), and he eventually went back home and settled in Mississippi, where Shanachie Records, who had watched his rise, signed him for Payin’ for My Sins (1999) and 2 Days Short of a Week (2001). On every one of those early albums, Champion emerged as a musician who shot straight to the heart of social issues, such as racial injustice and rise of urban violence, in his blues, thus embracing the heart of the traditional blues which have endured because of their fearlessness to call out injustice while at the same time mournfully grieving over the personal and social consequences of unjust acts.

While he picked up harmonica and guitar later, he started writing in his early 20s. “I was coming out of hip hop, so I was writing lyrics all the time,” he says. Although he doesn’t write every day now, he’s collecting materials every day. “A melody might hit me or a lyric might hit me,” he says, “and I’ll record in my phone.” When Champion takes songs he’s written into the studio, “we break them down so we can see what works and what doesn’t and the song grows that way.” Champion points out that these days he’s now gotten to the point in his songwriting where he has the time to explore songwriters like Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan to see how they build songs. “I’m always writing,” he laughs, “so even though I haven’t completed anything yet, I’m working on some stuff for the next album.”

His attention to writing has paid off, since Champion has been recognized for his writing and his music. Etta James recorded his 2003 co-write with Kevin Bowe, “Trust Yourself,” on her album Let It Roll, which won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album and a Blues Music Award as the Soul/Blues Album of the Year in 2004 from the Blues Foundation.

In 2010, Champion won the International Blues Challenge, giving him a chance to take his music to new venues and audiences in Europe and Canada. His 2011 song from Dreamin’, “Make That Monkey Jump” won a Blues Critics Award in the Best Down Home Blues Song category, and Dreamin’ was nominated for two Blues Music Awards in 2012: Best Soul Blues Album and for Song of the Year for “Thank You for Giving Me the Blues.” Dreamin’ was the number 1 album on Sirius XM’s Bluesville chart; Champion is very grateful for the support of Sirius XM radio: “the person who runs that station appreciates what we’re doing,” he says.

grady champion pic 3Champion admits that he’s made some mistakes in the business along the way. “Sometimes I put too much trust in music people and even in musicians,” he comments; “I grew up thinking that everybody has your best interests in mind—I was taught that—but I found out that everybody really has their own best interests in mind.” The lack of recognition by the Blues Foundation for his new album, One of a Kind, especially disturbs him. “We released the album in time for the awards, but we got no recognition; I think we have the gatekeepers in the blues field that try to block the originators of the music of some of our ancestors. In blues music you’ve got some petty-minded people that want to keep the blues bottled up. If you don’t want the blues to endure, it will stagnate,” Champion points out. He advocates mightily that the blues embrace innovation: the blues has really stagnated, Champion tells Blues Blast, because some people in the music are “not allowing young innovators to get out to put their two cents into the music.”

Champion’s not going to let the current state of the blues get him down, though. “We’re keeping it going,” he says. “I’ve always been able to take my time and put my heart in my music. If you believe in your heart that you gotta do it, you can’t let no one stop you; if the blues is in you, it’s in you. If your music gonna be good, it’s definitely gonna prove itself; listen, my name will be entered in history because of my music,” Champion says.

A few years ago, the bluesman built his own state-of-the art studio behind his house in Mississippi which he called Backyard Studio, where he records and release albums for his label DeChamp Records. While the industry might have its own agenda, Champion can support artists he believes are making a huge difference in blues music by recording and producing their albums on this label. The two artists who’ve released albums from DeChamp have scored big so far: Eddie Cotton’s Here I Come and J.J. Thames Tell You What I Know both occupied spots in the top 10 in Billboard’s blues album’s charts in February 2015, and Cotton won the 2015 International Blues Challenge. “Eddie is a genius with guitar and with songwriting,” says Champion, “and J.J. reminds me of a young Etta James.” Champion tells Blues Blast that the studio and the label give him a chance now to work with artists he’s been intrigued with.

Champion is looking forward to 2017; “looks like it’s going to be a great year,” he proclaims. “I’m going to focus on my band and keep these young guys on the road with me, both to teach them the blues and to help them learn about the industry.” Champion also has some other projects in mind, and he’ll keep gathering songs for the next album. “I want to start writing a book on my life, and it will have a lot to do with the blues, but I’m gonna do it while I can still remember,” he laughs.

With a big heart for young blues musicians and for the blues, Champion is keeping the blues alive by preserving its traditions and encouraging and fostering innovation in the blues. “Music is a beautiful thing,” he reiterates, “especially if it’s coming from an authentic artist who feels the music in his or her heart.”

Champion stands as that one-of-a-kind musician who takes young artists under his wings, teaching them not only about the intricacies and the beauty of the music but also about the pitfalls and the rewards of a music industry that can often be demoralizing for any artist. He keeps the party going in his music, always with an eye to the forces that might crash the party and bring it down, but never losing sight of why we’re partying in the first place. Champion might remind us constantly about the troubles of our world, but he refuses to let us get down, insisting that if we have music in our hearts, we can keep going.

Visit Grady’s website at:

Interviewer Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. writes about music and music books for No Depression, American Songwriter, Country Standard Time, and Wide Open Country.

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Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

Central Iowa Blues Society Announces Iowa Blues Hall Of Fame Class Of 2016. This year’s inductees include Ellis Kell, Tony Blew, Dan “DJ” Johnson, J C Anderson and Fletcher Henderson “Sonny” Lott.

Save the date for the Induction Ceremony to be held on April 8, 2017 at Noce’, 1326 Walnut St in Des Moines. The doors open and dinner provided by Flying Mango will start at 5:00 PM. IBHOF house band Sumpin Doo will perform at 6:00 PM with the ceremony at 6:30 PM and a Jam after the ceremony until 10:00 PM. Tickets will be available soon at Noce’ and Midwestix.

The nominated artist’s bios with additional info will follow and be posted at and the CIBS Facebook page.

The Washington Blues Society – Seattle, WA

The Washington Blues Society’s annual Best of the Blues Awards returns to the Kirkland Performance Center on Sunday, April 9th to honor musicians and artists nominated by society members in 32 award categories. The 2017 BB Awards show features performances by select nominees and recognizes new inductees into the Washington Blues Society Hall of Fame.

The nominees represent the best blues performers throughout the Pacific Northwest. Long-time favorites Brian Lee and the Orbiters return with five nominations, including Best Blues Band, Best Performer and Best Songwriter. Fresh from their 2017 International Blues Challenge performances in Memphis, Polly O’Keary and the Rhythm Method garnered five nominations, including Best Band, Electric Guitarist and Female Vocalist of the Year. Stanislove, the blues society’s representative at the 2017 International Blues Challenge is also up for a Solo/Duo BB Award. First-time nominees include vocalist Sheri Roberts Greimes, guitarist Brett “Bad Blood,” Benton, Hammond B3 master Joe Doria and Kenmore’s Capps Club, home of the Washington Blues Society’s free Blues Bash held on the second Tuesday each month. More information:

The Great Northern Blues Society – Wausau, WI

The Great Northern Blues Society of Wausau, WI (GNBS) is Proud to announce the lineup for our 18th Annual Blues Café fundraiser to be held at the Historically Registered Rothschild Pavilion (near Wausau, WI) on Saturday, March 11 2017.

The Lineup will include Joyann Parker Band, Jimmy Nick & Don’t Tell Mama, Ghost Town Blues Band, Brandon Santini, Becky Barksdale, and Bing Futch playing acoustic sets between main stage acts. Doors open at noon, and Music will start at 1:00PM and continue non-stop until 11:00PM. Chairs, Food, and Cold Beverages will be available on-site. Special Hotel Rates available at the nearby Stoney Creek Inn. Limited supply of rooms available so make your reservation now.

Please come, sit by the huge stone fireplace, with a beverage of choice in hand, and join us for 10 hours of non-stop glorious Blues Music on 3/11/17. Artist Biographies, directions, and Tickets are available on our Website at –

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for the Blue Monday live performances and jam sessions held every Monday night at The Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. Maurice John Vaughan, February 13 – Dave Lumsden & Friends, February 20 – Southside Johnny, February 27 – Jeff Jensen.

Additional ICBC partnered shows: February 2 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, February 16 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm.

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