Cover photo © 2017 Melissa DelRossi
In This Issue
Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Blues vocal powerhouse Shaun Murphy. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including a new book on Robert Johnson and the legend of Crossroads plus new music from Joshua Jacobson, Sunday Wilde & Reno Jack, Al Wood & The Woodsmen, Kings + Associates, The Snyders, Rob Picazo and Sarah Rogo.
We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8
Adam Gussow – Beyond The Crossroads
The Devil And The Blues Tradition
University Of North Carolina Press
387 pages (Uncorrected proof used for review)
Author Adam Gussow is a blues harmonica player who formed Satan & Adam duo with Sterling “Mister Satan” Magee, who played guitar and percussion. They spent years busking on a street corner in Harlem, eventually releasing two albums on the Flying Fish label and taking their music to stages throughout the world. For his first book, Mister Satan’s Apprentice: A Blues Memoir, the writer told the story of the duo’s many adventures.
Currently an associate professor of English and southern studies at the University of Mississippi, Gussow also teaches harmonica and pairs with guitarist Alan Gross in the Blues Doctors duo. For his latest publication, his fifth, the author conducts an in-depth examination of the role of the “devil” in blues music, casting a wide net that moves well beyond the simplistic saint or sinner, good vs. evil impressions one might be left with after a cursory listen to songs like Robert Johnson’s “Hell Hound On My Trail”.
The opening chapter, “Heaven And Hell Parties: Southern Religion and the Devil’s Music,” traces the reactions and responses by clergy and religious leaders over the centuries as they attempt to cope with music’s hold on their flock. Early attempts were made to counteract the fiddle, which could, in the right hands, whip people into a dancing frenzy. The focus then shifted to the guitar players once that instrument began to gain prominence. But the preachers weren’t just motivated to save the souls of their congregation. Money that was spent carousing on Friday and Saturday nights was money that would not find its way into the collection plate on Sunday morning. As the northern migration gained steam in the search for greater economic opportunities and less overtly racist social structures, the African-American churches felt the pinch of funding as membership dwindled. The pastors turned to fire and brimstone, calling out the devil lurking in blues music, hoping to save souls and their financial future. Gussow also reviews the varied responses by the minister fathers towards their son’s musical endeavors, including W.C. Handy, John Lee Hooker, and Big Joe Dushkin. One highlight is a look at a unique “Heaven & Hell” party staged in Clarksdale, MS in 1941 by the local Baptist church as a way to give the youth an opportunity to let their hair down in a controlled environment.
The following section, “The Great Migration And The Urban Dance Hall,” centers on singer Clara Smith’s 1924 recording, “Done Sold My Soul To The Devil”. The song is a dark recitation of a woman’s descent into prostitution, lead on by a sly, grinning man who, too late, is revealed as the devil in human form. Several other versions are recorded, including one by Merline Johnson, “The Yas Yas Girl,” who declares at the finish that she journeyed to hell and shot the devil. Listeners are left to guess which form of the devil she is referring to – or perhaps the devil figure represents an over-riding sense of despair.
The early blues musicians had to be careful with the lyrics and imagery they used in songs so as not to offend any part of the white power structure in the rural South. The author provides guidance for determining meaning beyond the superficial layer songs may present at first hearing. “I’m Going To Marry The Devil’s Daughter: Blues Tricksters Signifying On Jim Crow” is a chapter that presents the white man in a variety of evil guises, as in Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “The Devil Jumped The Black Man”. But the devil image also enabled the musicians to boast of their own power, sexuality, and freedom in a way that escaped notice. Gussow highlights the work of Peetie Wheatstraw, known as “The Devil’s Son-In-Law,” an artist who thoroughly embraced the bold persona laid out in his songs, showing no fear of possible retribution.
The fourth segment, “The Devil’s Gonna Get You: Blues Romance And The Paradoxes Of Black Freedom,” marks the tensions in sexual relationships as African-Americans utilized their freedom to travel and select their partner in the aftermath of slavery. In the early 1920s, female blues singers dominated the marketplace, with Bessie Smith relating a form of sexual servitude on “ You’ve Got To Give Me Some”. Gussow quotes the 1925 Papa Charlie Jackson song, “The Cat Got The Measles,” as an early example of a response of a male musician blaming the devil, Legba, for turning his woman to another man. The Skip James classic, “Devil Got My Woman,” utilizes the devil devil image in several contrasting ways within the same song, as explanation for human failings plus a general excuse for unexplained actions.
The final section will certainly generate plenty of discussion. “Selling It At The Crossroads: The Lives And Legacies Of Robert Johnson,” takes on the celebrated myth of Johnson’s mystical deal with the Devil at the crossroads. The author’s in-depth research gives him the information to poke holes in the timeline from Jonson’s embarrassing performance in front of Son House to his triumphant return to universal acclaim. The author asserts that it was guitarist Ike Zimmerman, not Legba, who mentored his young protege, turning him into a guitar master after many late night sessions conducted in a local graveyard. Next, the author makes a case for the impact the movie Crossroads had in selling the “devil at the crossroads” tale to wider public, and quite possibly starting the onslaught of white blues guitar players trying to emulate the faster, louder style of Steve Vai’s character. Gussow provides some additional information about the movie’s cast and speculates about what might have been had one of the dueling guitarists been a black blues artist. Finally, he looks at the successful branding of the Crossroads theme by the city of Clarksdale in a concerted effort to establish the area as the center of blues tourism in the Mississippi Delta region. It all comes together at the noted intersection of Hwy 49 and Hwy 61, which Gussow’s research shows did not exist during Robert Johnson’s lifetime.
Also included are extensive Notes and Bibliography sections plus eight pages in chronological order listing blues songs with a devil theme.
Gussow certainly gives blues fans plenty to ponder in this challenging book that doesn’t back away from taking on some cherished parts of the blues tradition. Readers will be compelled to revisit some classic tunes to hear the songs with fresh ears, ready to garner new meanings based on the many forms of the devil illuminated in this work. Thanks to Mr. Gussow for attempting to get us out of our blues comfort zones, and for providing readers with well-researched concepts that invite us to do more than just listen to the music.
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!
Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8
Joshua Jacobson – Good Little Thing
13 songs – 51 minutes
The album cover of Good Little Thing gives some indication of the music inside. A cartoon image by Frederick Carlson, with a tongue-in-cheek nod in style towards Robert Crumb’s own renderings of country blues artists, depicts Joshua Jacobson playing an acoustic guitar while sitting at a table on which is nestled a half-drunk bottle of moonshine, a full shot glass and a half-smoked cigar, smouldering in an ashtray. In the background, the moon shines through an open doorway while a woman shakes to the music he is playing. It is an archetypal, almost stereotypical, image and one that immediately brings to mind the classic Yazoo albums of Robert Wilkins or the Mississippi Sheiks. And that would be partly right. Good Little Thing is certainly inspired by and pays homage to acoustic masters such as Tampa Red and Blind Willie McTell, but that also tells only part of the story.
With seven self-penned tracks and six well-selected covers, Good Little Thing is that rare album that successfully plants one foot in a mythical, idealised past whilst leaving the other one firmly in the present. Jacobson sings and plays acoustic 12 string and slide guitar. He is supported by a wide range of musicians on different songs, including Dickey Betts, Damon Fowler, Matt Walker, Pedro Arevelo, Aaron Fowler, Jeffrey “Jefe” Arevelo, Clark Stern, Chris Flowers, Mookie Brill, Hill Roberts and Allan Jolley. Together they add, at various times, acoustic and electric guitar, stand up bass, bouzouki, percussion, washboard, piano, harmonica and banjo.
Jacobson sings in an unaffected, light tenor voice that fits the music perfectly and finger-picks in the classic Piedmont blues style. His songs often use traditional structures, but are dragged into the modern day by his sharp, off-the-wall lyrics. So the 8-bar shuffle of “Codependent Katie” has a melody not dissimilar to “Key To The Highway”, but Jacobson’s lyrics steer a different course as he advises the track’s protagonist: “Sex addition? Well you’re crazy. Attention is all you need. You couldn’t get it from your daddy and now you get it from every man you see.” Likewise, “Twerkin’ Lil’ Mama” and “Bipolar Mama” are not titles one would usually see on an album by a country blues artist.
The music itself is not all rooted in the past, although that is clearly where the Jacobson’s primary affection lies. There is an alluring sense of fun and irreverence about the entire proceeding. The bouncing Jacobson original, “Pistol Packin’ Papa”, benefits from Aaron Fowler’s funky percussion and Dickie Betts’ classic electric guitar solo. Curley Weaver’s 1949 “Ticket Agent” is re-imagined with banjo, washboard, bouzouki and stand-up bass, while Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me” is dragged back to a primeval acoustic state, with harp, acoustic and slide guitar all helping to recreate the famous main lick.
With warm-yet-pristine production by Scott Cable, top notch performances by all musicians and a fine collection of well-written songs, Good Little Thing is a very impressive debut release by Joshua Jacobson.
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.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8
Sunday Wilde & Reno Jack – Two
Hwy 11 Records
10 songs – 33 minutes
Based in the northwest corner of Ontario not far from the Minnesota border, Canadian songbird and keyboard player Sunday Wilde and her bass-playing vocalist partner Reno Jack have been performing in venues ranging from funeral parlors to small logging towns to big cities for decades, delivering their own intimate take on the blues.
They’re fearless when it comes to putting a new spin on familiar tunes, as they demonstrated in their 2007 release, Black Pearls Of Wisdom, and continue the practice on this album, which was long awaited by fans and which also contains two originals.
A powerful singer with a distinctive, honey-sweet delivery, Sunday has five other albums to her credit, most recently 2016’s Blueberries And Grits. Among her other trophies, she’s captured six Ontario Arts Council Grants for songwriting and performance, and one of her tunes topped the B.B. King Bluesville chart at SiriusXM. She’s influenced heavily by artists from earlier eras, including Big Bill Broonzy, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Ruth Brown, three of whose tunes are covered here.
Her vocal stylings mesh well with Reno Jack, who possesses a weathered baritone. A multi-intrumentalist who can double on upright bass, keyboards and guitar, his background includes stints with The Handsome Neds, a very popular country band based out of Toronto, Herald Nix, a rockabilly ensemble whose credits include serving as an opening act for The Clash, and High Lonesome, an award-winning hillbilly jazz group.
They’re joined here by drummer Cleave Anderson, harp player John MacLeod and guitarist Steve Koch, all of whom were Neds. The album was mastered by Peter J. Moore, who won a Grammy for his work on Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes. The material blends blues, country, folk, gospel and pop.
A little vocal hook from Sunday opens a redo of the Howlin’ Wolf/Willie Dixon classic, “Howling For My Darling,” receiving a completely new, lighter feel. Wilde swings from the jump vocally and puts a sweet spin on a tune full of sexual innuendo. Next up, a tasty Koch solo opens as Reno Jack takes the lead vocal with Sunday providing the response in a take of Ruth Brown’s “Love Contest,” a number penned by Charlie Singleton of R&B group Cameo fame.
The country-flavored “Van Horne” is delivered atop a propulsive railroad beat before “Moonlight Rising,” a slow blues with Jack at the mike. Sunday reinvents Brown’s familiar, hard-hitting “5-10-15 Hours” into a slow swinging love song with Reno doubling her vocals before the Wilde original, “Back Lane Man,” which brings her keyboard skills to the fore. A slow-walking blues, it describes a relationship in which the singer started with money in the bank but wound up broke after discovering he’d been cheating with her sister.
A bass line kicks off a duet of Sam Cooke’s “Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day” before the only other new tune here, Wilde’s “No Matter How Far.” Sunday shines on the mike here, accompanying herself in a slow blues that sings praise to a man who always understands. Another Brown cover, “I Wanna Do More,” before a new take on country legend Webb Pierce’s “Leaving On Your Mind” draws the action to a close.
Available through most online retailers, Two isn’t for folks who want their blues modern, electric and in-your-face, and Reno’s vocal range is fairly limited and his delivery is deliberate and worn. And, with few exceptions, the musicianship is pretty pedestrian. That said, if you’ve been a fan of Sunday or the duo in the past, this one will play perfectly 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.
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8
Al Wood & The Woodsmen – Hooka Train
Self-Release – 2017
9 tracks; 37 minutes
This is the third album release from Canadians Al Wood & The Woodsmen who made it to the IBC semi-finals in 2011. Al wrote all the material, sings and plays harmonica with support from guitarist Lindsay Pugh, bassist Frank Deresti and drummer Simon Meilleur; recording engineer Marty Sobb adds some additional guitar to one track. The CD was recorded in Ottawa and produced by Al and the band.
Opener “Lately Things” bounces along and immediately demonstrates Al’s easy way with a lyric, in this case a tale of a relationship coming to an end, Lindsay’s rhythm guitar underpinning a wide-ranging harp solo before embarking on a short solo of his own. “Mole Hill Mountain Blues” has slide and harp and rocks along well as Al threatens to “climb up Mole Hill Mountain and scream these crazy blues” before the rhythm section sets a great train rhythm on the title track and Al gives us his best Johnny Cash impression; the song seems to be about smoking illegal substances rather than other possible interpretations of the title! Al’s harp and Lindsay’s guitar are both prominent on the mid-paced rolling blues of “Death Defying Leaps”, a song that extols listeners to make the most of things as it won’t last. “Bluebird” is an interesting tune with fast rhythms and the bass playing some jazzy underpinnings that are taken up by Lindsay’s angular solo before Al’s country blues style harp. A Delta feel comes across on “Juggler’s Blues” – “the worst blues I have known – you’re always second guessing, throwing lines up in the air”, Al blowing a storm over some nice slide work. The band gets a little funky on “Certain Ways” and hits a soulful groove on “Stick Around (Another Day)” before closing with a back porch acoustic blues “Worryin’ Days Are Done” as Al sings of passing the torch to his son – not the most upbeat note on which to finish but well played.
This is a CD that does not bring anything particularly new to the table but is a solid listen, well played and recorded.
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.
Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8
Kings + Associates – Tales Of A Rich Girl
12 songs time-54:35
Spear headed by Angela Portolesi’s sultry and soulfully infused vocals, this Australian band is a powerhouse force as they present a mélange of rhythm & blues, blues, funk, soul, a tad of country and roots music to arrive at an intriguing sound. Angela and Stephen Portolesi wrote or co-wrote all the songs. Benjamin Cunningham is the co-lead singer as well contributing electric guitar along with two other band members. When Angela and Benjamin combine their voices in song a palpable sexual tension is created.
The musicianship more than ably supports the songs, as guitars, organ, drums, piano, mandolin, fiddle, harmonica and background vocals weave in and out at just the most opportune moment to create a wondrous cacophony.
After a brief jazzy organ and guitar intro the band kicks it into funky high gear with Benjamin delivering soulful vocals before Angela takes over with her sultry pipes supported by backing vocals in a bit of gospel fire on “Truth Be Told”. Some catchy guitar riffing doesn’t hurt one bit. A seductive slide guitar riff props up Angela’s sexy, breathy vocals on the title track. Benjamin handles lead vocal chores with Angela bring up the rear(no pun intended). Some really nice and bluesy guitar is interjected into the R&B gem that is “Deadwood”.
“Nitty Gritty” is a slow slice of Memphis style R&B were you can touch the sexy tension in the duo’s back and forth vocalizing. Angela’s hushed voice is set against churchy organ and piano on “Peace X Peace”. As it isn’t listed in the liner notes who plays what where, someone delivers a slow and pensive guitar solo. By the time Ben joins on vocals the tune takes on the feeling of a revival meeting. “Pabla’s Grace” is a haunting piece where Angela’s trade mark hushed soulful vocals spar with the backing voices. The tune includes a simply gorgeous toned guitar solo.
Angela’s forceful vocal delivers a song of strength in “Evergreen”. Louie Higuera lends his organ skills to the funky “All That’s Good”. The band doesn’t pause for a breath before leading into the fast and funky “Charlie B.” that finds the duo trading off vocals against a hectic rhythm. Mandolin, fiddle, piano and country-ish electric guitar fire up the good timey “God Bless Mama”. Acoustic guitars and hand claps are the sole instrumentation on “Tales Of a Rich Man(Live & Acoustic)”. Benjamin and Angela alternate vocals on the slow burning R&B ballad “1000 Ways” to wrap up this emotion packed soulful recording.
You are left emotionally drained after this soulful experience has concluded. There is such a seamless craftsmanship at work here that is cunning in its’ deceivingly simple approach. The magical voices of Angela and Benjamin set against expert musicianship and top notch production propel this effort into greatness. Hearing is believing!
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8
The Snyders – Reaching Higher
CD: 10 Songs; 45:31 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Roots, Eclectic Blues
When I was a teenager, I went to church youth group gatherings where we often watched a Christian comedian. His brand of comedy was deemed “Humor with a Message,” combining Biblical principles with hilarious monologues about adolescent goings-on. Likewise, Montreal’s blues/roots band The Snyders’ third album, Reaching Higher, has “Music with a Message.” It may not champion a specific faith, but in terms of promoting universal harmony, it’s spot-on. Quite a few lyrics border on preachy (“We’re chasing fear out of here with love. We’re chasing fear out of here with truth!”). However, in our world’s divisive political climate, they’re sorely needed. The Snyders’ overall musical style is what some would call “eclectic,” combining blues, rock, roots and soul/jazz in nine original numbers and one traditional tune (“People Get Ready”). They possess a consistent, moderate energy that won’t put listeners to sleep, but neither will it make them bounce off the walls. Vocally, they’re also in the middle tier of range and talent, even though female lead Lorrie Snyder tries to venture into Mariah Carey territory on some high notes. Their tone is conversational, their songwriting unsubtle, and their chemistry congenial.
According to their website, accessible to their French-and-English-speaking fans, “The Snyders, formed in the summer of 2011 in Montréal, is a family blues/roots band that digs deeply from many styles of music. The family unit is comprised of Indiana born blues-rocker Southside Denny Snyder – vocalist/lead guitarist (aka blues artist Southside Denny), his daughter Lorrie Snyder on Vocals/Bass (21 years old) and his son Phil Snyder on the drums (17 years of age)… For the past 30 years, Southside Denny has garnered the reputation of a legendary blues rocker in his own right with 9 album releases, and performing at may notable blues clubs and festivals in 20 states and 5 Canadian provinces…The trio recorded their first album together (The Snyders, March 2012) and made numerous concert appearances on both sides of the border.” They’ve also played countless festivals, most in Ontario and Quebec, but also Indiana and Michigan.
This CD’s opener is a classic-sounding guitar instrumental, specifically geared for party time:
Track 01: “Snyder Slider” – Instrumentals are the one area where this familial trio truly shines, and their first offering is no exception. It shows why Southside Denny has been performing for the previous three decades, because his slide guitar is some of the hottest barbecue sauce that will ever slather one’s ears – inside and out. When it comes to hamburgers, “sliders” are supposed to do just that once you take a bite, going down nice and easy. Without a doubt, this one’s got a raging kick. Lorrie Snyder’s bass line, though understated, provides smooth contrast.
Whether one will enjoy Reaching Higher or not will depend on three things: 1) a hankering for wholesome, positive music; 2) open-mindedness toward the more experimental tracks, such as its closer “Crazy Mike,” and 3) patience for vocals that are still maturing. The Snyders’ number-one strength is in their message, not their mechanics, so keep that in mind as you listen, blues fans!
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 Review – 7 of 8
Rob Picazo – Spanish Moss
Good Man Records
CD: 12 Songs, 43:21 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Horn Blues, Debut Album, All Original Songs
Close your eyes for a minute, blues fans, as your ears sink deep into Rob Picazo’s debut album Spanish Moss. You’d swear he’s a dead ringer for Randy Newman, but he’s actually from southeast England. The title hails from a line in his closing number, “Savannah” (reviewed below). He mentions “Spanish moss and Spanish people,” and there’s a second connection in his personal letter to this magazine. “I’m not signed to a label,” Rob says, “but am currently distributing locally in London and the Southeast, and plan to roll out distribution further afield, both in the UK and Spain, where I have a small but growing fan base.”
His upbeat, mid-tempo brand of blues is as vibrant as the colors on the cover of the CD. The horns are red-hot; the guitar riffs are orange as flame, and his slow songs are oh-so-blue. Picazo has included a lyrics booklet for those who have a bit of trouble understanding them, but most of all, he’s included his soul. One can tell he feels the blues through and through, though some may claim Spanish Moss is too jazz-based. For a debut album, this is top-notch because Rob and company know quality is key. Featuring twelve original songs, most of which are great for dancing, it’s sure to be a hit.
According to his promotional materials, “Rob Picazo is a rhythm and blues singer and guitarist, born in Madrid to a Spanish father and English mother…After a few years of musical soul-searching, he found…soul. British musicians like Peter Green and Steve Winwood first brought the blues to Rob’s attention, before R&B musicians and soul pioneers like Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Solomon Burke, and Ernie K-Doe…convinced him this was the path to take…Following a two-month trip through the southern states of the US, filming a documentary about roots music, Rob has spent the last three years making a name for himself in the British blues scene.”
Along with lead vocalist and guitarist Picazo are Harry Whitty on piano, organ and trombone; Jacob Robinson on bass; Sally Whitty on trumpet; Joe Stick on alto and tenor saxophone; and Finlay O’Hara on drums and percussion.
The following three songs should get national airplay not only in the UK, but the US as well.
Track 01: “Filthy Rich, Dirt Poor” – A message of hope for the cash-strapped and the credit-maxed, the album’s opener reminds them that the Almighty Dollar isn’t so omnipotent after all: “Well, I ain’t too upset about the money I ain’t made. I’ll keep a smile on my face as long as my bills are paid. Can’t have less and don’t need more than filthy rich or dirt poor.” Sally Witty’s trumpet solo is a total blast here (rimshot), as is the rhumba/salsa beat.
Track 04: “I Need a Woman (Who Doesn’t Need a Man) – So slow, so sweet, and so sultry is number four, an ode to females who find fulfillment within themselves more than without. “I need a girl with her own hopes and dreams. I need a woman in who I can believe.” The vocals and instrumentation are as crisp as crackers, and the tempo? Grab a slow-dance partner, people.
Track 12: “Savannah” – The party-hit highlight of this album is its rocking closer. With a traditional blues rhythm and shredder licks to die for, “Savannah” will lift anyone’s spirits. So will Joe Stick on sizzling saxophone.
Let your hair down like Spanish Moss and revel in Rob Picazo’s art!
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 Review – 8 of 8
Sarah Rogo – Live at Lestat’s West
CD: 8 Songs, 27:14 Minutes
Styles: Acoustic Folk, All Original Songs, Debut Album, Live Album, Solo Album
It’s hard to know what to make of San Diego’s Sarah Rogo and her debut release, Live at Lestat’s West. First of all, it’s a folk blues album, with only one song that incorporates more than a trace of traditional blues. Secondly, the performance has an open-mic-night vibe, not an open jam session vibe. Sarah plays acoustic guitar more than passably well, but not in the way most people think of when they ponder their favorite genre. Third, it’s not even thirty minutes long.
She has a sweet voice, which is a major advantage, a warm ray of Southern California sunshine in the midst of dark whiskey-and-gravel vocals. Janis Joplin, she definitely isn’t, but sometimes we need singing like hers to chase our blues away. This is music fit for the coffeehouse, not the roadhouse, with a laser-like focus on feelings. She may not quite nail melancholy songs like “Oh My God,” but with time, the mood will come.
According to her website, Rogo has always known where she belongs: “‘Everyone in my family has always known California was my home,’ she says. ‘Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve dreamt of being a surfer.’” As for her history as an artist, “Rogo apprenticed and performed with local Boston musicians, guitarist Paul Rishell, who once played with Son House, and world-class harp player Annie Raines, along with acoustic country-blues guitarist Woody Mann, a former student of the legendary Reverend Gary Davis. They introduced her to artists like Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Led Zeppelin and the bottle neck slide on the National Resonator Guitar – for which she’s since become a spokesperson — then took her out with them on tour to Arkansas and Mississippi.
“Sarah proved an apt performer, and before long, she was writing songs in the vein of those whose music she idolized, evoking such contemporary singer-songwriters as Bonnie Raitt, Rory Block, Eva Cassidy and folk rockers Dawes.”
Since Sarah gives a solo performance, recorded by Louis Brazier, she receives solo accolades.
The song below is the edgiest of the eight, best straddling the border between folk and blues.
Track 08: “Going Where the Weather Suits my Soul” – Anyone who’s ever felt out of place right at home, whether the weather be hot or cold, will relate to this song. Its stomping beat and air of wanderlust will make crowds sit up and pay attention, maybe “clap those hands,” as Sarah urges. “I said, ooooh, California, I’m coming home, yeah, I’m making it known!” Her sizzling slide guitar provides the right amount of zing to make coffee drinkers forget their java for a moment.
The plus side of this CD is that it’s atmospheric, in a citrus-tinged kind of way. You’ll smell fresh oranges and grapefruits while listening to Live at Lestat’s West, but not blueberry vodka.
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 – Shaun Murphy
If you ask singer Shaun Murphy how she fell under the spell of blues music, she will give you a quick, heartfelt answer.
“It was at the legendary 1969 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival. The band I was in was hired to play the first fest. There were so many wonderful acts there – Luther Allison, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Otis Rush, Howlin’ Wolf, Magic Sam, and so many others. I got to see Big Mama Thornton live on stage. My mouth was almost on the ground. I couldn’t believe it, I was so enthralled with her performance. To this day, there has never been a grouping of stars in one place for a festival like that. I stayed as long as I could as it was so amazing”.
“After that, I fell in love with the blues. In order to learn more, I started buying records, tracking down radio stations that catered to the blues, which was hard to do because I was moving around a lot. What drew me in was that blues is a first-person love, the first-person anger, the first-person feel-good music. It encompassed all of the feelings that I was going through at the time, sometimes in the same song. So it really clicked with me”.
Murphy was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska until age eleven, when her mother remarried and the family made a job-related relocation to Iowa. Right before her senior year of high school, another job transfer took the family to Detroit.
“It is always rough for a teenager to finish off their school years in a brand new place. I quickly got into to theater there, hoping to try out for one of the plays. Soon found out that I needed to join the school choir because their next production was the musical, Guys & Dolls. When tryouts came, I ended up landing the lead role as Adelaide. That really opened my eyes, and from then on, I thought I was going to be an actress. It taught me plenty about how to handle yourself on stage”.
After graduation, Murphy was doing duo shows with her boyfriend. One day, she received a call from a woman who wanted to know if the singer wanted to try out for an R&B band her daughters had put together. Murphy was with the band for eight months before leaving, putting in time with several other bands before opportunity came knocking.
“There was an audition for the musical Hair in downtown Detroit. The singer Meatloaf had been trying to get into the cast for the Los Angeles production. The producers recommended that he open the Detroit show. They also asked if he knew any great singers in the area. Meatloaf said he did, but had no idea as to how to get in touch with me. When I walked in for the audition, he spotted me, yelling out “That’s her – that’s the singer I was telling you about! Once again I got the lead part, but I ended up switching about three months in as I was pregnant at the time, so I became Jeanie the pregnant girl”.
In the audience on opening night were some people from Rare Earth Records, a division of the Motown label. They contacted Murphy and Meatloaf right away about signing a recording contract, wanting to bill the duo as Stoney & Meatloaf, with Stoney being Murphy’s nom de plume at the time. Their record came out in 1971, followed by a tour. Then the theater came knocking yet again,
“I was hired for a Broadway production in 1974 of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band On The Road. We did the full run on Broadway, went on the road for several weeks, and then did a run at a theater in Washington D.C. that was down the street from the White House. Those were wild days, lots of protesting going on”.
When Motown reformed and moved the operation to Los Angeles, the label cut Meatloaf loose but asked Murphy to relocate to the West coast. After sitting around doing nothing for a stretch, she tired of not working.
“So I called Punch Andrews, Bob Seger’s manager. We were friends and he had been booking me with my band in some of his clubs. I asked him about what was shaking in Detroit. His response was that Seger was looking for a background singer. I thought, well, I have never done that before, but how hard can it be. So I bought 1971 Honda Civic with the engine that sat sideways so my daughter and I could drive to Detroit. I worked with Bob for a few years before going on to work with other artists like Bruce Hornsby”.
“In 1985, I got a call from my friend, Marcy Levy. She had been working with Seger when I started with him, then went on to Tulsa where she worked with Leon Russell. She also had been doing vocals with Eric Clapton (and co-wrote “Lay Down Sally”). Marcy called to let me know that Clapton was getting ready to do a record with Phil Collins and was searching for a singer with a strong voice. Marcy said she knew who to call. Next thing I knew I was down on the island of Montserrat. After hearing me on one song, Clapton asked me if I wanted to join the tour for his Behind The Sun record. I certainly didn’t say no”.
“Seger and I became good friends and the band turned into a big family. We are all very close and I love working with him. He is a down-to-earth guy, just as he portrays himself. He and Clapton are a lot the same, and yet very different. They both expect you to know all of your parts when you walk in the door. They don’t want to fool around teaching anybody anything. In this day and age, it drives me crazy when I see a musician has been given the information, with a month to prepare, and they show up at rehearsal not knowing anything. I remember working with Clapton in London for eight hours a day for six weeks to get ready for that first tour. Sometimes I would get tears in my eyes listening to Eric play. It came straight from the heart”.
A move back to Los Angeles set the stage for the next phase of the singer’s star-studded career.
“I was going out meeting people, including drummer Richie Hayward and Paul Barrere, who was playing guitar in a band with my friend Catfish Hodge. Richie and Paul were both members of Little Feat, which had disbanded in 1979 after the death of Lowell George. They were working on a record and asked me to do a few backing vocals. When they reformed the band, I appeared on three other albums. Craig Fuller, formerly of Pure Prairie League, was the lead singer for six years. When Craig got tired of touring, the guys called me up to ask me how I would feel about being on a bus with seven guys in the middle of nowhere! That was how they asked me to join the band. I really enjoyed spending fifteen years surrounded by all of that amazing talent”.
“But I did have to learn how to get small. In a situation like that, you can’t have a big personality or be wide-open on the bus. That was also a period when I started writing songs again. I have always liked “Bed Of Roses,” written with Bill Payne, which I re-recorded on one of my records in a swampy soul blues style. I am also partial to “Heaven’s Where You Find It”. The guys were amenable to me writing and that helped me develop those skills. Some things come to me when I’m alone, they just manifest themselves. Other times, when I am writing with someone, we craft a song over several sessions. Then it becomes a give-and-take on all levels. When it comes to recording, we like to do a lot of pre-production to prepare, then go into the studio and tear it up for a couple of days”.
Murphy also worked with Alice Cooper on his Hey Stoopid recording, the 19th release in the rocker’s long career. It was a different kind of studio experience.
“They gathered up some of the top singers in Los Angeles and we went into the studio for one day to sing for thirteen hours at the top of our voices. Alice was a great guy. We had one forty-five minute break – for snakes! Someone brought a big box of rattlesnakes into the control room. Fortunately we did not have to go in there.”
“My vocal style was always that of a screamer and shouter, especially if I was nervous! Then nobody is louder than me. And in some ways, I still am today. But I like to whisper a little bit now and again. You can’t do your whole shtick always screaming. There has to be a give and take, which allows you to draw listeners in. I take each song as a set piece, attempting to create a whole little world inside the song. It is thrilling that I am able to touch people in certain ways. My focus is on the meaning of the lyrics, so there is something for everyone. Some of that focus goes back to my theater training, which has all manner of emotional depths on the stage”.
In 2009, Murphy made the decision to leave Little Feat to start a career as a solo artist and return to her blues roots. With the help of her manager, T.C. Davis, she has been quite prolific with eight releases in as many years. The members of her band are consummate musicians and session players, who know exactly what Murphy is looking for due the length of time they have been together.
“I really want my band on the records, so that when we tour, that sound is what my fans will hear live. They really bring it – I just love these guys”.
“Tom DelRossi is our drummer. On bass is John Marcus, who played with Tim McGraw for over twenty years. Tommy Stillwell is one of the guitar players. Tommy has had a lengthy career under his name and with the Beat Daddys. The other guitar player is Kenne Cramer, who probably has been in the band longer than anyone. He works out with Dr. Hook and Lee Roy Parnell in addition to being one of my songwriting partners. And on keyboards is Kevin McKendree, who is Delbert McClinton’s musical director and currently is touring with the Brian Setzer Orchestra. In addition to playing keys, he produced the sessions and mixed the tracks on my latest release, Mighty Gates. Kevin’s son, Yates, did the engineering, so it was quite a family affair”.
Anyone who has heard Murphy sing live is immediately struck by her powerful voice, but also by the wide tonal range that she employs so effortlessly. She never fails to grab the heartstrings when wrapping her voice around songs like John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain”.
“I love, love, love to work with the audience and I always try to bring them as much feeling for each song as I feel when I am singing it. The band spurs me on. When I hear the solos, or the comping taking place, it feels real electric and I start vibrating. What a great feeling!”
Murphy received two 2013 Blues Blast Music Awards, one for Female Blues Artist, and the other for Contemporary Blues Album for her Ask For the Moon release.
In February, Murphy will hit the road on another Seger tour, covering some dates that were canceled when Seger needed back surgery. She is also hoping to book some festival dates to support the new recording and show off her talented band.
“There will always be more songs to write, more CDs to sell, more tours to do. Certainly wish I could have worked with some of my heroes like Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor or Big Mama Thornton. I am so loving this solo career. Don’t think I will be done until I’m buried in the ground. You make plans, and then life just happens”.
Check out Shaun’s website at: www.shaunmurphyband.com
Interviewer 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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Trinity River Blues Society – Dallas, TX
The Dallas/Fort Worth based Trinity River Blues Society announces a benefit concert for the Hart Fund, a charity by the Blues Foundation that helps musicians in need.
The concert features non other than the great Jimmie Vaughan with special guest Janiva Magness. The concert is February 11 and will be held at the Kessler in Dallas. For more information www.trinityriverblues.com
Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA
The Central Iowa Blues Society presents the 24th Winter Blues Fest at the Downtown Des Moines Marriott, 700 Grand Ave on Friday, February 9 and Saturday, February 10, 2018.
Featuring Bryce Janey, Eric Jerardi, Anthony Gomes, Jason Ricci, Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin Altar Boys, Heath Alan Band, Malcolm Wells & the Two Timers, Amanda Fish Band, Grand Marquis, Kilborn Alley, Steepwater Band, Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal, Iowa Blues Challenge Winner, Avey Grouws Band and the Solo Winner, Kevin “BF” Burt will perform along with regional Blues Challenge winners, Taylor Smith – Kansas City, Ken Valdez – Minnesota and the Omaha Winner, Rex Granite Band featuring Sarah Benck.
Andy Cohen will present the Saturday afternoon guitar workshop. Scotty & the Wingtips will host Saturday’s After Hours Jam.
Admission – Friday $20 advance or $25 at door, Saturday $30 advance or $35 at door, both days $45 advance or $50 at door.
There is a special Blues Fest rate at the Marriott hotel. Book online or call 515.245.5500. Information and tickets at www.cibs.org.
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: December 26 – James Armstrong plays a Special ‘Blue Christmas’ Tuesday at The Alamo @ 8 PM brought to you by St. Nicholas, January 8 – Tas Cru & His Band of Tortured Souls, January 15 – The Groove Daddies. For more information visit www.icbluesclub.org.
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