Issue 12-13 March 29, 2018

Cover photo © 2018 Marilyn Stringer

 In This Issue 

Jim Hynes has our feature interview with Chris Cain. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Katy Guillen & The Girls, Big Shoes, Jon Shain, Rockie Charles, Gregg Martinez, The Eric Hughes Band, Jim Byrnes and Vance Kelly.

We have 2 great videos of Chris Cain this week.

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

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 Blues Wanderings 

Blue Monday at the Alamo in Springfield Illinois had another great show this week with Kilborn Alley Blues Band. Andy Duncanson is one of the best soul blues singers. He and the boys played songs from their seven albums and I do believe I heard a couple new tunes in the mix too. Kilborn is currently working on the follow-up to 2017’s The Tolono Tapes.

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 Featured Interview – Chris Cain 

Sustaining qualities of the best blues musicians, beyond their music, are most often humility and graciousness. Chris Cain certainly has plenty of both. “I owe everything that’s good that’s happened to me to playing this piece of wood. And, more than anything, I owe that to my dad,” says Cain. The past year has proven to be a year of resurgence for Cain, who first burst on the scene thirty years ago with his debut, Late Night City Blues. With seven albums in the interim, Chris was not prepared for the overwhelming response he’s received for 2017’s self- titled effort. “This was done simply as a love letter to my late father. I never expected this kind of reaction. And, this past year, I can honestly say is the most fun I’ve ever had playing the guitar.”

Cain’s dad was the foundation for his jazz-inspired soulful guitar playing and powerfully deep vocals. You’ll hear B.B. King and Albert King in Cain’s playing because, through his dad, he started attending their concerts at the age of 3, met them, and, in the case of greats like Albert King and Albert Collins, shared the stage with them. “My dad was a truck driver but somehow he always knew where B.B. King and some of his other favorites were playing. We’d always go there – we never missed a B.B. King or Johnny Otis show. Man, not just the music but the way these guys would dress…so sharp…it would make them look like they were 18 feet tall.”

Cain goes on to describe his dad. “My dad had the largest record collection and the biggest hi-fi in the neighborhood. I can remember him mowing the lawn with Muddy Waters blasting through those speakers. It was cool. He loved the three Kings but loved piano players too. Ray Charles, Lloyd Glenn, Otis Spann, and Charles Brown. You know I went through my Beatles phase and all but what I remember most was all of the great music my parents would play at our house.”

Cain’s mom exposed him to Michael Bloomfield and Chris recalls watching a video as a teenager, reacting, “He looks like me. It could be me. This is entirely possibly. It was an affirmation, man. It was then that I decided that I’d keep trying to do this.” In a relative mode, Cain says, “I see that same kind of reaction in the 11-year-old kids I meet in Brazil who come up to me saying, “I have your Cuttin’ Loose record. I don’t know how to do anything else. The Blues cruises have been great. I’ve never seen people have so much fun. I’m still thrilled that people go out and want to listen to this music and my music.”

Cain, a native of San Jose, California is the third son of an African-American/Greek family headed by Georgia Can and the late Walter fields, who originally hailed from Memphis. His dad was a self-taught guitarist who never really had the time to devote nearly as much energy into playing as he did into listening. He gave Chris his first guitar at the age of eight and Chris was playing professionally in clubs before he was eighteen.

Cain went on to study music at San Jose City College and began teaching jazz improvisation there, soon after. Over the next twenty years Cain took up playing the piano, bass guitar, clarinet, alto, and tenor saxophones. So, the combination of his upbringing, his studies. and teaching came together to form his fiery, emotional guitar style – one that clearly incorporates elements of B.B. King, the string bending of Albert King, and jazz elements found in that vintage Blue Note period from 1958-62. While there are other guitarists out there who can mimic the Kings – Duke Robillard for just about anyone and Monster Mike Welch for B.B., as just two examples; Cain stands alone in his natural ability to blend both Kings into his own singular approach.

Chris talked both about witnessing his guitar heroes and later about sharing the stage with them. “I remember seeing B.B. at Winterland. He always looked so good. He was playing and singing, and tears were coming down his cheeks. Those memories are etched in my soul. And Albert – oh, what bands he had in those days with James Washington on B3. My dad and I would never miss a show – bending those string and all that intensity while standing pretty still.” Cain later got to share the stage with Albert. “We opened for Albert at J.J.s and chris cain photo 2I’m playing my set. My parents were there, and it was indeed a special night. Then I started to smell the pipe and he invites me to come play with him. After I took my solo, he turned to the audience and said, “This is a nice young man.” Cain goes on, “In the eighties he would always come to my gigs in Memphis. Those hands of his were so big- just shaking his hand was like putting yours in a beanbag chair. And yet he was the real deal. I can remember his pouring oil into his truck. When he passed away, I was totally devastated. It took me about two years before I could even listen to his records again.”

Cain also described sharing the stage with Albert Collins. “it was at the Santa Rosa Blues Festival. I’d finished my set and was relaxed. I walk across the street and his bus door opens, ‘You ready, boy?’ So, he invites me to play. He gives me the solo and then keeps nodding for me to play more. I felt like I was up there for 3 months. Wow! What a force of nature with that thumb- so vibrant, full of energy and then 3 weeks later he was gone.”

We talked about his first musical break and getting his first record done. “A friend of my family, my mom’s, loaned me the money to make the record that Pat Ford released on Blue Rock’It, Late Night City Blues. I recall blowing fuses in my amp, buying a new one for $500 because I needed to get the record done. I’m still using that amp today. I was doing the recording just to get more jobs around town. If you took the club owners a tape, they might politely nod but if you took them an album that made you much bigger, more legitimate I suppose as if you were going places. So, I went in there and made the record the way I wanted to do it. Yet, today that record is still my favorite. I was me doing it my way.”

“I wasn’t prepared for what happened. Wow! It took off. One minute I’m in San Jose, the next minute I’m in Belgium. No one said ‘no’ to anything. Stuff that happened I couldn’t have even dreamed. We opened for the Neville Brothers at the Hard Rock n Dallas. But we did everything possible that you could do wrong. Stayed up too late…I really learned the hard way. Now I’m like Ward Cleaver.”

On the strength of that debut record Cain and his band were nominated for four W.C. Handy Awards (now Blues Music Awards), including “Best Instrumentalist – Guitar” and “Blues Band of the year.” Festival gigs and international touring followed. But Cain re-iterated the dizzy nature of those times, again saying “No one said no to anything.” Cain described this past year as being similar from an activity standpoint but was quick to add, “I’ve been playing 25-30 years and it’s just been the last 10-15 years that I’ve seen people’s faces in the room. I was in my own kind of bubble, but something happened where I felt connected to the people.”

Responding to what it takes to get a genuine blues sound, Cain commented, “For 15-20 years I would play the riffs I remembered. Now I make wiser choices on the guitar. I put my feeling and soul into what I play now. I don’t know how it happened, but it started to feel like I could fly or something. I can’t think when I’m playing but now I don’t – I just play what I’m feeling. I’m so lucky my father handed me that guitar. It’s been my best friend.”

While the guitar has been Cain’s calling card, his songwriting and especially his rich vocals complete his powerful blues package. Chris spoke about developing his vocal approach this way, “I would sing in my speaking voice. We’d jam for three days at my brother’s house and one time this guy, Curtis Salgado shows up – the whole party had a coronary. Nobody had ever heard somebody sing like that. Then a bit after that with Gary Smith in San Jose – Gary was the guy, a real influence – I remember drinking the Mickey Wide Mouths…guess I was a little drunk, really relaxed…I was doing ‘Tore Down” and this gutsy vocal just came out of me…. this big old noise…. I still have the tape. And I kept going back to it, listening to guys like Jimmy Witherspoon and Big Joe Turner. I wanted that baritone kind of sound. I knew I couldn’t do the falsetto thing like lots of good blues singers can. Now I just relax and let it go.”

Chris also plays other instruments, professing a real love for the piano and sax. “At home now, I normally play piano. I have a bunch of material I want to record. I’ve recorded a bunch of little demos to keep my brain sharp. I did get to play both piano and sax on this latest record and having Larry Taylor play bass on it was especially awesome. The piano feels natural. I find that the sax requires lots of concentration. I feel like I was just dabbling. Now I play certain notes …I just want to get the sound right before I record much more of it.”

chris cain photo 3Cain spoke about his fondness for alto saxophonists and the straight-ahead tenor guys. “Again, it was listening to my dad’s records and Lester Young and Charlie Parker made the big impressions. But, I just love the sound of Cannonball Adderley, Phil woods, David ‘Fathead’ Newman, Hank Crawford…. guys like that. Oh, and Art Pepper. He used to play all over the place around here after he made his comeback. I read his book. I understand why there is so much pain in his sound. You know I like Coltrane too (speaking of tenor saxophonists) but I always somehow gravitated to the straight-ahead guys. Those Blue Note guys were great from Stanley Turrentine to Hank Mobley and fellow like Red Prysock, Sal NIstico, Flip Phillips….Give me Zoot Sims and Al Cohn any time.”

Although Cain no longer teaches at the college, he still gives week-long guitar clinics in places like Argentina and New Zealand. “Teaching was another gift that came from nowhere that I owe to this piece of wood. I would do combo classes and clinics so that the class would learn a form like 12 bar blues and as the class would get into it, that’s where I’d go. When I began to travel a lot, I couldn’t keep my commitment to the college schedule, but this is some of the heaviest stuff I’ve ever done. After a week of these clinics, these students are like my kids. It’s hard to let go.”

“Now that many of the older guys are gone ….(laughing – “I guess I’m an older guy now”) but you know, the originators, it’s great to see guys that Ronnie Baker Brooks and Nick Moss mentoring these kids. We all need mentors. Ronnie Earl, from those early days in Belgium when he was leading roomful of Blues to even more now with his singular, spiritual style continues to be a major inspiration. He’s just such a gentle soul. That was so much fun a couple of years ago at The Pennsylvania Blues Festival seeing Ronnie and then having him come up and play in my set.”

Immediately realizing that my attempt to draw Chris into fashioning his “dream band” was futile, our conversation retreated full circle to more recent topics. “My dream band would be like 7000 people, but I do like what I have on this most recent album – keyboards, sax, drums, bass, and guitar. It worked for Howlin’ Wolf, didn’t it? I recently saw Jimmy Vaughan in Dallas and he gets a great sound from his band with his guitar sound and those horns.”

Noting that Chris will be featured in some major west coast blues festivals like the Doheny Blues Festival this summer as “Chris Cain and the All-stars,” the same lineup as the recent album, we began to talk a little about those players and recording at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios. “Man, playing with Larry Taylor on bass is amazing. He brings so much energy whether I’m on guitar or piano. We did it live at Portland Waterfront Blues Festival and then for this album we brought in one of the best drummers and a great guy, Tony Braunagel, the great Jim Pugh on organ and Nancy Wright joined us on sax.”

“Greaseland is like a Make a Wish house for guitar players…so much vintage gear…guitars on the walls. I’d been there five or six times before I made the record there. And now it’s becoming like a West Coast Muscle Shoals. Actually, prior to this record I played with Little Charlie on a recording we did for June Core.” Asking him to describe the studio, Chris described how each musician is in a different room. “It’s his house. The drums are in the entry room, the bass and keyboards are in the kitchen. You go down the hallway and he puts the vocals in the laundry room. I’m playing my guitar in the men’s room and Kid is in the garage, tracking it all from there. He has a way of getting a great sound. I could gauge my performance just by the look on Kid’s face. He puts so much love into the recording. I cried my eyes out when I heard the sound.”

Visit Chris Cain’s website at:

Interviewer Jim Hynes has been broadcasting and/or writing about blues, jazz, and roots music for over four decades. He’s interviewed well over 700 artists and currently writes for four other publications besides this one. His blues columns and interviews can be found in Elmore and Glide Magazines.

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 Chris Cain “Whole Lot Of Lovin” – Video 

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Chris Cain – “Whole Lot of Loving” – February 2018 at Monday Night Blues and Jam. Maui Sugar Mill Saloon. (Click image to watch!)

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Chris Cain Video 2 

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“Sweet Sixteen” – Chris Cain Band at Callahan’s in June 2016 (Click image to watch!)

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

katy guillen cd imageKaty Guillen & The Girls – Remember What You Knew Before

VizzTone Records

11 tracks/39 minutes

Katy Guillen & The Girls are a delightful Midwest blues and roots act. Kansas City born and bred, Guillen and the Girls play a form of roots root well steeped in blues and Americana. This is their third album, following on the heels of Heavy Days. They toured the last year in support of that CD, opened for the likes of Robin Trower and played major events King Biscuit and the Big Blues Bender.

Guillen’s vocals have a hint of a hauntingness to them that adds to the rootsiness of the sound. Her guitar work is sold as is the backline support. Guillen does all the guitar work and lead vocals along with some piano. Claire Adams plays the basses, sings and plays piano. Stephanie Williams is on drums and percussion. Lennon Bone is on piano on the next to last track and adds percussion to tracks 4 and 10.

“Slingshot” opens the set with a folksy, almost western sort of sound and brisk tempo. Acoustic guitar and resonator along with electric guitar blend into a unique sound. Next is “The Load,” a down home, front porch blues with dirtied up percussion and nice guitar make for an authentically rootsy performance. “Waiting Till The Day” is a nice little ballad with a touch of cool Flamenco guitar (sounds very much like mandolin) for extra flavor. The following cut is “Gabriela,” featuring acoustic guitar with a Hispanic flavor and the extra percussion claps and such add a nice touch. “Humbrucker” has some very nice resonator and a thumping, throbbing beat that is quite cool, a really well done blues rocker. “Can’t Live Here Anymore” is a larger scale sounding roots rocker with a more in your face approach to guitars and vocals.

“Stalling On Dreams” returns to the folk an roots ballad sound with some vocal harmonies that I liked. Up next is “Biwi,” a mid tempo country blues/Americana rocking piece that blends Guillen’s various guitar work sweetly. “Quiver” is a haunting acoustic cut that then builds up with added layers of music and fills in with some more cool Flamenco guitar. “Funny Place” is a folk rocker with a beautiful and ethereal sound and more forthright piano support. The final track is “If You Were Gone,” another mid tempo cut with good electric guitar work threading in and out of the consciousness of the song. The lead and backing vocals also layer together nicely.

Taking a little blues, a hint of country and a lot of folk and Americana, Guillen & The Girls present a flowing and well done set of original tunes for us to savor. The rootsy, American rock sound is timeless and cool. The trio blends together seamlessly on vocals and their instruments, giving the listener an enjoyable right. This not a heavy blues rocker sort of album; the sound is more akin to Joni Mitchell than Grace Slick. If you like a down home and rootsy style of music then this is something you ought to pick up and enjoy. Guillen and her band are well equipped to give you an enjoyable musical ride.

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

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2018 Blues Blast Music Award Submissions Are Now Open

The Blues Blast Music Awards honor contemporary Blues artists and their recordings. Artists with major labels and independent artists are eligible to be considered.

The eligibility period for specific recordings is music released from May 1, 2017 to April 30, 2018. Categories such as Male Blues Artist, Female Blues Artist, Blues Band and the Rising Star Award are not tied to these specific dates but instead are based on our nominators recent observations of performances of touring artists over the past year. Submissions must be received by April 15th.

For Complete information on submitting your music for consideration click HERE

2018 Blues Blast Music Award Submissions Are Now Open

Contemporary Blues Album

Traditional Blues Album

Soul Blues Album

Rock Blues Album

Acoustic Blues Album

Live Blues Albumr

New Artist Debut Album

Historical or Vintage Album

Male Blues Artist

Female Blues Artist

Blues Band

Sean Costello Rising Star Award

Save the date! – Blues Blast Music Awards September 29th, Tebala Event Center Rockford, IL

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Early Bird Advertising Special

Blues Blast Magazine’s Early Bird Special is our lowest priced advertising of the 2018 year. It offers an affordable & effective way to get the Blues word out!

This 8-issue discount ad campaign allows you to add significant impact to your Blues advertising and promotion campaign. It is a great way for artists to solicit festival gigs or can be used to kick up the visibility of your summer Blues festival, new album release, Blues event or music product all around the globe! This is perfect for a new album release, a festival advertising campaign or any new music product.

Normal 2018 Advertising rates start at $150 per issue of Blues Blast magazine. BUT, for a limited time, this special gives you eight issues of Blues Blast Magazine for only $400. (A $1200 value!)

Blues Blast Magazine is a great way to promote anything Blues. 36,000 opt-in subscribers read Blues Blast Magazine. Our subscribers are located in all 50 states and in more than 90 countries giving your products global coverage at an affordable price. Weekly issues of Blues Blast Magazine are also posted on our popular website. We get more than 2,000,000 (That’s TWO MILLION) hits and 65,000 visitors a month at our website.

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With this special rate, your ad can be viewed more than 370,000 times by our readers who want to know about your Blues events and music! Reserve your space today! Space is limited and will be sold on a first come first served basis.

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

big shoes cd imageBig Shoes – Step On It!

Biglittle Records

11 songs time – 44:03

This seven piece group of Nashville, TN and Muscle Shoals, AL journeymen musicians offers up a southern rock based sound tempered by the blues, New Orleans R&B. country and who knows what else. They are guitar based with three guitarists plus the drummer doubling on guitar. The keyboards of Mark T. Jordan also figure prominently in their sound with influences ranging from Bill Payne of Little Feat to the inimitable master of New Orleans piano Professor Longhair. I remember Mark from Philly’s Edison Electric Band from the heady eighties music scene. I also have fond memories of seeing him as an integral member from Dave Mason’s live band, having seen them in their hey day. I recall Dave referring to him as Mark “The Frog” Jordan. He was a key factor in Dave’s concert sound. Rick Huckaby handles the warm and smooth vocals department, as well as playing guitar. All the songs are written by combinations of various members.

The woes of living in cramped and less than perfect conditions is covered in the humorous “Duplex Blues”. It’s a smooth tune with great guitar tone and prominent organ and piano. The upbeat and positive vibe of “There You Go” is uplifting. It’s a mellow southern rocker. “The Last One To Leave” is infused with a country feel with travel images. Guitar, organ and piano jell just right on this one.

A New Orleans drum pattern and Professor Longhair inspired piano and a bit of a Little Feat vibe make “Don’t Do Me That Way” an irresistible feel good ditty. How’s about a melancholy and mellow upbeat song of woe? Try “Way Too Early For The Blues” that includes just the right touch of horns for accent. “Bad For You” is a rocker lamenting love sickness. “Dixie Melody” pays homage to piano innovators like Fats Waller and Scott Joplin. It serves as an intro to “Walked Out The Front Door”, another smooth and cool rocker.

Southern rock meets The Band on the lopping “Ain’t Nobody Loves You Like Me” with a hint of an “Ophelia” vibe. It features some tasty slide guitar along with a horn section. Southern rock shakes hands with country rock on “Give It To Me Now”, where the narrator asks for his respect now. A Little Feat guitar and bouncy piano groove take things out in the feel good “Honey Pie”.

The best elements of southern rock, blues, New Orleans, country and roots music have met here to create a stimulating and enjoyable slice of music. From the production, lyrics, guitars, keyboards and rhythm section everything gels. The music sounds fresh while evoking musical memories of days gone by.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

jpn shain cd imageJon Shain – Gettin’ Handy with the Blues

Flyin’ Records

10 songs/33 minutes

There are two basic modern country blues styles, and they’re kind of obvious: the archivist, a musician who faithfully recreates the classic pre-war styles, e.g. Catfish Keith, Chris Thomas King; and, the interpreter, a musician who uses the pre-war styles as a template for self-expression, often drastically changing the original music, e.g. Kelly Joe Phelps, Taj Mahal, and the undisputed master of the style John Hammond. North Carolina based Jon Shain’sGettin’ Handy with the Blues lives somewhere between these two schools. Shain takes classic ragtime tunes written or associated with W.C. Handy, mostly originally recorded with a second line style horn section and piano, and turns them into faithful solo guitar country blues workouts a la the genius inventions of Blind Blake or Mississippi John Hurt.

Gettin’ Handy with the Blues is a masterpiece of acoustic guitar finger-picking. Recorded over two days in October at FJ Ventre’s Good Luck Studio in Chapel Hill, NC, this album came about through a collaboration between the artist and the Craven Arts Council and Gallery in New Bern, NC. Shain’s picking of a beautiful National Triolian guitar is flawless. His transcription of these often flamboyant original pieces into very traditional pre-war style guitar arrangements is inventive.

Complicated fingerings of melodies and harmonies that would break a lesser guitarist (this guitarist included), are played with clarity, dynamics and genuine feeling. This skillful execution is in full effect on the vibrant romp through “Beale Street Blues.” There is plucky plucking of bass lines and intricate lacy melody lines. The 12 bar form chugs through variations that echo the ever changing choruses indicative of the original ragtime. The sole instrumental piece on this record, the originally cacophonous horn mayhem of “Fuzzy Wuzzy Rag,” is mutated into a pastoral meditation on melody and form. Brash horn parts turned into elegant runs epitomizes the central conceit of this record.

One of my favorite tracks is “Joe Turner Blues.” I am a sucker for a good slow blues and Shain’s version of the Joe Turner trope is a beautiful mournful statement of infidelity, under-appreciation and associated paranoia. This is Shain’s best vocal performance on the record, expressive and laying it all on the line. Another impressive stand out is the guitar performance on “St. Louis Blues.” Percussive and emotive, Shain works through razor sharp Django like strumming into mindbogglingly precise finger-picking while singing live over this guitar master class.

It takes a lot of guts to cover music that was first recorded and defined by vocal powerhouse OG Divas such as Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith and Ethel Waters. Shain delivers the 9 vocal pieces here with a steady mid range tenor. Think about a less affected Ry Cooder or a less lived in Mississippi John Hurt. It seems to me that the focus of this record was to imbue the guitar playing with all the fire and power of the source material. Maybe the concentration and attention needed to play these pieces did not allow Shain to put as much blood into his vocals. Shain’s back catalogue shows he is a sensitive artist with a powerful and unique vocal delivery. The singing is clean and supportive of the songs. But, lyrical poetry like “Crazy Blues” or the ubiquitous “St. Louis Blues” so powerfully delivered by Mamie Smith and Bessie Smith respectively just don’t have that original yearning manic vocal drive here.

The majority of the songs on this record are in a medium tempo. This is the perfect tempo to allow Shain to fully develop his guitar arrangements and clearly land every finger busting fingering. However, some of the songs would benefit from a little more speed. “Aunt Hagar’s Children Blues” would have more pop and groove with just a pinch more speed. The insistent riff of “Beale Street Blues” would be just that more urgent if it was a touch faster. The relatively tight range of tempo coupled with the limited palette of guitar and voice make a bit of a hypnotic experience listening to this record in one sitting. This is an album that rewards multiple listenings and taking each song individually. When you take each song as its own unique piece the marvelous artistry and craftsmanship in each performance shines through.

Shain goes for broke on this record flexing his finger-picking muscles. The press on this record states that this is his first solo guitar outing. Maybe he will start recording some of his own fantastic songs in this solo guitar format and fully embrace the interpreter side of his muse. Until then spend some quality time letting Jon Shain guide you through the magic and majesty of W. C Handy.

Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman working out of the Greater Boston area. A life long Blues obsessive, Bucky has spent countless hours experiencing the Blues and learning it’s history. As a writer Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Tr.

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

rockie charles cd imageRockie Charles – Born For You

Orleans Records

CD: 11 Songs, 43:11 Minutes

Styles: Southern Soul, New Orleans Blues, Tribute Album

As a child, when I went on summer vacations with my family, I liked to look at the AAA Travel Guide for lodging. I discovered that it used “unpretentious” as a code word for a hotel or motel that was clean and serviceable, but offered no frills or luxury amenities. Orleans Records uses that same adjective to describe the Southern soul of the late Rockie Charles. It owes more to the influences of O.V. Wright and Al Green than it does to traditional blues or New Orleans R&B. His unpretentious style offers no showman’s tricks on either vocals or instrumentation. Charles is simply a solid crooner, and his accompanying ensemble isn’t trying for too much flash. If you compare the eleven original entrées on tribute album Born For You to local food in the Big Easy, it’s more like cornbread than jambalaya. There may not be a lot of spice or heat, but there’s lots of smooth, sweet flavor. Another drawback is that the lyrics are almost impossible to understand, so feel free to get lost in the mood. We lost Rockie in 2010. Eight years later, his legacy lives on.

“This CD was actually made as a response to a classified ad. A couple of years ago [the album’s copyright date is 1996,] Rockie Charles – ‘The President of Soul’ – placed an ad in a New Orleans entertainment directory basically to fish for a few gigs to play when he wasn’t commanding a tug boat. The ad caught the eye of Orleans Records’ producer, Carlo Ditta, who noted Rockie’s telephone exchange was similar to the one his parents had when he was growing up on the West Bank of New Orleans.” So states Jeff Hannusch, author of I Hear You Knockin’: The Sound of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues, in the liner notes of this release. He further quotes Charles himself: “‘I don’t remember not being around boats or playing music,’ said Rockie. ‘My dad was a trawler and he played the guitar. He was my inspiration.’”

Performing alongside guitarist/vocalist Rockie are Jerry Pekinto on bass; John Bonvillian Jr. on bass for tracks seven and twelve; Rick Allen and Wayne Lohr on organ; Tony D’Alessandro on drums; Fred Koella on lap steel; Jerry Embree on tenor sax; Sean Kenny on baritone sax; Wilber Tank on trumpet; Smoky Greenwell on harmonica; Carlo Ditta on tambourine; and Karlene Arena and Rhea Kahler on background vocals, snaps and claps.

The following song, the finest of Charles’ offerings, is a rather short tune with a rather long title.

Track 07: “I Need Your Love So Bad, I’m About to Lose My Mind” – Does love save one from insanity or drive one to insanity? In the case of our narrator, it’s the lack of love that’s sending him over the edge. With a great horn section and catchy refrain backed by Arena and Kahler, it’s also a danceable number reminiscent of Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes. Grab a partner, folks.

If you like smooth Southern Soul, dear readers, this Rockie Charles album was Born For You!

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 – 5 of 8 

gregg martinez cd imageGregg Martinez – Soul of the Bayou

Louisiana Red Hot Records

CD: 10 Songs, 37:21 Minutes

Styles: “Bayou Blues and Creole Soul,” Swamp Pop

Iconic Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi is famous for telling his team: “Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence.” New Orleans legend Gregg Martinez has certainly taken Lombardi’s advice on his new album, Soul of the Bayou. On track after track, he’s nipping perfection’s heels, pursuing it straight to a finish line just over thirty-seven minutes. Yours truly wishes Martinez would have endured a bit longer, with one or two more numbers to round out his race to attain flawlessness. Gregg’s vocals are as warm, comfortable, and reassuring as an electric blanket on an icy night. Late winter’s chill will never enter one’s bones as long as one’s ears are listening to him. On three original masterpieces and seven spectacular covers, he pulls out all the stops with his longtime backup band, the Delta Kings.

How famous is this stellar senior citizen? The late Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes called him “one of America’s greatest hidden treasures.” He also had an exclusive performing contract with our current President and his then-wife, Ivana Trump. To top it all off, he has been nominated four times for Best Male Vocalist by OFFBEAT Magazine – the only one outside of New Orleans to ever receive a nod in this category. He recently had the incredible honor of singing for the funeral of the great Percy Sledge. According to current publicist Bruce Flett, as of December 9th of last year, Soul of the Bayou had reached #4 on the soul album charts and #5 on the R&B charts of the Roots Music Report.

Along with lead man Martinez are Charles Ventre on keyboards; Gregg Kingston and Tony Ardoin on guitars; Sid Daigle on bass; Tim Courville on drums and percussion; Mike Pollard and Pat Breaux on tenor sax; Mike Ritter on trumpet and flugelhorn; Alex Melton on baritone sax; and Tracy Menard and Charlene Howard on background vocals. Special guest stars include James Martinez on a guitar solo for the CD closer and Sonny Landreth on guitar for track five.

The three tracks below are spectacular, snagging your attention before you even know you’re hooked.

Track 01: “I Can’t Stand the Rain” – With a guitar intro that would make the blues masters of old rise from their graves in admiration, this album’s opener is a stunning cover of a Peebles, Miller and Bryant hit. “I can’t stand the rain against my window bringing back sweet memories,” warbles Gregg. The horn section is also terrific, providing a higher level of background energy to the mid-key ballad.

Track 05: “That Old Wind” – Eric Clapton’s favorite slide guitarist, Sonny Landreth, guest stars on this traditional blues original. “Takes a hurricane for me to be turned. Bring on the rain, thunder and hail,” our narrator says in a turnaround from the sentiments of song number one. This one’s a romping, stomping good time, perfect for the barroom and the country club alike.

Track 09: “Mac Daddy” – A rollicking riff on his nickname, “Mac Daddy” boasts perfect piano keys from Charles Ventre and great lump-de-lump rhythm from the guitarists. “I drive a ragtop Caddy; I’m a real Mac Daddy musically,” boasts Martinez. “Everything I do, and everywhere I am, I’m always up to speed.” Indeed! He’s earned his bragging rights and then some.

Gregg Martinez chases perfection and nearly catches it on his superb Soul of the Bayou!

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 – 6 of 8 

eric hughes band cd imageThe Eric Hughes Band – Meet Me In Memphis


9 Tracks/33:17

Memphis has always been a musical crossroads, a city where blues, soul, country and rock & roll influences often weave a unique tapestry of roots music. The latest release from Eric Hughes and his band certainly highlights the Memphis traditions, deftly mixing styles to fashion a worthy tribute to his hometown. Hughes is the lead singer and plays harmonica, guitar, and percussion. The band includes Walter Hughes on guitar and vocals, Leo Goff on bass, and Brian Aylor on drums and percussion. Backing vocals are handled by Reba Russell and Susan Marshall.

The opener, “Freight Train Of Pain,” comes at you hard with a throbbing bass line underneath the guitar and harp doubling the melodic hook. The dark tone is amplified when Hughes warns, “If you don’t like blues, you better get off the track”. “Roll A Fatty For Your Daddy” is a high-energy shuffle with Chris Stephenson on piano filling out an arrangement. The pace slows on “Midtown Blues” as Hughes celebrates his man bun and thrift store shoes, accented by some gritty harp blowing.

“Meet Me In Memphis” finds Hughes at his soulful best, waxing nostalgic about the city he calls home. Marc Franklin on trumpet and Art Edmaiston join Stephenson, playing several keyboards, to create an appropriately lush soundscape. The gentle ballad, “Left My Heart At Your Place,” gets at the emotions at the start of a new love affair. Acoustic guitars generate a backwoods feel on “I Believe I’m Going Fishing,” with Hughes sharing his love of a day well-spent at the local spot. “The Day They Hanged The Kid” tells the tale of a Billy the Kid-type outlaw’s failed attempt to regain a normal life during the Reconstruction era. The grinding rhythms on “I’m Knocking On Your Door” add a dark undercurrent to Hughes musings about an unfaithful woman. “Here Comes The Boogie Man” is a dose of guitar-driven funk, complete with some hardy harp licks as Hughes delivers a worldly vocal.

It would have been nice if a couple more songs of similar quality could have been added to the program to extend the listening enjoyment. Through nine compelling original tunes, the band consistently fleshes out each song without succumbing to endless, repetitive instrumental solos or vocal gymnastics. While Hughes may not be well-known outside the confines of the River City, on the basis of this disc, he certainly deserves a wider degree of recognition.

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 – 7 of 8 

jim byrnes cd imageJim Byrnes – Long Hot Summer Days

Black Hen Music

12 songs – 53 minutes

Born and raised in St Louis, Missouri, but a long-time Canadian resident, 69-year-old Jim Byrnes has been singing the blues for over 50 years. His latest release, Long Hot Summer Days, is a fine collection of soul, blues and blues-rock with enough twists and turns to keep the listener engaged.

Long Hot Summer Days features only three original songs: the haunting minor key title track, the bouncing “Deep Blue Sea” and the acoustic country blues of “Anywhere The Wind Blows”. The nine cover versions are all relatively well-known, from The Band’s “The Shape I’m In” and Bobby Marchin’s “There Is Something On Your Mind” to Percy Sledge’s “Out Of Left Field” and Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows”. But while some of these songs are perhaps overly familiar, Byrnes and his compadres invariably put an interesting twist on their versions. So Wilson Pickett’s “Ninety Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)” sees less focus on the famous bass line of the original and the introduction of some Stax-like horns, while Bobby Bland’s “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” sees the chorus re-worked with gospel voices and an almost country rhythm guitar part. “Everybody Knows” is slowed down slightly to draw out its bluesy edge. Jesse Winchester’s “Step By Step” has added slide guitar, horns and glorious backing vocals (and a great sax solo from Conway).

Byrnes, who sings and plays guitar, has assembled a top drawer band, with long-term collaborator (and producer) Steve Dawson on acoustic and electric guitars, slide guitar, national steel guitar, weissenborn and pedal steel; Geoff Hicks on drums and percussion; Jeremy Holmes on electric and upright bass and mandolin and Chris Gestrin on piano, Wurlitzer and organ. The horn section comprises Malcolm Aiken on trumpet, Jerry Cook on baritone saxophone and Dominic Conway on tenor saxophone. Steve Marriner guests on harmonica on a number of tracks, as do The Sojourners (Marcus Mosely, Will Sanders and Khari McClelland) on backing vocals. Byrnes provides all the soloists with plenty of room to stretch out, with a number of songs containing more than one solo, but it is indicative of the quality of the playing that no song feels as if it is over-staying its welcome.

So, for example, Elmore James’ “Something Inside Of Me”, re-imagined here complete with lush organ and T-Bone-inspired rhythm guitar, sees Dawson dial in a great slide guitar solo that is distinctly not inspired by James’ own playing, before Marriner takes an equally impressive harp solo. During the final verse, Gestrin switches from organ to piano and dances around Byrnes’ vocal lines.

Holding everything together, however, is Byrnes’ worn, weathered voice. If anything, it’s actually improving with age, equal parts rough-hewn masculinity and vulnerable sensitivity. There are hints of Delbert McClinton as he imposes a distinct personality on each song.

If one were being picky, one might lament the lack of pure blues numbers on the album. Apart from “Something Inside Of Me”, the only other straight-ahead blues song is a harrowing acoustic reinterpretation of Willie Dixon’s “Weak Brain, Narrow Mind” (with haunting harmonica from Marriner). But that would do a disservice to a fine album of roots, blues, soul and Americana. There is blues in every word Byrnes sings.

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 – 8 of 8 

vance kelly cd imageVance Kelly – How Can I Miss You, When You Won’t Leave?

Wolf Records International – Oct 2017

14 songs; 50 minutes

Vance “Guitar” Kelly is a veteran guitarist and soul blues singer who performs regularly at various music venues in the Chicago area. After cutting his musical teeth in the late 80s as a member of saxophonist A.C. Reed’s Sparkplugs, and a later association with John Primer – both of which enabled him to refine his performance and songwriting skills, Kelly struck out on his own. His 8th CD release, How Can I Miss You, When You Won’t Leave? is a collection of 14 original tunes, which run the gamut from up-tempo, Chicago-style blues to 70s-era soul and down-home gospel… with just the slightest hint of disco thrown-in for good measure.

This collection was recorded with Kelly’s very capable Backstreet Blues Band, consisting of Kelly on guitar, Ethel Reed on vocals, Stan Mixons on bass, Gary Salomon and Charles Kimble on sax, Johnny Cotton on trombone, John Wells on keys, Johann Ross Jr. on drums, De Shun Burns on drums, and Dayrock on bass. Kelly’s guitar influences would certainly appear to include at least two of the Kings – B.B. and Freddie – but he also brings his own distinctive approach to the instrument. His solos are crisp and his tone clear and bell-like, and his playing covers a wide swath stylistically..

But make no mistake: This is serious foot-tapping music. From the opener, “All About Life,” all the way through to the closing instrumental, “Jamming in the Studio,” the listener is treated to an interesting variety of blues, R&B, and gospel styles, but with a decidedly 70s soul feel to the entire CD. The band is tight, the arrangements crisp, and the grooves are solid, with a slightly bass-heavy production that propels each song forward without becoming too distracting.

“Get Home to My Baby” is a fine traditional mid-tempo Chicago-style blues, and the title track, “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Leave,” has a solid groove, punctuated by some great disco-flavored rhythm guitar and some wonderful horn accents.

While the gospel feel of “Count on Me” could be equally at home on a 70s era Temptations or Persuasions album, Kelly’s delicate guitar work weaves in-and-out and brings it right back to his blues roots. The propulsive beat and blistering guitar of “Don’t Give My Love Away” recalls Shelter-era Freddie King. And “Back on Track” recalls 70s-era disco funk, reminiscent of something that Issac Hayes might have produced.

All in all, a great collection of songs by a seasoned journeyman performer, and I imagine that his live show is equally impressive. Definitely worth checking out!

Reviewer Dave Orban is a technology marketer by day, musician/artist/educator by night. Since 1998, Orban has fronted The Mojo Gypsies, based in the greater Philadelphia area.

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Ventura County Blues Society – Ventura, CA

The 13th Annual Ventura County Blues Festival, Southern California’s Longest-Running Yearly Big Blues Event, returns on Saturday, April 28, to Studio Channel Islands, 2222 E. Ventura Blvd., in Camarillo. Gates open 10:00 am, music begins at 11:00 am. Tickets $30. (Pre-Sale), $40. (Day of Show). Kids 12 and under, free with paid Adult General Admission. V.I.P. Tickets $125. (online only). Festival proceeds benefits Food Share, Safety Harbor Kids and other local charities (please bring a nonperishable food item to donate to Food Share). Info: (805) 501-7122 or visit Benefiting Safety Harbor Kids and other local charities. Donations welcome.

This year’s lineup features multiple former Grammy nominee, vocalist Earl Thomas; harpist-vocalist extraordinaire, John Nemeth; SoCal native daughter and longtime festival favorite, Deb Ryder; past International Blues Challenge semi finalists, Alan Wright Band; Sandy Scott & Blues to The Bone, featuring powerhouse vocalist, Sandy Scott. As per yearly tradition, the Ventura County Blues Society All-Star Jam closes out the festival, with special, unannounced guest performers

The Sacramento Blues Society – The Sacramento, CA

The Sacramento Blues Society will host a performance by the Johnny Rawls Band on May 25th, 2018. Doors at Goldfield Trading Post @ 1630 J St. Sacramento, CA will open at 3:30. For tickets visit:

Johnny Rawls is a soul blues legend. In fact, the term “soul blues” was invented to describe his music. With a career spanning more than 50 years, he’s done it all. He’s an internationally recognized recording artist, music producer, and songwriter who tours extensively throughout North America and overseas.

The Blues Music Awards, Blues Blast Awards, Living Blues Critics Poll Awards, and the W. C. Handy Awards have all acknowledged Johnny with multiple awards and nominations, including Soul Blues Album of the Year and Soul Blues Artist of the Year. Living Blues Magazine described him as a “soul-blues renaissance man”

Johnny’s latest CD “Waiting for the Train” on Catfood Records was released in September 2017, and has been recognized as one of the top 50 blues albums of the year by Roots Music Report

The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society announces its April Blues Bash, 1 April (no April fool’s joke here) featuring Joseph Michael Mahfoud, also at the Rabbit Hole, 7:00 doors, 8:00 show, with jam to follow.

As always, both shows are free to card-carrying members, only $5 for others. We are asking for donations of canned food or household paper products to benefit Loaves and Fishes. Hope to see you there!

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

Monthly shows at the Hope and Anchor in Loves Park, IL are on the second Saturday of the month. They are from 8:00 to 11:30 PM and there is a $5 Cover Charge. Scheduled shows: April 14 – Chicago Wind featuring Matthew Skoller and Dietra Farr, May 12 – Cash Box Kings.

The Lyran Society in downtown Rockford hosts first and third Friday blues along with a fish fry. No cover, shows 7 to 10 pm. Scheduled shows: April 6 – Bobby Messano.

Contact Steve Jones at for more info on any of these events or go to

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 e 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: April 2 – The Brother Jefferson Band, April 9 – Bruce Katz, April 16 – Harper and the Midwest Kind, April 23 – Paul Bonn and the Bluesmen, April 30 – The Joe Tenuto Band. For more information visit

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