Issue 12-17 April 26, 2018

Cover photo © 2018 Bob Kieser & Roman Sobus

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has Part II of our focus on some great Chicago Blues guitar women. This week we feature Joanna Connor, Liz Mandeville and Kate Moss.

We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including a book about Blues in Baton Rouge plus new music from Ernest Scott, Rockwell Avenue Blues Band, The Fleurieu Bluesbreakers, The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling, Mike Mettalia and Midnight Shift, Three Hours Past Midnight and Ghalia & Mama’s Boys.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

bbma logoHey Blues Fans,

Tickets for the Blue Blast Music Awards will go on sale tomorrow, April 27 on our Blues Blast Music Awards website at Earlybird tickets are $30 until we announce the nominees in early June. Beginning June 15th advance tickets are $35. Tickets will be $40 at the door.

The Blues Blast Music Awards website at has information and news about the 2018 Blues Blast Music Awards including how to get there, where to stay, information about the venue and more. Check it out to get your tickets and hotel reservations now!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

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 Featured Interviews – Chicago Blues Guitar Women – Pt.II 

While each generation of male blues guitar players in Chicago gets plenty of attention, praise, and gigs, there are women out there working just as hard, playing with same passion and skill as their male counterparts. In Part 2 of this piece, we visit with three players who have been an integral part of the Chicago community for multiple decades.

kate moss photo 1Kate Moss

Kate Moss certainly has a full plate as mother to her thirteen year-old daughter, Sadie, a full-time job as a designer, and a guitarist in a working blues group, the Smiley Tillmon Band. “I took the job when Sadie got a bit older. A friend was moving her office to the Loop area and needed design help. So I started working there three years ago, four days a week, partly because Sadie kept asking me why I didn’t have a job like her friends parents. I was doing free-lance work out of the house before that. Sadie being older makes it all work.

“About four and a half years ago, I was out in Colorado when I got a call from guitarist Billy Flynn. He wanted to refer me to a band he had been playing with. It was Smiley Tillmon, who wanted somebody on a full-time basis. It was pretty cool to get a referral from Billy. My first gig with Smiley was at the Beverly Arts Center. Felicia Fields was singing with the band at that time. She has a really great voice, does lots of theater work and has been nominated for Tony Awards. We were doing gigs on the south side of the city. Then I started bringing the band north. We got gigs at Legends, a regular gig at River Roast, B.L.U.E.S, and Smoke Daddy. Smiley is quite the character, and fun to play with. He knows over a thousand songs, so you never know what he knows. He has a broad range of influences. We play a couple times a week, which is perfect for me”.

When it comes to gear, Moss likes to mix things up. “I had been playing a boutique guitar, made by Kauer out in Sacramento, through my Fender Blues Junior. We don’t play huge rooms, so the amp is plenty loud. It has the clean Fender sound, with nice reverb. But lately I have borrowed Nick’s (Moss) Gibson SG, Bernie model, and I’m digging the Gibson sound. When I was playing with Jimmy Vivino at Blues on the Top last year, I borrowed a Gibson Les Paul Goldtop from Don Ritter at Category 5 Amplification, which is another amp I use. I was having a ball playing it, and Jimmy said, hey, you have found your sound! I have been feeling real comfortable with necks and the sound that comes out those two”.

kate moss photo 2“I’m not a tech head, and I can never seem to get the sound out of a Strat like Anson Funderburgh or Nick can. I should probably take some lessons from Nick, because he has put so much time into knowing what’s what. How many guitars does the guy have? That would be a different interview! It compliments what Smiley gets out of his Hohner, which is similar to a Gibson ES-335. I get a little more crunch, and he has a real clean sound, so it balances out pretty well”.

Moss started on guitar as a kid, taking lessons and practicing out of method books. She admits to getting bored at times, laying the guitar down until inspiration struck again. Later in high school, she became a huge Eric Clapton fan. She kept seeing Clapton’s references to Buddy Guy as one of his influences. “I was at a gas station in the suburbs, on my way to the Art Institute of Chicago my junior year. I spotted this sweet looking red Ferrari pulling out, and I realized that it was him, Buddy Guy, that guitarist Clapton was talking about. So I screamed ”Buddy”. He stopped, rolled down his window, and said hello. It was right around the time that Damn Right I Got The Blues came out. He was just starting to enjoy his new-found popularity. I blurted out that I played guitar, which I barely did. Buddy told me to come down to the club to show him what I knew. That was the start of our friendship. Urban myths being what they are, all of a sudden I was his protege. I never took lessons from him, but he did show me a few things. He would also get me up to play at the club, which was terrifying, as I was just starting out. But those were great experiences, back in the early 1990s, which was how I got started playing the blues. Legend’s quickly became my second home”.

Moss played with the Chicago Blues Angels for five years, which featured Armando Cortez on guitar. Once Sadie was born, Moss put the guitars away for a decade as her life revolved around other things. Nick had taught her a few things on bass and Kate filled in for his band for about a year in 2003, when the late Barrelhouse Chuck was a member. “In 2011, I was at Blues on the Top. Samantha Fish needed a bass player, so I sat in and that helped me get the bug back. I used to play the tennis racket in the mirror a lot, wanting to be Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders! Whatever song I was listening to, the guitar was the instrument I was hearing. Now it vacillates between guitar and bass”.

Viewing the Chicago blues community as a true family, Moss is grateful to be surrounded by so many great musicians. “I went to see Eric Gales at Legend’s last year. I got seated with Mike Wheeler and Carlos Johnson. From Buddy to Mike, it is so great to know these guys. They are very accepting, always telling me to bring my guitar so we can jam. And that feeling extends beyond the city. I was on the Blues cruise earlier this year. At one point I walked by Walter Trout, who was with his wife & son. I said hello, Family Trout, and Walter said hello back. I mentioned that I planned to see his show the next evening. He told me to bring my guitar and we will twelve bar blues ourselves into a comma. That stuff means a lot”.

For more info on Kate Moss and the Smiley Tillmon Band:

liz mandville photo 1Liz Mandeville

Listening to her husband’s advice, Liz Mandeville makes sure that she has quality equipment so people take her seriously, checking out every guitar that she has a chance to play. “We met at a gig, when I had one Stratocaster, one electric-acoustic Ibanez, and a cheapo, classical cat-gut nylon string that was my original guitar. From there, I went to having about twenty-two guitars! What I use depends on the size of the venue. My go-to guitar is my Gibson Les Paul, which my husband traded me for a Strat. I think I got the better end of the deal! The Strat was a beautiful blonde model that was just too big for my hands. I’ve tried all different brands of strings and have settled on the Fender Bullets. I love the sound of tube amps but I have a wardrobe of amps, including some solid state models. You can’t go wrong with a Fender Deluxe, or the Blues Junior if it is a tiny room”.

Given her background in theater studies, it is no surprise that Mandeville believes in looking good on stage. “Fiona Boyes and I once had a conversation about how you can be taken seriously as guitar and a female. Fiona was a real fan and friend of Hubert Sumlin, so she tried to imitate what Hubert wore. She looks really awesome in pants and a cool bowling shirt. But I am kind of vain! Part of getting ready for the stage is dressing up, doing the hair, the make-up, the artifice of show business. And I have a huge wardrobe, so that is all part of the ritual, just as another part is tuning my guitar, making sure I have an extra set of strings and a tuner”.

“I used to use a large effects pedal board. But on a trip to South Africa, the airline made me take it out of the suitcase I had so carefully packed it in. The plane ended up running over all of these really wonderful pedals that I used to make myself sound different. Lately I have been working with Minoru Maruyama, who depends on his fingers and amp to get the tone he wants without any pedals. I started thinking maybe I should give it try. Every guitar player is on a quest for the ultimate tone. That is part of what it means to be a guitar player. Albert Collins and Billy Gibbons are two of my favorites but they have completely different sounds. So you keep trying different guitar and amplifier combos to get that “sound”.

The desire to play guitar stemmed from a sense of being out-of-touch when her family moved during her high school years. Living in the suburbs, she felt like an outcast where everyone else had grown up and gone through school together. She searched for a way in. “There was a group of cool kids that I wanted to hang out with – and I noticed they all played musical instruments. One guy played mandolin, another played banjo. So I figured I should use the guitar as a vehicle to achieve social acceptance with this particular group. But what I discovered with the guitar is that you are never done learning how to play. Once you reach a certain level, you discover a whole new texture that opens up. No matter how much I learn, I am never done. So I continue to challenge myself, taking lessons and talking to other players about their techniques. The guitar is an ever-evolving vista of newness”.

liz mandville photo 2“Probably about 80% of what I do is rhythm guitar. Anybody can learn scales, licks, and tricks. But if you really want to serve the song, you need to learn how to play good, interesting rhythm. My Gibson Les Paul gives me the versatility I need for doing lead and rhythm. It gives me the clean, warm, mellow tone that I like, but will give me a bit of dirt and lots of sustain for lead. I don’t use much tremolo or distortion. The goal is to have the guitar sound like my singing voice, and to tell a story. So the perfect tone that I look for is one that is emotive as the human voice”.

No matter what sex you are, there is a certain level of professionalism that is expected of any musician working on the Chicago blues scene. Learning to play right-handed when she is naturally left-handed probably slowed Mandeville’s quest to reach that level. But she persevered, especially in last ten years or so, giving her playing an honest assessment. “I think women hold themselves to a higher standard. A woman is more likely to say, I suck, while men are usually better at the positive self-talk. Biologists have generalized that women work better in groups. Women tend to be more more deflective when given praise”.

“Other guitar players have been very helpful. Just about everyone I have played with has taught me something that I have used, from my first husband teaching me the first position lump-de-lump they used in all the Jimmy Reed songs, to an Albert Collins thing I learned just recently after a guitar playing friend hipped me to this guitar website where they showed how to play one of Albert’s licks. I put it into my bag of tricks and use it all the time, as well as hammer-on techniques or chord voicings. I can look it a particular thing and tell you that John Hill showed me that or Michael Dotson taught me that. The men I have played in bands with like Mike Gibb, Michael Dotson, Chris Winters, or Minoru considered me the other guitar player, not just a supporting character. It has to be a symbiotic relationship,where hopefully we aren’t playing the same thing. You want to play parts that support each other and the song”.

“Fans like me as a singer and a front person. When I started taking more of a lead role with my guitar playing, people would tell me that I shouldn’t do it, you are a really good vocalist but you aren’t as flexible on guitar. I let those comments roll off my back and went ahead, trying as learn as much as I could, to be versatile. I am not a shredder or the fastest gunslinger on the block. I try to speak through the guitar in a voice that is as important to the song as what I am singing. If you want to be accepted, or you want to get hired, you had better be good!”

More information on Liz Mandeville can be found here:

joanna connor photo 1Joanna Connor

It is a brief, under-three minute clip on YouTube, from the 2014 North Atlantic Blues Festival, that has been viewed over 1.1 million times, featuring Joanna Connor ripping through an energized slide guitar solo excursion.

If you had never had the pleasure of attending one of Joanna’s shows, the video would undoubtedly make you an instant fan. But that is only part of the story. (View video at

As Joanna explains, “I have never put one of my own videos on YouTube, nor do I spend much time on the Internet. One day, the guy that shot that video called to tell me that the clip was over 100,000 views in Russia. Needless to say I was shocked! I had one video at the time that had maybe 30,000 views. There is a website in Brazil that had five million views, one in Italy with four million. When you add in Scandinavia and China, we think that video has been viewed about forty million times. He was wise enough to film it and put it out there. There is a video on The Chive, which younger people use for comedy and music, that had over a million views in thirty days. My landlords saw it, said oh my God, we didn’t know you did that!”

Admitting that she may be the least gear-headed musician on the planet, Connor also avoids music stores, being satisfied with her small collection of instruments. “I have nothing against gear if that is your passion. Besides my acoustic guitar, I have a knock-off resonator plus a Gibson Les Paul Classic 1960 reissue and an SG. I love the Les Paul – will play it until it literally falls apart. It feels like it is part of me. Other guitarists switch instruments regularly, but the Virgo in me makes touch really important. Every guitar has it’s own feel, even from one Les Paul to another Les Paul. I want the guitar to be so familiar to me. That is why I can play the slide with my eyes closed and be so accurate. There is no feeling, because you are gliding over frets, but I know the guitar so well. It is the same as Stephen Curry shooting baskets with the lights out at the gym because he has done it so many times”.

“I use a lot of amps at the clubs and own a couple of Peavey units. I prefer a loud, clean amp that I can dirty up with some effects pedals and overdrive. That’s my disappointing gear talk! To be honest, you need a good instrument, but it is all in the touch. Somebody can play a $3,000 Les Paul and make it sound like a $60 knock-off from K-Mart because of the way they play. With any instrument, a real musician will make it sound really good. When I teach guitar, I am very picky about how my students play a note. That is more important than anything”.

joanna connor photo 2In her early twenties when she arrived in Chicago from Massachusetts, Connor was alone without a car, using the CTA bus line to get to the South and West side clubs to soak-up the blues culture. “I would get on buses with a Fender Twin amp, doing everything myself. Some people were supportive, some were not. I was a young, thin woman that guys wanted to hit on. It was a mixed bag of reactions. But I was determined to become a guitar player and learn from the masters. Eventually I was backing Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Junior Wells, the Myers brothers, and Lefty Dizz plus a year playing the Checkerboard Lounge with the 43rd Street Blues Band. In 1988, I started my own band, played Kingston Mines for six months twice a week, then hit the road for seventeen years, ten of which were mostly in Europe. Thomas Ruf had me fill in on a tour after another guitar player dropped out. That led to opening for Luther Allison, ZZ Top, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Joe Cocker”.

“Being a woman in any field, whether you are a trailblazer or an oddity, you will always face different attitudes. Plus I was a single mom, which is a whole other dynamic. I was just determined to do what I wanted to do”. Initially, the guitarist wanted to be a drummer. The band leader told her that girls don’t play the drums, so Connor started learning the saxophone. “The guitar just drew me in. Plus, it is a lot easier to sing & play guitar than to sing & play sax. Any stringed instrument is the most expressive. Now I consider myself a guitar player who sings”.

In 2000, Connor went back to college to become a teacher, cutting back on the touring and staying in the Midwest with occasional festival bookings. When she decided to send her son to a private high school, she started working more, getting three nights a week at Kingston Mines in 2005, plus the House of Blues and Legend’s. With a regular, five night per week local schedule, there was no need to be on the road. “Part of the reason I went back to school was that I disgusted, feeling like my career was going nowhere after all the effort I had put into it. Now that I am older, I look at it philosophically, that what is meant to be, will be. I may not have done everything right, but I worked really hard, jumped through the hoops. Now I am the Mom who Shreds! And that is fine, because being a Mom came first and music second. I told my kid that when I turn sixty, I might just hang up the guitar and do something else that I love. But then I might keep playing 200 shows a year!”

When asked about changes in the Chicago blues scene over her career, Joanna didn’t mice words. “I will be brutally honest. The talent level has gone way down. There used to be so many stellar acts playing the clubs – and that is not the case any more. Don’t get me wrong – there are great players out there. But there is no comparison to what it was when I first got here. Drugs, particularly crack, took down a lot of musicians and destroyed plenty of bands. A lot of people who should be at the forefront of the music are either dead, missed their opportunity, or blew too many chances. It depleted the talent pool, especially with bass players. And the younger African-American musicians haven’t followed in the blues footsteps. But that young man, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, from Mississippi – wow, unbelievable. I am blown away by his talent. We just need more players like that. The music waxes and wanes, but there will always be something going on with the blues. At the Mines these days, after 11 pm, the audience is mostly under the age of thirty-five. They love it, which has really invigorated me”.

For more on Joanna Connor, go to:

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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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

ERNEST SCOTT CD IMAGEErnest Scott – Bridging the Gap

Breezy Hill Records

12 songs/1 hour 5 minutes

Over the last 30 plus years with the rise of digital recording equipment, a high stakes battle between analog purists and digital futurists has been waged. It is fair to say that early digital equipment was terrible sounding; tinny and cold. That’s why it’s not surprising that Ernest Scott’s warm and inviting Bridging the Gap, recorded in the early 90’s, is proudly analog. The producers even chose to forego modern digital mastering, finishing off the record in analog.

Bridging the Gap is a smooth Louisiana R&B soul Blues album, more Earl King groove than Professor Longhair ruckus. This record was almost lost to time. The original tapes from the early 90’s were thought to be lost after Katrina. Producer/arranger/bassist David Hyde found the original mixes and pushed this record through production. The whole thing seems to be a labor of love; the labor was worth it because the love comes through the music.

Denham Springs, LA based Ernest Scott has a confident, silky smooth voice that wraps you up in a warm blanket of storytelling. “Breezy Hill,” written by executive producer Dan Tyler, is a down-home homage to country living, sitting on the front porch, playing with your baby and taking it easy. The acoustic guitars chug this song along with super chill electric piano. “Not too much sophistication,” but plenty of soul. Scott’s singing is so evocative that you feel like you are sharing a drink with him in his country paradise.

Straight up real deal Blues are abundant on this record. This being a Louisiana album, there are two Slim Harpo covers, “Te-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu” is a standout. Rudy Richard and James Johnson create a funky guitar latticework upon which Scott tartly questions if his baby is gonna be the star of the show. Scott’s cover of Buddy Guy’s medium tempo burner “A Man & The Blues” does not match the hollow rawness of the original. But, he puts a warm round lens on the song highlighting the BB King influence in Guy’s music.

Scott has a great delivery for sentimental ballads that can really express deep emotion and carry a slow tempo. The excellent duet with Irene Sage “Man Woman Thing,” written by Dan Tyler and Jeff Tweel, is a thoughtful declaration of how hard it is to keep a relationship popping. The horn arrangements on this song, and throughout this record, are elegant and perfectly matched to the music.

This is a soul record. If you forgot because you got caught up with all the swamp, blues and funk listen to the Al Green styled “Laughing Man.” Another penned by Dan Tyler, with help from J. Fred Knoblock, there is double meaning running through this clever song. A man who is laughing because he is not as hard as he was when he was younger is also the man with the seemingly insane laugh of a heart broken crazed former lover. The skittering rhythm guitar and straight up R&B sax solos drive home this excellent feel good workout with a twist.

It’s hard to credit all the various musicians on this album. There are 10 different guitarists, 4 different drummers, 4 different keyboardist and too many background singers to count. In spite of the changing personal there is a consistency in this record due to Scott’s strong vocals and the focused sense of purpose in production. This swampy gem is a masterpiece and we are lucky it survived the tragedy of Katrina. Suggestion: sit on your front porch, take it easy with your baby and listen to Bridging the Gap.

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 – 2 of 8 

rockwell ave blues band cd imageRockwell Avenue Blues Band – Back To Chicago

Delmark Records DE 854

15 songs – 70 minutes

While the Rockwell Avenue Blues Band might seem to be new kids on the block, they’re anything but. The group is composed of five longtime friends who are all familiar names when it comes to delivering real-deal Chicago blues.

All five are decades-long veterans of several of the most important bands in the business, three are in band leaders themselves, and all have spent a good part of their 200 or so years in the business working together in the ever-changing lineup of The Fabulous Fish Heads, a Chicagoland favorite since the mid-‘80s. As a result, this CD is more of a long-awaited family reunion than anything else.

Taking their name from the location of the legendary Delmark Records studio, where this album was recorded and where they’ve laid down tracks regularly in the past, the band is composed of guitarist/vocalist Steve Freund and harp player/vocalist Tab Robinson, a pair of New Yorkers now residing in the San Francisco Bay area and Indianapolis, Chicago-born keyboard player/vocalist Ken Saydak, who now calls Colorado home, and the Windy City-based rhythm section of bassist Harlan Terson and drummer Marty Binder.

Praised by Rolling Stone for his “masterful, no-nonsense guitar work,” Freund cut his teeth playing behind Hubert Sumlin, Louis Myers and others before becoming a fixture with both Sunnyland Slim and Big Walter Horton. Recognized by Downbeat as one of the “finest living singers of soul blues,” Robinson served as front man of Dave Specter’s Bluebirds, is a popular draw at European festivals and is such a talent that the great Otis Clay made guest appearances on Tad’s recordings. Saydak also worked extensively with Specter after decades on the 88s behind Lonnie Brooks, Mighty Joe Young and Johnny Winter. He’s a powerful baritone with a sound all of his own.

All three have extensive history as front men, and the rhythm section is just as strong. A longtime Saydak band mate behind Brooks, Terson began recording in the ‘70s. He continues operating the Fish Heads today in a career that’s included work with, Otis Rush, John Littlejohn, Eddie Shaw, Lurrie Bell and many more. And Binder, the junior member of the group, kept time behind Albert Collins and has worked with Coco Montoya, Eddie C. Campbell, Omar Coleman and others since arriving on the scene in the ‘80s.

Containing 13 originals and two covers, the album kicks off with “Blues For Hard Times.” Freund’s brief, tasty six-string solo atop a percussive rhythm opens the number before Robinson launches into lyrics that vow always to be watching his lady’s back and knowing she’s doing the same as they work together to face any difficulties that arise while living in the big city.

Known primarily for his guitar prowess, Freund’s an accomplished, relaxed vocalist in his own right as he demonstrates on the “Boogie In The Rain” with Tad and Ken complimenting the driving six-string patterns with solos of their own. Saydak’s booming pipes take over for “That Face,” a slow-paced two-step that describes an ill-matched romance.

The vocal rotation continues in order through the remaining 12 cuts with guitar, harp and keys all getting space to shine throughout. “Free To Love Again” features Robinson’s melismatic delivery atop a medium-paced stop-time shuffle while “Lonesome Flight” is pure old-school. It’s a slow blues that describes the phone call notifying Freund that his father has died. The sprightly “Chariot Gate” changes the mood dramatically with Saydak describing how he’s not ready to go, but looks back on his youth with several regrets.

Two covers — Mary-Ann Brandon’s “We Believe” and Elmore James’ “Stranger Blues” – follow before seven more originals compete the set. Ken’s clever “For A Reason” delivers understanding of the meaning of life, while Tad’s “Rich Man” is a sweet ballad singing about the true value of love. Steve’s tribute to Big Bill Broonzy, “Hey Big Bill,” features Robinson’s harp before Saydak’s in charge for “Love Police.” Penned by Terson, it describes a man who’s under suspicion every day of his life.

“Back To Chicago” describes a potential difficult return to the city, knowing there’s an angry woman waiting at home, while the slow tempo “Have You Ever Told Yourself A Lie” features Freund on slide for the first time in his recording career before the keyboard-driven ballad “Dream” brings the action to a close.

An instant classic for lovers of modern, but traditional blues delivered by artists who know the medium best. Available through all major retailers and highly recommended. My only criticism: The list of members on the CD cover doesn’t match up with the photo lineup below, takes nothing away form this one!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

fleurieu bluesbreakers cd imageThe Fleurieu Bluesbreakers – The Devil Lives Down My Street

11 Tracks / 41 minutes

The Fleurieu Bluesbreakers debut album The Devil Lives Down My Street is a collection of eleven original songs written by the band members. The album covers a wide range styles, from swing blues, shuffle to R&B. This is Brian Cain’s latest effort under the Indiana Phoenix label. The band is from the Fleurieu Peninsula region of South Australia and has been together for a little over a year. They were formed when Brian returned to the region and reconnected with fellow musicians from the area. The band members are Brian Cain – lead vocals and harp; Ross Brennan – guitar and vocals; Peter Nixon – bass and vocals; Jim Judd – drums.

The highlight the band is Brian Cain. Brian is one of Australia’s best blues harp players. In 2010 he was a Tamworth Gold Harmonica winner and East Coast Blues Harp Showdown winner. His harp playing and well-worn, raspy vocals are featured throughout the album. The other members of the band form a nice tight rhythm group, keeping the groove for each song.

A couple of the best tracks on the album are “My Phone,” a swinging number about our love/hate relationship with the cell phone. It features a very nice guitar solo from Ross. Brian’s harp also shines. “Earl,” the only instrumental on the album is a jazzy tune that lets the band members cut loose. The rhythm section of Peter Nixon (bass) and Jim Judd (drums) drive a steady beat and there is more fine harp and guitar work throughout. “Goodtime Boogie,” a song about drinking and driving, is appropriately named. The band sure does boogie down. It makes you want to get up and move your feet.

Other standout tracks include the title track, a song about domestic violence, “The Devil Lives Down My Street.” “Slow Blues For Sher,” a song any dog owner can relate to, is about the loss of Brian’s first dog. “Myponga 71” is a fun up-beat tune about Brian’s experience at the Myponga Rock Concert in 1971. Two blues rockers are also included, “Doctor Blues” and “Man Was I Wrong.”

One downside is the album arrived without liner notes. That made it difficult to credit song writers.

The Devil Lives Down My Street is a very solid collection of original songs offering a very nice contemporary take on traditional blues. It will be interesting to what their next effort sounds like.

Reviewer Donald Luisi is a librarian at Robert Morris University, in Moon Township, Pa. He also hosts a weekly 2 hour Blues show, “Damn Right I Got The Blues,” on the University’s internet radio station,

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

nick moss band cd imageThe Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling – The High Cost Of Low Living

Alligator Records

13 songs – 56 minutes

Nick Moss needs no introduction to most Blues Blast Magazine readers, having been a stalwart of the Chicago blues scene for over 20 years, releasing 12 albums on his own Blue Bella label. His latest album, The High Cost Of Low Living, however, gives cause for celebration for all fans of modern, electric blues. Having dabbled in blues-rock and jam-band material on recent releases, Moss has very much shifted his focus back to pure electric blues on his new album. Further, the Nick Moss Band (NMB) now includes the serious harmonica talents of Dennis Gruenling, while the album was co-produced by the legend who is Kid Andersen (who also contributes guitar and percussion to a couple of songs). The result is an absolutely belting album of Chicago blues that neatly treads a fine line between Moss’s old school guitar stylings and modern tastes and tones.

The album opens with a single note guitar riff from Moss on “Crazy Mixed Up Baby” before the entire band weighs in on a classic shuffle groove. Gruenling lays down a swooping, soaring harp solo, but it is apparent that each member of the NMB is firing on all cylinders on this album. Drummer Patrick Seals and bassist Nick Fane lay down a series of exemplary grooves throughout, particularly on shuffles like “No Sense”, while Taylor Streiff adds his usual subtle but effective piano parts. There is a muscular toughness to the NMB that reflects both the sheer number of gigs the band has played together and the city they call home.

Moss lays down a series of powerful guitar solos, including a classic slide guitar line in the title track and sings his smartly written lyrics in his warm, weathered voice. In addition to his imperious harp playing, Gruenling contributes vocals to “Count On Me” (with its hilarious Keith Ferguson-esque spoken intro) and “Lesson To Learn”, while guest Jim Pugh provides organ on “All Night Diner” and piano on “Lesson To Learn”.

The whip-smart jump blues of “Get Right Before You Get Left” ensures that the temperature remains high as the band tear through the Elmore James-esque title track, the rockabilly of “Count On Me” and the upbeat boogie of “Get Your Hands Out Of My Pockets”. There is an infectious sense of both purpose and fun about this music although it’s probably fair to say that one of the emotional highlights of the album is “He Walked With Giants”, a slow blues dedicated to much-missed Barrelhouse Chuck that features a lovely extended solo from Streiff.

Moss wrote eight of the tracks on the album, with Gruenling contributing two songs and the others being nicely selected covers of “Rambling On My Mind” (attributed here to Boyd Gilmour rather than Robert Johnson and played at a sprightly clip), Otis Spann’s “Get Your Hands Out Of My Pockets” and the old Santo & Johnny instrumental, “All Night Diner”, which is given a shot of modern adrenalin and attitude.

The High Cost Of Low Living is a top class album of modern Chicago blues. There is real chemistry between Moss and Gruenling and it will be fascinating to see what these guys get up to next. In the meantime, however, this is a pretty essential purchase.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

blurs from the bayou book imageJulian C. Piper – Blues From The Bayou

The Rhythms Of Baton Rouge

Pelican Publishing Company

175 pages

The author, Julian C. Piper, is a guitarist who spent many years touring Europe and England backing backing visiting American blues artists. He acknowledges that time spent with Carey & Lurrie Bell, Eddie Kirkland, and Lazy Lester was a tough way of learning how to play the music properly. Piper was also attending classes at the University of Exeter. In his third year, at the age of forty, he left his pregnant wife and flew to Louisiana for a year of studies in American arts at Louisiana State University. This book chronicles his immersion in the Baton Rouge blues scene during that year as well as his experiences backing some of the same musicians once he returned home.

Across twelve chapters, Piper provides brief historical outlines of the careers of some of the key Baton Rouge artists, sprinkled with stories that he was told or of events he witnessed first-hand. In 1987, the community focal point was the Blues Box, a juke-type club run by Tabby Thomas, a noted blues singer and guitarist. Remembering his first visit, Piper writes “…..And the music ricocheted around the club like ball bearings being shaken in a colander.” He devotes one of the longer chapters to detailing the importance of the club in nurturing musicians by providing a place to play. Another chapter gives “Rockin’” Tabby Thomas his due as the “King of Swamp Blues” and the man who worked tirelessly to keep his club open while also being on the look-out for that elusive hit record.

Piper also devotes significant space to the influential legacy of Slim Harpo (James Moore), who’s lazy vocals and simple harmonica licks were perfect for delivering original songs that still resonate today, like “Baby Scratch My Back,” “Raining In My Heart,” I’m A King Bee,” and “Te-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu”. Harpo’s hits helped established J.D. Miller and the Excello Record Company, opening the door for other swamp blues artists to record for a label capable of promoting their records. Miller is featured in a chapter along with Lightnin’ Slim (Otis Hicks), fleshed out with material the author got in interviews he conducted with Miller at his studio in Crowley, LA.

Other chapters highlight Lonesome Sundown (Cornelius Green) and Lazy Lester (Leslie Johnson), who is still alive and well, playing his hit songs like “Sugar Coated Love,” “I’m A Lover Not A Fighter,” and I Hear You Knockin’”. “From Angola To Newport” relates the similar tales of Leadbelly and Robert Pete Williams, two convicts who earned pardons through their music, eventually playing major stages and festivals around the world. Raful Neal once had Buddy & Phil Guy playing guitar in his band but bad luck seemed to always stymie the career of the singer and harp playing leader of the other key extended family of the Baton Rouge scene. Piper covers the leading lights of the “next” generation, Chris Thomas King and Kenny Neal, who have taken the music even further, including a place in a Hollywood blockbuster film.

Piper has a knack for telling a story in addition to relating some insights from a musician’s perspective. There is little doubt about his love for the music that captivated him during his year-long stay. This work is his fitting tribute to the music and musicians of a by-gone era, a book well worth reading.

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 – 6 of 8 

mike mettalia cd imageMike Mettalia and Midnight Shift – Crescent Moon Deluxe


CD: 20 Songs, 60:11 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Jump Blues

As a freelance writer and reviewer, I always enjoy good tips about my trade. Here are two of them from Lifehack: “Writing is about voice, personality and delivery…People are looking for honesty, not perfect prose.” The same principles can be applied to the blues as well. Only those with experienced, finely-tuned ears can critique musical technique and be correct.

The rest of us? We’re looking for honesty, not perfect pipes or performances. Keep this in mind as you listen to Crescent Moon Deluxe, the third album from Pennsylvania’s Mike Mettalia and Midnight Shift. Their vocals and blues-rock instrumental talent are considerable, though not superstar-level. What makes them stand out is their sense of humor and good natured-approach to the blues. Theirs isn’t “mean music,” as Stephen King deemed it in his novel Revival. Instead, it’s a homage to the happy days of the 1950s, including guest stars Jimmy Cavallo, a sax legend, and Sun recording artist Rayburn Anthony. Presenting over an hour of music, including thirteen originals and several under-recorded classic covers (e.g. T-Bone Walker’s “Description Blues”), they aim to keep you sock-hopping. The band’s specialty, in yours truly’s opinion, is jump blues.

Mike Mettalia and Midnight Shift were semifinalists at the 2006 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, and also competed in 2012. Their last two CD’s, Rhythm Rockin’ Boogie and 2012’s Midnight Sun, were both nominated for Best Self-Produced CD at the IBC. Lead man Mettalia, on harp and vocals, played with Crosscut Saw for thirteen years. He opened for Junior Wells, Robert Cray and the Nighthawks. Mike McMillan, on guitar and vocals, was a member of Crosscut Saw and the Tall Guys; more of his feats are backing up Byther Smith and rockabilly legend Billy Lee Riley. Paul Pluta, on bass and vocals, has been playing since 1968 and counts the Rolling Stones and Willie Dixon as primary influences. Drummer Tim Smith loves Johnny Winter and Buddy Rich, and was also a member of Mike McMillan’s band the Hi Rev Combo.

The songs below are the catchiest and most memorable, shining fully in Crescent Moon Deluxe.

Track 03: “I Don’t Remember” – Time for a swinging original tune about alcohol amnesia! When drink dulls one’s recollections, the lamest answer to accusatory questions is also the truest. “‘What did you do last night?’ I don’t remember. ‘Where did you stay last night?’ I don’t remember…One drink: I was feeling fine. Two drinks: Get your beer and wine. Three drinks: Well, she gave me a sign. Four drinks: I think I started crying. My head was spinning, couldn’t find the door. I don’t remember if I hit the floor.” Mettalia’s harp is magnificent.

Track 04: “Ranchero” – This surf instrumental from Mike McMillan combines the wildness of the waves with a Latin blues rock vibe. Don’t have a board? Stretch out your arms and act like you do. As usual, Mike’s guitar is the Cowabunga from Down Unda (thanks, Back to the Beach).

Track 07: “Jumpin’ with Jimmy” – Bringing back big-band sound is no easy feat, but legendary sax icon Jimmy Cavallo pulls it off with aplomb. This track is truly lucky number seven, the highlight of the twenty tracks on the album. Sing along with the refrain and do a little jumping, especially during the solos in the middle. They balance each other perfectly and that’s no lie.

Crescent Moon Deluxe isn’t perfect, but it sure is peppy, certain to chase one’s blues away!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

three hours past mignight cd imageThree Hours Past Midnight – You Can Stay But the Noise Must Go

Blues Power/Suisa

14 songs, 1 hr and 5 min

There is a type of Texas Blues that is swinging and funky. It’s not a shuffling two step like the Vaughan Brothers or a rockin’ thump like ZZ Top. This Texas Blues was born from the C bend to D, D, G triplet riff that T-Bone Walker played in syncopated repetition. It was matured by Clarence Gatemouth Brown and Johnny Guitar Watson. It was made raw and emotional by Freddie King and Albert Collins. It swings hard and drips with a stinky dose of funk. It is this Texas sound that Geneva Switzerland’s Three Hours Past Midnight are recreating on their debut record You Can Stay But the Noise Must Go.

You Can Stay But the Noise Must Go is a fun groovy album. The subtitle for this record could be “a tribute to Albert Collins and Johnny Guitar Watson.” Both the name of the band and the title track of this record are Johnny G songs and Watson’s virtuoso guitar inventions and 50’s aesthetic is all over the place. But this record is even more indebted to the Iceman, Albert Collins. Band leader/guitarist/producer Laurent Gillieron is an obvious disciple, most apparent on the faithful recreation of the Collins cover “I Begin to Wonder.” His solid economical guitar playing is tasteful throughout.

Economy and a tasteful aesthetic characterizes Gillieron’s production and the band’s chemistry. This is a covers album but not of obvious overwrought workhorses. The choices of lesser know songs by legends and modern songs by Robert Cray and John Nemeth are refreshing. Bassist Antoine Superflej Jr. (in full Johnny B Gayden mode) and drummer Baptiste Paracchini are young musicians who play with mature restraint. Singer Juliana Tarris has a calm mellow voice that is reassuring and solid. Even the brash addition of “The Atomic Horns,” Alberto Oliva on trombone and Larry Lee on sax, fit right in and don’t interrupt the groove. Check out first track, the instrumental Mar-Kays cover “Grab This Thing,” for a showing of what this horn section is about.

Some sparks fly from the guest musicians. Sugar Ray Norcia adds his distinctive harp to “He Belongs to Me” an uptempo Magic Sam rework. Legend Anson Funderburgh and Monster Mike Welch each offer lead guitar heat to their respective jump blues numbers. Piano is added by Gentleman John Street and Anthony Geraci. Geraci also contributes the only original song on the record “Diamonds and Pearls,” (obviously not the classic Prince song). The guest musicians, especially the guitarists, push the band into more emotive space and add dynamics and urgency.

The funky swinging Texas blues is a fun loving and emotional music. It has curb appeal that belies its depth; listeners are drawn in by the flashy and charming first impression and then are challenged by witnessing real emotions. The music on You Can Stay But the Noise Has to Go is solid and a great recreation of the curb appeal. However, the music doesn’t have the depth of the gyrating funk of Johnny Guitar Watson or the ice cold stank of Albert Collins. The packaging of this record is an homage to Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets debut album Talk To You by Hand. This tribute helps to deepen the impression that this album is a love letter to the band’s influences but, not a unique statement. This solid debut has great potential. If Gillieron and co. can begin to infuse their Blues with more of themselves, this band could become very deep and truly funky.

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

ghalia & mommas boys cd imageGhalia & Mama’s Boys – Let The Demons Out

Ruf Records RUF 1250

12 songs – 48 minutes

With each passing year, the globe gets smaller in the world of blues, and this release, which pairs a female vocalist/songwriter from Belgium and a harmonica-driven band that’s a fixture in New Orleans, is further fruit from seeds planted in rich Mississippi soul a century ago.

Ghalia Vauthier cut her teeth busking on the streets of her native Brussels before establishing herself in Europe with The Naphtalines and Voodoo Casino, two bands that delivered a hard-edged sound that fused R&B, blues and rock. She possesses a melismatic, multi-octave range and light, but strong vocal delivery as her unaccented lyrics glide together quickly.

After multiple pilgrimages to the U.S., traveling to Chicago, Memphis and Nashville, Ghalia finally made it to the Crescent City, where she decided to record this album after falling in love with the sound of Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys, one of heaviest bands in the blues.

Established about 20 years ago with 11 previous albums to their credit, the Mama’s Boys deliver a unique, instantaneously recognizable sound. The longtime house band at Laura Mae “Mama” Gross’ legendary bar, Babe’s And Ricky’s Inn, they draw inspiration from the sounds of their surroundings, but also incorporate modern, outside influences that combine to deliver what just might be the closest thing to grunge in the blues world.

Ghalia quickly enlisted the quartet – Mastro on harp, Smokehouse Brown on guitar, Dean Zucchero on bass and Rob Lee on percussion — to join her for Let The Demons Out, which includes 11 originals penned by Vauthier and/or her bandmates and one cover. The CD was captured live at Music Shed Studio with the entire ensemble recording together in the same room

The opener, “4AM Fried Chicken,” is an uptempo boogie that opens with a brief instrumental that sets the stage for what’s to come with a sound that’s slightly darker and distorted than you’d ordinarily expect. Ghalia’s vocal bounces pleasantly in contrast to what’s going on behind her. Harp and guitar paint a haunting feel to the driving title tune, “Let The Demons Out,” before Mastro’s harp comes to the fore to open “Press That Trigger” before Brown delivers a pyrotechnic guitar solo.

“Have You Seen My Woman” features choral accompaniment from the band and a Hill Country feel before the sprightly “Hoodoo Evil Man” finds Ghalia trading vocal riffs with Johnny’s harp, while the ballad “Addiction” uses drug imagery to describe the end of a love affair before the driving stop-time blues “All Good The Things” sings praise of “all things that are bad for you.”

“I’m Shakin’,” penned by Rudolph Toombs and a funky hit for ‘60s legend Little Willie John, gets a welcome new life before the heavily modulated shuffle, “Waiting,” includes a Ghalia/Johnny duet. A driving guitar hook propels “See That Man Alone” before the rocker “Hey Little Baby” and “Hiccup Boogie” conclude the set.

While this CD might strike a discord with dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists, it definitely puts a spin on the blues genre that most folks aren’t aware of, albeit it considerably lighter and brighter than Mama’s Boys’ recent work. Available through most major retailers. Pick it up if you’ve got adventurous ears and a love for what’s definitely a duskier shade of blue.

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

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 Blues Society News 

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Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Shows start at 7 pm, and are open to the public. Food and Beverages available at all Friends of the Blues shows. Tuesday, May 15, Too Slim & the Taildraggers, CD Release Party, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club ‘ 2672 Chippewa Drive, Bourbonnais IL, Tuesday, July 10, Brandon Santini, Manteno Sportsmen’s Club, 851 N Main St, Manteno, IL More Info at:

The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society announces our May Blues Sunday with the King Bees May 6th, at 8:00 pm (doors at 7:00) at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205. Admission is only $5, free to members with valid membership card. We are requesting canned food or donations of other non-perishable household items (or cash) for Loaves and Fishes. 1 can? I can! Hope to see you there!

The Charlotte Blues Society announces our June Blues Sunday with talent to be announced shortly on June 3rd, at 8:00 pm (doors at 7:00) at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205. (Original talent Geoff Achison had to cancel to extend tour in Australia.) Admission is only $5, free to members with valid membership card. We are requesting canned food or donations of other non-perishable household items (or cash) for Loaves and Fishes. 1 can? I can!  More Info at

The Blues Society of Central Pennsylvania – Steelton, PA

The Blues Society of Central PA. invites you to join us for our Mom I Picnic ( formerly known as the BSCP Treasurers Picnic ), advanced tickets now available for $20. ( Admission at the gate picnic day will be $25 ) Sunday, May 27th Noon- 8PM Mechanicsburg Club Picnic Grounds 199 Glendale Rd. Mechanicsburg, PA 17050.

Includes live blues music all day, Bar B Q Chicken, Burgers, Hot Dogs and tons of side dishes and desserts, coffee, bottled water, assorted can sodas and 3 beers on tap. Details at

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: 4/30 – Joe Tenuto Band, 5/2 – Albert Castiglia 7 pm, 5/7 – Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch, 5/14 – Too Slim & The Taildraggers, 5/21 – Billy Galt & The Blues Deacons, 5/28 – TBA, 6/4 – TBA, 6/11 – Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, 6/18 – The 44’s with Tex Nakamura, 6/25 – Laurie Morvan Band. For more information visit

Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

Central Iowa Blues Society presents the Second Annual SpringFest will be May 27, 2018 at the Jasper Winery, 2400 George Flagg Parkway in Des Moines beginning at 2:00pm . This free event a great way to kick-off the Memorial day weekend with great music featuring four acts from Iowa, Minnesota, and Florida – including International Blues Challenge Winner Kevin “BF” Burt, Ducharme-Jones Band, Paul Mayasich with Benderheads and Lauren Mitchell Band.

Bring your blankets and lawn chairs, enjoy the music, relax, and unwind with wines from Jasper Winery, beer from Madhouse Brewing, BBQ as well as other food vendors. (In accordance with state law, any alcohol must be purchased from the winery – attendees are not allowed to bring in their own.)

SpringFest is brought to you by the Central Iowa Blues Society, Jasper Winery, and Fat Tuesday Productions. For more information visit, or contact Scott Allen (

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: May 12 – Cash Box Kings.

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

The Blues Society of Central PA – Steelton, PA

The Blues Society of Central PA will host performances of the Skyla Burrell Band and Chicago’s John Primer on Sunday, April 22 at Champions Sports Bar 300 2nd. St. Highspire, PA . 2PM -6 PM.

$20 admission at the door. Doors open at 1 PM.

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

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