Issue 12-19 May 10, 2018

Cover photo © 2018 Marilyn Stringer

 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Blind Mississippi Morris. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including a book about a quest for photos of Robert Johnson plus new music from Revelator Hill, St. Louis Blues Society, Bees Deluxe, Chris Smither, Mike Ross, Andy Gunn and Love Shock.

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

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2018 Blues Blast Music Awards Tickets On Sale NOW

This years awards are being held at the Tebala Event Center in Rockford, IL on September 29th, 2018 beginning at 6:00pm. (Doors open at 5:00pm)

Early-bird 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.

Tables for ten are only $250. To get your tickets now click HERE!

Information on travel, lodging, tickets and sponsorships is available on the Blues Blast Music Awards website at

WHERE TO STAY – We have chosen La Quinta in Rockford as the host hotel for fans and artists. La Quitna is about 4 blocks from the venue. La Quinta is offering a special rate of only $89 for those attending the Blues Blast Awards. Simply call them at (815) 227-1300 and ask for the “Blues Blast Fan Rate”. First come first served.

Please note that there are a limited number of rooms available, so get your tickets and rooms booked now!

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 Featured Interview – Blind Mississippi Morris 

blind mississippi morris photo 1“If you ain’t lived it, you can’t play it. You gotta live it.

“You can’t just go out there and say, ‘Hey, man, this is the blues, man, and I can play 3000 licks. I look good and I got a real nice lookin’ guitar and a amp, and I got an endorsement. I’m super bad.’

“You ain’t super bad!”

Sometimes there’s a thin line between what’s real and what’s a “deal” in blues. Then again, some acts cut such a heavy line in the sand separating the two, most people can’t even comprehend what they’re experiencing. But something inside tells them it’s the truth.

Blind Mississippi Morris lives that truth every day and every way. When one crosses the Mason Dixon Line to the King Biscuit Blues Festival it is was like seeing the blues with 20/20 eyesight for the first time. For many, it was Blind Mississippi Morris with Brad Webb on guitar who brings that vision into the clearest focus.

He was born in a hail storm on April 6, 1955 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, his mother’s fifth child and his father’s ninth. There was one bed, and they all slept in it. His twin sister didn’t survive birth. But even today he says he feels her presence. “Yeah, yeah. You know when somebody’s looking at you and you feel ’em looking at ya? It be kinda feeling like that.”

He believes that the real emotion of the blues only comes from the struggle paying dues to sing the blues. “Go out there and grab one of them cotton sacks in the winter time and pick all day and make 50 cents. Try and pick 250 lbs. of cotton so you can make that 50 cents. You never get that 250 lbs., you never make that 50 cents (chuckle), and you had to make that 50 cents ’cause that’s how you payin’ your family.

“Not only did you have to make that 50 cents, your wife had to make it, or your brothers and sisters, you mama and daddy, all of ’em had to make that 50 cents ’cause you’re payin’ the man at the farm store up there where you take up everything. All the money stayed on the plantation that had so many rich plantation people, and there were so many ignorant people working on the plantation, they couldn’t count and whatever they told ’em that’s what they owed. That’s why they went around in a circle and never got out of debt.”

What’s the difference between that and slavery?

“That is slavery. That IS slavery.”

So, how much progress have we made? Blind since he was four, Morris has survived playing 22 different harps and singing on Memphis’ main drag for almost half a century. Today, he’s called “the real deal on Beale,” and you can find him at the Blues City Café Friday and Saturday nights and at B. B. King’s on Sunday afternoon. It’s been a struggle every step of the way, but he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. It pours from his heart.

blind mississippi morris photo 4Morris remembers the day he bought his first harmonica. He was four years old and already blind, sitting on the steps of a sporting goods store in Clarksdale. “This white gentleman came out. I guess he had went in there and bought something for fishing or hunting. But anyway, he was talking to me, and I didn’t know he was talking to me ’cause you know you have to see people talking. So many people go around walking and stuff.

“He said, ‘Don’t you hear me talking to ya?’ And he looked in my face and seen my eyes was a different color or whatever the problem was, and he seen I was blind and he apologized to me ’cause it hurt him so bad.”

Feeling guilty, the white man handed Morris 50 cents, a lot of money, especially for a four-year-old who could gorge himself on candy for one tenth that amount. “So, he gave me 50 cents. I went and bought my first harmonica. I always wanted a harmonica because my uncle was Robert Decks. He was one of the recording artists with the (Mississippi) Sheiks. My auntie (Also in the Sheiks) used to put her hair up under a baseball cap so they wouldn’t know she was as girl ’cause the men would be trying to jump her, but she was a harp player for him and he played the guitar. He could play it all, but he was a better harp player.”

But Robert Dicks never gave Morris harp lessons. “He never let me mess with his stuff. He never would, but they let my brothers. They was older. They could mess with his stuff, and none of ’em was serious about it. They’d get it and act the monkey and the clown, be jumpin’ all around, acting silly, but I wanted to play it, but I felt bad ’cause they didn’t let me do it, They didn’t let me mess with their stuff, but when they leave home, and they left me there, I’d get up in one of them ladder back chairs, get up and get them harps out, and I played and when I hear ’em come back, I put that joker back up there and act like nothing ever happened, you now?

“The only time I got caught was when I went behind the bed. My brother, he’s older than me. They used to keep a jug of whiskey with one of them metal cups over the top of it. They covered up with a flannel sheet, and we were ramblin’ back there and found it. We got to drinking that stuff. We got up under the bed. We got busted, man. That’s when we got beat down. That’s the only time got caught. Yeah, they didn’t mind putting the switches on ya fore they tie you up, ya hear?

How long was it before he took another drink?

“Man, I couldn’t wait to take another drink. That stuff was so good. I didn’t know it makes you sick like that. Every time they would leave, we’d be huntin’ for that stuff, man, ’cause sometimes they hadn’t even put in bottles, but the guy that rented the house, he was a bootlegger. So, they was sittin’ around there, and we’d get them bottles. We knowed they had it, so we brought it to ’em, and we didn’t wait for ’em to leave, man. We’d continue our terribleness.

How long did it take him to figure out it was that drink that made him sick?

“Well, it didn’t take you long. So, you drank that drink, and you got to throwing up, man, and you done had it.”

blind mississippi morris photo 3Playing harp began to fill in the blanks that blindness had put into his life. At four he only had a young child’s memories of things he’d seen around him.

“Back then, you was outside playing. You was in a country environment. And you played with your brothers and sisters, and you had certain toys, push scooters and homemade little sticks with tops on ’em like a wheel you could push and roll ’em, and you made little gears on it and stuff, and you got a chance to see butterflies and sun flowers and bumble bees for sure, you know? The garden, the dogs, the chickens, hogs and stuff like that in the country.”

Losing his sight sharpened his other senses he applied to his music.

“Everything is sharper. Your eyesight plays a big part in your whole nervous system really, but once you lose that sight, you gotta learn to use your ears more, your hands more, your taste and smell. Those are the things you rely on. Everything becomes so sensitive. You could step on certain things and know what it is. You learn to hear certain things and know what it is like different things like different coins, or you can just be in a distance and hear something fall and know it fell.”

Morris was learning how to adapt. He remembers a place on Beale St. back in the ’50s called The Hamburger Café. “They had a white side and a black side. It was a funny thing. The lady knew my mom real well. They was good friends, and every morning when all the white people would leave, they’d be left with all that nice food, man. She’d call us little children. ‘Come on down here and set up on that stool,’ and we’d eat like we had money. (Chuckle) Yeah, uhm-hm.

“The merchants would leave when the business hours was over. Nobody was down there till 6 o’clock, not the merchants. There wasn’t very many of them bold enough to stay down there. There as a lotta black people had things going on, the music outside. They was selling ice cream. They was selling barbecue, hot tamales, hot dogs, all those things, man. For five dollars, your whole family could enjoy a whole weekend down there.”

After five o’clock the street went from white to black. “They had a pool hall down there, shoe shine shop, barber shop. There wasn’t very many clubs down there. They had ’bout maybe two or three clubs down on Beale. Oh, it’s done grew since then. Everything that changed. Man, it’s full, and it’s blooming. I love that, but the part I do hate about it is they don’t have enough blues on Beale St. ’cause that’s what Beale St. is all about, blues and jazz. That was it, blues and jazz, man.”

There are conflicting stories about how much time Morris spent away from his family in a school for the blind, but it took up several years of his childhood.

He didn’t add “Blind” to his name until he was in his 20s. “People thought I was stuck up or they’re acting, waving their hands or doing certain gestures, and things. I had to remind ’em. I’m a blind guy, you know? So, eventually I added that to my name so they would know that. Man, I had to get used to it myself ’cause I used to call myself just Mississippi Morris you know. It took me a while to get used to it. Then, after the’80s I had it down pat.”

Not only were Morris’ aunt and uncle in the Mississippi Sheiks’ but before he moved to Memphis he lived in Clarksdale where he was partly raised by Howlin’ Wolf’s mother, Gertrude Young. “She was our babysitter, ’cause my mom had to go work for one of the lawyers doing his housekeeping and cooking and stuff, washing and ironing, and we was her burden for the rest of her day until mom got home.

“(Howlin’ Wolf) would come there I guess when he was traveling. I don’t know if he was going to New Orleans or where he was going, but he would stop through there, and he would try to give Miss Gertrude money. He would come up there, and she was scared of him like he was poison. She said everything he had belonged to the devil. He was a big guy, but he wasn’t that kind of person ’cause he used to work for the ice house there in town. He used to bring the ice around. He was nice to everybody. He didn’t take no (mess) though.”

blind mississippi morris photo 2Aunt Mary had played harp with Sonnyboy Williamson. Morris remembers seeing him but never went to KFFA to see him perform on King Biscuit Time. “He used to come through the cotton field and (sell) that flour stuff, the King Biscuit Flour.”

Morris was too small to understand the historical significance of Sonnyboy’s broadcasting live blues music over the airwaves. “You’re too little to know anything business wise. You just look at all the exiting stuff that’s going on around you so different. You hear that music, you see people dancing. You wonder what that’s all about, what they’re doing, but all you know, it sounds good, and you might try and shake a leg or something or do a little dance. You never know. It depends on how bashful you was. I don’t think I was much of a cutup for dancing and all of that, but I sure be trying to ease up there, and listen to the music and ask a few questions. ‘How ya do that?’ ‘Show me how to do that.’ You know how kids are.

Guitarist Brad Webb who has recorded several albums with Morris, talks about the Bill Wyman connection: “Sherman Cooper from Como MS was also a great friend in the Blues who helped hook us up with Bill Wyman from the Rolling Stones and Richard Havers where we made it in Bill Wyman’s book Blues Odyssey on page 143. We also got a mention plus there’s a video from Sherman’s place in Como, MS where we jammed with Bill Wyman. Robert Belfour performed and Jesse May Hemphill was there too, what a treat.”

Blind Mississippi Morris once performed in Albany, New York at a Sunday night blues society jam where a middle-aged woman worked herself into a lather doing the hoochie coo all elbows and knock knees, never realizing he couldn’t see her. Morris chuckles at the image.

“Yeah, well, you know how that goes. That’s how the name Blind Mississippi Morris came about ’cause people thought I was stuck up or they’re acting, waving their hands or doing certain gestures, and things. I had to remind ’em. I’m a blind guy, you know? So, eventually I added that to my name so they would know that.

“Well, a lotta kids don’t understand. Kids don’t understand. Ain’t nobody teaching the history of the music, where it came from, and the kids that do the rapping, the kids that do this rap and different little soul venues and stuff. They can’t get away with a lot of that stuff in some spots, but when the tourists come to Beale St., they looking to hear what Beale St. is famous for, and that’s the blues or jazz blues, or uptown swing.

“It’s that kind of music they had back in the Jellyroll days. Jellyroll Morton and all them guys. And Cab Calloway. It was a nice cluster of music that everybody understood, and it’s having to do with the times. That had a lot to do with a lot of things, but back then we had our times. Nowadays, the kids have their times, you know? There’s just a few of us now. We just lost one. We lost Preston Shannon. He was a troubadour. Yeah. He kept it out there – he kept it live and it kept it real, but you got Earl The Pearl still out there. You got myself still out there.”

Blind Mississippi Morris discography by Brad Webb

1991: Country Days a mix of back porch style with Band cuts.

1993: Walk With Me with Slick Ballinger

1995: You Know I Like That We wrote songs for the first CD and signed a contract with Johnny Phillips at Select O Hits in Memphis after talking to Bubba Sullivan in Helena about Johnny’s new label.

1997: Bad To Worse self released Russ Wheeler added on keys.

1999: Back Porch Blues a more raw CD with Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms on piano and David Fowler on drums for one song, “Juke” A tip of the hat to the old Blues Musicians before us.

2008 Back Porch Blues

Interviewer Don Wilcock has been writing about blues for nearly half a century. He wrote Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, the biography that helped Buddy Guy jumpstart his career in 1991. He’s interviewed more than 5000 Blues artists and edited several music magazines including King Biscuit Time.

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

revelator hill cd imageRevelator Hill – Live By The Creek

Root Nine Records

8 songs/52 minutes

Revelator Hill, a blues-rock band from the DC/Virginia area, has released Live By The Creek, a new album featuring legendary saxophonist Ron Holloway. Led by guitarist and vocalist, Bobby Thompson, this collection of talented musicians have another fine album.

Coming on the heels of their well-received 2017 release, Atlantic Detour, Thompson recruited Ron Holloway to join the band for some live shows. Holloway is best known for his work with Dizzy Gillespie, but he is also a working member of The Warren Hayes Band and a guest of bands like Tedeschi-Trucks Band and Melvin Seals. The band clicked so they decided to record one of their shows and Live By The Creek is the result. Captured live in the summer of 2017 at Lubber Run Amphitheater in Arlington, Virginia, this is a great collection of songs and offers a good sample of what their lives shows are like.

Along with Bobby Thompson and Ron Holloway, the rest of Revelator Hill is Seth Morrissey – bass, vocals; Wes Lanich – keyboards; Gary Crockett – drums, and they do a great job of keeping the rhythm throughout the album.

The first three tracks come from Atlantic Detour, and form a nice set to open the show. “Bad Luck Goodbye” is a rockin’ number featuring some nice guitar and vocals from Thompson and an outstanding sax solo from Holloway.

“Gets Me Over,” is a soulful number featuring more killer vocals from Thompson. Morrissey plays some cool bass in the background, Lanich contributes some nice understated keyboards and Crockett provides solid drum work. Holloway’s sax stays in the background until his solo and then he nails it.

“Look At You Now” features more powerful sax from Holloway along with some pretty intense guitar from Thompson. It also features some nice work by Crockett on drums. Their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “How Many More Years” is another standout track that combines more of Thomson’s fine guitar and vocals with some good organ from Lanich.

Other tracks on the album include “Nobody’s Fool,” with Lanich on organ and piano, “Consider Me,” a slower number with another solo from Lanich, “Until We Shine,” a spacy little song has some intense slide from Thompson, and the album closer, the band’s cover of Eric Clapton’s “Bottle Of Red Wine,” features Thompson and Morrissey’s vocals, Lanich with some well-played piano and Holloway adds more excellent saxophone.

Live By The Creek is another good effort from Revelator Hill. It sounds great and it’s a worthwhile addition to any blues-rock fan’s collection.

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,

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

st. lousi blues society presents cd imageSt. Louis Blues Society presents – 17 in 17

St Louis Blues Society – 2018

17 tracks; 71 minutes

With the intention of demonstrating that St Louis has a vibrant music scene the local Blues Society started a series of compilation releases in 2014. With this latest edition 62 acts have been represented with no repetition – and they believe they have another couple of CDs to go before they end up repeating anyone! I have not heard the previous discs but this one certainly shows a wide range of styles with soul (Southern and urban), rocking blues, solo piano, traditional acoustic blues and 20’s style jug bands all represented. With the exception of one act none of these were familiar to me though some of the supporting musicians are: Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, Patrick Recob, Gene Jackson and Paul Niehaus IV.

In fact Paul is a driving force behind these recordings as he produced all the sessions and had a hand in writing several of the songs, as well as playing a range of instruments across the tracks including bass, guitar, keyboards and drums. Paul was the producer of recent CDs by Roland Johnson and Gene Jackson which were very well received by critics and soul fans, Roland’s getting a nomination for the Soul-Blues category in the 2017 Blues Blast Awards.

There are several tracks here that mine a soul vein, including two that add strings to female vocalists Kim Massie and Charisse ‘Swan’ Sauls but, for this reviewer, the following tracks were the pick:

Marcell Strong And The Apostles – “I Got To Find My Baby”. 77 year-old Marcell wrote and sang this old-school soul tune, making you want to hear more from him – maybe the next solo release from Paul’s Blue Lotus imprint?

Brother Jefferson Band – “Scars”. Singer and songwriter Jeff Chapman was the only performer with whom I was familiar (from his Jeff’s Blues Vols 1 & 2) and this strong song with his regular band contains some excellent sax work from Ian Buschmann on baritone and Frank Bauer on tenor.

Marty Abdullah – “You Done Me Wrong” is Marty’s debut writing credit, a fine piece of Southern soul.

Jason David Cooper – A Quiet Man’s Dream” is more of a swinging shuffle with Jason’s jazz-inflected guitar to the fore.

Kyle Yardley – “Little Girl” is a Chicago blues with Kyle on vocals, harp and drums, Rockin’ Johnny Burgin sitting in on second guitar.

The other artists featured here are Melissa Neels Band, Annie & The Fur Trappers, Eastsiders Review Band, Matt ‘The Rattlesnake’ Lesch, Nick Pence and Joey Glynn, Brian Owens, Teec’a Easby, Chase Garrett, Alonzo Townsend and Devil’s Elbow. Every song is original, several being the debut writing effort of the act concerned – a great effort and congratulations to everyone involved.

It certainly seems that visitors to St Louis will find plenty of good music during their stay to judge by this selection!

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

bees deluxe cd imageBees Deluxe – Voice of Dog

Slapping Car

CD: 11 Songs, 45:45 Minutes

Styles: Acid Blues, Avant-Garde Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs

“Yeah, we play acid-blues. What are you lookin’ at?” So states Boston’s Bees Deluxe in their promotional materials for their new album, Voice of Dog. For a better description of their style, BluesBlast’s own Rhys Williams said that it’s “…what might happen if Freddie King took a lot of acid then wrote a song with Pat Metheny and asked a strung-out Stevie Ray Vaughan to take a solo.”

Williams also described their music as “challenging.” That it is beyond a doubt, but it’s going to take a highly-perceptive audience to peel back all the psychedelic layers and find the blues core. Echoes of Steve Miller and the Dire Straits hooked Ms. Wetnight, a Xennial (X’er/Millennial), but some of the songs on this CD puzzled her beyond belief (“Flat Earth Conspiracy,” “Industrial (espionage)”). Conrad Warre’s vocals are dry and sardonic, reminiscent of Mark Knopfler’s. He doesn’t really sing as much as he comments, his oeuvre weary of the postmodern world.

Voice of Dog was produced, recorded and mixed by Joe Egan and co-produced with Warre, the band’s guitarist. He’s joined by Carol Band on keyboards and vocals; Allyn “Aldo” Dorr on bass, and Patrick Sanders on drums and percussion. Special guest musical appearances include Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt on harmonica, Colin Rosso and Paul Giovine on drums, and Tad McKitterick and John Smith on background vocals.

None of the songs on this album sounds like traditional blues, but at least the one below speaks of a traditional subject: a bluesman’s favorite beverage. It’s catchy and easy to sing along with.

Track 02: “Beer” – Sometimes, no matter how much you like someone’s company, adult refreshments are called for right away. “I want you, but I need a beer. I need you, but I want a beer. It’s cold outside and I need a beer.” Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt’s harmonica is the clear highlight of this song, putting listeners in a party mood whether they have a cold one in their hand or not. Also hot is Conrad Warre’s guitar, melodic but not overpowering.

Bees Deluxe says that they’re “dragging the Chicago blues of the ‘60s and the Blue Note instrumental catalog kicking and screaming into the 21st century.” For those who prefer their blues with a digital twist and lots of outer-space angst, Voice of Dog will fit the bill. For those who like this genre to stay where it generally has been, however, Bees Deluxe doesn’t offer too much honey.

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 – 4 of 8 

chris smiother cd imageChris Smither – Call Me Lucky

Signature Sounds Recordings

16 songs – 61 minutes

There was something that felt almost elegiac about Chris Smither’s last release, Still On The Levee, in 2014. On that album, one of the finest modern American songwriters looked back over his near-50 year career, re-interpreting and re-envisaging some beloved classics from his own songbook. At the age of 69, was Smither indicating that he had served his time and that it was time for well-deserved retirement? Well, if the evidence of Call Me Lucky is any indication, thankfully not. Fingers crossed, we can expect a lot more Smither to enjoy in the future.

Call Me Lucky, Smither’s 18th album, was recorded just outside Austin, Texas, with several of the musicians who appeared on Still On The Levee. In attendance are David Goodrich, Billy Conway, Matt Lorenz, Keith Gary and Mike Meadows, laying that distinctly greasy low-down sound that helped to distinguish that album: part-blues, part-country, part-Texas, all Americana. The original proposal was to record ten songs. Instead, they ended up with a two-CD release.

The first CD contains the eight originals and two covers that were originally envisaged for the album. The second CD contains re-workings of five of those songs together with a version of the Beatles’ “She Said, She Said” stripped of its “acidy” psychedelic stylings and re-tooled to sound not unlike a Smither original: wistful and wounded; philosophical and enduring. The other bonus tracks see the musicians swapping instruments on different tracks, so the engineer may play the piano; the drummer may play the guitar.

On a track like “Everything On Top”, Smither sings with a punk-like attitude and the result is a raucous mess that only serves to emphasize the quality of the song. On “Down To The Sound”, he adopts a lower register than usual for his voice, giving his half-spoken lyrics a hint of Leonard Cohen. The upbeat roots rock of “Nobody Home” is dramatically slowed down, removing the humor from the lyrics and leaving a stark message of isolation in the modern world: “It’s getting’ hard to maintain connections in a personal way. Everybody wants to text me cuz they ain’t nothin’ to say. Believe me when I tell you it’s like being alone, hangin’ out with numbers in a cyber zone and you pay to play.”

As one would expect from a Chris Smither album, the lyrics throughout Call Me Lucky are as sharp as the tooth of time, by turns poetic, philosophical, wise and wide-eyed, with music that is equal parts blues, folk and roots rock. And every song is shot through with Smither’s endless invention and wry humor. The inclusion of “She Said, She Said” and Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” are also a fine reminder of his oft-overlooked abilities as an interpreter of the songs of others. “Maybellene”, for example is disassembled and rebuilt as a minor key, pained reminiscence about the protagonist’s behaviour. The other cover on the album is a beautiful version of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” played relatively close to the version on Smither’s 1984 live album, It Ain’t Easy. Interestingly, “Maybellene” is also on that album, but that version is played at breakneck speed.

While it may not contain an “instant classic” such as “No Love Today” or “I Am The Ride”, Call Me Lucky is a fine addition to the body of work of a very singular and distinctive artist. Highly recommended.

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 

zeke schein book imageZeke Schein with Poppy Z. Brite – Portrait Of A Phantom

The Story Of Robert Johnson’s Lost Photograph

Pelican Publishing Company

224 pages

For many fans, Robert Johnson tops the list of iconic blues artists. Just as his recordings have influenced countless musicians with classic songs rendered in his amazing style, the speculation and myths about his life, and especially his death, continue to resonate with new generations of listeners. His deal with the Devil at the crossroads to elevate his talents, through his death by poison by an unknown party are firmly entrenched in the legacy of the music. And with just two photos of Johnson in existence, his impact far exceeds our knowledge of his life.

Imagine for a moment that one day, you discover a photograph of someone who looks remarkably like Johnson. Author Zeke Schein had that incredible experience one day when he stumbled on a worn photograph in an on-line auction, showing two young African-American musicians, one of them holding a guitar in his large hands. A guitar player himself, Schein had studied Johnson’s music as well as the story of his life. After several days of studying the photo and having the internal argument for or against using his savings to purchase a picture of unknown origins and subjects on the faintest hope that it might be music’s version of the “Holy Grail”. The story begins in earnest once Schein ends up with the winning bid, giving him the opportunity to examine the photo in detail up close.

As you read the book, you begin to feel that Schein was destined to be the one to tell this tale. He has the storyteller’s knack for letting the story flow, expertly mixing his efforts to verify the photo with details of his daily life. As a salesman for Matt Umanov Guitars, a vintage shop in Greenwich Village, the author became an expert on classic guitars, studying the details of each instrument in order to assess the value. His clientele included Hollywood collectors like Johnny Depp, Richard Gere, and Sam Shepard as well as upper-echelon musicians like Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, and Lou Reed. Patti Smith buys a guitar and invites Schein to play slide on a song during her Central Park concert.

In attempting to verify the fact that his photo does indeed include Robert Johnson, the story begins to follow a twisted path as some members of the blues community react vehemently to the possibility of a third photo of Johnson, some offering in-depth denunciations without ever viewing the actual photo up close. Schein’s research points to blues artist Johnny Shines as the other figure in the photo, opening up a promising avenue to verification that ends up creating more questions than answers. A telling moment occurs when the author and a friend pour over Sears Roebuck catalogs from the 1930s, trying to match the suits and guitar in the picture to establish a timeline. Stories are set up for national magazines that fall by the wayside. The endless questions and denunciations slowly dim Schein’s energy and desire to get his photo accepted as part of Johnson’s legacy. The music lifts his spirits through it all, including the death of his older brother.

As a modern-age griot, Zeke Schein treats us to an unusual tale that quickly draws you in, then keeps you turning the pages, pulling for the hero to ultimately prevail. The book is proof that the author understands that it was the journey where the lessons were learned. Make sure you pick-up a copy of this one – one of the best books on music that you will ever read.

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 – 6 of 8 

mike ross cd imageMike Ross – Jenny’s Place

Taller Records

15 songs – 71 minutes

Usually, the press kit accompanying a CD release provides biographical information on the artist or band, together with details of the musicians who played on the album, who wrote the songs and where they were recorded. Alternatively, one might find this information on the artist’s website. In a novel approach to promotion, however, the only significant biographical data that one can glean from Mike Ross’s press kit and website is that Jenny’s Place is named after a summer home owned by Ross’ wife in northern Sweden and that he is originally from the North East of England and now lives in Sussex in the south of the country.

What we can say is that Mike Ross is an English guitarist/singer and Jenny’s Place is his second solo album, featuring nine studio songs and six live “bonus” tracks. The fact that the press kit includes a complimentary comment from the UK heavy metal magazine Kerrang! might lead one to infer that that Ross’s music is at the heavier end of the blues-rock spectrum, and one would be correct. This is “blues” music as played by the likes of Aerosmith or The Rolling Stones. Nobody disputes that they love the blues: it’s simply that they don’t play it particularly well. The blues no doubt informs the music they write and they play, but that resulting music is not itself blues.

The songs on Jenny’s Place are all well-recorded and Ross sings with an appealing, road-worn timbre to his voice. It is difficult however to ever shake the feeling that this is old-time blues-rock that works best in a live setting, ideally in a small, smoky bar on a Friday or Saturday night. The loping bounce of “The Big Picture” wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Rod Stewart or Faces album. The extended, heavily-overdriven and processed guitar solo on “Dakota Red” gives the entire song a jam-band feel. The shuffle of “Coffee Can Telephone” borrows the vocal melody of Chuck Berry’s “Rock And Roll Music”, while “Jenny (Sun Goes Down)” has echoes of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (as does “Your Life Or Mine” amongst the bonus tracks). “Harpo” nods its head towards its blues influences, recalling ZZ Top’s “La Grange” with added slide guitar.

Ross adopts a less-distorted tone at the beginning of the slow, minor-key, Zeppelin-esque “Dark Powder”, which is very effective, as is the way the band shakes up the groove of the song around six minutes’ in. This track is probably the closest Ross comes to playing the blues on Jenny’s Place.

The six bonus tracks all come from Ross’s first album, Spindrift. “Questions” is a moving slow blues-rock number that recalls the Black Crowes, while “Fixin’ To Die” is an upbeat rockabilly number. The slow old school soul of “Lazy” is a highlight of the album with a lovely organ solo. The discordant, descending chord progression and edge-of-control solo of “Ran Thru Here” are reminiscent of Jimmy Page. The patter at the end of the song also reveals an easy warmth and ready wit.

If you like the classic rock or blues-rock of the likes of The Groundhogs or Humble Pie, you will find a lot to like in Mike Ross. If you’re looking for some blues, however, you should look elsewhere.

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 – 7 of 8 

andy gunn cd imageAndy Gunn – Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now

Self Release

12 songs – 58 minutes

Andy Gunn is a Scottish singer-guitarist-songwriter with a pretty stark personal history, from being born with hemophilia, contracting HIV and hepatitis C as a result of receiving contaminated blood products in 1980, surviving two bouts with cancer as well as alcoholism and addiction, and most recently suffering from peripheral neuropathy (causing numbness in his hands and limiting his technical facility) during the recording of Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now.

Given the title of the album (which came from a conversation during which Gunn was asked how many guitars he actually owned – and his throwaway response became both a song title and an album title), and the fact that the cover art features a depiction of an electric guitar by New York artist, Mary Frembgen, one might assume that Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now would be big on the guitar pyrotechnics. And one would be wrong. In fact, Gunn’s new album – his third solo release and first since 2014’s Miracle Of Healing – is an uplifting collection of primarily slower-paced modern blues and blues-rock (all written by Gunn), played with both restraint and maturity.

Opening with “Misery Blues”, a flat-picked acoustic guitar is joined by Andy May’s organ as Gunn’s gentle, plaintive voice floats over the accompaniment. It’s an enticing first number and leads nicely into the Piedmont-flavoured country blues of “Let U Go” with fine support from harmonica player, Spider Mackenzie.

Aside from May and Mackenzie, at least one of whom provides backing on each song, additional help on various numbers comes from Al James on bass and Jim Walker on drums and percussion, with Liz Jones adding background vocals.

The piano-led “Sorry Mess Blues” has echoes of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, both in the minimalism of the guitar playing and the vocal nuances of Gunn’s delivery while “Back On Song” recalls some of Mark Knopfler’s gentler moments. “Battlefield Blues” features a lovely acoustic bottleneck guitar opening from Gunn before leading into another fine country blues.

The pace begins to pick up in the second half of the album with the wah-wah guitar/harp/organ instrumental, “Eidyn Shuffle”, the piano boogie of “Help You Along” and the upbeat shuffle of “Warm Heart Blues”, although there is also the slow blues of “Suffering Man’s Blues” with some fine guitar from Gunn and a very tasty organ solo from May.

The final track, the wistful “Going Home Again” is an enchanting way to close the album, especially with the melodic nod at the very end to “When The Saints Go Marching On”.

Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now is not an album for virtuoso showboating. The focus is very much on the song not the soloist (although Gunn does stretch out for a few choruses on the early rock’n’roll of the title track). It is however a collection of well-written songs, performed with real emotional commitment. There is an intimacy and warmth about the entire album that sets it apart from many other releases. Worth investigating.

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 – 8 of 8 

Love Shock Cd imageLove Shock – About Those Beats From The Heart

Koko Mojo Records

28 songs time-63:30

This collection of R&B-blues obscurities focuses on matters of the heart. Gathered here are little known songs, although a few familiar musical names pop-up. The quality is a little uneven at times, but there is much musical enjoyment to be found in this installment from Koko Mojo Records, the music archeologists.

The hearty and classic rhythm & blues voice of Carl Matthews gets the proceedings off to the jumping jump tune “Big Man”. Needless to say as is true on most of the songs, it includes wailing sax. “You’re The One” by Stick Evans keeps the energy level up. Great bopping dance song. Little Richard, an influence that pops up a lot, can be felt in Floyd Dixon’s delivery of “Ooh Little Girl”.

The goofy delivery and lyrics of Sax Kari’s “Chocolate Fizz” is way cool fun. A bit of slide guitar kicks off good jumping R&B of “I Just Can’t Help It” by Eddie Alston. The addition of vibes to Dorian Burton’s “Flyin’ Home To My Baby” is a nice touch to this slice of R&B goodness. “I Want To Rock You Baby” by Frankie Lucas & Rene Hall Orch. is guaranteed to get cool cats up on the dance floor. John Little John does justice to Willie Dixon’s “29 Ways”. He was actually an active blues musician on the Chicago scene for quite a few years. He displays his slide guitar skills here along with his able singing voice.

The Diaboligues turn in a good version of “I Need Your Lovin'”, originally performed by Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford in 1962. The title track “Love Shock” by Little Sonny is an easy rolling blues song complete with harmonica. The smooth voice of Ray Johnson makes “Shake A Little Bit” a pleasure to listen to. Harold Burrage’s “You K.O.’D Me” is a fun song full of boxing references. “Top Notch Grade A” by Al Reed is an energetic R&B jumper featuring Al’s classic R&B vocals.

Curious to hear Junior Wells singing an R&B rocker sans harmonica on “Levey(sp?) Dovey Lovey One”. He does a fine job on this little rocker. Wilbert Harrison of “Kansas City” and “Let’s Work Together” fame contributes the rather lame “Say It Again” with the girl background singers too prominent in the song. Buddy Rogers’ “Mad With You” ends the album on a good note with a mid tempo groove. Adding harmonica was a nice touch.

Koko Mojo Records prevails once again, offering up an interesting and enjoyable collection of little known musical nuggets.

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

 Blues Society News 

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Santa Barbara Blues Society – Santa Barbara, CA

The Santa Barbara Blues Society will host one of S.B.’s most popular bands ever, Café R&B, on Saturday, May 19, 2018, at the Carrillo Recreation Center, 100 E. Carrillo Street in downtown Santa Barbara.

Opening act will be Santa Barbara’s own solo acoustic bluesman, Jeff Joad, “Son of the Mississippi Delta blues.” Doors open at 7:00 PM; Joad will play from 7:15 to 7:45 PM; Café R&B will play two long sets, starting at 8:00 PM, with an intermission.

Tickets are available online at, and will be available at the door. VIP tickets may sell out in advance; get them early! For discount tickets for groups of 5 or more, or for questions, leave name and phone number at (805) 722-8155.

Blues Society of Western New York – Kenmore, NY

Blues Society of Western New York presents the 5th Annual Buffalo Niagara Blues Festival July July 14, 2018, noon to 11:30pm at Silo City, 92 Silo City Row, Buffalo, NY 14203. Tickets are $30.00 advance/$40.00 day of the show; members receive significant discount.

This event is a fundraiser for educational, community outreach efforts to support the Blues Society of Western New York’s Blues in the Schools (BITS) educational programming for K-12 students and other community outreach programs including Nursn’ Blues, a Blues music therapeutic program for those suffering from addiction in conjunction with Horizon Village and Music Is Art (MIA). More info at

The Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

The Sacramento Blues Society presents Too Slim And The Taildraggers at the Powerhouse Pub, 614 Sutter St, Folsom, CA on June 9, 2018 from 4:00-7:00 PM. Cover $15 public $12 SBS Members.

This Pacific Northwest band, consisting of Tim Langford, Jeff “Shakey” Fowlkes and Zach “The Kid” Kasik, has been performing and recording their rock-blues sound for over 30 years and still going strong! Their album “Shiver” was the Blues Foundation’s 2012 nominee for Best Rock-Blues Album of the Year and was followed by “Blue Heart”, which reached #3 on Billboard’s Top Blues Album Chart in 2013. Each of the last four studio album releases have charted in the Top 10 and Heat Seeker Chart. Tim Langford has received Lifetime Achievement and Hall of Fame Awards from three Northwest Blues Societies, as well as more than 40 Regional and National Music Awards. More info at

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 June Blues Sunday with with Pam Taylor Band and special guest Shelia Carlisle, 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: 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

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P.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555 © 2018 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425

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