Issue 12-23 June 7, 2018

sugaray rayford cover photo

Cover photo © 2018 Joseph A. Rosen

 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Sugaray Rayford. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including a couple of reissue compilations of vintage obscure R&B songs from Koko Mojo Records plus new music from Samantha Fish, Orphan Jon and the Abandoned, Michelle Malone, Gone Hepsville, Memphis Rent Party and Lance Lopez.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

bbma logoHey Blues Fans,

It is an exciting week! We announced the 2018 Blues Blast Music Awards nominees earlier this week. If you missed it, a complete list of the nominees is available on the Blues Blast Music Awards website at

Now the fun really starts as we put together the awards show on September 29th in Rockford, IL. In the meantime be sure to get your tickets while they are still available at the discounted Early Bird price of only $30. Early Bird pricing ends on June 15 when the advanced ticket prices will be $35. Admission at the door, if not sold out, will be $40.

Who will perform at the awards? Confirmed appearances will be announced in the coming weeks so stay tuned. If you want to check out the performers at previous BBMA ceremonies click HERE to see the list from past shows on the website.

Also available on the website is information on our great sponsor packages for some of the best seats for the show. Plus you can see information on hotels and how to get to Rockford, just a short hour from O’Hare airport. So let the fun begin!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

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2018 Blues Blast Music Award 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 a mile 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 – Sugaray Rayford 

sugaray rayford photo 1“The day I walked out of Camp Pendleton, November 15th, I went and got my ears pierced. I did everything I could to become a civilian again.”

Sugaray Rayford spent ten years in the Marine Corps. “It was a way of getting out of the church, the country, the ghetto and just having a new start. It was the only way I thought I would ever be anything outside of Tyler, Texas.”

Decades years later, after several bands, three solo albums, and an appearance at this year’s Blues Music Awards, he sees his past in perspective.

“As decades roll by I’m more and more proud of what I did. Back then, I think I was young. I didn’t really appreciate. As I get older, I’m proud of the time I served. I wouldn’t have my wife and the life I have right now had I not served. I’m learning as I get older to appreciate the things I did in the past.”

The Marines were a ticket out of a childhood that had been fraught with a combination of horror and tough love as one of three brothers literally starving to death as their mother slowly died of cancer. She passed away when he was 11.

“My mother, God bless her soul, wasn’t the greatest mom in the world. I think she as too young and hadn’t got a good home life. Ninety five percent of my life mostly I was raised by my grandmother.

“My mother was the most unbelievable singer and dancer in the world. Shirley Caesar wanted my mother to sing with her, but grandmother said no. My understanding is this was before I was even born. My mother must have been 17 or 18 years old. When Caesar wanted my mother to go on tour, my grandma said no, you’re too young, you’re too wild. No, you’re not going.”

“My mother used to look at us and say, ‘You guys can’t sing. You guys can’t sing. You’re not my children.’

Under his grandmother’s roof, Sugaray and his brothers ate every day and went to church every day, too. He grew up in gospel church and became a choir director. At 16 he was with the Inspirational 300-plus-member Youth Choir and had the chance to work with some legendary gospel bands like “The Jackson Southernaries,” “Mighty Clouds Of Joy” and many others.

“So, I’ve been one of the people directing, singing, and playing drums since I was five years old.”

The church gave Sugaray the experience that would stand him in good stead when he went secular after leaving the Marines. No one in the family objected to his leaving his religious musical roots.

“I think most of the people I was with were just happy that my grandmother raised three ghetto children that never went to jail or anything like that. We beat the statistics. My grandmother loved me beyond comparison, but she was old school. She wasn’t the type to tell you, ‘I love you.’ There wasn’t gonna be a lot of love and kisses. She was gonna clothe ya, house ya, feed ya.And that was it.”

“She never said a thing (about my playing secular music). I don’t know if she even knew it till the last couple years of her life. I’m pretty sure my aunts told her. They’ve always been very proud. My brothers are very proud, but Big Mama never said much about it. One thing for me was just respect. A lot of people wanted me to do gospel and out of respect for my grandmother I’ve always said ’cause she always said, ‘You’re either in or out,’ and I just don’t feel right doing gospel after doing blues or soul music farther on. What I sing is from my heart, my soul. So, I haven’t been able to cross that bridge.

sugaray rayford photo 2“I now I believe if I was just doing gospel and I wasn’t really feeling it, she might come out of the grave and hit me with a horseshoe. So, I want her to rest in peace. So, I can’t do a gospel number and not feel conflicted about it. That’s what it is. She never said anything before she passed about me, but I think as long as we were happy, she was happy.”

One thing Sugaray learned from the church that he’s applied to soul, R&B, and blues singing is to pour his life experiences into every song he sings whether he wrote it or not.

“I was brought up in the ghetto as well as in the country and grew up in the church, and we were always taught you can sing a lie easier than you can tell a lie, and what that means to me is, when I’m writing a song or someone else has written it, I’ve done a lotta living. So, I’ve actually lived most of every song I’ve ever done. So, singing is like playing the drums. (He’s been playing drums since he was five.) Everybody knows the difference between a drum beater and a drum player.

“A drum player makes the drums sound musical. A drum beater is making all that noise. So, vocally, this music – whether it be blues, gospel, soul, jazz, not so much rock and roll or country – is all about the story, and if you cannot put your horse in and have empathy for the story, you’re just making noise. But if you’re into the story and really understand what the lyrics are about, you get to live some of it. Then, you can give that ring of truth to your singing.

“You can’t fake that. You can listen to an album. You can listen to a video. You can see those who are singing a song or moving. You know they’ve been through that, that they’re singing about something that’s real, not just words someone wrote on a page, and that’s the difference between these singers and pretenders.

“So, a lot of people want to do a bunch of vocal gymnastics and all that. I can do all that, and I did all that when I was younger, but truly the song is about the lyrics that were written, and I do everything in my power to reach out and grab the real true life experiences in my own life and overlay those feelings into those lyrics so that it feels – not feels, but IS a real testimonial.”

Blues was not the first secular music he played. He started singing contemporary music in a group called the Urban Gypsies in 2003 and became lead vocalist in Aunt Kizzy’z Boyz in 2004. Asked to compare the two, he chuckles.

“Wow. They’re literally night and day. My wife convinced me to get back into music. My first band was called the Urban Gypsies, and it was a soul, funk and R&B cover band, and then they got really big and dominated the soul and R&B scene in southern California, San Diego, and all of that area.

“But it wasn’t enough. I wanted to go further. I wanted to do original material, and all the guys in the band had been in big bands before. They didn’t want to go to rehearsal. They were happy with playing the (hits) with some of the bigger venues as the opening band or come in a cover band and do that, but I wanted more.

“Aunt Kizzy’s Boyz was straight ahead blues band and a little bit of a rock twist with a couple of people in the band, but we were a straight-ahead blues band. So, I left my old band. I left the Urban Gypsies and a good friend of mine, Jim Moreno who used to be with the Ink Spots – the Crickets told me, ‘You need to be in a blues band. You can go far in the blues,’ and I was like, ‘It is close to the gospel thing,’ and I left the cover band.

“I went one night and sat in for a jam, my first actual blues jam. I sat in with a real band, but I had never sat in with a blues band. So, I went there and a lot of people knew who I was. They knew me from the soul, R&B stuff. And there was this guy Duane on the drums and some other cats around. They’re playing blues, and I only knew about five songs. I knew B. B. King’s “3 O’clock in The Morning Blues.” I would sing that one. I was singing “Further On Up The Road” by Bobby Blue Bland. Gosh, I can’t remember. My wife’s memory is much better than mine, but I know “3 O’Clock in The Morning Blues” by B. B. King, “Further On Up The Road,” and I think a couple of old shuffles or something I remember. That was it.

sugaray rayford photo 3“So, I went and sat in, and after that the audiences knew me and who is this guy? I’d sit in and we got into it. Afterwards, Duane was like, ‘Hey, man, you got the kind of (chops) I got. Blah, blah, blah. We need to get together and jam.’

“I came back the next week, and I guess Duane had gone and told his business partner, this guitarist Jimmy King, about it, came back the very next day they called me and asked me to come up and play this big festival in front of thousands of people, but I was really apprehensive because we were in front of a whole lot of black people and black folks are different from white folks. Black folks will come up and tell you to your face whether or not you’re any good. They will tell ya. We used to say in church, ‘Not everybody is supposed to sing. Some people are supposed to be the usher.’

“Gospel people were different that way. They would just come up on stage. I used to tell people when you go to church you see all these great gospel singers and players ’cause by the time they get to sit in their chairs or stand up in front of their mikes in front of that choir, they’ve gone through the Crucible.

“They go through their American Idol, long, long before those shows were even thought about in the church. You were in the Crucible before you were in the church. You were in the Crucible before you were ever allowed to do that. By the time you got up there to direct the choir, play that organ, play the drums, be lead singer, you were a veteran.

“I joined the band. Six months later, we were doing our first album. Trunk Full of Blues. Then, we went down and competed in the International Blues Challenge. That was 2005. We played a lot of shows. Then, we went to Europe and things were going great, and I did that, probably 200 shows a year.

“It got to the point I had already outgrown Aunt Kizzy and had all these other ideas of things I wanted to do. I went to Casey’s and there was a well-known blues guy in L.A. named John Marx, like a blues emporium, this guy. He was running jams, and the first time I went they didn’t let me get up. The second time I went they let me get up. The third time was a show night. It was all these Mondays. They finally let me up. After that, everyone was like who are you, who are you? Who are you and all that stuff. A week later, the club owner Casey called me up and asked me if I was thinking of coming in and taking over from (the other guy had been doing it) 13 years. I didn’t want to make any waves. I don’t know anybody.”

Sugaray’s wife Pam is a certified nurse and also his manager. The most important piece of advice she’s ever given him is to be himself.

“As far as I can see for the foreseeable future she will always be my manager because the one thing about my wife, she tells me the truth. Not that I want to hear it. But she tells me the truth.”

The toughest piece of advice she’s given him is not to ever sing that song again. “But I don’t remember what song it was. Oh, the other one she tells me. She says either this is a hobby or it’s a job. You have to decide. I am who I am because of her. That’s just the truth. That’s not buttering her up. She believed in me before I believed in myself.”

Under her direction, he’s released four solo albums and toured as lead singer of the Mannish Boys. I saw him in that role last year at the Chenango Blues Festival where he popped out of the group with spirited performance that reminded me of Howlin’ Wolf in his heyday. Last year he recorded an album of original soul songs in the 1960s tradition for an Italian entrepreneur, The World That We Live In.

sugaray rayford photo 4“What a lot of people don’t realize is I’ve probably done about 12 commercials and four or five TV shows. So, a lot of people just see me as blues, straight blues, but I’m a singer. It’s all about the story for me. I’ve done commercials for Jim Beam. I’ve done commercials for McDonald’s. I’ve done commercials for Cadillac, Toyota. My God, I can’t remember all the stuff I’ve done. We get offers every once in a while from different people to come in and do stuff.”

“Luca Sapio contacted me, and I had just come off the road and I (was home) a couple days and says ‘You got to go to Italy and record this album.’ I’m like what album? I don’t know nothing, but I land in Italy, and I walk into this studio. It’s a really nice studio, and I’m like, ‘Ok, all right. This is good.’ I was floored. The album was recorded in three days.”

“Between you and I, it was probably the best works and songs that I’ve done since I got in the music business. I had no idea how the blues world was gonna take to this, but everybody was, ‘This is a great album. You should do this.’ Once the album came out and I listened to it, I was floored. I’m still floored. I still will come in sometimes and listen to some of the songs. They’re so heart felt, steeped in the emotion and the way they’re done, these guys wanted to recreate the old soul, feel with a soul singer.

“There are not that many singers left, and I was like I don’t know if I’m a soul singer. I’m just a singer and they’re like uh-uh! We were originally going to do two more albums, but we wound up breaking up because they wanted me to leave my band to front their band, and I was, ‘No, that’s not going to happen.’ (Chuckle) So, it did really, really well in Europe ’cause they pushed me. I got a couple write-ups in Rolling Stone magazine, all this stuff. But when it came to the United States at that point they realized that I was not going to leave my band to tour with their band. They didn’t push it in the U.S.A. It kicked butt all over Europe. Every magazine you can think of. Every magazine, every radio, every TV, thing you could think of they pushed it on, and it did well, and it came to U.S. just as we released it.”

In 2017 Sugaray was nominated for two Blues Music Awards, The B. B. King Entertainer of the Year Award and Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year Award. In May of this year he performed “I Don’t Regret A Mile” from his Italian album at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis. He was on second and had five minutes to rehearse with a house band. It didn’t phase him.

“I’m always me. Once I’m on stage I feel that where my soul belongs, and I’m happy, but that song, if you listen to the lyrics on it, it’s a very deep song, and it just goes about everything I’ve been through up to this point in my career. I don’t regret a mile that I’ve traveled. So, for me it’s just being real where I’m that way whenever I go up on stage. So, I don’t really have to pump myself up. I’m basically just being me. The very first lyrics are ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust/If God won’t help me/ then the devil must. I don’t regret a mile that I’ve traveled in this old world.’

“I don’t do set lists. Somebody asked me that. Why don’t you do set lists? The reason I don’t do set lists is we play so much that I don’t want this to become blasé. It must be real and virile every time we play, and that way people are getting a real party. I don’t want people saying, ‘He did this or that same show, the exact same show in the exact same place night after night after night that kills musicians’ spirit. You get the greats musicians in the world, and that just destroys them. Then, they’re just phoning it in.’ I walk out. I feel the crowd. I feel people’s spirits, the room, the venue, and I picked myself up right there on the stage. I have about 100 songs, originals and covers. I do it my way. When I feel it, I call it. That’s how we do it.”

Visit Sugaray’s website at:

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 

SAMANTHA FISH CD IMAGESamantha Fish – Belle Of The West

Ruf Records RUF 1248

11 songs – 47 minutes

A 2018 Blues Music Award winner for Contemporary Female Artist Of The Year, Samantha Fish is no stranger to expanding the boundaries and testing new musical styles, as witnessed by her 2017 release, Chills & Fever.

On that album, her songwriting talents took a backseat. She blended a collection of fairly obscure pop and soul covers into a package that cut new territory as they put her prodigious vocal talents on display for the world to hear after being obscured by the six-string blues-rock pyrotechnics that dominated since her first CD in 2009. Belle Of The West continues her progression and, not surprisingly, takes a different path altogether.

This one reunites Samantha with producer and Hill Country superstar Luther Dickinson, who was at the controls for her 2015 album, Wild At Heart, which transitioned her closer to the blues mainstream. Consisting of eight sparkling originals and three covers, Belle Of The West delves into the songster tradition as Fish offers up a collection of songs that deliver the feel of her native Midwest and the Old West.

“It’s a storytelling record…it’s very personal,” Fish states. “I really focused…on bringing another dimension to what I do. I wasn’t interested in shredding on guitar, although we ended up with a few heavier tracks. I love Mississippi blues. There’s something very soulful and very real about that style of music. This was a chance to immerse myself in that.”

Recorded at Zebra Ranch Studio in Independence, Miss., the workshop founded by Luther’s late father, Jim, with Samantha backed by some of the Hill Country’s finest musicians, the effort pays off to the max. Dickinson’s on guitar and mandolin with Lightnin’ Malcolm on six-string and harmonica, former Squirrel Nut Zipper Jimbo Mathus on Fender Rhodes and harp, Lillie Mae Rische on violin, Amy LeVere on upright bass, and Tikyra Jackson and Trina Raimey on drums. Several of the musicians contribute backing vocals including Sharde Thomas, who also adds fife and percussion.

The sound is stripped down and barebones with minimal use of effects. If you close your eyes, it delivers the feel of an intimate jam session around a campfire on a clear, starry night, an effect that’s amplified by the inclusion of some conversations among the musicians between tracks.

The stop-time opener, “American Dream,” kicks off with a drumbeat before a rhythmic guitar pattern’s aided by Sharde’s fife. Despite the political turmoil roiling the U.S. today, this one signs to the long history of opportunities we enjoy in the Land Of The Free and Home Of The Brave. Samantha’s vocals glide above the rich instrumental tapestry, which is always powerful, but never diminishes her verbal message.

Honey-sweet harmonies belie a dark message for the ballad “Blood In The Water,” which features Lillie Mae’s fiddle, and describes the end of a relationship. Up next, the medium-paced shuffle “Need You More” comes across with back country feel as Fish comes to the painful realization that she’s “mistaken my big talk for the truth,” while “Cowtown” continues the theme and features some tasty single-note picking as it comes across with a traditional Southern rock feel.

The medium tempo “Daughters” describes a broken family atop a funky beat. It’s followed by “Don’t Say You Love Me,” a lust-filled burner that gives Samantha space to stretch her soulful vocals. The title tune, “Belle Of The West,” was penned by Mathus. It’s perfect for dancing the two-step in an out-of-the-way roadhouse somewhere along Old Route 66.

The R.L. Burnside Hill Country classic, “Poor Black Mattie,” swings from the jump as it features Lightnin’ Malcolm in a vocal duet before the bluesy “No Angels” simmers and smokes as it describes a place where the devil obviously rules. Penned by Lillie Mae, who doubles Samantha’s vocals, the ballad “Nearing Home” is a world weary, country tinged ballad that leads perfectly into the uptempo closer, “Gone For Good,” on which Samantha rips and runs on slide guitar.

If you’ve been a Fish fan for a long time, Belle Of The West might surprise you because of its different feel. But don’t hesitate to pick it up. It’s definitely a winner.

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 – 2 of 8 

orphan jon cd imageOrphan Jon and the Abandoned – Abandoned No More

Rip Cat Records – March 2018

11 songs – 55:39

“Orphan” Jon English resides in Ventura on the central coast of California. Orphaned at an early age with his three older brothers, English bounced around for years in the California social services system, and was shunted to foster homes and orphanages until finally being adopted at the age of 10. Unfortunately, that adoption proved to be not much of an improvement, but it did introduce him to popular music, which would become a source of calm and inspiration in his life. Fast forward several years, through work, church, a family, a divorce, and yet another family, Jon continued to enjoy music, frequently singing in his church.

Finally, in 2009, after reconnecting with some high school friends at a local karaoke bar, Jon was encouraged to take his love for music – and singing, in particular – and do something more with it. He began frequenting local jam sessions, eventually putting together his first band, English Revolver, which performed from 2012 to 2014. Connections that English had made at the local jams eventually led him to guitarist Bruce Krupnik (late of the Strata-Tones), and the two began collaborating on music together. The resulting collaboration, “Orphan Jon and the Abandoned”, can be heard on “Abandoned No More,” and it is more than worth a listen.

Featuring English on vocals; Krupnik on guitar; Tony Jack Grigsby on bass; and Stan Whiting on drums, this collection was produced by Barry Levenson and recorded at Pacifica Recording Studios. Guest artists include Levenson, Johnny Main, JR Lozano, Mike Malone, Mike Sandberg, and Hank Van Sickle. All of the songs were written by English and Krupnik, with the exception of “Memories of Me and You,” which has an additional contribution by English’s wife, Carrie.

Overall, the song selection gives the album a bit of a southern rock or blues rock feel to it, with several groove-heavy vamps on a single chord. Stan Whiting’s straight-ahead drumming seems to underscore this influence. There’s a lot of interesting layering of guitar tracks, and guitarist Krupnik favors a slightly distorted tone for most of the CD, and more than a little tremolo. He is a superb player, and his slide work, in particular, is reminiscent of “Sticky Fingers”-era Mick Taylor… and there’s nothing wrong with that! Not having previously been familiar with Krupnik, I checked out some YouTube videos of him with the Strata-Tones, and let me tell you, the man can play! It would appear that Krupnick has clearly adapted his songwriting and playing to more closely match English’s lyrics and vocal style.

The first track, “Backbone” is a rollicking number with a propulsive beat and some great, gritty slide guitar from Krupnik. The second track, “Blood Moon,” has a swampy, New Orleans vibe to it, with a droning guitar figure just dripping with tremolo. The third track, “Dance for Me Girl,” continues the straight-ahead rock-style drumming that appears in many of the tracks. One of my favorites, “Vicious Circle,” is a Jimmy Reed-ish number that chugs along and you can’t help but tap your feet in time to the music. Another favorite track is “Leave My Blues Alone,” which called to mind Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac. Great song, but at 10:43, it’s a bit too long, probably by half.

All in all, it’s a very listenable album, and there are more than a couple of great-sounding tunes on here. Krupnick’s guitar work is great, and English’s vocals are sincere and passionate, if somewhat limited. The songwriting itself seems a bit constrained, with a little too many single-chord vamp, and lyrics that are perhaps a bit too literal. That said, based on this collection, I’m looking forward to hearing what their next outing has in store for us.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

michelle malone cd imageMichelle Malone – Slings and Arrows

SBS Records

10 tracks/41 minutes

Michelle Malone is a Georgia singer, songwriter and guitar player with a great penchant for all things Americana. Here web site professes her skills in blues, roadhouse rock & roll and Georgia soul, and I must agree- she’s got a great sound and I enjoyed this CD.

Malone does the vocals, slide guitar, harp, mandolin and the acoustic and electric guitars. Doug Keys is also on electric guitar, Robby Handley plays bass, Christopher Burroughs in on drums, and Trish Land does percussion. Nine of the ten cuts are originals written by Malone.

The CD kicks off with a track with a cool driving beat entitled “Just Getting Started,” a song about fighting for social justice. The song features Michelle’s great vocals and some killer slide guitar. “Love Yourself” is next, a song about a woman loving themselves and not worrying about looks and societal judgement. A nice, stinging guitar solo is featured in this one. “Sugar On My Tongue” is a nice little ballad with Malone singing expressively. Peter Stroud adds some electric guitar, too. The acoustic “Beast’s Boogie” features some cool distorted harp and nice finger picking. The harp and guitar do a neat little duo and Michelle once again shows her vocal chops. The lone cover “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” by Otis Redding is up next. Malone gives it a thoughtful and drawn out slow rendition which is very cool slow blues. Shawn Mullins joins her for a superb and soulful duet; one can feel the emotions they both portray.

“Fox and the Hound” starts out subtle and then the pace picks up to a jumping groove. Malone shows restraint and then some sass in her delivery as things switch up. A big guitar solo is offered up, too. We’re back to acoustic with “Civil War;” the song is not about our country’s civil war but the breakup of a relationship. The electric guitar gets added and the song builds into a very cool and driving number. The harp solo is sweet. Following that is “Matador,” a mid tempo rocker where Malone delivers another good performance. “The Flame” follows, taking the tempo down several notches. Another well done ballad with thoughtful vocals and a very restrained guitar solo. Malone concludes with “Boxing Gloves,” a cut where she sings about finding out boxing gloves are not needed to feel strong.

All in all, this is a fine album. Malone is an outstanding singer and her guitar and slide work was impressive. The supporting band also do a great job. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and think most blues fans would find something here to enjoy. It is an upbeat, defiant album done by an artist I’d love to see live!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

gone hepsville cd imageGone Hepsville – Gimme!

Rhythm Bomb Records

13 songs time-39:15

Gone Hepsville are six wild and crazy guys from Brno in the Czech Republic that pattern their jumpin’ music after fifties rock and roll like Bill Haley And His Comets and other bands of that ilk. All their material is original and they have the sound from the fifties down to a “T”. With a rockin’ rhythm section, swinging guitar, piano and two sax men, they are sure to get you tapping your feet, if not getting up to dance across the room. If you like music that harkens back to the fifties American Bandstand era, you’ll find much to like here.

“Gimme Gimme” is pretty much the title tune. The band comes right out of the box sounding like a hit from Dick Clark’s American Bandstand show broadcast from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the fifties. Honking saxes lead the way. The only give away that the guys aren’t American is the vocalist’s slight accent. They surely have the groove of this era down. “Boogie And Bop” includes piano playing ala Jerry Lee Lewis. “Darn That Rhythm” is the first of four instrumental selections. This one has a brief vocal section near the end, but it is essentially an instrumental. A swinging one at that.

A slap bass is prominently featured in “Brainwasher Boogie”. The accent of the singer on “Got No Time” has an accent that detracts from the song a bit, but this music is about the groove. “Horn At Dawn” is another nifty instrumental featuring the saxes and piano. Surf-y guitars are set against the usual sax onslaught in “Just A Little Hepsville Surfbeat”. The brief use of a Theremin is a nice touch. The upbeat instrumental “Jam Or Bust” is a dance floor natural. It also features some swinging guitar as found throughout the CD. The CD ends appropriately with “Legs Gone Mad”, a song about dancing, closing out on a swinging note.

The band achieves a retro sound quite nicely. It takes you back to a simpler time. The guys are quite talented and are abetted by excellent production qualities. The only minor quibble is the occasional thick accented singer. It’s no easy task to come up with an entire album of original songs that capture the feel of a bygone era.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

don't mess with me baby cd imageVarious Artists – Don’t Mess With Me, Baby ‘Cause The Trouble With Me Is You

Koko Mojo Records

28 songs time-67:18

This installment from Koko Mojo Records concerns the love-hate relationships of men and women as told through mainly obscure rhythm & blues songs. This is a lively collection that includes many honking and wailing saxes along with the R&B crooners. Any fan of this genre or any fan of music will find much to enjoy here.

Bull Moose Jackson was apparently a very popular artist of his time and his “Watch My Signals” shows good evidence why that would be so. He is not only a hearty vocalist, but a good saxophone man as well. The biggest name here, Little Willie John, contributes “Leave My Kitten Alone” and “Look What You’ve Done To Me”. The first more well known, but both are top notch songs of that era. Another familiar name is Lonnie Brooks, who offers an uncharacteristically powerful vocal on “Mr. Hot Shot”, along with a stinging guitar.

Champion Jack Dupree sings a jumping tune called “Stumbling Block”. Morris Pejoe does the original version of “She Walked Right In”, a song I know from versions by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Professor Longhair. It’s classic jumping rhythm & blues. Rufus Brown does “Keep A Knockin'”, a song that derived it’s greatest fame from Little Richard’s rendition. Rufus changed it from “You say” to “Too bad” you can’t come in, but it’s a pretty faithful take and features some nicely wailing saxophone.

Some of the other standout songs include “Who’s Lovin’ You” by Little Irvin, “Women & Cadillacs” by Doc Starkes and “Betwix And Between” by Chuck Higgins. The prominent organ on Rudy Green’s “Hurry Hurry” is a bit of a change of pace for this genre. Big Red Mc Houston’s “I’m Tired” gets a tad risqué. “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” is a doo-woppy Coasters style ditty. Baker Knight’s “Bring Back My Cadillac” is a rockabilly song with driving a driving tom-tom beat, tinkly piano, horns and an echoed vocal.

All in all this is a good representation of quality rhythm & blues music at the height of its powers. For the most part the sound quality and production is fine. I found only one minor case of a scratch presumably from a copied seventy-eight recording. The result here is a truly enjoyable listening experience.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

fool mule cd imageFool Mule – The Funny Side Of Rhythm And Blues

Koko Mojo Records

28 songs time-62:38

This collection of obscure rhythm & blues music is supposed to be the funny side of the genre, but the songs largely fall into slightly humorous and goofy categories. Many of the artists put the antics in front of the music. Some of the musical accompaniment is sparse while others are low in the mix. Whatever the case, many of the songs stand on their own as songs.

One of the two names I recognize here is Big Jay McNeely the saxophonist with his “Psycho Serenade”, although Little Sonny Warner handles the vocal. Plenty of screams, sound effects and noises accompany the vocal. This would make for a good Halloween tune. Honeyboy Bryant contributes a less spooky song about a “Funny Looking Thing”. The instrumental “Ghost Satellite” by Bob And Jerry enjoyably eerie with its’ musical atmosphere. The only other artist I recognize is New Orleans’ Chris Kenner with his song inspired by The Coasters, “Don’t Make No Noise”.

The only use of double entendre here is in Sonny Hines’ “Has Anybody Seen My Kitty”, where the band repeats a certain word. On second thought I guess it is single entendre. Eddy Jones & The Cyclones’ “Say What?” also falls into Coasters territory, which is a good place to be. “I Gotta New Car” by Big Boy Groves has a similar feel particularly with a deep voiced vocal. “Tangi Paho” by Sonny Starns is kinda cool, but don’t ask me what it means.

Danny Brown’s “Standing On The Corner” has an easy rolling groove with horns, harmonica and piano. I like the cool lyrics and groove of this one that describes cockroaches playing baseball in the house. John J Moses delivers a way cool funny narrative over a blues-r&b groove on “Night Out”. JJ Jackson’s “Oh My Liddy” includes some wacky, nonsensical words. The out of breath vocal of Satch Arnold on “On The Run” competes with the speed freak guitar and sax.

The title track “Fool Mule” by Dossie Terry is a horn driven and fun barnyard yarn. Bo Diddely’s “Road Runner” is taken full speed ahead by Freddy Koenig, that has you breathing hard at songs’ end. K.C. Mojo Jackson’s “Love Blood Hound” follows suit in the speed competition to close out the album.

Cool rhythm and blues music, goofy vibes and no shortage of crazy wailing saxes, what else could a cool cat ask for?

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

memphis rent party cd imageMemphis Rent Party – The Blues, Rock And Soul

Fat Possum Records – 2018

12 tracks; 49 minutes

This CD is a companion set to a new book of the same title by Memphis-based writer/filmmaker Robert Gordon (not to be confused with the rockabilly artist or the author of Deep Blues). The music contained in this disc is a very diverse collection, the only common thread being Memphis where all these recordings were made. Across the collection there are examples of Hill Country blues, straight country, soul, jazz and rock. Most of the recordings are live and, in several cases, of relatively poor quality, so it will depend on how keen the listener is to hear the artist concerned that will determine how much he/she values the recording.

The CD opens with Jerry McGill’s interpretation of Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting For A Train”, a fine piece of Americana with piano, pedal steel and strings (clearly one of the few studio recordings here). Luther Dickinson’s collaboration with Sharde Thomas on “Chevrolet” is an early highlight, the sparse arrangement featuring Luther’s slide over drums and fife, Luther and Sharde exchanging vocal verses. Junior Kimbrough was recorded singing and playing “All Night Long” in 1986 at an actual house party but the quality of the recording is rough, especially the vocals. A 1960’s recording of Furry Lewis playing “Why Don’t You Come Home Blues” fares better with clear vocals and guitar but it is uncertain whether this is an unreleased version of a song that Furry originally recorded in the 20’s. We then move to the crossroads where jazz and blues meet with Calvin Newborn who, with his brother Phineas, made a long career combining the two; the seven minute excursion through “Frame For The Blues” featuring relaxed guitar and flute shows how a late night club date might have felt (you can hear some audience noise in the background).

The blues are left behind on a very loose version of “Johnny Too Bad” by Alex Chilton (Big Star) who apparently played the tune when the band did not know it so they join in as best they can! Jerry Lee Lewis barrels through “Harbour Lights” in his typical piano style before another rough and ready live recording finds soul band The Fieldstones playing a slow grind version of “Little Bluebird” but the background ‘chatter’ almost overpowers the distant-sounding band. The recording of The Panther Burns’ “Drop Your Mask” was apparently recorded at their second ever gig and sounds like it in a sort of distorted tango/punk mash-up.

“Same Thing On My Mind” is clearly related to “Bullfrog Blues” and Mose Vinson sounds like he is having great fun in this solo piano/vocal version which ends when he completely cracks up. Charlie Feathers’ “Defrost Your Heart” is pure country before the CD ends with “I’d Love To Be A Hippie” by Jim Dickinson. Jim was a much-respected figure on the Memphis scene and this song has amusing lyrics but the live recording does him no favors as he sings in a distorted, screaming fashion.

As an accompaniment to what may well be an interesting book on the Memphis scene this album may fit OK but on its own it is quite a difficult listen.

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 – 8 of 8 

lance lopez cd imageLance Lopez – Tell The Truth

Provogue Records – 2018

11 tracks; 46 minutes

Texan Lance Lopez has established himself as a heavyweight blues-rock guitarist, both under his own name and with Supersonic Blues Machine. On this disc Lance handles the lead guitar and vocals with ever-present bassist (and fellow SBM member) Fabrizio Grossi who produced and recorded the album over three years in LA. That extended time period may explain the wide range of support musicians: drums are by Wes Little, Tony Morra and Brian Burdwell, keys by Eric ‘Scorch’ Scortia, Phil Parlapiano and Sam Lustig, harmonica by Frank LaTorre, Jimmy Z Zavala and Chris Hansen, slide guitar is added by Chuck Kavooras and acoustic guitar by Joey Sykes; backing vocals come from Lance, Francis Benitez, Andrea Sophie Grossi-Benitez, Serge Simie and Kayla Reeves. Lance had a hand in six songs with contributions from Joey, Serge, Fabrizio, Eric, Don Rollins and Marcel Chagnon and there are two songs from outside the band and its direct associates.

Lance’s gruff vocal style suits the generally hard-rocking nature of most of the material. Joey and Marcel’s “Raise Some Hell” has something of a change of pace with Joey’s acoustic guitar and some reflective lyrics about life’s struggles. More typical is the wah-wah driven “Angel Eyes Of Blue” which is as heavy as blues-rock gets without crossing into Metal and several songs here are rockers which will please fans of that brand of rock that contains just enough blues DNA for the rest of us blues fans to recognize where the music has its roots. The frantic rocker “Back On The Highway” should get you moving as Lance and slide player Chuck trade licks over pounding piano and the title track closes the album with something of a Deep Purple vibe.

The album’s only really melodic moment comes on the ballad “Blue Moon Rising” with some nicely restrained slide work from Chuck Kavooras. Elsewhere “Down To One Bar” stomps along with plenty of good keyboard work from Sam Lustig but the pick of the rockers for this reviewer was Lance’s “Cash My Check” which has a bit of everything – piano, harp and slide – in the mix behind Lance’s vocal and centerpiece solo.

The two covers come at the start of the album: the first verse of David Grissom’s “Never Came Easy To Me” sounds like a vintage recording from the 1920’s with background noise, acoustic guitar and Lance’s distorted vocal but things settle into more familiar territory as the band comes in with heavy bass and harp behind Lance’s torrid slide; John Lee Hooker’s “Mr Lucky” has Jimmy Z Zavala’s harp and Lance double-tracked on guitars.

This is a disc that fans of the rockier end of the blues-rock spectrum should enjoy.

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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Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

Lyran Society’s monthly Friday fish fry – June 22 – Wheatbread Johnson, July 27 – Paul filipowicz, August 17 – New Savages, Shows free, run 7 to 10 PM.

The Inaugural New Glarus Blues, Brews and Food Truck Festival is Saturday, July 14th from Noon to 8 PM in New Glarus Wisconsin.

The Ninth Annual Crossroads Blues Festival at Lyran Park is Saturday,August 25th. Noon to 10 PM, gates open at 11 AM. $5 advanced tickets,$10 at the gate. Free parking. Primitive camping $20 per night,available Friday and/or Saturday  or has all the info!

Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers are also at Burpee Museum in Rockford Wednesday, Jine 27th at 6:30 PM. VIP seats $15, free general admission! Co-sponsored by Crossroads.

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. July 10, Brandon Santini, Manteno Sportsmen’s Club, 851 N Main St, Manteno, IL More Info 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: 6/11 – Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, 6/18 – The 44’s with Tex Nakamura, 6/25 – Laurie Morvan Band. 7/2 – Amanda Fish. 7/9 – Brandon Santini, 7/16 – John Clifton. For more information visit

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