Issue 12-25 June 21, 2018

Cover photo © 2018 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Tee Watts has our feature interview with James ‘Super Chikan” Johnson. We have 9 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Too Slim and the Taildraggers, Suzie Vinnick, Tim Woods, Rough Max and the Steamrollers, Laurie Jane & The 45s, Beth Hart, Teresa James, Robson Fernandes and Willie May.

We feature 2 videos of Super Chikan performing in his interview below!

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

bbma logoHey Blues Fans,

We have more exciting news about artists performing at the Blues Blast Music Awards. Ghost Town Blues Band has confirmed their performance adding to the list already announced including Karen Lovely, Benny Turner, Shaun Murphy, Markey Blue and Ric Latina Project, Casey Hensley Band, Ben Levin, Ivy Ford Band, Heather Newman, Orphan Jon & The Abandoned, Partick Recob, Ilya Portnov and Joyann Parker. We expect quite a few more judging by past years so stay tuned!

Tickets are only $35 and are available now by clicking HERE.

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.  Visit for complete information.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

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 Blues Wanderings 

the 44s photo 1 the 44s photo 2 the 44s photo 3 the 44s photo 4 the 44s photo 5

We got to see a great set by the 44s at Blue Monday at the Alamo in Springfield Illinois. Look for a feature story on lead guitarist Johnny Main in Blues Blast in the coming months.

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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) Confirmed appearances so far include Karen Lovely, Benny Turner, Shaun Murphy, Ghost Town Blues Band, Markey Blue and Ric Latina Project, Casey Hensley Band, Ben Levin, Ivy Ford Band, Heather Newman, Orphan Jon & The Abandoned, Partick Recob, Ilya Portnov and Joyann Parker.

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!

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 9 

too slim cd imageToo Slim and the Taildraggers – High Desert Heat

Vizztone Label Group

10 tracks/49 minutes

Too Slim (Tim Langford) and the Taildraggers offer up their seventh album with a huge offering of guitar and Southern rock originals. One cover and nine new songs are featured here and the sound is not for the faint of heart.

The band is Too Slim/Tim Langford on guitars and vocals, Jeff “Shakey” Fowlkes on drums and vocals, Zach Kasik on bass and vocals and guest Sheldon “Bent Reed” Ziro on harp. The sound is big, the sound is rocking and the band gives a no-holds barred performance.

Things kick off with the Chambers Brothers “The Time Has Come,” the lone cover here. Slim takes the psychedelic rock more down the path of early hard rock like Steppenwolf or Mountain, avoiding the mushrooms and blue sunglasses until the outro. It’s interesting and cool. “Trouble” is next, a big rock tune with a little blue harp added. This is the bluesiest cut on the album and it’s a lot of fun. “Broken White Line” returns to the rock side, perhaps in a manner more like ‘Foreigner meets Marshall Tucker.’ It’s a nice, driving rocker with a huge guitar solo. “Stories To Tell” picks the pace up some more, bringing the sound into the 1980’s or early ’90’s heavy rock sound. Stinging lead guitar and solo work will delight the big ax lovers. “One Step at a Time” has more of a 1970’s Southern Rock feel with big guitar and gritty vocals. A slow to moderate pace is kept; it almost feels like things are under restraint and are waiting to break out.

Next up is another Southern rocker entitled “What You Said.” More big guitar and grit and grime on the vocals. Next up is “Run Away,” a bit of a funky rocker with some cool pedal effects on the guitar. “A Little More Time” has a slow, rock ballad anthem feel and sound. We have next “Lay Down Your Gun,” a cut with distorted vocals and guitar that could be classified a psychedelic punk Southern rock tune. Passionate vocals, a big sound and slow pace makes your head bob to the beat as the band grinds this one out. The band concludes with the title track, with a western movie soundtrack sort of opening. A mournful instrumental, one can feel the searing heat from the sun in the heat of a high desert here; this could make a great soundtrack for a John Ford movie if he were alive today and looking for rock songs to go with cinematic effects.

If you are looking for blues you won’t find much here other than that second track. Modern Southern rock, lots of big guitar and vocals, blockbuster power and an original sound is what’s featured here. If that’s your cup of tea, then this one will please the heck out of you!

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 – 2 of 9 

suzie vinnick cd imageSuzie Vinnick – Shake the Love Around


12 songs/45 minutes

Bonnie Raitt created a blues-informed style of pop music with her landmark recordings Nick of Time and Luck of the Draw. The influence has spread in many different ways informing legends like Taj Mahal, Gen-X’ers like Susan Tedeschi and traditionalist like Keb’ Mo. Suzie Vinnick has taken a step into this radio friendly world with Shake the Love Around. This record is a flawlessly performed collection of feel good music. This is an artistic pivot in style for the Canadian Vinnick who up to this point has primarily been a folky acoustic performer.

Suzie’s last record, 2012’s Me n’ Mabel, was an ode to the solo acoustic blues and her beloved acoustic parlor guitar. Shake the Love Around still has a sort of solo vibe in that Suzie plays all the guitar and bass parts, save cameo solos by slide guitar aces Colin Linden and Kevin Breit. However, unlike most of her past outings, the 6-stringed instruments on this record are primarily electric. The music is fortified with drums by Gary Craig, occasional keys by co-producer Mark Lama, saxophones by Johnny Johnson and background vocals by Dean McTaggart and David Leask. Vinnick and band work through styles. There are funky jams (“Happy as Hell” and “Lean Into the Light”), deep soulful dives (“Creaking Pines” and “Danger Zone”), and feel good romps (“All I Want to Do” and “The Golden Rule”). However, there is great consistency because of Suzie’s singular talent as a singer and guitarist/bassist.

The best summation of Vinnick’s Raitt inspired aesthetic is the standout original “Beautiful Little Fool.” A hopping syncopated groove gives way to an emotionally sung chorus “such a beautiful little fool, can’t believe you fell for me, opened up the door to my heart, you set me free.” A fun guitar solo, washes of accordion and a simple but perfectly thumping drum pattern tie this little ditty up into a nice clean easy listening package.

Vinnick is a clever song writer. Songs like the above mentioned “Beautiful Little Fool,” as well as “Happy as Hell” and “Lean Into the Light,” are well structured pieces with clear message and poetic simplicity. However, songs “The Golden Rule” and “Find Some Freedom” are a little too obvious. Although both are well structured and the instrumentation is impeccable, the lyrics are a little simplistic and platitude riddled. A small quip for what are such great sounding and well sung performances.

Although Shake the Love Around has that distinct Bonnie Raitt sound, Suzie Vinnick is not simply a Bonnie wannabe. Vinnick’s voice is strong and clear, the timbre of her voice unique and reassuring. Suzie has more Big Mama Thornton and Bessie Smith in her voice than Raitt’s Ruth Brown/Etta James influence. Additionally Suzie’s guitar playing is strong, muscular and flat picked unlike Bonnie’s virtuoso finger picked Piedmont and electric slide styles. Suzie’s multi-instrumentalist skill on bass is jaw dropping. Check out the solo performance of Percy Mayfield’s “Danger Zone” in which Vinnick sings the prophetic song about the “world in an uproar” simply accompanied by her own bass playing.

Suzie Vinnick is a unique talent; a triple threat singer/songwriter/guitarist. She is emotive, joyous and funky all in the same song. Shake the Love Around is a great evolutionary step for this thoughtful and engaging artist.

Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 9 

tim woods cd imageTim Woods – Human Race

Self Release

12 tracks / 53:03

Tim Woods grew up in Pennsylvania and lives there these days, but the time that he lived in Macon, Georgia has left an indelible imprint upon his music. Woods is a fine guitarist, singer and songwriter, and the influence of the American south is easy to pick out of his blues-rock style. Tim has recorded a few discs over the years and has earned the respect of his peers, which was proven by his induction into the New York Blues Hall of Fame. He plays out as a solo artist and with his band, as well as with his two sons in The Woods Family Band. Tim Woods certainly does get around, and after many decades in the business this man knows exactly what he is doing.

Woods’ new solo release, Human Race, was recorded in Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale, and was produced by Tim’s friend, Bobby Lee Rodgers, who also contributed guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards to the mix. For his part, Tim played guitar, provided the vocals, and wrote all but one of the dozen tracks. This duo did most of the heavy lifting, but a few other fellows joined in, including Pete Lavezzoli and William Newell Bate on drums, and Don Coffman on the upright bass. This album is full of lyrics of hope and brotherhood, and all of them are set to a lovely mixture of rock, southern rock, blues, and even funk.

Most reviews include any mention of instrumentals after an in-depth discussion of the conventional songs, but the three instruments-only tracks on Human Race are quite compelling. “Step” is pretty much a funky bass solo with heavy guitar riffs and dry-sounding drums laid over the top of it, complete with Led-Zeppelin like stereo guitar layers. Then there is “TW Funk,” which uses even more funk and some sweet organ from Rodgers to augment killer solo work from Woods. And lastly, “Trixie” uses surf guitar leads over a funky Latin beat that is driven by Lavezzoli’s drumming. There is a lot of funk going on here!

The regular songs are all very good too. The nostalgic opener, “Can You Feel it?” is a nice chunk of 1970s blues-rock with Robin Trower-like leads and vocals with plenty of echo. Next up is the very catchy “Every Day” which carries an empowered message that is accompanied by layers of acoustic guitar from Tim and a fat walking bass line from Rodgers. And the title track includes an array of killer guitar tones over a 1960s rock beat, while “Human Race” features some solid grooves from Rodgers on the drums and vocals that channel the long-lost Jim Morrison.

There is only one track that was not written by Woods and that is “Black Maria,” which was penned by Tim’s longtime friend, Perry Warner. This tune is a semi-ballad that is a curious hybrid of Southern rock and rhythm and blues, and in this case there is more emphasis on Tim’s voice than on the instruments (all of this works out well, in case you were wondering).

The album ends as strongly as it begins with “Where Did She Go?” and “Leave the Earth Alone.” The former is a heavy blues piece that allows Woods to take his voice to its limit, and there is a cool Hendrix vibe to his rhythm guitar work. The latter is the fabulous closer that reminds us to take care of the world we were given, as we are not going to get another one.

Human Race is a pleasant break from everyday life, courtesy of Tim Woods and his friends. You can hear samples from this release at Woods’ website, and while you are there be sure to look over his gig schedule. If you are going to be in Pennsylvania (or Maryland) any time soon you might be able to catch Tim with the duo or the Woods Family Band, and that would surely be a treat!

Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 9 

rough Max cd imageRough Max and the Steamrollers – Roots in the Blues, Crown in My Pocket

Self Release

9 tracks / 33:29

The Internet is not a lot of help when researching Rough Max and the Steamrollers, so details about this band and their new release, Roots in the Blues, Crown in My Pocket, are scarce. The web did offer up that Rough Max Pieri hails from Caserta, Italy, and the liner notes indicate that he wrote all of the songs for this album, as well as providing the vocals and bass. The Steamrollers include Luciano “Lucky” Pesce on keyboards and backing vocals, and Corrado D’Amato on drums, and backing vocals.

This is a short disc, with nine tracks crammed into 33 minutes, and thankfully the band included the lyrics in the CD package, as there are a lot of moments where the listener might say, “Did he really sing that?” The answer to this question is usually yes, as though the lyrics are in English, they rarely make sense and never flow terribly well. If this was not the intention, Rough Max might need to work with a native English-speaking songwriter to touch up the lyrics a bit next time around.

Enough with the whining, let’s see what this stuff sounds like! The opening track, “Candy Ass Blues” has a 1960s space-pop vibe, with hammering electric piano from Pesce and plenty of fat bass and distorted vocals from Rough Max. “Quiet Man” backs this up with more psychedelic sounds, this time augmented with even more agitated vocals, whacky organ samples, and some harmonica accents from guest artist Martino Palmisano. D’Amato really cuts loose on his drums with “I Am too Loose (I Want to Stand),” making this song rock out harder, while “Junk” uses Sebastiano Lillo’s guitar to achieve the same effect. These first four songs fit together thematically, which makes for a rather intense listening experience.

There is a break in the mood when “Guilty” comes up in the playlist, as this is a slower-paced experimental jazz number. This song has a simple foundation with a more conventional bass line and lovely jazz improvisation from Lucky Pesce on the piano. The vocals are not quite as processed, so the listener can discern Max’s accent, and there is an interesting loop of edgy vocals and percussion that plays above the mix throughout. This might just be the standout track for this release due to the creativity that went into it.

After this break, “Hey Big Wonder” lays down a more conventional blues and funk sound with very nice electric piano from Luciano. This leads into the sole instrumental track on the album, “The Second Bite,” a jam that contains equal parts of jazz and funk. There is abrupt shift after this with “Betrayal” which is a heavy blues rocker with, again, a lot of distorted vocals. By this point in the album, this effect has grown stale and starts to grate on the ears. After this song, the disc finishes up with “Little Stone in My Pocket,” an upbeat pop song with kind of disturbing non-sequitur lyrics.

Roots in the Blues, Crown in My Pocket from Rough Max and the Steamrollers is certainly different, and it features great instrumental performances from each of the musicians. Most of the material strays far from conventional blues, so Blues Blast readers might want to preview a few tracks before throwing down their hard-earned cash to pick up their own copy.

Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 9 

laurie jane & the 45s cd imageLaurie Jane & The 45s – Midnight Jubilee

Down In The Alley Records

11 songs – 42 minutes

A veteran four-piece unit based out of Louisville, Ky., Laurie Jane & The 45s are an interesting band who meld the sounds of big-city blues from the ‘50s with jazz and high-energy rockabilly and soul into a package that’s totally their own.

They’re fronted by vocalist Laurie Jane Duggins, a powerful, full-throated alto who spent her early career in musical theater, influenced by several classic singers, including Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James and Rosemary Clooney. Her life and musical stylings evolved after meeting rockabilly guitarist, lap steel and keyboard player and future husband Cort Duggins.

Cort had been working in a trio with upright bassist Jason Embry and percussionist Scott Dugdale for the better part of two decades. When that act appeared to run its course, he and Laurie decided to create the 45s, and Embry and Dugdale quickly rejoined forces.

Midnight Jubilee is a follow-up to the band’s self-titled 2015 release. It consists of eight originals and three covers and was produced and recorded by former Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar tech Steve “Catfish” Wilson at his Raise The Roof studio in Louisville.

An instrumental introduction from Cort kicks off the medium-fast opener, “Wait So Long,” before Laurie Jane’s velvety voice tinged with the slightest of Southern accents joins the action as she eagerly woos a potential lover after being solo for quite some time. Her husband’s rockabilly roots shine through in a brief mid-tune solo, and the tight rhythm section is prominent in the mix.

The action slows slightly for the bittersweet blues shuffle “Lucky Boy,” a ballad that reminds a former lover of the good fortune he enjoyed after meeting his lady so long ago as he points out the suffering he’s endured since she let him go. The title tune, “Midnight Jubilee,” is a syncopated ode to a lover who lights up the night. It precedes an interesting, uptempo cover of “Howlin’ For My Darlin’,” the Willie Dixon-penned Howlin’ Wolf standard.

The loping rocker “Fine By Me” and the percussive “Down This Road” both deal with the end of romances while “It’s Been A Long Time,” a cover tune written by Howard Biggs and Jelly Roll Morton saxophonist Joe Thomas, addresses love from the other side. A ballad that gives Cort space to shine with a pair of extended single-note solos, it’s delivered from the position of a woman who longs for a man who’s not been at her side for quite a while.

Cort’s on lap steel as Laurie Jane launches into the countrified ballad, “Couldn’t Cry Alone,” before the medium-fast shuffle “Got Me Where You Want Me,” the final cover in the set. A military beat and unhurried guitar solo introduces “What’s A Girl To Do,” another song of longing, before the uptempo rocker “Not With You” brings the action to a close.

Available through CDBaby, Midnight Jubilee is a solid offering for a band that’s a local favorite with a regional following. If you like your blues delivered with a Southern rock feel, this one’s for you.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 9 

beth hart cd imageBeth Hart – Front and Center: Live from New York

Provogue/Mascot Label Group

CD and DVD Set – CD: 15 Songs, 72:00 Minutes, DVD: 54:28 Minutes

Styles: Jazz and Soul-Influenced Blues, Piano Blues, Electric and Acoustic Blues, Live Album

The Big Apple is the acid test, the launch pad, the point of no return for many an artist. A few reach the stratosphere while others crash and burn. Thankfully, L.A.’s Beth Hart has done the former. She’s not a pure blues musician, often infusing it with jazz, soul, and contemporary rock. The counterbalance to this is her remarkable voice, warbling one moment and wailing the next. In a day and age when the megastars of the pop world lean on auto-tune more and more, it’s refreshing to hear Hart’s heart poured out in every note. On Front and Center: Live from New York, she presents eleven original songs and four covers, each one as unique as a thumbprint. The DVD included with this set features all the tracks plus an interview. Overall, it’s a stunning performance, whether it conforms to the standard definition of blues or not. Another tip for those tackling New York: have at least one avant-garde entry in your repertoire. This CD features several, with Hart’s oeuvre reminiscent of Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians.

In her DVD interview, Beth provides keen insights into this particular concert and her music in general. In regards to why she loves the piano so much, she says, “It’s the altar, man. It’s where I go to pray. I mean, that’s really what it is. It’s been that way since I was a kid.” She’s also very dedicated to her mother’s memory, and invited her fans to share videos of themselves with their moms at her manager’s insistence. “They really responded…I remember crying when I first saw it. I gave [Mom] a lot of grief coming up, and I never had children, so…around 40, I was like, ‘Oh, my God. My mom loved me so much, and she did everything for me. Music helps me kind of find my way in the world.”

Performing along with Hart on vocals, piano, acoustic guitar and bass are Jon Nichols on electric and acoustic guitars as well as backing vocals; Bill Ransom on drums, and Bob Marinelli on bass. Sonny Landreth guest-stars on guitar.

The second track on the album (and the DVD) has a piano intro to die for – and be reborn so one can listen to it again:

Track 02: “Baddest Blues” – Truer words were never spoken when it comes to this song’s title. To feel its full impact, watch as well as listen. Echoes of Don Henley’s “New York Minute,” both in style and in message, send chills up and down fans’ spines. “My love has come along. My dream’s become a song. My days are bright and sunny; funny why I’m so blue.” Terrific guitar and drum work adds to this masterpiece of slow blues. Move over, Sheryl Crow.

A must-have for any piano blues fan’s collection, Front and Center: Live in New York reveals the heart of Beth Hart in a way one won’t soon forget.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 9 

teresa james cd imageTeresa James – Here in Babylon

Jesi-Lu Records – 2018

12 songs – 52:49

Originally from Houston, Texas, Teresa James has been based in the Los Angeles area for the last 30 years, and she’s assembled a stellar group comprised of LA’s top touring and session musicians, collectively known as The Rhythm Tramps.

Here in Babylon is her 10th release, and it’s a good one! James’ husband and musical partner, bassist Terry Wilson, is a terrific songwriter, and wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 12 songs on this collection, and they’re a wonderful synthesis of roots, blues, gospel, and soul music, seasoned with his own unique sensibilities. Released in March of 2018, the band on this collection includes James on vocals and piano, with Terry Wilson on bass, Billy Watts on guitar, Mike Finnegan on B-3, and Jay Bellerose on drums and percussion. Horns include Darrell Leonard on trumpet, and Joe Sublett on sax. Background vocals are by James, Watts, Wilson, Gregg Sutton, and Jesse Wilson.

The opening track, the soul-infused “I Know I Ain’t Been So Perfect,” has a wonderful funky bass line that flows throughout the song, and James’ Wurlitzer electric piano is a great complement to Finnegan’s B3. Add-in Billy Watts’ tasty guitar fills and a catchy chorus, and we’re on our way. A great opener, for sure!

Speaking of Billy Watts, his is not a name with which I had been familiar, but his recorded work dates back to the early 90s, backing a variety of artists including Geoff Muldaur, Coco Montoya, Eric Burdon, Lisa O’Kane, and John Trudell. His subtle, sophisticated playing weaves in and out of each composition, complementing each track with a distinctive style that calls to mind some of the great session work of guys like Larry Carlton and Mike Landau. Good stuff!

Jay Bellerose’s slow, funky march groove and Watts’ haunting slide guitar propel “Here in Babylon,” the politically-charged title track. “Give Me a Holler” has another New Orleans rhythm going on, replete with some subtle, tasty horns… and – seriously – where else are you gonna hear someone (successfully) rhyme “Nietsche” with “Peachy”…? Again, great songwriting. And to be sure, this band knows how to lay down a solid groove! The next track “Head Up, Heart Open” marries 70s soul with some tasty Memphis R&B.

On the Sutton-Livsey composition, “I Keep Drifting Away,” the mood becomes more introspective, with some wonderful, subtle B3 sounds weaving in and out of James’ plaintive vocals. “Ground Zero” is based on the well-known Robert Johnson crossroads mythology, and features more of Watts’ superb guitar playing, while “Hold On” has a distinct Motown groove.

“You Had to Bring that Up” is one of my favorites on this collection, bridging sultry blues and jazz with some very clever wordplay and some tasty, understated trumpet playing by Darrell Leonard. “I Gotta Roll” is a rocker, something you might hear in a Texas roadhouse, and the final track, “Find Me a Bar” closes things out with an infectious, swampy, Diddley-esque gospel groove.

Here in Babylon was produced by James and Wilson, and engineered by Wilson, David Grover, and Johnny Lee Schell, and mixed by Ed Cherney. It’s a great-sounding collection of rootsy, bluesy tunes for listeners who are looking for a little more than the typical, run-of-the-mill blues music. Great songs, great grooves, great arrangements, great playing, great singing… Do I like it? Why, yes I do! Do check it out!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 9 

robson fernandes cd imageRobson Fernandes – Blue Central


11 song/50 minutes

Blues is a deeply canonical music. Traditions run deep and the music is often most beautiful when it is simple, uncluttered and direct. Innovation and self expression, therefore, comes from emotional honesty and personal style. How a guitarist bends a note, the accent a singer naturally has or uses, the rhythm sequence a drummer chooses, the imagery a songwriter uses to express themselves. Brazilian Bluesman Robson Fernandes epitomizes personal style within traditional confines. Fernandes plays a flexible and Jazz informed harp and sings with an impassioned Brazilian accent. Robson’s latest record Blue Central is not only a testament to his substantial talent but an excellent example of the Chicago and West Coast informed Blues that are coming out of Brazil.

Blue Central is a vibrant blues romp that has a distinct South American perspective. Rhythm section Victor Busquets on bateria (drums) and Marcos Klis on baixo acustico e eletrico (acoustic and electric bass) create a strong poly-rhythmic bounce that is informed by Brazil’s native sambas and bossas. Robson sings English lyrics with a distinct Brazilian accent. He seems to notch the accent up and down depending on the song, using it to great effect like a guitarist might use reverb or distortion. This technique is especially dynamic on his very traditional arrangement of Muddy Waters “Long Distance Call.”

This record has hard swing, sophisticated jazz and grooving funk. Opener “All I Can Do” written by Fernandes and writing partner/co-producer Carlos Sander is a smooth stroll and a well crafted song. Instrumental title track “Blue Central” is reminiscent of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “East/West” and is made transcendent by vibraphonist Andre Juarez. The other instrumental “Pueblito” is overtly Brazilian sounding. It has a bossa styled beat and classic acoustic guitar solo by Danny Vincent. “I Don’t Care,” written by Vincent, plops down sticky funk with it’s wah wah guitar and stand out solo by virtuoso guitarist Marcos Ottaviano .

Blues Central is a showcase for the great talent coming out of Brazil. Main guitarist Danilo Simi is classy and rock solid and supported on two tracks by Nicolas Simi on rhythm guitar. 6 string guest soloists lead by Ottaviano include Danny Vincent and Decio Caetano. Other contributors include Daniel Latorre on Hammond organ, Juarez on vibraphone, Donny Nichillo on piano, Joey Stann and Kito Siqueira on saxophones and Luiz Claudio Faria on trumpet.

At the heart of all the great performances by these fine Bluesmen is Fernandes’ stellar harmonica playing. Often playing diatonic harp with a saxophonist’s fluidity, Robson is an instrumental virtuoso. Blowing mostly amplified, there is tasteful use of the overblow, that is bending up of a note that is pretty derisive among harp players. Fernandes uses this technique, along with regular bending and other neat harp tricks, to keep his sound eclectic and inventive.

Fernandes’ last album Cool was recorded straight to tape live, a creative choice and a distinct sound. Blue Central, produced by Fernandes and Sander, does not seem to be live to tape but the sound is equally creative. There is a slightly gauzy reverb-ed sound to the music that is reminiscent of the Stone’s Exile On Main Street. The sound of this record serves the music and reinforces the classic Chicago vibe of the album. But, the personal style and self-expression of Robsen Fernandes and his collaborators creates a fresh approach to the Blues. This is deep real deal Blues that highlights the great music coming out of Brazil.

Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 9 

willie may cd imageWillie May – New County Blues

Self-Release – 2018

10 tracks; 37 minutes

Willie May is certainly prolific! It does not seem very long ago that this reviewer was writing about his all-ukelele album Maiuke and his website shows that since then he has released another album in between. New County Blues is Willie’s 19th album release and combines new and previously released material “directed at fans preferring the Country/Americana side of the blues spectrum”. Willie wrote and produced all the material, handles lead vocals and plays guitar, dobro and jaw harp; he is joined by drummer Randy Bolam, acoustic bassist Jim Whitford (who also plays pedal steel on one cut), guitarists Carl Eddy, Paul Iannelo, Doug Yeomans and Dwane Hall; pedal steel player Kenny Peterson, accordion player Leeron Zydeco, viola player Mary Ramsey and multi-instrumentalist Mark Panfil who plays accordion, banjo, dobro and harmonica; backing vocals are added by Dwane Hall, Paul Iannelo and Mary Ramsey.

There are country rock tunes like “Plenty Of Problems” that rock along very pleasantly with Paul Iannelo’s country-tinged guitar. “Looking For Jesus” is pure country with weeping pedal steel and viola and a wry lyric about looking for salvation yet not wanting it just yet, Willie waking up “in a house of ill repute” and hoping that Jesus does not find him there! The banjo and whooping vocals on “Wicked Ways”, Willie’s tale of woe out on the road “Don’t Know Where” and the uptempo “Where Did We Go Wrong” are all country tunes but there are also some blues here.

“Gypsy Eyes” uses a tune very similar to Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do” with some solid baritone guitar work over the loping rhythm; “Thirty Days” is country blues with harmonica and jaw harp adding to the insistent drum pattern and “Stop Hurtin’ Me” rocks along pleasantly with banjo and harp supporting Willie’s declaration of love for his girl, despite her obvious flaws. Accordion gives a Louisiana-meets-country feel to tracks like “Get It Ready” and “Smile”, both of which roll along at pace.

Willie has produced a pleasantly listenable album here but it is much more country/Americana than blues.

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

 Featured Interview – Super Chikan 

superchikan photo 1It’s getting harder and harder for a dedicated Delta Bluesman like Super Chikan to eke out a living in Clarksdale.

“It’s fell off real bad since we got our new president. All our work is overseas; Belgium, Holland, Amsterdam. Can’t find no work at home, man.”

This coming from a Bluesman who resisted the call to head north to Chicago as so many of his Blues brethren did when the ‘gettin’ was good.’

Chikan, as he likes to be called, believed in Mississippi despite the post-WWII exodus of not only Delta musicians but everyday folk too, looking for economic advancement and a respite from King Cotton.

“Things were so bad in Mississippi at one time that nobody wanted to own it. Nobody wanted to be from Mississippi because everybody down rated, low rated and talked about it so bad. People were ashamed of it. They didn’t want to own up to being from here. Poor folks don’t grow in Mississippi. Don’t nothin’ but cotton grow here. But everybody gotta be from somewhere, so I decided I was gonna keep it real.”

It seems the spigot that spewed a voracious torrent of opportunity to the Delta Blues economy has been slowed to a trickle for Super Chikan. Having a sister city to Clarksdale in Notodden, Norway certainly helped. As a matter of fact, Notodden Norway was the first city outside of the U.S. to have a Blues Marker from the Mississippi Blues Trail. The Marker has Super Chikan’s name on it. Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club helped also. But not enough to sustain an artist who needs to work like James “Super Chikan” Johnson. He hasn’t worked there since February of 2017.

It could be that Chikan has outgrown the shrinking Delta economy. Despite the fact that he is ‘one of the last of the originals, a grandchild of the Delta, no local relief seems to be in sight. Apart from his crowning glory as an electrified-in-your-face, one of a kind Delta Blues King, he is also an inventive designer and manufacturer of his own special line of guitars. Art collectors far and wide gladly pay four figure sums for his one of a kind creations with names like “Cigar-gantar,” “African Washboard,” “Chikantar,”He doesn’t bother with patents. Consequently there are knock off companies that imitate his creations with inferior products. His creations are finely crafted instruments that play really well.

“Naw, no time for patents,” he answers when queried. “I make so many different kinds and everyone wants their’s to be different, so I’m always coming up with something new. You know, I don’t just stick with one thing all the time. I’m kind of adventurous with the thang, you know?

superchikan guitar photo 1 superchikan guitar photo 2 I’m workin’ on one as we speak, a wood body for myself. Here lately, people are not buying. They don’t want to pay for them. Most people that buy them are art collectors. Other musicians just look it as a guitar. They don’t look at it as art. They say, ‘Well, I’m a guitar player and I wouldn’t pay that much for a guitar.’ Art collectors on the other hand, don’t care what they pay for art sometimes.”

He’s also created his own version of the Diddley Bow.

“Back in the day when I was a kid, all the musicians had a Diddley Bow before they even saw a guitar. We were poor folks and when you’re young, if you’re musically inclined you’re gonna beat on a log, a bucket or something. And if you wanna play strings you get yourself a stick with some baling wire and nail it to the side of the house, you had something to play on. With the advent of the guitar, the diddley bow became obsolete, old fashioned, obsolete and didn’t nobody wanna fool with it no more. I’m one of last, one of the only ones still playing the diddley bow. I break the diddley bow out at every show, man! Now back when I was a kid, the diddley bow I play now would’ve been illegal. It would’ve been disrespect to the Delta way, cuz in tose times it couldn’t have over four strings. Now mine is six strings and electric.”

Curious about his guitar amp setup, live and in the studio I ask him and he clues me in.

“Aww man. Usually I get whatever they got on stage. But my regular amp is a Fender. Playin’ so many festivals, they never seem to have what you want. I use to request a Peavy Chorus 212 when I was on the road. But they never have it so I take my foot pedal for whatever amp I use.

In 2004 he was presented the Governors Award for Excellence in the Arts. In 2005 Chikan received an Artist Fellowship from the Mississippi Arts Commission recognizing his visual artist talents. (He also paints). In 2006 he was featured in the Library of Congress’s ‘Homegrown’ series. But all the gigs and accolades have all but gone away.

I ain’t doin’ nothin at home, man. You try to get a little help around home and they look at you like you crazy while you steady goin’ down. They say, ‘Well he must be on drugs or somethin’ because Super Chikan’s doin’ this or ain’t doin’ that. It’s easy to get that name, man. ‘Specially if they don’t wanna help you in the first place. They got to have a good reason not to.”

superchikan photo 3Many of the club’s and joints that were viable, even at the beginning of the millennium, are no longer truly jukin’. Those that remain only open once or twice a week, serving up a paltry imitative clone of the real Delta Blues.

Make no mistake though about James “Super Chikan” Johnson, the name. Chikan’s Uncle was the late Big Jack Johnson, himself one of the last in a long line of superior Delta Bluesmen and winner of a W. C. Handy Award in 2003. The line goes back from Chikan, through Big Jack, to Big Jack’s dad Ellis Johnson. Mean ‘ol Ellis was a fiddle, guitar and mandolin player who happened to be first cousin to ROBERT JOHNSON.

This writer had no idea. In researching Chikan and Big Jack, I discovered Ellis. I subsequently asked Chikan about his grandpa Ellis’ Blues pedigree.

He responded, “All the Delta Blues players would visit my grandpa from time to time in Rena Lara, Mississippi. He played a lot of fiddle. Back in the 1920’s he played guitar with Robert Johnson.”

“Oh man,” I gushed, picking myself up off the floor.

Chikan continued, ” Ellis, Robert Johnson and Honeyboy Edwards used to go down to Greenwood and play together.” However great Ellis Johnson was, he was also a mean spirited son of the Delta. He also raised young James who never knew his real dad.

Super Chikan tells a couple of stories as to just how mean Ellis Johnson was.

“Delta Blues guys would come and visit my granddad and they would jam on the porch. Over the years, from time to time, from Robert Johnson to Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and others would come. They would play and drink moonshine which Jimmy Reed really loved. I would sneak under the porch to listen and watch through the cracks. Dust would sprinkle on me when they got to goin’.

One night I got brave enough to climb a tree with my diddley bow and play along with them. They couldn’t see me or hear me but I was watchin’ them laugh, play, drink and cuss ’till I fell out the tree. My granddad was gonna kill me. My grandma had to come out and save me.

superchikan photo 4I saw my grandad beat my grandmother many times. The first dead body I saw was when my grandma blew his head off with a shotgun as he came at her with a hatchet. “

Like the true Delta oral traditionalist that he is, Chikan has many stories to tell. He talks of playing with the late great, Jessie Mae Hemphill who, when irritated, would pull out her gun and defiantly shout, “I’ll spray ’em, I’ll spray ’em!”

Near the end of our phone time together, I ask Chikan to describe a supernatural experience that he had around the music that is imbued in his soul.

“Yeah, I went to Africa to the island of Goree where the have the door of no return. I saw all my kinfolks there. The ones that have passed on. The mayor of Goree was the spittin’ image of my grandpa, Ellis Johnson. It was like a graveyard. All my people who’ve died, I saw again in Africa. This was in Dakar, West Africa.”

These are some of the stories that Super Chikan’s Blues are made of as he readies himself for a seismic shift away from the Delta, due in part to filmmaker Scott Jennison.

Back in 2001, Jennison released a, Echoes ‘cross the tracks, a film that documents the evolution of Clarksdale from its inception as a Black hamlet on the other side of the tracks of the train station, initially known as New Africa. Even during the Great Depression, juke joints sprouted like weeds. Clarksdale became a “cutting session,” both literally and figuratively for the musicians trying to make a way out of the morass of Jim Crow.

Narrated partially by Morgan Freeman, it features Pinetop Perkins, Otha Turner, Sam Carr, Seasick Steve, Big Jack Johnson and Super Chiken.

Jennison became a fierce Super Chikan advocate and of late has convinced Chikan that the commute to Atlanta would be commercially viable for Chikan in terms of performance and recording possibilities. According to Jennison, Chikan has been ripped off repeatedly and deserves the just fruits of earning a living. The checks from his ten recorded albums have become nonexistent.

Even the state of Mississippi in its promotional commercial uses clips of Chikan prominently and has never paid him a dime. In Dennison’s vision that will soon change. Will plenty of video footage in the can and more to come, Chikan and Dennison are preparing a Blues blitz that should light up Atlanta as well as the world at large.

With plenty of places to play in Atlanta and radio interviews lined up, the chances of Chikan regaining the momentum to earn a decent living look good.

One thing for sure. Regardless of where the Super Chikan roosts, he will always be a grandchild of the Delta.

Super Chikan videos – Click on the image to see video.

super chikan vidio image 1

James “Super Chikan” Johnson & Heather Tackett Falduto – “Chikan Blues” live at the Crossroads stage at the 2016 Chicago Blues Fest.

super chikan vidio image 2

Super Chikan performs “Sittin’ By The River” at the 13th Annual NON-COMMvention in Philadelphia, May 2013.

Interviewer and CyberSoulMan Tee Watts is music director at KPFZ 88.1 fm in Lakeport, California. His radio show, The CyberSoulMan Review airs Tuesday afternoons from 3-5 PST. He is road manager for Sugar Pie DeSanto, the last Queen standing from the glory years of Chess Records.

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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, June 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

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. Tues, July 10 – Brandon Santini, Manteno Sportsmen’s Club, Thur, July 27 – The Nouveaux Honkies, Inside Out, Gilman IL, Thur, Aug 23 – Albert Castiglia, L’Erable IL, Tues, Sept 11 – Frank Bang & Cook County Kings, Venue TBA, Tues, Sept 25, Ivy Ford Band, Kankakee Valley Boat Club. 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: 6/25 – Laurie Morvan Band. 7/2 – Amanda Fish. 7/9 – Brandon Santini, 7/16 – John Clifton. For more information visit

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