Issue 12- 3 January 18, 2018

cover inage

Cover photo © 2018 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Bill Dahl has our feature interview with Wee Willie Walker. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music by Billy Thompson, Johnny Nicholas & Friends, Peter Parcek, Lazer Lloyd, Black Stone Cherry, Downchild, Shake n’ Cor and the Bonetones and Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

As you read this, the International Blues Challenge is in full swing in Memphis and Blues Blast Magazine is there covering all the great Blues for you.

While it may be the coldest IBC I have ever attended, the music will be HOT!

So if you see me down on Beal Street, please say hello. We will have photos of all the fun in an upcoming issue.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

billy thompson ad image

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

billy thompson cd imageBilly Thompson – BT


12 Tracks/57:47

Regular readers of Blue Blast may remember that guitarist Billy Thompson was nominated for a 2012 Blues Blast Music Award in the Contemporary Blues Recording category for his A Better Man project. With his seventh full-length release, Thompson offers up another batch of original material that flows through the landscape where blues and rock co-mingle to form a savory gumbo of musical delights.

The opener, “Burn It Down, Bernadette,” co-written with Kristen Trump, is an aptly titled number that takes listeners back to the early days of Little Feat with Thompson’s slide guitar and impassioned vocal filling the Lowell George role. “Phone” is a propulsive shuffle with all-star backing from Mike Finnigan on organ, James “Hutch” Hutchinson on bass, and Tony Braunagel on drums. Thompson’s biting guitar cuts through “Silent Warrior,” a bold plea for sanity in the modern world that undergoes a dramatic tempo shift courtesy of Rob Cowart on bass and Eric Selby on drums plus Michael Leroy Peed on synth strings. The tempered ballad “In The Back Of Beyond” finds the leader weaving slide accents around his cries of love.

Finnigan and Braunagel are back on “Stranger,” with Finnigan on organ dominating the arrangement while Thompson gives an assessment about “…Living out of touch in a rock star nation,” featuring James “Hutch” Hutchinson on bass. “That Devil” finds the troubled singer worn out from battling for for control of his soul as the world closes in. Peed impresses on keyboards while the rhythm section is comprised of James East on bass and Danny Campbell on drums. Thompson breaks out his harmonica on “Black Rain,” blowing chilling fills along with laying tightly drawn guitar licks with support from Daryl Johnson on bass. Yet another bass player, Michelle Lucas, appears on “Mud Island Woman,” a song that a brawny shuffle about a conjuring woman and the threat of flooding Mississippi River.

The lone cover is a surging rendition of the Doobie Brothers hit, “Long Train Running”. Through overdubs, Thompson sings, plays bass and harmonica in addition to showcasing more of his fine slide work. “Children Of The Sun” and “Hourglass” are quieter meditations on life’s journey and our shared spirit of humanity. The closing number, “Reason For Goin’ Fishin’,” is a back-porch blues notable for Peed’s infectious piano playing and Thompson’s laid-back vocal. Glen Monroe makes his lone appearance on bass.

This is one of those releases that truly blurs the lines between musical genres. Terms like roots music, Americana, or rock simply fail to convey the true nature of Thompson’s detailed arrangements fleshed out with a level of lyrical sophistication that is a rare commodity these days. Blues is part of the mix but, bottom-line, this is Billy Thompson giving listeners another chance to peer into his musical soul.

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

johnny nicholas cd imageJohnny Nicholas & Friends – Too Many Bad Habits

The People’s Label

26 songs – 90 minutes

Texas-based blues and roots master Johnny Nicholas delivered a major Christmas present to the world with the recent release of Too Many Bad Habits. A two-CD gem, it includes the remastered rerelease of one long-lost album and breathes new life into a trio of legends – Big Walter Horton, Johnny Shines and Boogie Woogie Red – with the release of new material that was seemingly lost to the world after being captured more than 40 years ago.

A native of Pawtucket, R.I., who’s called Fredericksburg, Tex., — where he owns and operates the Hilltop Café, a combination roadhouse, restaurant and bed-and-breakfast — home since the early ‘80s, Nicholas’ career began by fronting a succession of popular local ensembles in the ‘60s, including Black Cat Blues Band along with high school classmate Duke Robillard and Guitar Johnny And The Rhythm Rockers with Ronnie Earl and sax superstar Kaz Kazanoff.

He spent considerable time in Chicago in the early ‘70s, touring with Robert Lockwood Jr., his primary instructor, Howlin’ Wolf, Roosevelt Sykes, Horton and Shines when not working with his own bands on the East Coast, playing guitar, mandolin and keys in addition to providing solid vocals. An originator despite his traditional background, he was also a prime mover in the famous Ann Arbor Blues Festivals during that era, leading the Boogie Brothers.

The first disc of Too Many Bad Habits was recorded in Austin, Detroit and Farmington, Mich., in 1976 for the Blind Pig imprint and features several members of Asleep At The Wheel in addition to Horton and Shines. Released in 1977, it was pulled from distribution when Johnny decided to stop touring under his own name a year later to join guitarist Ray Benson and his legendary Texas swing band fulltime in a marriage that lasted two years.

Nicholas produced Shines’ and Snooky Pryor’s W.C. Handy Award winning album, Back To The Country, and released a handful of his own albums in the time since, but always wanted to put Too Many Bad Habits back in listeners’ hands. He finally gained possession of the masters two years ago, quickly discovering that they contained several unreleased treasures, resulting in the second disc described here.

The Nicholas original, “Mandolin Boogie,” swings from the jump to open the set with Johnny backed by Benson and Wheel compatriots Lucky Oceans (drums), Bill Mabry (fiddle), Link Davis Jr. (tenor sax) and bassist Tony Garnier, who’s been Bob Dylan’s band leader for the past 25 years. The lineup varies from cut to cut and also includes bassist E.P. Jones and drummer Martin Gross who hold down rhythm for much of the compilation, which includes 15 originals about its 26 cuts.

Two more originals — “Looks Can Be Deceiving” and the cover tune “Too Many Bad Habits” on which Horton and Shines make their first appearances – clearly show that there’s plenty of great, straight-ahead blues in store. Big Walter, who died at age 60 in 1981, is in absolute top form as he delivers lilting response to Nicholas’ vocals and Shines, who died at 76 a year later, provides superb guitar runs. The familiar “Sitting On Top Of The World” gives way to three more originals — “ot The Train,” aided by Wheel, a stripped-down “Rock My Blues Away,” with Johnny on guitar and piano backed by rhythm only, and “Blues Walk,” another sweet harmonica fiesta.

A quintet of blues classics – Son House’s “Grinnin’ In Your Face,” Tommy Johnson’s “The New Canned Heat Blues,” “West Wind” (written and sung by Horton in duet with Nicholas on guitar), “Blues Came Fallin’ Down” (written and sung by Shines) and the traditional “Careless Love” precede the original “Gettin’ Out Of Town” (both Nicholas/Horton duets) before Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound On My Trail” brings the first disc to a satisfying close.

As valuable as those tunes are, however, the true treasures lie ahead. Disc two opens with a run of six Nicholas originals that feature Horton and Shines. “Move On Down The Line” is a duet with Nicholas and Walter at the mike. Detroit-based keyboard master Boogie Woogie Red, who was 66 when he passed in 1992, makes his first appearance to help power the stop-time pleaser “Pump Jockey Blues.” Then the walking “Believe I’ll Make A Change,” slow “Prisoner Blues,” uptempo instrumental “Apple Groove Rhumba” and walking “Looks Can Be Deceiving” give Shines and Horton plenty of space to stretch out behind Nicholas’ vocals.

A stripped-down version of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s Alright Mamma” finds Nicholas accompanied solely by a drummer before Red’s in total command of the keys and mike for a version of Jay McShann’s “Hootie Blues” and backed by Nicholas and Horton. Jimmy Rogers’ “Money Marbles And Chalk” follows before the originals “Lonesome Traveler” (another Nicholas/Horton duet) and “Froggy Bottom.” St. Louis Jimmy Oden’s “Soon Forgotten” features Big Walter and Red to bring the set to a close.

Available in both disc and LP formats through CDBaby or direct from the artist at the website above, Too Many Bad Habits is a treasure. If your tastes run to traditional Chicago blues, this one will have you yearning for more – even after the hour-and-a-half of music you’ll hear here has run its course.

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

peter parcek cd imagePeter Parcek – Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven

Lightnin’ Records – 2017

10 tracks; 44 minutes

Boston MA based guitarist Peter Parcek made a good impression with his 2010 album The Mathematics Of Love which received a nod at the Blues Blast Awards with a nomination in the Debut Release category. Seven years on Peter has produced another solid album, albeit with generally depressing themes. Peter’s strong guitar playing is supported by drummer and producer Marco Giovino and a large cast of additional musicians assembled in Nashville for the sessions: Luther Dickinson adds guitar to four tracks, Spooner Oldham is on keys, Mickey Raphael on harp and no fewer than four bassists are involved – Mark Hickox, Joe Klompus, Dominic John Davis and Dennis Crouch. Russ Pahl is on pedal steel and jew’s harp, Andy Santospago lap steel and John Jackson electric mandolin. Deanie Richardson and Jeremy Van Cleave play violin and the McCrary Sisters add backing vocals. Peter wrote six of the tunes here and there are four covers.

As noted in the review of The Mathematics Of Love Peter spent time in London and became a fan of early Fleetwood Mac and Peter Green whose “World Keep On Turning” opens the album in a heavy version with Hendrix influences as Peter and Luther duel on guitars. Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” (aka “One Kind Favour”) is a familiar song, even BB King used it as the title track of his final studio album; Peter’s extended slow version accentuates the funereal lyrics with moody guitar work from both Peter and Luther. “Ashes To Ashes” shuffles along with some interesting drum work, slide working against the main riff underneath another downbeat lyric about being “about to drop”, some real Mississippi blues going on here! “Every Drop Of Rain” is slower-paced with some memorable playing as the title reminds Peter of a lost love, his guitar expressing his angst perfectly. In similar territory lyrically “Things Fal Apart” is much more uptempo, probably the most accessible song here with bright, ringing guitar.

The two other covers are both interesting takes on the songs: for the title of the album Peter’s slowed-down interpretation of a Don Nix song best known from Albert King’s version emphasises the lyrics with torrid guitar/slide; “Aunt Caroline Dyer Blues” comes from The Memphis Jug Band and features the violins, lap steel and jew’s harp as Peter talks of “going to Newport News catch a battleship across the sea ‘cos bad luck and hard work don’t appeal to me”, apparently the result of visiting the eponymous fortune teller!

Possibly to break up the generally ‘down’ nature of the lyrics and to act as a showcase for his fine guitar skills, Peter does three lively instrumentals across the album: “Pat Hare” is named after Muddy Waters’ sideman who influenced many guitarists and is a fine upbeat tune with Mickey Raphael’s harp featured alongside Peter’s guitar; “Shiver” is a slinky instrumental with staccato guitar and “Mississippi Suitcase” is a boogie worthy of John Lee Hooker with a hint of rock and roll coming in at the end, the title possibly coming from what is being used as drums which sounds like it could well be a suitcase!

There is no denying Peter’s ability as a writer and guitarist and the blend of interesting cover versions with his originals makes for a good album. Not a cheerful listen but lots of fine playing to appreciate.

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 Blues Review – 4 of 8 

lazer lloyd cd imagLazer Lloyd – Freedom’s Child

Lots Of Love Records

12 songs time-54:47

Lazer Lloyd is an American-Israeli born in the USA. Born in New York City he grew up in Madison, Connecticut. After picking up guitar from his father he was in various bands before pursuing a solo career. His style of music encompasses folk, blues, rock, roots and the singer-songwriter vein. He variously accompanies himself on electric and/or acoustic guitar. Sometimes alone or with drum and bass backing. Anything he touches is heart felt and authentic. The whole of this project is infused with spirituality and hopefulness.

Everything here from the vocals, songwriting and instrumentation is first rate, but for my money the moody and lovely instrumental “Esqueca Do Mundo(Forget The World)” is worth the price of admission. Acoustic and electric guitars float through the air along with impressive drumming and bass playing as they decrease and increase in intensity. Clocking in at just under eight and a half minutes you just don’t want this thing of beauty to end.

Distorted electric rhythm guitar out of The Rolling Stones play book along with Lazer’s hearty voice makes “Blessed Man” a powerful statement. His brief stinging guitar solos don’t hurt either. “Been Tryin'” is melancholy modern blues. Raging spirituality surges through “Talk”, an urging to talk to the Lord set against acoustic guitar augmented by electric slide. Lazer’s deep baritone suits the title song to a “T” as haunting electric slide compliments his finger-picked guitar.

“God, Money And Women” brings old timey country blues to the present. Once again he features his finger-picking skills. With strummed acoustic and rack harmonica “Letters” finds Lazer in a pensive folk setting. His sole cover “All along The Watchtower” is an amalgamation of Bob Dylan’s and Jimi Hendrix’s version with a Lazer Lloyd twist. The soaring electric guitar magic builds to a beautiful scream over the acoustic guitar.

Lazer professes his love for “America(Acoustic)” despite its’ flaws. “Good Woman” kinda skips along with acoustic supported by upbeat drums and bass. Mournful acoustic slide guitar accentuates his ode to “My Girls”. He sums up this sincere project of peace and love with “We Are All God’s Children”. Lovely strains of melodic electric guitar seem to soar to a higher place.

Elements of traditional music are blended with current sentiments and musicality to create a spiritually tinged masterpiece. The spare instrumentation supports the tired old cliché that often less is more.

With Lazer’s knack for making intriguing guitar melodies and the more than able efforts of Moshe Davidson on bass, Elimelech Grundman on drums and Shmuel Lazer on backing vocals a totally enriching and enjoyable experience is created. I’m not just tossing empty praise around here, this CD is truly something special.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

black stone cherry cd imageBlack Stone Cherry – Black To Blues

Mascot Label Group M75392

6 songs – 21 minutes

Based in Edmondton, Ky., but recording for the Dutch-based Mascot Label Group, Black Stone Cherry are a four-piece unit who’ve been delivering their own brand of music since forming about 17 years ago. Hard rockers who’ve charted multiple times on mainstream charts, they have six previous CDs and three EPs to their credit, but delve deeply into the blues format on this brief, but powerful release.

Led by guitarist/vocalist Chris Robertson and previously on the Roadrunner imprint, the band consists of Ben Wells on second guitar, Jonathan Lawhon on bass, and John Fred Young — son of Kentucky Headhunters percussionist Richard Young — on drums and harmonica. All of the band provide backing vocals, as does Andrea Tanaro in a guest appearance. Black To Blues was produced by David Barrick in Glasgow, Ky.

Local favorites in their own right, they used the Headhunters’ former practice house as their recording studio in their early years, but have also recorded in England, and they’ve supported a who’s who of rock bands on tour, including Def Leppard, White Snake, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Nickelback.

That said, it’s obvious that they’re blues lovers, too. Although delivered in a fiery, balls-to-the-wall manner never envisioned by the authors, they power through six familiar blues classics – three penned by Willie Dixon — as they pay tribute to the foundation of all modern American music.

An intense low-register guitar riff opens Dixon’s “Built For Comfort” before Robertson’s strong, faithful vocals. The rhythm section is forceful and driving. The mid-tune guitar solo begins with a blistering single-note run, but drops to a whisper temporarily before things heat up again. Muddy Waters’ “Champagne And Reefer” is up next, kicking off with a definite Delta feel, which continues. The first half of the tune is relatively faithful to the original before being overtaken by rock overtones and rudimentary harp runs.

Uptempo drum triplets kick off a version of Leon Russell, Don Nix and Duck Dunn’s “Palace Of The King.” Although Robertson’s voice is soulful, it’s overwhelmed by the instrumentation. Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” remains faithful while sonically different because of the way the guitars are layered harmonically. A version of Booker T. Jones and William Bell’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” retains its original feel throughout before a smoking version of Dixon’s “I Want To Be Loved” brings the disc to a close.

Available through Amazon and other major retailers, Black To Blues definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you like metal in addition to the blues, it will definitely be pleasing to your ears. These guys smoke.

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

downchild cd imageDownchild – Something I’ve Done

Linus Entertainment/Canada

CD: 10 Songs, 37:18 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Harmonica Blues, NOLA-Style Blues

Blizzards. Deluges. Ice storms. Mudslides. When the weather is this categorically unappealing, what better antidote than some zesty New Orleans-style blues rock? Downchild, one of Canada’s longest-running and most celebrated blues bands, provides plenty of it on Something I’ve Done, their latest in a long line of stunning releases.

If the band’s name doesn’t sound familiar, that of the Blues Brothers surely will. That comedic pair elevated Downchild’s “Shotgun Blues” and lead guitarist/harpist Donnie Walsh’s “(I Got Everything I Need) Almost” to smash hits on their 1978 Briefcase Full of Blues album. Each member of Downchild boasts a minimum of twenty years’ experience. According to their promotional information sheet, “the 2017 iteration…might be the most electrifying yet.” According to this newcomer, let’s leave it at “most electrifying.” This sextet has it all: high energy, smooth chemistry, lively presence, and superb musicianship. On nine original tracks and one cover catchier than the flu, they blaze forth like Tesla coils.

The band’s online biography delves deeper into their history and motivations: “Indeed, if Downchild didn’t exist, the blues world would have to invent them. Who else could so clearly serve as contemporary torchbearers for riveting original music firmly rooted in tradition, while acting as a thriving spiritual link to past greats like Sonny Boy Williamson II, James Cotton, and B.B. King? But don’t take our word for it. Downchild’s epic reputation has been reaffirmed time and again. Witness their 2014 Blues Album of the Year Juno Award for their last studio effort, Can You Hear the Music – their second Juno win overall. Their boatload of Maple Blues Awards. Their marquee billing on the globe’s most prestigious stages. And, of course, their inimitable 1973 reading of Big Joe Turner’s classic ‘Flip, Flop and Fly, which placed Walsh and band co-founder, late brother Richard “Hock” Walsh on the charts and in the souls of music fans worldwide.”

Downchild features Donnie “Mr. Downchild” Walsh on guitar and harmonica; Chuck Jackson on lead vocals and harmonica; Pat Carey on tenor and baritone saxophones; Michael Fonfara on piano, organ and dobro guitar; Gary Kendall on bass, and Mike Fitzpatrick on drums. Special guest star Peter Jeffrey adds his trumpet expertise to the mix, and the regular band members provide background vocals on various tracks.

Picking the best three songs on any album is Something I’ve Done quite a lot, but this was tough:

Track 02: “Worried About the World” – This stellar cover of B.C.-based bluesman David Vest’s hit couldn’t be more timely. “Everybody worried about the world; nobody worried about me,” comes the rolling refrain, ebbing and flowing like the water underneath a trireme of galley slaves. “You got the sound of one hand clapping, a sound way off in your head,” sings Chuck Jackson. “If one man fall, ain’t nobody looking, that don’t mean he ain’t dead.” Life’s a slog, whether anyone notices your personal struggle in the midst of their fears for the future.

Track 04: “Mississippi Woman, Mississauga Man” – Dance your heart out, blues fans, to this swaggering boogie featuring harmonica that’ll blister your ears and your speakers. That’s provided with panache by Mr. Jackson, and Michael Fonfara’s piano keeps perfect pace.

Track 06: “Mailbox Money” – Rock on! Any one of us who’s ever waited (and waited) for a check in the post knows the feeling. “Put your hand in your pocket, dig down deep. Don’t be a deadbeat. I’ll sign a receipt.” Peter Jeffrey’s trumpet is terrific here, as is Pat Carey’s saxwork.

Don’t let the winter blahs get you down. Let Downchild pick you right up!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

shake n' cor cd image Shake n’ Cor and the Bonetones – Best Life


CD: 13 Songs, 46:19 Minutes

Styles: Roots, Contemporary Electric Blues and Blues Rock, All Original Songs

The New Year is a time for resolutions: promising to become healthier, wiser, more successful, and all-around better than you were before. It’s time to live your Best Life, which is also the title of the sophomore album from Canada’s Shake n’ Cor & the Bonetones. It features all the hallmarks of contemporary electric blues and blues rock: familiar rhythms, perennial subjects, repeated refrains, and often-heard instrumentation. Purists won’t find much to complain about here, at least in terms of too much genre mixing. Shake n’ Cor keep it real, without any slick tricks on sound and vocal editing. Best Life is a self-produced venture, backed by guts of steel and wills of iron from all the featured musicians. Another piece of good news is that all thirteen tracks are original, bold in and of themselves.

Their website reveals, “Shake n’ Cor is a roots-blues husband/wife duo consisting of singer- songwriter/percussionist Corry Suter, and Shakey Reay Suter on harmonica, keyboards and vocals. Shake n’ Cor was formed in 2011, after 7 years of performing and recording in their original alt-folk-jazz-blues group Little Blue Planet, with guitarist and co-producer Blue Ray Luxemburg – with whom they still maintain a close friendship and musical relationship. Shake n’ Cor and the Bonetones’ music is blues-roots music with jazz-gospel-sometimes rockin’ overtones. Corry Suter is originally from Holland and has been a productive singer/songwriter for over 20 years, and an amazing visual artist for longer than that. The harmonica playing of Shakey Reay Suter has enhanced the airwaves, stereos, and stages of Canada and the United States for over thirty years. He spent most of the 80’s on the road out of Winnipeg in blues, country, country rock, and folk acts, playing in clubs and festivals across Canada.”

Performing along with Shake n’ Cor are the Bonetones: Dave Webb on piano; Keith “Poppy” Picot on acoustic bass; Sandy “Sandybone” Smith on drums, electric rhythm guitar, and A.C. guitar; and Dave “Double D” Dykhuisen on guitar.

The following song, an instrumental, is the best display of the band’s talent.

Track 09: “Shine It Up” – Characterized as “instrumental blues” in the band’s promotional materials, nifty number nine also has more than a touch of smooth jazz. Dave Webb’s piano is crystal-clear, perfectly paired with Shakey Reay’s harmonica. It’s primarily a mood piece, laid-back and slightly melancholy. It may not be beer-chugging blues, but pour your favorite glass of vino as you kick back and let this one soothe your ears.

Make no mistake: Shake n’ Cor are trying hard to make a name for themselves, and their effort shows. However, listeners might want a bit more meat on this band’s bare-bones blues than Best Life has to offer.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

ronnie earl cd imageRonnie Earl & The Broadcasters – The Luckiest Man

Stony Plain Records SPCD 1396

12 songs – 70 minutes

Guitar virtuoso Ronnie Earl proves once again that he’s one of the most sensitive and loving musicians on the planet as he pays tribute to beloved bassist Jim Mouradian on this bittersweet, but profoundly beautiful release.

A longtime fixture in Earl’s rhythm section as well as a gifted guitar technician, Mouradian – whose grinning image fills the back cover of The Luckiest Man — died suddenly of an apparent heart attack immediately after one of Ronnie’s shows a year ago, creating a deeply felt void in the New England music community where he was based. To honor him, Earl gathered several friends to produce what, in his own words, would be “a traditional blues album of remembrance, love and unwavering resolve to live with faith and gratitude.”

A deeply spiritual man himself, he took the title from one of Mouradian’s favorite expressions: “I’m the luckiest man you know – and I don’t even know who you know.”

Like the release that preceded it – Father’s Day, which celebrated Ronnie’s dad, this one is an understated masterpiece that weaves together originals and carefully chosen covers into an emotional package that’s as mellow and uplifting as it is deep.

He’s backed here by Broadcasters Dave Limina on keyboards, Nicholas Tabarias on guitar, Forrest Padgett on drums and full-throated alto Diane Blue handling vocals with Paul Kochanski taking over the bass chair. They’re augmented by guitarist Peter Ward, sax players Mark Earley and Mario Perrett. Sugar Ray Norcia and his Bluetones – pianist Anthony Giraci, guitarist Monster Mike Welch, drummer Neil Gouvin and bassist Michael “Mudcat” Ward – also make a guest appearance for one number.

Recorded at three different studios in the Boston area, the album opens with a cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s stop-time classic “Ain’t That Lovin’ You.” Ronnie’s sweet, deliberate guitar run’s aided by subdued horns before Diane’s voice swings from the jump. The pace continues and them brightens for the Earl original instrumental, “Southside Stomp,” before a haunting, modern redo of Rev. Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” with Blue at the mike.

The somber tone continues with the sweet original instrumental “Jim’s Song” before the atmosphere changes immediately with a silky smooth keyboard-driven cover of the Little Willie John classic “Heartbreak (It’s Hurting Me).” A version of the traditional “Howlin’ Blues” features interplay between Earl’s guitar and Limina’s keys before Ronnie and Diane turn Bryan Adams’ “Never Gonna Break My Faith” into a full-on blues ballad.

Penned by Norcia, “Long Lost Conversation” is another ballad. He handles vocals and harp as his own unit melds seamlessly with Earl and The Broadcasters. “Sweet Miss Vee” and “Blues For Magic Sam” – a pairing of two original, unhurried instrumentals – gives Ronnie space to shine before covers of “So Many Roads,” recorded by everyone from Son Seals to The Grateful Dead, Fenton Robinson’s familiar burning blues, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” bring the set to a conclusion.

Marvelously mellow throughout and available through all major retailers, The Luckiest Man definitely isn’t music for the dance floor. But if you’re interested in bathing yourself in some warm, loving music in front of a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night, you won’t go wrong here.

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.

delaney guitars ad image

 Featured Interview – Wee Willie Walker 

wee willie walker photo 1Everything’s happening at once right now for Wee Willie Walker, and it’s all good.

The diminutive soul singer with the huge pipes just scored no less than five Blues Music Award nominations for his 2017 CD After A While with Bay Area guitarist Anthony Paule’s Soul Orchestra on the Blue Dot label, further accelerating his rapid rise to much-overdue stardom. The nominations included Vocalist of the Year and Soul Blues Artist of the Year.

“I don’t have words,” marvels the Minneapolis-based Walker. “I’ve been overwhelmed with that.”

The disc opens with two gorgeous originals, “Second Chance” and the title track, both written by the prolific Christine Vitale. “Thanks For The Dance,” another of her contributions, recalls the seductive sway of early ‘60s-era Drifters. Particularly potent is the heartfelt “Hate Take A Holiday,” co-written by Walker, his brother-in-law Eugene Williams, and Paule. “My brother-in-law and I, over 30 years ago, were contemplating doing a song and calling it ‘Hate Take A Holiday,’” says Willie. “We did a demo over 30 years ago and couldn’t get it out. And when we decided to do this CD, I thought it would be a perfect time to bring it back to the surface.” Willie co-penned the moving “Cannot Be Denied” with Paule and Vitale. “I love that one. That kind of struck a nerve in me. It has a bit of my life story mixed in,” says Walker. “She’s a heck of a writer. Most of what I did was try to help form the material.”

Willie didn’t forget about blues on the set, offering an elegant revival of Lil Green’s “Romance In the Dark.” “I really like the way that one came out,” he says. “That was pretty much my idea. We were playing some covers and I heard it, and I said, ‘Hey, that’s me!’” Walker also pulled out a faithful treatment of Little Willie John’s storming “Look What You’ve Done To Me” and teamed with Terrie Odabi to revisit Otis Redding and Carla Thomas’ sassy duet treatment of Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp.” Walker first crossed paths with Paule three years ago at the Porretta Soul Festival in Italy. “It was just something that happened there. We just kind of locked into each other,” says Willie. “We decided to do some work together and try to put together a CD. And we did.”

Willie first resurfaced on a national scale in 2015 with his stunning CD If Nothing Ever Changes, produced by harpist Rick Estrin and guitarist Kid Andersen and released under the Little Village Foundation banner. “A friend of mine brought Rick to a club where I was doing a duo here in town,” says Walker. “He was a fan of mine from years ago. He’s got all my Goldwax material. And when he came, he didn’t like the guitar player that I was working with. He was like, ‘This just ain’t right!’ He decided he was going to do something to get me out of there.”

That commitment intensified when a vacationing Walker ran into Estrin on a blues cruise. “I was just on the cruise enjoying the whole atmosphere,” says Willie. “He asked me on the blues cruise if I would come to San Jose and record with them. And that was that first CD we did together, If Nothing Ever Changes. That was the go-getter. It opened a lot of doors.” The title track was conceived by Walker’s keyboardist friend, Bruce Pedalty. “We were just sitting in his basement, and he was messing with that. He said, ‘You know, this is kind of a Bobby Bland type of song, but I really think it’ll fit you!’ And we put it together,” says Willie. “I remembered that one when we were doing the CD, and I thought, ‘I really should put that one there!” Another standout on the disc was Walker’s radical reworking of the Beatles’ “Help!.” “That was a lot of fun, trying to totally restructure that song to get what we got,” he says.

Widespread acclaim for If Nothing Ever Changes led to tours of Brazil, Spain, and Denmark. With Andersen and keyboardist Jim Pugh producing, Walker made a live recording that was issued by Little Village Foundation as Live! Notodden Blues Festival Norway. “Everybody knew that we were being recorded except me,” explains Walker. “I would have been nervous if I had known we were being recorded. I probably would have screwed up all the material! As it turned out, it worked great.”

wee willie walker photo 2A lot of Southern soul singers gravitated to 1960s Memphis in search of a recording contract. Willie took a different route, exiting the Bluff City to settle in Minneapolis—hardly a simmering rhythm and blues hotbed—before returning to Memphis long enough to make his first recordings. Walker was born in Hernando, Mississippi, but that was an accidental occurrence. “Memphis was home. My mom was visiting my grandparents,” he says. “I popped out to visit them as well!” Growing up in the LeMoyne Gardens projects in South Memphis (his schoolmates included future soul stars Spencer and Percy Wiggins and Louis Williams, who would embrace stardom as the Sam Cooke-influenced lead singer of the Ovations), Walker sang the hits of the day in a nearby park in his early teens.

“I got caught up in doowop. I can’t even remember the name of the group we had as kids in the project, but it was a darned good group,” he says. “We even tried running away. We tried to hop a freight train to try to go north to see if we could be heard. But that didn’t work out too well.” Nonetheless, their youthful harmonies caught the ear of someone that could do them some good. “The brother of one of the guys in the doowop group was playing guitar for the Redemption Harmonizers, and he brought them down to the park where we hung out every night and sang for the masses of the project. They loved our harmonies and thought this would really fit what they were trying to do,” says Willie. “They were trying to recruit members for their gospel group.

“That was an opportunity for us to be heard—not paid, but heard. So a couple of us joined the gospel group,” he says. “That was the beginning of my gospel career. And I loved every second of it.” But in May of 1959, when Willie was 17 years of age and already a veteran of the gospel circuit, he made his northern move. “Every summer we would travel together, the Redemption Harmonizers,” he says. “And they showed up in Minnesota once too often, because I fell in love with it the first time I got there. And when they brought it up again and asked everybody if they wanted to go back there, I told them, ‘Yes, I want to go back, and if you do go back, I’m not coming back to Memphis!’

“They didn’t believe me. But it was pre-planned, because one of the guys I was working with in the group, James Mabon, he was kind of like our leader, his dad lived in Minnesota. And I pre-arranged with his dad—I said, ‘I think I want to stay here!’ And he said, ‘Well, if you want to stay here, you’re already home!’ So I felt comfortable with making that decision because I met him and spent time with him before. They just took me in as part of the family. And they’re still my family!” Clarence Mabon, James’ father, sang bass with a Minnesota gospel group, the Royal Jubileers, so he knew the territory. Willie settled into his new environs with no particular urge to explore the secular side of the street until he met local musician Tim Eason–in a laundromat.

“Oh, my God—acoustics are so good in laundromats!” laughs Walker. “I’m washing my clothes, he’s washing his clothes. It was a weird incident. He just kept staring at me. I couldn’t understand this. And coming from Memphis, I’m ready to defend myself. But he just walked right up and said, ‘You look like you can sing!’ And I said, ‘Well, I do, a little.’ So we started harmonizing and singing some familiar songs that we knew. And he was like, ‘Wow!’ And he just ran out of the laundromat and he had a friend who sang who had a record store on the same corner, and he brought him back and we started doing three-part harmony. And it was like, ‘Wow! We can start the group now!’ They had been trying to start this group called the Valdons. Obviously they had had it before and it didn’t work, and they were trying to put it back together, and they thought, ‘Wow, we found the missing link!’ And it was a lot of fun doing that with them.” The Valdons soon added band members, including keyboardist Willie Murphy.

Eventually it came time for the prodigal son to return to his old Memphis stomping grounds for a long-overdue visit. “That was my first vacation that I chose to go back home,” he remembers. “It was my first opportunity to visit my family, because all my friends had told me that I’d be back in a few months. They said, ‘You’ll come back hungry! You won’t make it. You won’t make it.’ I said, ‘I’m not coming back here!’ So when I came back, I went back and in my idea, in my fashion, that I went back for them to see that I was looking just fine.”

wee willie walker photo 3One of Walker’s old running buddies, Roosevelt Jamison, had made it as a successful soul songwriter, penning classics for O.V. Wright and James Carr. Jamison and Walker’s friendship went back to Willie’s early Memphis days. “He was writing songs even then,” says Willie. “I was doing demos for him while we were in the gospel group, and he was trying to write songs for other people to sing.”

Jamison was now aligned with Quinton Claunch and Rudolph “Doc” Russell’s Goldwax Records, which was giving the more celebrated Memphis labels Stax and Hi a run for their money on the soul charts with a talent roster headed by James Carr, Spencer Wiggins, and the Ovations. Another of the company’s prolific songsmiths was George Jackson, who recorded for the firm with duet partner Dan Greer as George and Greer when he wasn’t churning out hit material for his labelmates. Doc’s nickname was no fluke. “He was a pharmacist, and he had the drugstore,” says Willie. “The drugstore was the business area for Goldwax. They had a room in the back of the drugstore with a piano.

“Roosevelt Jamison introduced me to George Jackson, and between the two of them they dragged me over to Goldwax so that Claunch and Russell could hear me,” says Willie. “I had three weeks of vacation time in Memphis, and they signed me to a contract that same day. And for that whole three weeks I was in the studio, trying to come up with some material to release, I never really visited my family. I was busy.”

Willie’s 1967 Goldwax debut single was cut at Sam Phillips’ studio on Madison Avenue. Was he nervous? “No, I was pretty much in awe,” he says. “Just curious as to what I would sound like on records.” Instead of locating fresh material for their discovery to wrap his melismatic pipes around, the label’s braintrust had him work his vocal magic on two familiar songs. “One was a Beatles cover and one was an O.V. Wright cover,” says Walker. “They chose them. I had nothing to do with it. I was recording. Whatever they wanted me to do, that’s what I did.”

A sizzling R&B reprise of the Beatles’ “Ticket To Ride” was the plug side of Walker’s debut, which hit the streets that summer. Wright had emerged on Goldwax in ‘64 with the Jamison-penned soul ballad “There Goes My Used To Be,” which Willie did full justice to on the B-side. Goldwax billed the singer as “Wee” Willie Walker. “They hung the name ‘Wee’ Willie Walker on me, and that’s the name that any and everybody remembers me by.”

Instead of pressing Walker’s encore single in March of 1968, Goldwax licensed it to Chicago’s Checker Records. “I didn’t know it, but they were actually doing their very best to get me the exposure that I needed, that they thought I needed. So they leased my songs to Chess/Checker, because Chess/Checker was a lot stronger than they were,” says Willie. The stirring soul ballad “You Name It, I’ve Had It” suited Walker’s strengths. “I actually had a chance to work on that,” says Willie. “It told a story. That’s what I really liked about it. All the hard luck you can have, I’ve been there.” The song was written by Clarence Shields. “He was a good friend of George Jackson’s,” notes Walker.

Authorship on the surging flip “You’re Running Too Fast” was officially credited to Claunch and Russell, but Walker is quick to set the record straight. “That’s a George Jackson song,” he says. “I was with him when he wrote it!” Checker removed the “Wee” from Willie’s billing. “I really thought things would be a little different,” remembers Walker of his Checker tenure. “But it wasn’t any different.”

For his final Checker outing on Checker, Walker headed down to Rick Hall’s FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. Claunch and Russell were still credited as his producers, but again the official credits on the label weren’t accurate. Hall, who passed away January 2, was the actual producer. “They sent me to FAME,” Walker says of Goldwax’s owners. “They didn’t come with me.”

wee willie walker photo 4The pounding “A Lucky Loser” was the brainchild of Allen Jones and Homer Banks, well-known for their Stax exploits. “Homer, Spencer, Louis Williams, we all went to school together,” notes Walker, who wasn’t all that impressed with the number. “It was just a song, and, ‘Hey, I’m gonna sing it! I’m just gonna make the best of it.’” However, Willie was knocked out by FAME’s house band. “Those guys had me flabbergasted. I mean, they were really great musicians,” says Willie. “A song they never even heard, you’d just kind of go in and hum it to ‘em and give ‘em five minutes, and they said, ‘Let’s try one!’ And I’m like, ‘Try one what?’ They were creative!” On the flip was a country ditty already tried on for size by Roy Drusky that Willie modified into a full-fledged soul weeper, “Warm To Cool To Cold.”

John Richbourg, the extremely influential R&B deejay on Nashville’s 50,000-watt clear channel WLAC radio, was all set to spin the single upon its late ‘68 release, but things didn’t quite work out as planned. “That was one of the worst mistakes that I ever made in my life,” he says. “John R was in a position to make ‘A Lucky Loser’ a huge hit. It’s like nothing like that had ever happened to me before. And he called and he wanted me to introduce the record. And he talked briefly, for a few seconds, and then he said, ‘I’ll be right back with you, and I want you to introduce the record to these people and tell them who you are.’ I’m like, ‘This is bullshit!’ So when he came back, I started swearing! And he hung up on me, and I was like, ‘Oh, shit! What did I just do?’

“Hey, I’m just here walking around in the house, probably having a couple drinks or whatever, not expecting anything like that. I’d heard other artists introducing their material on the radio, but I just never in my wildest imagination thought that would be happening to me. I just really thought it was a prank. Hey, we make mistakes. That’s one of my biggest.”

The lack of monetary reward from Goldwax rankled Walker, but he eventually mellowed. “After maturing a little more,” he says, “I realized the fact that the exposure was worth more than a few pennies.” When Goldwax folded, Walker was left without a recording contract. “I really didn’t care, because they wanted me to come back to Memphis to pursue my career, and I couldn’t do it because I had a job and a family,” he says. Making things a bit more confusing: another Willie Walker popped up on Hi’s Pawn subsidiary, his 1975 single produced in Memphis by Willie Mitchell.

A possible connection with Chicago soul bard Curtis Mayfield was scuttled. “I’ll never know the real truth of that. Curtis said that Claunch and Russell wanted too much for my contract, but I thought my contract was up. The contract had never been fulfilled, and I’m sure that was for monetary reasons with them. But Curtis said they were asking too much for the contract, and he said he’d just wait,” he says. “I really believe that would have been a great marriage.”

Although Walker’s national profile receded during the ‘70s, he sang in Murphy’s band, Willie and the Bees, a horn band billed as Salt, Pepper and Spice, and other Minneapolis outfits. During the 2000s, he made three CDs and toured Europe with the Butanes. Now he’s operating on elevated levels that he never enjoyed before, making his third appearance at the Porretta Soul Festival this July and sharing the bill with his old Memphis pals Spencer and Percy Wiggins. “We’re going to try to rekindle some Goldwax memories,” Willie promises.

Restoring the “Wee” to his stage moniker seems to have had a positive effect. “While I was just cruising with Rick Estrin and the Nightcats on the cruise, he introduced me as Wee Willie Walker. And I was blown away with how many people on that cruise remembered Wee Willie Walker. But Willie Walker, there were just too damn many of them. So from that day on, I said, ‘Hey, that’s who I am. I’m going back to where I started!’”

Check out Willie’s website at:

Interviewer Bill Dahl is a lifelong Chicago resident who began writing about music professionally in 1977. He’s written for Vintage Rock, Goldmine, Living Blues, Blues Revue, Blues Music Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and the Reader, and is the author of The Art of the Blues, a 2016 book published by University of Chicago Press, and 2001’s Motown: The Golden Years (Krause Publications). Bill was awarded the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award in journalism in 2000.

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The Santa Barbara Blues Society – Santa Barbara, CA

Famed harmonica ace and soul blues singer Curtis Salgado, in tandem with guitarist Alan Hager, headlines the annual acoustic Member Appreciation Show of the Santa Barbara Blues Society at the New Victoria Theatre on Saturday, January 20, 2018.

Oregon native Salgado has been delivering outstanding blues for over four decades. Former lead singer with the Robert Cray Band and Roomful of Blues, Salgado was also a mentor of John Belushi in the formation of The Blues Brothers.

Salgado is winner of a myriad of awards, including B.B. King Entertainer of the Year and Soul Blues Artist of the Year from the Blues Foundation. This will be his first appearance for the Santa Barbara Blues Society, as part of the CD release tour for his new acoustic duo album with Hager.

The show is FREE to all SBBS members, and only $10 for anyone else. Tickets will be available at the door. For further information consult or call (805) 722-8155.

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL, IL

Monthly shows at the Hope and Anchor in Loves Park, IL are on the second Saturday of the month. They are from 8:00 to 11:30 PM and there is a $5 Cover Charge. Scheduled shows: February 10 – Ray Fuller and the Blues Rockers, March 10 – John Primer, April 14 – Chicago Wind featuring Matthew Skoller and Dietra Farr, May 12 – Cash Box Kings.

The Lyran Society in downtown Rockford hosts first and third Friday blues along with a fish fry. No cover, shows 7 to 10 pm. Scheduled shows: January 18 – The Blues Disciples, February 2 – Recently Paroled, February 16 – Donna Herula, March 2 – Olivia Dvorak Band, March 17 – Ivy Ford Band, April 6 – Bobby Messano.

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

The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society announces our February Blues Bash, featuing Heather Gillis, with Funky Geezer opening, on the 2nd Sunday in February, the 11th, at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Avenue, Charlotte, NC 28205. Doors at 7:00, Music at 8:00. Jam session follows.

All year, we are collecting canned food for Loaves and Fishes; donations are requested, to help the less fortunate in our community.

For more info visit Facebook:  or

Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

Sacramento Blues Society presents a fundraiser with the James Armstrong Band on Wednesday, January 31, 2018 at 6:30 Momo, 2708 J Street, Sacramento, California. Few blues artists know how to play the crowd as James can. Little wonder he’s been dubbed the Ambassador of the Blues.

General Admission $15. Tickets available at

Trinity River Blues Society – Dallas, TX

The Dallas/Fort Worth based Trinity River Blues Society announces a benefit concert for the Hart Fund, a charity by the Blues Foundation that helps musicians in need.

The concert features non other than the great Jimmie Vaughan with special guest Janiva Magness. The concert is February 11 and will be held at the Kessler in Dallas. For more information

Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

The Central Iowa Blues Society presents the 24th Winter Blues Fest at the Downtown Des Moines Marriott, 700 Grand Ave on Friday, February 9 and Saturday, February 10, 2018.

TWENTY blues acts under one roof and out of the cold! Featuring Bryce Janey, Eric Jerardi, Anthony Gomes, Jason Ricci, Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin Altar Boys, Heath Alan Band, Aaron Earl Short, Malcolm Wells & the Two Timers, Amanda Fish Band, Grand Marquis, Kilborn Alley, Steepwater Band, Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal. Iowa Blues Challenge Winner, Avey Grouws Band and the Solo Winner, Kevin “BF” Burt will perform along with regional Blues Challenge winners, Taylor Smith – Kansas City, Ken Valdez – Minnesota and the Omaha Winner, Rex Granite Band featuring Sarah Benck.

Andy Cohen will again provide the Saturday afternoon guitar workshop. Scotty & the Wingtips will host the After Hours Jam on Saturday night.

Admission – Friday $20 advance or $25 at door, Saturday $30 advance or $35 at door, both days $45 advance or $50 at door.

There is a special Blues Fest rate at the Marriott hotel. Book online or call 515.245.5500. Information and tickets at or through Midwestix.

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 The 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: January 22 – The Greg Glick Band, January 29 – Brandon Santini, February 5 – The Scott Ellison Band, February 12 – Dave Lumsden & Friends, February 19 – The Scottie Miller Band, February 26 – The Good, The Bad and The Blues. For more information visit

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