Issue 12-38 September 20, 2018

Cover photo © 2018 Alex Brown

 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with producer, drummer and songwriter, Tony Braunagel. We have 5 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Andy Watts, Cyril Neville, Dan McKinnon, Paul Dougherty and Jonny T-Bird & the MPs.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

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Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

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*Also featuring Sunny Lowdown

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 5 

andy watts cd imageAndy Watts – Blues On Fire

Self Released

8 tracks

Israel based Andy Watts has a steady and heavy hand on his guitar. His band is equally talented and works awesomely as a team. The blues are deep and authentic. The sound is tight and together. This is a musician and band that can deliver the goods!

The band has several stand-ins joining the fray. Andy plays guitar; joining him are Eyal Klien and Niv Hovav on keys, Avi Barak and Moshe Yankovsky on drums, Gregorty Rivkin on trumpet, and Amos Springer, Tom Mochiach and Ilan Hillel on bass.

Things kick off with a big instrumental. On “Full Throttle,” Watts’ guitar is prominent, but the baritone sax by Elad Gellert is throaty and helps drive this bouncy and catchy cut. Klein’s keys also shine as Watts shows us his unique guitar tone and technique. The title track is next and features Joe Louis Walker on vocals ar Andy plays guitar. Klein’s Hammond organ and Demitri Shurin’s sax shine as Walker moans and groans and Watts’ guitar blazes. “Looking For Somebody” is an elegant and thoughtful Peter Green cut with Watts laying out some really cool guitar licks. Hillel sings emphatically as he plays bass and Klein offers more Hammond organ, but it’s Watts’ guitar that impresses most here. “Riviera Paradise” is next, a Stevie Ray Vaughn song with an ethereal intro on guitar and trumpet. Thoughtful and restrained, this is a beautiful instrumental piece. A little jazzy with the trumpet and Klien’s piano, the band show diversity and the ability to stylistically shift with equal intensity.

JJ Cale’s “I Got The Same Old Blues” starts the second half. Roy Young does the vocal work. Gritty and authentic, his vocals scream “I AM THE BLUES!” Ronnie Peterson helps out on guitar, and between he and Watts they deliver a fantastic sound. Klien’s Hammond and Gellert’s sax add nicely to the mix, but Young and guitars are preeminent. Hendrix’ “Voodoo Chile” features Dov Hammer on vocals and harp. Watts’ distorted guitar gives us a cool rendition while Hammer’s vocals are strident and cool. Stratospheric guitar and equally lucid and cool harp work and their trading licks make this a unique cover. The 1971 Jerico Jones cut “Junkies, Monkies & Donkeys” is psychedelic and really cool. The liner notes say to break out your lava lamps and that’s an apt suggestion. Danny Shoshan is on vocals and gives a fine performance as does Klein on keys, Gellert on sax and Watts on guitar. A blast from the past for sure! The album concludes with “Who Knows,” another Hendrix song. Listed as a bonus track, it is a beautiful instrumental. Watts’ lays out lick after lick and Rivkin on trumpet and Hovav on keys reply to Watts’ guitar. The song continues in a psychedelic tone from the last cut, building more and more as the boys lay out a thick and heavy sound. Well done!

When I saw the album cover with the big old sky blue Impala, two gals in short, tight skirts and Watt’s looking like SRV I figured on a big, straight up and overdone rock album. I was wrong. Watts show creativity and variety in his two originals and six covers. Two Hendrix songs, Peter Green, JJ Cale, SRV and the Jerico Jones cut make for a cool and interesting mix. Watts does not shred and plays expressively with air between his notes and thoughtfulness in his picking. The saxes and trumpet are sublime. Klein’s Hammond and pianos are superb on his seven tracks and Hovav is no slouch, either. Adding some nice vocalists with the instrumentals also makes a nice mix.

My only complaint is 8 songs-I want to hear more! Watts and his cohorts play well together and make interesting music. This band from Israel is on fire. I’ve never seen them live and I will certainly keep an eye out for them when they come to America.

They are a fine band and this CD certainly warrants being listened to!

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 5 

cyril neville cd imageCyril Neville – Endangered Species: The Essential Recordings

World Order Entertainment

11 songs – 53 minutes

Cyril Neville needs no introduction to most blues fans. The youngest brother in New Orleans’ first family of music, a wonderful singer and percussionist with the Meters, the Neville Brothers, Royal Southern Brotherhood and a host of other bands, his latest album marks the first release by World Order Entertainment, the label started by his son, Omari Neville.

The Essential Recordings is a one-CD distillation of the five-CD retrospective of Endangered Species: The Complete Recordings. The five-CDs collect all the recordings Neville has released over the years for the Endangered Species label under his own name and under various other ensembles he created, such as the Uptown All-Stars. The Essential Recordings cherry-picks 11 highlights from those five albums.

Unfortunately, there is no information provided on the musicians who played on each track, nor where or when each song was recorded. Suffice to say however that the quality of both the recordings and the musicianship is outstanding throughout, with a very consistent sound. The just-the-right-side-of-chaotic of the rollicking blues of “New Orleans Cookin’” is an object lesson to how to build intensity within the context of a song. There is superb bass solo in “Funkaliscious”. “Love Has Got To Win” mixes funk and rock to winning effect.

Three tracks open with spoken-word introductions. On “Second Line Soca”, Neville explains the tradition of second line parades in New Orleans. He acknowledges the lasting impact of the late, great NOLA pianist on “More Professor Longhair”, while “Can’t Stop A Dreamer” opens with a single, powerful sentence from Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, before other snippets from the same speech are inserted throughout the track.

Neville is a noted environmental activist, a theme that is often addressed in his lyrics (such as “Ayiti”), as are broader societal issues of equality, tolerance and civil rights (in the likes of “Love Has Got To Win” and “Can’t Stop A Dreamer”). In “Funkaliscious”, he sings: “in spite of all the lies, the truth never dies. Stick to your convictions. Accept no restrictions.” There are loving homages to the music of Big Easy in “More Professor Longhair”, “Second Line Soca” and “Running With The Secondline” (which features Damien Neville).

The bluesy soul ballad “The Road To Unity” is dedicated to the spirits, the families and friends of rappers Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls and features one of Neville’s best vocal performances in a plea to end unnecessary gun violence.

The beginning of “Lift Every Voice And Sing” highlights the glorious vocals of Gaynielle Neville, Dane Wilson and Yadonna Wise over a simple gospel guitar backing before the full band (and another MLK sample) arrives to take the song in a more soul/R’n’B direction.

All the tracks have that irresistible New Orleans rhythm, even when Neville (as he often does) brings in elements of rock, funk, hip hop, soul or Caribbean music. This is music you can listen to and it is music you can’t help but dance to. Very, very impressive.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 5 

dan mckinnon cd imaqeDan McKinnon – The Cleaner

Alcool Records – 2018

10 tracks; 49 minutes

Dan McKinnon is a young guitarist based in Toronto, Canada, and this is his second album release. Recorded live in the studio, this is a trio album with plenty of Dan’s power chords and solid support from bassist Peter Eratostene and drummer Michael Carbone. Dan wrote all the material and handles the vocals.

In the accompanying PR sheet Dan is quoted as admiring the period in the late 60’s/early 70’s: “albums like Bobby Bland’s Dreamer, BB King’s Completely Well and Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud were all rooted in the blues tradition, contained high-quality songwriting and sounded contemporary with the time. With The Cleaner I wanted to make an album that hit on those three points”. Dan certainly does that with “17 Years”, a fine ballad with soaring, fast-fingered guitar and reflective lyrics about time wasted and “Thoughtless” that blends a slow tune with some echoey chords and a churning core riff that develops into a good solo. Another reflective song “Till You Come Around” is a classic slow blues. Dan also demonstrates a lightness of touch on a BB-style shuffle “More Than Enough” which has an excellent solo and was definitely the standout track for this reviewer.

The rest of the album is as much rock as blues: opening track “Storm” is classic blues-rock with a repetitive riff, heavy bass and toe-tapping drums and “One Track Mind” bounces along on its core riff. “King Baby” has a riff that could have been Ritchie Blackmore’s in early Deep Purple and Dan chooses to use a distorted vocal, a technique he uses on several tracks including “Walk That Aisle”, another heavy track and two tracks that have a North Mississippi Hill Country vibe: “All Mine”, introduced by some rattling snare drum work by Michael, and the fast-paced album closer “WOWOWOW”.

Across the ten cuts Dan demonstrates that he has a range of styles with which he is comfortable. Clearly some will appeal more than others, as was the case for this reviewer, but the advantage is that there will almost certainly be something here that will appeal to most blues fans.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 5 

paul dougherty cd imagePaul Dougherty – Monumental

Bake it Black Records, May 2018

14 tracks, 65:18

Born in Houston, Paul Dougherty grew up in Nashville and played music throughout the region in indie pop to Americana and roots groups. His influences include Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, and Van Morrison, as well as punk groups such as Joy Division and the Flaming Lips. Paul moved to Berlin in 1989, where he witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and was a busker to earn money during his stay.

In the Summer of 1990, after becoming stranded in Berlin, Dougherty made his way back to Nashville, where he eventually started the avant garde indie pop band Chilhowie, a band that often included the impersonator Psycho Elvis. In 2000, Dougherty formed The Uninsurables, an Americana group that was a big hit on the Nashville circuit. In 2002, they recorded the live CD Keep the Feet On, gathering positive reviews in the region.

Later in 2002, Dougherty moved to Germany with his wife. Since then, he has played around Germany and in parts of Europe, recording a variety of albums for Bake It Black Records in Munich, including the acclaimed roots CD Grace Under Water, which spent a month on the Roots Music Report Folk Charts, the indie pop recordings Beeswax, I’m Only in It for the Money and the retrospective Evensong.

Monumental is a collection of songs originally written and recorded by his late father, Tommy Dougherty, a noted Hammond organ player and Nashville studio artist who made several records from the 70s through the 90s. Tommy Dougherty was born in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1941 and played the Houston club scene starting in the late 1950s as a singer and Hammond organ player. He was heavily influenced by Ray Charles and the great organist Jimmy Smith. Dougherty played soul music in Houston during the ’60s prior to moving to Nashville in ’72. There, he sang and recorded in the clubs and studios around Music City, USA, often supplementing his gig income by singing in commercials and performing as a “sound-alike,” to mimic popular performers. Nonetheless, his soulful recordings of his own compositions stand out the most. Tommy Dougherty passed away in 2017, at the age of 76.

Monumental contains 14 tracks written by the elder Dougherty (one track, Together We Shine, was co-written by Tommy Dougherty and Michael Foster), and performed by son Paul Dougherty, who also engineered this collection and “played” all the instruments. That said, many of the “instruments” appear to be synthesized sounds, played on a keyboard. And, unfortunately, the overproduction of several numbers – particularly with the addition of synth horns and overplayed drum tracks – tends to offset the classic simplicity of the songs themselves. Pro Tip: Just because your keyboard has synth sounds for other instruments doesn’t mean you should actually use them.

It’s unfortunate, because in tracking-down some of Paul Dougherty’s other CDs and recordings (he’s released 11 other CDs), it’s obvious that he’s got chops for both songwriting and performing. For example, his 2014 collection, River Pearl, has some great songs on it; but even there, his tendency for overproduction undercuts the power of the songwriting itself. And his chops are similarly obscured on this collection of listenable, bluesy pop songs, songs that might have felt right at home in smoky nightclubs during the late 50s through the early 70s.

All of the songs are very good, and to this listener, the standout tracks tend to be those which are a bit more stripped-down, production-wise, such as the torchy ballads “Stars Above,” “Cowgirl Song” (featuring Paul Hilton on pedal steel), “Still in Love with You,” and “Mexico Beaches.” On some of the other tracks, extraneous instrumentation and vocal over-processing tend to diminish the integrity of the songs themselves. Compare the younger Dougherty’s version of “Little Damn Dog” with his father’s original version, and you’ll hear for yourself why simpler is better.

Bottom line? Tommy Dougherty was an accomplished songwriter and organist, whose recordings have a very comfortable, broken-in feel, almost like you’ve heard them many times before. His featured songs on this collection are, for the most part, very good indeed. But they’ve been overproduced with unnecessary – and often poorly conceived and/or executed – instrumentation. If you really want to hear them in all their glory, I suggest you track down the original recordings, as these versions are too haphazardly overproduced – and performed – to really do them justice. Many of the tracks on this collection can be found on Tommy Dougherty’s Still Got Wings album, released in 1998. You can sample it here:

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 5 

jonny t-bird cd imageJonny T-Bird & the MPs – Hot Stuff

Self released

11 songs/53 minutes

The Blues is a music best appreciated live and in person. The nature of our beloved genre is finding solace and support in community; sharing hard truths about the world so we don’t feel alone. That’s why unlike in other genres, all live Blues albums are good to great. It’s like pizza or sex, even when it’s not mind-blowing its still pretty good. This axiom only applies to Blues albums; that endless 35 minute jam band track popping up in your shuffle! Lucky for fans of Milwaukee natives Jonny T-Bird & the MPs, Hot Stuff is a good live record that shows off this strong swinging Blues band in front of a warm receptive crowd.

Recorded live at Red Dot in Wauwatosa, WI, Hot Stuff highlights Jonny T’s classy guitar chops. In the vein of 80’s renaissance slingers like Ronnie Earl or Duke Robillard, T-Bird plays swinging old-school Chicago style through a clean Stratocaster sound. Also adept at slide, using a freaky USA map guitar, Jonny T-Bird delivers the real deal uncut six string magic. It is right that this record be credited to the MPs because like all good traditional Blues, the band is essential. “Cadillac” Craig Carter on bass and Marcus “MG” Gibbons on drums infuse these Blues with funk, drum triggered digital beats and slapped booty shakin’ low end. This solid rhythm section helps to add variety and inventiveness into the swing, which lesser musicians often make boring and hackneyed. The secret weapon is Danny Moore on keys. An unassuming player, Moore colors the edges of the music with flourish and foundation.

When Jonny T-Bird and the MPs are in it, they scorch. “Me & My Baby,” sung by Cadillac Craig, highlights the bassist’s super funk. Slapping like Johnny B. Gayden over live drums and triggered digital beats, Craig delivers this feel good testimony to love and companionship with a throaty drawl. T-Bird stabs at the rhythm unencumbered by his lead vocal role and unleashes a torrent of note flurries. Guest key tickler Jimmy Voegeli sprinkles a clavinet sounding solo onto the mix creating the high point of this album.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ first two records are the high water mark for the type of swinger cool Blues that Jonny T-Bird and company are trying to lay down so it is no surprise that they cover the T-Bird’s cover of “Why Get Up?” (hmm, Jonny T-Bird – Fabulous T-Birds). With a great call and response vocal performance and reverential arrangement, “Get Up” is one of Jonny T’s strongest vocal outings. The hypnotic syncopated, faintly New Orleans-y, groove pops along and again shows how this band can get down when the material they are performing is right for them.

As good as Jonny T-Bird is when he is in full guitar flight, his vocal skills cannot carry all of the material on this record. A song like “Someday Baby,” a variant on the classic “Sittin’ On Top of the World” form, falls literally flat with T-Bird’s spoken word vocals. Exceptional slide work and the ever locked in band keep this song moving and probably made it fun to watch live but as a strictly auditory experience it is not in the same league as the above mentioned performances. Jonny writes 5 of the 11 tracks on this record and the writing is inconsistent. Swingers like “Stupid Cupid” and “It Is What It Is” are great musical performances but the lyrics are clunky and don’t flow. “Greens & Dough” and “Laura” are better written but the music is to directly referenced to Howlin’ Wolf songs, “Killing Floor” and “Spoonful” respectively, to feel fresh or original.

Jonny T-Bird and the MPs are a hard swinging band of highly skilled technicians. They lock in, they play reverentially and with innovative flair within a very classic style. They must be a blast to see live and Hot Stuff is a good document. Like with all Blues live records their is heart, fire and a community of people gathering together to celebrate life and laugh at the hardships.

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 Interview – Tony Braunagel 

tony braunagel photo 1“When I was three years old, I would stand in the middle of the dance floor at a honkytonk where my mom and dad would go to have a beer in the afternoon with grandpa down the road, and I would beg my dad for nickels to drop in the jukebox. I would bug him until he’d give me a handful, and I would go put nickels in the jukebox and just stand there and bounce up and down.

“My body’s always wanted to dance and move and react. I understand the ritualistic thing of what my rhythm does to a room full of people, and I recognize what’s happening in 10 seconds. The power of setting a rhythm, the pace, and watching people immediately start to move. Like in seconds you watch their bodies sway and you go, ‘I get it! I get it! That’s what I’m doing. That’s what we’re doing. Now, we have a responsibility with this.’

It was Tony’s new friend, Willie Ornelos, who first turned him onto playing drums when his family moved in down the street on the North Side of Houston. Tony was eight.

“Willie started turning me on to music. He started listening to music. By then, I was already into rhythm ‘n blues even though I was raised on country music with my father. I was already into rhythm ’n blues because of my cousin. She would play rhythm ’n blues on this black radio station when I was about that age, eight, or nine, or 10, and I heard that, and I kinda switched over to that music quite easily the first time I heard it, and even got into a little bit of trouble for wanting to hear that. My dad said, ‘Where did you hear that music?’

Tony Braunagel is a producer, drummer, and songwriter whose production credits include Taj Mahal, Eric Burdon, Rickie Lee Jones, Mike Zito, Curtis Selgado, Ana Popovic, Deb Ryder, Coco Montoya, and Trampled Under Foot. And that’s not a tenth of his credits. He’s been a drummer for many of these artists as well as for Back Street Crawler and Johnny Nash. There really was never much question about what he would do. It’s in his blood.

“It’s kinda like the voodoo came out of the woods, know what I mean? And when I went to visit Clarksdale, Greenville and Oxford on a trip by myself once, I was just taken by it, man. I was intoxicated. I could stand out in the cotton fields and look out in the fields and just tell that something had gone on there that really was quite special.

“I went out to a place they said where Muddy Waters’ shack was supposed to be in a field. I had a rental car, and I had a newspaper on the back seat on the floor. And I gathered up some soil and some cotton balls, and I put ’em in that newspaper, wrapped ’em up, brought ’em both with me, and I gave ’em to a couple different friends.

“I gave a jar of it to my producer friend John Porter ’cause we were making a lot of great R&B and blues records at the time, and I gave one to Johnny Lee Schell who has a studio with the Phantom Blues Band, and that jar with that soil and those cotton balls in the studio are sitting right next to where I drum every day.”

Being a producer is like being a parent. There’s no owner’s manual. It’s all about being there and establishing an atmosphere that’s conducive to your child – or artist – creating great work. Listening to Tony talk about the people he works with is like having a father show you pictures of his offspring’s football practice or his first day of school.

As he says, “I’m empathetic to other people and what goes on in the world. When you get out in the yard, you can swing your brain all over the place in your life, and I think you need to do that. I think you need to try and let those thoughts go, especially an artist, especially when you’re creative. The world would be a lot better place if a lot more people opened their thinking beside the 10% of consciousness that we use. If everybody could just go to 11 or 12, we’d be better off.”

tony braunagel photo 2Tony’s longest working relationship is with Taj Mahal. His 1990s sessions with Taj include two Grammy award–winning albums Señor Blues and Shoutin’ in Key, the latter of which he produced. He spent several years touring with Taj Mahal and The Phantom Blues Band and is currently working on a 2019 scheduled release. He’s a great admirer of Taj Mahal’s encyclopedic knowledge of music from around the globe, not to mention Taj Mahal’s personal history as a modern-day griot.

“That’s where I get these threads that make me look further and deeper into stuff, and you see all these other cultures he comes up with, that he knows about whether it’s Jamaican or which part of Africa that came from or what island that came from.

“Taj would tell stories on the bus, and everybody would peel off and go to their bunks. We’d do the show, get on the bus, lay around till midnight some nights, and we’d start talking. Taj would start telling me stories. I sat up until he would go to sleep. Talking about Mississippi and all the origins of this music? That’s the guy you talk to. He’s like a griot. He’s one of the biggest keepers of the flame musically and culturally of anybody I know. No one, Buddy (Guy), Robert (Cray), no one, not even B.B., nobody has more knowledge of where it all came from and what it all means, than Taj Mahal.

“He’s a smart guy. He comes from a family of smart people. He lost his father at the age of 12. He went through a lot of pain and had to grow up to be the big guy. And he is that way, but he’s a wonderful guy, and he’s fair, and he’s kind, and he’s funnier than shit. He’s goofy. Sometimes, when we’re together hanging out, we do some goofy stuff, like little boys. Talking about stuff and laughing and crazy stuff to this day. I would say I get a YouTube or crazy track or something from him probably five or six times a week. I got two last night. I woke up this morning and looked at both of them.

“We started making this record in 2014 that we’re finishing up right now for release next year which is going to be incredible. I can’t wait for everybody to hear it, and so I’m updating. Not a month ago, two months ago, I get a phone call, 5 o’clock in the afternoon on a Friday. ‘Watcha doing? (in Taj’s voice)’ I said, ‘Hey, watcha doing?’ ‘I’m in town. ‘Where you at?’ ‘I’m down round the corner from you in the hotel.’ I said, ‘Oh, you workin’?’ ‘Yeah, what are ya doing for dinner?’ I said, ‘Well, I guess I’m coming to pick you up and take you out.’”

Tony’s finesse in “parenting” an artist as their producer is best explained in his comments concerning his co-production of Mike Zito’s 2008 Today album. I mentioned to Tony that his friend Tom Hambridge had told me that the reason his (Hambridge’s) production on Mike Zito’s Make Blues Not War album works is because he doesn’t have the usual in-the-box prejudices about the crossover between rock and blues. I asked Tony if he felt the same way when he produced Today.

“Absolutely. It was amazing because I had to think about this. I was making the record for Delta Groove, and (label founder) Randy (Chortkoff ) was a blues Nazi somewhat, and he really wanted things to be authentically blues as much as possible, but he suggested the fact that Zito had that side to him. In actual fact, Randy started Eclecto-Groove because of that. He said to me, ‘I have to start another label. I can’t have this on my blues label. I need to start another label,’ which he had Zito and then Anna Popovic and some other acts on, ‘but I have to start a new label,’

“He really respected what Zito was doing so much that he loved that song “Today.” He’s a blues guy, you know. So, when we made that album, I said, ‘Randy, this album is not blues, all of it. It rocks.’ He goes, ‘That’s ok. Just make it the best you can.’ So, I went down to Texas and drove over to Beaumont or wherever the hell he lives, and spent the day with him, and I just remember saying to young Zito, ‘You know, we gotta back up here. You got less song and more guitar in this song. What’s going on here?”

“I said, ‘What’s gonna draw the people in is your songs and then your voice, and then they’re going to hear you’re a great guitarist. If you communicate with them in that way, and these terms, and in that sequence with those things being the most important in that order, then nobody is gonna forget what you do. They’re gonna love what you do. They’re not going to turn on the radio and just hear a whole bunch of guitar playing. They’re gonna hear a song, and they’re not gonna forget Mike Zito can sing. He’s a good-looking guy with a great voice who writes great songs and plays his ass of. And that’s what you want ultimately.’

“So, I sat Zito down, and I gave him all those ideas and ideals about how to do it. We sat there and wrote out arrangements for the songs for him and he said, ‘I’ve never done anything like this.’ I said, ‘You come to California and make an album, dude. Let’s do this the best we can. Let’s not be willy nilly.’

tony braunagel photo 3“And when Mike came out with Benmont Tench on keyboards, we just went into the studio and played it like a bunch of friends playing great music, and that’s how it came out, and I feel the same way about Zito. He was able to pull the two things together, and he bridges the gap really well, and now the market is opening up for blues rock. You see all the other guys. You can’t deny obviously Walter Trout, Albert Castiglia, Joe Bonamassa. You can’t deny that whole movement of guys. Some people in the blues community are bugged, are bothered by that, but somebody has to carry on this music. They don’t have to necessarily do it with friggin’ banjo, you know what I mean?”

Tony has appeared on 10 Eric Burdon albums from 1982 to 2013 and has produced the latest three: My Secret Life in 2004, Soul of a Man in 2006 and ’Til Your River Runs Dry in 2013. Burdon is the veteran British Invasion vocalist who broke internationally in 1964 with The Animals on “House of The Rising Sun.” Tony calls him the fifth Beatle, and for my money he’s is the most underrated artist to emerge from that initial splash begun by the Beatles.

Tony also played drums on Burdon’s 2013 world tour. I had the pleasure of experiencing that tour in Albany, New York, and in a review wrote: “He turned half century old British Invasion hits with the Animals into four-color, 3-D juggernaut performances with a crack seven-piece band. He combined that with original new songs from the best album of his career, ’Til Your River Runs Dry, sprinkled in some electric blues standards and stood naked on the stage wearing well his 72 years of both soaring and crawling across the world, equal parts rock star and has-been.

“Words like venerable and gravitas are not easily applied to aging rockers, especially British Invasion bands who served up refried American blues to a country that was ignoring artists like Nina Simone for pre-fab Philly pretty boys Fabian and Frankie Avalon in 1963, but when the Animals covered Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” they touched a nerve in America’s youth. When Burdon covered it this time, the song indeed did have gravitas, and the aging baby boomers in the crowd sat slack-jawed and propelled so far into Burdon’s world that when he held the microphone out, hardly anyone sang along until he bitch slapped them. ‘Wake up,’ he ordered and the crowd snapped to attention and sang along.”

Tony laughs. “That was a great night. I remember that night. That was a great band, too. We took his stuff and, without losing authenticity, we took it out of the realm of just standing there and playing song after song. We took you on a journey. We all just sat down and said, ‘Let’s make this stuff interesting so Eric is enjoying it. And a lot of it was his suggestion that we do something different with it, and then the musicianship of the band and the keyboard player Red Young, brilliant. There I am playing drums with him. So, we were able to fuse and change and modify right there on the spot in rehearsal, and the next day we wanted to throw it up and throw it together that night, and the band would go on stage and kill it.

“I restrained control of a polished musician was also in there as well.

“And we’re always trying to let the kid out. (Chuckle)

“Just holding onto the music so it’s right, but let the kid out every once in a while and let him go. It was a lot of fun, and I loved working with him, and I’d work with him again. I’d love to make another album with him, but I doubt the business will let us do it.

“I love Eric. We’re good friends. We go back to becoming friends when we just started working together back in the ’80s. I moved here in ’79. I think I was working with him by ’81, ’80 or ’81. I might have been doing some demos with him when I first got here. Our personalities just hit it off, and I went on the road with him, Australia. We went to Germany and did a film. I did a United States tour and something was wrong with the business, and so I bugged out because I could see people weren’t gonna get paid.”

I told Tony that it seemed like Burdon’s always made bad decisions when it came to business.

“You already said it. That kinda was what I was going to say. He’s had very, very good opportunities, but he’s made bad decisions, and he’s aligned himself with the wrong people on many occasions. Gullibility or whatever it’s his own hardheadedness and he’s said, ‘No, I want to work with that guy.’ He is both. He is gullible and he is hard headed, to watch him be so talented and be so smart and so intelligent and so colorful and so deep ’cause he and I talk on the phone all the time like friends. He tells me stories other people have never heard.

tony braunagel photo 4“He’s writing another book. He runs things past me, man. ‘What if I say it like this?’ And I say, ‘You’re Eric fuckin’ Burdon. You can say it any way you want to say it. Who cares now if you cross the line? I would rather people say, ‘Well, I didn’t hear it that way.” So, and so told the story different. I would rather hear that than someone go, ‘Oh, yeah, Eric’s book is ok,’ you know?”

In the late ’60s every band that played the NCO clubs in Vietnam ended the night with The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Outta This Place.” It was this writer/soldier’s mantra. I must have heard it a hundred times.

Tony laughs. “Every once in a while, someone will go, ‘Let’s do this fucking song again.’ Between that and “House of the Rising Sun,” he’s a joy and pleasure to work with. He can be curmudgeonly, but I always go through it and make him laugh. He would get mad at me for busting his curmudgeoness, his bad mood or whatever. I would just laugh at him, and he would just look at me and say, ‘Fuck you! Fuck you!’ (Laugh) I got him, man. ‘You’ll be better later. We’ll laugh about this tomorrow.’

“He’s honest, and he’s colorful. So, he goes out on a limb with his thoughts if that makes sense. You know what I mean? I love that, and I think you’ve gotta think 360 when you have an opportunity, you know? He should be a huge Rolling Stone superstar for all he did. I made three great records with him, and I say great because I’m proud of him, and I’m proud of what he did on ’em.

My Secret Life, Soul of A Man and ‘Til Your River Runs Dry should have been comeback albums for him. And nobody heard them because the record label was wrong. He made the wrong choice. I had lined him up with a label. ‘I don’t like it. The contract is too big, blah, blah, blah,’ and he went with a stupid-assed German label that didn’t do anything. The person that put together the deal embezzled the money from it, and it just all went to hell. Let’s rerelease this stuff. Come on! Let’s put it out. Let’s make a compilation, and I don’t know.

“He was as big as the Beatles. He was the fifth Beatle for a while. He was really good friends with John Lennon. He was with Jimi Hendrix hours before he died. I know. At his apartment. He went back to his own apartment and Hendrix died. How much closer can you be to rock and roll legends than that? And he interviews extremely well. He’s very smart.”

Tony currently tours on drums with Robert Cray. He’s working on an album with Coco Montoya and he wants to write a song called “Driving John Lee Hooker Home,” about a time in 1979 when he did a “45-cent gig” with John Lee in Houston and ended up driving the boogie man home in his ’68 Camaro listening to a baseball game on the radio.

“Then, I get the gig with Bonnie Raitt, and I’m playing up north, probably five or six years later, and we’re playing in Palo Alto, and I come off stage. I amble backstage, and there’s John Lee Hooker, and she’s sitting on his lap. I mean they had that kind of relationship. He always looked at her like a little girl, that she would flirt with him big time.

“So, she’s sitting on his lap, and I walk in and Bonnie says, ‘John Lee, this is my drummer Tony. I want you to meet my drummer Tony.’”

Without blinking, Hooker says, ‘We played the Miller Theater. He gave me a ride in his Mustang. We listened to the baseball game.’

“And I went wow. He remembered everything. It blew my mind.”

Visit Tony’s website at:

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

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The Windy City Blues Society – Chicago, IL

The Windy City Blues Society is collaborating with the Village of Lyons to present the Inaugural Windy City Blues Fest. The Fest is September 22nd and 23rd, at Cermak Park, 7701 Ogden Ave., Lyons, Illinois.

Saturday and Sunday, end of summer, 2 stages, over 40 musical acts, family, friends, good food and drink. Plenty of room to relax, great music and new experiences.

This is a first time Blues Music Festival, be the first ones to help make it legendary and help carry the blues forward. It’s going to be like a Chicago Blues Fest from years gone bye. We hope the Windy City Blues Fest is the Bookend to the Chicago Blues Summer, and a gateway to the King Biscuit in October. $10 for the weekend, $10 to park. VIP tickets available Please join us. Details found & tickets purchased at WWW.WindyCityBluesFest.ORG Keep the Blues Alive Baby!

The Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

On the 10th Anniversary of the Sacramento Blues Society Hall of Fame Awards, we are proud to announce our 2018 Hall of Fame Inductees: AJ Joyce, Andy Santana, Jimmy Morello, RW Grigsby and a special posthumous Induction of Frankie Lee.

Join us for a very special two part Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Sunday, September 30, 2018 at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub, 2708 J Street, Sacramento, from 1-5 p.m. ,with special appearance by musical guest, The Daniel Castro Band.

Following the Induction Ceremony, there will be a Hall of Fame Showcase with the new Inductees and many previous Inductees at the nationally known Torch Club, 904 15t St., Sacramento, from 6-8 pm.

Also Sacramento Blues Society presents the 2nd Annual Harmonica SlapDown on Saturday, October 13, 2018 at the Harris Center, 10 College Pkwy, Folsom, California featuring Mitch Kashmar, Aki Kumar, Gary Smith and Andy Santana! Doors open at 6:00 p.m. Tickets are $40 Zone 1 (includes a 1 year membership to Sacramento Blues Society for new members) and $35 Zone 2.

This is going to be an exciting event you won’t want to miss! Additional information at

Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society announces its upcoming IBC Band Challenge on October 7th from 6:00 – 10:00 p.m. at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205. The Winner receives $1,000 and represents CBS at the IBC Competition in Memphis in January, 2019. Free to members with valid cards; $5 to others. Remember to bring donations for Loaves and Fishes.

Also ,The Charlotte Blues Society announces TAS CRU as the musical headliner at our Sunday Blues Bash, November 4th, at 7:00 p.m. at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205. Free to members with valid cards; $5 to others. Remember to bring donations for Loaves and Fishes.

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.

9/24 – Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Alter Boys featuring Westside Andy, 10/1 – Levee Town, 10/8 – Orphan Jon and The Abandoned, 10/15 – Jeff Jensen, 10/22 – Lindsay Beaver & The 24th St. Wailers, 10/29 – Murray Kinsley & Wicked Grin. For more information visit

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, Sept 25, Ivy Ford Band, Kankakee Valley Boat Club, Thur, Nov 29 – Reverend Raven & CSAB, Kankakee Valley Boat Club. More Info at:

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