Issue 12- 4 January 25, 2018

Cover photo © 2018 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Tinsley Ellis. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music by Good Time Charlie, Supersonic Blues Machine, Professor Louie And The Crowmatix, Scottie Miller Band, AJ Crawdaddy, Ben Levin, Dirk Digglers Blues Revue and Black Patti.

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

 Blues Wanderings 

We had a great time at the International Blues Challenge last weekend. Saw lots of smokin’ Blues. Here are photos of the winners. L-R The Keeshea Pratt Band – First Place, Fuzzy Jefferies And the Kings Of Memphis – Second Place, Arthur Menezes – Third Place and Kevin “BF” Burt – Solo/duo winner, Daniel Eriksen – Second Place Solo/duo. We will have a complete photo review of all the finalists in an upcoming issue.

Also while in in Memphis, I caught up with Tierinii Jackson and Ori Naftaly of Southern Avenue to give them their awards for winning both Best New Artist Debut and the Sean Costello Rising Star Award in the 2017 Blues Blast Music Awards.


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

good time charlie cd imageGood Time Charlie – Ready to Rumble

Good Time Music

11 tracks/33 minutes

Good Time Charlie is a Norwegian band from Førde and Bergen on the west coast of Norway that has now produced 11 albums since getting together in 1982. The band has had many members over the years and vocalist and harp player Arle Hjelmeland is the lone original member. The rest of the band are younger musicians, with Steinar Karlsen on guitar, Morten Skage on bass and Einar Olsson plays the drums, successors to 15 prior members of the band. The style of music is self-described on their Wikipedia page as being called “garage soul,” a blend of 1960’s garage rock and the energy of soul music. The album was nominated for a Spellman Prize for blues, Norway’s version of the Grammy’s. This album is their second time being nominated over the years.

The CD opens with “Ready” where the band tells us they are ready to rumble. The song opens with a dirty harp blow and they shuffle through a really fun cut with a little more harp to spice things up. “In It To Win It” is a bouncy cut with a decent guitar solo and some harp thrown in for good measure. Next up is “Hunt,” a rocking cut, not really blues but still good. “Soul Up On Ice” is a slow, bluesy number with some nice guitar punctuation. “Line of Fire” offers up what sounds like 1960’s English garage band rock that came out of the blues. A driving drum beat and tastefully layered guitar, it’s more rock than blues but still it’s fun. “Pie In The Sky” is a down tempo, darker piece which also hearkens to rock more than blues.

“New Beat” is another similarly styled piece; a rock number with a bluesy harp solo that tries to bring things back to the blues until the lyrics start up again. “Hack” approaches the blues instrumentally but once again the vocals all sound like a rock song; not bad but not blues. “Mellow” has a late 1950’s rock sort of feel to it with a well-done guitar solo. ”Soulhawk” mixes rock with a little blues with an interesting beat. More restrained guitar work here in the latter portions adds to the cut. The album closes with “Freezing Penguin.” The cut opens with a nice guitar line and moves into a song that uses emperor penguins cold and lonely existence to compare to his life. Interesting and different for sure, and again more rock than blues.

There is a unique manner in which the vocals are delivered. It’s a little bit the accent, a little bit the manner of articulation of the lyrics and a lot of it the breathy and desperate feel to Hjelmeland’s delivery. It does not sound like blues when Arle sings, it sounds like progressive rock. Musically, the songs vary from blues to early rock and have a sort of poppy 1960’s UK feel to them. That’s not bad, it just does not say blues to me.

This album grew on me the more I listened. I would not call this blues in any traditional format. It’s kind of fun, though, and if you get past the lyrical style it’s really interesting. If you are looking for something completely different, then this might be something for you to try.

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 8 

super sonic blues machine cd imageSupersonic Blues Machine – Californisoul

Provogue/Mascot Record Group PRD 75362

13 songs – 63 minutes

Composed of three of the top instrumentalists in America today, Supersonic Blues Machine enlists an all-star group of friends for an imaginary trip up the highways of the West Coast on this pleasing collection of modern blues, a follow-up to their well-received 2016 disc, West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco.

The band’s the brainchild of Italian-born bassist Fabrizio Grossi, who came to New York in the 1990s as the American representative and A&R person for several European and Latin record labels. As a rocker, he worked behind punk star Nina Hagen and rock guitar god Steve Vai before moving on to back Ice T, George Clinton, Cypress Hill, Slash, Eric Gales and others. A skilled studio engineer and producer, he’s in high demand for his work behind the scenes. And as a songwriter, his work has been featured in the 2015 big-screen remake of Shaft as well as several TV shows.

Grossi produced, recorded and mixed this CD, which features Lance Lopez on guitar and vocals. A native of Shreveport, La., he cut his chops in New Orleans before working alongside soul-blues superstar Johnnie Taylor, Lucky Peterson, Buddy Miles and Gales. Handling percussion is Kenny Aronoff, one of the most decorated drummers of all time. Modern Drummer Magazine recognized him as its top pop-rock and studio percussion five years in a row. He’s played on more than 60 Grammy-winning albums behind John Fogarty, Paul McCartney and John Cougar Mellencamp and appeared on CDs that have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide.

Already a star-studded group in their own right, Supersonic Blues Machine wrote most of the material here, but still recruited a handful of top guitarists to round out their sound for Californisoul, as they did with their debut disc. Joining in on the action for one cut each are Gales, Robben Ford, Billy F. Gibson, Steve Lukather and Walter Trout. Also making appearances are Chris Hansen and Fabio Treves (harmonica), Alex Allesandroni Jr. (keys), Chick Kavooras (guitar), Eric Jorgenson (trombone), Cleto Escovedo Jr. (sax), Mario Sanchez (trumpet) and Francis Benitez, Serge Simic and Andrea Grossi, who deliver backing vocals throughout.

“I Am Done Missing You” kicks the action off with a simple guitar line and vocal chorus before picking up speed. It’s a syncopated number that begins as a field holler and features Hansen’s harp behind Lopez’s warm, rich vocals and stinging six-string riffs. Ford’s in the spotlight next for his self-penned “Somebody’s Fool” as Lance continues the lyrical message of the opener.

Despite the opening theme, the band insists “L.O.V.E” is all you need to overcome the bitterness. Gibbons is up next for the ZZ Top powerhouse’s driving original “Broken Heart.” While bad memories still exist, the singer’s still willing to try again, albeit wary of the potential for more heartbreak.

“Bad Boys” outlines the band’s mission — to pray, believe and let go – before Gales sits in for “Elevate,” a statement that nothing in life is granted and that it’s important to keep strong motivation, while “The One” offers a positive spin on romance. It’s a promise to be true to someone who’s afraid, but still looking for affection.

Best known for his work with Toto, Lukather joins the mix for “Hard Times,” which begins as a ballad, but quickly picks up steam as it acknowledges current troubles but offers up hope for the future. Next up, the intense, but slow-tempo “Cry” as it delivers a clear message that it’s okay to weep, but it’s also important to make changes that will enable the tears to evaporate.

The band keeps a guarded eye on outsiders in “The Stranger” before Trout joins the fray for “What’s Wrong.” The action heats again for “Thank You” before “This Is Love” opens with another choral field holler before adopting a reggae beat to bring the action to a close.

Available through all major retailers, Californisoul is solid blues-rock, driving effortlessly from one tune to the next. You’ll love this one if that’s your bag. It’s soulful throughout, but probably too much on the rock side of things for hard-core blues traditionalists.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

prefessor louie cd imageProfessor Louie And The Crowmatix – The Lost Band Tracks

Funzalo/Woodstock Records – 2017

6 tracks; 24 minutes

Back in 1991 the remaining members of The Band were struggling to convince record labels that they could carry on without recently departed Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel. As when they famously recorded with Dylan, The Band were working in Woodstock, NY, and a local musician and songwriter, Jules Shear, worked with them to produce a set of songs. Aaron ‘Professor Louie’ Hurwitz was also involved at the time and went on to produce three of The Band’s 1990’s albums but, with one exception, the songs from the Band/Shear sessions were never released. Louie has now re-recorded six songs from those ‘lost’ 1991 sessions with his band The Crowmatix who number several players who have been in and around The Band’s music for years: Frank Campbell (Levon Helm) is on bass, Gary Burke (Dylan, The Band) is on drums, John Platania (Van Morrison) is on guitar and Miss Marie (Rick Danko, The Band) is on backing vocals and percussion. Professor Louie handles lead vocals, keyboards and accordion and Jules Shear shares vocals with him on one track while Larry Packer adds mandolin to one cut. Jules wrote three of the songs and collaborated on the other three with Jim Weider and the late Stan Szelest, both members of The Band at the time.

Blues fans should be aware that this is not a blues album but more accurately classed as Americana. Pick of the songs is opener “Tombstone Tombstone” which has an attractive melody and definitely sounds like The Band. The Crowmatix play some nice stuff here with John’s effective guitar solo standing out. “River Of Honey” rolls along on Louie’s organ work as he shares vocals with Jules. Mandolin and accordion bring a folk/country feel to “Long Ways Across Tennessee” before “Baby Don’t You Cry No More” which does have some blues at its core, notably in the core riff and piano playing. We return to the country with what sounds like pedal steel but is probably a synthesiser, Louie adding accordion to accentuate the country feel of “Too Soon Gone”, a song that appeared on The Band’s Jericho album and apparently the only one of these songs to see the light of day until now. Uptempo rocker “Let’s Take This Planet For A Ride” closes this very short album with some keening slide and the biggest production number here.

An interesting back story here but little blues to hear so this one will probably not be of great interest to Blues Blast readers.

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 

scottie miller cd imageScottie Miller Band – Stay Above Water

self release

12 songs time – 49:09

The Scottie Miller Band from Minnesota churns out a heady stew of R&B, funk, rock, New Orleans R&B, a bit of rock and who knows what else. With a basic line up of keyboards, guitar, bass and drums and the occasional horn section they create quite an eclectic sound. Scottie handles keyboards, mandolin and well-honed gravelly pipes to lead the way. If that isn’t enough he wrote all the songs and produced the proceedings. Maybe he brewed the coffee too. Patrick Allen ably executes tasty electric and acoustic guitar throughout. Mark O’Day on drums and Dik Shopteau on bass supply sturdy and energetic support at all times. Scottie paid his dues and developed his chops as keyboard player for Bo Diddley and for Ruthie Foster since 2008. The end result is an authentic and earnest slice of American music.

The high energy swinging rocker “Burned All My Bridges” hits the ground running with a nifty riff and Patrick Allen’s guitar cutting through the air. Scottie’s salt of the earth voice clicks here as well throughout the recording. Piano boogies right under the surface. R&B energy powers the funky horn-fueled “Keep This Good Thing Going”. Ruthie Foster contributes background vocals and shouting at the end. It seems her talent could of been better used in a duet situation.

Scottie dusts off his mandolin for the upbeat title track. The lyrics here are his usual creative fare. The strumming mandolin brings to mind the way John Hiatt utilizes at times in his songs. The herky-jerky “Falter” injects some nice harmony vocals along with jazzy piano. A catchy and prominent bass line props up the mandolin and guitar on the yearning “Same Page”. Acoustic guitar, mandolin, piano and what sounds like keyboard strings are the only instrumentation on the slow and lovely “Guardian Angel”.

Funky rhythmic Billy Preston-like keyboards groove along in “Circles”. New Orleans inspired piano and horns move “It’s What You Do” along quite nicely, thank you very much. Organ is brought to the fore along with tasty guitar on “Rippin’ & Runnin'”. Heavy guitar with an under current of mandolin conjures up a tad of Zep influence on “Come Along”. The CD goes out in the night on acoustic guitar, piano and strings with the melancholy and exquisite “Goodbye”.

It all works on this creative musical work. Pulling haunting melodies and imaginative song lyrics out of thin air is no easy task, but this band makes it look so easy. The production and execution is spot on. This recording is an amalgamation of diverse genres melded together with care and sincerity.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

a j crawdaddy cd imageAJ Crawdaddy – Slow Cookin’

Renown Records

10 songs – 40 minutes

AJ Crawdaddy cooks up a pleasing mix of roots music for this release, his second solo effort after a self-imposed exodus from the limelight. But that should come as no surprise for anyone familiar with the man behind the moniker.

Born Angelo J. Rossi, Crawdaddy is a gifted guitarist/vocalist who reached the pinnacle of the music industry in the early 1990s as a member of the multi-platinum pop-rock group Pablo Cruise. A native of Palo Alto, Calif., that’s him in the mix of Cruise chart-toppers “A Place In The Sun,” “Whatcha Gonna Do (When She Says Goodbye)” and “Love Will Find A Way.”

A man who’s recorded with Jefferson Starship and worked with Jaco Pastorius, Hughie Lewis, Airto, Kid Andersen and Flora Purim, among others, he walked away from the music business for a career in sales after the release of Cruise’s last album. But his love for the business hasn’t waned. As gifted in studio as he is on stage, he’s owned and operated The Cave Studios in Mountain View, Calif., for years, recording many Bay Area artists, including two-time Blues Music Award nominee Terrie Odabi and guitarists Steve Freund and Terry Hiatt, just to name a few.

As a performer, Crawdaddy made his debut as a band leader with the release of the well-received Vaporized three years ago and his kids now grown. Firmly entrenched in the blues despite his pop background, he melds jump, West Coast and Chicago techniques into a style that’s modern, pleasing and all his own, his tone fat and delivery smooth and relaxed.

Recorded in his studio, but mixed and mastered by Brett Brown at Renown Sound in Cape Coral, Fla., Slow Cookin’ mixes four originals and six covers into a rich musical stew. He shares vocals with keyboard player Baxter Robertson and harp player Jimmy Dewrance. The unit also includes Greg Jones on bass and a horn section composed of saxophonist Michael Peloquin and trumpet player Marcel Marchetti.

Several top Bay Area artists make guest appearances, including Andersen on guitar for four cuts along with keyboard players Nate Ginsberg, Endre Tarczy and Jim Pugh and guitarist Simon Govan Smith, all for one cut each.

Crawdaddy’s self-penned instrumental “AJ’s Shuffle” kicks off with some impressive swinging, single-note runs. One listen and you’ll be heading for the dance floor. It features a stellar mid-tune solo from Ginsberg, but AJ’s playing is the true star here. Robertson’s at the 88s and handles lead vocal for a slow-and-steady cover of Wynonie Harris’ “Drinkin’ All By Myself” before Dewrance takes command on mike and reeds to deliver his self-penned medium-tempo blues, “Talk To Me Baby,” highlighted by more fine picking.

Four tunes into the disc, AJ makes his first vocal appearance for a take on Lowell Fulson’s “Too Many Drivers At The Wheel,” accented by powerful horn lines and an Andersen mid-tune solo. Robertson’s back in charge for a speedy version of Robert Nighthawk’s “Someday,” with Crawdaddy’s guitar answering vocal riffs before delivering more fine fretwork. Next up, Dewrance is at the mike and Pugh on Hammond B3 for a cover of Jessie Mae Robinson’s “Cold Cold Feeling.”

B.B. King’s “Fine Lookin’ Woman” features AJ in his only other turn at the mike, providing plenty of space for Robertson and the horns to take the instrumental lead throughout. A swamp-flavored take on Jimmy Reed’s “She Don’t Want Me No More” features the keyboard player on vocals before two more originals — Dewrance’s “Hard Luck Lover” and Tarczy’s jazzy “Slow Cookin’” – bring the disc to a close.

Short, sweet, in the pocket and a fine group effort throughout. Available through CDBaby, Slow Cookin’ will keep you satisfied if you like your blues modern with a West Coast feel. And it wouldn’t hurt to play it loud while wearing your dancing shoes, too!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

ben levin cd imageBen Levin – Ben’s Blues

1-2-3 Records

CD: 12 Songs, 38:19 Minutes

Styles: Traditional and Contemporary Piano Blues, Blues Covers, Debut Album

The unsung hero of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is Konstantin Levin: an honest, down-to-earth, rural-minded nobleman who puts as much effort into cultivating himself as he does his fields. Cincinnati, Ohio’s Ben Levin, a piano prodigy of seventeen years of age, possesses this same spirit. Unlike other youngsters who take a louder, glitzier route to musical stardom (I’m talking to you, American Idol winners), Ben digs in and delves deep into his soul and ours. With every note he plays, he evokes an era far removed from today’s digital distractions: that of post-war blues, where wry ballads such as Jimmy Reed’s “Take Out Some Insurance” and John Lee Hooker’s “I Love You Honey” were the edgiest of cutting-edge. Not for naught does Levin’s drummer, Ricky Nye, call him a “discerning, self-motivated force of nature” in the CD liner notes. He’s telling the truth and then some. On twelve tracks – four fresh compositions, one song written for him early on in his studies, and seven covers – Ben proves he’s the next contender to storm the piano blues world before he hits twenty. Vocally, he’s more Frank Sinatra than Andrea Bocelli. On 88 keys, of course, there are no words but WOW.

On his website, Levin candidly speaks of his own musical origins and development: “People often ask me, ‘How did you get into this old music?’ I tell them I had no choice: my dad was playing Muddy Waters on the guitar to me when I was in my mom’s belly. My love for blues piano hit me when I saw the movie Ray at the age of five. I soon was introduced to more Chicago Blues and New Orleans R&B…I started playing piano when I was eight years old, and have been taking lessons with my mentor, legendary Cincinnati-based and world-renowned boogie/blues player Ricky Nye ever since. In addition to Ricky, my biggest influences are Pinetop Perkins, Big Joe Duskin, and Professor Longhair. I’ve also learned a lot from listening to the greats such as Otis Spann, Sunnyland Slim, and of course, Ray Charles.”

Along with Ben on lead vocals and piano are Chris Douglas on upright bass, the aforementioned Ricky Nye on drums, Ben’s father Aron Levin on guitar, and Stevie Snyder on harmonica.

The three songs below are three of five originals on Ben’s Blues, and the finest of its features.

Track 04: “Have You Lost Your Mind?” An appropriate subtitle for this ballad would be “I Worry,” because those two words will stick in listeners’ heads as much as the real title. Coupled with Stevie Snyder’s sweetly-understated harmonica, Levin’s piano is near-perfect. Reminiscent of the late, great Sean Costello with a touch of Stevie Ray Vaughan, number four is fantastic.

Track 08: “Little Girl” – You know the saying, “nice guys finish last”? Our narrator proves it, at least in the arena of his failed romantic relationship. With a melancholy jazz/ragtime intro and a lingering hangdog vibe, it’s a spot-on breakup song. Listen closely for father Aron Levin’s guitar, subtle and content to let Ben bask in all the glory of this number.

Track 12: “Ben’s Blues” – The title selection, from Ben’s earlier days in the blues, is a short and sweet, mid-tempo piece that sounds eerily familiar even though it’s completely new. It might not be too complicated in terms of rhythm or technique, but in terms of atmosphere, it’s top-notch.

Ben’s Blues, and Ben Levin, feature the earthiest and most nourishing entrees of piano blues I’ve savored this year, and it’s hardly even started!

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 

dirk diggler cd imageDirk Digglers Blues Revue – Cuba Neils


CD: 13 Songs, 41:54 Minutes

Styles: “High-Octane Boogie Woogie,” Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs, Debut Album

Dirk Digglers Blues Revue, a “high-octane boogie woogie” ensemble out of Great Britain, more than delivers on its promise to provide their particular brand of blues. It’s loud, flashy, and in-your-face, packing enough wallop to blow out the most stalwart speaker systems. Cuba Neils, their debut album, features a baker’s dozen original songs fit for any party – especially outdoors. Without a doubt, traditionalists will deem it a rock CD, and they’d be 99% correct. However, who cares when Mark Sweetmore’s propulsive electric shredder steals the show, taking listeners on a rocket ride into the stratosphere? Lead vocalist and bassist Darrell Wheatley lays down some killer backbeats while sounding like an older Warren Zevon on “Werewolves of London.” Does this quartet sound like Muddy Waters? No. How about Cream or Fleetwood Mac? No again. The Blues Revue has a vibe all its own, a devil-may-care style that takes no prisoners. Plus side? It works better than caffeine pills to keep one awake and alert. Minus side? Lyrics lovers such as yours truly might have trouble finding them in the middle of the instrumentation.

Cuba Neils, released in 2017, demonstrates the band’s explosive musicianship, even on its slow to mid-tempo numbers such as “Steamroller Blues” (reviewed below). They recorded it in their self-owned studio, which explains its raw and unfiltered atmosphere. Over the last decade, they’ve been playing up and down the United Kingdom and have supported some of the top names in the blues circuit. While they continue to perform at bars, clubs and blues festivals in their native country, they’re currently working on their second album.

Dirk Digglers Blues Revue consists of Darrell Wheatley on lead vocals and bass; Mark Sweetmore on guitar; Paul Reece on keyboards and backing vocals, and Aaron Gent on drums. Special guest stars include Chris Dyer on saxophone; Steve Beardmore on harmonica; Ciprian Bolea on violin; Kristian Bonham Gent on guitar, and Alix Musso on background vocals.

The following three songs are guaranteed to get the wax out of one’s ears, one’s rear out of one’s seat, and one’s hand full of a favorite adult beverage.

Track 01: “Nothing Too Untoward” – Volume alert: Crank it up to 11, but prepare yourself. The resulting blast might knock you into a parallel universe. With a low-down, throw-down tempo, this is the first and best example of the sort of music the Revue advertises. Need proof? Savor Mark Sweetmore’s solo, drowning out all sense of decorum and strutting its stuff to the max. Also superb are Paul Reece’s keyboards, infusing this number with an extra-electrifying jolt.

Track 07: “I’m But a Fool” – Slowing it down a bit, but not by much, is lucky number seven. Dig Chris Dyer’s sultry saxophone in the intro, harmonizing beautifully with the lead and bass guitars. “Have you ever been lonely? Have you ever been down?” asks Darrell Wheatley of his lost love. “Am I going crazy? Am I losing my mind?” Sometimes love is indeed madness.

Track 09: “Steamroller Blues” – Suave and strutting, this jazz-inspired number would be perfect sung by a nightclub chanteuse. There might be a bit too much going on instrumentally, but no matter. It’s catchy and relate-able, with a solo perfect for air-guitar aficionados.

Dirk Digglers Blues Revue has more octane in their tunes than a pro-stock dragster has in its tank. As for Cuba Neils? If you love your blues loud, proud and far, far to the rock side of the genre, look no further!

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 

black patti cd imageBlack Patti – Red Tape

Rhythm Bomb Records – 2017

13 tracks; 41 minutes

German duo Black Patti consists of Peter ‘Crow C’ Krause, an experienced musician who plays guitar and some harmonica, with younger mandolin and guitar player Ferdinand ‘Jelly Roll’ Kraemer. Both musicians sing, often in harmony, and wrote all the material themselves on this sophomore release. The only other musicians involved are double bassists Ryan Donohue and Uli Lehmann who add a bottom line pulse to several songs. The material is traditional in terms of styles with ragtime and Piedmont well represented.

The mandolin is not often heard in modern blues though there are exceptions such as Rich Del Grosso and specialist guitarists who play occasionally, such as Billy Flynn. As such this disc is a real change and the jingling tone of the mandolin on opener “Ask Your Mama” sounds great. The two voices combine well and there is no issue with accents as both sing well in an adopted language. Lyrically “Evil Queen Of Diamonds” harks back to earlier traditions of the good man being done down by an evil girl (and the gambling allusion does no harm either!). Peter had a hand in writing all songs bar one here, the exception being Ferdinand’s’s “Good Bye Little Baby” which borrows the riff (and some of the lyrical theme) of SBW’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” with the two vocalists singing in a call and response style. The album title comes from “Red Tape Blues” which brings age-old concerns about money up to date with reference to ‘plastic card’ with a chorus that reprises the ‘Glory Hallelujah’ refrain in a deceptively jaunty presentation of some tough facts about debt.

“I Shouldn’t Have Done It” is an attractive tune with another good chorus as the pair confess to a number of misdemeanors involving alcohol and an unlikely partner: “She was six feet four had no front teeth, she took off her wig and there was nothing beneath”. Peter’s harmonica is featured on the hillbilly tune “Wooten Stomp” and the fast-paced “I’ll Never Come Back Home”. “Frenchmen Street Rag” takes us on a trip to New Orleans while “A Stroll With Mr Roll” is an autobiographical piece about mandolin player Ferdinand of whom it is said (perhaps tongue in cheek) “when he is on tour he buzzes like a bumble bee”. The album closes with “Nagging Blues” that could quite easily pass as a vintage song but is another of Peter’s tunes.

This is a well recorded disc that will be of definite interest to acoustic blues fans, especially those who appreciate Blues mandolin.

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 Interview – Tinsley Ellis 

tinsley ellis pnoto 1“When they approached me, I was designated the rock guy of the tour.”

Tinsley Ellis at 56 was the youngest guy on the bill when he did the Blues at The Crossroads 2 tour in 2013 with James Cotton, Bob Margolin, Jody Williams, and Kim Wilson with The Fabulous thunderbirds backing. “They were calling me Sonny Boy and Whipper Snapper and things like that. They really busted my balls, too, but I’m a better man for it.”

Already 32 years into his career with 13 albums of his own, Tinsley was still the neophyte of the tour. Five years later, the stars are all aligned for him to take on the role perhaps not of elder statesman, but certainly one of the ranking highwaymen who carry the torch for the mature genre of the rockin’ blues.

He has rejoined the Alligator Records roster – the only artist to have signed with the label for three separate and distinct times. Alligator released Winning Hands on January 8th, and he’s currently on his longest continuous tour in 20 years. The three-month odyssey began January 12th at Variety Playhouse in his hometown Atlanta and runs through April 4th at Antone’s in Austin with stops in between at the Winter Blues Festival in Fargo, North Dakota; The City Winery in Boston; The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, California; and the Cadillac Lounge in Toronto.

“This one we’re staying gone the whole time for the better part of three months and right at the beginning of a new CD. I think that if there’s a way to market new music, it is by taking it to the people. And I haven’t done a tour like this in 20 years. I think I can still do it. Ask me in three months.”

Ellis began his musical career at 24 in 1981 forming The Heartfixers who became one of the most popular blues bands in the south in two years, backed up Nappy Brown on his 1984 comeback album Tore Up, and debuted Ellis’ vocals on the group’s 1986 album Cool on It which brought him to the attention of Alligator Records. He has signed with Alligator three separate times from 1986 to ’97, 2005 to 2009 and now in 2018. He’s released 17 albums in 31 years including 10 for Alligator, four for his own label Heartfixer, two for Telarc, and one for Capricorn.

He’s jammed with Buddy Guy, Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi, Gov’t Mule and Widespread Panic. He’s shared the stage with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, The Allman Brothers, Leon Russell, Son Seals, Koko Taylor, and Albert Collins. His friends include Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Oliver Wood, Jonny Lang and members of Widespread Panic.

In 2015 he was awarded Rock/Blues Album of the Year for Tough Love by Blues Blast Magazine. In 2009 he told me at the end of his second tenure with Alligator, “Because I work so many blues festivals, and I’m on the leading blues label, (in interviews) I just sort of launch a pre-emptive strike on myself and declare myself blues-rock, and everybody’s okay. We move on to the next thing.”

In the press release announcing Winning Hand, Alligator credits Ellis with “joking” that “he’s the best guitarist you may never have heard of.” He explains that quote by saying, “Most in the pop culture are operating well under the radar, but we (in blues) have longer careers. I know that much. The pop artists may be famous now, and in a year where did they go?”

Returning to the Alligator roster was an easy transition for Ellis. “I have my own label (Heartfixer) that fits the music, and I still have it. I’m just not on it. They (Alligator) were doing my mail order for Heartfixer Music, and so we’ve always had a relationship. I’ve sent him (CEO Bruce Iglauer) each of the albums I’ve made, and he made an offer on Tough Love which is the biggest album I’ve put out on my own. He made an offer on it, and I didn’t take it. I regretted that because I think he really would have done great with that particular album.

“So, I said (to myself), ‘If he makes an offer again, I think I should take it,’ and lo and behold, he made a really nice offer on this one. He feels very strongly about it. So, I took it, and it’s a very casual relationship. I’ve been with the label so long, I know what they do. It’s not like they have to sell themselves to me, and vice versa. They know what I do. I don’t have to promise them I’ll go on the road. They know I’m out there on the road anyway.”

tinsley ellis pnoto 2Ellis fans will find his familiar meat and potatoes rocking blues style on Winning Hand that has been consistent throughout out his career, but there’s a standout cut, “Saving Grace” that could very well become his signature song on the tour. “That’s probably my favorite track on the album or the CD,” he explains. “Back in the day, you would have made that a side closer. Remember, we’d have an album and the very best song on an album side would be some kind of long emotional piece of music.

“You would listen to that and drift off to sleep, whereas with the CD you only get one side (’cause) there’s only one, so that’s the logical place for a song like that. It actually is a song more of the Hendrix/Robin Trower variety because I used a pedal on it which simulates the slow speed of a Leslie. That’s my favorite song on the album, and that’s a song I will enjoy performing live. It was singled out by Bruce at Alligator as the reason to want to put the album out.”

“Autumn Run” is a ballad that this reviewer particularly liked with the line, ‘We couldn’t hide, but we sure could run.’

“That song is semi-autobiographical, and it’s all about how we all start out pretty wild in our years and then things slow down, and autumn is the season of slowing down. It is a time of dying. For a lot of us it’s a time of things slowing down a little bit and is autobiographical, and that is a song I wrote, oh, about 10 years ago, and I’ve been wanting to put it out and it fits in with this group of songs.”

The only cover song on the album is “Dixie Lullaby” by Leon Russell and Chris Stainton. I asked Ellis if Russell’s passing inspired him to do that cover because he rarely does covers.

“Yes, it did. He’s my greatest songwriting influence, and I can cite about a half dozen songs that I wrote in his style like “Hell & High Water.” On the last album there’s one called “All I Think About,” the last song off the live album, and there’s a song called “Peace & Love” off my Midnight Blue album. He’s my biggest songwriting influence, and I saw him back in the day. Leon Russell had a production company and maybe even a label, and he did a Freddie King album. So, I just thought the production he did on the Freddie King’s album was just great, and (my keyboardist and producer) Kevin McKendree feels the same way about Leon Russell. You know, Leon Russell is a very rare musical artist. If you ask what kind of music he played, you wouldn’t be able to say. He and Ray Charles and Willie Nelson they’re sort of like a genre unto themselves.”

Ellis has at least six albums worth of material in the can. “I continue to write, and I keep all the songs on my laptop and iTunes and drag them into folders. That’s how my instrumental album came from an album concept ’cause I pulled all the instrumentals that I had written or demo-ed. I put them all in a folder, and there was a bunch of songs on there and so that’s a pretty cool album.”

Most of his songs are about relationship challenges. I asked him what his wife thinks of those songs. “I don’t know. I’m not going to ask. I don’t live in all these songs, but I sure do observe a lot of stuff that goes on, and I mean there’s some songs on these albums that are weight of the world songs or social relevance, but really the boy/girl thing as a topic for blues songs is as old as the genre of blues itself and even older than that, essentially worth singing about. You got two choices. You can cry about it or sing about it.”

Is working on these songs therapeutic?

“It is. I have a home studio, and I love going in there and turning stuff on and having a cup of coffee. I may even be in my pajamas or something and grab a guitar and start writing. I’m a morning guy, so I do a lot of recording in the morning. In fact, the song on the album “Don’t Turn Off The Light,” the guitar also is recorded at about 6:30 in the morning over a cup of coffee. My mind works so much better in the morning. I think I really think better in the morning, too. By the end of the day, the voice can be like toast which is not a bad thing in a blues singer world, but in the morning it’s just got something to it, kinda mojo in the morning.”

tinsley ellis pnoto 3Winning Hand is dedicated to Ellis’ dad William Tinsley Ellis who passed a year ago February. “He passed away very suddenly, and he was the greatest man in my life and I dedicated the album. Thank you for noticing that.

“There was always music in our house, a mixture of two different kinds of music and obviously church music because we had grown up in the south coming from kind of a churchy family, but the other music was jazz music, music my father used to like. He was responsible for bringing Louis Armstrong to perform at his college, Emery University, in the 1950s, and he really turned me on to a lot of different music.

“My dad was the one who told me about Howlin’ Wolf. I had already seen B.B. King in concert, but he was coming back to play in South Florida where I grew up, and my dad said, ‘Hey, B. B. King’s coming and Howlin’ Wolf is gonna be the opening act.’ So, I went to see B. B. King and Howlin’ Wolf, great show. If there’s any show in my life I could go back and see, it would be that show.”

Like his father, Tinsley Ellis went to Emery College and graduated with a degree in history. “Not exactly the hardest major you can have in college, but it was stuff about history. It’s a good thing for somebody who likes to read a lot. I took music appreciation and stuff like that, art appreciation, the cultural liberal arts quote, unquote course. Not the hardest thing to study in a university, but I like that kind of education.”

Ellis writes his songs for his fans and not for himself, radio, or the critics, and he learned the hard way not to write for his record label.

“I had one opportunity to do a major label, Capricorn Records, and I made an album that I thought was going to take me to another level, and it did. It took me another level down, and it’s not what the fans wanted. I knew that at the time. but I was so intoxicated with the major label possibilities, you know, videos, tour support and stuff like that, and nowadays I’m thinking about, well, what would work good in concert? I do it that way now.”

Capricorn went out of business right after they put his album out. “It’s a wonder the damn thing came out at all to tell you the truth. I think that happened to Otis Rush one time. He put out an album, and the record company went out of business that week or something. That is something that happens to blues artists when they get an opportunity. I can think of several blues artists who got big opportunities and all kinds of things thwarted it, so maybe the bottom line is a blues artist’s work needs to remain confidential like a spy or something, for artistic purposes, but I don’t know. This particular album (Winning Hand) I certainly could have put it out myself, and it would have done pretty well, but it has a much better chance to get into a system on a real label that knows what it’s doing.”

If the Capricorn CD was an anomaly, his Blues Is Dead tour last year was another example of a road rarely taken. The side project started on April 9th at the three-day Skull and Roses Festival in Ventura, California where he performed blues and R&B songs by The Grateful Dead and other rock acts of the ’60s and ’70s.

“Oh, it was really fun. I didn’t have a new album out last year and just doing some things for fun with a different collection of musicians, and we went out and played blues songs that were covered by the Grateful Dead, and then we stretched it out to include other bands from the Fillmore era like Hot Tuna and Cream, and we just went out and really jammed it out. It was the youngest audience I’ve played in front of for 30 years, and people with tie-dyes twirling around, and I’m thinking you know young jam band people they love blues. They just don’t know that’s what they’re listening to.

“We were doing songs like “Spoonful,” “I’m So Glad,” old blues covers, but we were jamming out on it and looking back on it, our music was probably more influenced by the early Allman Brothers than by the Grateful Dead, but we thought the tongue in cheek name Blues Is Dead was too good not to use.”

Tinsley lives on the road. He calls his itinerary his calling card. “We actually had the tour booked before we were on Alligator, but I think when Bruce Iglauer saw it, he saw there was something going on, and now we’re adding to it, and I will get what he brings to the table as well in addition to the tour that was already set up.”

tinsley ellis pnoto 4Did his extensive touring schedule have something to do with Alligator re-signing Tinsley so easily?

“Well, it didn’t hurt. That’s for sure. When I was thinking about signing artists to my little label, one of the main criteria was that people be a touring entity as opposed to something that you would have to introduce and talk people into booking. So, it sure doesn’t hurt to have an itinerary. If you want to see if a band has something going on, go to their website, look at their itinerary, and then you can check out the music, but an itinerary is your calling card. By calling card I mean a gauge to see if somebody has something going on or not, whether they’re just playing locally or whether they’re doing it all over the place.

“We don’t drive overnight. I have in the past, but we won’t drive after the show until the sun comes up ’cause that’s a good way to hit a deer or something and get killed or whatever, but we don’t do that, but, no, there’s no limit. My days of being a highwayman I’ve done some incredible overnight drives. The (worst) I ever did was between a music fest in Milwaukee one night and then the next afternoon played in Buffalo, New York.

“I was a much younger man then – all the way around those lakes – I was a much younger man then, Now, drives of four to eight hours a day are not uncommon. I think that’s probably – eight hours seems like long enough alright.”

Ellis does 95% of the driving himself. “Either that, or I want to control their piss breaks,” he says tongue in cheek. “I mean there’s comes a point in every musician’s career where they have to decide if they want to play around where they live or whether they want to really go for it, and I’m the guy that helps them decide that. I just tell ’em right up front. I show them the shows and say, ‘Can you do it?’ My itinerary says it all. Here’s what I do. Here’s where I’m gonna be every night.

“It’s almost like music is not so much a job. It’s more of a calling. Have you got the calling to do this? Meaning it’s in your DNA to just traipse around.

“There’s very few places where somebody could play locally and the world would come to them. I think Chicago would be one of those places. New Orleans would be a place where the world comes to you. Only the Buddy Guys really make it on late night tv, and the rest of us better be willing to do like the politicians do and go from town to town shaking hands and kissing babies.”

Ellis has learned more on the road than he ever did in college. He calls it his B.S. degree, the B.S. standing for bullshit, and he jokingly refer to his B. A, in history as his Boring Asshole degree. He’s learned how to survive in a tough business from the veterans he’s worked with on the road. “Years ago, when I’d first gotten to Chicago in the ’80s with Alligator, Son Seals told me, ‘You can make a good living in the blues if you’re willing to carry your own amp.’ And what that means is keep your overhead down low. Otherwise, you’re going to be working for everybody but yourself. Everything Son Seals told me when I first got to Chicago is true, every single thing because he’d seen it before. Listen to older people. They know what’s going on.”

On The Crossroads tour, he took some advanced courses to add to his B.S. “When Jody Williams and Cotton would talk about Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf these stories they told were definitely unprintable, just amazing stories. I don’t know where else you could go to get stories like that. James is gone. He was the star of the whole tour. He was 79 when we started the tour, and he’d just had hip replacement surgery, and by the end of the tour we were all like ready to take to the bed, and he was still going strong. Their stories were just unbelievable. Just unbelievable.”

Check out Tinsley’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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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: 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 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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