Issue 12-48 December 6 2018

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Cover photo © 2018 Bob Hakins

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with West Coast musician Rusty Zinn. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Rachelle Coba, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne, Johnny & The Headhunters, Mark Tolstrup, Lee Palmer, Colin James, Kirk Fletcher and Dean Newton Trio.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

rachel coba cd imageRachelle Coba – Blink

American Showplace Music

11 songs – 41 minutes

Rachelle Coba turns up the heat dramatically on this CD, her first venture with the American Family Music label, delving far more deeply into soul-blues and roots than she’s ever gone before. That might come as quite a shocker for her legion of fans who know her as a singer/songwriter/guitarist. But her leap of faith will definitely prove to be a crowd pleaser.

Born in Fond Du Lac, Wis., to a Cuban father and mother from Wichita, Kan., Coba has split her time between the Midwest and South Florida, where she currently makes her home, for most of the past decade. She’s played both violin and guitar since childhood, eventually earning a bachelor of science degree in classical guitar performance from the University Of Miami.

Because of her classical training, Rachelle’s developed a unique style of finger-picking on the six-string. She became interested in the blues while still in high school after witnessing Lonnie Mack and Stevie Ray Vaughan in performance and getting to see and meet Buddy Guy. She polished her skills at the regular Monday night jams at Tobacco Road, a legendary club that hosted the blues for more than 100 years, playing alongside a host of major talent, including Guy himself.

Before forming her own group, she worked and toured with Coco Montoya, Johnny Winter, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Albert Castiglia, Super Chikan and Grady Champion. She’s represented both the Wichita and Topeka blues societies in the International Blues Challenge, and her only previous release, Mother Blues, was a 2014 Blues Blast Music Awards nominee for best new debut CD. Her work featured prominently on Liz Mandeville’s 2016 The Stars Motel release, which included six tunes co-written by the duo.

Don’t be fooled by her mild-mannered appearance. She’s a rock-steady guitarist who possesses a singing voice that can blow the roof off of any venue in which she appears.

This all-original album was co-produced by John Ginty, an electrifying keyboard player who’s star in his own right in addition to his work with Poppa Chubby, Sean Chambers, Castiglia and others, and Ben Elliott, who recorded, mixed and edited it for New Jersey-based American Family Music, which he co-owns. It features Rachelle on guitar and vocals backed by Ginty on Hammond B3 and other keys with Paul Kuzik on bass and Andrei Koribanics on percussion. Jimmy Bennett of the Bennett Brothers makes a guest appearance on dobro for one cut.

A simple keyboard arpeggio opens and provides accompaniment to Coba as she delivers the first verse of “High And Dry.” But the music explodes quickly into a driving blues as she complains about being caught off-guard by a lover who’s both cheated and lied. The feel gets funky for “Dance These Blues Away” as Rachelle plans a new wardrobe and new look for a night of partying that’s guaranteed to reduce her pain. Her single-note guitar run mid-tune is stellar, and her vocals are dynamic.

Up next, “Good Ole Heartbreak” is a soulful, bittersweet ballad with an old-school, slow-dance feel. Like an old friend, its timing is perfect, she says, always knowing when to come around. The mood brightens, the pace quickens and the sound gets funky again for “No Deals,” which assures listeners that she might run across the Devil at the Crossroads, but she’ll never sell her soul — a warning that Satan’s living both in the world and in your mind.

Co-written with Mandeville and first appearing on her CD, the bare-bones “River Of Blood” comes across with a Hill Country feel as it paints a picture about slavery and the ghosts that still inhabit the fields. The title tune, “Blink,” is a jazzy ballad that suggests that dreams – and wishes – do come true. The pace quickens for the driving “Bad Reputation,” the realization that she should have walked away from an ex instead of deciding to stay. The feeling continues in the ballad “You Stole My Heart” with the action so swift that it’s left the singer in a daze.

The medium-paced “Shuffle Ya” is pure funk, while “Maybe” is the first of two unhurried ballads. This one questions the singer’s state of mind and obsessive thoughts about a man while “Blame It On The Blues,” which brings the album to a close, finds Coba still waiting for the man to change his ways.

Rachelle Coba is an understated powerhouse who deserves your attention and your ear. Available through Amazon and other outlets, Blink is a treasure trove of great new songs displayed at their best. Strongly recommended.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., 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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kenny blues bloss wayne cd imageKenny “Blues Boss” Wayne – Inspired By The Blues

Stony Plain Records SPCD0401

12 songs – 49 minutes

Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne reaches back into the past to deliver a totally enjoyable collection of piano blues with this release, his fourth album on the Stony Plain imprint.

Carrying on a tradition initiated by Cow Cow Davenport, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis and Memphis Slim, he’s a boogie-woogie keyboard player of the first order who usually dons a throwback zoot suit when performing. His primary influences are Fats Domino, Ray Charles and Johnnie Johnson. His smooth, steady, slightly-behind-the-beat delivery swings like a pendulum as it pushes the music steadily forward, breathing new life into a two-fisted technique that originated before the blues migrated from the cotton fields.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a retro album full of familiar covers played in a manner that mimics the past. Inspired By The Blues truly is inspired with Wayne fashioning 11 originals in a thoroughly contemporary package that could serve as a lesson in the less-is-more approach that’s all but forgotten today in a world of shredders.

A multiple Juno and Living Blues award winner who was born in Los Angeles, but has lived in Kelowna, B.C., 250 miles east of Vancouver, Canada, for years, Kenny handles piano, organ and vocal duties here. Two extraordinary talents — Chicago harmonica master Billy Branch and Rhode Island-based guitarist Duke Robillard make guest appearances.

Produced by the Blues Boss and recorded at Dan/Lyn Studio in Edmonton, Alberta, the lineup also includes Joey DiMarco on drums, longtime B.B. King bandmate Russell Jackson on bass and Yuji Ihara on lead and rhythm guitar. Dave Babcock (saxes) and Bob Tildesley (trumpet) provide the horn section, and Lynne Chwyl adds backing vocals.

The autobiographical ballad “I Knew I’d Be Playing The Blues” opens the action with Branch’s lilting harp lines accenting, answering Wayne’s vocals and delivering stellar solos, taking Kenny from the church to a day job and raising a family, but always leading him to what he does so well now. The music heats up immediately for “Start Rockin’,” the first boogie in the set. The horns provide propulsive accompaniment as the Blues Boss sings that he can’t wait for sunset because his time to shine is rapidly approaching.

The smooth and jazzy “I Like That Woman” delivers a detailed description of the gal with the Blues Boss on organ and with Robillard delivering into a single-note solo during the break. A pleasing jump-time number with a surprise ending, “Jimmy And Johnny,” follows, describing best friends who have a complicated falling out after one comes home with the other’s lady.

A straight-ahead 12-bar blues, “Make Up Your Mind,” urges a woman to decide whether her man should stay or go before Wayne delivers “Lake Country Boogie,” a swinging instrumental honoring his homeland in British Columbia that gives the horns plenty space to shine. Next up, “Mr. Blueberry Hill” pays tribute to Domino. Written by Kenny, it comes across with a genuine Fats feel.

Two more originals — “An Old Brick Wall” and “That Raggedy Shack” – follow before a slow-and-steady, traditional cover of “Georgia On My Mind,” penned by Hoagy Carmichael and a monster hit for Ray Charles — serves as a bonus track closer.

Available through most major online retailers, Inspired By The Blues is a winner on all counts. If you’re either a traditionalist or drawn to contemporary sounds, you’ll absolutely love this one.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

johnny and the headhunters cd imageJohnny & The Headhunters – That’s All I Need

self release

10 songs time-31:14

Washington, D.C. based singer-guitarist Johnny Ticktin is one smooth and talented blues based musician. His guitar skills are sure and steady. Add his strong and confident voice to the mix and you have the makings of one guaranteed good time. The services of keyboard man Tam Sullivan along with various rhythm sections are put to good use in service to this solid assemblage of nine cover songs along with one original.

Johnny approaches Chicago legend Magic Sam’s “That’s All I Need” much in the laid back style of Slim Harpo, while showcasing his totally enjoyable vocal and guitar skills. Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Lead Me On” is another mellow gem. The funky double entendre laced “Body And Fender Man” by the hand of Johnny Adams is a tasty morsel of R&B inflected blues that is complimented by some way cool organ playing.

Johnny injects blues into the rockabilly ditty “Chicken House”. Lowell Fulson’s “Rock’em Dead” from 1957 finds Johnny delivering energetic jump blues guitar. Elmore James’ classic “Shake Your Money Maker” gets the necessary slide guitar treatment in a short and sweet version. For a change of pace we get a dose of surf guitar on the instrumental “Ace Of Spades’ by Link Wray.

The gritty cover of Donovan’s “Watch And Chain(Hey Gyp)” owes more to The Animals tough version. It’s a vocal duel between Johnny and Liz Springer. He shines on another smokin’ Magic Sam cover in “All My Whole Life”, were he lets rip with classic Chicago style guitar goodness. “Collins Mambo”, an instrumental salute to the legendary Albert Collins caps things off in energetic high style.

Great playing and singing from the first note. What more could you ask for? The only minor quibble is the short length of this recording as it clocks in at just thirty-one minutes and fourteen seconds. Like the all knowing “they” say, quality is more important than quantity. I’ll surely being keeping a watchful eye out for Johnny’s next CD.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

mark tolstrup cd imageMark Tolstrup – North Star

Self-Release – 2018

13 tracks; 53 minutes

Mark Tolstrup is from Saratoga, NY, and this is his first release since 2007. The album contains eight originals and five covers, some of it blues, some not. Mark is on guitar and vocals, his step-daughter Jessica Wern plays drums and sings, James Gascogne is on bass and Chris Carey on organ; other musicians involved are Oona Grady (fiddle), Dave Lambert (tenor sax and clarinet), Jeanine Ouderick (baritone sax), Woody Strobeck (trombone), Rick Bolton (harp/vocals) and Sharon Bolton (vocals and graphic design).

Mark’s world-weary vocals fit well with the material and Jessica often doubles up on the vocal lines, as on the bittersweet “I Don’t Know” which has a late night flavour courtesy of Dave’s sax work. Two songs deal with the recent passing of Mark’s father and brother: ‘Northstar’ was written for his father’s funeral and reflects on the sense of loss, a quiet reflective eulogy accompanied just by Mark’s guitar and keys; “Free Brother” follows a similar pattern with reference to his late brother. “City In The Rain” and instrumental album closer “Requiem For Coyote” both fit into the ‘Americana’ category, the latter having a military drum beat over which fiddle, bottleneck slide and the horns join in. Mark’s blues influences are represented on “Milk And Honey” which has some good slide work and lyrics that reference “black cat bones” and “walking in the moonlight”. “Hey Hey Baby” is an infectious uptempo romp with the horns prominent and “Old Man’s Blues” tells the story of an old bluesman over a tune with a hint of New Orleans and featuring Mark’s slide.

The covers include a version of Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues” which coveys a sense of menace through the tough vocals, the traditional “Haunted House Blues” with just guitar and bass and Floyd Dixon’s “My Song Is Don’t Worry” which blends country blues with deep baritone sax. “Dead Man’s Shirt” (by fellow NY State musician Michael Eck) is definitely blues with some strident harp but Tom Waits’ “On The Nickel” is more folk with plaintive fiddle in a version that brings mid-period Dylan to mind.

Overall this album is not all blues but does present a variety of styles. It may therefore appeal to those with broad tastes.

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 – 5 of 8 

lee palmer cd imageLee Palmer – Horns & Harps

On The Fly Music

10 songs – 42 minutes

CD covers can sometimes convey a misleading impression of the music contained in the album itself. Canadian singer/songwriter/guitarist, Lee Palmer’s sixth album, Horns & Harps, is a case in point. The black and white CD cover is a close-up photograph of a bookish-looking Palmer in a striped shirt, smiling behind dark glasses and finger-picking a barre chord on what looks at first instance to be an acoustic guitar. It’s a cover that suggests a solo performance of folk music. As Willie Dixon reminded us, however, you can’t judge a book by its cover and Horns & Harps is actually a collection of 10 Americana songs played by a full band, with a lot of blues, a fair amount of rock, a splash of jazz and a hint of country.

Recorded at Jukasa Media Group in Caledonia, Ontario, Horns & Harps features eight songs written by Palmer together with covers of Jessie Winchester’s “Isn’t That So” and Walker and Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me” (originally made famous by Ray Charles). The core band comprises Iain McNally on guitars, Sean O’Grady on drums and percussion, Alec Fraser Jr. on bass, Steve O’Connor on piano, Wurlitzer and organ and Chris Ayries on backing vocals. Presumably Palmer also contributed guitar, but the CD liner notes do not clarify this. The title of the album then comes from the fact that it was recorded primarily over two days, one featuring the saxophone of Turner King, the other featuring the harmonica of Roly Platt.

Palmer is an intelligent and subtle songwriter, with an ability to craft a memorable lyric and, structurally, while still being blues or blues-based, the songs smartly avoid the 12 bar cliché trap. The opening track, “Waitin’ On The Train”, for example, neatly sets out Palmer’s metaphorical stall as O’Connor’s piano drives the mid-paced bluesy stomp, which suits Palmer’s lightly weathered voice to a tee. The band provide supple support and the song also includes a tremendous harp solo from Platt and an unexpected vocal call and response at the end with superbly uplifting contributions from Ayries.

The breezy “Good Morning Joe” features some fine slide guitar and artfully ambiguous lyrics. Palmer’s reading of “You Don’t Know Me” emphasizes the jazz leanings that are easy to overlook in the original and features another fine solo from Platt. King’s sax comes to the fore in the slow shuffle of “My Baby Again” and the jazzy pop of “Life Rolls On” (which also contains a nice guitar solo). Generally speaking however this is not an album where the emphasis is on the solos. The priority is very much focused on the song.

There is a gentle, relaxed approach to the songs on Horns & Harps. The music and singing throughout is contained and controlled. This, combined with the slow or mid-paced tempo of the songs, gives the album something of a “late night” feel. This is not the album with which to kick off the party. When you’re still washing the glasses in the early hours, however, long after everyone else has left, this album is the perfect accompaniment.

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 – 6 of 8 

colin james cd imageColin James – One More Mile To Go

True North Records/Stony Plain Records – 2018

12 tracks; 44 minutes

Canadian Colin James has always covered a range of bases, having produced rock, Americana, acoustic and big band albums. He explored his blues roots on 2016’s Blue Highways and One More Mile To Go is the sequel, containing a selection of Colin’s favorite blues artists and a couple of strong originals. The album features Colin’s fine vocals and guitar backed by his regular band: Jesse O’Brien and Simon Kendall on keys, Chris Caddell on rhythm guitar, Steve Pelletier on bass and Geoff Hicks on drums. A three man horn section of Jerry Cook on baritone, Steve Hilliam on tenor and Rod Murray on trombone appears on several tracks and MonkeyJunk’s Steve Marriner provides occasional harp; The Sojourners and Colleen Rennison add backing vocals. The album was recorded in Vancouver, Canada, and produced by Colin and Dave Meszaro.

The album opens with two Muddy Waters covers: ‘Miles To Go’ features Steve’s harp in a full-band production with the horns pushing the song along before Colin’s striking solo; ‘Still A Fool’ is played in a more typical Muddy arrangement with Colin playing some tough guitar over the chugging rhythm. Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s ‘Dig Myself A Hole’ has the horns behind Colin’s country blues-influenced slide – an attractive combination. Colin’s ‘I Will Remain’ is a beautifully produced ballad in BB King mode with outstanding guitar work framed by sensitive piano and subtle horns while his second original ‘40 Light Years’ bounces along with a hint of Dire Straits in the guitar work – no surprise that it was issued as a single. ‘Ooh Baby Hold Me’ could only be from Howling Wolf with a typical Hubert Sumlin riff underpinning the tune before Colin drops the pace for a late-night reading of Charles Brown’s ‘Black Night’. There is then an acoustic section with Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Soul Of A Man’, with excellent slide work, and a very quiet solo take on Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean/One Kind Favor’ which is beautifully done.

Colin’s version of Little Willie John’s ‘Need Your Love So Bad’ finds pianist Jesse O’Brien twinkling the ivories superbly and the horns adding to the chorus while Colin plays some lovely stuff in a restrained solo. “Tears Came Rolling Down” (a Walter Davis hit in 1952) is also excellent with slide set against a full band backdrop before the album closes with a revisit to the title track, this time in a solo acoustic version.

Colin James remains one of this reviewer’s favorite contemporary artists and these two recent blues albums have been terrific. As Colin is such an eclectic writer and performer one never knows what he will do next, but whatever road he takes it will be worth following. Meanwhile One More Mile To Go comes highly recommended.

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 – 7 of 8 

kirk fletcher cd imageKirk Fletcher – Hold On

Self-Release – 2018

8 tracks; 48 minutes

Kirk Fletcher is a guitarists’ guitarist. Picked at a young age to record with the elite of the West Coast scene he went on to serve three years with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and was a featured player on several Mannish Boys CDs. More recently he has played on two of Joe Bonamassa’s live albums (Red Rocks/Greek Theatre) and continues to tour widely, both in the USA and in Europe. For this album Kirk recorded in Bristol in the UK with keyboard man Jonny Henderson (Matt Schofield) and drummer Matt Brown in a sort of organ trio with Jonny covering the bass requirements on his keyboard. All the material is original with Kirk collaborating with co-writers on two tracks.

Opening track “Two Steps Forward” has Mahalia Barnes on vocals and develops from an intense organ/guitar intro into a wah-wah feast in the main solo, as well as quoting from several classic rock tunes (including Clapton’s “Layla”) on the outro. Kirk’s vocals have developed and although he is not the strongest singer he does fine here, especially on the quieter songs like “You Need Me” which finds him duetting with himself as his funky rhythm work underpins some gentle wah stylings in the solo. “Sad Sad Day” finds Jonny on piano on a rousing shuffle that really pounds along with an impressively fast-fingered solo from Kirk.

Solid as the first three tracks are the album really takes off on track 4 “The Answer”. Co-written by fellow guitarist Josh Smith, Kirk’s world-weary vocals at the start express the raw emotion of feeling lost in life, Jonny’s warm organ the perfect backing. Over its eight minutes the slow tune builds in intensity and Kirk’s superb solo that occupies the second half of the tune is by itself worth the price of the CD.

After that tour de force “Time’s Ticking” opens with a rocking riff and heavy drums, a track that seems to show the influence of Kirk’s friend JoBo as Kirk plays a torrid solo to close the track. “Dupree” is a delight, a playful instrumental that really lives up to the ‘organ trio’ tag; Steely Dan comes to mind in some of the phrasing here and perhaps the title therefore references the Dan’s “Cousin Dupree”?

“Gotta Right” is another lengthy track that takes us back to the blues with a Chicago style shuffle. Kirk plays beautifully in the intro before he sings of having “the right to sing the blues, well Lord have mercy on my soul, seems like I was born to lose” – it does not get more ‘true blues’ than that! More great playing follows as Kirk gets a thick tone that recalls the late Michael Burks in another fine extended solo. The album closes with the delicate “Hold On” making a heartfelt plea for love in difficult times with Jade McCrea on harmony vocals.

Overall an impressive album that just gets better with repeated listening. With at least three outstanding cuts this one is well worth investigating.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

dean newton cd imageDean Newton Trio


CD: 11 Songs, 47:00 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Guitar Monster Blues, Debut Album

If blues and booze go together like milk and cookies, then the Dean Newton Trio would be a perfect “pub band.” They’re from Cumbria in the United Kingdom, and boy, can they pack a wallop with a guitar. These three will “beat you, bash you, squish you, mash you, chew you up for brunch, and finish you off for dinner or lunch” (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes) with the sheer force of their shredding prowess. This is music to get drunk to, plain and simple. Out of eleven songs, ten are originals, full of the kind of voltage one needs on a Friday or Saturday night. Purists might say, “This is ALL rock!” Would they be wrong? There are no classic numbers here, and the blues rhythms find themselves submerged in the other genres presented, like R&R and funk. Nevertheless, front man Dean Newton has above-average vocals and clear diction. Tunes such as “What You’ve Got” add a semi-political twist to the powerhouse proceedings.

A graduate of the London College of Music, Dean has studied under some of the most highly-respected guitarists in the world. At the age of twenty-eight, he’s a highly in-demand “muso” and guitar teacher whose playing style is thoroughly postmodern, yet rooted in the traditions of blues, rock and jazz. Never one to stand still, he is always seeking out new sounds and concepts to flesh out his albums and push the proverbial envelope. Newton has been described as a virtuoso guitarist by many of his industry peers, and is also an endorsed spokesman for Tokai Guitars.

Drummer John Marcangelo and bassist Jeff Noble also have considerable experience in the blues/blues rock scene. Marcangelo’s greatest claim to fame is being a private student of legendary jazz drummer Philly Joe Jones. As for Noble, he’s been playing bass for over four decades and has toured worldwide with different ensembles and on cruise liners.

The following track combines keen songwriting and potent musicianship in a neat package.

Track 05: “What You’ve Got” – We all try to keep up with the Joneses, and it’s costing us: not only in our wallets, but in our souls as well. With a killer bassline by Jeff Noble and melodic guitar by Newton, nifty number five is a cautionary tale. “Well, you read it in the papers and you see it on the news. You’ll see it when you least expect, when you’re buying your new shoes. It’s all about what’s cool, and it’s all about what’s hot. Because it’s all about getting what you want instead of wanting what you’ve got.” Danceable and catchy, this one’s a winner for sure.

The Dean Newton Trio has put forth a notable debut that’s perfect to enjoy with potent potables!

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 Interview – Rusty Zinn 

rusty zinn photo 1For many blues fans, hearing the name Rusty Zinn might draw a blank expression or conjure up some vague recollection of a guitarist who seemed headed for great things. The truth of the matter is that Zinn has indeed achieved a remarkable level of success, but not in the way he once imagined.

“Right now, my brand new reggae project is the #1 Hit record on the reggae charts in Brazil! I really embraced that music years ago. Growing up in Santa Cruz, Ca, reggae was huge, so I was no stranger to Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Then a friend of mine in the late 1990s turned me on to rocksteady, the early sound that reggae grew out of. We listened to Jimmy Cliff, the early Wailers, and Desmond Dekker. I thought it was insane, like Caribbean soul music. I started a closet fascination with the music, collecting records that nobody knew about. You didn’t want your blues buddies to know that you were into this. I became obsessed with it. In 2003, I went to Europe for three months and took a CD booklet that held one hundred discs. On that trip, ninety of them were Jamaican music”.

“One afternoon, there was a free show at Golden Gate Park featuring Solomon Burke. And up in Sausalito, there was a Jimmy Cliff show that required buying a ticket. I struggled with that decision but finally paid the extravagant price to see Jimmy Cliff at an outdoor event. That show messed me up forever! He had everything that I love, the soul, the R&B, had the blues, had the classic presentation with high energy and soul. His voice was in the same range as mine, plus he sang more melodically than a blues singer would. That connected with me, made me realize that was what I wanted to do. A year later, I saw Alton Ellis perform, taking my inspiration to a whole other level. Those events started off my journey into reggae music”.

“The universe has been very good to me, giving me opportunities to meet and record with a lot of my heroes in Jamaican music, people that are considered the pioneers and architects of the music. Once I first started trying to record my own reggae, blues people would come up and tell me how cool it was that I was fusing blues and reggae. I would look at them in wonder, thinking don’t you hear the blues that is already there. Before ska music was created, the Jamaicans were playing blues, what was called bluebeat, which was nothing more than a lot of Roscoe Gordon shuffles. Over the years I have come to realize that everything I love musically has its roots in Africa. All the music, the culture, it all goes back to Africa. So it is all blues to me”.

Like many musicians, Zinn first heard music through his mother’s record collection, especially his 45’s with Elvis Presley and Fats Domino, one of her favorite artists. When he wasn’t digging through her records, he would join his parents in listening to oldies radio programs, with the Wolfman Jack show being a family favorite. “As far back as I can remember, I have always had an affinity for classic, soulful music, stuff like the Spinners, the Stylistics, and Sam Cooke. Around the age of nine, I became a really big Beatles fan and started reading interviews with them, finding out who their inspirations were, and that made me dig deeper. But my entry to the blues came primarily through my older brother. When I was a teenager, he brought home albums by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker, records that were mind blowing, life-changing events. We both worked after school so that we could have money to buy records”.

Zinn was originally a drummer, starting at a young age and progressing to playing in the middle school marching band. At the age of sixteen, he decided to make the shift to guitar. “The blues really drew me in to playing guitar. I am glad that I have an understanding of the drums because it helped with my timing. To this day, I enjoy just being a rhythm guitar player. I’m happy to lay back in the cut and play disciplined rhythm behind other people, or my own vocals. A schoolmate, who was a year or so older, was quite an accomplished guitarist for his age. He gave me a Fender Stratocaster knock-off, and I got a teeny little practice amplifier. We had instruments around the house. My Mom played piano, and our parents always encouraged us to play music. We had a beat-up acoustic guitar with a couple of strings that we would use to pick out little melodies”.

rusty zinn photo 2“But once I got that electric, I was on it. The first tune I learned to play was Freddie King’s “Hideaway”. This cool cat, Ben Leblanc, an older guy I knew, was pretty accomplished on guitar. He had toured with Loggins & Messina, and also did a stint with Etta James on keyboards. He helped me learn some chords and figure out “Hideaway”. So I was spending a lot of time in the bedroom, as my grades started to slip – not that they were that great to begin with! Everything was blues, blues, blues. At one point, I took a lesson from the local blues hotshot. I wanted to learn how to play some Robert Lockwood Jr. stuff. I was drawn to the subtle accompaniment style of guitar more than being another Albert King. So I go to this lesson, and the instructor couldn’t show me shit. I brought a tape of Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) with Robert playing sweet guitar in the background. He couldn’t figure out what was going on. So I went home knowing that I was going to have to do this on my own”.

About the same time, when Zinn was seventeen, he saw an Antone’s Blues Revue that came through town that included Pinetop Perkins, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Rogers, Kim Wilson, and James Cotton. But the aspiring guitarist was knocked out by one musician. “I was fixated on Luther Tucker that night – had never heard or seen anyone play guitar like he did. He had a particular attack with his right hand, and played a little faster than other guitar players, but not fast in a “shredding” way. Luther was really saying something! I was drawn to his right hand, using a butterfly technique like you would playing a mandolin. I had a small recorder in my jacket pocket that I used to record the show. I stayed home from school the next day, sat there all day trying to figure out what Tucker was playing”. A year later, a mutual friend introduced the two men, the beginning of a mentor-apprentice relationship.

Zinn continues,”These days, nobody knows anybody any more. When I was coming up in the mid-80s, there was so much going on, so many artists performing. I didn’t discriminate. I wanted to hear anybody that was good, somebody that I could pull from. I used to have three posters on my bedroom wall. One was an almost life-sized poster of Elvis that my Mom gave me. The second was the cover for Bobby Blue Bland’s Two Steps From The Blues album. The third was Jimmie Vaughan. I was so taken with him, going back to the Thunderbird albums my brother played me. But I was seeing Anson Funderburgh, Johnny Heartsman, Lowell Fulson, Little Joe Blue, and Sonny Rhodes, cats from the older generation that were still playing the West coast. I was hungry for knowledge and my ears were wide open. Jimmie and Anson are understated players, never playing more than they need to. How could I not be affected by their groovy style, the wonderful guitar tone. But once I heard Luther Tucker, I wanted to sound like him”.

The first band he was in featured Zinn and Ben Leblanc on guitar with a rhythm section. Called Stone Crazy after the Buddy Guy song, the group was fronted by a guy named Frankie, who blew harp and sang. They were a cover band as no one was writing songs. “I was the only guy in the band who was into deep blues like Magic Sam and Little Walter. They all wanted to do more contemporary funk stuff. The bass player liked to pop the strings and the drummer couldn’t play a straight shuffle. It was frustrating for me. There was another band at that time with guitarist Mike Schermer on guitar. He was about four years older than me. They had a weekly Monday night pro jam that I went to, getting better playing with them on slow blues, shuffles – the kind of blues I could dig into”.

“The Stone Crazy band had a regular Saturday night gig at Callahan’s Pub, a Santa Cruz club. It was probably my first paying gig for $25 a man. But I was miserable with the music. One night I lied to the band, told them I would be out-of-town with my parents, and I went across town to play with Schermer’s band. They were on the west side of town and Callahan’s was more on the east side. Somebody was bar hopping, ended up going to Callahan’s, and asked the guys in Stone Crazy what was up, that he had just seen me playing across town. On the break, Ben Leblanc speeds across town on his motorcycle to where I am playing. The club was packed. We were playing when I saw him come through the door. He walked up on stage, got next to me, and told me to come pick up my money, that I was out of the band, done. Made a big production out of it. For a nineteen year old, that was a bit traumatizing. Later I started a band with a dear friend, Little Danny, who also sang and played harp. He had a real pretty voice. We played a mixture of Chicago harmonica blues mixed with Texas guitar blues and Johnny “Guitar” Watson stuff”.

rusty zinn photo 3A harmonica battle that Zinn attended at the age of eighteen was promoted by Tom Mazzolini, who ran the famous San Francisco Blues festival. Featured were Snooky Pryor, Anson & the Rockets with Sam Myers, plus Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers. It was the first time Zinn heard another influential guitarist. “That night I found out who Junior Watson was – and I had never heard anybody play like that, right here in my own backyard! People always like to put you in boxes. They bunched me in as a West coast guy. Guitarists in the Bay area play completely different than cats in Los Angeles. They have that swing thing going on. I was kind of forced to play swing in order to get gigs backing the harmonica players. Junior opened up a whole other world for me, guitarists more on the jazz side of the blues, or just straight jazz. Tucker was into Tiny Grimes. He once said, “Brother Russ, if you ever get the chance to check out “Rockin’ The Blues Away,” I suggest you pick it up. So I was searching for that Grimes record forever. I’ve always loved guys that approached jazz with a blues sensibility”.

When blues artists came to town, if Tucker couldn’t do the gig, he would refer people to Zinn as a suitable replacement. Many of the artists came from Chicago, which Zinn considers his spiritual home. “I can’t get away from Chicago in my sound, which comes from gigs early on with Snooky Pryor, Jimmy Rogers with Dave Myers, Carey Bell, Billy Boy Arnold, and James Cotton. The first guys that ever took me on the road were Lynwood Slim & Junior Watson. That was when I was nineteen. It was two gigs in Utah, which meant we drove all night. And you can bet I was the one driving while those guys slept!”

“It was all happening so fast. And I look back, thinking that I couldn’t play my way out of a wet paper bag. I really wish I could go back and play with those cats again, knowing what I know now. They must have let me play with them because they liked my spirit. I was so hungry for this stuff. I am certainly surprised that I even made it out of high school. My grades were so badly affected by music. Once my Mom asked me what I wanted to do and, of course, I said play guitar, be a musician. That response almost caused a heart attack! But my parents supported me, especially after guys like Snooky, Luther, and Jimmy Rogers were coming to the house for rehearsals, having dinner with us, and spending the night, my parents were impressed. They were proud of me for embracing my passion and working hard at making it happen. You hear a lot of stories about parents not wanting their kids to play the “devil’s” music, so the support of my parents was a special thing for me”.

Eventually, Zinn got to record with Mark Hummel, a session that sat around for years before seeing the light of day. A year later, they cut more tracks after a tour with Jimmy Rogers and Billy Boy Arnold. Arnold lost his voice during the session, so the recording also sat there. Zinn was part of the band that backed Kim Wilson on Tigerman, Wilson’s first solo record released in 1993 on the Antone’s label. “I spent a lot of time in the studio, getting tips from guys like Junior and Luther. Kim took me out on tour, with Junior & me on guitar, Larry Taylor on bass, Gene Taylor on keyboards, and the late Richard Innes on drums. That was a killer band that allowed Kim to play the deep blues stuff he wasn’t getting to do with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. We toured pretty strong for a year”.

Slipping in and out of Hummel’s band for a couple year’s in addition to his work with Wilson, Zinn finally decided that he needed to get away from the harmonica. He had been honing his chops as a lead guitar player, especially after Watson left Wilson’s band, leaving Zinn as the lone guitar player. The next step was to start singing. “I knew that I could sing in tune, from singing around the house doing Arthur Alexander songs. But I was very shy about singing. During a Wilson tour in Norway, Kim looked at us, asking what should we do next. Junior told him to let Rusty sing a tune. Kim was shocked, looking at me like, you can sing? I did “It’s Love Baby (24 Hours A Day)”, a nice Earl Gaines shuffle. When the song was over, all the girls up front were screaming like we were the Beatles. That was the beginning. I was so scared , but I knew there something to be cultivated”.

Wilson and guitarist Danny Kortchmar were going to produce a solo record for Zinn on the House Of Blues label. But the label shut down before anything solid took place. Then Hammond and Nauman Scott of Black Top Records expressed interest. The deal was signed, leading to the Sittin’ & Waitin’ release. “There I was in the studio, knowing I had to sing. When I listen back to that stuff, I didn’t know how to use my voice and the guitar stuff seems terrible to me, but people love that record. Hammond and I reconnected about a year ago. He commented that he loved those records because I had an innocent quality that reminded him of records that he liked from the 1950s and 1960s.

“One interesting point is that Ronnie James Weber played bass on it. One night my girlfriend and I were walking down the street and I hear this band. We ducked in the basement to hear them. I honed right in on the bass player, so I got his card. Shortly thereafter, Hummel wanted to get a new bass player, so I called Ronnie. He got the gig, and right out of the gate, he was what we were searching for. But he was playing electric bass. We were into the 1950s sound, the acoustic bass sound of Willie Dixon. So I told Ronnie to get an upright bass with gut strings. Within a month, we were on the road with Jimmy Rogers and he was slapping the hell out that upright. Later he was snatched by Little Charlie & The Nightcats.”

rusty zinn photo 4“I later did another record for Black Top, Confessin’, but nothing really came of it. The record label was barely hanging on, running on fumes. Anson Funderburgh had a great comment in an interview once, saying that being on Black Top was like being a family picnic without enough ketchup to go around. I had Bob Welsh on that one. We were sharing the same house in those days. I used to give him guitar lessons. After the third lesson, I refused to take his money because he was teaching me stuff. He would practice piano on an old upright that was down in the basement”.

Despite a helping hand from Alligator Records, Black Top eventually folded. But Alligator owner Bruce Iglauer took an interest in Zinn. “At that time I was really into Jimmy Dawkins and Magic Sam. So I wanted to do something that focused on Chicago’s west side blues sounds. That record was The Chill. Bruce is a great business man. It is unbelievable that he has kept an independent blues label going all these years. Bruce was down with the string bending but he had a different idea for how I should be portrayed visually. But I always just follow my heart. While my Black Top stuff is more soulfully and spiritually satisfying, with Bruce immediately out of the gate, I started getting reports and checks for songwriting mechanicals. In a business sense, he is fantastic”.

“After we did the record, Alligator got me a new booking agent. Gradually there just weren’t enough dates to keep the band working. I was smart enough to realize I was at the bottom of the totem pole. So the band broke up. I did a tour as a trio with an organ player and a drummer. I was getting deep into soul music those days. My voice was getting better and stronger. I never wanted this voice, wanted to sound like Muddy or Wolf. Singing soul music was more comfortable for my voice. So I joined forces with the Dynatones, as I needed a band to help me reinvent myself.”.

“The strategy was the Dynatones would open with a couple instrumentals, then I would come out with a big Showtime at the Apollo intro. I would just stand there and sing for four more songs, then I would pick up the guitar. It went over with the audience better than anything I had done. I was feeling real liberated. Bruce came to see us in Chicago – and he just wasn’t digging it at all. I wanted to explore some different stuff and he wasn’t having it. He literally said the world is not ready for Rusty Zinn, the stand-up soul singer. I had a three record deal with Alligator. After some months of discussion, we amicably agreed to part ways. I walked away from the deal. So I moved on from that into embracing the other music that I became involved in”.

Whether he is playing blues, soul, or reggae, Zinn will use the same guitar and amplifier. He feels that the magic happens in the fingers, the way a player utilizes the strings to create a clean, killer tone. He used to have plenty of vintage guitars, but these days plays what might be considered lower end models. He’d hit the road with an Epiphone Riviera, but that instrument has been in the repair shop for a spell. The neck is comfortable, and it has a Bigsby on it with Gibson Burstbucker pick-ups. For amplifiers, he has been using an old Fender Deluxe Reverb that has been “blackfaced “ or a brown ’95 Fender Vibroverb reissue that has had lots of modifications trying to get the Vibrolux tone.

“I haven’t stopped playing blues. I have been real active guesting on a lot of blues projects. But things have changed a lot. Over time, so many of the musicians that were my lifeline to the music have slowly passed away, guys like Jody Williams, who just passed. I felt like I lost a piece of myself.

“I also am not into the politics, contests, and awards. Music is not a sport to me. It is expression. I am not interested in those aspects of the business. If you think you have mastered music, you should just throw in the towel. Music is a never-ending journey of discovery. I wanted to play the music that I love, keep trying to get better, and feed my family. I have achieved that through all of the ups and downs. I’m just for the music”.

Visit Rusty’s website at:

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

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The North Central Florida Blues Society – Gainesville, FL

The North Central Florida Blues Society celebrates the birthday of Dr. Tim Fik on December 9 from 6-10 pm at the High Dive (210 SW 2nd Ave) in Gainesville, FL and as a perfect fit to Fik’s stature, it’s a star-studded event featuring Blues virtuosos with a rock edge.

The triple-headliner event stars The Danielle Nicole Band, Anthony Gomes, and the Bridget Kelly Band. Special guests include the Mark Telesca Band and star New York drummer Sonny Rock. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for members of any Blues society in Florida.

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The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society is pleased to announce its January Blues Bash on 6 January, 2019. The show will feature our International Blues Challenge band competition winners, the Chris Clifton Band, and the Solo/Duo winner, Jake HaldenVang, who will represent us at the IBC in Memphis.

Doors are at 7:00; music from 8:00 to 10:00, followed by an open blues jam. Admission is free to members with valid cards, and only $5.00 to others. The show will be at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205.

We continue to collect non-perishable food and household items for Loaves and Fishes. 1 can? I can!

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.

Dec 10 – Mary Jo Curry, Dec 12 – Joe Asselin & the Moonlight Ramblers, Dec 17 – Studebaker John, Dec 26 – The Baaad Boyz For more information visit

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