Issue 13-14 April 4, 2019

Cover photo © 2019 Bob Hakins.

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Mark Hummel. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Simon Kinny-Lewis Band, Mick Kolassa and the Taylor Made Blues Band, Mark Searcy, Rockin’ Johnny Burgin & Quiqué Gomez, Tony Holiday and Mighty Mike Schermer.

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

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 2019 Blues Blast Music Award Artist Submissions Now Open 

The 2019 Blues Blast Music Award submissions are now open. There are 12 categories. Eligibility dates and all submission details are at:

Submissions remain open until April 15th. Nominees are announced in June. Voting begins in July.

SAVE THE DATE – September 13, 2019 for the Blues Blast Music Awards at Tebala Event Center in Rockford, IL. More details of the 2019 BBMAs coming soon!

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

simon kinney lewis band cd imageSimon Kinny-Lewis Band – Bad Whiskey

Self-Release – 2018

11 tracks; 49 minutes

This Australian band gives us a predominantly rock CD with three covers and eight originals, six by guitarist/vocalist Simon Kinny-Lewis and two by bassist Rob Ewan. The rest of the band is Shannon Stitt on keys and Tony Boyd on drums and Brett Garsed adds slide guitar to two tracks. The band is clearly experienced as this is their sixth album, one a year since 2013, though this is the first that this reviewer has heard.

The album opens with the band’s version of Amos Milburn’s “Bad Bad Whiskey” which rocks along well with something of a ZZ Top feel. We then get two of Simon’s songs: “Prison Of Love” is a heavy rocker with Simon’s tough vocals and lots of brooding guitar which leads into a screaming solo; in contrast “Angel Like You” has a far lighter touch with the keys underpinning a catchy tune with an uplifting chorus and a good guitar solo. The band covers Robben Ford’s “Midnight Comes Too Soon” from his One Day In Nashville album and does a solid job with Simon’s vocals and guitar both excellent before “If You Go” which is a melodic tune with some very good guitar work in a plucked note style, adding a different feel.

Next up are Rob’s two songs and, perhaps not surprisingly, “Caged Up” starts with bubbling bass that is picked up by the rest of the band for a funky outing with Simon playing a solo that contains elements of jazz-rock; “Straight Talker” is a slower tune with plenty of slide and another strong chorus.

Simon’s “Beyond Missouri Skies” is a tribute to his late brother Derek, another slower tune with the keys providing warm backing for Simon’s heartfelt vocals. It is the longest track on the album and runs to over six minutes with a significant part of that taken over by Simon’s searing guitar work. The mood lightens with “New Orleans Woman”, a catchy tune with a little country twang, the guitar definitely bringing “Honky Tonk Women” to mind, before the final original, “Goodbye Baby”, which has rather more blues content with Simon’s anguished vocal and emotional guitar. The album closes with a very different interpretation of JB Lenoir’s “Down In Mississippi” which, to this reviewer’s ears, draws its inspiration from Robben Ford. Brett’s slide and Simon’s soaring guitar are both striking and the melodic reinterpretation of the song works well though I doubt that JB would recognize it!

Overall there is little here to interest diehard blues fans but plenty to interest guitar aficionados as Simon demonstrates a good range in his playing. One for fans of melodic rock to investigate.

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 – 2 of 6 

mick kolassa cd imageMick Kolassa and the Taylor Made Blues Band – 149 Delta Avenue

Sep 1, 2018, Endless Blues Records

12 Songs, 49 Minutes

Mick Kolassa, aka Michissippi Mick, is a lifelong blues fan who previously served on the Board of Directors of The Blues Foundation in Memphis. After a career in pharmaceutical marketing (in which he gained some notoriety for aggressively promoting a free-market approach to pharmaceutical pricing), Kolassa set his sights on performing and recording his unique take on blues and blues-rock music.

Currently based in Memphis, TN, Kollasa has several releases under his belt. 149 Delta Avenue is his sixth, and was produced by Grammy and BMA winner Michael Freeman, a well-known producer and engineer who currently serves on the Board of Directors for The Blues Foundation.

Of the dozen songs on this CD, 9 are Kolassa originals, and three are covers. In addition to Kolassa on guitar and lead vocals, the backing band for this release is The Taylor Made Blues Band, consisting of David Dunavent on guitar and backing vocals, Leo Goff on bass, Lee Williams on drums, and Chris Stephenson on keyboards, with Susan Marshall and Daunielle Hill on backing vocals.

The album title refers to Kolassa’s Clarksdale, Mississippi studio which is featured on the CD’s cover. The opening track, “I Can’t Slow Down,” a 4/4 rocker with the refrain, “I can’t slow down or I’m afraid I’ll stop,” captures a feeling shared, I suspect, by many performers of a certain age.

The song “U.S. 12 to Highway 49” alludes to Kolassa’s southward migration from his native Michigan to Mississippi, along with his musical migration to the blues. This bouncy shuffle features some solid harp playing by Eric Hughes.

“Alternative Man” slows things down a bit with a contemporary take on themes found in songs like Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man” features Jeff Jensen on some tasty guitar work. But with lyrics like “When your man ain’t around, I can give you what you need… Give you more than you ever had, that’s guaranteed,” this seems to be clearly a bit of a stretch for a guy in his mid-sixties, but hey, what do I know?

“Cotton Road” features Toranzo Cannon with some gritty guitar work, underscoring a tale about the trials of the workers – mostly slaves – who helped unscrupulous land owners build the cotton industry in the U.S.

“American Intervention” is a slow, minor blues that details the challenge of watching a loved one struggle through addiction, and features some haunting tremolo guitar as a foundation behind the vocal.

“Whiskey in the Mornin’” is the classic drinker’s lament: “I love it in the night time, but I hate the next mornin’…” and features J.D. Taylor playing some tasty harmonica licks.

“I Don’t Need No Doctor” is the Ashford-Simpson-Armstead classic, done as a minor funk blues with some great horns, Chris Stephenson’s classic organ sounds, and Jeff Jensen’s fine guitar work.

“Alternative Man Alternative,” revisits “Alternative Man” with a blues rock edge that while catchy, still can’t salvage the occasionally cringe-worthy lyrics.

“The Viper” is an old-timey jazz-blues that was written in the 30s by jazz violinist Stuff Smith, and originally released under the title “You’se a Viper.” It’s probably most recognizable from Fats Waller’s 1943 release as a 45 single. Kolassa’s rendition really works so well because of the interwoven lyricism of Suavo Jones on trombone; Marc Franklin on trumpet; and Alice Hasen on violin, lending it a freshness that stands out on this collection, and making it my favorite track on this album.

Of note is the fact that 100% of the net proceeds from the sale of this CD go to The Blues Foundation’s two main programs, the HART Fund (Handy Artists Relief Trust) for Blues musicians and their families in financial need due to a broad range of health concerns; and a Blues in the Schools youth education initiative that enables qualified applicants to study an instrument of their choosing at reputable camps, seminars, and workshop programs.

All in all, 149 Delta Avenue is a well-produced, easy-to-listen-to collection of bluesy tunes that cover a wide swath of blues, blues-rock, roots, and soul styles. The song structures are taken from a variety of basic blues forms, but the lyrics can sometimes feel stilted. The recording, engineering and production is polished – perhaps too polished – and seems to lack the spontaneity of the best blues recordings. The band is solid, the guest artists quite good, but Kolassa’s songwriting and vocal performance can be self-conscious and perfunctory, bordering on facile. Interestingly enough, in researching Kolassa in preparation for this review, I came across a YouTube video with the heading “Relaxing Blues Music,” featuring – among others – Kolassa’s cover of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.” I thought that to be an unusual, but apt description. But that’s just me. In any case, give it a listen. It might be just what you’re looking for.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

mark searcy cd imageMark Searcy – My Color

Self-Release – 2018

10 tracks; 54 minutes

Texas-based Mark Searcy played guitar in his teens but stopped altogether to raise a family, only starting to play again as therapy when he injured his hand in a work accident. That rekindled his love of music and he has produced ten albums since 2005, ranging from solo to full band recordings. On this disc he blends electric and acoustic work, aided by quite a large cast of musicians. Mark plays guitar and handles lead vocals with Frank Lisenbee and Louis Real on bass, Carlos Escobedo, Jacob Getzoff and Bugz Garza on percussion and Candice Sanders on BV’s; guests include Van Wilks on guitar, Kenny Grohman on steel guitar, Steve Chase on B3 and Dave Hohmann on sax. All the material was written, arranged and produced by Mark, Frank Lisenbee recording, mixing and co-producing in San Antonio, Texas.

The opening pair of tracks show Mark’s varied repertoire: “Where Does It End?” is blues-rock with heavy riffs, sequencers and a wild solo whereas “Congo Road” is back porch acoustic, just Mark and his resonator, backing vocals and hand percussion. Another change comes with “Legend Of Charlie Jones”, a chugging rocker that recounts a tale of early twentieth century revenge, unfortunately marred by a rather histrionic guitar solo for which plenty of space is available in the extended track. We then get a quieter track “Angel Of Destiny” with pedal steel and B3 adding a country feel before “Moon Lovin’ Woman” bounces in on a jazzy riff, lead guitar duties shared with Van Wilks.

Two good instrumentals mark the mid point of the set: “Mi Amor Por Ti” reflects the title, a gentle trio performance in suitably latin style; “Fruit Cookies” is interesting with jazz flavours in Mark’s guitar work, Dave’s sax, the warm wash of the B3 and Frank’s bubbling bass, the whole bringing back fond memories of artists like Lee Rittenour back in the late 70’s/80’s. These two instrumentals grabbed this reviewer’s attention but neither are blues! “Invincible” offers another change with Frank switching to classical guitar alongside Mark’s electric as Mark reflects on happy musical times when the world was his oyster, Dave adding a breathy sax solo. Two rhythm guitars are credited on “Gotta Get Back To You”, a sure sign of a more upbeat tune and, with Candice’s backing vocals also beefing up the production this is a pleasant and lively song, more pop than blues but attractive. Album closer “Monterey” runs to over 8 minutes, Mark playing both resonator and electric guitars. The guitar work appears to be influenced by Hendrix (think “Little Wing”) while the lyrics reflect a disconnect between modern life and the hopes and dreams we once had: “from Monterey you just watch it burn”, a view further underlined by a spoken word sequence. Just as you are thinking that it’s a moody and depressing end to the album Mark rides in with a very upbeat guitar feature to close the track in impressive style.

There is not much straight blues here but Mark’s vocals work fine and he plays well across several styles.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

Rockin’ Johnny Burgin & Quiqué Gomez – Dos Hombres Wanted

VizzTone Label Group VT-JB01

14 songs – 65 minutes

Guitarist Rockin’ Johnny Burgin and Spanish-born harmonica player Quiqué Gomez have both made names for themselves internationally through the years, but hook up for the first time here to produce a disc certain to please anyone with a love for Chicago blues.

It’s truly the meeting of two worlds. With a pedigree that includes seven successful albums on the Delmark label, Like Elvin Bishop before him, Bergin arrived in the Windy City as a student at the University Of Chicago, but quickly became deeply involved with blues. A fixture in the Windy City for two decades before relocating to San Francisco, he cut his teeth touring with Taildragger, Pinetop Perkins and Say Lay before launching his own band, a unit that frequently featured Jimmy Burns on vocals. A proponent of the West Side sound, he also plays solo and duo shows, must recently a West Coast Meets Chicago act with India-born harp master Aki Kumar.

Hailing from Madrid and deeply imbued with the Windy City sound, Gomez also plays guitar and mandolin. He formed his first band, Juan Bourbon Juan Scoth & Juan Beer, at age 20 and has been a fixture on both sides of the Atlantic since 2008. With a dozen CDs to his credit, he splits his time between Europe, where he fronts his quintet, The Vipers, and the U.S., where he’s worked with John Primer, Eddie C. Campbell, Bob Stroger and Willie Buck, among others. In his spare time, he also sings Sinatra tunes with a Spanish band and swing with the New York-based Bob Sands Big Band.

Recorded at Alnico Studio in Austin and Casa De Madera in Toledo, Spain, and mixed and mastered by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios in California, Burgin and Gomez are backed by Eric Przygocki (bass) and Stephen Dougherty (drums) for most of the outing with guest appearances by guitarist Josh Fulero, harp player Greg Izor, keyboard player Christian Dozzler and trombonist Faris Jarrah. David Salvador Fructuoso (bass) and Pablo Baréz Del Cueto (drums) handle rhythm for three cuts captured in Spain.

A collection of 12 originals and two covers, the disc opens with “Your Charm Won’t Help You,” a percussive shuffle driven by Johnny’s stinging guitar and vocals and Quiqué laying down harp runs that would make the masters smile. Gomez takes the mike for “Take It Like It Is,” a plea to his lady to stop her bitching or he’s leaving for good, and the jump blues, “You Can’t Steal My Sugar,” which warns that it doesn’t matter how much money you have, you’ll never take his gal.

Burgin’s in command for the haunting “The Jinx,” which reeks of the Delta, before giving way to Quiqué a stylish, slow-paced cover of Robert Jr. Lockwood’s “Funny But True.” The sound shifts slightly toward New Orleans with Dozzler on accordion for “Ain’t No High Roller” before “Everybody Loves My Baby,” delivered with a true Windy City feel. It flows into the slow-and-steady “Coffee Can Blues,” which bemoans a life of struggle after saving every penny for a woman who cheated before she ran, a theme that continues with the six-minute “Livin’ Day To Day.”

The sprightly, Spanish language “Otro Hombre” – translated “Another Man” – follows before the funky “Step It Up Bro” comes across with a ‘30s feel. Two more originals — “The Right To Hurt Me” and “Are You Ever” – follow before a tasty cover of Tampa Red’s “Don’t Blame Shorty.”

Bergin and Gomez work together throughout with hand-and-glove precision, effortlessly sharing the spotlight. The material’s fresh and swings from the jump, but would also fit comfortably in an earlier era. If you’re a traditionalist like me, you’ll love it.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer 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 – 5 of 6 

tony holiday cd imageTony Holiday – Porch Sessions

VizzTone Label Group

13 Tracks/57:38

If you like blues harmonica, this is the album for you. Recorded in informal settings across the country,Tony Holiday and his traveling companion, guitarist Landon Stone, made various stops to play with a number of celebrated blues artists, with Holiday being one of the nine harmonica players featured on the project. Holiday has honing his talents over hundreds of live performances in recent years, cutting several releases with his band, the Velvetones.

James Harman gets things started with his usual fine vocal on “Pick-Pocket Fingers,” a lively song that certainly sounds like one of his originals, but the notes to the disc lack songwriter credits for the program. The presence of Kid Ramos on guitar is an added bonus but Stone takes the guitar solo, with Harman shouting out encouragement. While the notes state that Holiday is on every track, Harman is the lone harp player on this cut. Two other tracks feature Harman and Ramos. “Special Friend” finds Harman bemoaning his bad luck with women, then Holiday and Ramos give their musical responses to the singer’s situation. Harman undoubtedly had a hand in writing”Goin’ To Court,” a swinging track pushed along by Holiday’s hard blowing.

“They Call Me John Primer” is a grinding shuffle with the celebrated Chicago bluesman’s gruff vocal framed by his frequent associate, Bob Corritore, who once again displays his mastery of amplified harp tradition. The pace picks up considerably on “Tell Me Baby,” thanks to Joel Meza Jr. on drums. The music shifts back and forth between the twin pairings of amplified guitars and harps. The standard “That’s Alright” has Kid Andersen on upright bass and Alex Pettersen on drums, backing Charlie Musselwhite and Aki Kumar, with Rockin’ Johnny Burgin on guitar. Kumar takes the lead vocal on the longest track on the project, giving everyone a moment in the spotlight.

Little Sonny’s “Woman Named Trouble” gets a funky backbeat compliments of Danny Banks on drums, joined by fellow Blue Dreamer Matthew Wilson on guitar, Their boss, John Nemeth, shares the vocal slot with Jake Friel, a fine player of a younger generation, and both men have plenty to say on their harps. Nemeth is back for “Blues Hit Big Town,” sending out a brief tribute to Junior Wells, one of the main influences on his career. Mitch Kashmar takes over on “Becky Ann,” using a gritty vocal tone to pledge his love, then trading gripping harp lines with Ronnie Shellist. The duo go it alone on “Hip To It,” a primer on how to effectively play blues harmonica.

Singer William G. Kidd may be unknown to many discerning blues fans, which will certainly change once they hear his compelling rendition of “This Time I’m Gone For Good”. Shellist makes an unaccredited appearance, his smooth tones a perfect contrast to Kidd’s pleading voice. Holiday takes over on lead vocal on two tracks. His rough-edged effort is a fine match for Harman’s “Three Way Party, “ as Kashmar and Shellist are back one more unaccredited time, adding stellar harp embellishments. The addition of a booklet with song credits, the order of solos, and accurate listing of contributions would have greatly enhanced this project. Burgin’s guitar messes perfectly with Andersen’s bass, giving Holiday a secure foundation to showcase his command of the vocal and harmonica on “Coin Operated Woman”.

The title of this release might lead prospective buyers to think that this is batch of laid-back performances. Despite the scaled down accompaniment, many of the tracks pack a punch. No matter who is up to the plate, the music never falters. Thanks to Tony Holiday for a seductive sampling of the current state of blues harmonica. This is one that will get repeated listens.

Here are links to some videos of the sessions:

Musselwhite & Kumar:

Harman & Ramos;

Holiday, Kashmar, & Shellist:

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past 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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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

mike schermer cd imageMighty Mike Schermer – Bad Tattoo

VizzTone Label Group

12 Tracks/51:27

When you have backed artists like Elvin Bishop, Bonnie Raitt, Charlie Musselwhite, and soul legend Howard Tate, one would think that you would have achieved some level of notoriety. While his decade-long stint in Marcia Ball’s band has given him plenty of exposure, Mighty Mike Schermer is probably not a name that springs to mind when blues fans discuss their favorite guitar players. Yet anyone who has heard Schermer live left impressed with his six string dexterity. One would have the same impression after listening to any of the previous six releases under his name, which would also reveal Schermer’s skill as a songwriter.

On his new release, he adroitly mixes musical styles, showing the wide scope of his musical vision while getting contributions from a number of notable guests. On “Suffocating Love,” Schermer trades licks with Chris Cain on a tune that harks back to Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s funk period. The backing musicians include Tony Stead on organ plus Paul Revelli on drums & percussion, with Steve Ehrmann on bass. That duo appears on nine of the twelve original tracks. Harmonica ace Rick Estrin blows some fine accompaniment over the loping pace on “Stop Looking For Love”. Lisa Lueschner Andersen adds some vocal flavoring before the song ends with a lively call-&-response between guitar and harp. Keyboard whiz Austin DeLone plays piano on “How Much Longer?” but his Farfissa organ work is the highlight of the jaunty cut, with Schermer obsessing over when his long-gone love will return home, finally exorcising his feelings in a red-hot solo.

Cain makes another appearance on “Ain’t That The Way Love Goes,” switching to electric piano while Jim Pugh steps in on the organ. Producer Kid Andersen plays bass and fellow Nightcat Alex Pettersen makes his lone appearance on drums. Schermer’s plaintive vocal is one of his best on the project. “Baby Down The Well” finds Schermer ruefully sharing his views on modern life, joined by Andersen on bass, Bob Welsh on piano, and some hard blowing on the hap from Aki Kumar, answered by a flurry of sharp slide licks from the guitarist. Derrick “D’Mar” Martin is on drums, one of two that feature him.

The opener, “She Won’t Be Coming Back,” sports a driving beat as Schermer rips it up, utilizing a tone borrowed from Albert Collins, who was a main influence at the start of Schermer’s career. The presence of Eric Bernhardt on baritone & tenor saxophones along with Nancy Wright on tenor sax make this track another highlight. The horns are back on the title song, a humorous commentary on his reactions to a woman sporting some ink that prominently features the name of a former lover. “Lover’s Hall Of Fame” employs some baseball analogies to serve up a forlorn kiss-off song while “I Can’t Let It Go” finds him struggling mightily to carry on alone. Billy Price joins in on backing vocal.

Schermer encourages listeners to do their part to change the world in a fairly generic fashion on “One Thing Every Day”. His thin vocal tone fits perfectly on “Hey Francine,” a country-tinged rocker with a distinct Louisiana flair. “Up All Night” slides into J.J. Cale territory, an easy-rolling tempo with Schermer spicing it up with one last, spot-on guitar workout.

The sound throughout the disc is as good as we have come to expect from a project recorded at Andersen’s Greaseland Studio. Schermer’s vocals hold up to repeated listens, his guitar playing is exemplary, and his songs stick with you. If there is any justice in this world, this release will capture the attention of the wider blues community, giving Mighty Mike a level of attention and praise commensurate with his talents.

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past 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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 Featured Interview – Mark Hummel 

mark hummel photo 1It’s no wonder that harmonica maestro Mark Hummel packs a room wherever he appears. A road warrior with a 40-year pedigree, he’s truly one of a kind: A master showman who’s eager to tour – and often take a back seat on stage — in configurations that give other internationally acclaimed musicians plenty of space to shine.

Based out of the San Francisco Bay area, Hummel’s a juggler of sorts – a blues version of P.T. Barnum. Barnum lured audiences with the idea that “there’s a sucker born every minute.” But there are no suckers when Mark performs. And he does it in four distinctly different configurations!

In addition to fronting his own band, The Blues Survivors, since 1977 — piling up three million road miles in the process, he also plays ringmaster for two major operations: Mark Hummel’s Blues Harmonica Blowouts – orgasmic shows for harp lovers that feature multiple master reed benders at each stop – and the Golden State-Lone Star Revue – a delight for guitar freaks with a lineup that includes multiple world-class fret masters.

And then there’s his latest venture, the Deep Basement Shakers, a unit that breathes new life into hokum blues, a musical styling that began in minstrel shows of the 19th Century and reached the height of its popularity in the 1930s.

Blues Blast caught up with Hummel in February during the Legendary Rhythm And Blues Cruise when which he coordinated an even more formidable team: a Golden State-Lone Star lineup that included Texas-based powerhouse guitarists Anson Funderburgh and Mike Keller, but also took on a strong Chicago flavor with guest appearances by vocalists Oscar Wilson of the Cash Box Kings and Dietra Farr, a longtime Windy City favorite.

As you might expect, they held their own in the midst of the best blues talent on the planet, playing to huge crowds every time they appeared during the seven-day high seas bacchanal.

Like many of his peers, Hummel grew up both in the church and the hard way. Even though he was son of a Methodist minister, the family lived for several years in Aliso Village in Los Angeles, which was recognized as one of the most notorious slums in the country before being demolished. Later on, the Hummels moved to another impoverished area, East L.A.

Mark’s path to music began primarily because of the babysitters who cared for him while his folks were at work.

“The very first blues I heard was ‘Scratch My Back’ by Slim Harpo and ‘Honest I Do’ by Jimmy Reed,” he recalls. “They were in heavy rotation on soul radio stations, which the babysitters would be playing.”

To his ear at the time, their sounds were inseparable from the music of mid-‘60s superstars Wilson Pickett and Hank Ballard And The Midnighters.

“But what happened for me really took place in high school,” Mark says. “I started hearing all the rock blues stuff. I was listening to Cream and Hendrix. Janis Joplin was my big favorite with Big Brother. And Blue Cheer – some really bad psychedelic bands.

“I gravitated to that stuff because it was louder and drove my parents out of the room.”

At 12 or 13, Hummel attended his first rock concert. “It was at the Rose Bowl,” he says. “It was Big Brother, Albert King, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, the Mothers Of Invention, Country Joe And The Fish, Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte-Marie, the Byrds – all these people were on the bill for $3.

“I actually missed Janis and Albert because the show was so backed up that they didn’t come on until 1 or 2 in the morning. I had to leave early because my babysitter needed to sleep.

“She was the cool babysitter – and our ride.”

It wasn’t until years later, when he was in my early 20s, that he heard bands like the Fabulous Thunderbirds doing “Scratch My Back” and recognized that he remembered hearing the same true blues songs being played on the radio.

mark hummel photo 2With a catalog of more than 30 albums under his own name today, Mark’s interest in the harmonica began after seeing Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, James Cotton and Charlie Musselwhite at a club called the Ash Grove within a six-month period at age 15. “My mother would drive me to the gigs, drop me off and pick me up,” he says. “She really made things happen for me.”

Shortly thereafter, he started taking lessons from a friend, Mark Dawson. If you’re a fan of country music, you might recognize his name because he spent the better part of 20 years playing harp and sharing songwriting credits with the legendary Hoyt Axton.

“He was a couple of years older than I was, and he was popular. He was playing Paul Butterfield stuff on the harmonica,” Hummel remembers.

“I wanted to separate myself from all the guys who were playing guitar. So I asked him: ‘How do you do that?’ He goes: ‘Just bring me over a six-pack and I’ll show you whatever you want to know!’

“He lent me the first Butterfield and second Cotton albums, and I just wore those out. I don’t remember if I ever gave them back. He showed me how to bend and do head shakes, vibrato – all the basics.”

Other early influences included Willie Dixon, Little Walter, Musselwhite and Sonny Boy Williamson. His jazz influences, which include Count Basie, Billie Holiday and others, didn’t hit until much later.

“By the time I was 16, I was playing in bands with a much of high school friends,” Mark recalls.

Some of those playing partners included the Delgado brothers – Bob, Joey and Steve – who finally rose to prominence nationally in 2016 when they captured top honors in the International Blues Challenge.

“Bobby Delgado, the bass player, had one of the first blues bands that I knew of that had a guy who could really play the harmonica,” he says. “This guy was good. He was like listening to Big Walter or Little Walter, and he could play all that stuff.

“So I was hanging out with him and trying to sit in with those guys. But I played with all of Bobby’s siblings.”

Known for his powerful, rich, single-note attack, Hummel relates most to the playing style of Cotton when it comes to harp players of the modern era. “He had such a slashing style,” Mark says. “He just tore into the notes. There was something about the way he’d bite off the notes and get to the meat of it that really knocks me out.”

He’s also drawn to Little Walter: “With him, he’d play something real soft with muted tone and then stab something.”

But their true appeal comes because of the way they played in support of Muddy Waters and others. “The way Walter played behind Muddy is really interesting to me,” he says. “And Cotton had a bit of that in the mid-‘60s, but eventually became more and more of a power player.

“He was pretty hard on his harmonica. The guys in his band told me they saw him spitting out reeds – something I’ve never done.”

After graduation, Hummel hitchhiked around the country with stops in New Orleans, the East Coast and Chicago. “When I stopped there, I was so intimidated by how big a city it was,” he says. “I called up Bob Riedy (a regional blues superstar keyboard player in the ‘70s and ‘80s), and he told me: ‘You can go here and here and here,’ and I wasn’t about to get on the El and try and find ‘em. I wasn’t about to go to the South or West Side by myself.

“I went to the Bay area and landed in Berkeley just by chance. I met some girl and kinda moved in with her for a little bit. I went back to L.A. for a while to save money so I could move up there. I saved up like $40 and drove my little VW bug back up a year later when I was 19.

“It was a great scene to be in back then. I remember the Berkeley Blues Festival that used to happen and seeing Big Mama Thornton. Bukka White and George ‘Harmonica’ Smith, who was also one of the first harp players I saw in L.A.”

Mark’s professional career kicked off when singer/songwriter Haskell “Cool Papa” Sadler – most famous for the song “747,” which was a major hit for Joe Louis Walker in 1988 – hired him for a gig. “The way I started was in ghetto clubs ‘cause it was the only place you could play the blues,” he says.

mark hummel photo 3“They weren’t going to hire me at the Fillmore!” he jokes. “I met Cool Papa and played with him for about a month because his harp player was taking a sabbatical or something.”

Through Sadler, he met Matthew “Boogie Jake” Jacobs, who’d recorded with Slim Harpo in Louisiana before heading West. Hummel worked with him in a band that included future Radiators bass player Reggie Scanlan and guitarist Eddie Ray for a year. During that period, he ventured into the studio for the first time to record a 45 – “Automobile Blues/The Boogie Train” — on the Blues Connoisseur imprint, for which Jake worked regularly as a studio musician.

“It was a couple of white guys playing with an older black guy,” Mark says. “If you were into the blues and you were young and white, people in the clubs didn’t have any problem with it as long as you were sincere of the love of the music. I felt like they welcomed me with open arms.

“It was intimidating when I stepped into places like the Playboy Club in Richmond (Cal.) for the first time,” he laughs. “But people were really nice right out of the gate.”

Among Hummel’s other close friends during that period were J.J. Malone (best known for “It’s A Shame” and “Danger Zone”), Troyce Key (owner of the legendary Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland) and lap steel guitarist Sonny Rhodes.

Mark hooked up with guitarist J.J. Jones and Mississippi Johnny Waters – then Johnny Sandifer – in 1977 and formed what would become The Blues Survivors, creating the band that he continues to front today. The name was Waters’ idea.

“J.J. called me up, and I think only wanted for me to put a rhythm section together for him,” Hummel remembers. He goes: ‘We’re gonna start a band, man. Maybe you can find a bass player and drummer.’

“But me and Johnny hit it off immediately. We just clicked. I saw him at a jam session at Eli’s. He was singing and playing ‘Country Boy’ just like Muddy Waters. I said to myself: ‘This is who I want to play with!’

“J.J. almost didn’t fit because we were playing Chicago blues and he was more Albert or B.B. King. He left within the first three months after getting the house gig at Eli’s. So we found Sonny Lane, who was Johnny’s old friend, and he took over on guitar.”

As a result, The Blues Survivors proved to be quite a novelty even though two Windy City greats – guitarist Luther Tucker and Francis Clay, Muddy’s former drummer – were both living in the area but primarily playing elsewhere.

The Blues Survivors’ lineup changed in the early ‘80s, when Hummel decided it was time to take the band on the road. Both Waters and Lane dropped out as the band traveled to Salt Lake City and along the California coast.

They started touring internationally in 1985, and the roster has included a virtual who’s who of talent, including bassist Mike Judge (creator of Beavis And Butt-Head and King Of The Hill), Jimi Bott, Rusty Zinn, Ronnie James Weber, R.W. Grigsby, Randy Bermudes, Bob Welsh, Anthony Paule, Steve Freund, June Core, Marty Dodson, Wes Starr, Franck “Paris Slim” Goldwasser, Little Charlie Baty and Ron Thompson, among others too numerous to mention.

“The bottom line was that, in 1984, I realized that we had a good thing going in the Bay Area,” he says. “We were really popular. But I was scared that if we stayed around too long, we’d burn things out. That was one of my motivations – that and the fact that I’d just done my first record. I figured I could work more and more on the road and make a living doing it.

“A guy in Salt Lake who owned a club called the Zephyr turned me onto that idea in ’82, when I first started going there. He said: ‘You guys are a great band. I could turn you on to all kinds of gigs in the western U.S. — and he did.

“You could do anything between a two-nighter to a seven-nighter at that time. It was easy to book a tour. You could call four clubs and be on the road a month. But all that changed. It became all one-nighters eventually.”

Hummel has been conducting Blues Harmonica Blowout tours since 1991. “That came about because of a freak thing,” he says. “The idea really came about because of Tom Mazzolini, who did the San Francisco festivals. He also did a thing called the ‘Battle Of The Harmonicas,’ which was a regular event, but slowed down late in the ‘80s.

“In ’91, I did one at a club in Berkeley called Ashkenaz in Berkeley with three other harp players — Rick Estrin, Dave Earl and Doug Jay. By chance, it was a success—probably because it was on a Sunday night on a Martin Luther King holiday weekend.

“We got about 150 people in, and the owner goes: ‘Hey, we oughta do this every year.’ So we did. That was really the inspiration.”

After the club owner’s death, Hummel moved the show to Kimball’s in Emeryville and then to Yoshi’s in Oakland. But it quickly became a multi-venue event around California, featuring a revolving lineup that included William Clarke, Norton Buffalo, Paul DeLay, Rod Piazza, Kim Wilson, Estrin, James Harman, Billy Branch and others. Several shows of those shows exist today on compilation CDs released on Mountain Top Records.

mark hummel photo 4Anyone who’s attended one of those performances recognizes how magical they truly are. Like the multi-star shows that toured on the chittlin’ circuit, they take on a life all of their own that’s greater than the contributions of the individuals involved.

“The structure is very similar,” Mark says. “You have one backup band and a bunch of front men. We’re all traveling together in my van pulling a trailer. And it’s a very compact, close-quarters situation.

“But putting it all together is not such an easy thing. And it really takes a certain chemistry of musicians to make it really fly in a great way.”

Participants have included everyone from Cotton and Carey Bell to Musselwhite, John Mayall and Lazy Lester to Billy Boy Arnold, Lee Oscar and Jerry Portnoy to Sugar Ray Norcia, Jason Ricci and Aki Kumar to Sugar Blue – and dozens more.

With backing guitarists who’ve included Duke Robillard, Billy Flynn, Jr. Watson, Zinn, Welsh, Little Charlie, Funderburgh and others, it’s no wonder that Hummel’s Blowouts are so successful.

Which tour was the best so far?

“The last one was pretty phenomenal,” Mark says. “It had Kenny Neal, Bobby Rush, James Harman and Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone. But the Little Walter tour (promoting Hummel’s Grammy nominated/Blues Music Award winning compilation CD honoring the harmonica great in 2014) was pretty sensation, too, with Curtis Salgado, Billy Boy and Sugar Ray, Little Charlie and Billy Flynn. So was 2002 with Sam Myers and Snooky Pryor. We had so much fun on that one just talking trash.”

The idea for the Golden State-Lone Star project began in 2011 when Mark started working with bassist R.W. Grigsby and drummer Wes Starr, who started out working together while attending high school in Georgia then joined forces in Texas, where they supported several major artists.

“The first thing I did with them was a tour with Mike Morgan (the Texas-based guitarist who achieved national fame with his band, The Crawl),” Hummel recalls. “We did some dates up in Canada. That’s where the idea came from.

“I thought it would be kinda cool to do something with Anson, whom I’ve known since the ‘80s. And I was already working locally with Little Charlie. I asked Anson about the idea of the four of us working together. It was a kind of experiment, and we did our first tour – a four- or five-week tour of Europe, and it came across pretty good.”

Even though none of the usual artists involved in the Golden State-Lone Star Revue have Chicago roots, the one thing that binds them together, Mark says, is that everyone involved has a deep, unwavering love and respect for Windy City blues – that and the fact that all of them have experience backing up harmonica.

Despite being busy juggling the Blues Survivors, the Blowouts and Golden State-Lone Star, Hummel still finds time for the Deep Basement Shakers, which delivers music from earlier eras, incorporating hokum, jug band and barrelhouse blues overtones.

“It’s a trio,” Mark explains. “We have a rubboard player, Dave Eagle, who plays this really wild contraption. He’s got a suitcase drum kit, a rubboard, cymbals, whoopee cushions and whatever else, and Aaron Hammerman, a piano player who’s awesome. He’s wa-a-ay off into the old cats like Blind John Davis, Big Maceo and Black Bob – all the pre-War guys.

“We do a lot of Jazz Gillum, Blind Blake, the first Sonny Boy, Big Bill Broonzy and some Brownie (McGhee) songs because he’s another guy I worked with. We throw all that stuff into the mix. I lo-o-ove that stuff, man!

“For me, the farther back I dig, the more I hear the connection between those guys and the Chicago guys of the ‘50s. A lot of the songs that people think are Muddy’s or Walter’s or Jimmy Rogers’ actually go back to the ‘30s and ‘40s.

“That’s why Billy Boy Arnold are so tight. He’s such a big fan of that era of Chicago blues. He’s so into Big Bill and early Sonny Boy.”

Considering his history, it’s no surprise that Hummel remains old school. “I try to follow the older black bluesmen’s example,” he says. “Just play the blues and everything else will usually come out all right in the long run.

mark hummel photo 5“If it doesn’t, put it in a song! The blues is a long, hard road, and nobody said it would be easy, make you a lot of money, superstardom or anything else.”

One bonus that path has provided Hummel is plenty of material for one book – possibly another. His 2012 autobiography, Big Road Blues: 12 Bars on I-80, graphically details the pitfalls of being a traveling blues musician. It was illustrated profusely by Paris Slim, who was an art major in France before becoming a blues guitarist. The 46 brief chapters are chockful of humorous anecdotes.

He chuckles when he recounts the aural he received from Nick Gravenites, was lead singer in Big Brother before Joplin and the first true link between the San Francisco and Chicago blues scenes.

“I said: ‘What’d you think of the book?’” Mark recalls. “He goes: ‘I liked it. The chapters are short. Great bathroom read!’”

Still available online both as a Kindle download and hard copy, like Golden State-Lone Star, it came about by accident.

“I did a blog during a tour of Europe in ’07,” he recalls. “It was turning into one disaster after the next with this promoter who had his claws in us. So I just started writing it all down for myself because it was such crazy shit.

“I sent it to Charles Putris who owned Mountain Top, and he said: ‘Man, this could be a book! If you want to write it, I’ll publish it. And then we can take it to Hollywood. Brad Pitt can play you!’”

Hummel laughed, and said: “Right! Like that will ever happen!”

His work on that book ended in 2010, but he’s got enough material for another. “I probably should wait ‘til some people die,” he chuckles. “I had to change a lot of names in the first one.”

On a more serious note, Mark insists that it’s always important to remember the true heritage of the blues. “The way I look at it,” he says, “is that this is really African-American music that basically white people are getting a chance to borrow. And it’s so important to give back to where it comes from.

“My mission and my career are dedicated to promoting blues by paying back the originators and giving credit where credit’s due. All the guys who came before me still knock me out. I haven’t lost any of my passion.

“The other thing I feel fortunate about is that I learned about the business from the beginning,” Hummel says. “I learned how to deal with promoting, how to make records, how to book gigs – stuff that most musicians look for somebody else to do.

“I learned how to book national tours. There’s very few musicians that could do that. Even though I thought it was a curse at the time, in the long run, it’s a blessing. It served me well because, unfortunately, booking agents – like weeklong gigs — have gone by the wayside. It’s saved my ass so many times.

“It’s really easy to get resentful or frustrated or impatient. But it takes a calm head to go: ‘It’s all business…don’t take it personally!’”

Hummel’s latest CD, Harpbreaker, was just released on the Electro-Fi imprint, a sensational collection of instrumentals. Check out Mark’s discography and his tour dates by visiting his website:

Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer 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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North Central Florida Blues Society – Gainesville, IL

The North Central Florida Blues Society has announced the lineup for its April 5 show at Heartwood Soundstage, the area’s top listening room (619 South Main Street in Gainesville, FL) from 7-11 pm.

The triple-headliner event stars two-time Blues Music Award nominee Vanessa Collier, Little Mike & the Tornadoes, and the Bridget Kelly Band. Tickets are $30 for general admission and $15 for members of the North Central Florida Blues Society. See for more details.

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Shows start at 7 pm, and are open to the public. Food and Beverages available at all Friends of the Blues shows. April 9 – Chris O’Leary Band – Manteno Sportsmens’ Club, April 18 – The Jeremiah Johnson Band – Kankakee Valley Boat Club, June 4 – Ben Levin (piano) w/ Aron Levin, Marty Binder, and Chris Bernhardt – Kankakee Valley Boat Club, July 30 – Frank Bang – Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmens’ Club, August 3 – The Nouveaux Honkies – Inside Out – Gilman IL, August 15 – Albert Castiglia – The Longbranch – L’Erable IL. More Info at:

The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society is pleased to announce that our May Blues Bash will feature an acoustic evening with Australian singer/guitarist Geoff Achison. The show will be held Sunday, May 5th, at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205. Admission is free for members with valid cards and $5 to everyone else. A limited number of reserved seats/tables will be available online through the website, for $10 each. Doors at 7:00; music at 8:00. It will be a great evening of music!

We continue to collect non-perishable food and household items for our charity partner, Loaves and Fishes. It’s our goal to collect one ton of donations this year to help stamp out hunger in Charlotte. Cash donations are also welcome. 1 Can? I Can!

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

Monthly shows on the second Saturday of each month at Hope and Anchor English Pub on N 2nd St in Loves Park, IL. 4/13/19 The Cash Box Kings and 5/11/19 Corey Dennison Band. All shows 8 PM to 11:30 PM.

First and Third Friday’s feature the Blues at the Lyran Society Club on 4th Avenue in Rockford and a great fish fry, too! The schedule is 4/5/19 Dave Fields and 4/19/19 Oscar Wilson and Joel Patterson. No cover, 7 pm to 10 pm.

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 7:00pm to 11:00pm. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.

April 8 – The L.A. Jones Quartet with Adrianna Marie, April 10 – Dan Rivero, April 15 – Gracie Curran & the High Falutin’ Band, April 22 – Marty D. Spikener’s On Call Band, April 24 – Hard Road Blues Band , April 29 – Kilborn Alley Blues Band, May 6 – Orphan Jon and The Abandoned.

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