Issue 13-16 April 18, 2019

Cover photo © 2019 Marilyn Stringer

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with bassist Willie J. Campbell. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Harpdog Brown, Daniel Seymour & Mark Robinson, Big Joe & The Dynaflows, The Ebony Hillbillies, GProject Blues Band and Ina Forsman.

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

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 2019 Blues Blast Music Awards – Save The Date 

The 2019 Blues Blast Music Award submissions have now ended. Nominees will be 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!

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

harpdog brown cd imageHarpdog Brown – For Love & Money

Dog House Records

13 tracks

If you take one part Louis Prima, one part Louis Armstrong, one part Louis Jordan and one part Sonny Boy Williamson you get the vocal sound and overall feel of Harpdog Brown. How can that be bad?

The British Columbian harp playing Brown has released a gem of a new CD featuring jump-blues that swing from Chicago down to New Orleans. The CD is produced by fellow Canadian Steve Dawson; Steve’s talents at both production and guitar are awesome. I’ve only seen him live once and was further hooked on his stuff that his CDs introduced me to. Here with Harpdog he’s produced a winner.

Brown ‘s gravelly and greasy vocals and harp ooze authenticity. The sound is just oh-so-cool. Coupled with that is an awesome backing band led by David Webb on piano and Hammond B3 organ. That jump-blues sound revolves around his keyboard work and Brown’s vocals. William Joseph Abbott is on clarinet and alto sax, Skye Lambourne is on trombone and Jerry Cook is on baritone and tenor sax. The horn section is also an essential part of the swingingly cool sound. Jeremy Holmes on bass and Robert Vail Grant on drums are a fine back line. And, of course, Steve Dawson does a superb job on all the guitar tracks.

“No Eyes For Me” is an original and gets things off to a rousing start with horns and organ. Brown shouts out the lead vocals with emotion, a great hook to get the listener interested. The horns respond to Harpdog’s call and then the B3 gives us an sweet little solo. We also get an alto sax solo a little later for fun. “Blue Light Boogie” takes the tempo down a notch and some neat piano and harp work accompany the vocals nicely. Brown really shows us his stuff on the Mississippi saxophone here in this old school boogie by Jessie Mae Robinson. “The Comeback” is a Memphis Slim song with a nice midtempo groove. The B3 and band support Harpdog well as he gives his woman pleas to return. The alto sax is also again featured and then the tenor gives us a nice taste, too. “Reefer Lovin’ Woman” is another original and it’s quite cool. Webb tinkles the piano and the trombone then comes in with cup in hand to intro this striding cut. I love this song, it’s just fun and cool. The clarinet gets it’s first feature with the old licorice stick helping set the mood. The trombone then solos and Brown also gives us a sweet harp solo after another vocal verse & chorus. “A New Day Is Dawning” is a song by Wayne Berezan, “Dog’s old guitar player. This original is lamentful and slow, with some nicely done clarinet work that sets a somber mood with s a beautiful solo. Brown moans out the vocals and sings with great emotion and band backs him with some good sounds.

“Vicious Vodka” is an old Amos Milburn song. Brown does a super job with this one, a song that would be appropriate in any great old honky tonk joint. The piano sets a bit of the tone here as Brown jumps and jives with the vocals. There is also a nice tenor solo, too, and then Brown closes with a well done harp solo. “I’ll Make It Up To You” was written by fellow BC musician Brandon Isaak. Brown’s version is not built on guitar and features piano and trombone and then some of his harp work. He turns it into a Louis Armstrong sort of tune where Isaak’s version is different and has even more amped up harp. Both takes on the song are quite cool. “One Step Forward” is another Berezan original. Done in the Louis Jordan style, Brown calls and the band responds to the lines of the verses. His harp stings here, and they play the same call and response with the band to his harp, too. The band all chimes in for an instrumental chorus. As things close, the band repeatedly chimes in singing the title to take us out with the piano. Sweetly done. Brown wrote “Stiff,” a song he growls out the vocals about being broken, broke but somehow maintaining. The clarinet gets the first solo here, then the trombone gets his turn and it’s once again just well done.

Keyboardist Webb wrote the title track, a song about playing on the road to make a live. Nice piano work here along with Brown’s ever-effective vocal work. He squeezes out some succulent harp for us, too. The band keeps a nice measured pace and all contribute to the sound. “Buzzard Love” is an old Wynonie Harris cut. Brown gives us the lyrics with guts and Webb gives us some sweet B3 to lead into the big harp solo and then takes us home with his harp, too. “Thinkin’ and Drinkin'” is another song popularized by Amos Milburn. Piano and alto sax are out front in this one, and then we get some more great harp work to boot. Things close with the original “Sasha’s Lullaby.” Written by Harpdog’s trombone player, it’s a sweet little lullaby with piano tinkling and trombone in support of Brown’s vocals. The band plays in back with restraint to help set the lullaby tone. It’s sweet and cool and just a nice close to a wonderful set of tunes. The tenor solo and horn work adds nice effect and then the piano delivers us to Brown’s final lyrics to close things out.

I never mentioned anything on Dawson’s guitar work. He’s not there to take the limelight, and fills with the rest of the band to make a great sound that emulates the bands of the 1940’s and 1950’s who created swing and had North America and the world dancing. This album it such a great throwback to that era.

We’ve got 8 great originals here along with 5 well-done covers. Harpdog Brown is a master at these jump blues and has surrounded himself with a bunch of old and young musicians who do a truly spectacular job. I got this and played it immediately and listened to it repeatedly over the weekend. I’ve been listening to a lot of new music this month and this one’s among the best. It will garner some attention at awards time for sure- this Canadian artist, his band and producer have turned out a wonderful album that I most highly recommend. If you want to swing and have a good time, this one’s for you!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

daniel seymourcd imageDaniel Seymour & Mark Robinson – Chug It Down and Go

Blind Chihuahua Records

10 Songs, 39 minutes

Daniel Seymour and Mark Robinson, both originally from Indiana, have long ago found their place in the Nashville music world as both solid session players and as solo performers and occasional sidemen. Robinson fronts the Mark Robinson Blues Band, with a fan base the spans the U.S. and reaches into the European Union. Seymour performs his songs in such iconic Nashville venues as Brown’s Diner, and is also known by fans on both sides of the Atlantic as a touring bassist for artists such as David Olney.

Chug It Down and Go – produced and engineered by Seymour and Robinson at Guido’s South Studio – features ten original songs written by Seymour and Robinson, either individually, or collaboratively. The album’s personnel include Seymour on vocals, guitar, upright bass, mandolin, ukulele, auto-harp, Marxophone, and percussion, along with Robinson on vocals, guitar, dobro, banjo, lap steel, resonator, harmonica, high-strung guitar, drums, percussion, and kazoo. Additional musicians include Pat McInerney on drums and percussion; David Olney on harmonica; Michael Webb on accordion; and Bill & Melanie Davis on backup vocals.

The songs on Chug it Down and Go represent a fairly comprehensive overview of blues, roots and Americana music, played by a couple of guys who really get it! It covers everything from jug-band music to country blues to Cajun, Western Swing, and even old-timey jazz.

The opening track, “Chug It Down and Go,” a sort of drinking anthem, is an up-tempo foot-stomper sung by Seymour, and punctuated by some tasty slide guitar action.

The up-tempo Cajun reel “One Eye Blue” is a really catchy love song that Robinson co-wrote with John Hadley, and is definitely one of my favorites on the CD. The propulsive accordion is courtesy of Michael Webb.

Co-written by Seymour and Robinson, “Barefoot Gal” was originally conceived of as a jump blues, but it somehow managed to morph into jug band territory, and it does so proudly. Robinson’s staccato banjo and his languid vocals feel perfect for the song, as does David Olney’s meandering harmonica fills.

“Slow Moving Train” is Robinson’s apt metaphor for an aging musician. It feels a lot like an old standard that you’ve heard before, but just can’t place where you’ve heard it. And the sweet whine of the dobro just underscores the melancholy of this fine track.

“19th Street Ramble” is a finely-tuned guitar rag, a foot-tapper in the style of Norman Blake, John Hartford, Doc Watson, et al. Another real winner, on an album that has quite a few of them.

Seymour’s “Mississippi Line” has a string band feel to it, and is driven by Pat McInerney’s half-time brush shuffle. It tells the tale of a guy on the run, either from the law or from a woman… With lyrics like “She got what’s comin’, and I got mine, and I got a hundred miles to go to that Mississippi Line,” you can draw your own conclusions.

The island feel of “Gypsy Moon” is courtesy of the complex harmonies, in conjunction with Robinson on lap steel, Seymour on ukulele, and Michael Webb, again on accordion. It’s definitely an unusual number, but in a satisfying, Jim Kweskin meets Lawrence Welk kinda way.

The subdued 3/4 time rhythm and haunting mandolin of “Dixie Waltz” is the perfect way to end this collection. It’s charming, sweet, and draws the evening to a gentle close.

Throughout the album, the instrumentation is perfect, the individual performances as good as it gets. Of the two, Seymour’s vocals are arguably stronger than Robinson’s, which still have a charm of their own and work well within the context of the songs he’s penned.

Bottom line? This is authentic, rootsy Americana that makes you feel as if you’re listening to it on some old, wooden back porch on a late summer evening. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you can’t go wrong with this collection of well-written songs and classy yet understated performances by these two fine musicians and their assembled cast of equally-fine supporting musicians!

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 

big joe and the dynaflows cd imageBig Joe & The Dynaflows – Rockhouse Party

Severn Records CD 0074

13 songs – 48 minutes

Big Joe Maher has been one of the top drummers and vocalists in the business since emerging from the Washington, D.C., area in the 1960s, and this album, which was produced by Nashville heavyweight Kevin McKendree, clearly demonstrates he hasn’t lost a step.

A Maryland native, Big Joe cut his teeth listening to Louis Jordan and other blues and R&B greats, influences who’ve remained his inspiration since forming his own trio after graduating from high school. He spent most of the 1980s managing and playing with The Uptown Rhythm Kings, a nine-piece swing band, before joining legendary guitarist Tom Principato’s ensemble.

He formed the Dynaflows as a five-piece unit late in the decade and spent most of the ‘90s serving as musical director of Mick Fleetwood’s eponymous nightclub in Alexandria, Va., when not touring with his own band. A three-time winner of the Washington Area Music Awards, the Dynaflows released their first album in 1990 and include successful releases on Ichiban, Black Top, Tramp and Severn, where they’ve returned after an eight-year absence.

Delivering an old-school mix of blues and R&B, the album takes its name from McKendree’s Rockhouse Studio in suburban Franklin, Tenn., and features Mookie Brill, the multiple Blues Music Award-winning bass player, holding down the bottom throughout and sharing vocals with Big Joe. McKendree contributes keyboards throughout. They’re joined by Robert Frahm and Kevin’s 17-year-old son, Yates, on guitars with a guest appearance by Erin Coburn who provides backing vocals on two cuts and contributes six-string on another.

The disc contains five originals – four by Maher and one by Yates – and eight covers and opens with unhurried, guitar-fueled take on Roosevelt Sykes’ “Driving Wheel,” once a major hit for Junior Parker. A percussive shuffle, it swings comfortably into Little Milton’s stop-time classic, “So Mean To Me,” with Brill taking command of the vocals. He remains in charge for another R&B stunner, O.V. Wright’s “8 Men 4 Women,” which follows.

Big Joe’s back in charge for Dave Bartholomew’s “Go On Fool” and “World Gone Wrong,” the first new tune in the set. It’s a tasty ballad that features McKendree on keys and deals with the realization that things simply aren’t the way they used to be. An understated political statement, it focuses on how folks are much angrier than they used to be.

Nappy Brown’s “If You Need Some Lovin’” is up next, followed by “Overdrive,” an uptempo instrumental rocker that gives the guitars space to shine. Fenton Robinson’s “Tennessee Woman” follows before a pair of originals: the stop-time “Go With The Flow,” about picking up a lady in a brand new Dynaflow, and the loping “I’m A Country Boy,” which sings about the perils of city life.

“Vibrate,” first performed in the ‘60s by rockabilly keyboard player Mack Self, gets new life before the jazzy “Sleepy Joe.” Penned by Yates McKendree, it’s a well-paced instrumental that features all three guitarists with the lead lines jumping between channels. The Percy Mayfield ballad “Two Years Of Torture” brings the disc to a close.

While Rockhouse Party doesn’t cut much new ground, it’s as comfortable as an old pair of slippers and perfect for any blues lover with old-school sensibilities. Available through most major online retailers.

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 – 4 of 6 

ebony hillbillies cd imageThe Ebony Hillbillies – 5 Miles from Town

EH Music

CD: 12 Songs, 41:00 Minutes

Styles: String/Violin Blues, Country Blues, Traditional Songs with New Arrangements

5 Miles from Town, by NYC’s Ebony Hillbillies, takes off like a bullet train and doesn’t let up. It grabs listeners’ attention and bolts away, leading them on a journey through what I’d like to call our “postmodern past.” Several of the album’s twelve tracks are traditional tunes newly arranged by the band, such as “Hog Eyed Man,” “I’d Rather Be a [N] Than a Po’ White Man,” and “Where He Leads Me (I Will Follow).” These songs shine the brightest, played with an authenticity that will make one swear they were recorded long before 2019. Unfortunately, there are a couple head-scratchers, with Exhibit A being “ZYX” on the tail end of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (popularized by Bonnie Raitt). Their two political offerings, “Another Man Done Gone/Hands Up Don’t Shoot” and “Oh What a Time,” pack a distinct 21st-century punch. Older fans will like covers of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle” and “Carroll County Blues.”

The Ebony Hillbillies started out on the streets of Manhattan, but their vibe and influence have extended over the years to acclaimed live performances at legendary venues like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, appearances on the BBC, Good Morning America, NBC, and CBS. They have also extended their efforts to EHU – Ebony Hillbillies 4 Kids, a blues program in schools. From the LA Times to the New Yorker, the band has made their mark. Noted critics sing their praises instead of going “Eh…” The Hillbillies bring the past into the present, which inevitably becomes the future. That’s their trademark, their signature, focusing on the legacy and message of their music as well as the mechanics of it. When we hear them, all of us will remember our roots.

The band consists of Henrique Prince on violin and vocals; Norris Washington Bennett on banjo, mountain dulcimer, guitar and vocals; Gloria Thomas Gassaway on bones (percussion) and vocals; William (Salty Bill) Salter on acoustic bass; Allanah Salter on shaker and vocals; Newman Taylor Baker on washboard percussion, and Ali (A.R.) Rahman on cowboy percussion. [That’s what it says on their website; it isn’t a typo. I’m curious what cowboy percussion is.]

The first song is the best one on 5 Miles from Town, with the energy and speed of a Maglev.

Track 01: “Hog Eyed Man” – This instrumental contains fiddle that would put Charlie Daniels’ Johnny and the Devil both to shame. Light as a feather yet searing as flame, it hooks you fast and hard. Perfect for line dancing, square dancing, or whatever one calls dancing, “Hog Eyed Man” will be a surefire hit in barrooms and clubs everywhere. The Hillbillies impress and then some. Its only flaw is that it’s too short, clocking in at a scant 2:36. A longer remix is in order, with the various band members taking turns “walking the dog.”

5 Miles from Town is avant-garde and awesome, but those who don’t like that first term won’t find it their cup of tea. On balance, this is a mixed bag, but it offers something for baby boomers down to Gen Z.

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 39 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

g project blues band cd imageGProject Blues Band – When I’m Gone

Cargo Records

13 songs – 53 minutes

Based out of Munich, Germany, and composed of musicians from three continents, GProject Blues Band are a rock-steady, veteran outfit who harmonize in English as they deliver primarily Texas and Delta stylings with strong Chicago overtones.

This is the third release for the band, who’ve entertained throughout Bavaria for several years. Anchored by Munich natives Thomas “TomBo” Ott on percussion and Michael Staudenmeyer on keyboards and lead vocals, the lineup includes Australian-born Leonidas Kyriakakos on drums and James Ransom, a Cleveland native, on bass.

They get helping hands from harp player Javier Argomedo on three cuts and guitarist Dominic “The Iceman” Hinzer on another in this relaxed set of 11 originals and two covers, all delivered with a live feel.

The action opens with the stop-time shuffle, “When I’m Gone,” a request for a lady to leave a cigarette on the singer’s grave after his passing. The pace slows slightly for “Ain’t Funny At All,” the realization that the woman’s cheating with another guy when the singer’s out trying to make a living. Staudemeyer’s barrelhouse keyboard stylings are featured before Kyriakakos takes off for an extended, tasty single-note solo.

While the musicianship is professional, the dead-on cover of the Muddy Waters warhorse “(Got My) Mojo Working,” which follows, is a space waster. The song’s been done to death, and this version lacks absolutely anything new. Not to be confused with the Bob Dylan tune of the same name, the original ballad “Someday Baby” is a refreshing change-of-pace that offers up a wish that the repeated broken heart the singer’s received from a lady is paid back by someone else down the line.

“Can’t Take It With You” speaks out against poseurs who flash their possessions and cash before the blues-rocker “Hell’s Back Door” describes the singer’s future descent in lyrics that are somewhat baffling to an American ear. “Messin’ With The Kid,” another tired cover, follows before the whisper-quiet seven-minute ballad “The Old Have Moved On” urges a son to live his life to the fullest because it doesn’t last long.

“The Date” brightens the mood as it encourages a lady to see the singer’s bedroom before “My Way Home” comes across with an old-time feel as it searches for a path to return to simpler times. The uptempo dance tune “Take Care Of Me” follows before the ballad “I’m Done” offers up hope to be remembered positively for a life lived well. “Out Take” – an unfocused grouping of sound bites from the studio – bring the album to a close.

Available through iTunes and several European-based websites. I regret having to type this, but When I’m Gone is a mixed bag of a few nice tunes and solid solos dragged down by some true time wasters unfit for ears on this side of the Atlantic.

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 – 6 of 6 

ina forsman cd imageIna Forsman – Been Meaning To Tell You

Ruf Records RUF 1262

12 songs – 49 minutes

Ina Forsman has been making a name for herself on both sides of the Atlantic since releasing her self-titled debut album on Germany’s Ruf label three years ago. Music lovers everywhere should be delighted by this long-awaited follow-up, which was sidetracked by personal tragedy.

Hailing from Helsinki, Finland, Ina is a powerful, silky smooth, melismatic alto who catches your attention from the jump. She was only six when she set her eyes on a singing career. First influenced by Christina Aguilera, she quickly became interested in old-school blues and R&B through Donny Hathaway, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and others.

She competed in the first season of The Voice Of Finland at age 15, taking home third-place honors and catching the attention of Helge Tallqvist, a Finnish institution on blues harp, who quickly invited her to sit in. She toured with him for years as a member of his band, leaving shortly before signing with Ruf and touring with Canadian Layla Zoe and American Tasha Taylor as part of the label’s international 2016 Blues Caravan.

Now 24, Forsman was making plans for a second album, but her plans were derailed during a trip to New York. She lost her cellphone – and all of the material she’d written for the release. Now, however, she’s glad she did. “I’ve lived a little more life,” she says, “and wrote better songs with more emotion.”

Like her first album, Been Meaning To Tell You was recorded in Austin, Tex., under the direction of legendary tenor sax player/producer Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff. Ina’s backed by several members of the all-star lineup that appeared previously, including guitarist Laura Chavez and The Texas Horns – Kazanoff, John Mills (baritone sax and flute) and Al Gomez (trumpet) — as well as Red Young and Jay Stiles on keys, Brannen Temple on percussion, Chris Maresh on bass and Randy Zimmerman on trombone. Backing vocals are provided Alice Spencer.

Forsman penned all 12 of tunes here, several of which are delivered with rapid-fire lyrics that closely mirror rap, but feel comfort within the soul-blues format. A simple keyboard intro opens the ballad “Be My Home.” Ina’s distinctive melismatic voice joins after a few measures as she promises – in perfectly unaccented English — to give her all to the ones she loves as they work together to leave the bad days behind. The powerful choral ending comes across with a strong gospel feel.

The action heats up and Forsman’s vocals erupt for “Get Mine,” a funky soul-blues that stresses she’s here to have a good time and crank out hits. The old-school R&B number “All Is Good” continues the theme as it expresses her gratefulness and happiness that you’re here to listen.

Up next, the stop-time, horn-fueled “Genius” describes deep feelings for someone who both adores and understands her. Chavez’s mid-tune solo soars. The soulful “Whatcha Gonna Do” questions the pending reaction of a man as he watches a stunning woman wearing six-inch heels strut down the street while “Why You Gotta Be That Way” deals with being hit on repeatedly by someone as she listens to music on headphones during a stroll.

Pain in different forms comes to the fore in the next three numbers. The powerful, introspective ballad “Miss Mistreated” deals with unrequited romance, while “Figure” finds Forsman regretting all the hurt she’s inflicted on the man she loves as she attempts to understand and “Who Hurt You” offers encouragement and support to a female friend.

“Every Single Beat” offers up “soul soup” to a stranger before “Chains” finds Ina open to confinement as long as she’s treated right. The disc ends with “Sunny,” which offers encouragement a friend with a restless heart who always brightens the singer’s life.

Available through most major retailers, Been Meaning To Tell You is powerful, modern soul-blues, and Ina Forsman has a voice for the ages. Strongly recommended.

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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 Featured Interview – Willie J. Campbell 

willie campbell photo 1Whenever a band catches your ear, whether at a live show or on a recording, you can bet that the rhythm section is in large part responsible for setting up a groove that is irresistible. While bass players and drummers are the beating heart of a band, they rarely get much time in the spotlight, other than an occasional solo, or if they have the vocal chops to merit a starring role. It seems unfair that many worthy musicians escape notice from most listeners.

If you do an internet search for information on Willie J. Campbell, chances are you won’t find much other than a brief interview clip on YouTube, or a newspaper article short on details. The lack of information seems odd for a bass player whose resume includes lengthy stints with James Harman, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Mannish Boys, and now the Proven Ones. Also missing is explanations for several extended gaps in the timeline where he wasn’t a part of any band. That may be where the real story can be found.

Like so many others in his generations, Campbell got his start with help his parents. “They got me a guitar and my brother, Scott, a set of drums when we were young. I have these little sausage-like fingers, so I couldn’t play a chord to save my soul. If someone had said “Play a chord or die,” I wouldn’t be here right now! So I put it down for a few years. Over time, four of the strings broke off, leaving me the E and A strings. Then Dave Lee Bartel moved in across the street. He and his brother, Jonny Ray, along with Scott and Emy Lee were the original Red Devils, the rockabilly band, before they hooked up with Lester Butler. We were talking with Dave one day, and he decided we should start a band”.

“Well, Dave played guitar and my brother played drums. I had attempted guitar – failed! All I had was this old Teisco guitar with two strings. I learned to play bass on those two strings. I used that for quite a while until I earned enough money to get a real bass. My first bass guitar was a 1965 Hofner, the Beatle bass, which I wish I still had. In those days you could buy one, or a Fender bass, for about $100. I was fourteen, getting paid under the table by Dave’s dad to clean up his religious bookstore. You can read whatever you want into that!”

The next defining moment once again came courtesy of Dave Lee Bartel. “He turned me on to the Allman Brothers Band. Their Live at the Fillmore East records had just been released. I took it home, put it on my tiny little turntable, and I played that record I don’t know how many times. Sitting on the edge of my bed, I decided that was what I wanted to do, to play music. As I listened over and over, I also decided that one day I would meet the Allman Brothers and share a stage with them. That was probably late 1971. Fast forward to 1996, and I am playing with the Fabulous Thunderbirds at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, in the UNO Arena. We were on the bill with Allman Brothers. We are doing our show, and I look over to see Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts standing on stage watching us. From head to toe, I was one big goose bump. I instantly flashed back to that moment of decision, sitting on my bed. And now it happened! Of course, there was twenty-five years of work in between”.

Perusing the songwriting credits on the ABB records sent Campbell off on a search for more on people with names like McKinley Morganfield, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, and T-Bone Walker. By the time he turned fifteen, the bass player was taking a deep dive into the blues. “Sometimes I will get in a mood and pull that one out, or Eat A Peach. Any of the releases that have Duane Allman and Berry Oakley are the best. The stuff Berry played, and the way his mind worked, was amazing. All of those guys were jazz freaks, into John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, especially Duane and Berry. You can hear it in their playing. There wasn’t any other Southern rock band that sounded even remotely like them”.

“I can thank Dave Lee Bartel for getting me started, for moving across the street. We did eventually start the Southern Select Blues Band. And that lead me to meet James Harman, who was recovering from severe ulcers at the time. He was working for Gary Sunda, who was a VP at Randall Amplifiers. Gary also had a shop where they re-coned speakers, and he hired James, then taught him the art of that process. In April, 1975, as I was finishing high school, Dave Bartel took me to their shop, Orange County Speaker in Garden Grove, CA. I met James, which started a life-long friendship. I was in his band for ten years and best man at his wedding. What a band that was! It was a very productive period as we wrote a lot of songs and had music in films. That band included David “Kid” Ramos on guitar, Gene Taylor on piano, and Stephen Hodges on drums. And when Hollywood Fats (Michael Mann) joined the band in 1981, things really took off”.

Being a part of Harman’s band paid dividends in a number of ways for the young bass player. “James is eleven years older than me. He was taking me, an underage guy, to all of these hip clubs to see all of these cool musicians. He took me to Smokey Wilson’s place, took me to see Bobby “Blue” Bland. We were the only two white guys in the club. The husky bouncer did a double-take when he saw us, immediately asking if we knew where we were. I replied that we certainly did, so he told us to sit right next to him so that he could keep an eye on us. When Bobby hit the stage, they cleared the tables in the front. The women were dressed to the nines, with Sunday hats and dresses. They all started doing the hucklebuck, showing Bobby what they were made of, so to speak. He was having a ball, singing his ass off, and enjoying the show he was getting”.

willie campbell photo 2“James also introduced me Bob “ The Bear” Hite and Larry Taylor of Canned Heat. Bob had an unbelievable record collection. We used to sit at his house and play records, the start of an incredible education. James had a fantastic collection as well. Larry Taylor took me under his wing. We talked about playing bass all the time. These guys were 10-15 years older, but they accepted me because I respected them. Actually, I was in awe of it all. The Harman band used to back up Big Joe Turner. He was on the tail-end of his career but had plenty of energy. He would sit at least twelve inches from the microphone, start singing, and the monitor in front of him would shake like it was blown from the power of his huge voice. Joe always did every song in the key of C, alternating shuffles with boogies and blues. He was having a ball, singing like mad. People like Willie Dixon and Johnny “Guitar” Watson would often come out to hear us. Kim Wilson used to sit in on our gigs”.

“One time James and I went to the Kent Studio when Rod Piazza cut his first Flying Saucer band album. George “Harmonica” Smith was there blowing out a few songs. Then Shakey Jake Harris shows up. He takes me to the liquor store. This was the Watts area,so you hand your money through a small hole in a ½ inch thick window and they hand you a bottle. So Jake got a half pint, then started playing songs on little cassette player. They were Muddy Waters or Little Walter tunes that Jake would sing over with his own lyrics. He assured me that several of them would be his next hit record. He was a hilarious fellow.”.

One interesting side note is the fact that Harman and his band would often open for X, the punk band from Los Angeles. The punk scene was exploding and Guitarist Billy Zoom was a huge fan of Harman’s sound. He and the other members of X saw the Harman band as kindred spirits, musical rebels playing stuff that was never going to be heard on commercial radio, just saying stuff in a different way. The bands would play the Whiskey A Go Go, the Roxy, even a place called the Country Club with new wave band, Oingo Boingo. Campbell was also a member of a group with Harman plus Phil Alvin and Bill Bateman, right before they formed the Blasters.

Living in California, Campbell got married to his wife, Lisa. On their first wedding anniversary, they discovered that they would soon be parents. “Lisa was originally from Missouri. She started getting homesick, and wanted to be around family. So we decided to move. I stepped back from music for a bit to focus on the marriage and raise our daughter. So, I went back to school, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, then continued on to get my Master’s degree. Out of nowhere, Kim Wilson rang me up to see if I was interested in joining the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Preston Hubbard was dealing with some issues with the judicial system. The band included Kid Ramos on guitar with Gene Taylor, formerly of Harman Band and the Blasters, on piano with Fran Christina on drums, When Fran left, Jimi Bott took over. That was incessant, non-stop touring, some years with 250-300 shows. The only recording of the band that was released was a live LA show. We did work up some demos that never saw the light of day until we resurrected a couple of tracks for the Proven Ones album”.

Campbell is extremely thankful to Wilson for choosing him to be one of the Thunderbirds. His tenure with the band brought an increase in exposure. “That was what vaulted me, maybe all of us, into a higher level of recognition. We were really tight, rocked hard. We would come in and just light it up. Over the years, people have told me that band was on fire, taking no prisoners. There was a lot of emotion, and we loved playing in front of people. One memorable show was a festival in Nice, France in 1996 for over 150,000 people. And the security was the Hell’s Angels, which had me flashing back to Altamont. Do you remember the old Bud Lite commercial where the bar was having Ladies Night and all the guys came in dressed as women to drink for cheap? That was how the Hell’s Angels were dressed, and when we went on at 3 am., they were standing out front blowing us kisses!”

Another artist that Campbell worked with was singer and harmonica player Lee McBee, who was a member of Mike Morgan and the Crawl before embarking on a solo career. It was another phone call that started the process. “ I really miss Lee. He was in Lawrence, KS and I was in Missouri. We were playing every Sunday in Kansas City at BB’s Lawnside BBQ. It was me, Lee, my brother Scott, and Marvin Hunt on guitar. He was married to Kelley Hunt at the time. When it came time to record his Lee McBee & The Passions record, 44, Lee called Kid Ramos, Anson Funderburgh, and got Kevin McKendree to play piano. That was fun! And it all happened right at T-Bird time. I also played on one of Mike Morgan’s records with Richard Innes on drums. My brother Scott was playing with Kelley and Marvin, and I joined them for a year. That was when I reconnected with Lee. Patrick Recob took over for me with Lee once I started with the T-Birds. Lee never got his due. His phrasing was incredible but he was consistently underrated”.

willie campbell photo 3“There was another guy who played guitar with Harman before Hollywood Fats, Bill Campbell, who also never got his due. He had some alcohol issues, and could be hard to get along with. Bill was the first one to start going to the black clubs in Texas. He started taking the Vaughan brothers, Anson, and others to those clubs to hear the black guitarists. I’ll tell you, Bill could chop rhythm like nobody’s business. His first set of the night was always magical. He did this circular riff thing that helped me learn how to play all the hip bass stuff along with a rhythm guitar player – all that cool, old Albert Collins bass stuff with the crazy walks, and all the early electric bass lines. Bill was at the forefront of bringing the black Texas blues culture to the white musicians who were just getting started. Bill had that Texas sound down, no doubt about it”.

Eventually, the Fabulous Thunderbirds gig started to shift from a hardcore love of music to an emphasis on business. Campbell wanted to spend time with his daughters and get a different level of control over his future. So once again, he got off the train and started figuring out how to proceed without anybody dictating who, what, where, when, and why. He went back to school, did more graduate work and became a licensed therapist. He set up a private practice and is now affiliated with a hospital. “ Music was the reason that I went in that direction. I lost people to drugs, alcohol, and suicide. That motivated me to go into therapy, to understand it more through other people’s eyes. For the last seventeen years, I have been involved in mental health and helping people heal. The nice thing is that I get to do both – play music and help people. I love both of them. My brother has had issues, and we lost guys like Hollywood Fats and Lester Butler to abuse. I certainly did my share, but I guess I lack that addictive side to my personality. I was able to walk away”.

“I looked at what everyone else had gone through and decided that I needed to find another use for myself. That was also around the time I met my wife, when I was a pre-med student who planned to go into psychiatry. But that was when the field started changing. Today there are very few psychiatrists who do therapy today. Most of them use meds and med-management, because they can see more people in order to earn more money, spending less time with their patients. They hand off most of the therapeutic stuff to therapists. I get tons of referrals from psychiatrists”.

“I didn’t want to just hand out meds. I want to hear people’s stories and help them sort things out, then show them some options. They might think they are out of options, but options are always there. My goal is never to tell anybody what to do. We give them Door #1, #2, or #3 – they pick one, we see what is behind it, and we go from there. I let people know that we are going to walk the road together, but they are in the driver’s seat and I am riding shotgun. That helps them start to regain accountability and responsibility, so they start to feel that they are getting some control over their lives. We use drugs and alcohol a lot of times to escape when things are spinning out of control. I focus on the client’s self-worth. My experience has taught me the more someone likes themselves, the more they are willing to invest in themselves. It is another way that music has touched nearly every facet of my life. When I was younger, my Mom told me that I was a good listener. Therapy is all about listening and empathy, looking at life through somebody else’s eyes. Then we can start walking a path. And, fortunately, I have a flexible schedule, so I can also do tour dates”.

“The truth is that I often thank clients because I feel they teach me more than I taught them. The trust we share is heavy, deep, and intimate. Music helps me relax, to listen as people tell me their story, rather than me telling people how to live their life. Unfortunately, that is what some therapists do.

Playing bass or doing therapy are heavy supporting roles. Therapy is trying to tie the mind, body, and spirit together. The cool thing is that I believe it makes me a better musician in the sense that I listen more, am better attuned to what is happening around me because I have learned how to pay more attention. Not many people know that I have this other life! I want to help anyone that is in need, especially musicians”.

Then the phone rang one more time. Randy Chortkoff, the head of Delta Groove Records, was calling. Campbell had known Chortkoff since the early 1980’s when he would show up at Harman band shows. “It was an unfortunate situation. Tom Levy, who was the bass player for the Mannish Boys at that time, was diagnosed with cancer, and Tom passed away not too long after that. So Randy called me and I became a permanent part of that band. It was a cool experience up until the demise of the band, the label, and Randy passing away.”. His involvement with the Mannish Boys also lead to Campbell recording an album on Delta Groove with the late Smokin’ Jo Kubek and his musical partner, Bnois King.

“So I was back working with Kid Ramos and Jimi Bott. At one of the Blues Music Awards show, the three of us were talking along with Anthony Geraci. We had played together and it felt pretty good. So I said why don’t we do our own thing? All of us have been sidemen throughout our careers, with over two hundred years of combined experience. Let’s just put our own band together. So we did! Sugaray Rayford did some early shows with us. But he was committed to his own career, which is going great. So we were blessed to get Brian Templeton as the lead vocalist. Brian is another unknown guy who is a fine singer. We were racking our brains for a name and Brian came up with the winning idea. He pointed out that if you look at our resumes, the experiences we have had, and the years that we have invested, we have all proven ourselves. So that is how we arrived at the Proven Ones tagline”.

“Each of us have something to say, but we often couldn’t say it in the other settings we have been in. We were working for, and with, other people, who weren’t tyrants or anything, but it was their band, they had things they wanted do, and wanted it done their way. That is cool, very understandable. But after all the years of accumulating knowledge, we felt it was time for us to have our own voice. We are very democratic in that we vote on everything, majority rules. The personalities all mesh, everybody is pretty mellow. And because we have known each other for so long, we will call each other out, so stuff gets settled real quick. That is one of the small miracles of the whole thing”.

willie campbell photo 4(The Proven Ones first release, Wild Again on Roseleaf Records, is nominated for a 2019 Blues Music Award in the Contemporary Blues Album category, sponsored by the Blues Foundation in Memphis)

Campbell also played bass on two critically acclaimed albums under Geraci’s name. “Good Lord, Anthony is the consummate professional. He writes outstanding songs, is easy to work with, and lets you play and contribute on your instrument. He’s about the sum of all the parts making the whole better, so he isn’t going to tell you how to play. He might make a suggestion, how about this note, but he wants you to play it your way, to do it from your soul. That is why those records sound so great. Other artists will dictate your every move. Then things become robotic, where the music is good quality, but the feeling isn’t there. It more soulless than soulful. It was a blessing that he called me, because there are many great bass layers along the East coast where Anthony is from, guys like Michael “Mudcat” Ward, who is a phenomenal player”.

As far as equipment goes, Campbell often has to settle for is at hand. “Because we play a lot of festivals now, we are at the mercy of whatever back-line is provided. Most festivals use the Ampeg SVT amplifier. I have nothing against that amp. But if you leave them on all day, you have to deal with something called tube sag, where it starts farting out on you a little bit. Or if they have been played too loud for too long, you plug in and it sounds like every speaker in the cabinet is blown, real fuzzy. My preference is to use two 410 cabinets. I don’t want to over-blow the stage with volume. I just want to fill the stage so everyone is comfortable. A favorite head is a solid-state model, the old Gallien-Kruger 800rb, because it has so much punch that doesn’t go away. For bass guitars, I own a bunch, as you might expect. My go-to pieces are a custom relic Jazz Bass made by Eron Harding at Backwoods Guitar in Sedalia, Missouri, and what I refer to as my Frankenstein bass, which I used all the years with the Thunderbirds. It is a ’68 Fender Precision bass body matched with a ’69 Tele Bass neck. I also love short scale units, with a 1973 Gibson Triumph model a favorite to take on the road. And I have another custom model that was built by Sam Price and Kurt Wilson with two custom Harmony H22 pickups wound by Curtis & Sheri Novak”.

“Now, when I feel like I am straying a bit, I go downstairs and start playing some 78 rpm or 45 rpm records, close my eyes, and go back to what first made me love the music. I realize that things change with each generation, like when Muddy Waters and Tampa Red plugged in their guitars. I want that feeling that made me do what I do, why I like what I like. I don’t mind walking new rhythms with this music, but I want to hang on to all of the hip stuff and great musicians that I got to know, and to play with. That feeling needs to be a part of the music in some way”.

“I am not into sub-woofy sound, and I don’t play up real high, that click-clack sound. The sound of the electric bass on all of the classic recordings from the 1950s didn’t have the bass booming. It was more in the low mid-range. That was Keith Ferguson’s big thing. He said. “ If I stop playing, you would know that I wasn’t there. But I don’t want to be the guy out in front of the band. If I am grooving, it is all part of one sound”. That is the motto that I try to live by”.

Interviewer 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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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 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. 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 4/19/19 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 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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P.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555 © 2018 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425

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