Issue 13-32 August 8, 2019

Cover photo © 2019 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Chicago musician and bass player Larry Williams. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Ben Levin, John Duer and the Blues Freaks, Alexis P. Suter Band, Head Honchos, Packrat’s Smokehouse, Grady Champion, King Bee & The Stingers, Kathryn Grimm, Stef Paglia and Leny’s Girl.

Our featured video of the week is the Chris O’Leary Band.

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

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 Blues Blast Music Awards Tickets 

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Tickets for the Blues Blast Music Awards show on September 13, 2019 in Rockford, Illinois are on sale. The presale price is $35 and $40 at the door. Save money by getting your tickets NOW HERE!

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 Featured Video Of The Week – Chris O’Leary Band 

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This video features Chris O’Leary Band performing “19₵ A Day” at Don Odells Legends. (Click image to watch!)

Chris O’Leary Band is performing at the Crossroads Blues Festival on Saturday, August 24th, 2019.

For tickets and info on this Blues event visit or click on their ad in this issue!

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 Featured Interview – Larry Williams 

larry williams photo 1Bass player extraordinaire Larry Williams is a true blues survivor. One of the most beloved sidemen in Chicago, you’ll usually find him keeping time and dancing the night away as a member of the Mike Wheeler Band or accompanying 90-year-old guitar legend Jimmy Johnson if time allows.

Known to his friends as L-Dub and familiar to audiences across Europe, too, and easily recognizable for his never-ending smile and upbeat attitude, Larry’s driven to keep the beat going strong no matter what obstacle comes his way.

“I’m not the guy whose name’s on the marquee,” he told Blues Blast in a recent interview. “People aren’t gonna say: ‘L-Dub’s playin’…let’s go!’ I’m not that guy.

“Everything I do out there is to make someone else shine,” Williams says warmly.

He’s built his career as a long-time member of Big James And The Chicago Playboys as well as Nellie “Tiger” Travis, Peaches Staten and others, and he’s a songwriter and producer, too, having helped launch the recording careers of Toronzo Cannon and Tomiko Dixon, too.

Through it all, he’s remained humble and grateful.

“I definitely thank God for the gift He gave me and for blessin’ me, puttin’ me on this earth knowin’ what I was put here to do. It makes livin’ a whole lot easier!”

Born and raised in the Washington Park Homes, a short walk from the famed Checkerboard Lounge on Chicago’s South Side, Williams was born into gospel royalty, which is high praise for any family of musicians in the Windy City.

Other cities might claim gospel as their own, but Chicago is where blues singer Georgia Tom, whose extensive recording career included work with both Ma Rainey and Tampa Red, migrated north and had a spiritual awakening. Reinventing himself as the Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, he’s the founding father of black gospel and composer of such standards as “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”

The Soul Stirrers, Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi and Highway Q.C.’s were superstars who called the city home. But L-Dub’s forebears played an important role, too, as members of The Family Jubilees.

“My dad, Benny, was a piano player, and my mom, Ora Lee, had 11 kids — so Mom was mom,” Larry jokes. “I was the fourth son and the seventh child.”

Known for their four-part vocal harmonies, the Jubilees consisted of his father and four uncles who performed at churches and festivals, sharing billing with The Mighty Clouds Of Joy, The Blind Boys Of Alabama, Albertina Walker, The Staple Singers and other heavyweights.

They also were favorites of Isabel Joseph Johnson, a pioneer in the broadcasting industry. She began delivering gospel over the radio in the Windy City in the 1930s as host of It’s Time Truth Speaks and moved to WCIU-TV in the 1970s where her Rock Of Ages show was a Sunday morning staple until her passing in the ‘80s, and The Family Jubilees appeared on both shows.

“My uncles were the who’s who of gospel in Chicago,” Larry says proudly.

L-Dub started out in gospel, too – but as lead singer in a group with his brothers that frequently served as opening act for Jubilees shows. “We were called The Smiling Four, and I was five or six – and we actually had five members,” he says. “And everybody had to smile!”

There were four members in the beginning before Larry noticed that his baby brother Ernest had a great voice and brought it to his father’s attention. “He said: ‘Bring ‘em in here.’ So I did,” Larry remembers. “He’s singin’ his butt off, man, and Mama says: ‘He’s in the group.’”

Larry suggested changing the name to The Smiling Five. “But Mama says: ‘No!’ I said: ‘How ‘bout The Smiling Four Plus One?’ Mama says: ‘No.’ So we traveled with my uncles on radio as The Smiling Four with five members. I thought that was the craziest thing ever, but…”

“My mom, she was awesome,” he says, noting that she’s responsible for the animated movement he makes on stage today. “I was standin’ there singin’ during rehearsal, and she sticks her head in the door and says: ‘No! You don’t do that. If you’re gonna sing, put somethin’ in it. Move! You have to let the audience feel what you’re feelin’.’

larry williams photo 2“To this day, you see that I can’t be still on stage!”

Larry abandoned singing in his early teens when his voice changed and an older female cousin ridiculed the way he sounded. Her words affected him deeply. “I felt so embarrassed,” he says, “especially because my mom would always say: ‘Don’t get up there and embarrass me.’

“Kids are very impressionable. Be careful what you say and what you do and how you act,” he reminds us, “because the one thing you say or do to them can affect them for the rest of their lives. That affected me.”

Back then, Ernest took over as lead vocalist, while Larry turned his attention to piano then abandoned it for piano after learning how much work was involved. He loved the rhythm and the sounds he was creating, but turned to guitar at his mother’s suggestion because an elder brother, the guitarist in the group, was enrolling in Kentucky State University and the family needed a replacement.

“I picked it up and learned my chords and all the other stuff,” Williams recalls, “but the strings were just too small for me. I could maneuver, but just didn’t like it.”

He’s left-handed, and like Albert King, Eddy Clearwater, Lefty Dizz and Otis Rush before him, simply turned the guitar over and started playing it upside down. But he never considered that a hindrance.

“Maybe that’s why I didn’t get the chord thing in its entirety,” he says now. “But I have an uncle with The Family Jubilees who played upside down as well, and one of my brothers did, too. So it wasn’t a weird thing at all. It was kinda normal.”

He turned to the bass at age 16.

“I was in the car with my mom, and she was playin’ the radio. The bass was hittin’ me in the chest, man. Beatin’ the hell out of me! I said: ‘That sounds good! That feels good!’ So I tell my brother, Benny Jr.: ‘I wanna play bass.’ He’s a helluva bass player. And he was like: ‘Nah, nah. You can’t play my bass.’”

So L-Dub did the next best thing: He broke two strings on his guitar to mirror the action. He also grabbed Benny’s bass so often behind his back that his big brother finally gave in and started teaching him the ropes.

“The first song he showed me how to play was ‘Chameleon’ by Herbie Hancock,” Larry remembers. “If you know that song, you know it’s not easy to play. His words to me was: ‘If you can’t play this, you can’t play bass.’

“I played it. I worked it, and I worked it, and the beauty of it was that nobody had to tell me to practice. I wanted to play that bass — there was somethin’ about it all inside me, a part of me. Even now, I feel the same way.”

An eighth grade music teacher tried to show him the fundamentals, but gave up, Larry believes, because he found himself unable to instruct anyone who played upside down. But he did start feeding Williams sheet music: Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You,” Quincy Jones’ “Killer Joe” and Grover Washington Jr.’s “Mr. Magic,” then Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover” and some Earth Wind & Fire.

The next year, L-Dub moved to Martin Luther King High School, where his skills improved dramatically. His teacher, Harvey Burton, insisted he learn trombone, knowing it would enable his student to read bass lines better because, despite their obvious differences, the two instruments share similar pitch.

“I love him so-o-o much,” Larry says.

A quick study who was, by his own admission, both temperamental and hard-headed, he played slide in the school’s marching band, but was granted permission to return to bass after threatening to quit the band to play football instead.

Today, Williams is heavily influenced by Willie Dixon, Sly & The Family Stone bassist Larry Graham, Detroit powerhouse James Jamerson, longtime Earth Wind & Fire bassist Verdine White and Chicago Blues Hall Of Famer Sam Cockrell. Back then, however, he credits Alfred Shorter, another young Chicagoan who was far more advanced on the instrument he was, with helping him out immensely.

larry williams photo 3Along with classmate and future James Cotton Band percussionist Mark May, Larry started getting involved in blues and R&B projects after high school.

“We started our first band and needed equipment – with no money,” Williams remembers. “So we did whatever we could. We took out folks’ garbage, painted houses, cut lawns, shoveled snow…all just to make a few dollars. We finally made enough to get Mark a set of drums and me my first professional bass, a 1977 Fender Jazz.”

The Checkerboard Lounge was basically only a few blocks down the street, and Larry walked by it frequently, pausing often to listen, but never daring to enter and attempting to sit in. Today, he regrets his shyness. He knows now that he would have gotten the chance if he’d only gotten up the courage.

A great deal of his training in the blues came through L-Dub’s friendship with the Scott family, ten siblings who rotated in and out of two family bands, The Scott Brothers Band and Scottie & The Rib Tips, both fixtures in the city for decades.

“If you didn’t learn directly from the Scott brothers,” Larry insists, “you learned indirectly from them. Someone that they helped back then probably helped you.”

Nick Moss cut his teeth as a member of the Rib Tips, and L-Dub credits Jerome Scott for teaching him much of what he knows about the bass today. “That brother helped me out so much, man,” Larry says. “It was crazy.”

Larry subsequently joined The May Foundation Band, a, R&B unit founded by his brothers Benny and Smokey. But his stay was short. “I was still hard-headed and rebellious,” he recalls. “My own brother kicked me out the band.

“But everything happens for a good reason.”

Williams’ first trip into the recording studio came shortly thereafter, however, through the friendship he developed with producer Lucky Cordell. Known as “The Baron Of Bounce” on powerhouse WVON radio, where he was a initially a deejay and later its general manager, Cordell hooked him up with The Next Movement, an R&B group fashioned after the Temptations and the Chi-Lites. Larry joined their band for a tour and helped record their debut LP, Never Stop Dancin’.

Slowly establishing himself as a go-to bass player in the city, L-Dub was also supporting two young sons, Larry and Lamont, working as a dishwasher, at Burger King and as a telemarketer – menial jobs he knew he could leave in a heartbeat. At age 32 in 1995, however, he feared for their welfare and was about to enlist in the military when Mack suggested he apply with the U.S. Postal Service.

Williams reluctantly jumped at the chance and landed a job. He’s spent the past 24 years delivering mail by day and making music by night. He’s been fully involved in show business since his father, who passed in 1989, visited him in a dream.

“He asked me if I was still playin’ bass. I said: ‘Yeah,’” Larry remembers as if it were yesterday. “And he said: ‘You know, your uncles need a bass player.’”

Williams and his youngest brother quickly joined the Jubilees, recording two albums with them, God Is Real and We Need Jesus. Now hard-to-find treasures, some of their cuts live on through YouTube uploads. When the group disbanded following the deaths of two uncles and his brother, Larry immersed himself in the blues, gigging with harp player Cadillac Dave, Nellie “Tiger” Travis and future James Cotton band leader Slam Allen.

Then, despite reluctance on his part, Big James Montgomery called and changed forever his life.

Big James had established himself as a star in his own right, fronting his smoking hot group, The Chicago Playboys after several years as a member of Little Milton’s band. He needed a bass player and phoned three times. Believing in his own mind that he wasn’t good enough, however, Williams balked at the idea repeatedly.

“The Playboys’ reputation was high,” he remembers today. “They had Mike Wheeler on guitar, Cleo Cole on drums, Charlie Kimble on sax, Big James on trombone…man, I said: ‘No way!’

“It was Cleo who convinced me to come down and see ‘em at Buddy Guy’s Legends. I went down there, and my adrenaline was runnin’, my blood was flowin’, as I listened to ‘em. My heart was pumpin’ real fast.”

Between sets, Big James handed Williams some material and told him to learn it – not taking “no” for an answer this time, but telling him that the band was about to go into the studio. Montgomery wasn’t going to use him there, he said, but wanted to rehearse with him soon after to see where they were at.

But Williams had major jitters after a successful practice session when he discovered his first gig as a Playboy was going to take place at Buddy Guy’s. And it was also happening on opening night of the Chicago Blues Festival, and the bar was going to be packed with blues lovers from around the globe.

That was bad enough, but what made things even more nerve-wracking was that Wheeler was going to open the night with a few songs, and L-Dub had no clue about how to play the material.

larry williams photo 4“I got the Chicago Playboys thing down pat,” he says, “and I’m not a stranger to the 1-4-5 of Chicago blues, but I’m not confident, either. I remember screwin’ up one of the changes on the first song. I know he heard it, but didn’t say nothin’. I jumped right in. Then comes the second song, and I must have screwed up two or three times. I’m sayin’ to myself: ‘Aw, fu–!’

“Right before we were ready to call up Big James, I turned to my amp, and I prayed: ‘Lord, they’re gonna keep me, or, if they don’t, they don’t. At least I played at Buddy Guy’s one time — but I wanna go out with a bang whichever way it goes.’

“From then on, the spirit came over me, man, and I started rippin’. And I wouldn’t stop.”

Fortunately, that rocky beginning was the beginning of a long musical love affair. Since James worked primarily on weekends back then, it was a blessing, too, because, as a mailman, Larry couldn’t travel very often. After several years and hard-hitting albums, however, the honeymoon ended when Montgomery decided it was time to go in a new direction with a new lineup.

Wheeler had already formed his own band and was using the late Sam Green as his full-time bassist. But he regularly worked with other bands, asked if they had anyone on bass and always recruited L-Dub if they didn’t.

“Mike’s really the one who kept me out in the blues world,” Larry says. “And the way he plays guitar made my bass flow. Our friendship goes a whole lot deeper than music, and I think that shows on stage.”

Along with Cole and keyboard player Brian James – former musical director for The Chi-Lites, The Drifters and The Classic Five, William has been an essential part of the Mike Wheeler Band since Green’s medical issues sent him to the sidelines.

With successful CDs on Blind Pig and Delmark Records, all four members bring something a little different to the table, he says. “We make all of what we do even better. Mike had the vision for this band a long time ago about what and how it needed to be done. It was a struggle at first, but now we’re kickin’ it almost every night.”

In recent years, both Wheeler and L-Dub worked regularly in support of Jimmy Johnson he gigged around town, and Larry still does so when he gets the call and other responsibilities allow. One of the happiest – and most surprising — times in his life, he says, was when the Barroom Preacher insisted he join him for a single gig in Switzerland a few years ago.

“Jimmy negotiated a price for me that was out of this world,” he recalls fondly.

Today, Wheeler is “retired” from decades of hospital work. “But I’m not,” Williams points out. “Workin’ two jobs takes a toll on your personal relationships. I’m not countin’ the days or hours until I can ‘retire’ like him – but I’ve definitely got a date in mind!”

Before you jump to conclusions, however, the time’s simply close for him to walk away. He still enjoys postal work, and he ruffles at the bad rap some folks give postal workers.

“There’s nothin’ better than completing your task,” he says — even though he almost lost both of his careers in an on-the-job postal mishap.

“It was May 7, 2017, at about 1:35 p.m. – on a Tuesday,” Williams says, chuckling now despite all of the misery that day put him through. “It shows you how – in the blink of an eye – your whole life can change.”

He was in the middle of his route, moving mail from the back to the front of his truck. His hand was supporting his weight on the door frame at the same time he pushed the sliding door to close it.

“I’m movin’ fast,” he recalls, “but the door moved faster than I anticipated.”

The door slammed shut on the middle and ring fingers of his dominant left hand, smashing the tip of the middle digit and severing the fourth and leaving it hanging by the skin.

“I said: ‘Wait a minute! You didn’t do this,” Larry remembers. In shock, his first instinct was to pray. Then, instead of calling for help, he dialed girlfriend Kimberly Allen to inform her about what had just happened.

Instead of being concerned, he says, she took it as a joke.

larry williams photo 5“She said: ‘You know what? I’m tired of you playin’ with me. You’re always doin’ this, and I got clients in the office…’ and – click – she hung up,” Williams remembers. “I said: ‘Okay. I’m standin’ here bleeding. Let’s call the Postal Service.’”

As anyone who’s ever tried that knows, Larry says, that was a bad idea. The phone rang and rang, but went unanswered.

“I said: ‘Okay, that didn’t work… Maybe I should call 9-1-1,’” he finally decided.

Obviously in shock, he remained calm as he described what had happened, but the operator he was speaking with became hysterical. She wanted him to remain on the line until help arrived, but he refused, telling her he had calls to make. While he waited, he also snapped a photo of his injury and sent a copy to his lady, drawing an immediate response that mixed horror and concern.

“When the ambulance got there, the guys asked if I was okay,” Larry says. “I told them that I was – but that they had to hurry and get me sewed up – ‘because I have a gig to play tonight.’”

Told that that wasn’t going to happen, he insisted that he had to call Wheeler to arrange a replacement. The EMTs placed it instead.

As bad as things seemed, Williams got lucky that day. Even though he was transported to a hospital that didn’t normally staff a hand specialist, by coincidence, one was on site for a meeting when he was wheeled into the emergency room. When the doc told him he was headed for surgery, Larry insisted: “Can’t you just put a Band-Aid on it? I got a gig to do!”

Both girlfriend Kim and a postal representative were on hand by the time he headed for the operating room. The doc planned to graft a portion of bone from Williams’ wrist to repair the severed digit. Larry had one request before he did, however: to leave his thumb and index finger exposed when they bandaged him up.

“Gimme a couple of weeks. I’ll be all right. I gotta play!” he insisted.

“The doctor told Kim that I was delirious,” Larry chuckles now. To his delight, however, when he awoke, he discovered that not only had the procedure been a success but the medical team also had honored his request.

That night, the Wheeler band played the Kingston Mines, and Williams was already out of the hospital and in the audience.

“I tell Mike: ‘I gotta play a song,’” L-Dub remembers. “Mike went: ‘Man, you just had surgery.’ I said: ‘You don’t understand. If I can play a little bit right now, I know I’ll be okay later.’ Mike saw how I felt in my eyes. He didn’t want me to do it. But he said: ‘All right. One song.’

“It hurt like hell, but I did it.”

Three days later, medics fitted out Larry with a smaller, less restrictive cast and scheduled him for therapy. That night, he and Kim were at the House Of Blues as the band played the main stage. The crowd when wild when Wheeler pointed him out during their first set and later, when he invited him up to sing the song that would close out the night. His path to the mike, however, took him past J.W. Williams, who was sitting in for him on bass that night.

“He asked me: ‘Do you wanna play?’” Larry says. “Well…that’s like asking a crackhead: ‘Do you wanna hold this bag of cocaine?’

“I’m a crackhead when it comes to the bass guitar,” he insists. “Hell yeah, I wanna play! I grab his bass and I can see Mike, Brian and Cleo all shakin’ their heads, sayin’: ‘You fool!’

“So we started playin’ ‘Shine Your Light On Me,’ and I’m just pluckin’ away. I’m in pain, but you don’t give a crackhead cocaine and tell him not to snort it! I’m addicted. I’m sorry!”

Williams paid the price for his foolishness later on — both physically and emotionally – catching hell from his therapist and doctor after they’d seen a video of the performance that someone had posted to YouTube.

L-Dub vowed he’d be back at full strength by the time the band was booked for Chicago Blues Festival that June, but went into a deep depression when he found himself unable. Fellow musicians frequently dropped by his house to chat and play bass for him, raising his spirits a little. And the outpouring of love he received when Kim started a GoFundMe page to help him out during his recovery provided a boost.

“I can’t say enough about that,” Larry insists, “the love, the prayers that people around the world – the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, France, Lithuania…everywhere, man! — were sayin’ for me. It was crazy beautiful. Talkin’ about it still gives me chills.”

larry williams photo 6“I couldn’t play music, and I couldn’t work at the post office, though,” he says. “I was just sittin’ at home wallowing in sorrow. You try to stay upbeat, and the calls from friends helped. But the depression is real.”

Fortunately, Kim talked him into attending the blues fest, and his attitude brightened dramatically after Wheeler once again invited him up to sing – this time warning his bassist not to let him touch his instrument.

Despite several family members and some of his musical peers insisting his career was over, Wheeler never gave up believing, he says. Larry finally got to celebrate his return at a well-advertised comeback performance at Buddy Guy’s that September.

Today, he’s regained his top form, but admits that he’s had to alter his playing style somewhat, relying more on his other digits because the reattached finger has lost so much feeling that it sometimes gets in the way and that some of the bass lines he’d invented and recorded with Wheeler prior to the accident were so complex that they’ve become a challenge.

One in particular stands out – “Livin’ My Dreams,” Larry says. “We get through with song, and I tell Mike: ‘Who wrote that bass line? (laughs) He needs his ass kicked!’

“I can still do the tricks I used to do a little bit,” he says, “just not as clean as it used to be. I still love to do all the fancy stuff, and I’m still gettin’ better.”

Williams has been busier than ever since his return. Earlier this year, Tomiko Dixon – who bills herself as “The Granddaughter Of The Blues” because of her relationship to Willie Dixon — requested that he join her in the studio, where he served as her arranger for the tune “You Don’t Wanna Mess With The IRS.” The title cut of her new album, it exists on the disc in vocal and instrumental versions with Larry on bass.

He and Big James remain close, and he just co-produced Montgomery’s new CD, delivering the bottom throughout. He’s also producing another for Chicagoans Rue Jackson and the Street Jaxkson Band. And, along with Wheeler, James and drummer Pooky Stix, he’s currently busy working on Demetria Taylor’s upcoming Delmark release.

Williams and Wheeler continue to collaborate regularly on new material. They’re aiming for a new Wheeler Band album after the band heads to the studio soon for a project that will feature material written by Brian and others that Larry’s going to rearrange and with Mike serving in a guest artist role.

If that’s not enough, Larry’s also in the concept stage of another project. He planning to dip into the catalogs of several guitar superstars, taking their material and reinterpreting it as he envisions how they would have sounded if they’d been playing bass instead of six-string.

Through it all, he insists, “my job is to make other folks sound the best that they can and to do it to the best of my ability. Bass playin’ is to accommodate, not to intimidate. I don’t want my bass playin’ to intimidate anyone, but I want it to accommodate everybody.

“It’s great if you can run all across the neck of the bass. But like (Grammy-winning bassist/producer/label owner) Victor Wooten said: If you don’t have no groove, you don’t have no pocket. If I don’t see you out there bobbin’ your head and dancin’, then I’m not doin’ my job.

“Speakin’ for myself and the guys that I play with, we put our heart and soul into it, and we love what we do, man! It’s not so much playin’ the music. It’s seein’ the smiles on people’s faces and the joy and happiness that goes along with that.

“That’s what it’s really all about – you’re givin’ back. We all wanna get paid. But as I tell folks: ‘If I’m available, you got me for a hotdog and a smile!’” (laughs)

There’s no telling where Williams will pop up next. But be sure to check the Wheeler band schedule by visiting

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 Blues Review – 1 of 10 

ben levin cd imageBen Levin – Before Me

VizzTone Label Group VTBL 002

12 songs – 43 minutes

Gifted pianist/vocalist Ben Levin made quite a splash at last year’s Blues Blast Music Awards, garnering nominations for debut album of the year and the Sean Costello Award for rising artists, and he continues his ascent with this beautifully conceived disc, which includes contributions from some of the most important folks in the business.

With old-school sensibilities and a ton of talent, Levin is carrying forward the sound of traditional blues keyboard, and has been a welcome breath of new life in a community that lost both David Maxwell and Chicagoan Barrelhouse Chuck Goering to cancer in recent years, leaving a stylistic hole that many experts feared never would be filled.

Still only 19 years old and a rising sophomore at his hometown University Of Cincinnati in Ohio, Ben began playing professionally at age 11 alongside his father, Aron, in The Heaters. He now plays about 100 gigs a year in both solo and group formats. A 2018 semi-finalist in the International Blues Challenge solo-duo category, he’s an international talent whose travels have taken him to festival appearances in France and the Netherlands.

This is Levin’s second CD, a welcome follow-up to his debut 2017 release, Ben’s Blues. He’s joined here by two true blues veterans, both of whom have been working with him live in the past year or so. They include former Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin and Arizona-based award-winning harmonica player Bob Corritore.

The rhythm section is composed of Chris Douglas on upright bass and vocals and Oscar Bernal on drums. The legendary Philip Paul, the 93-year-old Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer — who served as studio percussionist at King Records from 1952 to 1965, laying down the beat for Little Willie John’s “Fever,” Wynonie Harris’ “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and Freddie King’s “Hideaway” and “Tore Down,” among other chart-toppers – sits in for two cuts and frequently appears with Levin when he’s booked in the Queen City.

Adding to the mix on this collection of six originals and six covers are Ben’s dad Aron, who provides six-string on five tunes, percussionist Stan Ginn, and vocalists Mel Hatch Douglas and Kennedy McPherson, all of whom make a single guest appearance.

Levin displays a strong left hand and light touch with the right as he kicks off Big Bill Broonzy’s “I Feel So Good” to open the disc with the full band joining in after a few brief bars. Like all of the material here, it swings slightly behind the beat, and it comes across with a strong feel of the ‘40s thanks to individual solos from Ben, Margolin and Corritore. The original “Pappy” describes an older friend and features some sweet rapid-fire signature accents on the high keys and delightfully delicate barrelhouse.

Ben updates Jay McShann’s familiar “Confessin’ The Blues” as a rollicking instrumental, trading off licks with guitar and harp, before launching into a pair of self-penned numbers. The stop-time “Before Me” would fit comfortably in the ‘50s with a vocal sound and piano delivery that’s reminiscent of Fats Domino. The New Orleans feel continues with “Creole Kitchen,” a more modern instrumental that would be more suited to Allen Toussaint before a slow-and-steady take on Freddie King’s 1961 recording of “Lonesome Whistle Blues.”

Two more originals — the slow blues, “So Soon,” which delivers a cautionary message about drinking and one-night love affairs, and the pendulum perfect “Load Off My Back” – precede a driving cover of the James Cotton/Otis Spann 1965 pleaser “Lightning” and the easy, greasy “I Wanna Hug Ya, Kiss Ya, Squeeze Ya,” a minor hit for the Griffin Brothers a decade earlier. “Open Late,” a slow-and steady instrumental co-written with Margolin and Corritore, brings the action to a close.

Folks like Leroy Carr, Sunnyland Slim, Pinetop Perkins, David Maxwell and Barrelhouse Chuck all live on through the talents of Ben Levin. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up and give it a good listen. It’s available through most major retailers. If you like traditional blues piano as much as I do, you’ll be beaming throughout.

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 Blues Review – 2 of 10 

johnduer cd imageJohn Duer and the Blues Freaks – Try Some Of This

Big Beard Records

11 Tracks/39:27

John Duer is a bass player originally from Austin, Texas, who relocated to Toledo, Spain four years ago. He connected with Jesus “Buddy” Garcia, who plays a variety of stringed instruments, and Jose Luis “Sepul” Sepulveda on drums and percussion. Their trio is augmented by guest appearances from eight additional musicians. With just three covers, the project also highlights the band’s collective songwriting abilities.

They take a laid-back approach to James “Kokomo” Arnold’s “Try Some Of That,” creating a relaxed feel with Garcia distinguishing himself on the dobro. Sepulveda makes good use of his brushes, setting a sprightly pace on “Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home” behind Duer’s understated vocal, answered by Walter Daniels’ forlorn harmonica tones. Garcia contributes some mean slide guitar licks on “Popcorn Sutton,” a tribute to a modern-day moonshiner. He switches back to the dobro on “Bladie Mae,” playing slashing lines that one expect on a Johnny Winter tune. A pair of sturdy shuffles, “Loser” and “24.7.365” roll right along with the former exhibiting a touch of the Allman Brothers and a gruff Duer vocal, while the later adds the contributions of Alfonso Ferrer on bass and Andres Sanchez on guitar.

“Wise Too Late” sounds a bit disjointed, the rhythm never quite meshing with the effects-laden tone from guest Amable Rodriquez’s guitar, as Duer pontificates on a lifetime of mistakes. Chris Masuak joins Garcia on guitar for a cover of “Let’s Get Drunk,” creating some nice interplay over a heavy riff. “Little Bit Of Green” has a lighter touch as Julian Maeso falters a bit on lead vocal, singing about his need for some cash to get by, adding some spicy flavoring on percussion. The honky-tonk piano offerings from Sergi Fece fit perfectly on the country weeper ”24 Hours (And A Minute Too Late)”. Duer strings together some familiar blues lyrical phrases on “Don’t Come Cryin’,” with Juanma Gonzalez on acoustic guitar while Garcia again proves to be adept on the dobro.

Living up to their name, John Duer and the Blues Freaks play blues without many of the influences that tend to be prevalent in many modern releases. Their sophomore effort may not break any new ground, but if your tastes land closer on the traditional side of the equation, this one will provide an enjoyable listen with plenty of variety.

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 – 3 of 10 

alexis p. suter cd imageAlexis P. Suter Band – Be Love

Hipbone Records HBB-084

12 songs – 48 minutes

Possessing one of the deepest female voices in the recording industry, Alexis P. Suter is a powerhouse whose musical journey mixes blues, gospel, R&B and rock, delivering large doses of positivity in the process. This one takes a little darker turn, however, as some of the subject matter reflects problems of modern times.

A Brooklyn native who grew up in the church, she rose to prominence at the late Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble concerts in Woodstock, N.Y. Won over by her distinctive baritone/bass pipes and endearing nature, Helm invited her to serve as his opening act, a task Alexis performed more than 100 times.

A multiple Blues Music Awards and Blues Blast Music Awards nominee, Suter made her recording debut in 2005 with Shuga Fix. This is the ninth release in her catalog, including Live From Briggs Farm Blues Festival, a gospel performance that was released under the name AMOS – and acronym for Alexis’ Ministers Of Sound.

Her core band here consists of co-producers Michael Louis (guitars), Ray Grappone (percussion) and Vicki Bell (backing vocals). They’re augmented by Brandon Morrison on bass, Will Bryant and Daniel A. Weiss on keys, Lee Falco on percussion and Steve Jankowski and Doug DeHays on horns. Alexis’ 96-year-old mom, Mother Carrie Suter, delivers the vocals on the final cut.

With the exception of two covers, all of the material here was penned by the Suter band in differing configurations. “Empty Promises” — a dynamic urban shuffle that takes you to church, too — finds Alexis laying with her head on a pillow and staring at the wall, unwilling to deal with any more pain as she reflects on a relationship that she now realizes was devoid of romance. But the pain passes quickly. “Lips, Hips And Fingertips,” an R&B ballad, finds Suter ready, willing and able for love once again.

The pace quicks dramatically for “Little Back Rider,” another song of desire featuring Louis on slide, before the unhurried blues, “I Don’t See You Anymore,” offers up the sweet complaint that the singer and her man have to slow down in a life moving way too fast. The band gets funky for “Sway,” which will get you dancing, then slows down in a heartbeat for “Dog Eat Dog World,” which gives Alexis to stretch her pipes as she pleads for phone calls and words of kindness.

The title tune, “Be Love,” is up next, exploding out of the box, a powerful urban blues that urges for compassion in a world of chaos with Alexis stating firmly that her arms will always be open and that she’ll never turn her back. The soulful ballad “(You Make It) So Hard” turns down the heat and slows the tempo as it continues the message forward in the midst of a distressed relationship.

Suter dips into Odetta’s catalog for “Hit Or Miss,” reinterpreting it atop a funk arrangement before the pain returns for the straight-ahead “Sick And Tired Blues,” which is chockful of familiar imagery and flows directly into the ballad “Go,” which attempts to send a lover who’s become icy on his way. The final number, “I Just Got Off That Devil’s Train,” brightens the mood. A gospel number that was a personal favorite of disgraced evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, it’s sung by Mother Carrie with a jazzy ‘40s and ends the disc on a positive note.

Thoroughly interesting throughout, Be Love is especially appealing for folks with contemporary tastes. Alexis Suter has a distinctive voice for the ages. If you haven’t heard her yet, check this out. It’s available through most major 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.

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 10 

head honchos cd imageHead Honchos – Bring It On Home

Grooveyard Records – 2018

13 tracks; 55 minutes

The Head Honchos come from Indiana and feature father and son Rocco Calipari (Sr. and Jr.) on guitars, Rocco Sr handling the vocals; Scott Schultz is on drums/backing vocals and bass duties are shared between Roberto Agosto and CC Copeland. Guests include Steve Ball on keys, Phil Smith on percussion, Jo Jo Outlich on harmonica and a two-man horn section of Joe J.B. Brown (sax) and Mitch Goldman (trumpet) add to three tracks. Rocco Sr is the main writer and there are five covers.

The band plays heavy rocking blues and the PR sheet suggests that they will appeal to fans of Johnny Winter, Walter Trout, Chris Duarte and SRV amongst others. Rocco Sr sings in a gruff-toned voice that suits the music well, drummer Scott hits as hard as John Bonham and there is lots of beefy wah-wah as the band blasts through an opening trio of songs that certainly pin back your ears: “Work” is a good example, just under three minutes but all action. The band takes advantage of the twin guitar approach to bring a touch of southern rock on “Come Strong”, with keys adding a lighter feel.

There is some searing slide on “Next To You”, completing an opening run of five originals before a heavy take on “Mean Old World” takes the song a long distance away from T-Bone Walker’s original. But this works pretty well in the context of this set, as Jr’s guitar replies to Sr’s vocals. The band adds some exotic percussion to their version of “Fire On The Bayou” though the chunky guitars remain and mark the Honchos’ version as quite different to the Meters’ original.

The chugging original “Lucky’s Train” adds harmonica and features a wild wah-wah solo; after that tale of dangerous gambling the band cautions us on the demon drink in “Whiskey Devil”, a short cut with the horns adding accents to the chorus. The horns then stick around for two covers: Willie Mitchell’s “That Driving Beat” has some shared DNA with other songs about dance crazes such as “Barefootin’”. Then we hear “99 ½ Won’t Do” which was a hit for Wilson Pickett who co-wrote it with Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd. The Honchos play it pretty straight with the keys and horns adding to the Memphis feel and the guitar solo staying just on the right side of tasteful.

Don Nix’s “Going Down” is a staple in blues-rock bands’ repertoires and, not surprisingly, the Honchos play it loud and proud with plenty of screaming guitar work. The album closes with original “Soul Free” which has a southern rock approach and, at over seven minutes, provides a good platform for both Roccos to show their paces in Allmans style, arguably the standout track on the album.

Fans of heavy blues-rock will be sure to find something to enjoy here.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

pack rat smokehouse cd imagePackrat’s Smokehouse – Men Of The Swamp Live

Black Frost Music

13 songs – 118 minutes

Based out of the mangrove swamps outside New Smyrna Beach, Fla., Packrat’s Smokehouse is a collection of veteran musicians who produce a hybrid form of music that merges Delta and Louisiana wetlands sounds into what they term “Florida swamp blues.” The resulting mix is funky and steamy, too, as this two-hour live set demonstrates.

The band was formed in 1989 by multi-instrumentalist and lead singer Anthony “Packrat” Thompson and guitarist Robert “Lightning Boy” Thomas in an attempt to cross-breed of Howlin’ Wolf, a product of White Station, Miss., with the sounds of Lazy Lester and Lightnin’ Slim, swamp blues legends whose biggest recordings were released on Excello Records.

A five-piece unit that includes Kenny “The Wizard” Sly on bass and Aaron “Pop” Watson and Peter Beers on percussion, the group might not be a familiar name to most blues lovers, but Packrat’s Smokehouse has toured Europe and the U.S. extensively in their three-decade run, and their recording history includes albums on two of the most important independent labels of the late 20th century: two releases on Atlanta’s Ichiban Records and two more on King Snake, which was based out of Sanford, Fla.

Disc one of the two-disc set includes nine tunes recorded at Babe James Center in the band’s home town while disc two is a four-song set captured at the legendary Bradfordville Blues Club in suburban Tallahassee. Keyboard players Lois Ridgill and Gerard Guida make guest appearances in a collection of familiar covers and fan-favorite originals.

“The Night Jack Frost Killed Possum Brown,” an unhurried song that debuted on King Snake in the ‘90s, opens the action. After a muffled spoken intro, it’s clear from the jump that these guys are going to dig a ditch rhythmically, climb in it and stay there all night as they produce a brand of music that would fit comfortably in any Mississippi juke. Packrat’s warmly accented voice is a rich baritone. He’s primarily an old-school harp player whose techniques mix Chicago and the Mississippi swamp.

Lightnin’ Boy takes over the mike for a cover of Lightnin’ Slim’s “Hoo Doo Blues.” He possesses similar vocal attributes, his six-string work is crisp and slightly behind the beat. The Jimmy Reed standard “Hush Hush” precedes the band’s “Low Down Rider,” followed by the Wolf classic, “Smoke Stack Lightnin’.” The loping original boogie, “95 South,” comes complete with numerous images of the highway as it meanders from New Smyrna toward Miami before a 12-minute take on Reed’s “Caress Me Baby.”

The first disc powers forward for another 14 minutes with the uptempo “Smokehouse Boogie” before concluding with “Hoo Doo Woman Blues,” another original from the ‘90s. The second set dips into Reed’s catalog for the third time with an extend take of “You Don’t Have To Go” launches into the originals “Sue City Sue” — not to be confused with the Gene Autry song of a similar name – and “Them Creepin’ Blues” before finishing the night with a 13-minute “Hoo Doo Woman Blues” redo.

Packrat’s Smokehouse delivers blues that are as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. Although there’s no new material here, it’s still a treasure for folks who like bar bands at the top of their game. Available through the group’s website (address above).

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 Blues Review – 6 of 10 

grady champion cd imageGrady Champion – Steppin’ In – A Tribute To ZZ Hill

Malaco Records – 2019

12 tracks; 45 minutes

Since he won the IBC in 2010 Grady Champion has kept busy, setting up his own D Champ label and releasing albums regularly, most recently on Malaco, this tribute album being his third on the label. Grady covers twelve songs associated with the late ZZ Hill who was at the peak of his powers when he passed away in 1984, aged just 49. One of the great soul-blues singers, ZZ Hill remains hugely popular with African-Americans and his music is still played in the clubs and bars of the Southern states, as well as being covered by many working bands on the circuit.

Grady handles all lead vocals and harp, with a rhythm section of Frederick Demby Sr on bass and Edward Rayshead Smith on drums/B/Vs, Will Wesley on guitar, Sam Brady on keys and Jewel Bass and Lahlah Devine on B/Vs; The Jackson Horns (Kimble Funchess and David N Ware on trumpets, Dr Jessie Primer III on tenor sax and Steve Kincaid on baritone) appear on several tracks. Eddie Cotton (a regular collaborator with Grady) adds guitar to two tracks.

George Jackson wrote many songs for Malaco artists and his “Down Home Blues” was a huge hit for ZZ just before his death and remains a frequently played and covered song. Grady plays it pretty straight and his gritty vocals work well, aided by some fine backing vocals, great organ work and snappy guitar fills. A second Jackson song from George here is “Cheating In The Next Room” (a co-write with Robert Miller), one of those classic cheating songs with a lovely horn and organ arrangement which brings the very best out of Grady’s vocals. Pairs of songs seems to be a theme here as Bobby Patterson provides the naggingly catchy blues of “When It Rains It Pours” and (with Jerry Strickland) “Open House At My House” which features Grady’s harp work on one of those songs in which the singer grows increasingly suspicious of what his woman is doing when he is out.

The trio of Walter Godbold, AD Prestage and Joseph M Shamwell supplies the excellent “I’m A Blues Man” with its terrific horn chart and the suggestive “Shade Tree Mechanic” and Miles Grayson wrote the uptempo “Who You Been Giving It To” and “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” (with Lermon Horton) which features some great guitar from Eddie Cotton. Eddie also plays on BT Lexing’s “Bump And Grind”, another big number for ZZ on which Grady plays strong harp and delivers the lyrics with relish: “You see I want to grab one of these pretty girls, then slow drag her across the floor, do like ZZ used to do back in 1984”.

Denise LaSalle’s “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In” has been covered by many, including Denise herself, Buddy Guy, Magic Slim and Johnnie Taylor, but ZZ had the first recording back in 1982. Grady’s version bears comparison to those illustrious predecessors with strong backing vocals and horn fills to beef up the chorus. Two of the less well-known songs here are Jerry Williams’ “Right Arm For Your Love” which includes some lovely guitar tones from Will Wesley and Jimmy Lewis and Richard Cason’s (probably best known for collaborations with Ray Charles) “Three Into Two Won’t Go”; both songs feature striking horn arrangements.

As with most tribute albums, the success can be judged by whether the disc makes you go back and listen to the originals. Grady’s disc did that for this reviewer and is recommended to fans of soul-blues music.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 10 

king bee cd imageKing Bee & The Stingers – Meet Me In Memphis

Hive Talking Records

10 songs – 41 minutes

Based out of Indiana, King Bee & The Stingers are a tight five-piece unit who combine soul, Chicago and Delta blues into a package that demonstrates why they’ve been International Blues Challenge semi-finalists on two occasions.

Led by harp player/vocalist Mark “King Bee” Menefee, the Stingers formed in 2007, went through several personnel changes and released one EP previously as a tie-in to the IBCs. The band came into their own in 2014 with the addition of Menefee’s lead vocalist daughter, Sarah, a warm, full-bodied, melismatic alto who sounds far more mature than her age.

Joining the Menefees on the stage are veteran guitarist D.K. Buchanan, bassist Ken Meadows and percussionist Buddy Mitchell. They’re assisted here by Tom Clark on horns, Slats King on Hammond B3 organ and Mona Skirvin on harmonics. And lead guitar duties on the title cut are handled by Mary Druin.

“We don’t play traditional 1-4-5, 12-bar blues, says Sarah, who notes: “We don’t try to emulate any one blues sound or tradition. We just let it flow naturally.”

The Stingers deliver an interesting mix of eight tunes penned by friends or former band members and dip into the libraries of Howlin’ Wolf and Big Mama Thornton to complete the set, which was produced and recorded by Rich Morpurgo at Midwest Audio Recording in Bloomington. The opener, “You’re All I Need,” is a funky, propulsive, horn-driven Memphis blues that will grab you from the jump.

It flows smoothly into “Tattooed Love Girl,” a lady who’s such a stunner she’ll knock you dead the second she walks into the room. King Bee’s harp lines open the driving blues, “Half A Mind,” and are featured throughout as Sarah entertains thoughts of leaving a lover behind. The title tune, “Meet Me In Memphis,” is a sultry slow blues that carries the theme forward after a fight propelled by some terrific fret work. She’s calling to arrange a final rendezvous to hear some blues before she splits for good.

The Stingers deliver an interesting new arrangement Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” before “Leave This World,” which opens acoustic, but quickly explodes into a medium-slow paced shuffle. The pace quickens for “Lucky One” before the rollicking rocker “Buzz Awhile,” which probably has audiences rushing to the dance floor when played live.

“Hound Dog,” penned by Lieber and Stoller and a major hit for Big Mama and Elvis, follows. A tune that’s been recorded to dead, it’s a real time- and space-waster here despite new charts. Fortunately, the disc ends on a high note with the propulsive “Devil Train.” Like most all good railroad songs, it pulls out of the station slowly and quickly picks up speed.

King Bee & The Stingers are a band with promise, but the true star here is Sarah Menefee. While the band’s solid throughout, the overall sound would improve dramatically with a better harp player. Available via Paypal through the band’s website (address above).

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 Blues Review – 8 of 10 

kathy grimm cd imageKathryn Grimm – Blues Tools

Self-Release – 2019

12 tracks; 50 minutes

Back in 2016 I reviewed a disc by Hippie Love Slave, the lead singer/guitarist/composer being Kathryn Grimm. Three years later Kathryn is back, this time under her own name, with an album of nine originals, one traditional gospel tune and two covers. Kathryn handles lead vocals and guitar with a range of musicians in support: drums are by Charlie Swift, Robin James and Jim Hardin, bass by Kelly Swift and Michael Sunday, keys are by Aidean Abounasseri (who also produced), sax on six tracks are by Fenix Sanders and Johny Powell; Teri Untalan adds B/Vs to one track and, on an older track, the late Jeff Buckley plays slide guitar alongside Mark Frere on bass. Phil Klahn and Jason Driver are also credited for their engineering work and occasional keys and B/V’s and Sonny Hess plays guitar on one track and adds B/V’s to two.

The CD definitely grows on you with repeat listening. Two songs are reprized from the Hippie Love Slave album and both are winners: the traditional gospel tones of “Trouble Of This World” has Kathryn singing the first verse with minimal accompaniment before the band enters on the second verse to give the tune a full electric treatment, including some wah-wah from Kathryn; based on an incident when her van was stolen with all her gear inside, “God Is Testing Me” is a full-on production with plenty of backing vocals, swirling organ, strong rhythm guitar work and a Santana-esque solo. Another latin groove here is “Talking To The Wind”, again graced by a fine solo.

Across the album Kathryn shows herself to be a versatile writer with opener “You Make Me So Happy I Can’t Sing The Blues” looking at how difficult it is to write a blues song if you are essentially content while “C’mon Home” reverts to a classic blues tale of a relationship gone sour. The uptempo “Love Gun” has a great sax solo and “Gone” sounds naggingly familiar though it’s an original, another one with sax and a very nice guitar break, Kathryn this time taking control and readying herself to walk away from the guy.

A couple of songs do challenge Kathryn’s vocal range: “Empty Space” is a laid-back ballad with fine flute work by Johny, “Miss Celie’s Blues” is a Quincy Jones song from The Color Purple movie, a jazzy piece with good accompaniment.

The other cover is “Hot Date With Buzz”, written by bassist Mark Frere and featuring the late Jeff Buckley, well worth hearing for his searing slide work, the subject matter about a woman in a serious relationship with her vibrator being pretty amusing too!

There are several very good performances across the album and Kathryn shows herself to be a strong writer, as well as a good guitarist.

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 – 9 of 10 

stef paglia cd imageStef Paglia – Never Forget

House Of Tone Production

10 Tracks/51:38

Starting at the age of twelve, guitarist Stef Paglia has steadily been building his career. He has been a member of the Bluesbones, recording three albums with the group. They also won the 2016 Belgian Blues Challenge. For his first solo effort, Paglia gets help in the songwriting department from his girlfriend, Iris Teunissen, who handled the lyrical content while Paglia composed the music. His rhythm section consists of Geert Schurmans on bass guitar and Joel Purkess on drums. The project was recorded at the Superfly Studios in the U.K. with Wayne Proctor as producer.

Like many contemporary musicians marketing themselves in the blues genre, Paglia’s approach shows a wide range of influences, with blues often taking a backseat. He turns in a straight-forward cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Freedom,” complete with multi-tracked backing vocals and guitar guitar parts that also highlights his strong, confident vocal style. The opening track, “Watch Out,” packs a punch with ringing guitar chords, followed by “Take Me Away,” which rocks hard one minute before shifting to a more soulful vein. Purkess lays down a muscular rhythm on “Dirty Woman,” with Paglia relating the familiar tale of a mistreating member of the opposite sex, using his instrument to complete a raging exorcism of emotions.

“Crush On You” rolls along with black cats, Cadillacs, and some smooth slide guitar work that moves this track closer to blues side of the spectrum. Paglia utilizes a wah-wah pedal on “Death Tree,” a song that starts as a quiet, lovely ballad before the band erupts on the chorus, shredding the introspective mood, especially when Paglia delivers another fiery outburst. The meditative instrumental “Mystery Heaven” is built around Paglia’s memorable slide string-bending. “The Unknown” is a weaker track, sounding like a poor-man’s interpretation of Stevie Ray Vaughan legacy. Paglia continues to display his impressive guitar skills when the proceedings return to the land of anthem-like rockers on “Twilight,” and they finish up with “Warmth Instead Of Gold,” a quieter number with Paglia showing that he does have some blues chops.

Some consider the blues world to be a big tent, with room for everyone. Others fear that the music will suffer if the traditional sounds are comprised too much. Stef Paglia is one of the artists that push the definition of the music. He definitely is a strong singer and a fine guitarist. As to whether not or it is blues is for you, the listener, to decide.

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 – 10 of 10 

leny's girl cd imageLeny’s Girl – Walk Outside Again

Self-produced CD

10 songs – 42 minutes

Based out of Sydney, Australia, where the blues has been extremely popular since Dutch Tilders brought the music from his native Netherlands in the ‘50s, Leny’s Girl is a hard-driving roots ensemble who’ve been charting for months in their homeland with one of the songs on this album.

A four-piece band who play in support of a female vocalist, they’re fronted by classically trained mezzo-soprano Kasey McKenzie, whose extensive background in musical theater includes leads in Evita and Annie, among other familiar titles. Prior to Leny’s Girl, McKenzie shared vocal duties in A Band Named Trevor, whose album Smoke Dog Music climbed to No. 15 on the Australian blues charts.

Named in memory of Kasey’s mother, who lost a valiant battle against motor neurone disease — a rare, incurable malady that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, this is the first full release for the band, which leans far more toward the harder edges of rock than it does toward blues.

The lineup includes three former A Band Named Trevor members — guitarist Steven “Beggsy” Beggs, percussionist Mark “Brownie” Brown on and bassist Tom Raw – as well as harmonica player Bob “Cookie” Cooke, who previously worked in a duo, Frog And Toad.

Leny’s Girl’s music ranges from rock approaching heavy metal to whisper-soft blues. A tasty guitar hook kicks off “Pretend,” which begins as a moderate tempo blues but quick modulates to a walls-to-the-wall, stop-time rocker. The lyrics fly from McKenzie’s mouth like bullets as she celebrates her freedom from someone who can only be described as a poseur. The arrangement is skin-tight despite a rhythm pattern that provides little breathing room but still allows space for harp and six-string solos.

The intensity drops measurably for “No Fool,” which opens with a steady drumbeat and a little psychedelic guitar then becomes a driving blues that complains about the absence of harmony in the singer’s town and states the need to have a “shooter to guard her back.” The imagery continues in “Devil With A Gun,” which describes the singer’s attitude toward an unnamed target. Previously released on an EP, it contains more acid elements and was sitting No. 9 in the Aussie charts when the disc arrived in the U.S.

“Walk Outside Again” offers a breath of fresh air from what’s come before. Beginning as quiet ballad, it slowly increases in power, drops again and then builds to a close. Beggsy’s slide work opens the driving blues, “Be Gone,” before the rocker “GCK” describes a man who’s popular because of having an abundance of cash and cocaine and flows directly into “Don’t Come Back,” which also comes with an extremely hard edge.

“Stay,” a fully realized ballad, is as tender as this band gets as Kasey promises to overcome the hurt she’s experienced previously if her lover will only remain at her side. The hard-driving, slide-propelled “Miss Robin Hood” is up next before “Table” ends the album, modulating from a whisper to psychedelic rocker a couple of times before and eventually erupting in a rocker with intense psychedelic overtones.

Available through several online retailers, Walk Outside Again is an interesting debut that will appeal to folks who like their blues with a strong dose of rock. It’ll be interesting what this band does going forward. One wish, however: McKenzie’s delivery on most of this material is so over-the-top that she’s bordering on shrill in some spots. It might be a good idea to dial it back a bit to avoid vocal issues down the road.

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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River City Blues Society – Peoria, IL

Saturday September 7, 2019 the RCBS will host a membership drive ‘appreciation’ concert featuring acclaimed Guitarist / Vocalist / Songwriter Sean Chambers LIVE at BG Saloon in Bartonville, IL. Opening act: Chris Stevens & Greg Weinberg. Music starts at 5:00 p.m.

Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

The Sacramento Blues Society is proud to announce the 2019 Inductees to the Sacramento Blues Society Hall of Fame are: Kenny Marchese, Leo Bootes, Marty Deradoorian, Robert Nakashima and from our Gone but Not Forgotten Gary “Walin” Black. Join us at Harlow’s, 2708 J Street, Sacramento, on September 29th from 1:00 – 5:00 for the Induction Ceremony and awesome entertainment by 2016 SBS Hall of Fame Inductee Marcel Smith w/Bob Jones & The Chosen Few. Tickets $15 for SBS Members, $20 for Non-members. HOF All-Star Showcase after the Ceremony at the nationally known Torch Club, 904 15th St., Sacramento, from 6-8 pm. For additional information, please contact

Multiple System Atrophy Coalition – Peoria, IL

My wife was a blues fan. Not an artist, but pretty good with an iTunes mix. It was blues music that helped her battle multiple system atrophy (MSA.

MSA, nicknamed “Parkinson’s on steroids” by a patient and “the Beast” by another, is rare, sporadic and terminal within 7-10 years from onset. During her MSA journey she and her husband Larry (Doc) Kellerman brainstormed how to best raise awareness. They decided to to “recruit” blues artists, fans, supporters and college basketball teams and fans to the cause.

This year the Beat MSA! Event is October 3rd, 5:30 – 9:30 pm at the Monarch Music Hall in Peoria, IL. Visit to learn more, make a donation or bid on a silent auction item donated by blues artists, college basketball teams and businesses. All proceeds benefit the Multiple System Atrophy Coalition. This is the third year of the event. Over 70 blues artists and untold blues fans have contributed to beating this disease. We will Beat MSA! with your help. Please join us.

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaugn, IL

The Prairie Crossroads Blues Fest is 2 – 10 pm Saturday August 10th at the Champaign County Fairgrounds 1302 N. Coler in Urbana. Headliners include: Brandon Santini, Demetria Taylor, Lucious Spiller and Laurie Morvan. Local and Regional Acts include: Skylar Rogers & The Blue Diamonds, Ray-Band and David Lumsden Blues Band. Acoustic and Solo/Duo Acts include: Black Eyed Lillies Joe Asselin and Lindsay Lilly) and the Jenkins Bros. electrified blues duo. There’s plenty of Free Parking. Bring your lawnchairs and enjoy a full day of music for only $10.00. For more info visit: Kilborn Alley hosts the BluesFest After-Party at the Rose Bowl.

Bunny’s Tavern in Urbana is also hosting part of the Blues Fest Weekend with music on Friday evening August 9. The Painkillers Blues Band host a Jam from 4:30 to 7:30 and Sapphire entertains with Blues, Blues Rock and Classic Rock tunes from 8 to 11. Lucious Spiller is sticking around to host the PCBS Blues Jam at Pipa’s Pub in Champaign, Sunday August 11, from 4 to 7. Bring your instrument, join in the fun!

Southeast Iowa Blues Society – Fairfield, IA

The Southeast Iowa Blues Society and Fairfield Convention & Visitors Bureau proudly present the 6th annual “Blue Ribbon Blues Fest”, August 3rd, 2019 at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, Fairfield, Iowa. Gates open at 4:30 with music beginning at 5pm..

Opening things up will be the Iowa and International Blues Challenge winner “Kevin B.F. Burt” at 5:30pm He will be followed at 7pm by a red hot newcomer from Chicago the “Ivy Ford Band” and our featured act coming off a nationally recognised CD the “Altered Five Blues Band” at 9pm. And of course our own Iowa Blues Hall of Famer “Tony Blew” playing between main stage acts.

Sweet n’ Saucy BBQ, Golden Kettle Corn and the famous Iowa Beer Bus, (No outside Food or Drinks) will be on hand for your enjoyment…bring your chairs and camping is available. Tickets are $25 and SIBS members $20 for more information call 641-919-7477 or go to

The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society is pleased to announce our August Blues Bash will feature an Open Jam following The Instigators, an exciting Charlotte based, four piece Blues band that also demonstrate a command of Southern Soul, R&B, Reggae and Rock influences in their repertoire. The band members are as follows, Rob Dayton, Stephen Foley, John Hartley, and Michael Ingmire. Michael is a nationally published writer and historian who has written many musical history articles about many American musical icons. He is a consistent contributor to and the Charlotte Blues Society’s monthly newsletter with his writing.

The show will be held Sunday, Aug. 4th, at The Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC. Admission is free for members with valid cards and $5 to everyone else. Doors at 7:00; music at 8:00. Open jam at 9:30. It will be a great evening of music!

We continue to collect non-perishable food items for Loaves and Fishes. Cash donations are also welcome. 1 can? I can! More info at

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

Crossroads Blues Society summer schedule. Shows at the Lyran Society in Rockford to 10 pm no cover! – 8/16/19 Brother Dave Kaye

The monthly shows at the Hope and Anchor in Loves Park continue $5 cover, 8 to 11:30 PM: 8/10/19 Dave Weld & The Imperial Flames

Crossroads Blues Festival is Saturday, August 24th at Lyran Park, Rockford – Blues Disciples, Chris O’Leary Band, Westside Andy with Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys, 6 PM: Nick Moss Band with Dennis Gruenling, John Primer, Joe Filisko harp workshop, Wheatbread Johnson, Justin “Boots” Gates and our own Rick Hein and Bill Graw!

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances and other shows held 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. Aug 12 – Laurie Morvan Band, Aug 19 – Jonny T-Bird & the MP’s, Aug 26 – Chris O’Leary Band, Sept 2 – Paul Bonn and the Bluesmen, Sept 9 – Joe Tenuto Band, Sept 16 – Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin’ Alter Boys w/ Westside Andy, Sept 23 – Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones.

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. August 15 – Albert Castiglia – The Longbranch – L’Erable IL, November 6 – Mike Morgan & The Crawl – Kankakee Valley Boat Club. More Info at:

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

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