Cover photo © 2019 Bob Kieser
In This Issue
Blues Blast senior writer Marty Gunther has our feature story about Billy Branch and his new album Roots And Branches – The Songs Of Little Walter. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Cass Clayton Band, Cash Box Kings, Big Daddy T, Tony Campanella, Steve Howell & Jason Weinheimer and Peter Poirier.
We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!
From The Editor’s Desk
Hey Blues Fans,
The12th annual Blues Blast Music Award ceremonies are next Friday, September 13th in Rockford, IL. Announced performers include Teeny Tucker, Dave Keller, Dawn Tyler Watson, Bob Corritore Revue with Oscar Wilson and Taildragger, Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones, Mary Lane, Catfish Keith, Mighty Mike Schermer, Alastair Greene, Whitney Shay with Igor Prado, Ben Rice, Robert Frank and Katie Henry. Plus there may be a few surprises too!
If you are interested in being a VIP sponsor CLICK HERE to get the best seats in the house for this great show! General Admission tickets to the awards are available HERE. Complete info on the Awards show is at the BBMA website at www.TheBBMAs.com.
Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!
Had a great time at the Peoria Blues & Heritage Music Festival in Peoria, IL last weekend. We got to hear some great music including performances by Matthew Curry, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Tommy Castro and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. We will have more photos from the Peoria Blues & Heritage Music Festival in upcoming issues.
Blues Blast Music Awards Tickets
Tickets for the Blues Blast Music Awards show on September 13, 2019 in Rockford, Illinois are on sale. Tickets are $35 in advance and $45 at the door. Save money by getting your tickets NOW HERE!
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Featured Interview – Billy Branch
Blues harmonica master Billy Branch took on a seemingly impossible task when he decided to go into the studio to honor a true giant of the instrument, a project that came to fruition last month with the release of Roots and Branches: The Songs of Little Walter on the Alligator label.
Of all the musicians in the golden era of Chicago blues, Little Walter is among the most enigmatic. Like Jimi Hendrix on guitar, his immense talent on harp literally revolutionized the instrument. He left such an indelible imprint that, in the five decades since his untimely death at age 37, virtually none of the world-class musicians who’ve followed have been able to do little more than copy his charts note-for-note rather than using them as a benchmark and taking them to another level.
“To be honest, at first, I was hesitant to do the project,” Billy said recently. “What happened was that, over the last few years, my wife Rosa and I developed a pretty close relationship with Walter’s daughter, Marion.
“Marion wanted to see this project. She wanted me to do a tribute to her dad. We discussed it with my wife, and we kinda went back and forth. At first, I thought: There have been so many tribute to Little Walter albums.
“And I’ve never wanted to be the guy who’s doin’ the same thing that everybody else is.”
Anyone who’s familiar with Branch’s work knows that it’s true.
Now recognized as the undisputed king of harmonica in the Chicago blues community, Billy was born in the Windy City, grew up in Los Angeles, where he started playing harp at age 10 and grew up listening to R&B, classic rock and folk music. He returned to the Midwest in 1969 to enroll in the University of Illinois-Chicago.
His introduction to the blues came that summer when he attended a festival in Grant Park organized by Willie Dixon and featuring him in performance with an all-star lineup that included Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker and others, including a young Koko Taylor, whose version of Dixon’s Wang Dang Doodle was in constant rotation on all of the city’s radio stations at the time.
That afternoon proved to be a life-changer for Branch. Soon, he was spending his days in class and his nights getting schooling himself in the blues at many of the clubs that dotted the South Side at the time, including Teresa’s and the Checkerboard Lounge.
The blues has always been an artform handed down from one generation to another, and that was true for Billy, too. It didn’t take long before two elder statesmen, piano player Jimmy Walker and guitarist Homesick James – as well as a host of others, took him under their wings.
Always a hard mistress to master, the blues is best learned on the street, not out of a book, and Branch began establishing himself at what are commonly known as “headcutting” competitions. Probably a tradition as old as the music itself, it’s akin to a winner-take-all duet in which two musicians face off head-to-head, trading licks until one walks away the winner.
The battles were as much fun as they were challenging and brutal, especially when you consider that the city’s roster of harmonica players at the time included Big Walter Horton, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Carey Bell and dozens of others.
“I got lessons from ‘em all,” Billy recalls. “But they weren’t like sittin’ down. It was from gettin’ my head cut in them damn clubs! That’s how I got my lessons, includin’ from Big Walter. Those were the trial-by-fire lessons.
“‘C’mon up here on stage with me…’
“I didn’t have enough sense then to say no! They cut my head so much, I should have hired ‘em to be my barbers!”
Branch’s big break came in 1975 at the Green Bunny Club, a long-forgotten tavern on the South Side, where he butted heads with Little Mack Simmons, a harp player, bar and record label owner whose work appeared on Chess, Wolf, Electro-Fi and his own Simmons and PM imprints.
Billy cut Little Mack at this own game that night, and soon began sitting in at clubs whenever he could – drawing the attention of other musicians with his rock-solid old-school chops in the process. His first venture into a recording studio came the same year, when he laid down two tracks on Bring Me Another Half a Pint, an album released on George Paulus’ Barrelhouse Records with a cover illustrated by Robert Crumb.
Around the same time, Dixon enlisted Branch to replace the departing Carey Bell as harp player in his Chicago Blues All-Stars, a relationship that endured until Billy yielded the spot to Sugar Blue in 1981 to concentrate on his own group, Sons of Blues, which debuted on Alligator’s Living Chicago Blues Vol. 3 in 1978.
The early SOBs roster included both Willie’s son, Freddie, and Carey’s son, Lurrie, and several other top talents – including J.W. Williams, Carl Weathersby – emerged from the band’s ranks. Four decades later, they remain major proponents of the Chicago sound.
Together, Branch and the SOBs have released more than a dozen albums. But the Little Walter project was the biggest challenge yet.
Both a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Blues Hall of Fame inductee and a Grammy Hall of Fame Award winner for the song “Juke” as well as other honors, Marion Walter Jacobs was born in Marksville, La., on May 1, 1930 and left home at age 12, gradually moving from New Orleans to Memphis, Helena, Ark., and St. Louis, where he busked on the street and developed skills on harp and guitar under the tutelage of Sonny Boy Williamson II, David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Sunnyland Slim.
He settled in Chicago at age 15 and split his time on both instruments before revolutionizing the work of harmonica in ways best compared to the breakthroughs Louis Armstrong made as a soloist on trumpet before him or Hendrix did on guitar after Little Walter’s death.
In fact, many music historians credit Walter with inventing and perfecting the use of electronic distortion. Both Sonny Boy II and Snooky Pryor are credited with urbanizing the sound of the harp because they held it up to the microphone when they played. But Walter took it a major step farther.
Walter played in a traditional, unamplified manner when he made his first recordings in the Windy City – both as a leader for Ora-Nelle and then as a member of the Muddy Waters Band in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, appearing on most of Muddy’s major work in that era.
But frustrated by being drowned out by guitar players, he began cupping the mic in his hands and plugging it directly into either the sound system or his amp to get more oomph a little later.
Before long, he realized that not only was he able to compete with them on an even scale, but he was also able to push the amp beyond its perceived limitations as he explored distortion as he created sounds not previously produced by any instrument.
He set the entire music world on its ear in 1952, however, with the release of the instrumental, “Juke.” Recorded in one take for Chess’ Checker imprint with backing from Muddy, Jimmy Rogers and drummer Elga Edmunds, it’s a standard 12-bar blues in 4/4 time that changes intermittently to 3/4 and 2/4 with Walter creating revolutionary tones as he played in second position.
The tune was such a novelty that it soared to the No. 1 position on Billboard’s R&B charts, where it remained for eight weeks. It’s both the only harmonica instrumental ever to achieve the honor and a song that ranked higher than any tune Waters would ever record. At the time, it was Chess’ most successful record ever.
As Branch says today: “He effectively used feedback and distortion to achieve that sound that was so novel at the time that, purportedly, when ‘Juke’ hit the airwaves, the jazz musicians were gatherin’ around the jukebox and debatin’ what instrument was bein’ played because it was completely unrecognizable as a harmonica.
“It sounded nothing like a harmonica. It doesn’t quite sound like a saxophone. But it sounds like a horn – but what kinda horn?
“I’ve heard debate over the years whether or not Walter was the very first cat to utilize the standard method of takin’ a microphone and overdrivin’ it through an amp. But I’ll tell you what: If he wasn’t the first one, he certainly was the guy that perfected that technique.
“And he’s certainly the guy who pioneered that technique.”
Juke solidified Walter’s spot in the Chess roster for the next decade, during which 14 of his tunes hit the Top 10. His “My Babe” hit the top spot while “Sad Hours,” another instrumental, climbed to No. 2. After leaving Muddy, he worked with a succession of top bandmates, beginning with The Aces – brothers Louis and Dave Myers and drummer Fred Below, the father of what came to be known as the Chicago beat.
His backing musicians included Robert Jr. Lockwood, Luther Tucker and Odie Payne Jr. after the Aces’ departure, and a young Ray Charles even backed him on one tour.
Despite his success, however, like many of his contemporaries, Little Walter enjoyed his liquor, and he had a fiery temper. Still only in his late 20s, his career began to decline dramatically in the late ‘50s. As a sideman, he recorded with Memphis Minnie, John Brim, Johnny Shines, Bo Diddley, Otis Rush, Robert Nighthawk and even poet Shel Silverstein, and worked less and less under his own name, frequently putting bands together from musicians available at the spur of the moment.
Despite the success of other bluesmen in Europe during the 1960s, Walter only crossed The Pond twice. He died at the home of his girlfriend on Feb. 15, 1968, apparently from injuries suffered during a brawl between sets at a club in Chicago the night before.
Sadly, unlike the great majority of his peers, there’s very little legacy of his performance captured on film.
“In comparison, there’s a lot of footage of Sonny Boy,” Branch says, “but very little of Walter. Just recently, in the past decade, these little snippets of Little Walter from the American Folk Blues Festival have been poppin’ up.
“It’s kinda mysterious that there is so little. Little Walter’s the acknowledged king of blues harmonica. You’d think that everybody would have been tryin’ to film him.”
In the five decades that have passed since his death, Walter’s fairly short catalog has been covered by most of the harmonica players who’ve followed in his path. Anyone with a trained ear can recognize one of his tunes within the first notes.
Unlike the contributions of other reed players, however – either because of reverence to the master or the simple belief that his work was so perfect that it’s beyond improvement, few, if any, advancements have been made from what Walter recorded in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Check out the many albums recorded as a tribute and you’ll quickly discover that the great majority of the players – the top musicians on the planet – still place Little Walter tunes note-for-note.
“Most of the guys today are still using Little Walter’s technique today,” Branch says. “In my estimation, he’s the most emulated and copied harmonica player of any genre.
“In my travels recently…to China, to South America…in the Andes Mountain range, I’m doin’ Blues in the Schools and these youngsters are tryin’ to play like Little Walter. And then, in China, they got a harmonica club – and they’re tryin’ to play like…Little Walter.
“In the span of my career, I’ve seen it all over the world. You’ve got people who play like others, but I’ve never seen so many people wantin’ to play like Little Walter.”
When Walter’s daughter, Marion Diaz, approached Billy and his wife, Rosa, with the idea of a tribute CD, however, Branch was initially reluctant to jump on the idea – and for good reason.
“I’ve never wanted to be the guy who’s doin’ the same thing that everybody else is,” he says. “I don’t aspire to havin a Little Walter sound on every song durin’ the night. But we talked it over, and Rosa said: ‘Look, it’s comin’ up at the 50th anniversary of his passing, and Marion wants YOU to do it.
“’And also, she’s willing – and wants – to tell some stories about her father on there.’
“So we started on it. And as we rehearsed with our band, some of these time-worn classics of Walter’s started taking on new life – the arrangements started changin’. Then it became even more interesting. As we got engaged in the process, it started taking on an identity of its own. That’s when it became fun.”
The album features the current lineup of Sons of Blues: Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi on piano, Giles Corey on guitar, Marvin Little on bass and Andrew “Blaze” Thomas on drums with a guest appearance on guitar by Shoji Naito, a longtime member of the Eddy Clearwater Band.
“I felt that my band more than rose to the occasion and did a superb job when it came to echoing the traditional feeling and styles on certain numbers and then being able to adapt them in a more contemporary vein,” Billy insists.
From the opening cuts of “Nobody But You” to the closing bars of “Blues With A Feeling,” the essence of Little Walter comes through loud and clear, but Branch does something rarely, if ever, achieved with the material: By incorporating soul, rock and funk elements, he releases the 14 classic numbers on the disc from the time capsule in which they’ve been held captive, breathes new life into them in a manner that will both surprise and delight even the most steadfast blues purist.
Making the album an even greater delight is the final cut, a 2:43 monolog from Marion chockful of delightful, warm and intimate memories of her long-lost father that’s guaranteed to put Little Walter in a light he’s never been in before.
Billy chuckles at the thought. “Yeah,” he says. “He was a nice guy after all!”
Visit Billy’s website at http://www.billybranch.com.
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 – 1 of 6
Cass Clayton Band – Play Nice
Cass Clayton is a product of the Colorado music scene and combines rock, soul, blues, funk and R&B into a smooth and cohesive package. Each song tells a story and Clayton and company are up to the task. There are 11 new songs here and one cover.
Clayton hails from the Mountain State and her 2018 album was selected as the Colorado Blues Society Members Choice Album of the Year. It was reviewed in Blues Blast Magazine a year ago in 2018 by me and I liked it a lot. This album takes us on a more positive path and continues to showcase the songwriting and musicianship of Clayton and her band. Taylor Scott is a fine guitar player whose skills are evident in each track. Tom Amend and Jon Wirtz share the duties on organ and keys. Chris Harris is on bass except for one track with Loren Phillips (track 7). On drums, Brian Claxton and Larry Thompson share the duties except on tracks 5 and 6 where Steve Saviano plays.
The album opens with “Dawes County,” a biographical cut about Claytons’ home where her family farmed and she has graduated from to move on to bogger and better things. Nic Clark adds some cool harp to the cut as Clayton sings with a country flair and Scott lays out some nice licks. Up next is “Little Things;” its got a good groove to it and Clayton delivers a a performance with emotion. Darryl Gott on tenor sax and Gabe Mervine on trumpet are a sweet horn section backing Cass and the band. “Play Nice” is next, a restrained and subdued cut with the organ setting a mood as Clayton sings. Scott has a short but poignant solo here, too. “B Side” is a tune about a relationship where the A side is a lot of fun but the B side may have some issues that are lacking. A big, driving, mid tempo cut with heavy guitar and organ where Clayton asks her man to see his whole persona while telling him she, too, may have some secrets. Interesting stuff. “No Use In Crying” moves along with a driving beat and we get to hear the horn section again. Clayton sings stridently and the guitar and organ both showcase themselves well. “Tattered and Torn” is a darker ballad with some well done piano Amend added to his organ work. The song builds and Clayton delivers the goods with emotion.
“You’ll See” is a funky and driving cut with a great groove. Lots of heady organ work by Wirtz and Scott adds to the mix with his guitar. We get another ballad in “The Most Beautiful Girl” about a set of Siamese twins and other people from life’s freak show that Clayton sings are just people like us. Scott gives a thoughtful solo to add to the mood. We get “Doesn’t Make Sense Next,” another funky cut with an interesting guitar lead and paced vocals by Clayton. “Flowers At My Feet” has some more funkiness going on with a big guitar intro and lots of bass and organ for fun, too. Clayton builds here vocals throughout with some nice backing vocals. Organ and guitar solos are forthright and cool. “Slow Kiss” is a short, somber instrumental that comes out of “Play Nice;” Clayton sings about not dismissing a slow kiss in that song and we get that slow kiss in this cut. The album ends with “Strange Conversation,” a 1994 song by Ted Hawkins. It was s a cool cut originally and Clayton gives it her own angst filled cover; nicely done!
Much of the topics for the songs remain a little dark (as in her prior album) but Clayton is able to make those songs enjoyable and interesting for the listener. She delivers emotion and she and the band are together and tight. Scott had a hand in writing many of the songs with Clayton and on one Wirtz was involved. The songs are solid musically and lyrically and the arrangements are really spot on. This is a great effort that is more rock and funk than blues, but that does not diminish the fact that it is all really good music!
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
Cash Box Kings – Hail to the Kings!
CD: 13 Songs, 50:47 Minutes
Styles: Ensemble Blues, “Traditional Contemporary” Blues, Chicago Blues
What do a 300 in bowling, a no-hitter in baseball, and a hole-in-one in golf all have in common? They signify perfection. So does Hail to the Kings! from Chicago’s Cash Box Kings, and I don’t make such a comment lightly. They offer a lucky baker’s dozen: two tasty covers (“I’m the Man Down There,” “Sugar Daddy”) and eleven outstanding originals. Everything about this album is exceptional: instrumentation, lyrics, vocals, and overall vibe. This CD combines the best aspects of classic blues with contemporary themes, including political ones, on songs such as “Bluesman Next Door” and “Jon Burge Blues.” Perhaps its most notable aspect is that it’s the Kings’ sophomore album on Alligator Records. How many of us can say, in our own endeavors, that we’ve reached the top on our second try? Not many, yours truly would guess. Peruse the remarkable roster of musicians and guest stars below. That’ll seal the deal.
Described by Living Blues Magazine as “one of the best blues bands in the land,” the hard-charging Cash Box Kings carry forward the glorious Chicago blues tradition of the whole band’s interplay creating intense, raw music. It’s a constant conversation, sometimes led by tough, real-deal South Side vocalist Oscar Wilson, sometimes by harmonica ace Joe Nosek, and sometimes by master guitarist Billy Flynn, but with all the members of the ensemble chiming in. Bass and drum accents are provided by John W. Lauler and the famed Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith. It’s all in the spirit of the great 1950s and ‘60s bands of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
Joining the Kings are Queen Lee Kanehira on piano, electric piano, and organ, Little Frank Krakowski on rhythm guitar, Xavier Lynn on lead guitar, Derek Hendrickson on drums, Shemekia Copeland on duet vocals for track two, and Alex Hall on percussion.
Picking the best three songs is like picking the best chocolate from a sampler box. Here goes.
Track 02: “The Wine Talkin’” – There’s an old saying: “in vino veritas,” meaning “in wine, truth.” Nevertheless, wine can also make one blurt out things one doesn’t really mean. That’s the moral of the spicy second ditty on this CD. Oscar Wilson does a great job on vocals, but it’s Shemekia Copeland who sells it. She tells Wilson, her lover after several drinks, that she has “three little boys at home who never give me peace, and they look just like their daddy, who’s the Chief of Police.” Oops! Take heed of this rip-roaring reminder not to let alcohol blab.
Track 08: “Joe, You Ain’t From Chicago” – Plenty of songs have been written about the Windy City, but few center on those who “don’t know the Loop from Cabrini Green.” That’s Joe, who thinks he’s from Chicago but grew up in the suburbs. The spoken intro and outro are the best parts of this song, nicely put to a Bo Diddley beat by percussionist Alex Hall.
Track 11: “Jon Burge Blues” – Jon Burge, born 1947, was “one of the dirtiest cops that ever walked the streets of Chicago.” This decorated Vietnam veteran turned to the dark side once he came home, running a “torture chamber” for suspects of color – and getting away with it. Xavier Lynn’s lead guitar and Little Frank Krakowski’s rhythm guitar are incendiary.
Looking for perfection? Look no further than the Cash Box Kings’ latest. Hail to the Kings!
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 b,, y,r father’s blues music collection.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6
Big Daddy T – Judas Goat
Released August, 2018
Big Daddy T
8 Tracks, 39 minutes
Influenced by a wide range of blues styles – ranging from 20’s jazz and country blues from the 30s, electric Chicago-style blues, and the electric blues rock of the first wave of English interpreters of the blues – bassist and vocalist Tony “Big Daddy T” Wisler has distilled it all to create a unique style of house-rockin’ blues that goes well beyond the expected 12-bar format. The result is an engaging repertoire of songs that beg – and withstand the scrutiny of – repeated listening.
Based in Southern California, Wisler has put together a 5-piece band that consists of Wisler leading the band on upright and electric bass and vocals, and backed by guitar, harmonica, keys, and drums. This album highlights 8 tracks, 7 of which were penned by Wisler, along with a cool Tom Waits track for seasoning. Additional musicians rounding-out the album performances include Billy Burke, Hector Barrera, and K.C. Igler on guitar, Johnny Pie on harmonica, Crystal Chavez on piano and vocals, Joe Chellman on drums, Joe DiFiore on clarinet, Stan Harrison on organ, D.A. McCormick on resonator guitar and vocals, and Chris Mulkey on recitation. The album was produced by Wisler, McCormick, Burke, and Ali Helnwein, with John Piechowski as Executive Producer.
About the album title: A Judas goat is a trained goat used in general animal herding. The Judas goat is trained to associate with sheep or cattle, leading them to a specific destination. In stockyards, a Judas goat will lead sheep to slaughter, while its own life is spared. Kind of dark, but an apt metaphor for a collection of tunes that have their own darkness about them
The album has a low-fi, warts-and-all feel to it, a refreshing respite from the over-production that sometimes accompanies records produced in the digital era. The opening track, “Let it Burn,” starts-off with an almost dirge-like cadence, but picks-up the tempo about half-way through to become a mid-tempo rocker. With the feeling of a “live” performance, it’s as if you’re right in the room with the band, and they’re firing on all cylinders.
“Nothing Left to Do (But Cry)” chugs along as a roots rocker, propelled by a pulsing rhythm section and some gritty slide, and accentuated by Johnny Pie’s greasy, electrified harmonica fills.
“Yesterday’s Dreams” has a soul inflection that serves as a somewhat “up” note in a collection of songs that is generally gritty and introspective.”Jockey Full of Bourbon” is Wisler’s take on a Tom Waits song off of his 1985 Rain Dogs album. Skipping Waits’ upbeat rhumba rhythm for a much more somber approach, it does justice to Waits’ esoteric lyrical approach.
“God’s Not Dead” makes you feel as if you’re in a 1920’s speakeasy, especially with the addition of Joe DiFiore’s lyrical clarinet accompaniment, and some sweet resonator fills, all in support of the lyrical message that can be summed-up as “You’re never gonna win, but it never hurts to try.” “Good-Time Jake” is the album’s house-rocker, and features some tasty guitar from Billy Burke.
The piano intro to “Simon Pure Labrick Blues” sounds like it originated in a post-Civil War Montana saloon, before morphing into something that might have found its way into Freddie King’s repertoire. The lyrics, however, tell a tale about the challenges of writing the perfect blues tune.
The title track, “Judas Goat,” is a dark, brooding, reverb-drenched blues-rock slog, featuring some gritty guitar work and Pie’s atmospheric harmonica work winding in and out.
All in all, Judas Goat is a very listenable collection of rootsy blues originals that have a very distinct personality, albeit one that tends to the darker, grittier side. The individual performances are solid, and serve the songs well. The production captures the raw energy of each performance, and the entire CD hangs together very nicely. If you prefer your roots and blues on the raw side, Tony Wisler’s latest might be just the thing you’re looking for!
Reviewer Dave Orban is a technology marketer by day, musician/artist/educator by night. Since 1998, Orban has fronted The Mojo Gypsies, based in the greater Philadelphia area. http://www.mojogypsies.com
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6
Tony Campanella – Taking It To The Street
Gulf Coast Records – 2019
11 tracks; 49 minutes
Tony Campanella has been playing guitar in St Louis for years but this is his first national CD release. Having put raising a family before his music now is the time for Tony to step out from his home base and establish himself on a wider front, aided and abetted by an old St Louis friend, Mike Zito. When Mike and business partner Guy Hale set up Gulf Coast Records Tony was exactly the sort of act they were looking for – talented but not widely known.
Recorded at Mike’s Texas studio the disc features a blend of four of Tony’s originals, three from Mike and four covers. The band is Tony on vocals and lead guitar, Mike on rhythm and slide, Lewis Stephens on keys, Terry Dry on bass and Matt Johnson on drums – in other words Tony is fronting Mike’s regular touring band.
The album opens with Mike’s title track, a torrid piece of blues-rock with Tony and Mike playing in tandem, some echoey distortion on Tony’s vocal as he sings of his journey from a kid learning to play to the present as he prepares to ‘take it to the street’. We then get a run of three originals: “Pack It Up” is a bright shuffle with lyrics about a relationship going wrong; “One Foot In The Blues” is one of the strongest cuts on the album as Tony plays a slow blues beautifully over Lewis’ warm keyboards; there is some gentle funk to “You Don’t Know” as Tony soars in his solo.
The four covers then appear together, starting with a rocked up version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”, the rhythm section laying down a dirty groove which Tony is more than happy to follow with his core riff. “Finger On The Trigger” is a lesser-known Albert King tune which seems to be a relative of “The Hunter” and Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson’s theme tune “Mr Cleanhead” is handled respectfully with Lewis’ piano featured alongside some searing lead work and a commanding vocal from Tony. A second visit to the SBW songbook with a pacy “Checking On My Baby” concludes the covers.
We then get two more Zito songs, both co-writes with Guy Hale: Mike’s eerie slide and Tony’s swampy tones fit the brooding “Texas Chainsaw” very well as Tony takes those who doubted his talents to task; the bouncy rocker “My Motor’s Running” is a good contrast with more solid piano and bright guitar before the album concludes with Tony’s slow blues “Those Are The Times”. The tune recalls “Need Your Love So Bad” (Little Willie John) but is beautifully played by the whole band, delivering a very satisfying end to the album.
A mix of blues and blues-rock, Tony Campanella has delivered a debut which should appeal to a wide audience.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.
Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6
Steve Howell & Jason Weinheimer – History Rhymes
Out Of The Past Music – 2019
12 tracks; 50 minutes
East Texas-based, Steve Howell has been fascinated by finger-picking guitar since he heard Mississippi John Hurt back in the 60’s. This is his eighth album release and he has also produced a guide Fingerpicking Early Jazz Standards. Previous albums have been credited to Steve Howell & The Mighty Men but this one, without any drums or percussion is credited to Steve and Mighty Men bassist Jason Weinheimer who are assisted by Dan Sumner on guitar and David Dodson on mandolin and banjo.
As on the Mighty Men albums, Steve has gone for songs from writers and performers from the past (his record label is most appropriate), including Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bukka White and The Rev Gary Davis from the blues side and Billy Higgins, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer from the jazz side, plus a couple of traditional folk songs.
The music is laid back, particularly Steve’s vocals which are quiet and considered. The acoustic playing is consistently good and the music passes by like a warm evening. Steve’s notes on the history of the songs are informative and interesting, this reviewer picking up on the fact that heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson was refused passage on the Titanic because of his color, Leadbelly having to omit the verse about this fact when playing his song to a white audience. The liner notes also make reference to the fact that “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” (Billy Higgins and Benton Overstreet) was the first completely African-American recording – Ethel Waters singing, Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, songwriters and record label. The title of the album comes from a Mark Twain quote: “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”.
Highlights include these three contrasting songs:
Track 3 “Shuckin’ Sugar”. This version has delicate mandolin work in a gentle reading of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s song;
Track 4 “Jack Of Diamonds”. The stately reading of the traditional song reveals its British folk origins as well as its adaptation to various American songs about making alcohol.
Track 7 “Everybody Loves My Baby”. The 1920’s jazz origins of the song (recorded by Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller amongst others) come across very well, Steve giving us his most animated vocal here.
Fans of acoustic finger-picking and old-time songs will enjoy this disc which blends blues, jazz, country and folk influences.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.
Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6
Peter Poirier – Empty Arms
10 songs time-30:42
This is the debut release from Peter Poirier, a Boston area guitarist-vocalist whose music is a modern day throw back to what a traveling blues/R&B band would of sounded like. That’s not to say it sounds like a museum piece. Peter and his band mates cover morstly obscure songs from some of the blues greats. His vocals are smooth and his guitar playing is energetic and inventive. Plus he has enlisted a group of musicians with a formidable list of credits coming out of the wazoo. Bassist Brad Hallen and drummer Mark Teixeira are currently in Duke Robillard’s band. Piano man Matt McCabe has played in the bands of Duke Robillard, Anson Funderburgh, Roomful Of Blues and others. The extraordinary saxophone player is a one person sax section as he overdubbed sax parts. His resume on stage and in the studio runs the gamut from being a member of Roomful Of Blues to Albert Collins, Billy Boy Arnold, The Coasters to Red Skelton, Wayne Newton plus countless others.
Needless to say with a crew with these credentials it’s smooth sailing from beginning to end. The vibe here is R&B infused blues produced by the man himself and engineered by Jack Gauthier with totally enjoyable results.
B.B. King’s “Bad Luck” brings us old-timey blues and gives the first listen to Peter’s soothing vocalizing. What’s a blues record without a song about drinking? How about two? Jimmy Liggins’ “No More Alcohol” fits the bill featuring Matt McCabe’s piano styling’s accompanied by Ike Turner’s “I’m Tore Up”. A fitting treatment is given to the Sleepy John Estes-Hammie Nixon classic “Someday Baby”, the most familiar song here.
The other two B.B. King tunes “I Wonder Why” and “And Like That” get the typical classy and smooth Peter Poirier treatment. His guitar plays against Mark Earley’s driving saxophone section on both songs. “Empty Arms” the title tune carries on the easy rollin’ vibe much in the same manner as Wille Dixon’s “I Cry For You”.
The proceedings close out with another blues immortal in the person of Freddie King. “You Know That You Love Me” highlights Matt’s piano playing and needless to Peter captures Mr. King’s guitar style quite nicely. Freddie’s instrumental “Heads Up” could probably fool anyone to thinking it is actually the man himself.
As Duke Robillard attests in his liner notes-“Overall this is an impressive recording, from the feeling, the playing and the attention to detail in the sound quality, which was expertly captured by Jack Gauthier at Lakewest Recording”. This coming from an iconic present day first rate bluesman. What he said. Do your ears a favor and pick this up.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Blues Society News
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Santa Barbara Blues Society – Santa Barbara, CA
Texas-born singer and keyboard whiz Teresa James and her band The Rhythm Tramps are making their first appearance for the Santa Barbara Blues Society on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, at the Carrillo Recreation Center, 100 E. Carrillo St. in downtown Santa Barbara. Doors will open at 7:00 PM; Paull E. Rubin will provide a brief opening acoustic set from 7:15 to 7:45. There will be free BBQ snacks, an outdoor patio, and a large, spring-loaded dance floor!
For further information and advance tickets with expedited admission, log onto www.SBBlues.org. For questions, or discount tickets for groups of 5 or more, leave name and phone number at (805) 722-8155.
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 www.sacblues.com
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 www.msabgon.org 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.
Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL
The monthly shows at the Hope and Anchor in Loves Park continue $5 cover, 8 to 11:30 PM: 9/14/19 Blues Blast Awards Post Event, 10/12/18 The Jimmys
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. Sept 9 – Joe Tenuto Band, Sept 16 – Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin’ Alter Boys w/ Westside Andy, Sept 23 – Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones, Sept 30 – Rich McDonough & The Rhythm Renegades, Oct 7 Murray Kinsley & & Wicked Grin, Oct 14 Hector Anchondo, Oct 21 Mark Hummel, Oct 28 Brother Jefferson Band.
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. November 6 – Mike Morgan & The Crawl – Kankakee Valley Boat Club. More Info at: http://www.facebook.com/friendsoftheblues.
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