Cover photo © 2019 Nate Kieser
In This Issue
Don Wilcock has our feature interview with harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite. We have 4 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Big Jack Reynolds, Joe Zook & Blues Deluxe, Soul Explosion and Kai Strauss & the Electric Blues All Stars.
We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!
From The Editor’s Desk
Hey Blues Fans,
Don’t miss the 12th annual Blues Blast Music Award ceremonies this Friday, September 13th at Tebala Event Center in Rockford, IL. Announced performers include Teeny Tucker, Dave Keller, Dawn Tyler Watson, Russ Green, 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!
Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!
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Featured Interview – Charlie Musselwhite
“I didn’t know I was preparing myself for a career,” says Charlie Musselwhite about his youth in Memphis. “I would have paid a lot more attention. I just was having fun. That’s all.”
In a career spanning six decades, Charlie Musselwhite has won 33 Blues Music Awards, has had 13 Grammy nominations with one win and a has been inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame. The singer/songwriter, harp player and guitarist at age 75 has rubbed shoulders with giants of many genres.
His credits include work with everyone from Will Shade of the Mississippi Jug Band to Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, Gov’t Mule, Mickey Hart, George Thorogood, and INXS. Dan Akroyd’s character Elwood Blues in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers is based on Charlie, and he appeared in the film The Blues Brothers 2000.
He spent his youth in Memphis hanging out with Furry Lewis, Will Shade, and Gus Cannon. In Chicago while still a teenager he lived in the basement of Delmark Records Store and worked with Sonny Boy Williamson I, Little Walter, Shakey Horton, Carey Bell and Big John Wrencher.
As a San Francisco resident he played Bill Graham’s Fillmore West and led bands featuring guitarists Harvey Mandel, Freddie Roulette, Luther Tucker, Louis Myers, Robben Ford, Fenton Robinson, and Junior Watson. He’s recorded more than 40 albums for many labels including Alligator, Vanguard, Bind Pig, and his own label Henrietta named after his wife.
He’s toured with Cyndi Lauper, Hot Tuna, and Ben Harper. This year, “No Mercy In This Land,” the title cut of his second LP with Ben Harper and co-written with Ben Harper, was named Song of the Year at the 40th annual Blues Music Awards.
In numerous interviews from 1992 to the present, Charlie has said he was older than dirt, but in the blues world, he’s just entering his peak.What has he learned and what would he change if he could go back with what he knows now?
“Oh, that’s a long list. I wouldn’t change a thing (said in a sing-songy voice). I have never played it safe. Maybe I should have played it safe a little better, but I made a lot of mistakes and did a lot of things I’m not proud of. I’ve changed a lot of things. For one thing I would have quit drinking a whole lot sooner. Alcohol was a lotta fun for a while, but alcohol has a way of twisting your mind, and your thoughts and reality is not really reality. It has a way of twisting your outlook, and it’s not a good thing.”
He stopped drinking in the late 1980s. “I lost count (as to when I quit)” he told me in 1997, “but it’s going on 10 years in October. His wife Henrietta was there for him during the struggle.
“She was a big influence because she didn’t pressure me to stop drinking. It was really my drummer. I think when somebody does have a problem and you pressure ’em like, ‘If you don’t stop, I’m leaving.’ Iit just makes you wanna drink more. We just let each other be who they wanna be. We don’t try to impose on anything or the other person. She was always there for me, and let me know. ‘You’re screwing up,’ but wouldn’t create a pressure on it. Wouldn’t give me an ultimatum or anything. When I wanted help, she was real responsive to helping me.”
Twenty-two years later, he still has a strong marriage.
“Neither one of us wanted to change the other one. A lot of couples get together and for some reason they feel like they have to change the other one. ‘I don’t like that. Don’t do that. Do this! Just be yourself. I love you just the way you are. Don’t change anything. I may secretly wish something was different, but I would never say that. The good parts outweigh any negative so go with it.’ (laugh)
Charlie is an only child raised by a single mom who separated from his father when Charlie was four. He would visit his father in the hospital twice a year.
“My dad had been in the second world war. When I would try and ask him about it, he would get angry. And one time he said, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ Later, my sister found a lot of stuff he did that was pretty heroic. He was in the Navy. He and some guy would go ashore at night and kill the enemy. They would take out cannon installations that were threatening their ship. And I guess he had some kind of trauma from all of that, and had to go in the hospital. He always called it the loony bin.”
As a child Charlie listened to music on the radio, but he never thought about being a musician. His dad had played guitar and harmonica, and his mom and grandmother had played some piano.
“There were a lot of musicians in the family, but none of them were professional. As far as professionals, my uncle had a one-man band. I asked him, ‘Where did you go, or who did you play for?’ He said, ‘Well, I just followed the harpist when on his payday he’d be right there with his box out there playing for tips.’”
Charlie just kind of fell into music. It was all around him in Memphis, and he loved it.
“These were those guys around there. There was a guitar player named Earl Bell who played kinda like Robert Johnson, sorta. There was Gus Cannon, and the Cannon Jug Stompers and Cory Lewis who was a slide player and a whole bunch of guys, I don’t remember now.
“I met ’em all, but once you meet one of those guys, you meet all the rest of ’em, and they were really supportive of me, and they were players, and I knew who they were and knew their music. I would come to their house and hang out with them and drink with them. They were friends. They would play, and they were happy to show me anything they could.”
When Elvis recorded Big Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right Now Mama,” Charlie was 11 years old.
“The way Elvis dressed and the way he combed his hair and all that – most of the kids in Memphis went for the same kind of look, and we were looked down on as white trash, but when he became famous, he kind of validated all of us, you know? ‘Yeah, man, he’s cool. He’s one of us.’ Ha, ha, ha. We were cool all along. He just drifted to it. Jimmy Reed was real popular with just about everybody I knew. But I took it a lot further. I went around looking for old 78s. I got to know all that stuff, and apparently Elvis did some of that. He was hangin’ out and sittin’ in, too, I guess and he loved blues.”
When Charlie moved to Chicago, he was looking for work. The thought of making a living as a bluesman never entered his mind.
“I didn’t know anything about Chicago. I didn’t even know there was a blues scene there. I’d once been told that anyone who was an entertainer no matter what it was, he either lived in New York City or Hollywood. And I had all these posters that had Chicago on ’em, but I always just felt that’s where they make the records. I just went up there looking for a factory job because I heard there was a lot of ’em, and they were easy to get, and they paid way better than they did in the south, and it was all true. That’s where I went just like thousands of other people did.”
“The first job I got was a driver for an exterminator. I drove this truck all over Chicago. I learned the whole city, and then I was seeing posters and signs in the windows of bars, and I still remember driving past Pepper’s Lounge on 43td St., and the windows with Muddy Waters and I just thought, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this.’ This was so exciting. I can’t tell ya. So, at night I would go back to these places and hang out, and since I was from Memphis, I already knew how to drink, so I just fit right in. And I was only 19, but they let me in. I was big for my age. They just figured I was ok. They didn’t card me or nothing.”
In Charlie’s world, music wasn’t separated into blues, rock and other genres. Before he ever left Memphis, he would buy 78 rpm records of every imaginable genre.
“They were only a nickel or a dime usually. So, it as easy to buy these things. Nobody wanted them, and I did. It was interesting. There was like Flamenco music and modern jazz. There was music from around the world that had feeling in it like blues did just singing about the same thing: “My Baby left me.” (Chuckles) It’s just about life. The ups and down of life just like in blues. My baby left me seems to be a worldwide phenomenon. So, I discovered a lot of music I wouldn’t have ordinarily ever even heard by finding these old 78s I was curious about. I took ’em home and listened to ’em and went, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’”
When Charlie moved to Chicago at 19 he first lived on the white North Side.
“In some ways the south was less segregated than in the north. When I got up to Chicago, I had the idea that it was completely non-racial, that everybody lived amongst each other and there wasn’t any prejudice, but it was really not that way at all. You had the South Side that was mostly black, and you had the North Side that was white, generally speaking. There were black neighborhoods on the North Side, but it was really segregated, and there was a lot of prejudice.”
For a while Charlie lived a couple of blocks from Jr. Wells on the South Side. He found he fit in better with African Americans there than he did northern whites. “
That’s true. When I first got to Chicago, I didn’t know any North Side, South Side, West Side. The North Side is just where I ended up, but the white people on the North Side couldn’t hardly understand my accent, and I couldn’t hardly understand them.
“There was another kind of prejudice against southern whites. We were called Crackers, and we should go back where we came from. I mean, literally word for word. “Go back from where you came from.” I heard that often, and so when I (learned more) about the city, I just moved to the South Side where I just fit right in. Everybody understood me perfectly. The restaurants were down home, and blues clubs were all over the South Side, so that was the place for me.
“I remember one factory where I worked, and there was a union, and we had a union meeting. It was hot, and we had the door open, and when we came out there was some local white kids wondering what I was doing in there with those black people. I mean, I was saying, ‘What? Screw you!’ It was – I was really surprised at how racial it really was. I thought, ‘Well, the south wasn’t so bad after all compared with what’s going on here.’
“It wasn’t that much different in the south. There was a lot more lynching in the south. You might not go to the same schools. You might not live in the same house, but just down the street was black people you knew, and maybe knew all your life and played with down the creek and out in the woods and had grown up together. That didn’t happen in the north.”
For a while, Charlie lived with Big Joe Williams who had attitude.
“Big Joe Williams went to play this festival, and he drove up in the grass and drove over to where the stage was and parked there. That’s where he was gonna park, and somebody that worked there came over and said, ‘Joe, you can unload your stuff here, but then you’re gonna have to drive way over to the other side of the field where the parking lot is. You can’t leave your car here.’
“That didn’t sit well with Joe. This was where he was gonna stay. He’s got a long way to go, and he’s got a bad leg. ‘I’m not gonna park anywhere else, and this is fine. I’m not hurtin’ nuthin’.’ And the guy says, ‘Well, Joe, the big man from the festival is gonna be angry about anybody parking here,’ and joe says, ‘The big man, huh? Well, maybe the Big Man would like to come and do Big Joe’s show. I can see it now in the newspaper tomorrow. It’s gonna be headlines. The Big Man Does Big Joe’s show.’ And he just refused to move his car. When it came time to play, he played and got his money, and he was gone. That was it.”
Charlie was one of the musicians who played Big John’s, a North Side club credited with precipitating the white audience’s acceptance of blues in the mid-60s. It did not surprise him how quickly the sound caught on with the young University of Chicago audience at Big Johns’.
“No, this music is so great. Why wouldn’t anybody like it? So, once they’re properly exposed to it, they kinda like it. A lot of people never heard blues, but they felt blues was something like “Birth of The Blues” or “Rhapsody in Blue.” They thought that was blues, but when (they’re exposed) to the real deal, and partying to it, dancing to it, and drinking to it, you just couldn’t deny it.”
One of Charlie’s best friends was John Lee Hooker who was best man at his wedding when he married Henrietta. One of the biggest characters in blues, John Lee would often commit to projects without ever expecting to follow through.
“He didn’t like to say no in any way, and so somebody would want him on their album, and John Lee would say, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’ But then when it came time to do it, John kept putting hm off. ‘Yeah, I can’t do it today.’ One reason after another. He wouldn’t go into it.
“John kept putting (this one artist) off. He wouldn’t go into the studio. Finally, the guy said, ‘Ok, I’ll bring a tape recorder,’ and back then it was a big box with two reels on it. ‘I’ll bring it over to your house.’ And John couldn’t say no. So, the guy knocks on the door, and somebody answers and says, ‘Well, John’s down the hall in his bedroom watching TV.’ So, he carries it down the hall into the bedroom, and there’s John lying in bed with his shades on watching the ball game. This guy sets the machine up and puts the headphones on John Lee’s head and holds the microphone to his mouth, and he overdubs his parts of this track. He got his recording, but John never, never raised up, never got up.” John just stayed watching the game the whole time.”
It was through Hooker that Charlie first met three-time Grammy winner Ben Harper.
“Working with Charlie is like having a freakin’ blues superpower,” Harper told Rolling Stone in 2018.
Ben and Charlie first recorded Get Up! in 2013. It won a Grammy for Best Blues Album in 2014. In 2018 they recorded No Mercy in This Land with 10 songs that recount personal stories. The title track is about the murder of Charlie’s mother with the lyric “Father left us down here all alone/My poor mother lies under a stone/With an aching heart and trembling hands/Is there no mercy in this land?”
“When I first met Ben, he opened for John Lee Hooker in ’93, and John asked me to come and play with him that night. I wasn’t doing anything else. John Lee Hooker could call me up and say (mimicking his stutter) ‘C-c-c-come on and help this ole boy out.’ (Chuckle) So, I would always go. It was like getting a call from the White House. You just go.
“So, that’s where we met, and not long after that, John Lee Hooker did an album. I think it was called Friends where each track was with a different friend of his, and I backed up John on a track called “Burn in Hell.” That’s when Ben and I really locked in in the studio and (someone) said, ‘Man, your two sound so good together, you ought to record more together.’ We kept talking about that. We were both so busy we didn’t find the time it seemed like until finally we did, and Ben had the idea of doing a blues album. I had the time off, and we did it. It won a Grammy, so we made something of it, and we’d been on the road together for like three years and were ready to get into the studio again for No Mercy in This Land which was way different than going in the first time real cold, and we timed that really, really well, too.”
Due out in a few months is Charlie’s next CD called Mississippi Son.
“I’m playing guitar on all the tracks. I might have played overdubbed harmonica in the rack. I’m not sure. I can’t remember right now. I recorded in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and I overdubbed harmonica on many of the tunes I wrote, and on some of the tunes I have a drummer called Quicksand and some of ’em I have an acoustic bass player, too, and it was all recorded about three blocks from my home here.”
Charlie Musselwhite is loved and accepted in many different musical worlds. Call him a survivor.
“I never carried a gun. I had a pistol, but I couldn’t go anywhere without getting stopped by the police. I remember when I would just carry a hammer. When you’re walking down the street with a hammer in your hand, it’s really interesting how people get out of your way. People will just not mess with a guy that’s carrying a hammer.”
Visit Charlie’s website at www.charliemusselwhite.com.
Interviewer Don Wilcock has been writing about blues for nearly half a century. He wrote Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, the biography that helped Buddy Guy jumpstart his career in 1991. He’s interviewed more than 5000 Blues artists and edited several music magazines including King Biscuit Time.
Featured Blues Review – 1 of 4
Big Jack Reynolds – That’s A Good Way To Get To Heaven: The Music and Life of Big Jack Reynolds
20 tracks; CD and DVD 1:21:24
Big Jack Reynolds is a little-known blues man who hopefully gets noticed with this great CD and DVD package. A collection of 20 of his best songs and a DVD about his life and music make this a superb package to listen to, watch and appreciate. Born in 1931 in Detroit or Arkansas, he was brought up in Albany, Georgia. He moved to Detroit for work and then he first recorded in 1962 for the Mah’s Label in Detroit and then Hi-Q/Fortune in 1965. In the 1980’s he also recorded with Blue Suit, Highball, and Two Aces And A Jack. He passed away in Toledo, Ohio in 1993 as a blues-man few had heard of.
Reynolds was a deep and passionate blues man. His music was phenomenal yet mostly undiscovered. He played the hell of of his harp and was also a darn good guitar player. His life is filled with mystery; he had kids but never introduced them to others. He lived in Detroit and later in Toledo, but facts about his life are sketchy, mostly because he told a lot of tall tales. He made his Mark in Detroit, a hotbed for blues. Fashion was something Jack might not have completely understood but he always wanted to look good on stage. It might mean three different kinds of plaid but it was all his own style.
Reynolds was a guitar and harp player. He plays all the harp parts and sings on all the tracks. Larry Gold also plays guitar on 11 of the first 12 tracks. Johnny “HiFi” Newmark plays bass on most of those tracks, too, while Slim Galhagan is on drums for most and Chad Smith is on piano. Joel Hazzard (bass) and Chris Arduser (drums) are on the other two). The horn section The Cobra Twist Horns on track 12; they are Brad “The Razor” Sharp on trumpet, Randy “The Slider” Knisely on trombone, and Kevin “Nationwide” Maude on sax.
The first twelve tracks are with his 1980’s band. Cuts like “honey I Do,” “Scratch My Back,” “Shame, Shame, Shame,” “Rock Me Baby” and others are familiar but hearing Jack gives them an edge worth hearing. The horn section on the latter is quit good. The harp work is great throughout.
The last eight songs have some solo work included; “She Moves Me,” “Gonna Love Somebody,” and “She Must Be A Millionaire” are just Jack and his harp. These are quite cool and interesting. Old recordings like “I Had A Little Dog,” “You Won’t Treat Me Right,” “Going Down Slow,” and “Make It Up In Your Mind” hearken to days gone by and what could have been. This is music the world should have heard and embraced.
The DVD is rich on stories and info about Jack. It is not a rehash of the music on the CD, which is cool. We get to hear and see a lot about Reynolds from the film. He played and recorded with a bunch of local Detroit musicians like Bobo Jenkins and John Lee Hooker and competed with Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson) who thought he “owned” the blues harmonica business in Detroit. He used a “Kilroy Was Here” logo as his symbol/trademark for his show posters. His song “I Had A Little Dog” was used in the Jimi Hendrix biography movie.
Reynolds left Detroit after a divorce and costly settlement for the safe haven of Toledo where he continued to play and work. Locals Art and Roman Griswold and others and he played together and that is where he met up with Gold, Newmark and the others. They recorded Hot As You Get as Two Aces and a Jack with Reynolds and the Griswolds. The Dynatones went to Toledo a lot and loved Big Jack. Tommy Castro was in the band for awhile and he fell in love with Jack and his music. Ronnie Earl sat in with him at some festival and Jack tried to throw him off the stage for his regular guitar player. Earl asked him what was the matter; he could play blues in C, too.
Broke and Disgusted was released in 1990. Gold and others found funding for him to put this one together. This was his second album. Jack focused mostly on harp later in his life as the guitar began heavy for him. He loved Jimmy Reed and his style and also Sonny Boy Williamson; the harp really was his forte. He began with drums and added guitar and harp, but harp was his true calling. It was discovered late in his life he could play piano, too. He remained a demanding and sometimes hard to get along guy on stage because he wanted perfection. But he as also adored by his band-mates and friends.
Eddie Burns, Chicago Pete, Honeyboy Edwards, Eddie Shaw, Sir Mack Rice all hung out and played together with Reynolds later in his life. Reynolds plays on Rice’s 1992 version of “Cheaper To Keep Her.”
He had been a plasterer in his younger days, but relied on handouts and gigs in his older days. His illiteracy, drinking, chasing women, poverty, and inability to handle money all worked against him and prevented hi from making it in the music world. His kidney disease was an issue most of his life, but he did not care for himself as he should have. He passed away from kidney failure, heart failure and a punctured lung in 1993.
Locally, Jack was a musical legend. Hopefully this CD and DVD will help him to take his place as a force in the blues. I loved this CD/DVD set and enjoyed it thoroughly. I most highly recommend getting a hold of it to learn about this master blues man, his life and his music. You will not be disappointed.
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 4
Joe Zook & Blues Deluxe – Good Mornin’ Blues
10 songs time-44:37
I got dem ole’ Trenton, New Jersey blues again mama! I finally get to cover a blues a band from my home town. Joe Zook(Joe Zuccarello) & Blues Deluxe have been a mainstay of the East Coast blues scene for decades and with the strong musicality of this release it is no wonder. A few years back I got the chance to see them open the Saturday show of The Riverfront Blues Festival in Wilmington, Delaware. They are just as solid here as they were live. Joe leads the pack with his authentic blues guitar and husky vocals, as well as writing eight of the ten songs. Every musician here is top rate. The rhythm section of drummer Jeff Snelson and bass player Bill Holt create a full bottom. Bill’s bass is more upfront than usual for a blues band. Just under the surface his meandering bass lines add to the groove. Jeff provides a full sound on his drums. James Cheadle’s piano playing harkens back to some of the greats of the blues. John Sopko is certainly no slouch as he contributes jazzy Hammond B3 organ on three tracks. Tony Buford adds his harmonica to great affect on three tracks as well.
Did I mention the horn section? Great Googily-Moogily these guys are tighter than a bull’s…um…part that he sits on. Angelo DiBraccio on alto sax, Steve Kaplan on tenor and baritone saxes and Danny Tobias on trumpet are a powerhouse as they play in unison to drive the songs along. Their solos are well crafted works of art. Danny is a local gift to jazz trumpet. I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing is spot on playing numerous times at The 1867 Sanctuary concert series in Ewing Township. I’m not previously familiar with the two other guys, but all three are superb.
“Good Mornin’ Blues” is kicked off with a blazing guitar run to get this chugging number going. The lyrics are an amalgamation of standard blues lines(‘whiskey & wimmin’, ‘blues fall down like rain’) and more modern references(‘ET’ or acid rain). It all works just fine. Joe adds slide guitar over his regular part towards the end of the song and James Cheadle works his magic on the “eighty-eights”. Tony flavors it up with his harmonica skills. A walking bass line underpins the horn fired “I Love My Baby”.
For my money Joe delivers his tastiest guitar on “Wait And See” as he ponders what happens when he makes a full go round (deadsville). Great horns, piano and organ here as well. Jump blues guitar and the horn section in its’ finest moment as Bill Holt contributes his powerful vocal on this strong rendition of Louis Jordan’s classic “Caldonia”. The members of the horn section along with guitar, harmonica and organ all take solos. The slow paced “Where Did It Go” is about fleeting nature of time. Nice trumpet solo on this one.
Band members chime in on vocals behind Joe on “It Ain’t What You Do”, a lesson in humanity featuring some nifty slide work. The tenuous world situation is the subject of “On My Mind” as North Korea, Russia, Mexico and the old U.S.A. are pondered. Big Franky adds his mandolin and Joe provides electric guitar and acoustic slide. Bill Holt returns for his second vocal spot on the Don Nix composition “Same Old Blues”, a song done by Freddie King and Gatemouth Brown among others. A funky Doobie Brothers like guitar intro starts off the equally funky “I Got Nothin’ To Say” that features the inimitable James Cheadle on jazzy electric piano to end the proceedings.
From the clean production by Ernie White and Joe Zook to the fine musicianship and vocalists it’s all here ladies and gentlemen. Home town boys that keep on keepin’ on. Slap some Trenton pork roll on the grill and give this puppy a spin!
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 4
Various Artists – Soul Explosion
LP #1 – 14 Tracks/37:41
LP #2 – 14 Tracks/39:39
This two album collection comes with very little information other than small photos of the artists on the inside of the gate-fold cover, along with a complete tracklist. What listeners need to know is that 1969 was a pivotal year for the Stax label. The previous year they had severed ties with Atlantic Records, and because of a onerous contractual obligation, the label no longer had it’s biggest stars, including Otis Redding. So co-owner Al Bell set out to rebuild the label, signing new artists while embarking on an ambitious schedule of releases designed to flood the market, issuing over twenty-five albums in just a few months, a true “Soul Explosion”.
Available for the first time in fifty years on vinyl, and also now digitally, the first album of the set features several of the label’s new hit-makers, starting off with Johnnie Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love”. Booker T and the MG’s, the musical foundation for countless Stax recording sessions, are featured on their version of the theme from “Hang ‘Em High, “ a Clint Eastwood western and the cool instrumental, “Soul Limbo”. Eddie Floyd impresses on his two tracks, with “I Never Found Me A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)” being a stone soul classic. The Bar-Kays had been around for three years, working sessions and getting tutored by Booker T and his bandmates, Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck’ Dunn, and Al Jackson. Their instrumental “Copy Kat” shows that they were becoming quite adept at their craft, before the group was virtually wiped out in the plane crash that also killed Redding.
Another highlight comes from Jimmy Hughes, using his sweet and tender voice to make “I Like Everything About You” a track that you will keep returning to for another listen. Carla Thomas does her best on “Where Do I Go,” a song from the Hair musical, then Albert King gets things back on track with his trademark stinging guitar licks on”Cold Feet”. One unusual track, “Smell Of Incense,” comes courtesy of Southwest F.O.B., a band from Texas that was part of the label’s unsuccessful venture into the rock arena. The smooth vocal harmonies of the Mad Lads, a group formed in Memphis, are featured on “So Nice”. William Bell and Judy Clay turn in a righteous duet on “Private Number” before Mavis, Pops and the rest of the Staples clan take us to church on “Long Walk To D.C.”. Listeners unfamiliar with Ollie Hoskin’s gritty vocals are sure to be impressed with his performance on Ollie & the Nightingales hit, “I’ve Got A Sure Thing”.
The second disc has additional tracks by the same artists, some of which were exclusive to the collection. Taylor gets sentimental on “Save Your Love For Me” while Hughes rock the blues on “Peeped Around Yonder’s Bend,” another standout cut. Carla Thomas delivers a robust performance on “Book Of Love”. After hearing the vocal magic of the Mad Lads on “These Old Memories,” the rendition of the classic “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by Southwest F.O.B. sounds dated, with a brief sax solo the lone shining moment.
The flip side has the rare “Hot Hips,” a rousing cut from the Bar-Kays with the horns blasting away over an insistent guitar vamp. “Heartache Mountain” is another rarity from Ollie and the Nightingales, centered on Ollie’s pleading cries. Taylor returns on “Twenty Years From Today,” serving up another reminder of his superior talent as a singer. Listeners will be puzzled to understand why Floyd’s “It’s Wrong To Be Loving You” was exclusive to this release. Clay gets a track to herself, putting her husky voice to good use on “It’s Me,” while Booker T. switches from organ to piano for an understated turn on “Booker’s Theme”. Albert King finishes things off with “Left Hand Woman,” making it clear that his mistreating woman needs to do right by him, the arrangement owing a debt to Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”
To further celebrate the Stax legacy, Craft Recordings released thirty titles in digital format for the first time in June of this year as part of the Black Music Month. The goal is to create another “Soul Explosion,” inspired by the events of 1969 that transformed Stax Records into a label that will continue to be revered through the ages. The Soul Explosion release is a teaser, a beginning primer meant to entice listeners to dig deeper. The quality sound and outstanding performances throughout are sure to do just that.
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!
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 4
Kai Strauss & the Electric Blues All Stars – Live In Concert
CD: 14 songs, 65:54 minutes
Live in Concert. is the new release from Kia Strauss and The Electric Blues All Stars.
German artist Kai Strauss might be new to you but he has been performing for 25 years. He is a talented guitarist, vocalist and band leader. Although he and the band have toured the U.S. , most of their time is spent in Europe with home being Germany. They have earned four Blues awards, given by Bluesnews, in the past three years.
Strauss has turned out five albums in the past five years. English guitar great Otis Grand wrote the liner notes for Live in Concert. He said, “You can’t actually label him as just another European or separate him out from American artists; he’s too good for that”. “The repertoire on this CD sounds as if it came from Theresa’s Lounge in Chicago 1967” he added.
Two more thoughts about Strauss’ playing; Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records said in 2018 “Excellent playing with a lot of maturity and emotions. Blues Matters! Issue 108 that year said that “Strauss is high energy electric blues as it should be, from the heart and with punches of feeling and emotion; it’s hard to believe that he is not a blues player from Chicago or Memphis”.
The Electric Blues All Stars is a solid group of musician the blend together well. It is obvious from this live recording that they pick up each other very well and know how to read each other and keep a show flowing.
On drums is Alex Lex from Osnabrueck, Germany. He was the winner of the Living Blues drummer award in 2014. He has worked with Bob Margolin, Louisiana Red and Billy Boy Arnold.
Kevin Duvernay from Seattle, Washington is the bass player. He has played with Johnny Copeland Big Jay McNeely and Tommie Harris and Friends.
On saxophone and harmonica is Thomas Feldmann of Steinfurt, Germany. He has worked in Igor Prado’s band and Memo Gonzalez and the Bluescasters (Early in his career Strauss played with Gonzalez and band for several years).
Here are my thoughts on disc 1’s tracks. As stated in the liner notes by Mr. Grand, the album has a feel of 1967 Chicago. With most all of the songs you think of an artist from those years of the first resurgence of the Blues. “Gotta Let You Go” is a smooth groove to get a live set started. The song builds in tempo and quickly Strauss’s guitar and Feldmann’s harmonica show their prowess between verses three and four. “Highway Blues” is a slow blues with good fill between the stanzas. “Ain’t Gonna Rumble No More” reminded me of Albert Collins with an up tempo.
“Judgement Day” is a classic 12-bar progression with sizzling lead play by Strauss. “Did You Wrong” is the first song that the horns sounded out and added to the band’s impact. “Hard Life” is another classic slow blues style offering. Good guitar solo work that fits into the feel of the song. “Get the Ball Rolling” closes the first disc channeling Stevie Ray Vaughn and Johnny Winter in what I felt was the best song on this disc. Good horns and a piano solo from the “Honky Tonk” days.
“The Blues is Handmade” kicks off the second disc with the best grasp on that “67 sound” they were trying to invoke plus solid vocal work. The organ solo brings Booker T Jones to mind. Next is “This Game Ain’t Worth Playing No More” a slow ballad style number still that is true blues. Next is “Let Me Love You Baby”, an up tempo number with a good rhyme scheme in the lyrics. Tasteful guitar fills come between the rhythm lines and once again solid lead guitar.
“Put That Bottle Down” is what the title sounds like, slow blues and sad lyrics that makes you think about Robert Cray. The words and guitar give that call and response feelng. ”Got To Be Some Changes Made” has the resonance of a Gibson 335 or 355 guitar like the late B. B. King played. “I Ain’t Buying It” is a 12-bar toe-tapper that has good turn around between verse and chorus. The disc closes with “Shades of Earl” (A tribute to Ronnie Earl and Earl Hooker), with a good grasp on the feel they sought in this recording in a slow blues tune.
In all a well-constructed live show that brought out their best. If this is your first time to listen to Kia Strauss and the Blues All Stars I hope you are as pleasantly surprised as I was.
Reviewer Bob Swofford is a retired educator and now is a man of leisure. He has been part of Delta State University’s International Blues Scholars program and a presenter at their annual conference. A product of the sixties he found the blues from the bands of the British invasion. The rest is study and history.
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.
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 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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