Cover photo © 2019 Michael Murphy
In This Issue
Mike Stephenson has our feature interview with Chicago drummer Merle Perkins. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from The B. Christopher Band, Keb’ Mo’, Damian Knapp, Brett Spaulding & The Psychic Spies, Lauren Anderson and Blue Moon Marquee.
We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!
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Featured Interview – Merle Perkins
Interviewtook place in the artist’s north side apartment in Chicago June 2019. Many thanks go to Jim Feeney for all of his help.
My name is Merle Perkins and I was born in 1945 in Kansas City, Kansas and my mother was a singer like Sarah Vaughan, and so maybe I got some of that musical background from her. She used to make her own clothes and she sang in a band, and when I was small and a band came by I was stomping my feet when the drums came by, but she never knew that I liked drums when I was little. We were living in St. Louis, Missouri in 1956 as my mother met a boyfriend and he got a job in St. Louis, so we moved there. When I was there, there was a school yard called Vashon High School and I used to see this drum corps marching by my house and they would go over there and practice. So this one drum corps that I was in, in 1963, was at first called Pleasant Green, which is a church drum corps which is a smaller drum corps, and when I saw The Spirit Of Louis, which is a senior corps, they were a big corps and I thought that I wanted to play with those cats. So what happened, I had a process hair do and I went to their practice and they told me that I had to cut my hair off. Drum corps back then were like the military, so I cut it all off and I came back and the guy thought I was serious about being in his drum corps, so that’s where my drumming came from. If I hadn’t been in the drum corps, I probably would never have been a drummer today.
I played with The Spirit Of St. Louis for one year and we did competitions with our all black American drum corps and I thought we were the only African American drum corps, because back in the sixties there were all white drum corps everywhere and they had been around for decades. They originally came from Europe and the first drum corps they had in America was in the 1800s in Connecticut. The USA made it bigger and now they are all over the world. I did a history and studied the drum corps, as I wanted to know the background of drum corps. I found out we were not the only African American drum corp; there was another one out of Newark, New Jersey called The Washington Carver Gay Blades but they folded up. Most, if not all, of the guys in The Sprit Of St Louis have died, I’m the only one alive.
I moved to Chicago in 1964 and I wasn’t even playing drums. What happened was, a friend of mine influenced me to come here and I moved here and got a job and my mother was running a cleaners in St. Louis. I have no sisters or brothers, I was with my mother most of my life she was both mother and father. I never knew my dad, they broke up when I was three months old. My father was a Native American, a full blooded Cherokee Indian. I did try to get information on him in 1979 via my uncle, so I drove to St. Louis and went to my uncle’s house but they didn’t know anything about me and they didn’t help. I went and got my mother and brought her here to Chicago and one day a friend of mine named Joe Cato, he was a singer and I used to follow him around and there was a place on 47th and State Street called The Owls Lounge. I used to go behind the stage and watch him sing and I would take my drum sticks and beat on a chair so he told me I had good hands and I took his advice and I went to 43rd Street where they had a pawn shop and bought this little cheap drum set, paid $124. I was working for Hertz Rent a car and I had a jar full of coins and I got that set.
When I came out of the store I met this drummer named Leonard Mayfield who was coming out and this is how it all got started. He was playing a gig and I went to the gig to see him and he was playing in a jazz group and he just blew me away, he played like a big band drummer. So I followed him around and then I met some of the blues musicians by going to the different clubs. When the Checkerboard was on 43rd, Pepper’s Lounge was right on the corner, so I went in and sat in on the drums and they were playing the blues but I was playing the wrong beat and I was just learning how to play blues so I was taken off the stand and that embarrassed me. What they didn’t know is that I could read music and one day I was watching TV and Billy Cobham was on and he is my idol and I had never seen a black drummer with so many drums and he was like a machine.
It came to my thought that I would fix the folks who had been negative towards my drumming and in 1970 I had a drum set and I went and bought more drums and I went to French drum school to learn how to read the whole set of drums. Then I went in the wood shed and started practicing on the double bass drum, as nobody was doing that, so I was the first drummer in the Chicago blues to play double bass drum. When I came out of the woodshed, people started watching me. This was 1969 and 1970 and the first guy I played with was Joe Ferguson and the first out of town gig we had was at Grand Rapids, Michigan and after we finished the set someone broke into the van and stole everything and we were there for four days wearing the same clothes. So that was my first experience of being on the road.
I then met Johnny Dollar and he was a great singer and guitar player and he used to play at Checkmate on 55th street. I would go in his backyard and take my drum set and he would help me in playing music, and then another who helped me was Buddy Scott. I went to his house one time and he had a little reel to reel tape and he is the one that showed me how to play a shuffle. He died of cancer and the Scott brothers have a copy of that and I’ve been asking them for a copy of it. So I started playing those shuffles and I started playing and hanging out at the Checkerboard and in 1971 I had my first professional gig with Freddie King and we went out on the road to places like Ohio and Pittsburgh and that was an honor for me as Freddie King was way ahead of his time and we were opening the show for Leon Russell on all of those gigs. I was standing in for Freddie’s drummer as his drummer was sick. After that I was at the Checkerboard sitting in on the drums and Buddy Guy was there and he asked me if I would work with him, and that’s when he and Junior Wells was playing together, so I played with them for about a year but I fell out with Junior and that’s when I quit. In 1979 there was a guy called Reggie Soul and we went to Amarillo, Texas and his band was called Grand Express and Zora Young was singing with us and I’ve got a picture of them. We worked in the Kansas area for a while as well and then I came back to Chicago in 1980 and I heard that Albert King was looking for a drummer. Now when I was fifteen years old I lived in St. Louis and I used to shoot pool with Albert and he played at a club across the street, so when I heard he was looking for a drummer I went to the rehearsals and he remembered me and so I started playing drums for Albert, but I had also been offered a gig with Lonnie Brooks too. I had always wanted to play with Albert King because his playing was phenomenal, so I played with Albert and we played Tipitinas and I recorded the show, so I have his shows on my CDs live and then we played in Memphis. He paid $300 a week and he took out income tax and I had to share a room with another guy and you had to pay for your own room with that $300 and so I told the bass player who was the leader of the band that they needed to get another drummer, as I couldn’t stay out there for that money, so I took my stuff and left when we were in Memphis. Now Dion Payton was playing second guitar, so when I quit my late mother took me back to Chicago and that’s when I called Lonnie Brooks and I got the gig with him. I recorded an album with him on Alligator, called Turn On The Night. I played with Lonnie for two years. When we used to rehearse, Wayne Baker Brooks and Ronnie Baker Brooks they were little boys and they used to watch us rehearse and I never thought that those young cats would turn out to be the bad guitar players that they are today and they are very respectful young men, so Lonnie did a very good job in raising them.
After I left Lonnie, that’s when I worked with James Cotton and, when I was with James, Michael Coleman was the leader of the band and it was Michael who got me in the band. James Cotton played like boogie blues and real fast. He had Kennard Johnson with him for fourteen years and he was a shuffle drummer like a 45 sped up to a 78, and it took me a while to play a fast shuffle like that. I was trying all different types of drum sticks and then I would try and cheat a little bit on the shuffles, but Michael told me I had to keep that shuffle going. We played the Montreux Jazz festival, I have recordings of that. I played with James for about a year and after that I went with Magic Slim And The Teardrops and we did that Coors Beer commercial which we did at B.L.U.E.S. club.
This was in 1985 and that is on my Facebook page. Nate Applewhite played with Slim and he never played a shuffle, he played the same beat and he was with Slim for something like eleven years. So they never had a drummer that played shuffle so I told Slim I was leaving, he was sad about that. I was with Magic Slim for about a year and then I went with Big Twist And The Mellow Fellows. I auditioned for them and they picked me and I gave Slim two weeks notice. The Mellow Fellows were a very popular horn group and we traveled everywhere. Pete Special was the leader of the band and Sid Wingfield was the tall keyboard player. No matter if you played a festival or a club all they would pay me was $60. I never recorded with Big Twist but I have live videos that are on my Facebook and just about everyone I have played with I have recorded, because I wanted to hear what I sounded like.
I also played with Lefty Dizz and we did a show in Europe called Chicago Blues Giants and there was Melvin Taylor, Harlan Terson, Ken Saydak, Lefty Dizz and Lonnie Brooks and we toured all over. I did an album in Paris, France with Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson that had Eddie Shaw, Ken Saydak and Harlan Terson, and that’s a good sounding album which came out on Isabel Records and now it’s on Evidence. Also I recorded an album in 1980 with Buddy Guy which is called Breaking Out on JSP Records and it had the late Nick Charles on bass, the late Phil Guy on guitar and Doug McDonald.
Another guy I played with was Buster Benton and I recorded with him, that came out on Ron Records and we did that at Paul Serrano studios in the seventies. It has Jimmy Johnson and Lafayette Leake on it and Cornelius Boyson, who we called Mule, was on there; he was the bass player but they didn’t put his name on there and he was a bad bass player but he drank a lot. When we were playing with Lonnie Brooks he fell asleep on the stage. I have a 45 here and I am on one side of it and it’s called ‘Mojo’ and the drummer Dino Alvarez is on the other side. We did that down in a studio in a basement and I think we did this somewhere in the 70’s.
After Big Twist And The Mellow Fellows I started playing with Michael Coleman And The Backbreakers for a while and then I played with Son Seals in 1989. He got shot by his woman and Son used to wait until you had played all the gigs and he would pay you when you got back to Chicago. I got a chance to go to Turkey with him and when there I phoned my mother, and that call cost me $500 and I didn’t have no money and I asked him for all my money he owed me and eventually he overpaid me. After Son Seals I also had my own band from 1990 to 1997 called Merle Perkins And The Perkolators and I had Pistol Pete in the band and Herman Applewhite on bass and we used to travel in a big motor home as I wanted my band to travel in comfort.
I then played with Eddy Clearwater and I played with him for eleven years from 1999 to 2010 on a regular basis. We played on Channel 7 news and Channel 32 and Channel 9. I never recorded with him although he did three CDs when I was in his band but he would get a band that was already established like the Duke Robillard band and then he used Los Straightjackets and they used to wear those masks on their faces. After that, Ronnie Baker Brooks produced it called West Side Strut which Bruce Iglauer picked up and put it out on his Alligator Records. I did a DVD with Eddy which we did in Poland. I hadn’t seen Eddy for some time so I decided to go see him at his birthday party at Space, but I didn’t realize he was failing. He couldn’t walk that good and they had to help him on stage so when he came back off the stage I talked to him and the next thing I knew he had passed away and I went to his funeral which was a Jewish funeral.
I have my own CDs, one of which is Merle Perkins The Perkolator and another is Through The Years which is a CD that features me playing with some of the artists I have mentioned and others, and then there is The Brazilian Blues Bash album which was recorded at the Delmark studios by these Brazilian musicians that features me on drums. There are some more CDs coming out and one will be Chicago Blues Hall Of Fame The Legendary Merle Perkins Live Drums and everything is live but everybody on that CD has died.
After I let my band go in 1997 I went to Eddy and after Eddy I started freelancing and I would go with anyone that paid me for the gig. The Brazilian Blues Bash in 2013, they flew me to Brazil as a special guest artist, so I was a star over there and every place we played they gave me a drum solo. They videotaped some of the shows. There is a girl named Maria from Argentina and she is a great guitar player and singer and she is going to try and get me into Argentina some time in the future.
Some of the artists I have recorded with are Eddy Clearwater, Eddie Shaw and Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson on their Movin’ And Groovin’ Man album which we recorded in Paris and which is on Isabel. Michael Coleman on Delmark Records Do Your Thing and Shake Your Booty on Wolf Records. I was on the Blue Chicago label that had different artists on it Clark Street Ramblers. Rich Kirk, he played with John Lee Hooker until he died, and me and him used to play together years ago and we recorded two songs in the studio with Paul Serrano the producer. Rich took the masters to California and put Charlie Musselwhite ‘Showers Of Rain’ and Billy Boy Arnold ‘I Wish You Would’ on there, so both of them songs I am playing on. It’s called Rich Kirk Augusta Boulevard Blues. I recorded with Barrelhouse Chuck and he took that off of Willie Kent And The Gents and it’s called ‘Mama Told Me’ on his 25 Years Of Chicago Blues album.
I’m on two other CDs recorded at a club in Bloomington, Indiana with Michael Coleman. I have two albums, one with Abbe Locke, the sax player, and the other was with Willie Kent on his Mama Told Me, which was on Big Boy Records which we recorded on Michigan Avenue and I’m playing on the whole album, but they didn’t put my name on it. They listed Barrelhouse Chuck, Johnny B. Moore, Willie Davis, who died in the penitentiary. Also I did some stuff with Richie Rich And The Funky White Boys and we did that at a Chicago studio. Tomiko Dixon has been trying to help me gain royalties from some of the records I have been on and we saw Jay B. Ross the lawyer and I signed some papers and they put my song ‘Funky Blues’ on BMI.
Over the years I have won some awards and been inducted into the hall of fame. The first one I got was Master Blues Artist and that was from Michael Packer out of New York. In 2018 I was awarded by Odie Payne Jr. the ‘Official Legendary Time Keeper Drum Major Of Excellence Chicago Blues And Jazz Drummer’ and in 2018 I was awarded ‘Outstanding Band Leader And Role Model’. People like Jimmy Tillman have said that he has been listening to me and I am one of his role models.
When I was younger I had TB of the spine and I could have been paralyzed from the waist down if they hadn’t caught the TB in my spine, and when I was seventeen I had heart disease that caused my heart to swell and I almost died, then I had high blood pressure and diabetes and then anxiety and depression now. I almost quit playing music in 2009 after my mother died and actually I didn’t want to live any more as we were so close, and she raised me by herself and I think made a pretty good job of it. She barely made eighty one and she had multiple myeloma so everything I do I dedicate to her. I still shed a tear now and then for her.
In the future I would love to do more drum clinics and drum workshops and help mentor young drummers. I would also like to have my picture on the front of a magazine. I have an active Facebook page where people can see what I’m doing and read about me.
Interviewer Mike Stephenson is a UK based blues journalist and photographer who has been a blues fan all his life. He has written articles on and interviewed blues artists and reviewed blues events in Europe and the US primarily for Blues & Rhythm but also for other blues publications. This interview took place in the artist’s north side apartment in Chicago June 2019. Many thanks go to Jim Feeney for all of his help.
Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6
The B. Christopher Band – Two Rivers
Guitar One Records
B. Christopher is a studio musician who has done thousands upon thousands of TV spots with his blues music. This CD takes him to studios on both coasts with a powerhouse set of musicians to produce an album that showcases his guitar and songwriting along with their individual skills. Christopher is on lead guitar except for two tracks where Michael Powers takes the lead and also sings. E.J. “Moose” Boles fronts the band when there are vocals except for the two tracks with Powers and track 10. Eric Collier is on bass (Stu Hamm fills in on track 7) and Anton Fig is on drums (Shawn Pelton appears on tracks 9 through 11) as the back line. The keyboards are deftly handled by Bruce Katz and Andy Snitzer is on tenor sax with help on trumpet in one cut. Jerry Portnoy appears on harp on the CD, too, a veteran of many a great tour and album.
The album opens with a nice little instrumental entitled “Newbie’s Funk.” Christopher’s guitar takes us for a melodic ride with a stinging tone; the song has an very cool vibe overall. “Tried To Keep You Satisfied” opens up almost immediately with a raucous set of vocals by Boles in a jumping tune. The guitar takes the lead but piano and harp also play a big part in this one. Tenor sax enters the picture in “Sad State of Affairs,” a soulful tome about living in poverty in a one room efficiency where Boles again sings with passion. The guitar and Snitzer’s sax both offer up solos for us to enjoy. “Bit O’Butter” is a solemn and tasteful guitar instrumental that showcases Christopher’s talents with Katz and the back-line in support. Next up is “She’s Gone” where Christopher breaks out the resonator and slips and slides for us in another cool instrumental, this one solo; well done!
“It’s All Right” brings Boles back to the microphone. Katz and Snitzer get to solo in addition to Christopher in this swinging and jumping cut. “I’m Drunk” adds Kent Smith on trumpet with Snitzer arranging the horn section. Christopher solos first and then the horns punctuate the end of the solo and offer strong support throughout. Stu Hamm and the horns get to take us home. Powers fronts the band and Portnoy accompanies on harp on the big and driving rocker “Nina Come On.” The band swings and Powers and Christopher on guitar help the frenetic pace move along. Powers stings like a bee on his solo and then reprises as he takes the tune home. “Perfect Curves” features Katz in support of Christopher and the back-line on this mi-tempo guitar-heavy instrumental where Christopher shines again. Eddie Testa is featured on lead vocals on “Bye Bye,” a mid tempo blues rocker with Testa howling out the lead and Christopher replying on the guitar. “Strike Two” is the same quartet with nice solo work by both Christopher and Katz as they make the instrumental work seem so smooth, effortless and cool. “Twenty Eight Days” is next, with Powers returning to the vocals. Here he does some pretty acoustic guitar work as Christopher, Katz and Portnoy support him. A slow, acoustic blues that are soulful and rich in sound. Power’s solo is immediately followed by Portnoy who continues the “front porch” feel of the cut and gives us a bit more after Powers sings for us. Christopher give us a little taste of slide and he and Portnoy close things out. Last but not least is “It Just Hurts, a final instrumental with Christopher supported by Portnoy. A driving and forthright tempo and strident guitar play make this another winner.
This is a fine album of fantastic guitar work and showmanship. I enjoyed it all from start to finish. I was not familiar with B. Christopher prior to this and I must say he is quite the talent. His 17 years of studio work since breaking into television with “All My Children” may not have made him a household name, but he is an outstanding guitar player, songwriter and band leader. He’s got a trio of prior CDs out there, too, a mix of blues, jazz and contemporary rock. This one is all blues and it’s all good stuff.
This composer is the real deal and I think blues fans will really enjoy this album of his work- highly recommended!
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
Keb’ Mo’ – Oklahoma
10 songs, 41 minutes
Keb’ Mo’ holds a special place in some of our imaginations. The fantasy: What would have happened if Robert Johnson hadn’t died from poisoning in 1938 but actually time traveled to the mid-1990’s and was endowed with the ability to balance deep Delta Blues with modern pop-wise sensibility? It seems pretty clear this was Kevin Moore’s intent when he took his “Guitar Man” character out of the local LA theater scene and into the national Blues scene as Keb’ Mo’. Over the course of his prolific and consistently excellent, and multiple Grammy winning, recording career, Mo’ has honed his unique Delta lens into a deeply personal style. Light years from being a novel apparition of what could have been, Keb’ Mo’ is a master Bluesman who has truly pushed the form forward. Mo’s newest record Oklahoma feels like a culmination and a harbinger of things to come. Fully realized statements of love, loss, and personal growth are balanced with progressive commentary on the state of our country, the derisive nature of current xenophobic anti-immigration and the under-representation of racialized people in popular history. This is some deep stuff packaged in an unrelentingly catchy package.
Co-produced by Canada’s Blues professor emeritus Colin Linden and Mo’, Oklahoma is full of great songs and great performances in which guest artists augment instead of distract. Taj Mahal in full chameleon form, is unrecognizable singing backgrounds like a deep swamp Cajun and playing pumping bass on the clever ecological call to action “Don’t Throw It Away.” Robert Randolph’s clean less over-the-top than usual slide deepens the Latin funk of the title track, “Oklahoma.” This song, co-written by OK native Dara Tucker, highlights the history and struggles, light and funkiness of the Sooner State and the music digs up Mo’s past as a session funk guitarist in the 70’s and 80’s. “This is My Home” is the lovely story of two immigrants who meet in the US and make a life. The light heartbeat pump of the percussion and delicate finger picking of this moving performance is augmented by Jaci Velasquez’s background vocals. The final verse is a dramatic vulnerable moment in which Mo’ sings about his at times conflicted identities as an African American and an American. Rosanne Cash adds cred to the pounding up-temp “Put A Woman In Charge.” Although the lyrical rhyming is too obvious the message is meaningful and poignant. And, the simplicity of the repeated chorus is deceptively intricate due to the layers of harmony and staggered refrains creating a round. Album closer is a duet between Mo’ and his wife Robbie Brooks Moore, “Beautiful Music.” Again the lyricism is very obvious and overly sentimental, but the beauty and emotion of the choruses are able to just fight back the possible diabetic shock.
Keb’ Mo’ has always been highly effective at doing solo performance and often includes these on his records. Not only does he do the low down Delta thing, he takes a highly original approach to more tender, Folk oriented pieces. Right from the beginning on his self titled 1994 debut he recorded a gripping solo version of “Anybody Seen My Girl” that absolutely slays. On Oklahoma, Mo’ devastates with his original “The Way I.” A song of heartbreaking unrequited love that is pitch perfect. Keb’ has also always been highly effective at writing clever tongue in cheek romps. “I Should’ve” is one of those. This flopping Blues, lays out all the romantic should’ves and could’ves. How about that “cop with the long gun” that his lady should’ve stayed with or the waitress that was “lots of fun;” the double entendres and straight up come-ons abound.
It has been 25 years since Keb’ Mo’ released his debut. At that time, Mo’ was in his early 40’s and already a fully formed artist. With the benefit of time, popularity and opportunity to further his craft, Keb’ Mo’ has created a body of work that is significant. Like Bonnie Raitt or Robert Cray, Mo’ has figured out how to be honest, true to the Blues tradition and internationally popular. Oklahoma is a testament to the hard work and sensitivity, the reflection and evolution that drives him.
Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6
Damian Knapp – Decay In Our Cities
Fester Presley Records
14 songs time – 59:45
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Damian Knapp from Warren, Ohio breathes life into the blues with his energy and creativity. The perspective he takes is looking at slices of his everyday “work-a-day Johnnie” life and it’s many trials and tribulations. Working with a basic rhythm section, occasional harmonica players and background singer Damian’s over layered guitars including his awesome slide guitar skills create a full and exuberant sound. Damian wrote and/or co-wrote the twelve original songs found here. The two cover songs are given their due.
The title song “Decay In Our Cities” employs some of “Rollin’ And Tumblin'” for it’s music. This song along with much here is blues pertaining to the human condition. Political discord is the subject of “Nobody Wants To Budge”. Acoustic guitars power the upbeat sermon on peace and equality “The Answer”. “Ron’s Garage” is the perfect hanging out song. The listener is regaled with the pleasures of chillin’ with your buds against a hearty rockin’ attack.
Slide guitar and Jake Friel’s blazing harmonica battle it out on “Swimming Toward The Drain”, a song that expresses a sentiment similar to that of Freddie King’s “Going Down Slow”. “$3.99” laments the high cost living. The wickedly nervous slide guitar slashes through the ether. “Appreciate” is a positive life lesson set against sprightly acoustic twelve string and occasional electric.
The boisterous and nicely noisy “Late Night Rock And Roll Sideshow” paints an enticing picture of a kick ass good time. Pixie’s harmonica is added to this slide extravaganza. More first class slide and standard guitar on Roosevelt Skyes’s “Some Right, Some Wrong”. Damian picks up his twelve string acoustic again for the pensive “Change In Mind”. Peter Knapp delivers spoken word that includes a bit of “potty mouth” against a John Lee Hooker boogie beat on “Scary Dude”.
Watch out it’s a man on a mission “On My Way To Work”, best get outta his way pronto Tonto. The lengthy acoustic instrumental “Song For Jim” includes some Rolling Stones style “Street Fighting Man” sweeping guitar. This guy has acoustic playing covered along with his electric guitar skills. He reinvents “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, breathing new life into it with his zesty vocal and acoustic slide.
Current concerns and travails are set to solid traditional blues influences. This brother is truly shot full of blues. Nothing dull or borrowed here, just a real blues feel.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6
Brett Spaulding & The Psychic Spies – Livin’ To Play
9 songs time – 32:20
Rockers Brett Spaulding & The Psychic Spies from Canada traverse rock, pop and soul music that harkens back to the radio friendly light weight rockers such as REO Speedwagon and Styx. Brett handles vocals, guitar backed by standard drums, bass, additional guitar and keyboards. All songs are written or co-written by Spaulding covering familiar “keep on keepin’ on” and angst territory.
The title song is a rocker kicked off with a thumping bass line into a distorted guitar riff. “Driveby” is a slice of funky soul-pop with a catchy riff. Much here is the usual upbeat rock fare as exemplified on tunes like “The Ride” and “Can’t Stop”. The pace and sound are changed up for a nice change of pace on the slow acoustic guitar-electric sitar atmospheric “Waiting”.
Ringing electric guitars propel the easy rolling rock of “The Lucky One”. The gang gets back to good old noisy rock on “City Walls”. “There’s no rest in these city walls”. You can visualize this one as a MTV video. A hearty and funky riff breathe life into the meaty “Everyday”, a song that incorporates some straight ahead rock guitar. The pop-rock of the jangly guitar fueled “Little Differences” raps up the proceedings.
The production by Chad Holtzman and Brett Spaulding reveal a clean and crisp sound. Nothing really off-putting here, but nothing that resonates in your head later. Chances are you won’t be singing or humming these tunes around the house. To use the over used cliché, this isn’t my cup of tea. Could be yours. That’s why things come in different colors and flavors. To reuse a quote from one of my favorite thinkers, Batman -“Each to their own said the lady as she kissed her cow”. With that astute bit of wisdom I leave you to decide.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6
Lauren Anderson – Won’t Stay Down
Self-Release – 2019
5 tracks; 17 minutes
Lauren Anderson is a singer/songwriter born in Chicago and now based in Nashville. She released an EP in 2014, a full album in 2015 and a further EP in 2017, so this five-tracker is her fourth release but the first that this reviewer has heard. Lauren wrote all the material, one song in collaboration with Sandy Ramos; she also produced the EP with Taylor Kropp.
Lauren sings and is supported by Jimi Greene on guitar, William Adkins on keys, Hutch on bass and John Rodrigue on drums: Emmanuel Echem and Kiran Gupta add trumpets to one track and Meg Williams and Jenny Teator add background vocals to one.
Lauren has a strong voice with a touch of grit and she is certainly the prime focus of the songs. Opener “Honey, Call Me Baby” sends a tough message to a guy who is getting on Lauren’s nerves, the throbbing bass underpinning a stop-start rock rhythm. The background vocals add a smooth touch to “Too Little, Too Late”, a soulful ballad about a relationship that is beyond repair swept along by William’s churchy organ and delivered in emotional style by Lauren who moves from a deep, quiet vocal to full-on blues belter on the chorus.
The title track celebrates Lauren’s resilience as she will not stay down, whatever life throws at her, a funky guitar-driven tune. Lauren complains about the way that the music industry treats artists as she wants her “Cake” and everything else on a jagged tune fueled by wah-wah and decorated with the trumpets. The EP closes with the co-write, “Wild & Free” which recounts the tale of a girl who had straight A’s and academic potential but opted for the rock and roll life. The song has an attractive riff and a pounding chorus with a touch of country rock which is accentuated by Jimi’s solo, making it a very radio-friendly cut and this reviewer’s top pick.
There is little straight blues here but fans of strong female vocalists will want to check the release out.
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
Blue Moon Marquee – Bare Knuckles & Brawn
CD: 11 Songs, 40 Minutes
Styles: Ensemble Blues, Horn Blues, Swing Blues, All Original Songs
Upon reading the title Bare Knuckles & Brawn, from Canada’s Blue Moon Marquee, one might expect a CD full of hard-driving numbers that prove Saturday night’s all right for fighting. Imagine this reviewer’s surprise on finding eleven original songs that bring back the big-band sound of the 1940s, complete with horns, ragtime beats, and lead vocals reminiscent of Louis Armstrong’s. The lyrics also hearken to earlier days, expanding upon song names such as “High Noon,” “The Red Devil Himself,” and “52nd Street Strut.” Those who prefer their blues on the raunchier, meatier side won’t find much to chomp on, but those who like it smooth and hot will simply adore this album. It’s also great fuel for inspiration in quiet moments, meant to silence mental chatter and let one’s thoughts flow.
“This album, to me, represents a combination and evolution of our last records,” says front man A.W. Cardinal. “I believe it features some of our best recorded work, and we were able to do it with some of the best possible musicians.” Bassist and vocalist Jasmine Colette adds, “We recorded [it] in three days. I like all the grit and pulp with my music, so the warm sound of the tape made it come together. All the songs were written…in the last year of our travels, in relation to the air of the times, characters we meet, cities we walk in and the weather we feel.” Blue Moon Marquee currently makes their home in an island shack on the coast of the Salish Sea in British Columbia.
Joining Cardinal and Colette are guest musicians Darcy Phillips on piano and Hammond B3; Jerry Cook on tenor sax, baritone sax, and clarinet; Jimmy “Hollywood” Badger on drums; Jack Garton on trumpet; and Paul Pigat on guitar for “The Red Devil Himself.”
“Big Black Mamba” starts things off, a unique meditation on the snare of fossil fuels: “I asked for water; she brought me gasoline. That’s the meanest gal I’ve ever seen. Big Black Mamba, you got me moaning low, dirty mis-treater from the stars of Texaco.” Up-tempo love ballads “Smoke Rings for my Rider” and “Fever Flickering Flame” follow, guaranteed to make even the dead rise from the grave and dance. Cardinal’s guitar is cardinal on both, a prime example of his instrument of choice conversing with listeners via musical notes. “Hard Times Hit Parade” slows things down, the perfect background music for a film noir scene. Dig Darcy Phillips on his Hammond and the melancholy horn solo, echoing in one’s ears like a night breeze.
“As I Lay Dying” contains the album’s title in a pithy piece of lyrics: “The world was built [with] bare knuckles and brawn.” A.W.’s vocals are at their Armstrong-iest here. Earworm “High Noon,” according to the band, “is a reference to Black Elk, a holy man of the Oglala Lakota people and the perseverance of Native peoples.” The next two tracks will make guitar lovers swoon, especially “Big Smoke” for traditionalists. “52nd Street Strut” is a rat-a-tat tribute to Billie Holliday, featuring Jasmine Colette’s velvety voice. “Wayward” and “Lost and Wild” close things out, with the final song wistfully bringing “What a Wonderful World” to mind.
Blue Moon Marquee has demonstrated that their name should be in lights once more with the classic sound and big-band bravado of Bare Knuckles and Brawn!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 40 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
Blues Society News
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Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaugn, IL
PCBS has some exciting Blues Jams coming up in the month of October. Typically we hold two Jams a month, the 2nd Sunday of the month from 4:00 till 7:00 pm and the 4th Wednesday of the month from 7:00 till 10:00 pm. All our Jams are held at Pipa’s Pub, 604 S. Country Fair Dr. in Champaign. Thanks to our partners at Pipa’s all our Jams are free to the public, bring your instrument and Jam.
In October we have Skylar Rogers & The Blue Diamonds. Skylar kicked off our Blues Fest this year and wowed the crowd. Skylar hosts Sunday October 13 at the usual Sunday time of 4:00 pm. Legendary Blues veterans Mark Hummel and Billy Flynn host the Wednesday Jam October 23 at 7:00 pm. For more info visit: http://prairiecrossroadsblues.org
Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL
The monthly shows at the Hope and Anchor in Loves Park continue $5 cover, 8 to 11:30 PM: 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. Oct 14 Hector Anchondo, Oct 21 Mark Hummel, Oct 28 Brother Jefferson Band, Nov 4 Mike Morgan & The Crawl, Nov 11 Susan Williams & The Wright Groove, Nov 18 Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat.
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. Texas comes to the Kankakee Valley: November 6 – Mike Morgan & The Crawl – Kankakee Valley Boat Club, November 19 – Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat – Manteno Sportsmen’s Club. More Info at: http://www.facebook.com/friendsoftheblues.
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