Issue 13-45 November 7, 2019

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Cover photo © 2019 Harvey Tillis

 In This Issue 

Mike Stephenson has our feature interview with Dave Specter. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including a live two CD set from the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival plus new music from Altered Five Blues Band, Chris “Bad News” Barnes, Joey Stuckey Trio, Jontavious Willis, The Paul DesLauriers Band, Whitey Johnson, The Wyattchristmas Five, The Runaways and Paul Messinger.

Our video of the Week is Vanessa Collier and Laura Chavez.

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

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 Featured Interview – Dave Specter 

dave specter photo 2I’m Dave Specter and I’m a native Chicagoan, born in Chicago in 1963 and I grew up on the north side of the city and I’m from a very musical family and that’s how I first heard the blues. I’m the youngest of three and my older brother used to go hear Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters and Koko Taylor in the clubs and was friends with Howlin’ Wolf and would tell me stories of how he would buy him peppermint snaps.

There are still clubs like that now but it used to be all ages venues that didn’t serve liquor. There was one in Evanston, a place called Amazing Grace, that was very popular here in the seventies and into the early eighties, which was an all ages venue. You could bring your own wine and beer.

My brother also plays blues harmonica and guitar and bluegrass and my sister plays guitar and was into people like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell and my parents are also very musical, mostly classical and they also like folk music.

There is a radio station that is still popular in Chicago that is mostly a classical station called WFMT and every Saturday night they had a show called Midnight Special and on there you could hear Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan and Lead Belly or Big Bill Broonzy or Muddy Waters and that was one of the first times I heard blues because my parents always had music on in the house, in addition to my brother’s record collection.

At a young age I developed a good musical ear but I didn’t start playing guitar until I was eighteen. My grandfather, whom I didn’t know, was a Steinway piano dealer in Chicago and my parents had a Steinway baby grand piano in our house and we all took piano lessons, so I learnt how to play basic classical piano when I was very young. Until I was eighteen all I wanted to do was play basketball. I was a big sports guy, a big jock as they call us. I was going to concerts and I think I went to my first rock concert when I was twelve; my big sister took me to see Patti Smith and my dad, although I don’t remember how old I was, took me to see B.B. King and Bobby Bland, maybe when I was fourteen, at a theater called Mill Run that used to have a rotating stage.

I got very much into the Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers, The Doors, and when I started playing guitar Keith Richards was my first guitar hero. One of the first solos I learned was ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and I remember when I learnt ‘Brown Sugar’ I felt a profound sense of accomplishment.

Then, like so many others, I started realizing that bands like that were covering a lot of blues and then I started getting into Buddy Guy and T. Bone Walker, Otis Rush. I started listening to their records and started going out to see such blues acts. You had to be twenty one to get into the bars, but when I was like seventeen I had a fake I.D. that made me four years older, so I started going to hear Junior Wells and Otis Rush and Koko Taylor and Magic Slim. I went away to college down in central Illinois to the University Of Illinois and they had a student union that would occasionally bring in Chicago blues bands and I remember seeing Buddy and Junior and Koko there and that had a big influence because that is when I started playing guitar.

I started playing for fun. I was going away to school and my brother had a few guitars laying around and he told me to take one and he taught me a few chords and told me to take it to school with me and he thought I would meet a lot of other musicians, so that’s what I did. It was a nylon string classical guitar and after I started playing I really liked it and then got my first electric guitar. I think I bought that from Chicago Slim who has a couple of records and whose real name was Noel Schiff and he was a really good slide player and he had a store not far from this area on the north side, the Rogers Park neighborhood and he used to sell guitars to the Stones and The Who and famous rock bands, as he was a big vintage collector. I bought a Tele first from him and then a Les Paul.

The next step for me was pretty important and it changed my life because I really got passionate about playing and playing blues and wanting to learn blues. I was playing so much guitar and realizing there was so much live music in Chicago obviously. I thought to myself that I would take some time off from school and go back to Chicago and work and hang out at blues clubs and meet musicians and maybe try and even play. So that is what I did after my third year on college. I came back to Chicago around 1984, maybe early ’85, and one of the first jobs I got was working for Delmark as their shipping clerk. Steve Wagner, who still works at Delmark and who runs the studio, we grew up in the same neighborhood and Steve is the same age as my sister and they knew each other, so I reached out to him and he introduced me to Bob Koester and then I got the job there.

Another one of my early jobs was being a doorman and bouncer at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted when I was in my early twenties and that was great, because they paid me to stand in a blues club every night. I had to collect the cover charge and break up the occasional fight and help bring up the liquor and I was listening to the music constantly and meeting blues musicians and then starting to get hired to play shows pretty soon thereafter. I used to go to blues jams and B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted used to have a Monday night jam that Big Time Sarah used to host and I went to the jam at Kingston Mines, and I think that was the first blues club I played at as an amateur was that jam night at that club when I was still at college.

I sat in with some great people like Sunnyland Slim quite a few times. He played a steady Sunday night at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted and an important story is that I met Jimmy Johnson and we became friends and this was when I was twenty two and I asked him if I could get a couple of lessons from him and he wasn’t sure as he didn’t really teach, but he gave me his number and told me to call him and come over to his house.

dave specter photo 1So I did that a couple of times. I went to his house and he taught me quite a bit and was really nice and didn’t charge me and he said he was busy and that he couldn’t give me lessons again but he wanted me to meet Steve Freund, as he thought he would be a good teacher for me and I had heard Steve but I didn’t know him. So I started taking lessons from Steve and Steve became like a mentor and a big brother to me and he was Sunnyland Slim’s guitar player at the time so that was really important. Other people I played with in those early days was Jimmy Johnson and he was interested a lot in playing keyboard gigs and he used to play at a club called Lilly’s and he hired me to play guitar with him a few times while he played keyboards.

I remember sitting in with Big Smoky Smothers, Floyd Jones and Kansas City Red. I remember I used to drive Floyd Jones home on Sunday nights and that was one of the best weekly gigs in town when Sunnyland Slim would play and a lot of great musicians would hang out there and Floyd was one of the regulars who Sunnyland would call to sit in and I remember driving Floyd home and playing T. Bone Walker cassettes in my car as he really liked that.

I sat in with Johnny Littlejohn and he was great and one of the first road gigs I got was with Sam Lay in about 1987. It all happened pretty quick and I remember Sam hiring me for two weeks in Canada to play in Calgary in the middle of winter, which made Chicago seem warm. He called me a couple of weeks before and he said he was thinking of having another guitar player on the gig and he wanted to let me know what was happening so I thought that was great being young that Sam Lay was calling me and I asked who was going to be on second guitar and he said it wouldn’t be second guitar and that he was asking Hubert Sumlin and I just about dropped the phone and got very nervous and excited and that two week tour turned into a three week tour, so I was on the road with Sam and Hubert at the same time, which was pretty epic for me in my early twenties and just learning the music. I was caught off guard a little because Sam I didn’t really know and he wanted to play a lot of rock and roll covers, as he was in love with Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and even Johnny Cash. I was expecting to play stone cold Chicago blues so it was a good leaning experience and a little disappointing and it taught me that a lot of my blues heroes were interested in other music as well.

Sam Lay wasn’t working a lot and he was hiring pretty big bands with a lot of musicians and the money wasn’t terribly great and I got hired by Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, in one of those later versions of The Legendary Blues Band, and I did that briefly as they weren’t working as much as they used to, but it was great to play with Willie and Calvin ‘Fuzz’ Jones, Muddy’s former rhythm section and the great piano player Piano Willie was in the band, Madison Slim on harmonica.

At the end of summer of maybe 1987 I heard that Son Seals was looking for a rhythm guitar player. My friend Brad Weeks was in the band and had to leave and told me, so I went and met Son, I think at Blue Chicago downtown, and sat in with him and he offered me the gig and I was probably twenty five then and I ended up playing with Son for almost two years and he was working a lot every weekend and was touring the East coast a lot so we got to play New York a lot, which was great, and that was my first big full time guitar gig in the blues.

I can’t remember if I started with Son in late 1987 or early 1988 and we played the Chicago Blues festival in 1988 on the main stage and we used to play the Village Gate and The Lone Star in New York and I remember we played in Central Park New York once and it was when Son wasn’t really recording so I never recorded with him.

The album Bad Axe was out but that was recorded before I joined Son. That’s how I used to introduce him after we did a couple of instrumentals, then I would say “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Bad Axe from Chicago”. That was an important gig for me, we were playing in front of big crowds and weekends in Chicago all the time and touring and headlining.

In Boston we did a show with John Mayall and I remember playing the Village Gate in New York with Johnny Copeland and I remember we played when Koko Taylor had her van accident and that was one of my first gigs with Son. Koko Taylor had a wreck on the highway and there was a big benefit at the Riviera Theatre to raise money to help her and the musicians that got hurt and that had two thousand capacity theater.

I think I got to the point of where I started to have a vision of where I saw my musicianship, my guitar playing, going and I was Son’s rhythm guitar player which was great, a super important role to play if you are a guitar player, to become a good rhythm guitar player and to play behind someone else that is really important. Son almost always had horns so we would open up with things like ‘Watermelon Man’ by Herbie Hancock or ‘Mr. Magic’ and occasionally a straight ahead blues and then Son would give me maybe one or two solos during his sets, maybe one each set, and I was wanting to express myself more. I wanted to play more lead I wanted to play different material. I was more of a traditionalist and Son was playing this super intense hard driving great blues but stylistically it wasn’t where I was coming from.

I was listening to Magic Sam and T. Bone Walker and Muddy and Wolf and early Buddy Guy, so I wanted to play more of that style of music so I decided that maybe I would try and start my own band and be the only guitar player. So I did it and in 1989 and I started looking for a singer and I met Barkin’ Bill playing with Sam Lay and he wasn’t doing much, just doing the occasional club gig, and I asked him if he wanted to do some work and maybe start a band together and he agreed to do that. So we started working around Chicago and I started hiring bass players like Bob Stroger and drummers like Robert Covington and even Willie Smith sometimes, because these guys just wanted to play and if you offered them a gig and paid them something respectable they would work it. So I started feeling around for a good rhythm section and I ended up hiring a younger rhythm section and we started working pretty steady around Chicago.

dave specter photo 3Somehow I found out about a contest like one of these national blues talent searches and the winner got to play at the Long Beach Blues Festival, which was one of the big blues festivals in California in the 80’s and 90’s and we won that contest and got to go the Long Beach Festival and Jimmy Witherspoon and Jay McShann and John Lee Hooker and B.B. King and Lowell Fulson were all on it, so that was amazing.

Here in Chicago, we used to play weekly at Wise Fools and that was one of the first gigs I got, playing maybe Tuesdays or Wednesdays and we played at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted and Shaw’s Crab House that was one of the first steady gigs we had and I think we were the first blues band that played at Shaw’s and I ended up playing there for like twenty five years.

Shortly after forming the band I approached Delmark and I invited Bob Koester to come hear us play and I think he came out to hear us at Blues Island at the Tip On Inn where we used to play regularly, which is a south suburb of Chicago. Delmark was inactive for a while in the 80’s and then they started getting active again and they signed us and we recorded our first album in 1990 and it came out in 1991 and it was called Bluebird Blues. My first album and we had Ronnie Earl as a special guest on there and I was twenty six when I recorded that and of course it had Barkin’ Bill on vocals.

I met Ronnie when I was touring with Son Seals and we became good friends and I remember we did a co bill with Ronnie at the Lone Star in New York and I remember hanging out with him in Chicago and he became like an older brother to me. I told him I was going to record for Delmark and he was full of praise for me for that and asked me if I realized what that meant and he was very excited for me and he asked me if I would like him to play on the album and I told him I would love that, so that is how it happened.

That was the only record I did with Barkin’ Bill and working with him was challenging as he had some demons and I took things very seriously, probably too seriously, and we split up and Bob at Delmark was a big fan of a singer named Jesse Fortune and he basically said that if I wanted to put together a band behind Jesse he would be a great artist to record with, as he liked him and I could produce it, so that was my next album and that’s how the ‘Fortune Tellin’ Man’ album came about. That was my first time of producing.

I have been working on my twelfth album for Delmark either as a leader or co leader. I did one record called Spectified, it’s an all instrumental record that I did in 2010 and David Hidalgo from Los Lobos played on there and that was recorded for a label in Chicago called Fret 12, which is mostly known in the rock guitar world and they wanted to branch out into other styles of music, so I signed a one record contract with them.

Other than that all my other recordings as a leader or co leader have been on Delmark. I’ve helped produce Lurrie Bell and I produced two records by Steve Freund, both on Delmark. I recently produced a record that I’m really proud of on an artist that isn’t terribly well known named Billy Seward, he is a really strong soul/blues artist who lives in Florida. He did a record South Shore and came to Chicago and hired me to produce it and wanted to use my band and Willie Henderson did the horns and Jimmy Johnson is a guest and it’s a really good record.

A couple of years ago I produced a record by a band that is mostly based in France and I just played the Bay Car Blues Festival with them as a guest and they are Lil’ Red And The Rooster and it’s an American singer from Ohio who married a French guitarist who is great, and they work a lot around France and they play the US. I’ve produced nearly all of my own stuff. I almost exclusively use the Delmark studio. I’ve produced a couple of records by Al Miller and Delmark put them out and Al has just passed away.

I got into production because I’m kinda hard headed and know what I want to do and don’t like listening to other people. It’s kinda similar to being a band leader but just being a band leader in the studio, kind of a musical director. I’m not an engineer, I work with other engineers so I’m not the type who is a producer and also the engineering. I wish I was, but I’m not. I really love producing and sometimes I like producing stuff that I don’t play on. It’s nice to be able to help an artist develop towards the right tools and sounds and helping them with personnel and helping them with material, helping them with arrangements. It’s an important role in making a record and I really like doing it.

So I worked with Jesse Fortune for awhile and then I had heard Tad Robinson sing in Chicago and he was living here at the time. He is originally from New York and I thought he would be a great singer to team up with and to have in my band and co lead the band and Tad and I decided to start working together and we recorded Blueplicity for Delmark and we went to Europe and recorded a live album there and on that same blues festival in Bremen there was a live Jimmy Rogers album recorded there on Crosscut Records. Detlev Hoegen at Crosscut asked Tad and I to do a record on his label so that record was first a Crosscut project and then Delmark decided they wanted to release it in the States. Detlev helped book us on this festival at Bremen and he wanted me to do it with Tad and he also wanted me to play another set and maybe I could recommend a special guest to sing with my band in addition to Tad and I thought immediately of Floyd McDaniel. So Floyd came to Germany with us and we played a set with Floyd and they recorded it and we didn’t know it was going to be a record, but that also came out as a live recording and it’s called West Side Baby and I think it is still available on Delmark and also Crosscut. So in one night, in three hours, we played two sets and had two live albums come out and I’m pretty proud of both of them. This was the early to mid nineties and after that I think we did the Left Turn On Blue album.

Tad decided to raise a family and move out of Chicago and he moved to a small town near Indianapolis so I needed to find another singer and I had heard of a singer in California named Lynwood Slim and we talked and hit it off and I asked him to move to Chicago. He was living in Minneapolis at the time and he did move to Chicago and we started working together and we did a record for Delmark in I think 1995 called Left Turn On Blue.

dave specter photo 4While Slim was living in Minneapolis he became friends with Jack McDuff and my style was influenced in a lot of ways by the jazz and blues of Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Smith and Charles Brown and T. Bone and I thought that getting Jack McDuff as a guest on a record would be great and Delmark flew Jack into Chicago to record on that album and we did a few gigs together like playing at Buddy Guy’s. One of the things about Delmark is they have always been a jazz label in addition to a blues label. They didn’t separate the two like some of the people in the music world do and over the years on my records I have had a number of jazz musicians guest on my albums.

I did a live show in Chicago about ten years ago called Dave Specter’s Blues/ Jazz Summit. In the late nineties I was doing a lot of producing, like the two Steve Freund records. Steve had left Chicago and moved to San Francisco and started working with Boz Scaggs, who was doing some straight blues gigs, and Boz agreed to be a guest on Steve’s record and we flew out to Boz’s studio in San Francisco and got to work with him in his studio on the first Steve Freund record and that was really cool; Boz is a cool guy and a super guitar player. Kim Wilson was also on that record called C For Chicago and I also helped produce Lurrie Bell on his Kiss Of Sweet Blues record and I was also the producer on his 700 Blues album.

I love Lurrie. We have played together and toured together but during that time he was basically homeless and in really bad shape and using drugs and not taking the right medication and it was super challenging to work with him in the studio. I think on 700 Blues what happened is, it became so exhausting and difficult, and I didn’t even put my name on it as the producer as I thought it was crazy and thought I couldn’t take it any more. As I said, I took myself a little too seriously, so that might have had something to do with it as well.

Me and Lynwood Slim worked together for a while and he decided to move back to California and then I found Lenny Lynn who is here in Chicago and more of a jazz singer, kinda like Joe Williams and similar to Barkin’ Bill although a little more uptown and sophisticated, and we worked together for a couple of years and did the record called Blues Spoken Here and I think that came out in 1999 and we toured Europe together and played Israel.

After that I decided to take a stab at doing an all instrumental record because I was always featuring instrumentals on my records, usually three or four numbers. I was writing original music a lot and not focusing on lyrics too much so I did an all instrumental record in 2000 for Delmark called Speculatin and that was pretty well received and had a lot of originals on there. I am fairly self critical and one of the hardest things is listening to my own music sometimes, after it’s been recorded. Sometimes it’s nice to get away from it for a long time. I remember being in a restaurant once and they were playing blues and I thought it sounded cool and then I realized it was me and I didn’t even know it. I usually listen to my recordings a lot when they first come out because you are so immersed in it and you want to make sure it’s right and then it comes out, then after that I get completely sick of it and try not to listen to it for something like two years. Sometimes it’s nice to revisit it and sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t.

I was never a huge touring act I always toured a little and never took the plunge into full time touring, maybe I will some day. I have been on an Aaron Burton record Good Blues To You, which was on Delmark. So after Speculatin I did the Al Miller recordings and produced Steve Freund’s second record I’ll Be Your Mule for Delmark and then I did a co bill with Steve Freund in 2004 and it was called Is What It Is and then after that, in 2008, I did the live recording with Tad and I decided that it had to be another live recording so we recorded in Chicago. Delmark was doing DVDs at the time so I came up with the title Live In Chicago and it came out on CD and DVD and it was recorded at Buddy Guy’s and at Rosa’s and it had Tad, Jimmy Johnson and Sharon Lewis all as special guests, in addition to a few instrumentals.

Shortly after that Delmark did a fifty fifth anniversary CD and DVD called It Ain’t Over and I’m on that with Jimmy Johnson. That won DVD of the year, that I found out about two years later, and that was 2010 and that was the same year I did the Spectfied all instrumental record for Fret 12.

I think my next recording as a leader was in 2014, called Message In Blue, and the highlight of that was working with Otis Clay. Working with him in the studio was incredible and we had become good friends and there is a really good interview on YouTube where we met at one of his favorite restaurants on the west side and they filmed it. Fret 12 is also into video and they had me doing a lot of interviews with artists. We started a series called Dave Specter’s Blues And Beyond and I interviewed Eddy Clearwater, Jimmy Johnson, Michael Coleman, Warren Haynes, John Hammond, Hubert Sumlin and they are all on YouTube I think. It was great to sit down for lunch with Otis and they brought their video cameras in and then I asked him to be on that record with me and he agreed and that was one of the most powerful experiences I have had in the recording studio. I have recorded with some really good people but Otis was so great and I don’t think people realize that. I honestly think he was one of the greatest soul and r&b singers without question ever and in the same league as Al Green and Wilson Picket and I don’t think he ever got his due. He had the big hit in the early seventies with ‘Trying To Live My Life Without You’ and he did ok and when I see some of these older soul singers playing big theaters and auditoriums with young bands, like some of the artists that are on Daptone, I just wish he could have had that exposure.

So presently I have been working on a new album for Delmark, which is titled Blues From The Inside Out. I have Jorma Kaukonen from Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna playing on two tracks. For the last eleven years I have been part owner of this club in Evanston just north of Chicago, called Space at 1245 Chicago Avenue, and we book artists in here and we have a recording studio here that I recorded the record ‘Spectified’ in. I also recorded a tribute to Otis Clay that was only available as a download. After Otis died I wanted to do something for him, so I produced a tribute single and we did ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’ and like twenty two musicians are on it, including Otis’ horn section and background singers, and we did that here at Space. In this club we have had a lot of legendary blues artists perform; we also book rock and roll. Nick Lowe has played here, Richard Thomson, Jimmie Vaughan and Jorma started playing here, doing his solo acoustic act, and he also played here with Hot Tuna and we became friends.

I managed the club here for many years so I would always meet the artists and pay them and take their dinner orders and such. I had given Jorma one of my records and he liked it. I play Fender Jazz Masters a lot, which is kinda rare in the blues, and Jorma started asking me what guitars do I use and I told him and he went out and bought a couple because he liked it so much and then he came here one time and said he had written a blues tune and he didn’t know what to do with it. He asked me to take it and do something with it and it was great and the lyrics were really good. Then I started making plans for the new album and I called him and asked him if it would be ok if I recorded his number and he said yes and then I asked him if he would consider playing on it and coming to Chicago and playing on a couple of tunes and he said he would be honored to.

So he came here and played on two tracks, including the one he wrote, and the album is twelve originals and I am going to be singing on it for the first time. I’m trying to be a singer now but I’ve always worked with great singers. I never saw myself as singer and was content in being a guitar player and that is my instrument, my voice wasn’t. Folks told me I should sing but my quick answer is that it’s just not me, but I’m starting to change that way of thinking and I actually feel I can do it and I like the way my voice sounds more than I used to, so I’m singing three songs on this new record. I have a writing partner, his name is Bill Brichta, we wrote ‘Chicago Style‘ on Message In Blue and we wrote quite a few of these songs together. Four new instrumentals that I wrote and John Katke who has been my main keyboard player and vocalist for many years, he sings four songs on the new album. Sarah Marie Young, a great r&b and jazz singer who is married to Guy King, is singing one tune, so three different singers on the new record and I’m happy with it and excited to have all this new music to share, as it’s been about five years since I put anything out.

I do a podcast thing, which stemmed from that video series I was doing. I was sitting with some friends one night and they were saying that I had done these interviews with artists and I have a great rapport artist to artist, so why don’t I start a podcast. I started doing some research and I didn’t see too many blues or guitar podcasts out there and I have access to this beautiful studio and I have access at this club to so many great musicians coming in, so I thought it would be pretty easy to set up interviews with people and plus all the Chicago musicians I know, so why not start doing a podcast? So in December in 2018 I launched a podcast and it’s called ‘Dave Specter’s Blues From The Inside Out’ and you can check it out on: It’s also on ITunes and Spotify. At this time I have nine podcasts up now and my tenth will be with Jimmy Johnson. My first podcast was with Kermit Ruffins, the great New Orleans trumpet player. I’ve had Albert Lee, Billy Boy Arnold, Billy Branch and did a great joint podcast with Sam Lay and Corky Siegal and we played together. Some of the podcasts will have impromptu jam sessions or occasionally I will ask the artist to just play. So that’s been fun and I do that from here at Space and its studio. It’s done in a professional studio and I have a good producer and engineer so they sound really good.

I got asked to be on a public TV show in Chicago called Check Please where they invite three guests, just the general public, to pick a restaurant and review it and each of the three guys goes to the others restaurants and you compare notes and talk about them on TV. So I was a participant in that.

My guitar influences are Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Kenny Burrell, T. Bone Walker, Muddy Waters. I play a little slide and when I think of slide guitar I think of Earl Hooker and Elmore James, but my favorite blues slide guitar player is Muddy. Other influences are Jimmie Vaughan, Steve Freund, who basically taught me how to play, and Albert Collins. I spent a chunk of time in the nineties listening to a lot of jazz and listened to a lot of Blue Note jazz and organ jazz and most featured Grant Green or Wes Montgomery or Kenny Burrell and Dexter Gordan, Horace Silver, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey.

I love all of these and their music and I think it affected my musical sensibilities to some degree and it helped me realize that a sense of melody, a sense of swing are really crucial to whatever music you play. I love playing with organ players. I worked a lot in an organ trio setting with different organ players over the years. I’m not a jazz player but I do have a jazz feel sometimes, but do not have the musical sophistication or the discipline to play jazz. I do a lot of instrumental gigs as a trio and sometimes I will call it a blues/ jazz trio and one of the things I love doing in that setting is playing all instrumentals. I used to be Dave Specter And The Blue Birds for many years. I love doing an all instrumental show but sometimes the audience doesn’t always get it. I was influenced a lot by players like Duke Robillard, Anson Funderburgh and Ronnie Earl as well. With guys like Anson and Ronnie it was inspiring when I first started as a band leader to realize you can be a band leader and you don’t have to sing, you can back up other singers or you can play instrumentals.

In the future I would love to collaborate with Mavis Staples and I love her band and Rick Holstrom her guitar player and I actually wrote a song on the new album with Mavis in mind, called ‘March Through The Darkness’. She has a song she does frequently on her live set called ‘Freedom Highway’, written during the civil rights era and I find that song and Mavis so inspiring and it moves me. I love her combination of gospel and r&b and soul and even blues. It’s what I love, so it would be a dream to collaborate with her. I love Buddy Guy, especially his early records and his singing.

Visit Dave Specter’s website at:

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.

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 10 

altered five blues band cdAltered Five Blues Band – Ten Thousand Watts

Blind Pig Records BPCD 5172

12 songs – 43 minutes

Fronted by big-voiced Jeff “J.T.” Taylor, the Altered Five Blues Band has been taking the chill out of cold nights in the upper Midwest for the past 17 years, delivering a supercharged brand of blues that flows like a river as it combines wit, grit and a whole lot of funk guaranteed to keep audiences on the dance floor.

A five-piece unit based out of Milwaukee, Wis., they recruited Grammy-winning producer Tom Hambridge for this CD, the fifth in their catalog – and their second on the Blind Pig imprint. This one’s almost certain to be the vehicle they finally need to achieve the attention they earned after their most recent previous outing, Charmed & Dangerous, garnered a Blues Music Award nomination in the 2018 emerging artist category.

Altered Five’s brand of beefy blues has captured critics’ interest since Altered Five debuted in 2002. A former Wisconsin Area Music Industry band of the year, their 2014 release, Cry Mercy, was nominated for a Blues Blast Music Award and climbed as high as No. 3 in iTunes blues store sales, captured the International Blues Challenge honor for best self-produced CD, and one of its songs, “Find My Wings,” was a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition.

Taylor handles all of the vocals here, backed by a skintight lineup that includes searing guitar from Jeff Schroedl, powerful keyboards from Raymond Tevich and rock-solid rhythm from bassist Mark Solveson and percussionist Alan Arbor. They’re augmented by Milwaukee favorite Steve Cohen, who sits in on harp for two cuts.

Captured at Ocean Way Studios in Nashville with addition recording at Music City’s The Switchyard and Santa’s Workshop in Wauwatosa, Wis., this all-original 12-tune set is chockful of clever lyrics and fires out of the gate with “Right On, Right On,” a rapid-fire boogie built atop driving guitar riffs as J.T. entices the listener to join in on the band’s fun, describing the crowd as “feeling single, seeing double” and adding: “You’ll find ladies lookin’ for trouble.”

The heat continues with “Too Mad to Make Up,” which finds the singer regretting his rowdy ways as his lady heads for the door, while the title tune that follows, “Ten Thousand Watts.” The tempo slows slightly for a new, electrically charged spin on the traditional blues boast about one’s sexual prowess.

The boisterous “Mischief Man” is up next. Delivered atop a percussive rhythm, it’s an unrepentant admission — and advice to others — not to be like the singer who’s definitely no saint. “Great Minds Drink Alike” is an unlikely, soulful love song shuffle that features Tevich’s organ and claims common ground despite poverty because of a common love for booze.

Schroedl shines on “Don’t Rock My Blues,” a sentimental ballad accompanied by B.B. King-style guitar licks that seeks solitude in a world of trouble, before the funk kicks in with the New Orleans-flavored, piano-propelled description of a Cajun queen, “Sweet Marie.” The intensity remains, but the texture changes for the burning ballad “Dollars & Demons,” an admission that the singer’s hit rock bottom after finding it impossible to resist temptation.

“I Hate to Leave You (with a 6-Pack in the Fridge)” announces Taylor’s departure from a cheating woman atop a medium-paced shuffle before he celebrates his freedom with the funky “Let Me Do the Wrong Thing” before warning his ex that she’s going to walk away with “Half of Nothing” and 50 percent of their debt. The swan song, “Let Me Be Gone,” drives home the finality of the separation.

Available through Amazon, iTunes and Spotify, Ten Thousand Watts delivers for anyone looking to amp up the action on a chilly night. Altered Five is definitely a band on the rise.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 10 

chris bad news barned cd imageChris “Bad News” Barnes – Live

VizzTone Label Group VT-CB18

13 songs – 54 minutes

Based out of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, comedian-turned-singer Chris “Bad News” Barnes enlisted the big guns for this live set, which was captured in the middle of the Caribbean aboard last winter’s sailing of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise.

Produced by Grammy Award winner Tony Braunagel and engineered by Johnny Lee Schell, his partner in both the Taj Mahal and Phantom Blues Bands, it features a stellar alignment that includes Philadelphia-based harp player Steve Guyger, who rose to prominence in the ‘70s while backing Chicago legend Jimmy Rogers, and guitarist Gary Hoey, one of the hottest performers on the blues-rock circuit today.

A writer and comic whose credits include work with Carol Burnett, Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Barnes was a member of the legendary Second City comedy troupe in Chicago, logging more than 2,000 performances. He turned to music after serving as the opening act at the long-running Manhattan club Tramps, where he regularly improvised blues tunes after taking suggestions from the audience.

A native of Scranton, Pa., this is Barnes’ third release as a bluesman following his 2015 debut, 90 Proof Truth, backed by a full band gathered from the Blues Brothers, David Letterman, Cyndi Lauper and Bob Dylan bands. His 2017 follow-up, Hokum Blues, delivered risqué tunes from the ‘30s and ‘40s in a lineup that included longtime Conan O’Brien bandleader Jimmy Vivino and Letterman bassist Will Lee.

The roster here is equally impressive, rounded out by Sandy MacDonald on keyboards, A.J. Pappas on bass and Matt Scurfield on drums, Roomful of Blues horn players Mark Earley (sax) and Doug Woolverton (trumpet) and backup vocals delivered by Gracie Curran, Melodye Perry and Kudisan Kai. Although primarily a set of familiar covers, the musicianship is first-rate throughout.

After a brief introduction by SiriusXM deejay Big Llou Johnson, Barnes launches into “Back in a Cadillac,” a driving shuffle first recorded by Coco Montoya. The band gets plenty of space to shine as Chris powers through the vocals, snapping off the lyrics with slightly road-worn pipes. An uptempo, horn-fueled take on Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” follows before Little Walter’s “Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)” fires out of the gate, aided by extended, incendiary mid-tune solos from Guyger, Earley and Hoey.

“Hungry & Horny,” a stop-time parody original based on Earl King’s “Come On,” features a female chorus as it reprises a tune that appeared on Barnes’ first CD. Hoey’s solo smokes. A slow-paced, loping take of Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” feature Barnes at his vocal best and more blistering solos before “Going Down,” penned by Don Nix and made famous by Freddie King, recounts a tumble from a second-story window.

West Coast harmonica Paul DeLay’s slow blues, “What’s Coming Next,” anticipates oncoming tragedy before Barnes delivers a little hokum with “It’s Tight Like That,” a song written by Thomas Dorsey before he found religion and founded gospel music. Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy, both stars in the ‘40s, are represented with “It Hurts Me Too” and “Keep Your Mind on It” before the set gets more current to close with takes on George Thorogood’s “I Drink Alone,” the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” and Steve Cropper’s “Raise Your Hand,” a ‘60s chart-topper for co-writer Eddie Floyd.

Sure, there’s no fresh material on this one, but it’s no joke: Barnes holds his own as a vocalist, and this band simply smokes. You’ll have a good time listening, and the material’s familiar enough to sing along, too!

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 10 

joey stuckey cd imageJoey Stuckey Trio – In the Shadow of the Sun

Senate Records

9 tracks (offered in both stereo and mono)

Joey Sutckey is a Macon, Georgia resident who lost his senses of sight and smell as an infant due to a brain tumor. Pneumonia kept him home from school for a year and he was home schooled while recovering. He fell in love with music on public radio, especially on Saturdays, and that love for the sounds and the production of the music he loved pushed him into getting into recording. He began with garage bands in their home garage. His own musical work began in at 17 taking lessons in guitar from music professor Terry Cantwell. He went to Mercer college and studied with jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan and with Professor Steven Crowell later on. Despite his physical limitations, he has become a prominent musician and music educator in his home state of Georgia and well beyond.

Stuckey sings with power and authority and plays both guitars and synthesizers on this album. Charles Arnold is his drummer, Nestor Jaenz is also on vocals, plays bass and keys as the other part of the trio. Randell Bramblett plays organ on a track while Tom Rule is on keys for two others. Al Chez on trumpet and Darrel Hendricks is on trombone for a track. The Howard Middle School Concert Choir is also on the track with the horns.

“You’re So Wrong” opens the album and is the album version of the song. It’s a rocking cut with a strident beat. Stuckey offers up a nice guitar solo on this one, too. The radio pop hit by Van Morrison “Domino” gets slowed down and turned into a blues song on the text track. A dirty guitar groove runs throughout; it’s a cool take and the song really gets transformed. “Ain’t It Good To Be In Love” features the horn section and was written by Joey’s friend Charlie Hoskyns of The Popes who passed away in 2017. It’s a big and marvelous tune with the horns blaring and building with the children’s chorus into a vibrant and moving cut. Danny O’Keefe’s hit “Good Time Charlie” gets turned into a country sort of blues cut with guitar and piano setting tone. Fairly true to the original cut, Stuckey sings with passion and emotion. “Troubles Come in Threes” is a gritty song with some nice organ and a groove faintly reminiscent of perhaps The Doobie Brothers. Stuckey sings with more real emotion and wails on his guitar nicely.

“Still Me, Sane and Free” features keyboards and cool overall sound. Stuckey shows off his pipes and offers up a big guitar solo. Up next is “Truth Is A Misty Mountain,” also featuring some good keyboard word, a rocking blues lead vocal, a stinging guitar, and even a little bass solo. Georgia music giants The Allman Brothers Band get a homage from Stuckey with a cover of “Whippin’ Post.” He puts his own spin on the guitar and vocal delivery, making the guitar lead more his own sound. As in the original, we get a huge dose of guitar to savor and Stuckey’s brand of emotive vocals. The opening song is reprised, here the radio edit version. It’s slicker and tad cleaner sounding than in track one, but it’s cool, too.

Stuckey does a fine job as band leader and audio engineer along with his trio mates and Sun Studios in Memphis. The album has a nice sound and the songs are a mix of well crafted originals and interesting covers. Stuckey’s career as musicin, educator and Macon’s ambassador of music. Born in Florida, his home of Macon, Georgia is really what he identifies with. Weaned on country music from his father and opera, classical and sacred music by his mother, Stuckey has formed his own idea on music, blending rock and blues into a cool mélange of music. I really liked the CD and look forward to catching his live act some day!

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.

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 10 

jontavious willis cd imageJontavious Willis – Spectacular Class

Kind of Blue Music

10 tracks

Produced by Keb Mo, Willis’ second album showcases this young, new blues sensation. After touring with Keb and opening for him on his solo tour earlier this year, the Greenville, Georgia, native has laid down ten new tracks here.

Willis grew up with Gospel, but heard Muddy Waters at 14 and became convinced the blues were alright. It took him four years from that moment to play on stage with Taj Mahal; not too bad! Taj was executive producer for this album. Appearing with Willis are Eric Ramey on bass, Phil Madiera on various keyed instruments, and Keb Mo on electric guitar and mandolin. Thaddeus Witherspoon and Martin Lynds share the duty on drums. Willis sings and plays acoustic guitar, some electric guitar, and the resonator.

“Low Down Ways” gets the juices flowing, a tune with a mix of hill country and a more modern blues. The B3 organ work is well done here and Willis sings with authority as he and Mo play electric guitar. Willis gives us some slide and plays resonator on “The Blues Is Dead?” Andrew Alli plays some mean harp as Willis lyrically answers the question posed while also showing us with his talents that the blues are alive and well. Madeira plays some nice piano here for us and Willis slips and slides as Alli blows his harp. Really good stuff! The ballad “Resting On My Mind” follows. Here we have Willis crooning in this thoughtful and pensive cut. The snare, bass and B3 set the mood as Willis sings; Keb Mo later offers up a little electric guitar solo for us. “Daddy’s Dough” is Delta blues and an old time sound with Alli on harp and Willis on guitar and vocals. WIllis finger picks as Alli huffs and puffs the harp; both play a bit but Willis’ inspired vocals are the feature here. “Friend Zone Blues” is a cool sounding blues with a thumping beat as organ and electric guitars set up the groove. WIllis’ vocals again are outstanding in this slower tempo-ed cut with lyrics about someone who wants to have more of a relationship than being friends but the woman won’t have any part of it. Nice finger picking on electric guitar here by WIllis, too.

“Jon’s Boogie” has an old school 50’s sound as Madeira bangs the keys and organ and Willis and Mo play electric guitar in this slick and fun instrumental. “Take Me To The Country” (just “Country” on the packaging) is a solo piece by Willis. He goes down home in sound and with the lyrics, singing of his home back in the country; nicely done! Next is “Liquor,” a song about, well, drinking. Willis is singing about a friend who is a bit out of control; Willis has such a great grasp on pacing and singing. Nice organ, piano and guitar work, too, on this one. “Long Winded Woman” has Doug Mosher on clarinet and Roland Barber on trombone. It’s a cool, old time New Orleans ragtime cut. Willis sings and picks again as the guests give the cut some nice spice. Things conclude with “The World Is A Tangle,” a song about the world and life as we know it, or at least how Willis sees and feels it. He sings about moving to another country because of all the things going one here. Keb Mo tinkles the mandolin and Madeira plays banjo as Willis plays guitar- a nice threesome of stringed sound. Simple, old time sounds with a fresh and cool presentation.

Willis is the real deal. His album shows us he, at 22, is already a force to be reckoned with in the blues. He has a bright future ahead of him with his fantastic voice and guitar skills. The original songs he’s penned and performed as cool and interesting, telling us stories while entertaining us. I am impressed with Willis and truly look forward to catching him life ASAP- he’s the real deal. Until then, grab his new disc and enjoy the sounds- you won’t be sorry you did!

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.

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

paul deslauriers band cd imageThe Paul DesLauriers Band – Bounce

Bros Records/VizzTone Label Group VT-BROS11901

13 songs – 59 minutes

Paul DesLauriers and his three-piece group of blues rockers have been pretty quiet since their most recent previous CD, Relentless, captured entertainer, electric band, bassist and percussionist of the year at the 2017 Maple Blues Awards, Canada’s highest honors. But fans of the Montreal-based band can rejoice because this super-tight album picks up where the last one left off.

One of the most highly decorated bands ever to emerge from the Canadian blues scene, the unit just missed winning the International Blues Challenge in 2016, finishing second in the voting to California’s Delgado Brothers. But they’ve been making major waves on both sides of the border ever since.

The band’s fronted by Ontario native DesLauriers, a talented and inventive guitarist and clear-throated vocalist, who was a co-founder of the rock band Black Cat Bone, which produced several well-received albums in the ‘90s. He launched this unit earlier this decade after a solo career that found him recording and touring with Bryan Lee, Johnny Ferriera, Amanda Marshall and future IBC winner Dawn Tyler Watson.

The award-winning lineup here includes drummer Sam Harrisson and bassists Greg Morency and Alec McElcheran, DesLauriers’ longtime songwriting partner, who filling the chair fulltime now that Morency has left to pursue another musical adventure. Adding to the mix are Lance Anderson, who sits in on organ for two cuts, and Florida-based IBC winner JP Soars, who provides six-string on one of his own originals that the band covers.

The album was captured by Harrisson at his Sam’s Tone Studio in Canada and by Chris Peet at Man of War Studios in West Palm Beach, Fla., and includes 11 originals and one additional cover culled from Peter Green’s time with Fleetwood Mac. DesLauriers lays down multiple guitar tracks on several of the songs, adding to the aural dynamics.

“Here We Go” opens quietly and runs for 28 seconds before flowing into “It’s All on You,” a rocker that builds quickly after DesLauriers lays down a repetitive, funky riff. It’s the first of a succession of uptempo love songs, which isn’t surprising when you discover that Paul married Houston-based soul-blues star Annika Chambers a few weeks before this CD hit the street.

That tune suggests that “you can be my light/I’ll be your helpin’ hand” before Harrisson’s drumbeat kicks off “Let Me Go Down in Flames,” the admission that, after having been burned in the past, the singer’s been reluctant to commit himself to love, something that’s about to change in a dramatic way.

The theme continues with “Take Me to the Brink,” a rapid-fire number that opens with a Western feel, but instantaneously erupts into an intense burner. The tempo slows slightly for the medium-fast Southern-rocker shuffle, “Happy Wasting Time with You,” before “Driving Me Insane” finds DesLauriers reflecting on “a kiss in the night…a risky game…a dangerous game.”

A cover of “Jumpin’ at Shadows,” penned by British blues legend Duster Bennett and popularized by Green in the ‘60s, slows the action down dramatically, but fits perfectly with what’s come as it reconsiders all of the decisions the singer’s made previously in love and life. DesLauriers’ mid-tune solo is a true-blue pleaser.

The action heats up again for the rocker “Working My Way Back Home” before Soars joins the action for “Picked a Bad Day,” which recounts car problems and poverty that coincide with deciding to start drinking atop a hard-driving beat. The mood brightens again for “When the Darkness Comes” and the singer can sense that his lady’s getting close. The message continues in the uptempo shuffle “Feeling All Kinds of Good” before the barebones instrumental “Loosy Goosy Jam #769” and the 10-minute, organ-driven ballad “Waiting on You” bring the action to a close.

Blues comes in all shades, and The Paul DesLauriers Band definitely delivers for anyone who prefers their music at the harder side of the blues spectrum. Hard-driving and in-your-face throughout – and a must-have for anyone whose tastes also run to rock.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 10 

whitey johnson cd imageWhitey Johnson – More Days Like This

Blue Corn Music

10 Tracks/43:05

Recording under his alter-ego, Gary Nicholson becomes Whitey Johnson, a blues man based on a short story Nicholson wrote about a night in a small Texas town (available to read on the website listed). A prolific songwriter, Nicholson tunes have been recorded by a wide range of artists across the entire scope of American music. Few artists can boast of having their material covered by Buddy Guy, Keb’ Mo’, Delbert McClinton, B.B. King, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Jimmy Thackery, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, John Prine, and Ringo Starr. A second disc, under his real name, shared the release date. That album, The Great Divide, found Nicholson sharing his heartfelt observations on the the current state of affairs in our country. ( )

Of the ten tracks, Nicholson wrote three songs, co-writing the rest with Seth Walker on two, Tom Hambridge on three, and McClinton, Guy Clark, Arthur Alexander, Donnie Fritts, and Thackery also lending a hand. One of Nicholson’s songs, “Friction,” is grinding, loping rhythm sparked by strong horn accents provided by Dana Robbins on saxophones and Quentin Ware on coronet and trumpet, as he bemoans a woman who doesn’t know how to moderate the criticism. The subtle guitar interplay between Nicholson and Colin Linden helps to make this track a highlight. Written with Hambridge, “The Blues Is Alive And Well” is the title cut from the latest Buddy Guy release. Nicholson’s version is taken at a faster pace with a harder edge, giving the song a different type of urgency. Another highlight is “Upside Of Lonely,” featuring a laid-back, humorous vocal running through all of the advantages of finding yourself living the single life. Kevin McKendree dazzles on piano, McClinton adds some mournful harmonica tones, and Nicholson picks a taut guitar solo. Another co-write with Hambridge, “Skin Deep,” finds the McCrary Sisters – Regina, Ann, Freda – backing Nicholson’s stirring vocal, giving the track a touch of the church on yet another lead song from one of Guy’s earlier releases.

While Nicholson/Johnson sounds right at home with the blues, he really excels on songs like “Starting A Rumor,” a soulful lament about a man plotting a desperate plan to ignite a spark in an unrequited love affair. The title cut is a breezy celebration of the joy of love, anchored by the accomplished rhythm section comprised of Mike Joyce on bass and Lynn Williams on the drums, and a moving solo from Robbins on tenor sax. The tender ballad, “If It’s Really Gotta Be This Way,” is another standout track, sounding like some of Dan Penn’s best work, with McKendree and Dennis Wage sharing the keyboard responsibilities.

“Soulshine,” a Nicholson original, rolls along in fine style, yet again celebrating the joys of real love. Jimmy Hall adds the backing vocal. Another original, “Hold What I Got,” is old-school soul, the kind of tune that Sam & Dave would have covered for a hit. “High Time” is a road song with a boogie beat, Johnson/Nicholson heading to New Orleans for a epic frolic with like-minded woman, with the singer promising, “I got that bottle of wine, the real high dollar kind. I got the West Coast smoke – better just take one toke”. The horns liven things up and Nicholson once again impresses on the guitar.

These days, most artists or bands struggle to put together a solid program of songs for a project, material that consistently rises above the filler quality level. The depth of Gary Nicholson’s talent is evident across his tandem releases, especially as Whitey Johnson. His versions of “Skin Deep” and “The Blues Is Alive And Well” offer varied approaches that lead to different layers of emotional rendering. More importantly, his songs have the hooks to grab your attention, lyrics that address real feelings at an adult level without preaching, delivered in his easy-going style with a voice that seems to wrap listeners up in its warmth. Whether he wants to be himself or Whitey Johnson, Gary Nicholson an artist that deserves to be heard.

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 Video Of The Week – Vanessa Collier & Laura Chavez 

This week’s video is Vanessa Collier & Laura Chavez performing
” Love Me Like A Man” at Don Odell’s Legends.

 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 10 

the wyattchristmass five cd imageThe Wyattchristmas Five – Slide ‘n’ Jive

Part Records – 2019

15 tracks; 52 minutes

There is a lot of great blues-related music coming out of Germany these days! Kai Strauss & His Electric Blues Band, BB & The Blues Shacks (with and without singer Bonita), Little Roger & The Houserockers and Jimmy Reiter have all produced excellent discs recently and here we have another German band to enjoy. Recorded in Berlin, this is leader Andy Wyattchristmas’ third album release, following two earlier trio discs. Between 2014 and 2017 the band expanded from a trio to a quintet with the addition of piano and harmonica and now consists of Andy Wyattchristmas on vocals and guitar, Peter Kuhn on harp, guitar and vocals, Miss Martini on piano, Olaf Schumacher on upright bass and Dennis Jansen on drums and backing vocals.

Andy wrote eleven of the songs, produced and mixed the album on vintage equipment to give a pleasingly retro sound which is ideal for the mix of rock and roll, swing and blues that is the band’s stock-in-trade.

Andy’s vocals are clear and virtually without accent. Opener “These Good Times” shows the band at its best with driving guitar, pounding piano and a swinging rhythm section on a song that looks back fondly to the days when radio broadcasting was the source of much great music. Miss Martini (great name!) features heavily here and again on “Please Stop The Rain” where Andy is concerned that the heavy rain may end up flooding his cellar and his sense of humour shows through on the witty “You Can’t Wear That” which has more of a rockabilly feel.

The title track “Slide And Jive” must be a great one for the dancers with its insistent, swinging rhythms and elements of doo-wop on the choruses. “That Cat” brings in Peter’s harp which increases the blues element, also true of “Baby Please” where Peter takes over the vocals and Andy switches to slide guitar. Peter has more of an accent and a gruffer tone but handles the vocals on this and two other cuts: his own original “Behind The Bar” praises the hard-working bar girls who are ever-smiling, first in and last out of the club, on a tune with some fine lead guitar by Andy and more great piano work; “Mojo Hand”, as you might guess, takes us down to the swamps in a version of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ song in a stripped-back quartet version with harp and slide.

“When You Ain’t Around” changes things up a bit with some surf style guitar and good harmonies over a tune dominated by the piano and an overall feel that harks back to 50’s pop (think Dion or Fabian). The sole instrumental here is “Another Road”, a song written before the piano was added to the band and recorded here with just Andy’s attractive lead (again with some surf action) set against acoustic guitar and bass/drums.

“Gimme Your Lovin’” is a catchy harp-led shuffle, “Don’t Knock” is a 1961 song by The Spiders and “It’s Mighty Crazy” is a Lightnin’ Slim tune on which the band has some fun with the risqué lyrics. “Who’s Got The Key To My Room” is a real swinger which recounts what happens when you lose your room key after a gig…and even worse the bandmates are enjoying the moment! Closing track “I Am Still Around” is a song from Andy’s first album, re-recorded with fuller band sound.

This was the first material from this band that this reviewer has heard but it’s really good stuff that keeps your toes tapping throughout. The band must be terrific fun live and this disc is well worth seeking 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 – 8 of 10 

ann arbor blues fest cd imageVarious Artists – Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1969 – Vols. 1 & 2

Third Man Records

Vol. 1 – 11 Tracks/73:26

Vol. 2 – 11 Tracks/73:03

One of the watershed moments in the history of blues music, the !969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival brought together twenty-four blues artists, virtually every one with Hall of Fame credentials, for a three day fest in early August on the campus of the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. Thanks to Third Man Records, the label owned by Jack White, listeners can now be transported back to a time when the giants did indeed walk the earth.

The two disc set comes in a four panel gate-fold case, with both sides of the panels filled with black & white photos of the performers and audience in varying sizes. Also included is a twenty-six page booklet with additional photos, two essays that recount details of the weekend, and track listings that include the various musicians playing on each cut, some of whom remain unidentified. The notes also explain that no recording exists of the Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell performance and that a Freddie King track is not included at the request of the guitarist ‘s estate. (Note: The LP versions of the set each include extra tracks. Vol. 1 has Pinetop Perkins doing “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie”. Vol. 2 has a Big Bill Hill announcement plus bass man Big Mojo Elem doing “Mojo Boogie”.)

One caveat for the set is the sound quality, which varies from track to track. Done by Jim Fishel on tape, these are audience recordings that have been stored for the last fifty years. Third Man Records used all of the latest technology to improve the sound when possible. Most tracks have reasonable sound that makes this historical project a viable entity. And these are indeed audience recordings, as you will hear at various points, as chatter from listeners appears out of nowhere during a performance, particularly during an intense moment of Luther Allison’s medley “Everybody Must Suffer/Stone Crazy,” as a woman’s voice materializes, talking and laughing in dramatic contrast to the music surging around her. Fortunately, her interlude doesn’t last long, and the other moments when the audience intervenes are minimal.

The first volume starts off with Roosevelt Sykes on piano, doing a salacious run-through of “Dirty Mother For You”. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right” served as an inspiration to Elvis Presley. At the festival, he turned in a loping turn on “So Glad You’re Mine,” his bold voice accompanied by his rhythmic electric guitar picking and a bass/drums section. The sound quality on ‘Too Much Alcohol” is poor but that doesn’t diminish the intensity of the performance by J.B. Hutto & His Hawks. “I Wonder Why” features Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins’ razor sharp guitar work, then Junior Wells gets backing from Lefty Dizz on guitar for a tune he often covered, “Help Me”.

One revelation occurs on “I’ve Got A Mind To Give Up Living,” as B.B. King goes deep into the blues, playing a lengthy opening solo that sets the stage for a stark, moving vocal with Sonny Freeman & the Unusuals providing solid support. Honoring a request, Mississippi Fred McDowell plays the traditional “John Henry,” using his slide guitar to create a driving rhythm. Allison proves that his live shows never lacked the amazing intensity he was famous for on his long medley. Things shift to the creole music of Louisiana as Clifton Chenier charms the audience singing and playing his accordion unaccompanied on the “Tu M’as Promis L’amour/You Promised Me Love”. Howlin’ Wolf is at his primal best on “Hard Luck,” his deep voice singing the blues with Hubert Sumlin and Lucky Lopez Evans on guitar and Detroit Junior on piano. Taken from the preview show at the Hill Auditorium, Otis Rush gives a splendid run-through of “So Many Roads, So Many Trains,” one of the better sounding tracks on the collection.

The second disc continues the parade of blues giants, starting off with Muddy Waters doing one of his classics, “Long Distance Call,” with all-star backing from Pee Wee Madison and Sammy Lawhorn on guitar, Paul Oscher on harmonica, Pinetop Perkins on piano, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums. Not to be outdone, Charlie Musselwhite gets the festival swinging with the instrumental, “Movin’ And Groovin’,” his hot harp licks riding the foundation set up by the Aces – Louis Myers on guitar, Dave Myers on bass, and Fred Below on drums, plus Freddie Roulette on lap steel guitar. Festival attendees also had the opportunity to see the dynamic Magic Sam, who’s soaring voice and frantic guitar picking on “I Feel So Good” had to be a highlight of the event. Shirley Griffith was a little-known country blues artist, but he acquits himself quite well on “Jelly Jelly Blues,” alone with his electric guitar. With help from Allison and a horn section, T-Bone Walker reminds listeners why his style influenced so many blues artists on his hit, “Call It Stormy Monday”.

Things get lowdown one more time, with Walker contributing incisive guitar work in support of the powerful voice of Big Mama Thornton on “Ball And Chain”. The crowd noise seems to inspire Big Joe Williams, who delivers a rousing take of “Juanita,” his fingers dancing across the fretboard of his nine string guitar. Another classic, “Key To The Highway,” features legendary drummer Sam Lay on lead vocals and Luther Tucker on guitar. Lay and his band also back-up Lightnin’ Hopkins on a fierce interpretation of “Mojo Hand”. Then the James Cotton Blues Band lays down thirteen minutes of glorious musical excitement, featuring plenty of the leader’s hard-hitting harp blowing on Little Walter’s “Off The Wall”. The disc closes with Son House testifying on the origin of the blues. Then he illustrates his remarks with his slide guitar on a somber take of “Death Letter Blues”.

One quick review of the list of artists that appear on this collection should be all it takes for most blues fans to make a purchase. Complete with plenty of details and pictures in addition to many stirring performances by true giants of the music, these two discs make it clear that the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival did indeed feature possibly the finest line-up of any blues fest, ever! Forget about sound issues or crowd noise. Instead, be ever so thankful for this opportunity to go back in time to relive portions of this historical event.

Interviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!

 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 

pul Messinger cd imagePaul Messinger – The Reckoning

Self-produced CD

7 songs – 33 minutes

One of the earliest disciples of Howard Levy, the former Bela Fleck & The Flecktones front man who revolutionized harmonica with his advancement of overblow techniques, singer, songwriter and poet Paul Messinger is a voice of reason in a troubled world, something he proves time and time again on this thought provoking disc, which blends blues, roots and Americana in a pleasant, but hard to categorize fashion.

A native New Yorker now based out of Chapel Hill, N.C., Messinger is a rare talent who’s cut out of the same cloth as Bob Dylan in the ‘60s or Gil Scott-Heron in the ‘70s. Both served as the musical conscience of their generation, lightning rods for criticism, but talents whose lyrics were imbued with social commentary that addressed inequities in the hope of initiating change.

Today, Paul walks a similar but different path.

It began about a decade ago with Climb Jacob’s Ladder, a deeply personal disc that came about as Messinger was recovering from the loss of his son at age 21. Two more albums – America 2.0: Assorted Tales and New Myth and Love Will Find You: 9 Degrees of Relationship – followed as Messenger honed his style, which comes across as an intimate communication with the listener.

Like his previous two releases, The Reckoning is an all-original project that comes complete with an illustrated booklet of lyrics for further consumption. The disc features Messinger in multiple configurations, backed by Jason Merritt, who produced, on guitars, backing vocals and on keys along with Peter Lucey with Keenan Jenkins provided additional six-string atop a rhythm section composed of bassist Robert Sledge and percussionist Morgan Davis.

Recorded live in studio, guest artists include 2019 International Blues Challenge winner Jon Shain, Richard Welsh and Jeremey Haire (guitars), Todd Parrott (harmonica), Tim Smith (horns), Raney Hayes and FJ Ventre (vocals).

A warm harp/guitar intro kicks off “The Reckoning,” a gentle ballad, which stops at a Starbucks in Missouri before a prodigious rain and travel on to Montana, where the weather’s different but problems of poverty and impending doom remain. As Messinger repeats the incessant lyrics, “We are all head-ing, toward a Reckoning,” that his message is a metaphor that runs much deeper.

Blues lovers will get a kick out of the tune that follows. “The Epic Saga of Jason Ricci’s Socks” is a bluesy, medium-paced shuffle that gives Paul space to put his harp skills on display. Apparently, it’s a third-person account of something Ricci experienced and relayed in conversation, recounting a three-day jail stay after a brush with the law. As Messinger states: “Now, Jason Ricci was no Saint. But let’s be clear…he was alright” because he gifted his socks to another, barefoot inmate to ward off the chill of the long night.

“Jesus Will Understand,” meanwhile, pays tribute to U.S. Marines in Afghanistan and the night terrors they endure after returning home. A cascade of notes open the uptempo “The Truth Will Do,” which stresses the need to be honest while maintaining your own individuality and personality.

A reprise of the French nursery rhyme “Frere Jacques” opens “Time 2 Take th’ Guns,” a straightforward plea to a nation riddled with anger, violence and fear. The slow blues “Hungry for Love” brightens the mood as it describes the thoughts running through the mind of a lonely man while penning a letter to Dear Abby.

The disc closes with “War Evermore.” Adapted from a song Bob Marley wrote based on a 1936 address delivered by Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, to the League of Nations in the ‘30s, it’s a multi-tracked paean to peace that incorporates Hindu imagery and a reggae beat atop a complex textural arrangement to drive its message home.

Available through CDBaby and several digital download sites, the blues themes are woven into the fabric of this one throughout. It’s a great listen for anyone whose musical tastes run outside of the box. Strongly recommended for those among us who are searching for a voice to lead us out of the current wilderness. Messinger is a master craftsman who deserves a far broader audience.

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 – 10 of 10 

the hideways cd imageThe Hideaways – The Lost Tapes, Vol 1

Mind Smoke Records – 2019

10 tracks; 37 minutes

This CD documents a recording session in New Jersey in 2006. According to the PR sheet these four guys walked in off the street and recorded these tunes in one evening. The band at the time was Chris James on vocals, guitar and organ, Scotty Micciche on harp and vocals, Sean O’Neill on bass and the late ‘Boom Boom’ Johnson (to whose memory the album is dedicated) on drums. It appears from the Mind Smoke website that the band is still active but no other album releases are noted. Quite why the material remained unreleased is not clear but it’s a workmanlike disc with good quality sound as the quartet runs through a pretty diverse set of material. There are no writing credits provided but nine of the songs are definitely covers whilst one may be original.

The set opens with frantic takes on “Let’s Have A Natural Ball” and “Farmer John”, perhaps matching the PR sheet’s claim that the band’s “rapid-fire live show has the energy, impact and drive of a set by the Ramones and the Clash”! Things calm down a little for “Lonely Avenue” with plenty of shimmering guitar behind the vocals, harp player Scotty sitting this one out though he more than makes up for that on Little Walter’s “Little By Little” which has lots of solid harp work as well as some excellent guitar, making it a good version of a song that we probably hear a bit too frequently. Next up is Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny” which rocks along well in a short, sharp version, just under three minutes, before the harp is again prominent on Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It” with vocals sung through the harp mike.

The mood then shifts away from the blues with a rockabilly take on “Oh Lonesome Me” before the band tackles the old Joe Liggins favourite “Pink Champagne, The Hideaways going for a multi-vocal approach with the harp playing behind the vocals. The instrumental “Honey Boy” was not familiar to this reviewer and might possibly be an original tune. It is impressive with great fast picking on guitar, stop-start rhythm section and nice harp work backed by jazzy organ fills before the album closes with T-Bone Walker’s ballad “I’m Still In Love With You” which features Chris’ guitar work, very much in T-Bone style.

Nothing startlingly original here but solid versions of some well-loved tunes, well played and recorded, making it a decent listen.

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

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Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

Crossroads Blues Society has many shows coming up in the Rockford, IL area. The monthly shows at the Hope and Anchor in Loves Park continue $5 cover, 8 to 11:30 PM: Sat Nov 9th – Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys featuring Westside Andy Linderman, Sat Dec 14th – Ivy Ford. Radisson Hotel and Convention Center, Rockford, IL, 7 to 10 PM $10 admission Sat Nov 23rd – Nick Schnebelen. Lyran
Society, Rockford, IL, 7 to 10 PM No Cover Fri Nov 15th – Ivy Ford, Fri Dec 6th – Trinadora Rocks Sock Hop, Fri Dec 20th – Bob Frank.

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. 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 19 – Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat – Manteno Sportsmen’s Club. More Info at:

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