Issue 13-47 November 21, 2019

magazine cover image november 21, 2019

Cover photo © 2010 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has the first of our Vintage Feature Interviews with the late Blues legend Lazy Lester. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including a tribute album of prominent Blues artists performing Sean Costello’s original music plus new music from Debra Power, Scotty Dennis, Jeff Dale And The South Woodlawners, Marie Martens & the Messarounds, Billy Garrett, Battle Of The Blues – Chicago Vs Oakland, Seth James, Arthur Adams and Steve Strongman.

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

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 Featured Vintage Interview – Lazy Lester 

Lazy Lester was a Blues music icon. (June 20, 1933 – August 22, 2018)

This vintage interview originally ran in the August 8, 2013 Issue of Blues Blast Magazine which is archived on our old website HERE. We were also fortunate to get a second interview with Lester in 2016 that is available HERE.

lazy lester photo 1Blues Hall of Famer Lazy Lester is carving out his own piece of heaven these days at the northern end of the Central Valley in Paradise, California, far away from South Louisiana, where he built his legendary career.

Lester has been one of most prominent voices in South Louisiana, contributing hit after hit for the legendary Excello Records label, including “Sugar Coated Love,” “I’m A Lover, Not A Fighter,” “I Hear You Knockin’,” “You Got Me Where You Want Me” and “Pondarosa Stomp.”

At 80 years old, however, he’s not rocking and whittling his life away. Known best as a harmonica player, he was a guitar player first, and he’s still traveling the world, having survived six decades on the road, two “retirements” from the music business, a horrendous house fire that left him burned over much of his body and a heart attack a couple of years ago.

He frequently works either a solo act in Northern California, accompanying himself with foot percussion, or with a band. It might surprise you to read this, but when he does work with a group, he prefers the six-string, which was his first love, instead of harp. “I’m 50 percent gitar and 50 harmonica — I like to play gitar behind a harmonica player,” he says. “I know exactly how I want him to sound, and I know how to play to get ‘em to sound that way.”

That attitude would have served him well on last January’s Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise, in which he was part of Mark Hummel’s Harmonica Blowout, along with East Coast reed-bender Sugar Ray Norcia. But it was his harp-blowing that most of the passengers expected to hear. He spent a good deal of his free time in the shade at the aft end of the pool deck, however, picking his acoustic guitar and chatting with whoever strolled past. He’s always been in high demand, especially in Europe, where he was headed for a three-week Scandinavian tour when this interview took place.

Not bad for someone who got into the music business by chance. Born Leslie Johnson in Torras, La., in 1933, and raised in the Baton Rouge suburban of Scotlandville, he never was lazy, having worked as a gas station attendant, woodcutter and grocery store clerk. He learned to play guitar, picking it up from an older brother.

lazy lester photo 2Influenced by Jimmy Reed and Little Walter’s hit, “Juke,’ he picked up the harp, too. Not long after, he was proficient enough to play high school dances as a harp player with his first band, the Rhythm Rockers, before picking up club dates with Guitar Gable, the North Carolinian bluesman who recorded for the Excello label. Later, he replaced Buddy Guy on guitar when Guy left another band to move to Chicago.

His life changed for good one day in the mid-‘50s, when he was riding a bus to his home in Rayne, La., and happened to sit down beside another Excello artist, guitar great Lightnin’ Slim, and struck up a conversation. The official story has been that Johnson was curious about the recording process and that Slim offered an invite to watch him work in the studio, which was only a few miles down the road in Crowley. That’s where producer Jay Miller recorded most of his sessions for his Nashville-based label. When Slim’s regular harp player, Wild Bill Phillips, failed to show, the story goes, Leslie volunteered to fill in.

But that’s NOT the way it went down, says Lester today, revealing the details to Blues Blast Magazine for the first time.

“I didn’t tell him I was a harmonica player because I wasn’t,” Lester says. “ I wasn’t gonna come up and start lyin’ from jump street…you know. A lot of guys’ll tell you how good they are and you put ‘em on a stage and, oh, you’ll be so glad when they get to the end of that song.”

The truth of the matter is that when he and Slim got to the studio and Phillips failed to appear, they got into a car and started searching for him or Henry Clement, also known as Big Chief Takawaka, the Swamp Doctah. He’s the Crowley native who recorded one session with Lightnin’ at age 19, when Wild Bill wasn’t available, and is featured on the song “New Orleans Bound.”

After a couple of hours on the road, they returned to the studio minus either harp player and Slim was ready to abandon the session. “I said: ‘What’s so special about these guys?’” Lester recalls. “’I can play better than that.’”

lazy lester photo 3“What’d you say?” Slim responded. Lester repeated himself and asked for harps keyed to A and G. While Lightnin’ was getting them, Lester also tuned Slim’s guitar to be in harmony with the reeds. “That’s what made it so good,” he says today. They hit the first few notes to “Sugar Mama,” an old Lightnin’ Hopkins tune, and Slim was convinced. “Let’s cut it, son,” he said, emphatically adding: “You mean to tell me I’m ridin’ around here all over hell and Texas, looking for ‘em, and I got ‘em right here with me? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You didn’t ask,” Lester replied. “And from then on, that was my job. He never looked for another one.” It was always him who responded when Lightnin’ spoke his trademark words: “Play your harmonica, son.”

Leslie Johnson became “Lazy Lester” in 1957, when Miller decided to record him as a featured artist with Gable’s band backing him up. He figured the moniker had more of a ring than Johnson’s given name when the company pressed “I’m Gonna Leave You, Baby,” backed by the instrumental “Lester’s Stomp.”

The nickname derived from Johnson’s slo-o-ow way of talking rather than his work habits. But, he adds, “I was never in a hurry to do nothin’.”

His first hit, “I’m A Lover, Not A Fighter” backed by “Sugar Coated Love,” struck gold for Excello in 1958. And Miller started using him extensively as an arranger, singer, harmonica player and guitarist in the studio with other Excello artists. The list includes a who’s who of blues superstars of the day, including, but not limited to Katie Webster, Lonesome Sundown, Henry Gray, Tabby Thomas, Whispering Smith and Silas Hogan. And he laid the groundwork for his one-man band routine by providing percussion with whatever he could lay his hands on – from his feet to wooden blocks to newspapers and even banging on the wall. “All that chicken scratch you hear – that was me,” he says.

He was an instrumental part in what became known as the “Excello sound,” which encompassed everything from swamp blues — a term that Lester coined — to zydeco, rock and country.

Lester claims he knew the country material better than the white musicians coming into the studio to record. In truth, country was his favorite, having grown up listening to Hank Williams and Jimmie Rogers on the radio.

lazy lester photo 4“I just lo-o-ove country music,” he says. “I listen to all of ‘em. I got a lot of Merle (Travis). I got a lot of George Jones. Charley Pride was a bad boy, too.”

But his favorite is baritone Texan Don Williams, who’s recorded 17 No. 1 country hits. “Man, I don’t see why they don’t put him on top of everything,” says Lester, who usually includes country songs in his act. Even though he often taught the artists arrangements before they put them to tape, however, it took years and — finally — pressure from the musicians themselves for Miller to allow him to record with them. He feared that if the buying public found out that a black man was part of the session, they wouldn’t buy the record.

Lester stayed with Excello into the mid-‘60s, producing several more hits, including “Patrol Blues,” “Whoa Now” and “If You Think I’ve Lost You.”

He and Miller parted company in 1966, with Lester quitting the music business entirely in favor of a variety of backbreaking day jobs, ranging from truck driving to logging to road construction.

Like many musicians of his era, he felt the industry was ripping him off, and for good reason. It was common practice back then that the label owner or producer would demand part of the writing credit for a song before he’d record it. Don Robey, who owned Duke-Peacock in Houston was notorious for it. The Chess brothers claimed songwriting credit on some of their material. And even Dick Clark, the TV host who later became known as “America’s Oldest Teenager,” was the target of a federal investigation in his recording and publishing operations that he launched following the success of “American Bandstand.” It took dozens of lawsuits and government action before artists finally received their due.

Jay Miller was no better than the rest. “He put his name on a lot of my stuff,” Lester says. “He put Jay West on it. Anything you see with ‘Jay West’ – anybody’s tunes, like Lightnin’ Slim, Lonesome Sundown, that was him. He did write some stuff hisself though. But you can’t sue somebody that don’t exist. They all had a thievin’ name. That’s what that was all about.”

lazy lester photo 5Fortunately, Lester was one of the lucky ones when the truth came out, and justice was served. Unlike many of his peers, he lived long enough to receive a settlement.

Lester played off and on for about a decade, moving briefly to Chicago, then back to the Delta before following Lightnin’ Slim, who’d moved to Pontiac, Michigan.

He gave up the business for good, he thought, after settling down with Slim Harpo’s sister, who’d also moved to the region. Occasional gigs in Detroit followed before he realized that he had an audience around the globe that wanted to hear him. After a 20-year absence from the studio and after releasing the “True Blues” LP for Excello in 1967, he returned with “Lazy Lester Rides Again” for Britain’s Blue Horizon label. That release won him a W.C. Handy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album – precursor to the Blues Music Awards — when reissued Stateside by Kingsnake later in the year.

He’s been a powerhouse ever since, with a dozen solo pressings to his credit on labels that have included Alligator, Antone’s, APO and AVI/Excello in the U.S., P-Vine in Japan, Ace and Flyright in the United Kingdom and about 40 more compilations.

Sadly, though, Lester isn’t writing any new material these days. “I haven’t written anything in ages,” he says. “But I could if I put my mind to it. I got enough stuff out there now that’ll play for ever, you know.”

Today, he works when and where he wants to. And he’s looking forward to returning to England for a tour in the fall, and is planning a Florida tour next spring, when he’s booked for a festival in Gainesville.

Meanwhile, he’s enjoying life with his galpal, Pike, about 175 miles north-northwest of San Francisco. But life in Paradise has its perils, too, he warns:

“We got yellowjackets here, and snakes, too – and the yellowjackets, they eat everything. Some people call ‘em ‘meat bees.’ Way out here in California, we got poisonous snakes and things like that. They always tell you, if you kill a rattler or copperhead or cottonmouth, somethin’ like that, always bury the head real deep…so those yellowjackets won’t get to it. They eat that, get the venom from that, and – bam! – they hit you and the snake does, too, even though he’s dead!”

Visit Lester’s website at

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 10 

sean costello tribute cd imageVarious Artists – Don’t Pass Me By – A Tribute to Sean Costello

Land Slide Records

15 tracks; 60:33 minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues

Sean Costello (April 16, 1979 – April 15, 2008) was a one-in-a-million prodigy who began playing guitar at the age of 9, won the Memphis Blues Society’s New Talent Award when he was 14, formed his first band at 15, and released his first album in 1996 at age 16. Across his five critically acclaimed CDs,released while he was alive, he was equally skilled on guitar, vocals, and as a songwriter.

Sean’s first national exposure grabbed Blues fans attention in 1998 when the name “Sean Costello” appeared in the liner notes of Susan Tedeschi’s gold-selling album, Just Won’t Burn. A 1998 appearance at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago found Tedeschi on tour backed by Costello and his band, The Jivebombers. That show revealed that it was Costello, not Tedeschi, playing all the hottest guitar licks on her heart pounding CD.

On April 21, 2001, Sean and his band performed in the back room shipping/receiving area of Kaper’s True Value hardware store in Watseka IL. They performed two sets with the music totaling 2 hours and 27. In that time, Sean and crew played 30 songs! The eclectic nature of the set lists showcased his maturing career interests by 2001 with three released CDs. The performance reflected his serious approach to music, his incredible memory for songs, and an unquenchable thirst for post-WWII Blues, R&B, and Soul. The 30 numbers were a mix of originals and numbers by no less than 23 different artists, from Guitar Slim to Johnny “Guitar” Watson to Robert Ward to Clarence Carter.

Now comes a welcome addition to 2019, Don’t Pass Me By, a tribute to the original songs of Sean Costello. Each performance is lovingly donated by 15 exceptional Blues artists for the benefit of The Sean Costello Memorial Fund, which was established after his passing, to research the bi-polar disease which ultimately contributed to Sean’s tragic and untimely death. [Note: The family of Sean Costello graciously allows Blues Blast magazine to honor Sean each year by naming their award for Best New Artist of the Year as the “Sean Costello Rising Star Award.”]

Produced by Jon Justice and Dave Gross over a decade of work, the album illuminates Costello’s songwriting talents mainly in his four final years, 2004 – 2008. Featuring all previously unreleased recordings, Don’t Pass Me By showcases Costello’s tunes in a remarkable array of 15 distinctive performances by diverse artists who were influenced, either directly or indirectly, by Costello’s well known abilities as a passionate and compelling Blues singer and masterful, gifted guitarist. Each artist was invited to make their own mark, free to depart from the original versions creating deeply personal and unique renditions. Most stayed close to the originals.

During the ten years the album was produced, two of the contributing artists have passed away: Candye Kane and Michael Ledbetter. Artists listed in the credits as contributing to the recordings were: Ray Hangen, Mike Bram, Dennis Gruenling, Matt Raymond, Dave Gross, Jeff Bakos, Damien Lewis, and Phillip Wolfe. Numerous others are not found in the credits.

1. Albert Castiglia, “Same Old Game,” from Sean’s 5th CD,We Can Get Together, 2008 – This fiery song is the perfect choice to kick off the CD with Miami’s Albert doing right by Sean’s original on both vocals and guitar. Castiglia fires off his own distinctive sound on a mid-song guitar solo while maintaining the original vibe about cynicism induced wisdom.

2. Steve Marriner, “How in the Devil,” also from Sean’s 5th CD – 2008 – Canadian multi-instrumentalist and founding member of MonkeyJunk, Marriner keeps the original trio’s plodding mid-tempo on this number, but he adds some of his studied and masterful harmonica successfully to the mix. His vocals of disgust with a wandering lover contain the same intensity as Sean’s.

3. Watermelon Slim / Dennis Gruenling, “Who’s Been Cheatin’ Who” – from CD #2, Cuttin’ In, 2000. – This fast paced number keeps the CD’s groove cooking with veteran recording artist Watermelon Slim’s vocals giving comeuppance to a wayward mate. Gruenling’s harmonica intro of a locomotive-on-fire equates that of Paul Linden in the original. Both songs only take a too-brief 2:46 minutes to blow the tops off heads.

4. Victor Wainwright, “Don’t Pass Me By,” from CD #4, Sean Costello, 2004 The pace slows on this pleading number which, by 2004, had showcased Sean’s maturing and, by then, raggedly powerful vocals. Victor intensely emulates Sean’s tearful vocal appeal to a possibly-departing- sweetheart, and Wainwright takes the title track’s fervor to an even higher level.

5. Candye Kane / Laura Chavez, “I’ve Got to Ride,” also from CD #4 – The album’s pace again quickens when the late Candye Kane with Laura Chavez on guitar knock out this announcement to an “unjustified” darling that the protagonist is leaving and “got to ride.” Kane’s vocals are so pure that it brings a tear to the eye just thinking of the music world’s 2016 loss.

6. Bob Margolin / Dennis Gruenling, “Low Life Blues,” from CD #3, Moanin’ for Molasses, 2001 – Muddy Waters’ band alum Margolin slows the original tempo slightly, and Gruenling plays plaintive harmonica replacing Paul Linden’s original piano. Margolin’s seasoned vocals work wonderfully telling the sad tale of a fallen hero with redemption on his mind. The icing on the cake is Margolin’s slide guitar additions.

7. Seth Walker, “All I Can Do,” from CD #4, Sean Costello, 2004 – This American electric-Blues singer, guitarist, and songwriter’s choice slows the album’s tempo again with a heartfelt rending of Sean’s sad but beautiful lament of unrequited love. An acoustic guitar treatment fits perfectly here with ballad like vocals. Added organ sounds recapitulate Glenn Patscha’s originals.

8. Sonia Leigh, “No Half Steppin’,” also from CD #4 – This unshackled-by-genres, Roots music, 30 year old Georgia singer-songwriter nails Sean’s proud pronouncement of plans for his future upward path. The gravel in Leigh’s voice and her guitar lines go well with the message of a long traveling and suffering protagonist who is determined to be upwardly mobile.

9. The Nick Moss Band featuring Michael Ledbetter, “Hard Luck Woman,” from Sean’s 5th CD, We Can Get Together, 2008 – The late Michael Ledbetter was lead vocalist for Nick Moss on this recording. Michael at least equals if not surpasses Sean’s vocals on this sorry-but-I-got-to-cut-my-losses-and-go song. in Nick’s own seasoned style, Moss deftly conveys the emotion in Sean’s original guitar lines.

10. North Mississippi Allstars, “Father,” from CD #4, Sean Costello, 2004 – NMA maintains the deep haunting tones of Sean’s original song about an ages old theme of tension between a father and son. Luther Dickinson’s slide work takes the song into new sonic territory.

11. The Electromatics, “She Changed My Mind,” also from CD #4 – This Atlanta GA band includes Aaron Trubic who played bass for Sean’s band in 2008. Here they maintain a bouncy, upbeat feel of a rare-for-this-set Sean song where good love is found instead of lost.

12. Debbie Davies, “Don’t Be Reckless with My Heart,” from CD #3, Moanin’ for Molasses, 2001 – This famous American Blues guitarist keeps the original’s tempo and adds her considerable chops on a song where the protagonist is “begging” a promising new lover to be true and gentle “with my heart.”

13. The Morning Life, “You’re a Part of Me,” also from CD #3 – This song was produced by Jack Miele who also emulates Sean’s melodic lead guitar in the New Orleans based band’s contribution. The tempo is slowed nicely from the original to great effect. Bobby Hoerner’s vocals deeply enthuse Sean’s lyrics about trying to prevent a lover’s breakup.

14. Wauchope/Zachary/Prather [members in Sean’s 2001 band], “Can’t Let Go,” from CD #5, We Can Get Together, 2008 – Matt Wauchope takes lead keys and gracious vocals on this mellower version of the song. Melvin Zachary adds bass and Terrence Prather drums. The theme here could be part 2 of the previous song. Sean’s unmatchable guitar was so varied and outstanding in the original that it seems a solemn tribute here to record it without guitar.

15. Oliver Wood / Amy Helm, “Feel Like I Ain’t Got a Home,” also from CD #5 – A fitting choice to end this tribute, the highlight here is Oliver’s poignant lead vocals with added harmony vocals by Amy. To great impact, it’s slower than Sean’s painful original. At 3 minutes in, Oliver’s guitar rips one’s heart out showcasing the emotion of Sean’s number. When remembering Sean died in a hotel room on the eve of his 29th birthday, this version is a real tear jerker.

It has been 11 years since Sean Costello’s passing. This loving tribute album helps to keep Sean’s flame burning, but more importantly, it reminds and reinforces what a great, talented songwriter he was alongside his singing and guitar work. Get this album; Sean was just that special.

The album is available HERE. All proceeds go to The Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research.

James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, Show Promoter and Blues Blast contributor. He resides in Kankakee, IL.

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 10 

debra power cd imageDebra Power – That’s How I Roll

Self-Release – 2019

12 tracks; 53 minutes

Calgary, Canada, is home to pianist and vocalist Debra Power who follows up her 2016 debut album Even Redheads Get the Blues with this all-original effort. Debra’s powerhouse vocals and piano rightly take centre stage, supported by Chris Byrne who plays bass and co-produces the album, Russell Broom on guitar and Lyle Molzan and Kelly Kruse who share drum duties. Mike F Little adds Hammond to five cuts and horns appear on four courtesy of Mike Clark (tenor sax), Pat Belliveau (baritone) and Ian David Hartley (trumpet). Guests include slide players Joey Landreth (three tracks) and Tim Williams (one track); Jack Semple (guitar and vocals), Chris Brzezicki (upright bass) and Steve Pineo (harp) each appear on one cut; a ‘choir’ of Ann Vriend, Cindy McLeod, Ellie Osborne and Debra’s daughter Katie August McCullough add backing vocals to one song.

“All Night Playing The Blues” is a lively start with Debra’s piano setting the pace as she sings of what a fine time she has playing live, as we do on this rollicking tune that brings to mind another piano-playing lady, Marcia Ball. “Takin’ The High Road” adds a soulful note as the horns join in, Debra deciding to get away from the issues that her man seems to have; Russell takes a nice solo before the tune shifts gear into a hot gospel finale with the ‘choir’ joining in. Debra does a good job on “Blue Tears”, a late night number which would have suited Billy Holiday, the jazzy feel accentuated by Ian’s muted trumpet, double bass and brushed drums before we shift styles again for the title track, a strong cut with something of a Little Feat vibe with horns and slide (Tim Williams) in which Debra tells us how she sees life. “Last Time I’m Lovin’ You” is a comic song, a duet with Jack Semple which finds the couple drifting apart, then deciding to ‘kiss and make up’ – only to discover that neither of them has a car to drive home in! More serious is “If We Haven’t Got Love” in which Debra bemoans the world she sees around her, homelessness, prejudice and hatred; Joey Landreth’s slide work is striking here, as it also is on the rocking “I’m Coming Around” and “Side On Sue” which closes the set on a heavier note with the Delta feel of the slide partnered with harp, a song about a very thin woman with a bad drug habit.

Debra makes a heartfelt plea to her man in “Don’t Ever Leave Me”, a ballad with gentle Hammond behind Debra’s piano, and offers some more of her personal philosophy in “My Grateful Song”; “Love is the answer, love is the key, we can break down doors: this is my grateful song, where the hell is yours!” “Let Me Love You Tonight” is an emotional ballad with insistent piano work, sax and some lovely guitar phrasing from Russell while Debra plays solo on “Please Forgive Me Blues” and sounds far from ready to welcome her straying man back home!

There is some good original material here on a well played and produced disc.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 10 

scotty dennis cd i,ageScotty Dennis – Back to the Blues

Self-Produced/Buddydog Music BMI

CD: 12 Songs, 66 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Guitar Monster Blues

Before I begin this review, dear reader, let me ask you a question. Is it possible to thumb-wrestle an album? And what does it mean when the album wins? Kansas City maverick Scotty Dennis’ Back to the Blues is a complex compilation of thirteen tracks (twelve official and one ghost track called “Intro”) that is sure to make listeners’ thumbs flip up, down, all around and sideways. This CD grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. Not only that, but it makes you think: What is this genre? Do crooning romance songs count, such as “For Her Love” and “You Got to Love Me,” or are those more accurately considered soul? What about blistering Albert King-inspired guitar workouts like “I’m Gone” and “I’ve Got the Blues For You”? Are those blues or rock? Regardless, they constitute good, solid entertainment, taken together or separately.

“Versatility has always been a thing for me,” our main man explains in regards to his music. “People have come up and asked me, ‘How did you know what I was going through?’, and I said, ‘I didn’t know, but I know what I was going through, and I knew that if I was going through it, somebody else would have a similar story.” More on this later, but for now, Scotty’s insights ring true on multiple levels, whether one’s a bluesman or not.

Performing along with lead/backing vocalist Dennis are guitarists Brandon Hudspeth, Jerry Keller, Jacque Garoutte, Steve Keller and Hamilton Loomis. Willie Newell plays organ and piano, Go-Go Ray the drums, Fabian Hernandez the saxophone, and Gharett Schaberg the horns. Background and choir vocals are provided by D’Angelo Talbot, Laresha Dennis, Dorthey Williamson, Mechelle Keller, Steve Keller, Zakk Keller, and Anthony Keller.

Beginning these proceedings is an edgy Allman Brothers-style rock anthem with a title more befitting of a closer than an opener: “I’m Gone.” The background vocals by Dennis and Talbot add even more oomph to an already-powerful chorus. “How Can You Love Someone” adds a dash of funk and a splash of soul, making one’s feet shuffle of their own accord. The title track boasts beautiful harmonic vocals by a Greek chorus of voices, raised to the heavens in entreaty: “Every move I make, every road I take, the love I have for you leads me right back to the blues.” “Feel My Love,” running six minutes and thirty-one seconds, runs a bit too long, but who cares when you’re holding your partner close? Take him or her for another spin on “It Don’t Cost You Nothing,” an upbeat number with a wicked bassline and a cheeky cartoon reference: “Trying to make do, just like the Simpsons.” The lesson? “It don’t cost you nothing to get into the groove.” “Intro,” the album’s secret halfway point, is good for a laugh and some backstage epiphanies.

The second half brings more feeling and more flash, starting with the strobe-bright “For Her Love.” “It’s Crying Time” and Anthony Gomes’ “Darkest before the Dawn” lower the mood lights and the mood. Number ten hits one “right in the feels” as Millennials say. The last two numbers are fresh yet traditional, bringing blues past and present together.

This album and genre are about common experiences, universal sentiments, and circumstances to which we can all relate. Scotty Dennis’ latest isn’t brimming with innovation, but that’s not the point. Back to the Blues is a return to our roots and rudiments, tangled as they are.

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.

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 10 

Jeff Dale And The South Woodlawners – Blues Power

Pro Sho Bidness – 2019

11 tracks; 36 minutes

This is Jeff Dale’s sixth release in nine years. Jeff wrote all the songs and plays guitar throughout, supported by a large cast of musicians, including members of James Cotton and Buddy Guy’s bands: guitarists Charlie Love, Jon Siembieda, Hunter Ackerman and Carmelo Bonaventura; keyboard man Derek Phillips; harp players Glen Doll and Aaron Barnes; saxophonist Pat Zicari; horn player and original member of Chicago Lee Loughnane; bassists Orlando Wright, Darryl Lieberstein and André Howard; drummers the late Tim Austin (to whom the album is dedicated), Mark Mack, Clark Pardee and Brian Lara; cellist Dane Little; violinist Nora Germain; backing vocalists Sherry Pruitt and Marvin Etzioni, an original member of Lone Justice, co-producer of the album with Jeff.

The Chicago native has a tough vocal style and pulls no punches about growing up in the Windy City in the opening cut “Toxic Stew”. It’s the longest track here and benefits from a full sound with Pat’s sax and Jeff’s slide work as Jeff reflects on a grim environment in which to grow up: “grey skies, black dust, things you get used to. But I’m alive, I survived the toxic stew.” Sherry shares the vocals on “Good Luck Woman”, a shuffle with Jeff commenting humorously on how his woman actually brings him bad luck before the title track “Blues Power” which extols the healing power of music for whatever ails you. “Middle Class Moan” is a list of complaints over a rather repetitive tune (presumably the ‘moan’ of the old field work-songs) with bubbling keys and Lee Loughnane’s horn accents and the slower “One Step From A Broken Man” is quite a ‘down’ song about a relationship that has foundered, the mournful cello fitting the lyrics well, though the song stretches Jeff’s vocals a bit.

“Best Kind Of Trouble” uses the Bo Diddley beat for another song about Jeff’s development as a musician, his slide sitting on top of the beat and strong backing vocals, making it one of the best tracks here. The pace drops on “Stone Cold” and, again, Jeff’s voice is less suited to the slower songs, the pathos of the lyrics underlined on this one by violin. The next three tracks all feature three guitarists, Jeff, Carmelo and Jon: “Let’s Buzz” is good fun but lasts under two minutes – a pity as the sax, piano and three guitars works pretty well; “Undercover Man” is a grinding blues with lots of guitar; “Black Crow” has Jeff on cigar box guitar and the harp adds a tough note to the music which works well with Jeff’s brooding vocal here. The album closes with another short track, the crowd-pleasing “Can I Boogie” which, one suspects, would be a firm favorite live with rocking piano and sax.

It is always good to hear an all-original album and Jeff’s fans will be sure to enjoy this disc.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

marie martens cd imageMarie Martens & the Messarounds – Travelled

Self-produced CD

13 songs – 52 minutes

Based out of Salem, Wis., a few miles north of the Cheddar Curtain from Illinois, Marie Martens is a veteran vocalist, slide guitarist and keyboard player who makes her debut as a front person after a lengthy career in Europe.

A native of Sweden who possesses a strong, but limited alto voice, Martens has toured extensively across Scandinavia, Germany, the U.K. and Japan, and her background includes a lengthy stay as bassist for the Surfin’ Gorillas, a band founded in Stockholm in 1996 and still touring today out of its current base along the south coast of England.

This album was captured at Excello Recording in Brooklyn, N.Y., with Marie delivering a mix of four originals and nine covers from a wide variety of sources, ranging from Mississippi Fred McDowell to Otis Rush and Mose Allison. She’s backed here by Ronnie “TwoTimes” Cacioppo on percussion and vocals, Jimmy B Natural on electric and upright bass and Tom Selear on drums. They’re assisted by Brian Mitchel on piano and Hugh Pool on percussion for one cut each.

The original, “Change My Ways,” opens the action, built atop a heavy drumbeat with a traditional, heavy guitar feel. Martens alternates slide and intermittent single-note runs throughout as she heads south to escape her troubles. A straight-ahead cover of Rush’s familiar “Keep on Loving Me” follows, and the sound brightens dramatically, before the self-penned “Mama Won’t Allow Me” comes across with a driving boogie beat.

The Eddie Turner classic, “Bad Boy,” turns up the funk, but both the vocals and some of the single-note fretwork are somewhat off-key while the slide-powered original, “Movin’ On,” sounds as if it could have been recorded in the ‘60s. The opening to McDowell’s “Kokomo Blues” is delivered in a whisper before erupting into a driving rocker before a take on Allison’s “Parchman Farm” – a reinvention of a 1940 Bukka White recording – falls flat.

The final original, “Later Baby,” precedes a run of six more covers — the Ruth Brown standard “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” B.B. King’s “Walkin’ and Cryin’,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Room Full of Mirrors,” Hound Dog Taylor’s “Give Me Back My Wig” and the Rolling Stones’ “Ventilator Blues” – to bring the disc to a merciful close.

Available through CDBaby, Travelled needs more road time. The overall delivery mirrors a bar band on a bad night.

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 

billy garrett cd imageBilly Garrett – Everybody Eats When They Come to My House

Self-produced CD

17 songs – 45 minutes

No website

A veteran performer who’s split his life between the stage and working as a restaurant line cook, Billy Garrett delivers an easy, breezy and pleasant mixed bag of blues, swamp, ragtime, New Orleans and more in this lighthearted, wall-to-wall banquet of tunes dealing with food.

Based out of Fort Walton, Fla., grew up in a musical family and called the Crescent City and Colorado home, too. He’s been a fixture on the musical landscape of the Florida panhandle for decades, but this self-produced effort appears to be his recording debut.

The idea for the CD came about in 2015, when a chef friend suggested that Garrett rework country-blues legend Doc Watson’s “Coal Mining Blues” into an original set in a restaurant kitchen. The song “Line Cook Blues,” which appears here, was the result. Billy had so much fun doing that, however, the idea for a full-length blue-plate special of blues related songs was born.

Garrett serves up a savory treat for the earbuds. He’s a relaxed, enjoyable vocalist as well as a polished multi-instrumentalist who splits his time among acoustic, resonator and electric guitars, ukulele, banjo and various percussion instruments, too.

But this isn’t a solo effort. It’s a multi-textured release that incorporates contributions from several friends from the talent-rich Fort Walton area. Joining in on the action are Ronnie Levine (guitar), Bob Maksymkow (sax and clarinet), Tim Jackson (tuba and trombone) George Petropoulos (trumpet), Tim Coale (drums), Steve Ferry (congas) and Franke “Washboard” Jackson with Curt Bol adding background vocals on a single cut.

The material here is a mix of tasty covers and a couple of originals. One criticism: You have to do your homework in order to decipher one from the other because there are no songwriting credits in the packaging, all of which was created by the singer, who’s also an artist, too.

The disc kicks off in style with Cab Calloway’s “Everybody Eats When They Come to My House,” which, like everything else here, comes across with a throwback feel. Snooks Eaglin’s “Country Boy Down in New Orleans” precedes Jimmy Rogers’ familiar “My Last Meal” before George Symonette’s obscure “Don’t Touch Me Tomato.”

The next block includes the cleverly phrased “If I Canned Ham You,” a take on The Ink Spots’ “Java Jive,” an acoustic instrumental cover of the American standard “Shortenin’ Bread” and The “5” Royales’ “Monkey Hips and Rice” before Garrett serves up the afore mentioned “Line Cook Blues” and “Breakfast Blues.”

“Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” a jug band number first recorded in 1920 by Anna Myers and the Original Memphis Five, is up next before Billy moves into the modern era for a taste of James Taylor’s “Sweet Potato Pie.” The instrumental “Kitchen Rag” is served up before Nat King Cole’s “Frim Fram Sauce” spices things up.

“Red Beans Cooking” stews a while before Little Jimmy Dickens’ “Just a Bowl of Butter Beans,” which borrows its melody from the hymn “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and “Hors d’ouvres,” a jazzy number with a Latin beat first recorded in 1935 by Ambrose & His Orchestra, bring the meal to a close.

Eclectic and fun throughout, serve yourself a copy via Amazon, iTunes or Spotify. You’ll be satisfied if you give it a listen.

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 – 7 of 10 

battle of the blues cd imageVarious Artists – Battle Of The Blues – Chicago Vs Oakland

Delta Roots Records

13 songs time – 55:56

Long time blues drummer, producer and songwriter-singer Twist Turner after playing for fifty years with a virtual “who’s who” of blues artists put together this collection of lesser known blues and R&B stalwarts from the Oakland, California and Chicago scenes. Twist drummed on all tracks as well as producing, mixing, horn arrangements, writing all the original songs and occasional keyboards and guitar. The list of artists represented here are Mz Sumac, Aldwin London, Freddie Roulette, Nat Bolden, James Newman, Emery Williams Jr., “Mr. Excitement” Del Brown, Gerald McClendon and Country Pete McGill. The supporting band is extensive and includes Rusty Zinn, Maurice John Vaughn and Roosevelt Purifoy among others.

Mz Sumac from Oakland delivers her rebuke of a dead beat man in the soul tune “Broke Ass Man”. Aldwin London lends his pipes to a soulful version of Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” that features elegant sax from John “Boom” Brumbach. The renown lap steel master Freddie Roulette offers up two instrumentals that showcase his smooth touch on his instrument. The R&B fueled “Take It Easy” and the atmospheric “Red Tide”.

Nat Bolden kicks in with the first real blues on the Chicago style blues of “Good Morning Mr. Blues” with the trusty guitar of Rusty Zinn. James Newman contributes the soul-blues of “Hit And Run Lover” and “Me And My Guitar” with his mellow voice. The latter has Mark Wydra on the guitar. The late Emery Williams Jr. instills his sultry vocals on the R&B of “Hurtin” On You” along with “Mama Don’t Weep”.

The powerful tenor voice of “Mr. Excitement” Del Brown appears on the slow burning R&B “Now That I’ve Gone” and the intense “Time Slippin’ Away”. The late Country Pete McGill sings “Hoochie Coochie Mama” backed by the “one-two” guitar punch of Freddie Roulette and Rusty Zinn.

Twist Turner has assembled a strong collection of blues, R&B and soul here, bringing these under appreciated artists to the foreground. No major revelations here, just well sung and played heartfelt music.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 10 

seth james cd imageSeth James – Good Life

Cherry Bomb Records

CD: 12 Songs, 41 Minutes

Styles: Soul Blues, Roots Rock, Americana

Halloween may be over, but a few blue devils have stuck around on the cover art of Seth James’ Good Life. Instead of torturing souls in the bowels of you-know-where, they’re enjoying Texas pastimes: grilling, making and drinking pink lemonade (?) and reveling under the smiling moon. Old Nick himself has been left out of the fun. He’s the only one who’s crying, for good reason. He brings misery, but the blues brings joy and fellowship with good friends. Seth proves this on twelve terrific tracks, a mixture of pure blues, soul, roots rock and Americana. If you like Delbert McClinton, with whom he’s shared the stage, this CD lies right up your alley. He’s also performed with Buddy Guy, Little Feat, Tab Benoit, Lee Roy Parnell and other genre heroes.

“I never made the decision to be a musician,” James insists. “I just started doing what I loved, and it got out of hand. I’ve been doing it ever since.” Turns out that music’s in his blood. Born in Fort Worth and raised in the ranch country of West Texas, he comes from a family that knows the rewards of hard work and ambition. His grandfather was a honky-tonk piano player who performed as Tooter Boatman and the Chaparrals in clubs, juke joints and roadhouses in the ‘40s and ‘50s. His other grandfather was a Texas Ranger. His father, Tom Moorhouse, founded the Moorhouse Ranch and imbued Seth with values spawned from western tradition.

Performing along with our leading man on vocals and guitar are Bob Britt on rhythm and slide guitar, Lynn Williams on drums, Kevin McKendree on keys and background vox, Yates McKendree on lead guitar for track six, Steve Mackey on bass, Wendy Moten on background vox, Jim Hoke on saxophone, horns and horn arrangements, Roy Agee on trombone, and Vinnie Ciesielski on trumpet.

Good Life is full of songs that teach you how to live it, including the opener “Brother,” “That’s How You Do It,” and the title track. The gist? Accept help from others on your journey, keep your nose to the grindstone, and “get your head on straight; get your ducks in a row.” All three are catchy without being cloying, truthful without being preachy. They also bring nice dashes of soul and funk to contemporary blues-rock style. Then come Frankie Miller’s “Little Angel,” tastefully performed with crooning by Mr. James, and Delbert McClinton’s “Ain’t Whatcha Eat But How You Chew It.” Although they’re covers, they’re great renditions.

Now let’s talk about two heavy hitters. “I’m Coming Home” and “Third Generation” address how family values get diluted as fathers beget sons and grandsons. The former is the album’s oldest entry, and one of the most poignant. “We [Bob McKendree and I] wrote it almost 10 years ago,” Seth recalls. “Very often, they [later descendants] who inherit family ranches] squabble and argue and ultimately sell off what it took generations to build.” The latter is even more pointed: “First generation breaks their back. Second one makes the money. Third one throws it all away, saying ‘Everybody’s fault but mine.’” Everything’s at its grittiest: vocals, lyrics, instrumentation. Wendy Moten’s harmonies are hard-edged, too. Last but not least comes “I Am the Storm,” an acoustic beauty to die for. “I was born in a hurricane. Mama died in the pouring rain. Howling wind in my bones. When the lightning strikes, I moan. Oh, I am the storm.”

Good Life brings Texas blues home with style!

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 

arthur adams cd imageArthur Adams – Here To Make You Feel Good

Cleopatra Records

10 songs – 39 minutes

Arthur Adams has been something of a local legend in and around Los Angeles since the 1960s, collaborating with the likes of BB King, Nina Simone, Dr John and Bonnie Raitt as well as releasing a series of solo albums. His latest CD, Here To Make You Feel Good, his first in ten years, is a timeless collection of feel-good soul blues, released to coincide with the 75 year-old’s farewell run of shows. If this album is any indication of his current abilities, live music will be significantly poorer for his retirement.

The cover photo of the album depicts a beaming Adams, nattily dressed in a sharp shirt, mustard blazer and dark fedora, playing a vintage Gibson 335 outside a white shack. It’s a great image that perfectly captures the uplifting, inspiriting music within.

Adams sings with a clean, light, slightly nasally voice that suits the music well. He is a also a superb guitar player, turning in a series of short, punchy solos (particularly on “Tear The House Down” and the closing instrumental, “A Little Dab Will Do Ya”) as well as laying down some fine rhythm guitar – the introduction to “Enjoy Each Moment” is an instant classic. He is backed by an impressively high-powered band, including the legendary James Gadson on drums, Reggie McBride, Lou Castro and Freddie Washington on bass and Hense Powell on keys. A number of songs also benefit from horns, whether Ronnie Laws’ solo saxophone on “Tear The House Down”, or the full bore sound of Lee Thornberg and Lester Lovett on trumpets, Bruce Fowler on trombone and Bill Bergman on saxophone on “Gonna Make Some Money”, which also features the backing vocals of Kym Foley, Jessica Taylor and Ava DuPree on backing vocals.

Adams wrote or co-wrote all 10 songs on the album, which kicks off with the funky, disco-lite “Tear The House Down” on which Adams and Laws take turns laying down some lovely blues licks between Adams’ vocal lines, while Gadson, McBride and Powell provide an irresistible underpinning. The upbeat “Full Of Fire”, which follows, has an ear-worm of a chorus, an almost 1980s dance beat, and more sharp guitar playing. The lyrically upbeat “Sweet Spot” also has an 80s feel with its heavily chorused guitar and key change for the solo (think Clapton’s Journeyman-era), while Powell’s descending piano introduction to “Pretty Lady” is immediately memorable. The slow blues of “By Myself” emphasizes Adams’ debt to BB King, both vocally and in the melodic phrasing of his guitar playing.

Here To Make You Feel Good was produced by Adams and Powell at Pacifica Studios and they captured a very crisp, warm sound. With great songs, great playing, and a thoroughly contemporary sound that is also classic and enduring, Here To Make You Feel Good is a soul-blues delight from start to finish. Hats off, Mr Adams.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.

 Featured Blues Review – 10 of 10 

steve strongman cd imageSteve Strongman – Tired of Talkin’

Self-Produced/Ontario Creates

CD: 12 Songs, 43 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock

What do meat and potatoes, chili, and fried chicken have in common? They’re comfort foods, especially for this chilly season. On his new album, Tired of Talkin’, Canada’s JUNO Award-winning Steve Strongman serves twelve “comfort blues rock” dishes. One will savor contemporary flavors of this subgenre without encountering anything too exotic. No Hendrix-style riffs or ten-minute solos, just hearty music that’s quite filling for its 43-minute running time. On eleven originals and one cover (“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, Willie Mitchell and Al Jackson, Jr.), Strongman and company provide robust vocals and instrumentation.

This is Steve’s seventh studio recording, augmenting a clearly-impressive resume. It includes opening for such blues icons as B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Johnny Winter. The performer’s breakthrough 2012 release A Natural Fact was hailed as a standout, earning Maple Blues Awards for Recording, Songwriter, and Guitarist Of The Year as well as a 2013 Juno Award for Blues Recording Of The Year. In 2014, he was thrice-nominated at the Maple Blues Awards (Guitar Player, Electric Act, and Entertainer of the Year) and in 2015 received a second Juno nod for Blues Album of the Year (for Let Me Prove It To You). In 2018, No Time Like Now, was a Juno award nominee for Blues Album of the Year. In 2019, Strongman won Best Guitarist for the Solo Duo Category at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN.

Performing with Strongman (vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, dobro and harmonica) are Dave King on drums and backing vocals; Colin Lapsley on bass and backing vocals; Jesse O’Brien on piano; Pat Sansone on keyboards, piano, and acoustic guitar tracks; Audley Freed on electric guitar; James Haggerty on bass, and Ella and Scarlett Strongman on additional backing vox.

The album’s title track is appetizer and main course, featuring powerful piano from Jesse O’Brien and an infectious groove. “Paid My Dues” is a lowdown, throw-down rocker perfect for a night drive down the highway. After that comes “Still Crazy About You,” the first of several love songs. Check out Steve’s melodic dobro, as beautiful as the harmonies on the refrain. “Just Ain’t Right” lies on the other end of the spectrum, showing what happens when misconceptions and rumors lead to arguments in a relationship: “I don’t know what you heard; everything you said was wrong. Now I’m stuck in here feeling like I don’t belong. Baby, what you see isn’t always what you get. I can talk at you, but you haven’t heard me yet.”

Volume alert: “Can’t Have It All” explodes into one’s ears after the funky groove of the fourth song, It’s only two minutes and fifty-four seconds, so hit the dance floor while you can. This is what a rocking boogie should be, full of vim and vigor, never letting up even for a second. The next two songs are modern yet traditional, with “Living the Dream” pepping one up after the mid-tempo “Tell Me Like It Is.” “That Kind of Fight” drags a bit, but don’t worry: “Hard Place and a Rock” raises the energy level once more. Stomp and clap along to this one.

A word on “Highwayman”: This standout features fantastic work from Pat Sansone and lyrics that deliver a sucker punch: “Well, they’re killing each other right down my street. There’s blood on the door, blood at my feet.” It should be featured in an upcoming movie.

In the mood for blues comfort food? Tired of Talkin’ will fill your soul if not your belly!

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.

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Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

“Holler Out Loud! Nikki Hill is on fire!” The Sacramento Blues Society Annual Holiday Membership Party, featuring the fabulous Nikki Hill will be held on Friday, December 13th at Harlow’s Nightclub & Restaurant, 2708 J Street, Sacramento. Doors open 6:00 pm, Show starts 7:00 pm. Free for active SBS members (bring your membership card) and $25 for non-members (but this $25 also buys you a one-year membership into one of the oldest Blues Societies in the Country – the Sacramento Blues Society.

This will be the SBS party of the year and a show you won’t want to miss! For tickets or to RSVP: HERE  For more information go

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 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 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. November 25 – Paul Niehaus & Bob Kamoske, December 2 – Marry Jo Curry, December 9 – Studebaker John, December 16 – The Mud Bugs, December 23 – Brabdob Santini, December 30 – James Armstrong.

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