Issue 13-48 November 29, 2019

Cover photo © 2019 Howard Greenblatt

 In This Issue 

Mike Stephenson has our feature interview with Michael Damani. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including a new book by Steve Cushing plus new music from Piedmont Bluz Acoustic Duo, Michael Lee, Jimmy T & Sidetracked, The 40 Acre Mule, Mike Goudreau, Alex Lopez, Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, Ray Cashman and The Wayne Riker Gathering.

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

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 Featured Interview – Michael Damani 

Interview of this young and up and coming guitarist on the Chicago blues scene by Mike Stephenson took place in Chicago in 2019. Many thanks go to Jim Feeney for all of his help.

michael damani photo 1My name is Michael Damani, that is the name I perform under. Domani is my given middle name my last name is Strautmanis and it’s a name from Latvia, Eastern Europe, that means ‘a man by the river’. My dad’s father was not with the family for very long and my grandmother remarried a Latvian immigrant and his name was Juris ‘George’ Strautmanis so I took the family name. I was born in Oak Park, Illinois and raised in the Washington DC area, Silver Spring, Maryland.

I was born in 1994, April 4th. My first instrument was the drums and I studied with an eighty nine year old guy and he was awesome and then I didn’t have many people to play with, so I kinda put the drums down and I didn’t pick up the guitar until I was fifteen. I was taking a class in school. I wanted to take a basketball class as I was into basketball and I wanted to get on the basketball team but that class was full so the elective course that I chose as a secondary course was a guitar and drum class, it was kind of a mistake but the greatest mistake that’s ever happened to me. I was like ten or eleven when I was playing the drums to start with. My third grade teacher she was really into the drums at the time and she was taking drum lessons and she was telling the students all about the drum lessons and I was watching her do her air drum thing and it looked like the coolest thing ever, so I started lying to her in the class that I was taking drum lessons too. Then she eventually caught on that I was bullshitting her and she called me out on it so that’s when I actually started taking the lessons.

I then started playing the guitar at fifteen years old, playing guitar at ensemble classes and I started getting more serious and got a private mentor and stayed with him in DC, studying all kinds of stuff, blues, jazz, classical, and then I started thinking about going to school for music., did school for about a year and then left. Then I came back to Chicago because there was a group that I had started when I was in school and the group was still active, so I wanted to come back so I could be with the group, so that was initially the reason I came back to Chicago. The group was named Gloria Step it was like a rock group but it was pretty short lived. After that I started to want to stay in Chicago. My mother wanted me to come back home as she thought that Chicago wasn’t working out for me and she thought that if I came back home I could try something out there, but I wanted to stay in Chicago as I thought something would work out for me here.

michael damani photo 2Long story short, within several years I ended up getting into the blues community here. How this happened was I was working as a bike messenger, downtown mostly, and I saw these two horn players that were on the street and I asked them where I could go to some jam sessions around town and they told me about Norman’s Bistro which is a spot on 43rd Street. It’s more of a jazz jam session, so that is the first jam session I was introduced to in Chicago and it was a really great experience and it helped revitalize me and I felt that I had a lot of creative energy and a lot of ambition. I just wanted to keep exploring music and see if I could find a niche that I could fit into. I was able to do that through the blues community. There is a drummer in Norman’s Bistro jazz jam sessions who told me that I seemed more of a blues player and he told me I should go to this place and that place. He told me about B.L.U.E.S on Halsted and Buddy Guy’s and Rosa’s Lounge and all these spots. So I started going to those clubs’ blues jams and then I became determined to find a band that needed a guitar player that had like a house gig, like the ones I was going to. I was able to find that through a harmonica player named Art Perkins who I met at Rosa’s Lounge, and he invited me to a jam session at 2337 South Michigan on Thursday and there is a jam session there put on by some great guys. So i came to the jam session and it turned out they were having a benefit concert for their guitar player John Watkins. He had had a stroke and they were having a benefit concert for his recovery because he had all kinds of medical expenses. They were also organizing a jam session as well. This was December of 2016 and I came with my axe and jammed with the Original Chicago Blues All Stars who are Jimmy Tillman, Freddie Dixon and John Watkins and within a week I got a call from Jimmy Tillman asking me if I could do a gig with them on New Years Eve and I’ve been with the group ever since. So that was the manifestation that I had been looking for and it happened in a really beautiful way and it’s been the start of my whole career and journey. It is certainly good company to be in.

michael damani photo 3I’ve played with other artists here on the Chicago blues scene. I’ve played with Mary Lane off and on. Louisiana Al I’ve played with and some others, and I’ve played with others outside of the blues community. I’ve played with some in the jazz community, like with a young up and coming sax player and a really great group named Tamari Team Electric Company. It’s kinda like a modern day Parliament/ Funkadelic type of thing. I’ve started my own group and I’ve been doing that for quite some time and I’m still doing that and it’s under my own name and it’s mostly blues we play. John Lowler was my bass player for a while and he is working with the Cash Box Kings and he is deep into the blues community. Through my experiences at Motor Row Brewing on S. Michigan, I’ve shared the stage with a lot of legendary cats like Jimmy Johnson, which was a great experience and, before he passed, I played with Eddie Shaw. You never know who is going to come by there and sometimes there are only a few people there and other times it’s a packed house. Shirley King is there and Omar Coleman, the harmonica player, Wayne Baker Brooks and I get the chance to play with those artists, it’s really cool.

I have done some recordings with Mary Lane on one of her CDs actually. I was playing the keyboards on one of her CDs and that was a great experience. Besides that I’ve not done any recordings as yet, other than a recording session under my own name with the Chicago Blues All Stars. It’s a single that we recorded, a song called ‘Black Bags’ which is about gun violence. It was a writing collaboration between myself and Jimmy Tillman, the drummer for the group.

michael damani photo 4The blues community has been more than welcoming to me and it takes time to get to know people and it takes time for them to get to know me. At this point I have been around for about three years and there are some spots that I go in and they know me, like Buddy Guy’s and spots like Kingston Mines. I’m definitely part of the community and the Chicago blues scene.

I plan on keeping my own band together and I think it’s necessary to have a good mental balance because I don’t want in any way to discourage my presence with the Chicago Blues All Stars and I think I’m really lucky to be with them, but at the same time I want to continue to do my own thing and eventually expand and be able to have my own name out there and be prominent in blues circles and not just in Chicago. I have traveled with the All Stars. We have been to Brazil and France. In Brazil we were there with Harmonica Hinds and we are planning on going to Australia. I am planning on writing more songs in the future, blues and otherwise.

I’m familiar with some of the other young African-American blues artists now out there, like Jamiah Rogers and Nick Alexander, who is Linsey Alexander’s son, and there is a young dude named Kaleb Tucker who is a guitar player, but not so much in the blues community but in other music areas around Chicago, but he does play the blues. I’m familiar with the McDowell Brothers and they are still playing and we had a gig with them at the Quarry recently.

I sing also and some of my influences on vocals are like Eddie Floyd and Barrett Strong and I like tenor singers and, on the guitar, influences are definitely a lot of B.B. King and Albert King. I like to be able to float between those two styles and I like Hendrix too. I guess not so much of the old school players; although I appreciate them, I guess I’m more of a modern guy. I also play keyboards and sometimes play that instrument on Mary Lane’s live shows. I have played the Chicago Blues festival but at Rosa’s Lounge tent, not on any of the main stages. For the future I want to establish myself as a solo artist, which will probably mean finding a label to sign and record with. I have original stuff that I can record. There is this guy Steve McKeever who has this label Hidden Beach Recordings and he is out in Los Angeles and I was on one of those tracks on one of his label’s albums. I told him I was looking to get signed in the future and he has asked me to send him some of my stuff, which I did and we are staying in touch. Music is currently a full time thing for me which is good. I teach some music students as well. I try to study the history of the blues and the guys I’m with in the All Stars are really big on the history, so I’ve gotten a lot of history from them. Even before then, documentaries and books I read and watch, and I’m reading the Howlin’ Wolf biography ‘Moanin’ At Midnight’ now.

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 

piedmont bluz album cover imagePiedmont Bluz Acoustic Duo – Ambassadors Of Country Blues

Self-Release – 2019

12 tracks; 52 minutes

The Piedmont Bluz Acoustic Duo is Valerie and Benedict Turner. Based in New York state, the couple are dedicated to preserving traditional acoustic country blues and this album features interpretations of some of their favorite songs, originally recorded in the very early days of audio recordings. Valerie sings lead and plays guitar, Benedict plays percussion and occasional harp and harmony vocals. The music throughout is well played and respectful to those who came before us and effectively created the blues genre and it is no surprise to learn that Valerie was mentored by the late John Cephas, another great custodian of acoustic blues.

The CD opens with “Ol’ Freight Train”, a gentle interpretation of Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train”, blended with “Wilson Rag”, Benedict adding some appropriate train sounds on harmonica. Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie seem to be a big influence with two of their songs in this collection and their “Joliet Bound”, a song about unjust imprisonment, still has meaning today. It is always interesting to revisit the original sources of songs that we know and love from more recent versions and the Duo gives us “When The Levee Breaks” which is a very long way removed from the Led Zep version! Here we return to Joe and Minnie’s original with country blues guitar and simple but effective percussion which sounds like a wooden block being hit in rhythm. Later on we get Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues”, a staple of the Allmans’ repertoire, and Ma Rainey’s “C.C. Rider”: both are quite sprightly versions but not a slide guitar in evidence!

Tommy Johnson’s “Canned Heat” was originally a warning about drinking denatured alcohol and, of course, became the name of a celebrated band from California. Valerie brings the feel of Delta blues on this one, aided by Benedict’s harp work. The traditional “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor” has Valerie’s ringing acoustic and nice harmonies from the duo; one of the earliest versions of the song was Mississippi John Hurt’s in 1928 and John’s “Avalon Blues” is also covered here, remembered as the song that brought him back to public attention during the folk/blues revival of the 1960’s.

“Needed Time” is nowadays best known from Eric Bibb’s version but it was originally a rare gospel tune from the pen of Lightnin’ Hopkins and the duo give it a very respectful reading with harmony vocals through most of the song. The traditional “Beulah Land” is another spiritual tune (Beulah being a synonym for Heaven) and the arguably least well known song here, Geeshie Reilly’s “Last Kind Words”, is haunting and stark. Wanting to provide a whimsical end to the album the duo cover Rev Gary Davis’ instrumental “Whistlin’ Blues” with some attractive slide from Valerie.

Fans of well played traditional acoustic blues will find much to appreciate here.

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 – 2 of 10 

michael lee cd imageMichael Lee – Self Titled

Ruf Records – 2019

11 tracks; 48 minutes

Texan Michael Lee made a big impression on The Voice when he sang “The Thrill Is Gone”, a performance that has subsequently been viewed over six million times on YouTube – who says that the blues can’t cross into the mainstream? That performance got Michael the opportunity to reprise his version of the BB King classic with The BB King Blues Band and he has been fronting that band live too, but this album is more about showing the Dallas/Fort Worth native in a variety of styles.

Michael wrote all the material apart from “Thrill”, working with Jacob Furr, Joey Green, Franc West and Blake Burrows on four songs, the rest being solo compositions. On nine of the eleven tracks the band is Michael on guitar and vocals, Colin Campbell on keys, Scott Lee on bass and Blaine Crews on drums: a horn section of Jordan Carr and Evan Templeton on trumpet and Preston Lewis on sax appears on six cuts. On the other two tracks Michael is joined by Anthony Farrell on keys, Charley Wiles on rhythm guitar and Clint Simmons on drums.

The album is book ended by two of the heavier tracks here: opener “Heart Of Stone” has some grungy guitar effects at the start before developing into a stomping blues-rock piece punctuated by the horns; closer “Go Your Own Way” is a sort of ‘Crossroads’ tale in which Michael is told to follow his own path in life and music, blending a chugging blues rocker and a wild organ-led romp, Michael adding some torrid guitar to the final section.

The version of “The Thrill Is Gone” here is not as distinctive as that on the BB King Blues Band album which was one of the best interpretations that this reviewer has heard of a frequently covered song. The version here lacks the horns and is more of a ‘chugger’ with heavy bass and keys behind Michael’s impassioned vocal and rocky guitar. However, Michael proves on “Don’t Leave Me” that he can play some delicate stuff, very much in BB style at the opening of the song, before it develops into an attractive gospel-fueled piece of soul-blues balladry. “This Is” is another ballad with aching guitar and a strong vocal performance and “Here I Am” confirms that Michael’s voice is particularly suited to a slower tune, this time with a striking horn chart.

“Weeds” is a strong song, inspired by moving into a new house and thinking about spending a lifetime there with his wife, driven along by the twin trumpets, and the catchy shuffle “Can’t Kick You” is another winner. The Texas heat and drought must have inspired “Praying For Rain”, a heavier tune with pounding rhythm section, “Love Her” has a touch of funk in the rhythm while “Fool Of Oz” is a pure rock ballad.

Michael shows here that he has a wide palette of styles available to him. For a blues aficionado the songs with the strongest blues base will be the favorites but it will be interesting to see whether Michael stays in the blues or heads elsewhere – he certainly has choices from the evidence here.

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 

jimmy t album imageJimmy T & Sidetracked – Right Place Right Time

Hander Pander Records

8 songs time – 31:50

Jimmy T & Sidetracked based out of Austin, Texas appear to be a bar band that would be appreciated in a bar setting where the patrons would be a bit lubricated. Their music comes off a bit light weight. The guitar players are fine in tone and execution, but the singing and songwriting are a bit lackluster. Jimmy handles vocals and guitar. Richard Radbil plays guitar with Dean Keller on bass and Jason Blank on drums. Jimmy wrote the five original songs. There are no extra musicians involved.

Smooth and jazzy guitars lead into “Big City” whose lyrics are too repetitive for my liking. Once again on “Low Down Blues” the lyrics are no great shakes. “Sweet Tooth” is kind of a throw away although the guitar playing is always on track. They fare better with the tried and true words of Otis Rush’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” and give a good interpretation of this classic blues. Somehow they partially transform John Denver’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane” into a blues.

Freddie King’s instrumental “Sidetracked” is given a good showing. Jimmy professes his yearning for old school values in the easy going “Tried And True”.

Despite this CD being a tad low key at times, you can count on their guitar presentation. How the rhythm guitar supports the lead lines. Nothing revelatory here, things tend to grow on you. A little more thought to lyric creativity would help. This record is a tad short in length. Whatever the case the solid musicianship is here. Nothing here that can’t be improved. They’re not blues impostors, they got the blues sound down.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 10 

the 40 acre mule cd imageThe 40 Acre Mule – Goodnight & Good Luck

State Fair Records SFR 109

10 songs – 36 minutes

A powerhouse five-piece band that produces music that comes from the crossroads of blues, rock, country and soul, The 40 Acre Mule make their recording debut with this hard-driving, hard-to-classify collection of originals.

Formed in Dallas in 2015 and self-described as a “rhythm-and-blues outfit,” they’ve built a huge word-of-mouth following across Texas by playing bars and roadhouses and delivering tunes that remain close to the blues root regardless of their varied influences, which include Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, J.D. McPherson, Nathaniel Rateliff and Gary Clark Jr.

Their first break came after being discovered by promoter Scott Beggs and Jim Heath, aka The Reverend Horton Heat, who booked them as the opening act for a sold-out show at the Bomb Factory, the 50,000-sq. ft. venue that’s played host to Phish, Nine Inch Nails, The Ramones and other top acts since opening in the mid-‘90s

The band’s fronted by J. Isaiah Evans on guitar and vocals with John Pedigo on rhythm and backing vocals, Robert Anderson on percussion, Tim Cooper on bass, baritone sax player/percussionist Chris Evetts and Chad Stockslager, who doubles on piano and organ. Their material, all of which drives forward heavily, features the rhythm section high in the mix.

Evans penned all ten songs in the set. The ballad “You Better Run” opens the action with a simple, repeated guitar hook before pulling out of the station powerfully atop a steady, heavy beat. It’s a warning to a transgressor that he’ll “find mercy at the end of this here gun.”

The action heads up with the blues-rocker “16 Days,” which describes a bad breakup and the mayhem and extended jail stay that followed – all of which is propelled by an ultra-speedy speedy shuffle and single-note guitar runs.

The funk kicks in with “Shake Hands with the Devil,” aided by a repeated horn riff. This one finds the singer riverside and awaiting baptism only to hear the preacher tell him there’s not enough clean water in the world to wash away his sins. The feel continues in “Make up Your Mind,” which opens with the familiar line “you know that I love you, baby” before describing a lady who prefers to be out with her friends.

The theme continues in “Be with Me,” which begins as a quiet ballad before picking up intensity as it yearns for companionship with a woman whose parents prefer that she’d go in another way, “Somethin’ Next to Nothin’” and “I’ll Be Around” before the tempo and texture change with ballad “Hat in Hand,” delivered from the position of man who realizes life might be better if he weren’t around.

“Bathroom Walls,” a driving description of a Saturday night party in a double-wide trailer, follows before the original, “Josephine,” hints of the Chuck Berry classic to bring the set to a close.

Highlights include “Shake Hands with the Devil,” the uptempo R&B “Make Up Your Mind,” “Somethin’ Next to Nothin’” and “Josephine,” a rocking number that hits of the Chuck Berry classic. An original approach for folks who like a band with plenty of pop. The 40 Acre Mule holds nothing back.

Available from Amazon and several digital platforms, The 40 Acre Mule holds nothing back. Hard-core blues fans might find this one a little wanting. But if your tastes lean more toward rock, Goodnight & Good Luck might be for you. It’s definitely different.

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 – 5 of 10 

mike goudreau cd imageMike Goudreau – Acoustic Sessions

Zeb Media!

14 songs time – 44:21

Canadian Mike Goudreau is an unknown quantity to me although this is his 20th album. For the past 30 years he has kept up a productive career as a musician, producer and songwriter. Hundreds of his songs have been heard in American network TV and films such as Chicago PD, Shameless, Comedians In Cars Having Coffee(Jerry Seinfeld) and the TV Movie A Majestic Christmas on Hallmark. The music heard here is an amalgamation of Roots Music, blues, country, a touch of spiritually and all done up in the singer-songwriter mode. Much here is up tempo feel good positive music. The approach here is largely acoustic utilizing guitar, upright bass, Dobro slide, harmonica, accordion, cello and spare drums and percussion. Mike utilizes his warm voice along with acoustic guitar and banjo-guitar on songs he has written or co-written. He produced this well crafted album as well.

Pascal “Per” Veillette’s rascally harmonica along with the sprightly acoustic guitar highlight the breezy “I’m So Glad I Have You”. “Per”‘s mastery of the harmonica is similar to that of his fellow Canadian Carlos del Junco. The country-ish “Tell Mama I’m Ok” features Toby Wilson on Dobro slide guitar. Pascal’s boisterous harmonica pops up once again on “What Did I Say”. The closest thing to a straight blues song is “She Talks Too Much” utilizing Mike’s expressive voice, Pascal’s harp, drums and lively acoustic guitar.

Slide Dobro contributes to the sentimental vibe of the slow paced “Back To That Place”. “I’ve Gotten Used Of You” just skips along like sunny summer day. The angst of a troubled relationship is the subject of “The Blues Is Killing Me”. The similarly themed “The End Of Our Dance” is enhanced by melancholy cello and glockenspiel. The Gypsy jazz upbeat “I’m So Happy We Met” conjures up visions of Django Reinheart’s fleet fingered guitar styling’s.

A variation of the saying “It must jelly because jam don’t shake like that” is taken up on “Jello On A Roller Coaster”. The solemn “Hear My Prayer” is enhanced by the slow slide Dobro backing. The accordion of Didier Dumoutier lends a lilting quality to the warmth inducing “Everybody Breaks The Rules”. The possible sad state of the world wide economy is the subject of “Bread And Water”. “The whole system is beginning to totter”. The album closes out with the exuberant “Come Home Baby”, made more so by the inclusion of David Elias on sax and a bit of electric guitar.

Of late I’ve been seeing more roots infused singer-songwriters and Mike Goudreau is high on that list. Humanity is instilled in every song whether it bit joyous or heartfelt. Mike along with his crop of accompanying players are of the first caliber. The songs are so natural and flowing. I’ll let you go now so you can order up this wonderful serving of heart felt music.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 10 

alex lopez cd imageAlex Lopez – Yours Truly, Me…

Maremil Music

12 songs time – 44:25

Tampa, Florida by way of Cleveland, Ohio singer-guitarist Alex Lopez and his partners in crime deliver his fourth CD that fuses blues-rock, pop, rock and a touch of funk to produce some radio friendly songs featuring his smooth voice. He’s backed here by bass, drums, keyboards, horns and a female duet partner on one track. All save one song are originals. The production by Lopez and associate producer Frank Calcaterra is clean and somewhat on the slick side.

The funky pop oriented and lightweight “Woe Is Me” more or less tips the listener off of what to expect down the road. Alex delivers a nice Eric Clapton-meets-Carlos Santana guitar solo set against Kenny Hoye’s organ. They rework Z.Z. Top’s “Tush” in funky style with Alex ripping off some sizzling guitar. “Take Me Back Home” brings Ricky Nelson’s sound into the more rocked-up present. The organ rocks out here as well.

“I’m A Working Man” and “I’m A Losing It” are straight ahead rockers. More mellow rock is represented by “I Can’t Stop”. The trio of pop ballads- “I Love You Blues”, “I Will Miss You” and “Chase My Blues Away” run the gamut from sappy to less sappy. “All I Really Want Is You” is a borderline ballad-light rocker with a great organ sound. Ellie Carr lends her sultry pipes to the duet “Sinful”. Alex compliments the vibe with his clean guitar notes. The album closer “Cheating Blues” utilizes the horn section to invigorate the pulsing beat alongside more tasty organ.

Their are rock radio stations out there waiting for this stuff. The combination of sentimentality and well arranged rockers are set to please those looking for a balance of smooth rocking tunes and gentler pop driven songs. If this type of sound appeals to you, you’ve arrived at the right place. After all variety is the spice of life so they say.

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




 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 10 

steve cushing book imageSteve Cushing – Blues Before Sunrise 2: Interviews From The Chicago Scene

University of Illinois Press

232 Pages

Following up on his 2010 publication, Blues Before Sunrise: The Radio Interviews, Steve Cushing returns with another publication featuring interviews conducted for his Blues Before Sunrise radio program, which has been on the air for forty years. That alone gives the author a level of credibility, but there is more to the story. Cushing is also a noted drummer, appearing on recordings with Magic Slim & the Teardrops, Barrelhouse Chuck, Lurrie Bell, Studebaker John, and other Chicago blues artists. He filled the role of producer on recordings by Bell and Jimmie Lee Robinson in addition to having several of his original songs recorded.

Dividing his latest work into four sections, Cushing begins with six interviews where the focus is on a famous figure through remembrances of the person being interviewed. The late saxophonist Abb Locke recounts his experiences with Two Gun Pete (Sylvester Washington), known far and wide as being the toughest, deadliest Chicago police officer on the city’s South Side. Guitarist Brewer Phillips, an integral part of Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers, looks back at the time he spent with the legendary Memphis Minnie during the late 1950s in her namesake city. As a result of an introduction made by Bob Koester at his fabled Jazz Record Mart store, Cushing met Louise “Mattie” Johnson, and discovered that her mother, Flossie Franklin, helped pianist Leroy Carr write lyrics for a number of tunes, including “Blues Before Sunrise,” leading to a fascinating interview with that included her sister Dorothy, also touching on their brother, Guitar Pete Franklin.

That was often the way the author connected with people of interest. Friends would recommend someone with interesting connections to the blues or gospel communities, or listeners of his radio program would call in with details after hearing a song he played on the air. A fellow radio host led Cushing to Dick LePalm, a record promoter with strong ties to Nat King Cole. Grady Freeman was totally unknown, yet his piece engages readers with details on his experiences growing up with Junior Wells plus his cousins, Dave and Louis Meyers. It took six months to track down Theautry Jones based on a tip from Studebaker John Grimaldi, ending in a short, two page interview where the guitar player talks about his stint backing harmonica legend Little Walter.

Cushing excels as an interviewer, comfortable asking his subjects a question, then giving them whatever time they need to respond. That skill shines through on a piece with Clarence Small, a member of the Wings of Jordan choir from Ohio, a favorite of Cushing’s program. He does a gospel segment each week that includes a pre-war gospel piece, a sermon recorded for prosperity, and a post-war gospel hymn. Listeners put him in touch with Small, who was a member of the group. His descriptions of life performing across the country includes a myriad of details on how the group was structured and how they coped with the constant travel. Cushing also delves into Small’s experience in the Air Force during World War II. Pastor Donald Gay met Cushing at a live show both were involved in. The author was intrigued by Gay’s knowledge of artists Cushing had only encountered on records. Their interview focused on another top-flight gospel group, the Gay Sisters, comprised of Evelyn, Mildred, and Geraldine, the pastor’s older sisters.

The third section switches focus to the Bronzeville area of Chicago, the center of the African-American community on the South Side. Singer Andrew Tibbs recorded sessions for Chess records, and was a popular figure in the area clubs, until substance abuse issues impacted his career, an area Cushing doesn’t hesitate to explore. Bill Samuels led the Cats ‘n Jammers trio on vocals and piano. His two brothers along with several musicians who worked with him make it clear that Samuels was a very talented singer. And once again a listener came through, putting the author in touch with Marl Young, who lead a group backing vocalist Little Miss Cornshucks on some rare sides that captured Cushing’s attention, with Young on piano and handling the arrangements. Additional descriptions cover working the Chicago club scene to recording with T-Bone Walker. Known as the Mayor of 47th Street, Scotty Piper was the tailor to the stars as well as frequent presence at musical events. His story offers an insider’s view of the Chicago scene.

Closing out the book are nine interviews that Cushing did earlier in his career. These are shorter pieces as the author was still learning the art of the interview. Blues fans will certainly be familiar with Little Brother Montgomery, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Sippie Wallace, Blind John Davis, and Roosevelt Sykes. In his opening remarks to Montgomery’s interview, the author bemoans the state of the Chicago blues piano tradition with the loss of several influential figures like Otis Spann. The short form still finds Cushing more than capable of eliciting memorable stories and information in each piece. Cushing thankfully also connected with some of the truly obscure figures like Johnny Lewis, a country blues guitarist who never recorded, and singer/guitarist Homer Harris, who’s lone recording session had Muddy Waters in the band, but the three tracks remained on the shelf for decades. Arbee Stidham had one hit following WW II. Cushing was able to locate him using the phone book and the ensuing interview added plenty of missing information about the singer’s career. Pete Cosey is a guitarist of note. He called Cushing during a show after hearing “Ration Blues” by Louis Jordan & His Tympani Five. Cosey’s mother, Collenane Cosey, actually wrote the song, as she explained in her brief interview.

By asking insightful questions and letting the artists speak for themselves, Cushing manages to bring to life the excitement of by-gone eras, and shines a light on the impact of obscure artists as well as known legends across several musical genres. This is an important work that definitely belongs in your personal “College of Musical Knowledge” library, making it highly recommended!

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

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 10 

ronnie earl cd imageRonnie Earl and the Broadcasters – Beyond The Blue Door

Stony Plain Records

15 songs – 73 minutes

What can be said about Ronnie Earl that hasn’t already been said? Most blues fans will already own at least several of his albums, the repeatedly high quality of which defy expectations for enduring artists. He is a genuine virtuoso with a unique sound and vision in an age where rewards appear to be most easily found in mediocrity and appealing to the lowest common denominator. This writer can also attest to Earl’s genuinely kind personality. And his band, the Broadcasters, whilst varying in personnel over time, remain a byword for quality in blues music.

In recent years, Earl has maintained an impressive output of material for a man closer to 70 than 60. Beyond The Blue Door is a more than worthy addition to his stellar catalogue, with the focus very much on blues songs rather than the jazz instrumentals of a few years ago. On this release, the Broadcasters comprise Dave Limina on piano and Hammond B3, Diane Blue on vocals, Forrest Padgett on drums and Paul Kochanski on bass. There are also a number of special guests, including David Bromberg (who also provided the CD liner notes) on acoustic guitar and vocals; Kim Wilson on vocals and harp; Mario Perrett and Greg Piccolo on tenor saxophone; Scott Shetler on baritone saxophone; Anthony Geraci on piano; Michael Rush on bass; and Peter Ward, Larry Lusignan and Scott MacDougal on guitar. The result is a superb collection of songs, played with deep emotional connection and recorded with warmth and precision by Huck Bennett at Wellspring Studios in Acton, MA, and Stu Gatz Studio, MA.

The tracks span the usual range of styles that one would expect to find on a Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters album. There are some choice covers (Howlin’ Wolf’s “Baby How Long”, Dusty Springfield’s “Brand New Me”, Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling” or Joe Simon’s “Drowning In A Sea Of Love”), some delicious new tracks (“Wolf Song” is a classic Earl tribute to a musical hero, while closing track, “Blues For Charlottesville”, is a beautiful slow blues instrumental with immense guitar) and a few old gems from Ronnie’s past are dusted off and revisited (“A Soul That’s Been Abused” and “Piece Of Mind”).

The album opens with the gentle Motown groove of “Brand New Me” before Kim Wilson adds the first of his three contributions to the smooth shuffle of “Baby How Long” (with great piano from Anthony Geraci). Former Roomful Of Blues bandmate, Greg Piccolo, also adds his always-top-drawer saxophone to three songs, perhaps most tellingly on one chorus of the monumental instrumental version of “Drown In My Own Tears”, but also on the too-short guitar-sax duet that is “Alexis’ Song”.

One of the many highlights of the album is Earl’s duet with Bromberg on Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” where Bromberg’s acoustic country blues guitar meshes perfectly with Earl’s pure Stratocaster tone.

The temptation for virtuoso players is that sometimes too much focus can be placed on them and not enough on the other players. On Beyond The Blue Door, Earl has struck the perfect balance of laying down some outrageously good guitar playing whilst ensuring that the spotlight shines on the other players at the appropriate time. There is a real sense of this being a band recording, rather than a band supporting an individual star.

The Broadcasters provide supple, sensitive support throughout that is overwhelmingly musical, while the guest musicians slot in perfectly and all shine when it is their moment to step out. Mr Earl’s playing also remains a thing of rare beauty, with his unparalleled ability to articulate a range of human emotions through his guitar. Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters do not release bad albums. Beyond The Blue Door however is a very, very good album, whichever way you look at it. Wonderful stuff.

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 – 9 of 10 

ray cashman cd imageRay Cashman – Houston Electric

Self Release

11 songs – 42 minutes

Houston Electric is Texas singer-guitarist-songwriter Ray Cashman’s seventh album and is a raucous collection of hard-driving blues-rock played with joyous abandon. Featuring 11 self-penned tracks, this is the sort of album that provides a perfect accompaniment to a long road trip.

Opening with the mid-paced stomp of “Feet On The Ground”, Cashman’s gritty, overdriven slide guitar fits naturally with his weathered, almost gnarled voice. His band are first rate, with Manuel Perez in particular laying down an irresistible rhythm on drums, together with Patrick Neifert on bass and guitar and Gary Belin on backing vocals.

In the upbeat primal rock’n’roll of “Good Times”, Cashman’s voice takes on some of the yodelling vulnerability of Phil Alvin, with some suitably wild guitar giving the song a hint of the Black Crowes as Cashman humorously warns about the dangers of hard living and how “the good times never last”. The pace slows slightly for “Devil’s Smile” where Cashman’s outstanding guitar slides just on and off the beat, giving the song real life, while the stuttering guitar riff of “Fire Dance” has echoes of the British blues-rock giants of the late 1960s.

Produced by Belin and Cashman and engineered and mastered by Belin at the Rock Shed in Houston, Texas, the songs on Houston Electric are primarily based around guitar riffs, but invariably contain something unusual to retain the listener’s attention. On “Electric Pistol”, for example, Cashman pulls out a wildly arresting guitar solo mid-song. In “Domino”, the opening single notes of an acoustic guitar are rapidly overtaken by a single repeated echoed chord and there is an unexpected chordal middle-eight rather than a guitar solo. Cashman pulls out the slide guitar again for “Pickle Juice” and the slower “Full Moon Over Orlean” (which also includes some beautiful piano from guest Anderson Braun), while the Springsteen-esque “Hard Way” contains a lovely guitar solo that is striking for the cleanness of its tone, in contrast to Cashman’s tone on the other tracks.

“Reefer Headed Woman” emphasizes Cashman’s clever lyrics as the protagonist wryly notes the physical benefits he gets from his mellow lady friend. The track also contains some more outstanding slide guitar. The closing track, “Millionaire”, is based around a strummed acoustic guitar over which an electric guitar picks out single note arpeggios.

With its distorted guitars, riff-based songs and in-your-face attitude, Houston Electric is very much a blues-rock album rather than pure blues, but it is played with such technical facility, muscular confidence and unabashed joy that it is very hard not to enjoy it. And if your tastes lean towards the heavier side of blues-rock spectrum, you will definitely want to check it out. A rather impressive release.

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 

wayne riker cd imnageThe Wayne Riker Gathering – R&B Thunder

Self Release

8 songs – 29 minutes

Wayne Riker has a stellar reputation as a guitar teacher and the author of a multitude of guitar instructional books. He has also produced 12 CDs under his own name as well as playing in over 50 different groups over the last five decades.

R&B Thunder is Riker’s latest release and is an interesting project, in that he has assembled a hot-shot band of San Diego musicians (comprising Stu Shames on keyboards, John Simons on bass and Walt Riker on drums) and then had them back nine different vocalists on a variety of well-known R&B standards. The result is a short (less than 30 minutes) but enjoyable eight song album, primarily as a result of some superb vocal performances.

The opening track, Etta James’ “Tell Mama” comes roaring out of the traps with an incendiary vocal performance from Sharifah Muhammad. Riker’s smoothly distorted guitar enjoys a call and response with Muhammad in the fade out. Shelle Blue then takes on Ruth Brown’s “As Long As I’m Moving”, which misses the swinging horns of Brown’s original, although Shames’ piano solos are great fun as he and Riker swap solo choruses.

Janis Joplin’s “Half Moon”, sung by Michele Lundeen, benefits from not having the muddy production of the original and Lundeen really gets into the meat of the song, with an appropriate edge of desperation to her delivery, an edge that is neatly echoed in the opening notes of Riker’s guitar solo.

David Mosby’s deep bass voice emphasizes the gospel roots of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”, with a beautiful a capella ending, while Amy Winehouse’s “Stronger Than Me” (with Whitney Shay on lead vocals) subtly moves the song away from the electronic beats of the original to focus on the song’s melody and the reggae grooves that underpin the track. Riker’s ending solo is superb.

Rachel Gould and Chet Baker’s version of “All Blues” is given quite a busy instrumental interpretation under Leonard Patton’s lovely vocal, while Leona Lewis’ “Thunder”, sung by Deanna Haala, is played relatively faithfully to the original, albeit with the piano more to the fore on this version.

Christine Hewitt and Janet Hammer add backing vocals to a number of tracks and also take turns as lead vocalist on the album’s final track, “Dancing In The Streets”, with Shames’ keys mimicking the horns of the original. Each of the nine vocalists featured on the album takes a few lines on the song, as does Riker himself briefly. There are also some neat lyrical updates to the track to reference San Diego.

R&B Thunder was well-recorded by Cedrick Courtois at Studio West in San Diego and there is a palpable sense of enjoyment from the various singers. No doubt recording the album was a lot of fun. Where there is a question mark is over who the album is aimed at. The songs are superbly played and sung, but they are all well-known standards and played relatively faithfully to the originals. With this much talent on display, it would have been great to have heard some new material, or a radical re-interpretation of at least one of covers.

That being said, the vocal performances themselves are worth the price of admission, particularly Sharifa Muhammad, so even as a simple introduction to some of the vocal talent of San Diego, this album is worth a listen.

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.

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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. 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.  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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