Issue 13-8 February 21, 2019

Cover photo © 2018 Marilyn Stringer

 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Vanessa Collier. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including a book and record from Bill “Sauce Boss” Wharton plus new music from Cary Morin, Raphael Wressnig, Josh Lief, Mission Brown and The Liam Ward Band.

Our video of the week is Vanessa Collier with Laura Chavez.

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

 Blues Blast Music Award submissions 

bbma logo imageThe 2019 Blues Blast Music Award submissions are now open. There are 12 categories. Eligibility dates and all submission details are at:

Submissions remain open until April 15th. Nominees are announced in June. Voting begins in July.

SAVE THE DATE – September 13, 2019 for the Blues Blast Music Awards at Tebala Event Center in Rockford, IL. More details of the 2019 BBMAs coming soon!

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 Video Of The Week – Vanessa Collier 

Vanessa Collier with Laura Chavez performing “The Fault Line” at Don O’Dell’s Legends February 2019. (Click image to watch!)

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

cary morin cd imageCary Morin – When I Rise

Self-release, Oct 2018

12 songs, 41 minutes

Colorado-based Cary Morin is a Crow tribal member who was born in Billings, Montana, where he made his bones picking guitar standards at neighborhood get-togethers, before relocating to Northern Colorado. There, as he played with various artists as well as performing under his own name, his formal musical career took off. For his 6th album, Morin presents us with both his acoustic and electric side, and the result is quite good indeed!

Of the dozen tunes on When I Rise, 10 are originals, with the addition of Morin’s unique take on Duane Allman’s “Little Martha” and a quietly haunting interpretation of the Garcia-Hunter classic, “Dire Wolf.” In addition to Morin, personnel on this album include Steve Amedée on drums, percussion; Paul Benjaman on electric guitar; Celeste Di Iorio on vocals; Jay Forrest on drums; Jason Larson on vocals along with piano and bass; Dexter Payne on clarinet and harmonica; Kim Stone on acoustic and electric bass; Andy Weyl on piano; and Lionel Young on violin. The album was produced by Stone, Di Iorio, and Larson.

Morin has won numerous awards for his work, including for his 2017 release, Cradle to the Grave, and most recently, When I Rise, which was nominated for 2019 Best Blues Album by the Indigenous Music Awards. He was the recipient of the 2018 Independent Music Awards for Best Blues CD (Cradle to the Grave), a 2018 International Songwriting Competition Honorable Mention for Cradle to the Grave, a 2018 Native Arts and Cultures Fellowship, a 2017 First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership Fellowship, the 2017 Indigenous Music Awards for Best Blues CD (Cradle to the Grave), 2015 Indigenous Music Awards Nominee for Best Folk Album (Tiny Town), 2014 Indigenous Music Awards Nominee for Aboriginal Entertainer of the Year, 2013 & 2014 Colorado Blues Challenge Solo Championship, and a 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Fort Collins Music Association (FoCoMA) and won the Colorado Fan Favorite Poll in the blues category for his second solo release, Streamline.

As a reviewer – and a performing musician – I listen to a great deal of music, much of which is new to me, and When I Rise is no exception. I was not at all familiar with Morin, but from the moment I slipped the disc into my car’s CD player, I was hooked. Drawing on his own experiences, Morin creates vivid, evocative stories that perfectly complement his stellar fingerstyle playing. With an approach that falls somewhere between Leo Kottke and James Taylor, and a voice with echoes of the late Lowell George, Morin captivates and entertains with his singing, his songwriting, and his very solid playing. I also get a bit of the Betts-era Allmans, especially apparent in Morin’s approach to melody.

The title track that opens this collection features a haunting fiddle accompaniment that drones behind Morin’s minor-key, atonal pulse that calls to mind Skip James, while still bearing Morin’s distinctive imprint.

“Let Me Hear the Music” feels like it should be wafting out of a quiet New Orleans speakeasy, circa 1938. Dexter Payne’s warm, lyrical clarinet weaves in and out of Morin’s expressive fingerstyle accompaniment. I could listen to this one over and over… well, admittedly, I have done just that.

“Jug in the Water” appears twice on this CD, once with a full band arrangement, and again as a solo acoustic number. With origins in old-timey blues and Cajun music – along with a nod to Doug Kershaw’s classic “Louisiana Man” – both versions are wonderful, with the acoustic version scoring a just a bit higher on my personal preference.

Morin’s unique interpretation of “Little Martha” lifts the basic theme, but then takes it to a whole different place in Morin’s fertile imagination, becoming almost unrecognizable while maintaining the delicate sweetness of Duane Allman’s original arrangement.

Other standout tracks include the joyful “Lay Baby Lay”, the melancholy wistfulness of “Devoted One,” and the contemplative “We Used to Be,” with its expressive steel guitar intro and lilting vocal harmonies.

Talking about the songs on When I Rise, Morin says “…the songs that shaped the CD came from listening to music, lots of music. I was inspired by the Lomax collection, particularly a compilation titled Negro Prison Songs from the Mississippi State Penitentiary. I believe I first heard this in Italy of all places, but I am struck by its simplicity and the depth of the music.”

It’s difficult to comprehend just how good Morin is – as a songwriter, arranger, lyricist, and guitarist – because he does it all so well, without ever appearing flashy or self-conscious. It’s obvious that he listens to – and demonstrates great respect for – a wide variety of music. And, like a chef with a drawer full of exotic seasonings, he knows just how to sprinkle tasty little bits throughout both his songwriting and his playing. The result is a rich stew of folk, blues, jazz, rock, and even pop, melded into a remarkable – and very satisfying – personal style

Bottom line? If you like your country blues, and old-timey Americana music with rootsy, propulsive grooves, played with satisfying precision and whole lot of soul, you should definitely check out Cary Morin’s When I Rise. And while you’re at it, hop on over to YouTube to check out some of his “live” videos – including his bluesy, solo acoustic version of Steely Dan’s “Black Friday” – you won’t be disappointed!

Reviewer Dave Orban is a technology marketer by day, musician/artist/educator by night. Since 1998, Orban has fronted The Mojo Gypsies, based in the greater Philadelphia area.

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

raphael wressnig cd imageRaphael Wressnig – Chicken Burrito

Pepper Cake Records/ZYX-Music

7 Tracks/32:09

If you aren’t familiar with the work of Raphael Wressnig, it is not for lack of effort on his part. The keyboard whiz has released at least fifteen titles under his own name in the last thirteen years, in addition to making guest appearances on more than thirty other recordings. His latest was recorded in California in 2017, featuring killer support from guitarist Alex Schultz (Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers, William Clarke) and the incomparable James Gadson on drums (Bill Withers, B.B., Albert, & Freddie King, Ray Charles). Wressnig plays a variety of instruments including a Fender Rhodes piano, Hohner D6 clavinet, Wurlitzer piano, tambourine, and cowbell

The trio slides into a monster groove right off the bat on “Chunky Thighs,” as Wressnig’s fingers glide across the keys on his Hammond B-3 organ, generating a mesmerizing solo before letting Schultz have the last word as the song fades away. Gadson sets up a funky groove on “Nasty,” and Wressnig once again dazzles with his instrumental prowess. “Born To Roam,” written by Wressnig and Schultz with an assist from Larry Garner, has the leader contributing a spoken vocal that highlights his wandering lifestyle, with Schultz getting some room to stretch out.

The title cut is a thick slab of modern funk with stellar work from Schultz and Wressnig, the former varying his tone with effects pedals while the latter spins out one more dazzling solo segment. While the tempo slows down on “Get Down With It,” the band doesn’t let up, as Schultz wrings plenty of emotion out of his instrument’s fretboard before Wressnig provides additional coloring to the simmering arrangement. “Tiny Dog Blues” features another dose of the leader’s fluid keyboard style. The rhythm section digs in to forge another striking foundation. The closer, “One More Time,” rolls along with a shuffle groove as Schultz impresses one more time with some fine guitar picking.

Other than the short playing time, this disc is another captivating release from a player who certainly deserves greater recognition. Outstanding musicians and original material make this one worth a number of listens, with the volume up and the dance floor cleared!

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the 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 – 3 of 6 

josh lief cd imageJosh Lief – Love In Disguise


8 songs – 28 minutes

Love In Disguise, the new album from Richmond, VA singer-guitarist-songwriter, Josh Lief, is a short (just 28 minutes) but enjoyable slab of guitar-heavy blues-rock, with enough variety between the songs to keep the listener engaged.

Opening with the heavy blues-rock of the title track, Lief’s overdriven wah-wah guitar and the pounding rhythm section of Debbie Flood (drums and percussion) and Tom Schoppe (bass) initially suggest a closer affinity to the 80s hard southern rock of the likes of Blackfoot or Molly Hatchet than to traditional blues. This impression is quickly undermined however as “Love In Disguise” is immediately followed by the gentle minor key “James River Blues”, with some lovely guitar playing and fine vocals from Lief.

The Clapton-esque country ballad of “Your Drinking Ways” carries a familiar warning about the risks of over-indulging in alcohol, while “Christine” is a full-bore Chuck Berry-style workout, albeit one played with significantly more muscularity and power than Chuck might choose. “All I Need” also nods its head towards Clapton’s early 70s ballads, while the finger-picked acoustic folk of “Edith Keeler Must Die” is one of the more intriguing tracks on the album, with its memorable opening lines “Edith Keeler, she must die. Even though she is the apple of Kirk’s eye. Despite a brilliant future, as the Guardian didn’t lie, Edith Keeler, she must die.” Revealing perhaps a disappointing lacuna in this reviewer’s knowledge of modern popular culture, what might appear at first listen to be a traditional lyric along the lines of “Frankie And Johnnie” actually (so a Google search reveals) recounts the plot of a 1967 Star Trek television episode.

“Deep Water Blues” is a heavy 12-bar blues, which gives Lief the opportunity to stretch out on his guitar, while “Let Go” is another acoustic finger-picked ballad with some delicate additional electric guitar from Andrew Tongone.

Lief is a fine guitar player with a warm, husky singing voice and he also writes smart songs – all tracks on Love In Disguise are self-penned. Flood and Schoppe provide him with excellent support throughout, equally comfortable on the acoustic folk-rock of “Let Go” or the wailing blues-rock of “Love In Disguise”. The musicians also cleverly switch up the instrumentation between songs, so “Edith Keeler Must Die” features a single finger-picked guitar, while Ben “Wolfe” White adds keyboards to four songs and (together with Tongone) backing vocals to “Your Drinking Ways”.

Recorded at Montrose Recording in Richmond, VA, by Adrian Olsen (with mastering by Brian Lucey at Magic Garden Mastering in LA), Love In Disguise has an impressively warm sound that suits the music well.

Love In Disguise is well worth investigating by anyone whose tastes lean towards the guitar-led blues-rock of Eric Clapton or Joe Bonamassa.

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 – 4 of 6 

mission brown cd imageMission Brown – Moorabbin

self release

10 songs time-35:48

Punk attitude meets Hill Country Blues or as their promo sheet declares-Lo-Fi Hillbilly Trainwreck Blues. This trio from Victoria, Australia possesses a gritty energy powered by raucous lead, slide and rhythm guitars and a foot-operated drum kit. Gus Kelly plays the stripped down drum kit and rhythm guitar simultaneously. Max Maxey handles all lead, slide and cigar box guitars, while James Crosland provides bass and percussion. All three contribute vocals. They take their cue from the likes of RL Burnside, whom they cover twice here, and Junior Kimbrough. Both icons of the Hill Country Blues. It’s all fast paced action here with an incessant beat and slide guitar skills galore. The raw vocals fit hand and glove with this ball of fire music.

Let the games begin as slide guitar and a rough voice play out over an incessant beat were Hill Country Blues gets punky on “Feed The Family”. There is a bit of what sounds like un-credited organ in there as well. A nicely shuffling boogie beat infuses “High Blues”. “Move To The Country”‘s loping beat kinda swooshes you along before you know what’s hit ya. “Going Home” is a hillbilly saga set against a loping beat. “The trouble with a livin’ is that ya gotta get a gun”.

“She No Good”, “Ann Marie” and “Whiskey Breath” are three band originals with driving beats to spare. It all deals with drinking and other hillbilly-ish doings. it all adds up to a sh-t kickin’ barrel of fun.

Tribute is paid to one of their major influences RL Burnside with cover versions of his “See My Jumper On The Line” and “Poor Black Mattie”. Both receive slightly toned down treatments with smoother vocals, but are none the less effective.

The grungy closer “3am Blues” deals a woman in a bar begging for drink. Be forewarned it contains a few “F-bombs”.

This happy-go-lucky beat infused crazy good music was “forged in the backwaters and bayous of the Moorabbin Industrial estate, Victoria, Australia. It’s a guaranteed good time. Crank it up loud and piss off or please your neighbors. Kick back with it on your front porch with a Mason jar fulla “shine” and have yerself a hound dog kickin’ gud time. Put another possum on the “barbie” and I’ll be right over.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

liam ward cd imageThe Liam Ward Band – Uprising

Green Bullet Records

CD: 10 Songs, 45:38 Minutes

Styles: Harmonica Blues, R&B, All Original Songs, Debut Album

When it comes to this magazine’s favorite genre, many fans prefer one instrument above all else. Some favor guitar, others horns, and still others low-down bass. In the case of the UK’s Liam Ward Band, it’s tailor-made for harmonica lovers, with one caveat. The ensemble aspect of Uprising, their debut release, makes it a bit difficult to concentrate on Ward’s harp. As for his lead vocals, they’re as deadpan (and distracting) as comedian Steven Wright’s style of delivery. Nevertheless, Liam and his posse play real, reliable blues. Despite their stylish outfits displayed on the CD’s inside cover, they’re more like gritty construction workers, laying tracks down brick by brick, constructing a solid album but laying off the fancy architecture. All ten songs are originals, with the third track co-written by Liam Ward and M. Harrison.

The Liam Ward Band are an electric R&B outfit from South Wales, playing original blues that incorporates elements of jazz, rock and funk. Uprising, being their first offering, consists of compositions pushing the traditional boundaries of the medium. Imagine plenty of Paul de Lay’s originality, a dash of Santana’s rhythm and a healthy dollop of William Clarke’s West Coast swing. The album was recorded at Sonic One Studios and mastered at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London. One of the UK’s most revered harmonica players, front man Liam is a winner of the National Harmonica League Player of the Year award, and has been described by Harmonica World as “endlessly inventive”. His harmonica style is a blistering blend of traditional and unconventional, producing a modern sound that is truly his own.

The rest of the band comprises stalwarts of the British blues scene. On guitar, respected and creative soloist Matt Jones brings his jazzy chops to the party. The bass player’s bass player, Martin Hill, is known for his quirky and melodic method, and sought-after drum ace Gareth Davies is one of the best percussionists in the business.

Guest musicians include Bobby Cole on piano and keyboards; The West Coast Horns on saxophone and trumpet, and background vocalists Helen Hart, Bryony-Rose, executive producer Keith Gough, and recorder/mixer Tim Hamill.

The following song is the best traditional selection presented on Ward’s first foray.

Track 07: “Filthy Rich” – As much as many of us would like to be millionaires or billionaires, the mean green has a way of corrupting people, things, and life itself. “Baby, all your money? Make it quick. It’ll make you feel funny, and it’ll make you sick. Oh, you got filthy rich.” Ward’s hot harmonica is best showcased here, with the foreground instruments content to remain in their due place. “Filthy Rich” may not break a lot of new ground in terms of rhythm or lyrical content, but it is catchy. Think of it as a cautionary tale to knock back a fancy IPA beer to.

The Liam Ward Band provides a dependable debut, if not a full-fledged Uprising in harp blues!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 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 – 6 of 6 

bill warton book imageBill “Sauce Boss” Wharton – The Life And Times Of Blind Boy Billy

Peckerwood Publishing

135 pages

CD – Blind Boy Billy

Burning Disk Records

7 Tracks/22:27

billy wartin cd imageWith a career that spans more than five decades, Bill Wharton has morphed from a high school drummer to gumbo-cooking guitarist who is also a singer/songwriter. He has his own cottage industry, releasing this book and CD in addition to his line of Liquid Summer Hot Sauce products. Wharton’s live shows offer his original songs, slide guitar, and a big pot of gumbo that he conjures up with help from members of the audience, which is then offered for free to all attending the show.

The Life And Times Of Blind Boy Billy is a brief autobiography that reveals some of the major events in Wharton’s life, from his childhood in the Orlando, FL area, to the present. He provides details on the start of his music career, his passion for growing the very best marijuana plants, and his decision to become a hot sauce impresario. Scattered throughout the book are photos in color and b&w depicting Wharton at various stages of life in addition to pictures of his family and their home in Peckerwood, a rural Florida community in a county that still does not have a single traffic light.

Also included are eighteen family recipes for treats like Salmon Haystacks, Butternut Papaya Bisque, and, of course, gumbo with sausage, shrimp, oysters, and crawfish tails. Many of them list his Liquid Summer Hot Sauce as an essential ingredient. Each recipe has a color photo of the finished product. Also interspersed throughout the narrative are the lyrics to twenty of Wharton’s original compositions like “Let The Big Dog Eat,” recently recorded by Albert Castiglia, “Your Maytag Done Broke Down,” and “I’m Cookin”,” featuring plenty of sexual innuendos. At the end of the book, there is a link provided for readers to listen to the songs listed in the book.

Wharton displays his skill as a storyteller, describing people and events in humorous details, utilizing an easy flowing style. By the end of his tale, readers will undoubtedly feel like they have gained a new friend – and some interesting recipes to try.

Also available is Blind Boy Billy, a short, seven track companion CD featuring two songs included in the book. The title track is a sprightly jig with David Davidson’s furious fiddling, a pounding snare drum beat from Dennis Holt, and Joe Murphy holding down the low end on the sousaphone. Following is the Jimmy Buffett-penned “I Will Play For Gumbo,” inspired by Wharton’s live show at Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant in New Orleans. Wharton belts out the lyrics over a some searing slide guitar licks. “Lonely Girl” is a pensive ballad with Davidson using a viola to add mournful tones.

The heat gets turned up on “Little Driver,” with Wharton doing his one-man band presentation, playing guitar, kick drum, and the hi-hat cymbal while delivering an aggressive vocal. A faster-than-usual cover of “Dock Of The Bay” never quite connects, but Wharton makes a quick recovery on “What She Gonna Do,” another white-hot, one-man band performance. The other song from the book, “Pleasures Of The Deep,” is an introspective love song with acoustic guitar and a four piece string section playing a Davidson orchestration.

Wharton’s travels have covered hundreds of thousands of miles, with mote than 200,000 bowls of gumbo served free of charge. This combination will certainly hold great appeal for his dedicated fan base, built one show at a time. The book certainly provides greater depth to Wharton’s life story. With a few hits of the “repeat” button, the CD is a solid soundtrack as you read. An engaging tale that is worth your time…….

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the 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 Interview – Vanessa Collier 

vanessa collier photo 1“I think the saxophone in particular is very close to the human voice,” says Vanessa Collier. “It’s just as expressive to me.”

In the guitar-centric world of contemporary blues, Collier finds her muse in the “voice” of the saxophone. The instrument compensated for her introverted nature as a child and now in her late 20s complements her emotion-charged vocals on three CDs released in the last five years.

“Once you find your dexterity on the horn, you can really emotionally do a lot. “I had a teacher, Chris Vadala, who actually just passed away a couple of days ago who was my main mentor, and one of the things he taught me was how expressive the sax could be.”

In her late twenties, Collier is young at heart but mature in wisdom, a rare combination in blues and one that translates into original music that ignores the “rules” of a genre that sometimes gets confined in a box. She gives new blues music the kind of passion rarely found. Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe had it, and she’s covered each of these legacy artists on record and in concert with style and passion.

“I’ve also come from that, being expressive with the few notes and chords you have with 12-bar blues. I’ve always been encouraged to express whatever emotions come out both by my teachers and by my parents, and I think it helps in delivering a song. You can be a little bit freer.”

As a youngster, Collier was introverted and found the saxophone to be a substitute for her tongue-tied voice. “I’m very introverted when I’m offstage. It’s always been that way. Starting in the fourth grade I just played. I wasn’t like a loud kid. I wasn’t a trouble maker, and I didn’t really step out in class and ask a lot of questions or talk a lot. And as soon as I found the horn, it was my voice, and I feel like that’s carried through, and somewhere along the way I found the vocals, too.”

She credits her mom for inspiring her to find her place in the world starting as a very young child. “I was very fortunate to grow up with a very strong mom who taught me so much and guided me through while allowing me to be myself. We were super poor when I was much younger, but I don’t have any recollection of that because she’s got such a great spirit, and I’ve always felt rich in that.

“Everybody has their struggles, but I haven’t worried about where my next meal is coming from or if I’ll be able to pay for my education or anything like that, but I’ve always had that in the back of my head. I can do whatever I want to in a way. I don’t think it’s been 100% easy as everybody in their life has challenges in their life to come up, but it’s definitely not been a hard one in any way.”

Her influences include such disparate artists as Herbie Hancock, John Legend, Norah Jones, Stevie Wonder, and Roy Hargrove, but she chooses blues as her medium of expression, not to exorcise troubles. Rather, she sees it as freeing.

“The blues has always spoken to me, and again it’s one of those things I’m constantly learning more about. (I was in) sixth grade jazz band 6:30 in the morning, and we’d start with a 12-bar blues, and it was the most freeing experience I ever felt.

“I mean I played through a lot of jazz changes and some funk rock stuff, and still there’s something about 12-bar blues, playing a standard blues form in any genre even New Orleans like eight-bar stuff. It’s just – I don’t know. There’s something about it. I’ve never been able to put my finger on it, but it brings me such joy, and I realize I have a lot of influences outside of blues, and I’m still constantly digging through, trying to find the roots of this music and make it breathe into my own stuff. Expression-wise, I don’t think there’s anything else.”

vanessa collier photo 2Vanessa graduated from Berklee College of Music, itself unusual in that the majority of blues artists who enter the school use it as jumping off point in making connections with musicians and starting their performing career without ever taking home a diploma. Perhaps more unusual is that her degree is a dual degree in performance and music production, and engineering.

While still in school she spent a year and a half touring with Joe Louis Walker.

As if that weren’t challenging enough, she worked her way through school.

“My parents paid part of the first year, and then I got student loans to pay the rest. I was also a resident assistant in the dorms for three of my four years in college which paid for 70% of my housing and my meals. I just paid my student loans off actually which was a nice feeling, but I was fortunate that they did pay for some of my education.”

I asked her what her reason was for sticking it out, and in retrospect is she glad she did?

“I kept learning new things, especially in the music production field. I felt like I came to it with very little knowledge, and you basically get time in a studio to mess around with (years) learning on your own, but also (I met) a lot of good really talented engineers, producers, mixers and that was a huge part of it for me, and then a couple speakers introduced me to a couple of things sound-wise. I enjoyed my time. I enjoy learning a lot, and so it opened a lot of doors It kept me thinking and kept me interested in furthering my education, and I learned a lot even more outside of Berklee than in. But it spawned that kind of interest in just getting better and getting knowledge and understanding from every possible angle.”

Her former professors Mark Wessel and Rich Mendelson handled engineering and mix respectively on her latest album Honey Up. The CD spent nine weeks on the Billboard Blues Album Charts Top 15, three months on the Living Blues Charts at #10 and #23 and is getting airplay on Sirius XM’s B.B. King’s Bluesville satellite radio.

“I’ve co-produced all three records. The first and the third I’ve solely produced, but my engineering professor and my mix teacher both worked on them.”

Was it hard for her after she’d learned all those skills from her instructors to let somebody else put the salt in the gumbo? “I love the sound of a great record, but I know a lot of people do that better than me. So, the engineering side is like super easy. If it sounds right in the studio, and I know somebody who’s really going to treat it well and put it in a great space for the mix, then it’s really easy for me to let go.

“It’s just finding those people that you work really, really well with that you trust, that you kinda hear things in the same way. I let go and trust that a person has the skills way beyond what I can. I can pretty much feel that in the conversation, so I like working with people that are better at those things ’cause I can learn.”

vanessa collier photo 3Working with professionals she believes are better at their chosen function than she is and giving back more than they expect is important to her.

“I think that if I play with musicians that push me, then the music gets better, and I get better, and I hear differently, and that goes for everything that I do, and I’ve learned to just find somebody who is open enough to teach me or show me in some way, then I’ve been made a better musician over and over in situations like that.”

Ten years out of high school, Collier enjoys working through the Blues Foundation with Blues in Schools projects helping young people find the passion and love for music that she discovered as still a child.

“I just did one in Buffalo when we were there last weekend. I worked with the high school with three different student groups. I actually got to play with them. Sometimes it’s just me talking to a lot of students, but this time we actually got to be interactive and play together. I just remember so much being in that position of a high school student or an eighth-grade student and trying to figure out things. At that point, eighth, ninth, tenth grade I really wanted to be a saxophonist, but at that point still I wanted to be in the WBA playing basketball.

“So, I just remember I had these two big passions, and I wasn’t sure which way to necessarily go, and I really didn’t feel any pressure from my family to figure it out. It’s kinda like you’ll figure it out if you want to do both. Even my teacher was the same way. He was not pushing me to do one or the other and allowed me to choose my own path. I just think it’s so important right now that even if they don’t know what it is, that they’re super passionate about what they want to do. I think its super important that they see and hear people doing what they love.

“It’s very easy to fall into the backup plan and I think that’s something musicians kind of tend not to do. In general, you’re living a very spontaneous life. So, it’s all about passion, and it’s all about following that little voice inside of you. Otherwise, you really can’t be an artist if you don’t know that voice inside you, and I talk to a lot of students.

“It’s amazing how many questions I got. One, because I mentioned I was introverted, and a lot of the kids were like, ‘Well, I’m introverted, too. How did you get over that?’ I was like, ‘I didn’t get over it. I just found a way to navigate and find my own thing to be myself, and then I could do my job better.’ So, there were just a lot of questions on that. Again, choosing a path and going forward, but I always emphasize the passion.

“So, honestly, it enlivens me to see people at their age go into dancing, singing, sports. One guy was really into bowling. So, whatever it is, cool. This is your time to figure it out. I just feel a very kindred spirit with anyone who is (troubled) or they’ve figured it out, or they think they’ve figured it out. They all kind of go through this thinking. We’ve figured it out.

“I’ve started to really enjoy doing this because it’s another connection to another generation. I’m 10 years out of high school, so I feel very connected, and I hope they will take something from me coming in and just the hard work I’ve put in to get where I’m going. Hopefully, they see that, and I just think it’s a great program not only to keep the blues alive and in their ears, but also connected to the modern day music and where the roots of that came from. We forget our history. So, it’s important to throw that reel out there and show them, show everybody – and me included. Keep learning from the past. It’s how you don’t repeat it, racially, musically. It’s how you keep moving forward, how you take the right step forward.”’

Her first CD Heart Soul & Saxophone (2014)and her latest, Honey Up, are both independent releases, on her Phenix Fire label and Meeting My Shadow (2017) is on Ruf Records. She sees advantages to both depending on the situation.

“I think the easiest way to learn is just to get in there and do it and make mistakes. So, either way, right now I’m going the indie route because that feels right for me at this particular moment. I think it depends on the artists. And it was funny reading Bruce Iglauer’s book (Bitten By The Blues) because he likes to have a hand in it. He likes to have control over what the end product is gonna sound like (vs. what’s) in my head when I start, when I write the tune, and it’s my job to rehearse the band and the engineer to keep the sound right and working with the producer. He gets the right feel for the record.

vanessa collier photo “I tremendously appreciate what this record (for Ruf Records) did for me, but in terms of business, it didn’t make a lot of sense (to be) in the indie world when you can basically hire the same publicity team and put out a great record and basically work your tail off, and hopefully you’ll have enough talent to sell it and kind of go from there, and you don’t give up the publishing and the rights, and your control. I think with the record company there are gives and takes, but as long as that is even and fair, it’s a good deal. I just think I’ve taken enough business classes at Berklee and know how to sell a record and how to make one from both sides of the glass.”

She plays both sides of the field on creating concept albums vs. a collection of songs.

“My first album was more a collection of songs. It was songs that I loved, songs that I wrote in songwriting classes at Berklee, and I just wanted them to be full-fledged songs and songs that I liked, so I didn’t write (Billie Holiday’s) “God Bless The Child,” (but) I wanted to put it on the record.

“My second record was definitely a concept record. I was going through a very difficult moment, and it was me going through all that pain. It was a little bit heavier record that way, and lyrically it was kind of visceral if you listen to the lyrics, and then with this third one I wanted it to be mostly original and have it be upbeat. And I think my goal with each one is to be better at communicating with the musicians and getting what’s in my head out on the record ’cause you can hear it in a certain way, and then you just kinda pass it along to the musicians around you, and they just kinda help create what’s in your head and help bring it to life.

“So, yeah, now I think of records more as a whole concept. It should have a unifying theme, whatever that is. But that’s how I’ve kinda gone forward. But again, writing more original story songs and keeping that part of the blues tradition alive is very important to me and kinda keeping this music with realness and truth and a commentary on the time.”

Vanessa Collier’s original music is eclectic enough that she could easily slip into a genre that’s more popular than blues, but it isn’t about that for her.

“Choosing a path and going forward, I always emphasize the passion. You gotta go for something. If it doesn’t work out, there’s plenty of jobs out there you can make money at. But that’s not the goal. Success is not how much money you’ve just made. It’s (about) you doing what you love. Are you happy doing what you’re doing? That’s the biggest thing.

“There may be people that don’t want to help you, but if then you push past your uncertainty and just take a leap, you’ll land somewhere. It may not be initially where you want it to be, but just go for it anyway.”

For more info on Vanessa, please visit her website at

Interviewer Don Wilcock has been writing about blues for nearly half a century. He wrote Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, the biography that helped Buddy Guy jumpstart his career in 1991. He’s interviewed more than 5000 Blues artists and edited several music magazines including King Biscuit Time.

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Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

Monthly shows on the second Saturday of each month at Hope and Anchor English Pub on N 2nd St in Loves Park, IL. 3/9/19 John Primer, 4/13/19 The Cash Box Kings and 5/11/19 Corey Dennison Band. All shows 8 PM to 11:30 PM.

First and Third Friday’s feature the Blues at the Lyran Society Club on 4th Avenue in Rockford and a great fish fry, too! The schedule is 3/1/19 Hobson’s Choice, 3/15/19 Milwaukee Slim with Billy Flynn, 4/5/19 Dave Fields and 4/19/19 Oscar Wilson and Joel Patterson. No cover, 7 pm to 10 pm.

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign, IL

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society continues holding two Blues Jams each month. Thanks to Pipa’s Pub, 604 S. Country Fair Dr. in Champaign for hosting these jams held the 2nd Sunday of each month from 4 to 7 pm and the 4th Wednesday of each month from 7 to 10 pm. The host band plays the 1st set and then it’s open to all the jammers in the house.

In February the Blues Deacons will host and Sunday March 10, we welcome back Robert Kimbrough Sr. Robert is the youngest son of Junior Kimbrough and put on an amazing show at the 2018 Prairie Crossroads Blues Fest. Bring your instrument. For more info visit:

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances held every Monday night at the Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.

Feb 18 – Emily Burgess, Feb 25 – The Rockin’ Jake Band, Sunday, March 3 – Johnny Rawls plays the 7th Annual Randy Devillez Blues Celebration, March 4 – The Nick Schnebelen Band For more information visit

The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society is pleased to announce The Instigators as our featured artists at our March CBS Blues Sunday on 3 March, 2019. Show is at 8:00, followed by an open Blues Jam at 9:30.As always, the event will be held at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Avenue, Charlotte, NC 28205.  Admission is free to members with valid cards and just $5.00 to all others.

Please remember to bring donations of canned foods or household items for Loaves and Fishes. 1 Can? I Can! Help end hunger in Charlotte!

Grand County Blues Society – Denver, CO

Grand County Blues Society, in conjunction with Blues Star Connection, present Blue Star Connection 8, a Benefit Concert, Silent Auction, and Gear Drive, Saturday, March 23, at Turnhalle Ballroom at The Tivoli, Metropolitan State University of Denver. Doors open 5:30pm, showtime is 6:00PM. Tickets: $25.00 (General Admission), $35.00 (Reserved), $69. (VIP); $750.00 (VIP Premier Table). Info: (303) 726-6111 or visit

Also performing: Honey Island Swamp Band, B To The Sixth, and Special Guest, Kate Moss. Net proceeds benefit Blue Star Connection, to help carry out their mission of providing access and ownership of musical instruments for children and young adults with cancer and other serious life challenges. To date, BSC has reached over  eight-hundred kids and has donated musical gear to sixty-five Children’s Hospitals and Music Therapy Programs as well as several other community programs.

Great Northern Blues Society – Wausau,WI

To celebrate 20 years of the Blues Café, we will be kicking off the weekend by hosting a 20th Anniversary Party, Friday, March 8 at the Rothschild Pavilion (near Wausau, WI). Doors will open at 5:30 pm, with Howard “Guitar” Luedtke getting things started at 6:30 and Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys taking the stage at 8:30.

Friday admission can be bought the night of the event for $5 and is included with all Saturday Blues Café ticket, which will be available to purchase at Friday’s event.

Saturday’s Blues Café lineup includes the Mark Cameron Band at 1 pm, the Ivy Ford Band at 3 pm, the Cash Box Kings at 5 pm, the Danielle Nicole Band at 7 pm, and Ronnie Baker Brooks at 9 pm. Doors will open at noon. We hope you can join us for a weekend of great music, and to celebrate 20 years of good times at the Blues Café. For more information, visit

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