Issue 14-19 May 7, 2020

Cover photo © 2020 Jim Hartzell

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Brazilian blues bassist Rodrigo Mantovani. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including new books from Yvette Landry, Roger Stolle & Lou Bopp, plus new music from Tom Buckmiller, B.B. & The Blues Shacks, Roland Johnson, Brother Jefferson, Sugar King James and the Chessmasters, Chris Shutters with special guest Jimmy Burns, The Hightones and Eric Heideman.



Contemporary Blues Album

Traditional Blues Album

Soul Blues Album

Rock Blues Album

Acoustic Blues Album

Live Blues Recording

Historical or Vintage Recording

New Artist Debut

Male Blues Artist

Female Blues Artist

Blues Band of the Year

Sean Costello Rising Star Award


Recordings released from May 1, 2019 to May 31st, 2020 are eligible.

Complete information along with submission forms are on available our website at:

Submissions deadline extended to May
30th, 2020.


 Featured Interview – Rodrigo Mantovani 

imageWhile it may have its roots in the cotton fields of the deep South, particularly the Mississippi Delta region, blues music is now celebrated the world over. Blues festivals take place all over Europe and Scandinavia, even in in the exotic land of India. Those same regions are home to numerous artists and bands who are adept at capturing the essence of the music. One area that does not get as much attention for its blues scene is the South American continent, particularly Brazil. Over the years, a number of American blues artists have traveled south, inspiring local musicians and teaching them the right way to play the music. Right in the middle of that process was Rodrigo Mantovani, who now is one of the finest blues bass players on the planet, working with the award-winning Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling.

Born in 1983, Mantovani grew up in an Sao Paulo apartment with his mother, grandmother, and sister. His early years revolved around a different passion.

“I was a really good soccer player. At that time, I was part of group of top players, at school and soccer school. We were selected for having talent that would allow us to possibly play professionally one day. But in the building we lived in, I had some friends around who played acoustic guitars to make music. That was around the age of eleven or twelve. So music was getting interesting for me”.

“I remember this time I was at a market with my grandmother. There, hanging on the wall, was an acoustic guitar for sale. I stopped right in front of it. It was a crazy moment for me. I thought it was amazing that a little piece of wood could make all of that music. I saw all of these possibilities right in front of me. My grandmother did not buy me that guitar! I think she thought a video game would be better. Later, my aunt passed away. She had an acoustic guitar that ended up in my hands. That was the beginning of everything. Years later, my grandmother did buy me my first bass guitar”.

“Both things were happening at the same time. At school, I was having contact with players who were already training in a professional league. I saw that they were way, way better than me! Four of my friends were on this huge team, the Sao Paulo Football Club, playing field soccer while I was playing indoor soccer on a smaller field. These guys were really good, and I didn’t think that I could be as good as them. By then, I was already in love with music. We were starting to travel to soccer matches. At that point, I knew I needed to make a decision. It was an easy decision for me to choose music. The passion was there.”

At this point, lacking even a beginner’s understanding of the difference between guitar and bass guitar, Mantovani need a lot of help.

“One of my closest friends, who lived in my building, was a bass player. But every time I showed up downstairs with my acoustic guitar to play and hang out with friends, he started to show me bass lines. But he never mentioned that they were bass lines. So I thought I was just learning music. Eventually I learned a few songs. But when I started playing those songs for friends, “Hey, look at what I learned,” they would listen, tell me it was great, but those are the bass parts. I really liked the parts, and they were very difficult to learn, so I didn’t want to relearn other parts. So I just decided to play bass after that. My friend, Marcelo Bakos, is still playing bass and lives here in America. We never played the same style. In those days he was into metal. One of the first bands I was introduced to was Iron Maiden. Now Marcelos is playing country for a band out of Nashville”.

Knowing that he needed help to learn more about playing music, Mantovani asked his friends how they learned about techniques. They told him about a music school a few blocks from their building, in a small house.

“It wasn’t a big school but they had music classes there. I wanted to learn, so I said that will be my next stop. I would go to school, then my bus driver would take me to music school. He was a really nice guy who had a passion for music. He knew I really wanted to learn. At some point, he introduced me to some of his friends, who had a band. They were much older than me. I was fourteen at most, and they were in their forties or older. They needed a bass player. My friend told them about me going to music school. He offered to bring over so they could hear me”.

“That is how I got in my first band. The were a blues band, but not playing the traditional blues. They were into stuff by Eric Clapton. That was my first contact with that music. When I showed up at that first rehearsal, wearing a hat and being so young, I could see on their faces that they were doing everything they could to not laugh at me. Once we started to play, they were digging it. Their last bass player played a different style, had a six string bass. I had a four string electric bass and knew how to play the songs. They mixed it up, doing rock blues, surf blues, and some Stevie Ray Vaughan”.

imageDuring the three years he spent with the band, Mantovani was meeting a lot of musicians, and playing with different people, even joining a big Brazillian company that sponsored a lot of TV artists. He was in a band that provided support for those artists. “It was a big time for me. I was fifteen or sixteen, playing in soccer stadiums for thousands of people. One time we backed a Brazilian boy band, kind of like the Backstreet Boys, in a stadium for at least 100,000 people. A lot of crazy stuff happened in those days. I had a security guard and women would try to grab my clothes because they thought I was a star – and I was just fifteen. That got me more experience as a player. But I was not playing real blues at that time”.

“Blues was still so new to Brazil back then. Everybody who was playing blues started with rock-n-roll. There weren’t any real blues artists living in my country. Europe had blues musicians like Memphis Slim and Champion Jack Dupree living and playing there. They had the American Folk Blues tours in the 1960s with artists like Lighnin’ Hopkins, Otis Rush, and others. So people there knew what real blues sounded like. They didn’t have to go anywhere to learn about the music. That is why there is such a strong blues scene in Europe now. We didn’t have that. Brazil’s first blues festival didn’t happen until 1989! Before that, we had never seen any blues artists play live. You had to be real wealthy and traveling to the United States or Europe to be able to buy blues albums and tapes to bring home. That was the only way you would be able to hear blues recordings. Brazil was poor in that respect. But we did have a lot of rock-n-roll bands. We grew up with that, long before we knew other styles like blues”.

Playing in a band that did a bit of blues with a heavy dose of rock, the intrepid bass player was always on the lookout for a kindred spirit. Finally, he heard about a bar where a guy played blues every Tuesday.

“My friend, who was older, saw an advertisement for a Blues night. She knew I liked the music, so she offered to take me since I was about sixteen. There was a guy playing harp and acoustic guitar plus a drummer. It was way more blues than what I was playing. I got real excited, so I started to drink, and got drunk! At the end of the night, he sat down so we could talk. He put one of his album’s on the table, trying to sell it to me. Being drunk, I bumped a beer glass with arm, knocking it over, getting beer all over his album. That was pretty embarrassing. My friend said don’t worry, we will buy the record”.

“But the guy was pissed off. So he told me, since you play blues, why don’t you show up next Tuesday and play with us. That surprised me. I knew he invited me because he was angry, and probably wanted to put me in an embarrassing situation. But I saw it as an opportunity. I told him I would be there. And I was there on Tuesday with my bass and amp. He was very surprised that I showed up. Once we started playing, he liked what I was doing. So now I was playing every Tuesday at this bar. Being a child, I didn’t need a lot of money. Just a few beers and I was good”.

The band leader was Sergio Duarte, who also had a full band, including keyboards and horns, that had recorded an album and did tours in Brazil. Luck once again was working out in favor of our intrepid bass player.

“His bass player was leaving, so Sergio invited me to join his official band. That was a big deal, and a big step for me. I didn’t know that many blues tunes. That was when things started to come together. The tunes we played in the band, when I asked them who recorded the song, whatever name they gave me was not who wrote the song or did the famous version. I was shocked that they didn’t know the original versions or the right way to play the songs. I started to go further as my interest grew. It seemed like nobody in Brazil had taken the time to do research, discover new names and recording sessions. I wanted to do it right, to do the research. And once you start to do that, you never stop”.

“Sergio has a son, who he always pushed to go into music, to play guitar and harp. He paid for lessons and encouraged him. I was the one that started to show his son the really deep blues music, especially the guitar players. We were playing together, and I was educating his son. It was fun for me, since I learned from the father. I do believe that’s how it works. You do something nice and it comes back to you. Leo is a talented guy. He played guitar on Bia’s record, which I produced”. (Let Me In by Bia Marchese, Rodrigo’s wife on the Chico Blues label)

Later on, Duarte’s band had a new guitar player, Celso Salim, who also had his own band in Sao Paula. He was getting ready to cut a new album, and wanted Mantovani to play bass on the project. That offer lead to another big change.

image“The guitar player, Celso Salim, had one song that was perfect for an upright bass- but I didn’t have one. The desire to have an upright was already there, because records I was listening to were done with an upright bass. It wasn’t a real blues song, more of a jazzy ballad. So I bought an upright, then put blisters on my fingers and bled some trying to learn to play as fast as I could so we could record that song. That was the start of me playing upright bass. And I met Bia then, because she was Celso’s girlfriend at the time. I did a duo album with Celso called Diggin’ The Blues, with us doing new versions of old blues tunes in a new kind of way, stuff from artists like Sleepy John Estes, and Blind Willie McTell”.

While still playing in Duarte’s band, playing blues with plenty of rock-n-roll, Mantovani started hearing about a new band that was doing traditional blues in a purer form. One night, one of the guys he was working with outside of Duarte’s group could not make a gig, so he called another guitar player to fill in.

”That was the first time I met Igor Prado. Of course, I already knew about the Prado Blues Band. Igor and I had a lot in common musically, more similarities with him, who I had never played with before, than with a guitarist I was working with all the time. That shook me up. Later on, I realized that Igor was listening to the same stuff I was learning from at that time. He was in the process of starting a new project under his own name. We played together a few more times, then he called me to record his first album”.

The Igor Prado Band, with Igor’s brother Yuri on drums, quickly became the blues band in Brazil. They started backing blues artists from the USA on tours that were arranged by Flavio Guimaraes, a harp player.

“That was another highlight that changed everything. Now we had direct contact with American artists who played blues, had stories to tell, and could direct us to records we should hear. That was how we could go deeper into the roots of the music. The first one we backed was a harp player, Gary Smith, from the West Coast. I don’t remember if I used the upright on that tour, as I was still learning. We did a tour with R.J. Mischo, another harp player. We backed all of the harp players – Rick Estrin, Mark Hummel, Steve Guyger, and Kim Wilson. All of this stuff started to happen naturally. I think Hummel had been to Brazil before and had a bad experience with the backing band, too many rock influences. Once those guys played with us, they would go back home and say nice things about us. The older guys that had started the Brazilian blues scene weren’t too happy that we were taking over”.

Those artists would also make guest appearances on recordings by the Igor Prado Band. Another musician who had a big impact on the band was Lynwood Slim (Richard Duran).

“Our tour with Slim was a big move. Igor asked him about recording with us. Slim thought it was for a few tracks. But Igor said no, we want to do a whole album. So Slim came to Brazil to do the tour and record. The big difference was that Slim started to offer to bring us to America to back him, which was different from the other guys. He appreciated us for bringing him to Brazil. That is how we ended up playing with him in 2010 at the Doheny Blues Festival. That really put us on the map, and helped us get connected with the Delta Groove label, who released the Brazilian Kicks record. Lynwood Slim was the one responsible for us being here, introducing us to musicians like Kid Ramos, Junior Watson, and Johnny Dyer, people we had been listening to back home. He was the bridge. We stayed at Slim’s house, and he started to share so much information with us. He played us music in a lot of different styles and artists, stuff people in Brazil didn’t have at that point”.

Mantovani remembers another experience that had a big impact.

“We were going to be backing Rick Estrin on a tour. He called me to discuss doing a song, just the two of us with me on the upright while he sang and played harp. That was going to be a challenge as I had never done that before. I would always ask musicians we backed for information, but Rick came with a CD that he had burned for me, and told me to listen to that. It had tracks with Ransom Knowling, Big Crawford, and Willie Dixon playing slaps on the upright bass. I was touched that Rick took the time to record that disc for me, and every time I see Rick or have a chance to talk to him, I still say thanks. He encouraged me to learn more on the upright. I started watching more videos and tutorials because, at that time, there were no upright players who played blues in Brazil. Now there are a few guys who play blues on the upright, but they are not upright blues players! I never had anyone in front of me slapping the bass, showing me the correct form, or playing the right line. So if I wanted to do it right, I had to research, or buy a DVD or a tape”.

“The upright automatically brings a special flavor to the blues. First, you aren’t supposed to play it that loud, which means the band needs to play at a lower volume. In order to do that, the band must know how to play at lower volume. You have to know when to use an upright, as it doesn’t work with all of the various styles of blues. That is one reason I really like it. Two things can happen. One is that you will be really frustrated because everybody is playing very loudly and not listening. Or, you will be really surprised discovering that the band knows how to play with an upright. It gives you this feel that is amazing, that is not possible with the electric bass”.

For more than a year, Mantovani has been using his talents as a member of the Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling, taking part in the recording sessions at Kid Andersen’s famed Greaseland Studio last year for the band’s Lucky Guy! album, which just received the 2020 Blues Music Award in the Traditional Blues Album category. They were also honored with the award for Band Of The Year. Once again, there is a story on how Mantovani made it from Brazil to Chicago.

image“The Igor Prado Band was playing a blues fest in Spain about ten years ago. Nick and his band were also on the bill. That was the first contact we had. I knew about his work. But after that, we didn’t talk much. I was very good friends by that time with Lynwood Slim. We talked all of the time. When Slim got very sick, he spent time in the hospital. As soon as he got home, I offered to take him to the Chicago Blues fest, thinking a trip would be good for him and people would see that he is back in the game. I was still married to my ex-wife, who worked for an airline company, so tickets weren’t a problem. I knew that Slim had lived in Chicago for a few years, so I told him he could see his old friends. He said great, let’s go! Slim was very good friends with Nick, who offered to let us stay at his house, and put together some shows for us. So while we staying with Nick, we played some songs together. We talked a little, got a bit closer. But after that trip, again, we didn’t talk much”.

At the end of 2017, Mantovani was finished with Igor Prado’s band. He kept busy backing Bia on her shows, and recorded another duo album, this time with Big Creek Slim (Marc Rune), a Danish blues artist. Released on the Chico Blues Records label, the First Born recording garnered plenty of critical praise, and showcased Mantovani’s considerable skills on the upright. The duo did a month-long tour of Brazil to support that release. There were plenty of videos from the shows that popped up on Facebook. Moss happened to see one of them, and decided to reach out.

“At that point, Nick was going to make a change with his bass player. He sent me a message out of nowhere. He asked me about joining his band. I was shocked. So I wrote back saying, hey man, when?Then he was the one that was shocked, because he dropped the question as a bit of a joke. But he also saw the videos, told me that I was doing a great job, and that he had always liked my playing. He told me later that he never expected me to say yes, let’s do it. So we started working on all of the paperwork that was necessary to make the move possible. I was worried about how long it was taking. Nick had a recording session planned for his next album on Alligator Records, and I wasn’t sure that I would get everything done in time to be able to get there. So I decided to come here as a visitor. Nick had a month-long tour scheduled for the band. That included a stop in San Jose in January of last year to work with Kid recording the new album. Than I went back to Brazil to complete the paperwork so that I could move here legally. All of that was done in April, 2019 and here I am!”

Another aspect of Mantovani’s artistry is his skill as a producer. He was at the helm for the disc with Big Creek Slim and a killer album by sax player Denilson Big D Martins, both on the Chico Blues label. He also produced his wife Bia’s disc, many of the Igor Prado Band titles, and releases by several other artists. For him, there aren’t any big secrets to creating a quality recording.

“I have always been curious about the roots of the music. Being a producer, I want to make sure that if you want to play a song in a certain style, you need to know how to play that style. I am a purist in my head. It helps me keep clear what I want or don’t want. I am not talking about playing correctly. Who am I to decide what is correct? For Bia’s album, her voice has a good tone that naturally fits some older styles. So we tried to use songs that fit her voice, so she didn’t sound forced or fake. You work with the tools that you have. If we tried to make her sound like Big Mama Thornton, that’s not going to happen. The same thing with the Big Creek album. I tried to pick songs that I could hear him singing. It’s not that easy sometimes”.

There is another record finished with Big Creek Slim which had originally been targeted for release later in the year. But once the world got turned upside down, Mantovani has been considering his options. It will be tough to sell physical copies without being able to offer the disc to fans at live shows, so the initial release may happen in some manner of download. Both artists had hoped to do tours together in Denmark and Brazil for family and friends, but those plans are on hold.

With all that has happened, Mantovani has no regrets.

“I have never had the normal vision of the future that most people have. While living in Brazil, I was playing a lot of gigs and making good money. But that wasn’t enough for me. I wasn’t playing much blues plus there weren’t many people I could talk with in-depth. I was missing living with intensity for this passion that I have. So that was a big reason why I came here. Being a member of Nick’s band usually means that you will travel a lot, and you will be playing all the time, especially festivals. I am very happy that I made the move. But it is a difficult life, driving for hours and hours to different places, talking to different people. Sometimes the money doesn’t seem worth it. That is why you have to have that passion to make music, much more than making money. I want to feed my soul, not my pocket”.

Interviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a former 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 – 1 of 10 

imageTom Buckmiller – River City Blues Attack

self release

11 songs time-44:48

Tom Buckmiller brings roots music, rock and a touch of blues from the heartland of Iowa. Tom is a professor of Education at Drake University(Des Moines) and teaches a class to first year students on the blues each fall. He is also the co-chair of the Iowa Blues Hall Of Fame Committee. He handles the singing while Matt Woods lends his masterful guitar skills. All the other musicians on the album are first rate.

Matt Woods contributes Elmore James style slide guitar to “Dirty Dog”. Recycled Chuck Berry guitar licks pervade “Hot Mess Maggie”, a track that includes sax by Heath Alan Pattschull. A guitar riff reminiscent of The Rolling Stones is used on the rocker “Josephine”, shades of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. It even uses a Bobby Keyes-like sax. Heath overlays a sax section on the jump blues “So Good”.

More good instrumental treatment on “Listenin’ And Seein'”. Sarah Ling joins for a duet on the slow ballad “The Way Things Used To Be”. Bob Pace adds his guitar to the funky guitar-charged “Can’t Feel Your Love No More”. Tom’s vocal is lively here with a nice touch of hoarseness to it.

Bob Pace returns with his crafty harmonica this time for “Big Dakota Love”, a song with a good steady groove and a relentless guitar attack. Once again a song with killer guitar in “Whiskey Man”. “Blues Man With A Mini Van” is about life on the road.

A good slice of Midwestern roots music covering various elements of everyday life. A good choice of sympathetic musicians for this project. Matt Woods in particular stands out for his exemplary guitar skills deft production skills. It would be worthwhile checking out Matt’s own band Matt Woods And The Thunderbolts. Tom has presented a strong representation of heartland music.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 10 

imageB.B. & The Blues Shacks – Dirty Thirty

Rhythm Bomb Records

3 CDs – 49 songs time – CD1 – 61:58 CD2 – 60:48 CD3 – 52:31

As part of their 30th anniversary celebration the German band B.B. & The Blues Shacks have released this 3 CD set clocking in at just shy of 3 hours. I find there isn’t one clunker in the batch. The five piece outfit is augmented by an unidentified horn section on the first two discs as they present songs in various R&B influenced blues styles ranging from jump blues to more straight ahead R&B. The third disc consists of more current material along with a few remakes of older songs. The third disc is sans horn section allowing for more of a traditional leaning blues approach that lends itself for the harmonica to step out a bit more.

The band is completely up on their game. Singer-harmonica man Michael Arlt is a strong front man with his assertive vocalizations. Right from the first song on the first disc Come Along(2012) “True Love In Vain” the instrument separation is evident showcasing each part with clarity. Fabian Fritz’s boogie woogie piano is right up front where it should be. His piano and organ playing throughout is spot on. Andreas Arlt handles all styles of guitar quite handily as he infuses blues, jump and swing blues, R&B, a bit of jazz and country into his playing. All but three compositions are penned by Andreas and Michael “Maddy” Arlt.

Henning Hauerken is a strong foundation on upright and electric bass along with drummer Andre Werkmeister. Andre adjusts to all the stylistic nuances in the music. The anonymous horn players provide tight ensemble drive as well occasionally stepping out in the solo spotlight.

The genres of music vary throughout the three CDs. The main is R&B infused blues, jump blues, swing blues, ballads and a few forays into the pop world. “If I Should Ever Lose Your Love” harkens back to some of the classic British pop stars such as Cliff Richard or Billy Fury.

A few other highlights for me: The R&B of “Will You Be There”. The lone instrumental “Buckle Up” is a jazzy romp giving time for organ and guitar to stretch out. “Goodbye Everybody” is a good jump blues closer for the Businessmen CD(2014). The cover of “Deep In The Heart Of Texas” isn’t the song I’m familiar with. I was thinking along the lines of-“The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas(clap, clap, clap). Fabian Fritz replicates Professor Longhair’s classic New Orleans piano style on “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More”. Add Michael Arlt’s harmonica over that and you just can’t go wrong.

Their are many bright lights amongst the plethora of songs here. You will have an adventure in blues goodness as you sort through the musical delights within. Not a weak song in the bunch.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 10 

imageYvette Landry – Taking The World, By Storm

University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press

170 pages

Yvette Landry knows a bit about music – in addition to be a mother, an adjunct college professor, and a noted author, she is a Grammy nominated vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, appearing on more than twenty recordings including four under her own name. Growing up in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, she was surrounded by a melting pot of musical influences that spanned Cajun, black Creole, country and blues. But she spent many a night dancing to the unique sounds of swamp pop, which blended the best of those genres into a unique musical gumbo.

To celebrate the music, Landry has put together a loving tribute to the “Godfather of Swamp Pop,” singer and drummer Warren Storm (Warren Schexnider). Starting with a foreword by another fine Louisiana vocalist, Marc Broussard, Landry takes readers through Storm’s storied career utilizing the interview format. She asks questions, giving him the opportunity to provide a wealth of information. What makes the book all the more interesting are the photographs that are intertwined with the text, starting with a B&W of Storm at the age of three, holding a ball in his lap.

Taking after his father, who played a variety of instruments with drums as his primary choice, Storm was surrounded by music growing up. The family regularly tuned in the Grand Ole Opry radio show, often featuring the youngster’s favorite singers, Hank Williams Sr. and George Jones. Practicing on his father’s drum set, Storm became good enough to play in his father’s band , in addition to an invitation to join the high school band his senior year, even though he could not read music. As a teenager, he befriended a fellow music lover, starting a life-long friendship with Bobby Charles, the famed songwriter. Storm relates how he was driving the car while Charles composed one of his memorable hits, “Walking To New Orleans”.

Landry gets Storm to discuss his first bands, leading to a friend’s introduction to the legendary producer J.D. Miller in Crowley, LA, who produced Storm’s first record on the NASCO Records label. The double sided hit had “Mama, Mama, Mama” backed with a reworking of a standard, ‘The Prisoner’s Song”. Selling over 250,000 copies, the record ignited Storm’s career, drawing huge crowds for the singing drummer’s live performances. Other records followed, as well as appearances on a wealth of recordings as a session drummer, including titles by blues legends like Lazy Lester, Lightnin’ Slim, and Lonesome Sundown. In 2002, he cut an album for St. George Records in Chicago, Dust My Blues, that featured backing by Studebaker John.

The book is divided into sections, each one packed with plenty of photos. The ones focused on his career come first, highlighted by one covering his time with Lil’ Band Of Gold, a group flush with top-notch Louisiana musicians including Steve Riley and C.C. Adcock. Landry also delves into Storm’s family life and the many celebrities and musical legends that he has met over the decades. One exceptional color photo shows Storm with guitarists James Johnson and Rudy Richard, Lazy Lester, and drummer Jockey Etienne, all of whom played with Slim Harpo, and singer Carol Fran. Later sections cover his awards and promotional photos spanning the years.

Interspersed throughout the book are commentaries from friends, writers, and fellow musicians that attest to Storm’s place in the history of Louisiana’s music. The closing section highlights the latest chapter in Storm’s recording career, a new album that finds him revisiting songs from his past with help from an all-star cast including slide guitar wizard Sonny Landreth and saxophonist Derek Huston, another Lil’ Band of Gold member. There are a few minor editing misses, with Tex Ritter’s name spelled “Ridder” underneath a promo shot with his named spelled correctly at the bottom, and on page 104, Texas musician Doug Sahm’s name is correct in the left hand column on the page, becoming “Sham” two paragraphs later in the right column.

Many thanks to Yvette Landry for this beautiful tribute to one of the many musicians who have made lasting, meaningful contributions to music while rarely getting the praise and adulation commensurate with their accomplishments. Be sure you get a copy of this book to understand why Warren Storm is indeed the “Godfather of Swamp Pop”!

(For more on the companion CD, Taking The World By Storm, see Rainey Wetnight’s review for Blues Blast –

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 former 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 – 4 of 10 

imageRoger Stolle & Lou Bopp – Mississippi Juke Joint Confidential: House Parties, Hustlers, & The Blues Life

The History Press

144 Pages

Eighteen years ago, author Roger Stolle left behind a successful career in corporate marketing to move to Clarksdale, MS to immerse himself in the local blues scene. While Clarksdale sits squarely in the Delta region that figures so prominently is the history of blues music, known as the Crossroads of the Blues, at the time of the move the area lacked any semblance of a coordinated effort to celebrate the legacy.

Stolle had a plan to elevate the region, to remind blues fans of its continuing importance. He opened the Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art Store, which has become a clearing house for all things blues related in the region, selling CDs, records, books, magazines, works from local artists, and the spot to learn what is happening in the area’s live music scene. Stolle has also been involved in a number of festivals, including his own creation, the Juke Joint Festival, while serving on the board of directors for a number of civic organizations. In his spare time, he writes columns for several blues publications, and authored a previous book in 2011, Hidden History Of Mississippi Blues. His efforts have earned him several awards, including a 2008 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for retailing.

His latest work takes readers deep into the juke culture that has nurtured the music since it’s early days. Setting the stage in the first chapter, Stolle offers some defining features of a juke joint, stressing that juke people are a cut above the norm, coming from a background where a life of sharecropping was a common denominator. Next comes a close look at the late Robert “Bilbo” Walker, guitarist and the owner the Wonder Light City juke that opened shortly before Walker’s passing. Stolle describes the ten year effort to make the joint a working enterprise, and how Walker handled the bouts of bad luck that always seemed close at hand.

Two lengthy chapters, entitled If Walls Could Talk Part 1 & 2, are quotes from various blues musicians and juke owners, taken from interviews Stolle has conducted that “illustrate the general nature of juke joints, house parties, and the blues life”. The owner of Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale, Red Paden starts off by making it clear that his guests don’t have to be perfect, but they are still expected to conduct themselves as responsible men and women. James “T-Model” Ford provides a vivid depiction of one night when things did go wrong. Remarks from familiar names like “Big” Jack Johnson and “Big” George Brock are interspersed with comments from local players like Louis “Gearshifter” Youngblood, who worries that the music may be suffering from a lack of interest. No doubt readers will garner much of interest from these sections.

Other chapters delve into the influence of moonshine on the culture before devoting a few pages to Paden, “King of the Juke Joint Runners,” who has stuck with blues no matter which way the musical tide seemed to be flowing. Included is a marvelous story of how Red’s Lounge almost became the setting for a reality-based TV show. One can barely imagine how much “reality” would have made the final edits! The closing of Po’ Monkey’s after the death of owner Willie Seaberry in 2016 ended over five decades of existence for what a juke that was known the world over. Stolle shares a number of tales from his years of going on tour with more than a few of the musicians mentioned in the book. “Taking Juke Joints On Tour” is an often humorous recounting of what transpired when the juke attitude collided the outside world. Finally, he enlightens readers as to how the Juke Joint Festival got started in addition to how it fits in to the efforts to market Clarksdale as a can’t-miss blues destination.

Another memorable feature of the book is the outstanding collection of Lou Bopp photographs. Normally a commercial photographer, Bopp also fell in love with the juke culture. His B&W photos are spread throughout, some highlighting the gritty nature of the jukes while other shots serve as portraits for people like Walker, Paden, and Seaberry. Also included in the center of the book are fifteen additional pages of color photographs, bringing out several more layers of rich detail, especially in one of Po’ Monkey’s at night or another of Leo “Bud” Welch, eyes closed and arms outstretched, sending out some kind of offering to the powers that be.

If you have been fortunate enough to visit Clarksdale and experience the real juke culture, this book will undoubtedly bring back plenty of memories. For those have not yet had the pleasure, make sure that get a copy of this one and commence to studying! You could not have a better guide than Stolle, a man who is devoted to the music and the people who play it. A must-read!

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 former 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!

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

imageRoland Johnson – Set Your Mind Free

Blue Lotus Recordings – 2019

10 tracks; 39 minutes

Roland Johnson is a veteran soul singer from St Louis, Missouri who came to Blues Blast readers’ attention when his previous disc Imagine This was nominated in the Soul-Blues category of the Blues Blast Awards in 2017. The follow-up uses much the same format and personnel with Blue Lotus head Paul Niehaus IV on guitar, bass, keys and tenor sax and fellow co-producer Kevin O’Connor playing drums, guitar, keys and baritone sax.

Despite the pair’s obvious talent across such a wide range of instruments the album does not sound like two guys multiply overdubbed, probably because of the very long list of musicians who contributed to the recordings: Adam Hucke on trumpet and flugelhorn, David Gomez on tenor sax, Mikail Andria on trombone, Mike Graham on upright bass, Andy Hainz on cello, Mark Hochberg, Dragomir Page, Abbie Steiling and Lindsay Wilken on violin and/or viola.

Mattie Schell, Jackie Teuber and Ally Vogler add backing vocals and Emily Wallace and Gene Jackson share the vocals with Roland on three cuts. The writing credits are shared between Roland, Paul, Kevin and Gene with John Marshall and Tyler Jackson Stokes contributing to one track each, Tyler also playing guitar on his, and there is one rather unexpected cover.

The album is set as if it is an LP, with tracks 1-5 labelled ‘Side A’ and 6-10 ‘Side B’. The title track sets things off with a bang, a classic upbeat soul stomper with everything you would expect from that description: Roland’s powerful vocals make you think of Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding and the great horn chart propels the song. A duet with Emily Wallace, “Still Here” has elements of reggae and doo-wop as the duo celebrate that they are still together and “Now You’re Gone” is a rather syrupy ballad with the strings to the fore. “Steppin’” has the sort of infectious groove that makes it hard to sit still and you can easily imagine Roland getting the entire audience at a gig to follow his instructions! A second duet shows that Emily can handle an upbeat tune as easily as a ballad and the piano-led Rn’B stomper “You Know You’re Mine” works really well, lyrically following the earlier duet in celebrating the couple’s attachment, David Gomez upping the excitement with his tenor solo.

“Let’s Live Together” shares a title with one from the repertoire of Al Green but it’s another original, Roland showing he can hit some high notes like the Reverend, the backing vocalists adding to the performance on another highlight track. Roland asks his girl to “Hold On”, a ballad which uses a tune and rhythm similar to “I Put A Spell On You” before the sole cover. “You’re My Best Friend” was a hit for Queen and, rather unusually, was written by their bass player John Deacon with no involvement from Freddie Mercury or Brian May. It is a surprise to find a Queen song on a soul album, but it works fine. Roland sings the song well and the combination of subtle strings and horns enables the song to remain instantly recognizable. Who knew that Queen had written and performed a soul song? Fellow Blue Lotus artist Gene Jackson duets with Roland on “Push And Move”, another one of those ‘dance move’ songs like “Steppin’” on Side A – good stuff. To close the album Roland moves into more of a blues vein with “Mean Mistreatin’” which is stripped-back without horns or strings. Whilst that is good news for the variety of the album, at over seven minutes, the song is simply too long to sustain interest. Perhaps the production team were conscious that the album was a little on the short side so elongated the track. This reviewer would have preferred a couple more of the excellent soul tunes like the title track or the dance tunes!

Overall an enjoyable disc with just a couple of false steps but still well worth a listen if you enjoy soul music.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 10 

imageBrother Jefferson – Reflections

Blue Lotus Recordings – 2019

11 tracks; 52 minutes

Jeff Chapman put out a pair of independent releases back in 2009/10 which I enjoyed. Since then he has issued two more albums (including a live set) and now joins the St Louis-based Blue Lotus stable to release an album under the pseudonym Brother Jefferson. Jeff handles lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Brian Massey is on bass and backing vocals, Shane Maguire drums and Ian Buschmann tenor and baritone saxes; label chief Paul Niehaus IV plays lead guitar and keys and Kyle Yardley adds harp to one track. All the songs are Jeff’s originals with the lyrics for two written by an old schoolfriend, Wayne E Caniff. The album was recorded by Paul at the Blue Lotus studio in St Louis and mastered by Chris Latham in Nashville. The music is melodic and catchy and some falls into Americana or Southern Rock but there are certainly some blues elements here if you listen hard enough.

The album opens with a trio of good, rocking tunes. Jeff confesses that he would “beg, borrow or steal” “For Your Love” which has a catchy tune with elements of Southern Rock; sax player Ian adds depth with his support behind the vocals, as well as stepping out to take a solo. “That Open Road” sounds like a classic driving song and it does not disappoint: “I got the top rolled down and I’m feeling the breeze; I’ve got to crank up my old V8 Ford, it’s time to roll on down that open road”. Jeff’s core riff comes straight out of the Keith Richards guitar book and is well backed by Paul’s ringing guitar and Ian’s sax – great fun!. “The Mirror” slows the pace a bit but churns along on a bluesy riff, Jeff feeling his age as he cannot believe that the face in the mirror is actually his. A very pretty guitar motif opens “Be Your Man” which develops into an attractive country-tinged tune while “Slow Your Roll” is the first of two songs with Wayne’s lyrics. The song tries to put the brakes on someone’s crazy lifestyle with a fast-paced rhythm, Ian’s bubbling baritone and a busy guitar solo. “Hey Hey Pretty Mama” is a shuffle to take us to the half-way point on the disc.

An earlier version of “Scars” was released on the St Louis Blues Society’s 17 in 17 release, reviewed in the May 11 2018 edition of Blues Blast. It’s a ballad with a fine, brooding horn chart that supports Jeff’s strong vocals about people’s emotional struggles: “It may look like nothing’s wrong, that everything’s all right so far. I’m here to tell you that you would change your mind if you could only see their scars”. The next track has a lighter musical palette though Wayne’s lyrics are poignant as Jeff sings of the girl leaving to follow her dream, despite his warnings about “Chasing Rainbows”. The title “Hustle And Bustle” might make you expect a rocking track but in fact it has a cool groove with the sax heavily featured over some jazzy piano chords. The interplay between the guitars gives “Sending You My Love” a soul-blues feel as Jeff yearns to get back to his love; as on several tracks here Ian lays down a fine solo mid-tune and Paul a short but sweet solo towards the end. As a bonus track there is an acoustic take on “The Mirror”, a duet between Jeff on acoustic guitar and Kyle Yardley on harp, giving the song a country blues makeover.

This is another very enjoyable outing from Jeff and his musical cohorts. Not all blues by any means but plenty of good tunes to appreciate. Well worth a listen.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 10 

imageSugar King James and the Chessmasters – Gotta Make a Comeback


CD: 12 Songs, 38 Minutes

Styles: Blues Covers, Horn Blues

Gotta Make a Comeback, the new cover album from Florida’s Sugar King James and the Chessmasters, delivers exactly what their webpage promises: “Great Music, Great Memories, Great Fun!” James O’Neill and company go all out on their twelve-track tribute to some of the greatest blues masters of all time, such as AC Reed (“Buddy Buddy Friends”), Bob Troup (“Route 66”), Willie Dixon (“Mellow Down Easy,” “Spoonful”) and, of course, one McKinley Morganfield (“One More Mile”). This ensemble’s good-natured rapport and smooth horn section bring out the best of such stalwart standards. On vocals, Sugar King is as personable as your next-door neighbor and as tongue-in-cheek as any standup comedian. The quality of the musicianship is higher than a kite – and your mood throughout this entire CD. It may not have any original material, but that hardly matters when the band has risen to the challenge of making old favorites new again. These renditions will surely get you out of your seat and on your feet.

You might recognize our leading man from earlier days and an earlier name: James O’Neill and the Silver Shadows. He’s been a part of Florida’s music scene since 1965, taking piano lessons at the tender age of five and picking up the guitar ten years later. After graduating from law school in 1978, he returned to the Tampa Bay area and formed his band, dedicating his life to music. Their studio accolades include Morris Sound Studios in Tampa, Big 3 Studios in St. Petersburg (the top of the-line studio in the Tampa Bay area, at which this release was recorded), and even the iconic Abbey Road.

“The Players” include Sugar King (vocals, guitar, slide guitar and harmonica); Buddie Emmons II on bass guitar; Mark Halisky on keyboards, trumpet and background vocals; Rick Cronce and Robin Bren on tenor sax; Eddie St. Clair on baritone sax; Tim Conway on drums, and Jim “Pinky” Beeman on percussion.

The best of classic blues makes a spirited Comeback on the latest from Sugar King James and the Chessmasters!

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 – 8 of 10 

imageChris Shutters with special guest Jimmy Burns – Good Gone Bad

Third Street Cigar Records – 2019

10 tracks; 39 minutes

Chris Shutters is a guitar player from Toledo, Ohio, who, as well as fronting his own band, holds down the guitar slot in Corky Laing’s Mountain. This album has a great backstory. At a loose end on a Monday in Chicago, Chris dropped into Buddy Guy’s Legends and found Jimmy Burns running the jam (as he continues to do every other week). Chris was delighted as he had heard Jimmy’s music via his father, so he signed up to jam. When his turn came Jimmy asked Chris to stay up as he was enjoying his playing. The pair got along well, chatted and exchanged phone numbers but neither really thought any more about it until Chris recalled the evening some ten years later and rang Jimmy to have a chat. That chat developed into the idea of an album project and Jimmy then traveled to Toledo to record with Chris. Jimmy proposed re-recording three songs from across his Delmark releases and Chris had seven songs available, including one he wrote with Jimmy in mind. The two share lead guitar and vocals, Jimmy singing on four and Chris on six. Joining them in the studio are sax player Art Bishop, harmonica player Tony Shutters, bassist Frank May and drummers Danny Jahns and Byron Harris Jr (who also plays bass on four cuts). Rick Warner (Rare Earth) plays keys on two tracks and Mike Huffman on one. Chris also fills in on drums, bass and even flute on one track!

Chris’ songs start with the title track which opens the album at a frantic pace with Tony’s harp and Rick’s piano rocking along, Chris and Jimmy sharing vocals and guitar leads on this one. A key track is “Can’t Play The Blues Like B.B.” which recounts Chris’ earliest encounter with B.B. King who advised Chris to get some more experience of life before he could really play the blues. It’s a strong song with solid vocals, searing guitar and a good hook and a complimentary comment at the end from Jimmy who can be heard saying “it sounds good”! “Keep You Satisfied” is an upbeat tune with Tony’s harp upping the blues quotient. The other three of Chris’ songs are less blues-related: “Unwind” is a rocker with a chorus that harks back to 80’s bands like Foreigner, “Living In A Dream” has lots of wah-wah guitar and Hendrix references and “The Book Of Life” is a strange ending to the album, a country riff at its core with flute and high register backing vocals (all done by Chris).

Chris also contributed “Poor Boy Blue” for Jimmy to sing, Chris on acoustic providing the central riff which is overlaid by both picking on electric guitar in a gentle semi-acoustic country blues. Jimmy’s three songs are all excellent: “Stop The Train” has a great rhythm with Jimmy’s picking well up in the mix, Chris’ fleet-fingered solo fitting in perfectly alongside; even better is “Miss Annie Lou”, a track originally on Jimmy’s debut Delmark release Leaving Here Walking in 1996, which is given a superb reading here with the easy exchange of guitar work in the middle surrounded by an easy groove and lovely sax and harp support; “No Consideration” also has the harp on a blues with Jimmy’s anguished vocals as he bemoans how his girl mistreats him. Jimmy’s originals are each over five minutes long and therefore, with “Poor Boy Blue”, make up almost exactly half the album, so this is a very well balanced collaboration between the two.

There is plenty to enjoy here and it is an interesting collaboration between two musicians of very different ages but who share an enthusiasm for the blues. Not all the songs are quite this reviewer’s thing but the range of material should ensure that everyone will find something to enjoy 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.


 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 

imageThe Hightones – Crossin’ The Blue Line

Wholly Roman Empire Records

11 songs – 48 minutes

Chicago’s Hightones are celebrating their 20th anniversary with the release of their new album, Crossin’ The Blue Line. Featuring 10 self-written tracks and two choice covers, Crossin’ The Blue Line contains some blues, some rock, and even some early pop and rock’n’roll. And because their own songs are written by four different band members, there is an engaging variety to the material, whilst still maintaining an overall thematic consistency.

Opening with the minor key “Strange Things Creep In The Night”, Barbara Gillies’ baritone sax solo immediately grabs the listener’s attention, as do the powerful backing vocals (courtesy of the Cocktails, Jacqueline Sylvie and Peggy Meskin – in addition to the four lead singers in the band). They immediately follow up with a raucous cover of Big Maybelle’s “Ocean Of Tears” which contains another great solo from Gillies as well as a formidable vocal performance from bassist, Evelyn Bremner

. Bremner also sings lead on the other cover on the album, Little Johnny Taylor’s classic “If You Love Me Like You Say” as well as her own “Lonesome Sad & Blue”. Interestingly, the band shaves off the funkier edges from “If You Love Like You Say”, playing it with a much straighter feel.

The slower “Blues Hwy” sees the vocal mic turned over to guitarist, Lee D’budda and highlights the harmonica playing of guest Frank Raven, as he weaves between D’budda’s vocal lines. D’budda also contributes his tribute to the late BB King on “The King Is Gone”, while Raven co-wrote “Welcome To The House Of The Blues” with original Hightones singer, Jim Desmond. His playing on this minor key slow blues is outstanding.

Drummer Roman Zabicki takes the vocals on the swinging Buzzin'” as well as the closing song, “When That Twister Comes”, which goes down a pop-rock route, with heavily distorted guitar riffs in the verse, a threatening slide guitar solo from D’budda, but a gloriously uplifting chorus enhanced by some massed backing vocals. Guitarist Bill Pekoc sings on his “Last Band Standing” and the toe-tapping early rock’n’roll of “Boulevard”.

Crossin’ The Blue Line was recorded by Bill Kavanagh at Bobdob Studios in Oak Park, IL and, as might be inferred by the album title, it is not a straight a blues album, with the band happily incorporating early pop and rock’n’roll into their sound as well as rock and soul. The blues however is evident in everything the band does. The songs are all well written and excellently played. The variety of styles, together with the playing of Gillies and guest Rawl Hardman (another former member of the band who adds tenor saxophone to “Blues Hwy” and “Boulevard”) as well as the powerful backing vocals help to distinguish the Hightones from many other bands and make Crossin’ The Blue Line a very enjoyable listen.

The band holds down a monthly residency at Moe’s Tavern on Chicago’s Northwest Side and, on the evidence of this album, their live shows must be an absolute riot.

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 

imageEric Heideman – Out of Time


CD: 10 Songs, 53 Minutes

Styles: Guitar Monster Blues, Acid Rock, All Original Songs

It’s hard to pin Eric Heideman’s brand of blues down. Yours truly categorizes it as one part Jimi Hendrix, one part the Dave Matthews Band, one part Chris Isaak, and all original. “Eclectic” and “unique” are the two best descriptors for the ten original tracks on his sophomore album, Out of Time. He’s definitely a skilled guitar player, employing unusual meters and rhythms to spice up fundamental grooves. On vocals, his nonchalant approach is reminiscent of Kurt Cobain as well as his other influences, including Ronnie Earl, Danielle Nicole, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Jonny Lang. Although this album leans so far to the rock side of blues rock that it nearly falls off the edge, there are several tracks worth more than one listen. Need more evidence? His fans say he has “an old soul and a stage presence perfect for the blues.”

Eric hails from Salt Lake City, currently studies at the University of Utah, and teaches guitar at the On Track Music Guitar School. He has a real passion for social justice issues as well as music. Case in point? On “Outrun the Fire,” track ten on this CD, he reveals this on his webpage: “I feel like as a country we could be in a better place when it comes to racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. We all need to band together if something is to change in this world. No, I am not an African-American, and I will never experience what it is like to be racially profiled, but to actually experience change, we need to stand up with anyone who is oppressed and stand against racism and bigotry.”

Performing alongside Heideman (lead vocals and guitar) are Sam Schultz on bass, Emily Smiley on background vocals and drums, Tyler Webb on trumpet, Zane Peterson on alto saxophone, and Cameron Gallagher on tenor sax.

The title track is one heck of an “experience,” a la Hendrix and other acid rockers. It begins with a monotone crescendo that allows drummer Emily Smiley to strut her stuff, then launches into a kaleidoscopic blend of horns, guitar, and free-verse rhythm. “Wild Ride” boasts a funky bassline by Sam Schultz, as well as a mid-tempo beat and alternative-rock atmosphere that would make Green Day proud. “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” is real-deal blues, a slow burner with lovely licks. For a spin around the dance floor, check out “Feel So Good,” a spicy horn showcase with a slightly Latin cadence. Further down the line comes number eight, “Last Thing I Do,” in which Heideman channels Jeff Healey to near-perfection. His lyrics are also the clearest here. “So when I hold you, it’ll be the last thing I do,” Eric promises his partner with soulful aplomb.

Out of Time may be difficult to classify, but Heideman knows his stuff on electric shredder!

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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