Issue 14-23 June 4, 2020

Cover photo © 2020 Joseph A. Rosen

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Chicago Blues guitarist and singer Linsey Alexander. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Shoji Naito, Misty Blues, Victor Wainwright And The Train, Dom Flemons, Norman Taylor, Jack Mack & The Heart Attack, The Gate City Divas, John Blues Boyd, Duffy Bishop and Gema Pearl.


 Featured Interview – Linsey Alexander 

imageFor many musicians, their life is dominated by the pursuit of trying to earn a living playing music. Life resolves around booking gigs, writing songs, traveling to and from shows, honing their craft for those precious few hours when all of that effort finally pays off, when they can stand on stage, sharing their art with their fans, in addition to hopefully getting an adequate financial reward.

For guitarist Linsey Alexander, music has never been the dominating force in his life, at least up until twenty years ago. While he has played music all along, he did it at night or on weekends while holding down a steady stream of jobs that were his main source of income. But once he made the decision to retire, his passion for blues music took over, providing a wealth of career opportunities.

A fixture in the blues clubs on the north side of Chicago, Alexander is the consummate entertainer, thrilling blues fans and tourists alike with an energetic show featuring his deep vocals, biting guitar licks, and a batch of original songs that often examine modern issues with a welcome touch of humor. Watching him work the crowd with his broad smile can leave you in awe of the fact that he will soon celebrate his seventy-eighth birthday!

Born in Mississippi, Alexander grew up poor in a family that existed by sharecropping, a system that often kept rural African-American families in a perpetual form of indentured servitude. It wasn’t until he moved to Memphis with his mother and sister that the possibilities of life began to be revealed to a teenager looking for more from life.

“When I got to Memphis, it was the first time I had ever seen a bus, or a street car. That was where I had my first hot dog. I didn’t know what it was! I had my first hamburger later when I got to Chicago.

I got one at White Castle – man, that was good! I used to go down on Beale Street to hear people playing music outside, but I wasn’t old enough to get in the clubs”.

“I first started learning guitar from my friend Otis, who would come by the house and play some stuff on his guitar. I would listen to him. After some time, he started showing me some things, The thing was that he would go off but leave the guitar. So I could practice what he had shown me until he got back. That was how I started developing my hand skills. One day he came out, played some guitar, and then said I’ll see you later. I haven’t seen that guy since then! Later on, I pawned that guitar to get the money for a bus ticket to Chicago”.

Once he was settled in Chicago, Alexander took full advantage of all of the music that was going on in the clubs. He was now old enough to see artists like singer McKinley Mitchell, who was singing on 63rd Street, and later on, meeting singer Garland Green at a club called The Place Lounge, also on 63rd Street.

image“I saw Otis Clay, and on Wednesday nights I would go see Howlin’ Wolf. On the weekend I would go hear Lefty Dizz and all of those guys. At the time, I was living on Ingleside on the South side. This one boy called himself a bass player. I knew I could play a little guitar. So he went and bought a bass guitar, then I bought myself another guitar. We found a guy to beat drums. Ended up calling ourselves the Hot Tomatoes! They used to have a talent show every Sunday at a club at 63rd and Champlain. We would sing this one song, “Let It All Hang Out”. We got pretty good at it!”

The band’s first drummer was married with two kids, which meant he could not get around as much as Alexander and the bass player. So they let him go and found a more experienced timekeeper. The guitarist noted that the band’s sound got better with the new member.

“Pretty soon, I let the bass player go and got me another bass player. In all of the years I have been playing, I have only had three bass players. The third one, Ron Simmons, has been with me for over forty years. His brother, Walter “Simtec” Simmons, had a hit record with his partner, Wylie Dixon called “Gotta Get Over The Hump”. That shit was hot, man! I was listening to Junior Wells and was good friends with Andrew “Big Voice” Odom, another great singer. My cousin, singer and guitarist L.V. Johnson, used to work with Tyrone Davis”.

Music was a second career as the guitarist worked a number of regular jobs to pay the bills. When he finally retired at the age of fifty-eight, music moved to the forefront. The band worked at Red’s, a club at 35th and Archer, over a ten year stretch, giving Alexander a chance to tighten up his live show. One night, opportunity walked through the door.

“A guy came, listened, then he said, what are you doing playing here? I said I would play anywhere. He told me he was going to get me out of there. I said, well, be my guest! He started coming to hear us every week, listening to what we were doing. Finally he took me out to get some photos taken, then we rode around to different places on the North side like Blues On Halsted. We went in, and I had a chance to sit in with the band. Doc Pellegrino from the Kingston Mines across the street was there. He told us he was ready to put me to work. He gave me nights, so I started working, and I ain’t never left the North side since then. I’ve been playing there at Kingston Mines for about seventeen years now”.

“I was out running around another night. I stopped in at B.L.U.E.S., a club on Halsted. Toronzo Cannon was playing, and Steve Wagner, recording engineer for Delmark Records, was there recording the band. Toronzo invited me to sit in. Afterwards, Steve handed me his card and told me to call him. Said, I think we want to record you. I tried calling him two or three times, but never could get him. One day I called, and Bob Koester, the owner of Delmark at that time, answered the phone. I told him who I was. He immediately told me to come on down there, that they wanted to record me. That’s how I got started with that label.”

Alexander already had some recordings out under his own name. He was quick to understand the financial advantages of producing and selling your own recordings. One of his band members, Ric Hall who has been Buddy Guy’s rhythm guitar player for a long spell, had a recording studio at his house. Alexander decided the time was right to cut a CD. The guitarist maintains some level of secrecy when it comes to songwriting. He might start writing some ideas down on paper, but the end product will only exist in his mind.

“I had got a settlement from the government because they had charged me too much money. They had to pay me triple the amount back. I asked Ric how much he would charge to cut a tune. I knew Ric could play most of the parts himself. He said we could do it for $1,000, so I said let’s go. We ended up getting four songs on that one. I still have some sitting in my garage – may have to give them away”.

image“That one was called Blues ‘N’ More, from 1998. When I hit the North side, I was selling those discs for $10 a piece. I made so much money, I was scared! Then I started thinking big about buying a business, something like a car wash. Then I realized what better business is there than me, myself. Keep the money for myself and invest it in me”.

“So I made another CD called Someone’s Cookin’ In My Kitchen. That had ten songs on it, so I was selling it for $20 each. Oh man, did I make the right choice! Ric didn’t do the one after that, My Days Are So Long. There was a good group on that one. I had a female drummer, Jana Kramer, along with Chico Banks and Carlos Showers on guitar, Melvin “Pooky Styx” Carlisle also on drums, and Andre Howard on bass. It kept on selling and selling. Cd Baby took so many and a guy called me from China, he wanted so many. The next one I did with guitarist Pete Galanis, called If You Ain’t Got It”.

“Then Delmark picked me up. I figured they were looking at how much shit I was selling already. My releases for them are still selling. I think I ended up being the top seller in the joint. They were talking about hiring me to teach some of the other artists on how to sell CDs.

“You have to relate to the people, you have to come to them. When I get off with stage, I grab the discs and go to the tables. If it is a bunch of guys, I will ask if they are interested in one. If they say no, I move on. If the next table has a couple, I tell the guy, a beautiful woman like this, you won’t buy her a CD? The wrong thing to do is ask the woman what she wants. She might not want him to spend no money. So I’ll tell him, if you buy this disc and hand it to this woman, she will gratefully take this CD that you bought her. And the woman will say, you know, that man is right!”

Following his three studio recordings for Delmark, Alexander has a new live recording, done over two nights at another famous Chicago blues club, Rosa’s Lounge, last year. It features Ron Simmons on bass, Sergei Androshin on guitar, Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards, and ‘Big” Ray Stewart on drums. The leader is featured on nine tracks including five of his originals, and plenty of his rousing guitar playing.

“I was planning on doing a regular recording, but Delmark wanted to do a live one. So, what they want, they got it. They sat down and listen to everything to decide what tunes to use. It was great to work with Steve Wagner one more time. You couldn’t ask for a better engineer. On my last album, Two Cats, we were recording a song I had never sung in my life. Steve gave me a piece of paper, telling me to sing the song. I said, but I don’t know it. He told me to just sing off the paper. That was “Comb Over Blues,” about our President. It ended up sounding real good”.

The live release is Alexander’s first for Delmark since Bob Koester retired in 2018 and sold the label. The new owners, Julia A. Miller and Elbio Barilari, have made an impression on Alexander.

“They seem to be doing more for the artists, like getting the artists out there with advertising. I look at social media almost every day, and I see myself out there. The staff may be the same, but seems like we are getting more of a push. They are a great bunch of people. They do what they say they are going to do”.

Alexander is trying to stay positive, with a new release to promote, and no live gigs to play to support it. Perhaps it is the wisdom and experience gained over the years that enables him to maintain a healthy attitude.

image“I don’t smoke or drink, and I try to get plenty of rest, so that helps. And protected by the Lord’s hand, so I’m doing good. If you stay in the house, you have a chance of surviving this virus. But I’ve got new cars and can’t go anywhere. Been on the same tank of gas for two months now. But this thing really doesn’t make sense to me. We can go to the moon, but we can’t find a vaccine for this. As great as we are, we can’t win at germ warfare. Something like cancer, if they catch in time, you can go through treatments and prolong your life”.

“Right now, as far as music, the clubs can bring a band in to play live, and they stream it. But there is no cover, no live audience. Just like playing pro football games without any fans. There’ s no money except what you get in the “Tip Jar”. I was asked about doing one at Rosa’s. I want to know what is in, because I will not take a chance on asking my band to come out and play for no money at all. I would have to pay them some money myself”.

“I think my enjoyment of the music is what’s keeping me alive. But the band hasn’t played together for two months. I hadn’t touched a guitar for a spell, so one day I grabbed one. I couldn’t hardly play the son of a bitch because my fingers were too tender. So now I play every day to keep my fingers in shape. They needed to get toughened up. I wanted to write some songs while we’re down, but I just don’t have the motivation right now. Where are you going right now – no where. But if the world gets straightened backed out, I can always come up with some more songs”.

Married at the age of sixty-two, Alexander has been raising his son, Nicholas, a fellow guitarist who is building his own career on the Chicago scene. His proud father has always been there to provide a helping hand.

“It is my first marriage. I had lived with a woman and we had some kids together. I stayed there and helped raise them until we couldn’t get along no more. I went my way, and she went her way, but I took care of the kids. Now Nicholas’s mom was on drugs. At one point, she took him down to Florida. I flew down there to talk with him. Before I left, I bought him a guitar. When I got back to Chicago, I told her to send him to music school to learn to play guitar. Send me the bill and I will pay for it”.

“That never happened. Then she got in trouble down there, so they told me to come get Nicholas. I had them put him on a plane to me, and I got him at the airport. I got him in school, and he was doing so well that she was deciding about moving back up here and supposedly was working on getting herself together. But he wanted to go back to her in Florida. I told him to go ahead. He has a mind of his own and it is his life. But they didn’t get along, so he came back to live with me. Then she passed away”.

“I have been taking him around to clubs. He plays his ass off! Has his own show and is a real entertainer. He sings too. I made him sing. It ain’t going to work just being a guitar player. You have to offer the people something. He’s a good-looking guy, and people like a guitar player that can sing. I even took a guitar lick from him for my song, “Going Back To My Old Time Used To Be,” which is on the new album”.

At the end of the day, Alexander is a musician with a simple plan for getting people to pay attention to his artistry.

“When you come to my show, you won’t have to worry about it being boring. I will always to my best to make you happy, keep you smiling, and get you excited. And if you are with a lady, I’ll help keep her dancing, with you I hope! I play some real serious blues, too, the kind that make you want to drink your whiskey down. I am who I am. I’m not trying to be B.B. King, or Freddie either. I do the best of me of anybody in this world!

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer 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 

imageShoji Naito – Westmont To Chicago – A Tribute To Eddy Clearwater

Ogden Records

15 songs – 56 minutes

Well, this is a tasty treat. Shoji Naito moved to Chicago from Japan in 1996 to study the blues. He has since developed into one of the mainstays of the Windy City blues scene, being equally comfortable on guitar, harmonica and bass, and holding down long-term gigs with the likes of Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues and Morry Sochat and the Special 20’s. His primary gig from 2004 however was with the much-loved and much-missed Eddy Clearwater.

After Clearwater died in 2018, Naito and the other members of Clearwater’s band started work on a tribute album to The Chief and the result – Westmont To Chicago – is not only a magnificent and loving accolade to a great musician and a great person, but is also a belting recording of classic Chicago blues that commands respect on its own merits.

Featuring 15 tracks, all of which had special meaning for Clearwater, Westmont To Chicago includes four tracks that Clearwater himself recorded in 2015, together with 11 tracks featuring Naito and various members of Clearwater’s band plus some well-known Chicago blues greats.

The four new Clearwater tracks include a cracking cover of Magic Sam’s “I Need You So Bad” that may lack some of Sam’s distinctive trebly guitar, but Clearwater’s guitar playing retains all the nuances and subtleties that makes Chicago blues guitar so wonderful to listen to but so difficult to play. “You Don’t Have To Go”, the old Jimmy Reed classic, features Clearwater backed just by Naito’s harmonica and Ariyo’s piano but emphasizes the power and depth of The Chief’s voice. “Reconsider Baby” is also given a stripped-down interpretation, with Naito and Junior Edwards providing their boss with note-perfect backing, while Little Junior Parker’s “Stranded” has full band backing and some glorious guitar from Clearwater.

But there are highlights throughout this album. The brilliant Willie Buck takes the vocal mic for “Deep Blue Sea Blues”, an updated “Catfish Blues” with marvellous guitar from Junior Edwards, and a rollicking version of “Don’t Go No Further” where Billy Flynn’s closing solo is worth the price of admission by itself. Naito’s harmonica duets sweetly with Jake Takagi’s ukele on the instrumental “Greyhound Harmonica Jam”, while Win Noll’s vocal on “Find Yourself” contains just the right amount of vulnerable assertiveness. Ginny Morin and Lee Kanehira breathe new life into Sippy Wallace’s “Women Be Wise” and Tom Crivellone leads the band in a version of Clearwater’s own “Crossover” that would wake the dead. Kanehira’s piano adds real depth to a number of tracks.

Naito is an outstanding musician – his riotous slide playing on the closing track “Ogden Avenue” includes deliberate and very impressive nods to Muddy Waters, while his harmonica on “Like The Creeper” is stunning – but this is an album of classic Chicago blues, in which immaculate playing always supports the song. There are famous covers, less-famous covers and a number of tracks composed for the album. They are all played with deep emotional commitment and obvious love and respect for Mr Clearwater.

Recorded by Brian Leach and mastered by Blaise Barton at Joyride Studio in Chicago, Westmont To Chicago is a magnificent tribute to Eddy Clearwater and a top drawer recording of classic Chicago blues. If you like traditional Chicago blues, it is a pretty essential purchase.

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 – 2 of 10 

imageMisty Blues – Weed ‘Em And Reap

Self-Release – 2020

11 tracks; 50 minutes

Based in Massachusetts, Misty Blues has been playing the blues since 1999 and releasing a regular flow of albums, Weed ‘Em And Reap being their latest. Recently, however, the band seems to have been on a creative roll as this is their second release in twelve months (see Greg ‘Bluesdog’ Szalony’s review of their previous disc Pickled And Aged in Blues Blast, December 23, 2019). They were also finalists in the 2019 IBC.

One very interesting feature of this band is how many are multi-instrumentalists: Gina Coleman handles the vocals but also turns her hand to cigar box guitar, bass and percussion; Bill Patriquin is on bass and trumpet, Rob Tatten drums and trombone, Aaron Dean on sax and flute, Benny Kohn on keys and Seth Fleischmann on guitar. Most of the band add backing vocals, Gina’s son Diego Mongue covers bass and drums when other band members are busy on their second instruments and Wes Buckley adds guitar to three tracks; keeping things in the family the artwork for all the band’s albums comes from Michael Mongue. The eleven songs are all originals, nine written by Gina (one with assistance from Seth) and two instrumentals coming from Benny and Bill. The music ranges widely with plenty of blues but also touches of jazz and funk in the mix, making for a varied and enjoyable album.

Gina has a deep contralto voice and opener “No More To Give” exploits that characteristic well on a Delta-infused tune on which Gina plays cigar box slide and Diego sits in on bass as Bill plays trumpet. The tune builds in intensity and has a haunting quality as Gina offers all she has to give but still finds that the demands on her continue to increase, Seth’s anguished guitar underlining the sense of the lyrics. The lyrics to “I Ain’t No Giving Tree” follow a similar theme but the tune is more New Orleans in feel, especially with Benny’s piano stylings. A light, airy feel pervades “Blues Coaster” with some mellow, jazz-inflected guitar from guest Wes which is then picked up in an electric piano solo from Benny and a breathy tenor solo from Aaron. Diego again sits in on bass so that Bill can switch to trumpet for “Find My Way Again” which has a funky rhythm over which Gina’s deep vocal explains that she is rather lost, Wes supplying another short but effective solo in a completely different style to the previous cut.

The tempo rises for “Don’t Send Me Home”, Seth’s insistent riff at the heart of the song and Aaron supplying an intense sax solo. Lyrically it’s another rather downbeat song as Gina sounds desperate to find her route in life. “Phunk ‘N Grewy” is Bill’s instrumental with nicely jazzy horns and a funky drum and guitar groove at its base. Gina sits that one out but is soon back at the mike for “Swing My Blues”, Bill on trumpet and no bass involved, Benny’s piano supplying the bottom line and Gina adding some scat vocal lines. The longest track here is the six minutes of “Keep Rising Up”, Gina taking on bass duties and Diego on drums, allowing Bill and Rob to form a three man horn section with Aaron. Gina’s vocals are not quite as distinct on this one though the message of the song is clear from the title.

A second instrumental “Nice ‘N Mellow” is led by composer Benny with Gina on guiro before Gina and Seth’s song “Hold Me Tight”, a slow tune with anguished vocals which are matched by piano and sax explorations. The album closes on an upbeat note with “Treat Me Like I Want” which has a catchy chorus delivered by every member of the band apart from Aaron who is busy playing sax throughout!

It is always good to see bands playing original material and these songs are well played by musicians who are clearly extremely talented players. The mix of styles makes for an interesting listen which should appeal to a wide audience.

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 – 3 of 10 

imageVictor Wainwright And The Train – Memphis Loud

Ruf Records – 2020

12 tracks; 58 minutes

Victor’s last album (the first with The Train) was arguably his best ever and this one follows suit with another twelve original songs which range across blues, soul and gospel, taking an occasional diversion into jazz and rock. The core band remains Victor on keys and vocals, Pat Harrington on guitar, Billy Dean on drums and percussion and Terrence Grayson on bass; former Roomful Of Blues players Doug Woolverton on trumpet and Mark Earley on sax and clarinet appear on most tracks and producer Dave Gross fills in on guitar and percussion across the album. Guests include Victor’s former band mates Greg Gumpel (guitar), Nick Black, Stephen Dees and Patricia Ann Dees on backing vocals, plus Monster Mike Welch on guitar, Mikey Junior on backing vocals and harp, Chris Stephenson on B3 and Reba Russell, Gracie Curran, Francesca Milazzo and Terrell ‘Peanut’ Reed on backing vocals. Victor wrote all the songs, eight by himself and four with assistance: Greg Gumpel on two, Stephen Dees on one, Pat Harrington and Billy Dean on one and Chris Stephenson on one.

The band blasts straight out of the gate with three fast-paced numbers, each with hot horns and pounding piano. “Mississippi” pays tribute to the river that goes through Memphis and the Delta that brought blues to the world, Victor evoking the attractions of the area with a choir of backing vocalists numbering 8 in total! In “Walk The Walk” the pace increases yet further as Victor recalls some of his parents’ sage advice when he was growing up, Pat pulling out a rockabilly/country-tinged solo and the horns letting loose too. The title track has a frantic rhythm driven by Billy’s drums; it sounds like a train, most appropriate as this song is about one – the “Memphis Loud” of the title – and it sounds like a great ride!

Victor’s piano opens “Sing” solo before the horns enter, ‘growling’ trumpet and clarinet evoking the ‘jazz age’ and giving the song a very retro feel. “Disappear” is a fine ballad with a mournful feel that Victor sings convincingly while his piano work is superb. Victor winds up the tune with swirling organ and piano and Greg adds a wonderful solo which comes to a dramatic sudden stop. After the dramatics of that cut the next two tracks have a bouncier feel: “Creek Don’t Rise” has a lighter sound and a joyful chorus and “Golden Rule”’s jagged rhythms bring a faint latin feel which contrasts with Pat’s freaky guitar solo. Victor gets serious again with “America” as he addresses some of the problems his country faces, the tune graced by a lovely solo from Mike Welch.

The final four songs show both the humorous and serious sides of Victor’s songwriting. Victor finds himself down on his luck or, as he puts it, at the “South End Of A North Bound Mule”, Pat and Greg adding a little country twang, but recovers to tell us all about “My Dog Riley”, a lively tune which rushes along as Victor tells us all about Riley’s idiosyncratic behaviour – drinking out of the toilet, searching through the trash and rolling in the mud straight after his bath! In total contrast “Recovery” deals with getting through difficult moments and putting bad things behind you: “when life seems broken reach for more than who you are”. It’s a fine tune with outstanding solo contributions from Mark Earley and Mike Welch and its vaguely religious feel becomes more fully focussed in the final track “Reconcile”. Victor sings of his life working and playing hard on Beale Street but still needing to know that someone is looking over him: “I can feel you with me, we’ll go hand in hand. I don’t know where this road will lead or when this path will end.” The song runs to over eight minutes but does not feel overlong as Victor takes his time to make this important personal statement while musically the song builds in intensity, Greg’s stately solo beautifully framed by the horns, making an impressive finale to the album.

The well crafted original songs, the mixture of styles and excellent musicianship all add up to another strong album from Victor and The Train.

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 – 4 of 10 

imageDom Flemons – Prospect Hill: The American Songster Omnibus

Omnivore Recordings

44 songs on 2 CDs – 87 minutes

Dom Flemons has been a busy, busy man since decided to launch a solo career after a nine-year run as a founding member of the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. He’s been piling up honors ever since as actor, singer and multi-instrumentalist who consistently and successfully breathes new life into the songster tradition of first-generation bluesmen.

An Arizona native who now calls Washington, D.C., home and know known as “The American Songster,” Flemons has always been a fan of early Americana, immersing himself in 78s and LPs, and studying and playing guitar, harmonica, pan pipes and banjo alongside Taj Mahal, Marty Stuart, Mike Seeger, Guy Davis and others.

A North Carolina Music Hall of Famer who launched the Chocolate Drops in 2005 along with Rihanna Giddens and Justin Robinson, Flemons has racked up numerous honors in both the folk and blues worlds since going off on his own in 2014.

Released as part of the African American Legacy Recordings Series in coordination with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History, this beefy, 44-track collection reprises two previous solo releases — the 14-track Prospect Hill, the third album in his catalog — and What Got Over — a nine-track EP issued only on vinyl in 2015 to celebrate Record Store Day – and includes 12 new cuts, entitled The Drum Major Instinct.

An acoustic blues and roots treasure trove with multiple musical alignments, Flemons is accompanied here by Guy Davis (guitar, 12-string, harmonica, mandolin, banjo and percussion), Ben Hunter (fiddle and percussion), Keith Ganz (electric and acoustic guitars and banjo), Ron Brendle (upright bass), Kobie Watkins (percussion) and Brian Horton (clarinet and saxes) with Joe Seamons, Pura Fe Crescioni and Jason Richmond adding backing vocals.

The Prospect Hill recordings occupy the entire first disc, opening with “’Til the Seas Run Dry,” which comes across with a traditional jazz feel, before moving on to the familiar “Polly Put the Kettle On,” a jaunty version that hits of Sonny Boy Williamson instead of its 19th Century British origins. The humorous “But They Got It Fixed Right On” – a staple for both Georgia Tom and Tampa Red – follows before Dom launches in to “Have I Stayed Away Too Long,” penned by Broadway hit maker Frank Loesser and familiar to fans of old-school country through covers by both Jim Reeves and Willie Nelson.

The aural texture remains interesting throughout as Flemons launches into a trio of originals – “Sonoran Church Two-Step,” “Too Long (I’ve Been Gone)” and “Marching Up Prospect Hill” – before revisiting Frank Stokes’ “It’s a Good Thing.” Three more tasty self-penned entries – “Grotto Beat,” “Hot Chicken” and “San Francisco Cannon” – follow before Gus Cannon’s “My Money Runs Out” brings the album to a close.

“Big Head Joe’s March” served as the debut of Flemons’ new six-string banjo of the same name when the song served as the opening track of the EP as it does here. The record store set includes covers of Charlie Poole’s “Milwaukee Blues,” Blind Boy Fuller’s “Keep On Truckin’,” alternate takes on three tunes from the Prospect Hill release and a trio of originals – “Clock on the Wall,” “Going Backward Up the Mountain” and “What Got Over” – before the debut of 12 cuts that appear for the first time.

As the title implies, The Drum Major Instinct is heavy on percussion and sparse on words throughout. “Wingtips,” a call-to-action drum solo, serves as a brief opener before Dom picks up can fife for a new take on “Going Backward Up the Mountain” and versions of “Sugar Dance” and “Grotto Beat” before “The Songster Arrives.”

The texture changes for “Georgia Drumbeat” with Flemons on guitar before an electric version of “Clock on the Wall” aided by harp and slide guitar, “Hot Chicken” by banjo, a laid-back, fingerpicked guitar version of “Too Long” an uptempo take on “What Got Over” and two tunes – “The Grand Manifesto,” driven by Big Head Joe, and the claw-hammer guitar pleaser, “Blue Butterfly” – to close.

Sure, there’s plenty of repetition in the material here, but Dom Flemons is a modern master of old-school sounds, and the new, instrumental takes are a breath of fresh air for the versions that precede them. Available as a two-CD set or digital download, this one’s a treasure for anyone who prefers their tunes with sounds of a bygone era.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

imageNorman Taylor – Meditations on the Blues

Soul Stew Records

CD: 10 Songs, 35 Minutes

Styles: Acoustic Blues, Mellow Blues

What do you immediately imagine when you hear the word “meditation?” Yoga class? Buddhist monks chanting “Om?” Sitting cross-legged on the floor? All of the above? Meditation is meant to still the mind, freeing it of distracting thoughts and emotions. That’s why the title of Norman Taylor’s Meditations on the Blues is so ironic. As folks say on social media, this album will make you experience “all the feels, all the time.” This is mostly due to Taylor’s voice: laden with a thousand burdens but lifting them all with poignant pride. Here is a man who knows the blues inside out, not simply the mechanics of the genre. He presents ten acoustic tracks – seven originals and three covers – that encapsulate “The Path” his life has taken, and that of many others. There are highs (a gospel-style cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”,) lows (“No Liberty”), and merry moments in between (“Mel’s Two Step”). Together, they constitute a veritable acoustic masterpiece.

Norman Taylor is a singer/songwriter/acoustic performer from the Philadelphia area. His style is based in the country blues of artists such as Robert Johnson and Skip James, and contemporary acoustic bluesmen like Keb Mo, Eric Bibb and Guy Davis. Norman also draws influence from country, ‘70s rock, soul, gospel and a variety of musical forms. He’s been an opening act for blues artists Guy Davis, Corey Harris, singer-songwriter Phil Roy, Pat Wictor, Alexis P Suter, Warner Willams and Jay Summerour, Chris Smithers, Marcia Ball, Trombone Shorty, Janiva Magness, Popa Chubby,Cedric Burnside Project, Jarekus Singelton, Bobby Rush and the legendary rock band ZZ Top. In addition, his music has been featured on Jonny Meister’s Blues Show on WXPN in Philadelphia, and BB King’s Bluesville on SiriusXM Radio. Norman’s Blue Soul CD on Soul Stew Records was nominated for best acoustic blues album for 2014.

Performing along with Mr. Taylor (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric baritone guitar, slide guitar) are Laura Cheadle on vocals for track two, Michele Peraino on vocals for track four, Mel Roberts on harmonica for track five, Steven Goldstein on acoustic lead guitar for track eight, TJ Fry on mandolin for track eight, and James Cheadle on piano for track ten.

This CD concerns some dark and heavy subject matter: brutality, confinement, oppression, weary resignation. Taylor’s cover of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” by Nina Simone, is the most heart-rending expression of these realities, featuring Laura Cheadle on vocals that might provoke tears. So could the arduous “Bridge of Pain” and a conscience-twinging cover of Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” (eerily reminiscent of Jackson Browne’s “Lives in the Balance”). Let me give you a refresher on “Street’s” lyrics: “Been down so long, getting up didn’t cross my mind. I knew there was a better way of life that I was just trying to find. You don’t know what you’ll do until you’re put under pressure. Across 110th Street is a hell of a tester.” Ouch.

Collectively, such songs are penned by people who live, breathe and die in the blues, not just sing or play them. Norman Taylor has found a way to turn his anguish into enlightening Meditations.

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 – 6 of 10 

imageJack Mack & The Heart Attack – Live From Centennial Park – Atlanta, 1996

Free Roll Records & Superstar Factory Productions

11 songs, 1 hour

Live albums are really hit or miss. No one can deny seeing a band live is truly a communion of energy; the physical force of sound waves directly transferring from musicians to audience. Sometimes that visceral interaction can translate, the gold standard being Buddy Guy’s 1996 album Live! The Real Deal in which you feel like you are in Legends being charmed by the master of the Stratocaster. But, sometimes a great live band plays to the audience in a way that is actually kind of boring to listen to at home sitting on your lazy-boy. As incredible as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were live (truly on the best live bands ever) their live recordings often have long periods of arena audience interaction and banter which would be so fun in person but leave big gaps of relative silence. Lucky one of the hardest working, tightest and longest lasting national level R&B/Soul bands, Jack Mack & The Heart Attack, deliver for the 2020 stereo listener just like they did in 1996 for the Atlanta Olympic crowd.

This historical document of a kick ass band in full stride is not only a party igniter it is also a sad reminder of the tragic bombing of the 1996 Olympics. In fact the bomb went off just as Jack Mack finished their original song “I Walked Alone,” the only evidence on this recording is the abrupt fizzly cut at the end of the song. Archival footage of this moment has been included in Clint Eastwood’s 2019 movie Richard Jewel. However, the somber conclusion to this set cannot diminish the overwhelming joy and passion of preceding the music.

So you might be asking like this uninitiated reviewer did: Who are Jack Mack & The Heart Attack? First Jack Mack is a band not a person (although the original drummer’s nickname was Jack Mack). Jack Mack is a hard core Stax styled soul band that has been running strong with various line ups since 1980, including various lead vocalists. What is at the core of this band is a tight as hell rhythm section led by guitarist, one of only two currently employed original members, Andrew Kastner. And, a sharp, creative and flexible horn section called The Heart Attack Horns led by the other still current original member Bill Bergman. Kastner and Bergman have kept this band running through the decades and through various popular taste shifts. It can be argued The Macks were at a career high, one of many, in 1996 when they were tapped to play for the Atlanta Olympics. With TC Moses as their lead singer presiding like a mix of James Brown and Sly Stone (both artists that are covered heavily in the set) the music was thumping and the style of soul review that the band specializes in was still quite in vogue (Soul has had many revivals or maybe it has never gone out of vogue!). Tim Scott on bass, Alvino Bennett on drums, John Paruolo on organ and Lester Lovitt on trumpet, filling out a lean horn section, move with bravado and big showbiz polish.

Jack Mack’s Centennial Park set started just after midnight on July 27, 1996 with an obscure soul nugget “More Soul” and the music didn’t stop for a full hour. One of the show center pieces is a blisteringly seamless Sly and the Family Stone medley. Hyped up, rock hard versions of the more chilled out Stone originals “Sing A Simple Song,” “Thank You (Fallettin Me Be Mice Elf Again),” “Stand,” and “Dance to the Music” is a great primer on the Jack Mack vibe. They take the hammer and pump of James Brown (whose “Sex Machine” they turn into a coked out romp) and combine it with the soul and depth of feeling of The Staple Singers (whose “I’ll Take You There” leaves no room for doubt in the Mack hands). Sliding into almost half the set are Jack Mack originals, all collaborative co-writes. What a feat: standing up tall original numbers side by side with can’t-mess-up covers, because you know it’s James Brown and Mavis Staple. That’s what this band has done for the past 40 years. Jack Mack & The Heart Attack are the real deal and this live testament is a fantastic thrill ride 24 years later.

Interviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 10 

imageThe Gate City Divas – Diva Revolution

Self-Release – 2020

12 tracks; 48 minutes

In the August 2016 Blues Blast review of the Gate City Divas’ debut album Goin’ To Town I concluded that “Blues and soul fans will certainly find something to enjoy here” and that comment applies equally here. The Divas come from North Carolina and the personnel is largely unchanged with Shiela Klinefelter again producing and her fellow Divas all taking at least one lead vocal, as well as writing half the material. Alongside Shiela, the Divas are Melva Houston, Kristy Jackson, Robin Doby Easter, Allison King-Jordan, Julie Bean, Lauren Myers, and Virginia Masius; several of the ladies contribute to the music, Shiela and Virginia on bass, Allison and Kristy on keys, Lauren on drums. A lengthy list of other musicians involved includes Bubba Klinefelter, Bill Jordan, Andy Squint and Benjy Johnson on guitar, Dave Fox on keys, Kelly Pace, Eric Smith and Chuck Cotton on drums, Roger Kors and Bobby Kelly on bass, Andy Squint and Chi Sharpe on percussion, Emanuel Wynter on violin, Bubba Klinefelter on harp, Dustin Jennings on trumpet and Mike Caruso on sax – phew, that’s a lot of musicians involved in the project!

Opener “Let Love Lead The Way” was written by Shiela and Roger Kohrs. It has a funky rhythm with violin and trumpet accents as Allison sings the positive (if rather repetitive) lyrics, the Divas providing a full chorus in support. Perennial favourite “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” is always welcome on any album and although it is always hard to compete with Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s original Melva does an excellent job here on a full production with no fewer than three guitar players, horns, violin and latin percussion. Kristy takes the vocal lead on her own “Beautiful Rain”, a positive song with a loping reggae beat and Julie covers a more recent song, Shannon Curfman’s “Few And Far Between”, a full-on blues-rocker. A run of four originals follows: Melva takes a wry look at the problems of middle-aged ladies on her own composition “Hot Flash Hotel”, a proper blues with a stripped-back accompaniment with Bubba’s harp prominent. The song borrows from “Heartbreak Hotel”, notably in the opening section: “Now that I’m turning 60 I have a new place to dwell, it’s down at the end of Hormone Street, at Hot Flash Hotel”! “Mirrors And Smoke” is Allison’s song, co-written with Bill Jordan and she sings in an easy-going style as keys and congas bring an island sway to the tune, Bill adding a jazz-tinged electric guitar solo. Kristy’s “Part Of Me” is a powerful portrayal of how to survive a love gone wrong, Kristy’s organ, Emanuel’s central violin solo and the choir adding drama to a strong song. The title track was written by guitarist Benjy Johnson and features Lauren’s deeper vocals set against the choir as she sounds determined to be a proud woman and celebrate the “Diva Revolution”.

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” is another often recorded number and features Robin who certainly gives her all as she is pushed by Dave’s insistent piano and brooding horns. Andy Squint wrote “Push The Limit” and plays the guitar on his song which brings Virginia to the mike for a soulful number with a fine horn arrangement, the Divas providing some powerful backing vocals. The Reverend Gary Davis’ “I Heard The Angels Singing” again features Melva in a spare arrangement with just acoustic guitar, bass, tambourine and drums, the Divas sounding appropriately distant on the backing vocals. Shiela’s “Me And My Friends” celebrates the Divas’ music and friendship on a catchy shuffle which closes the album on a joyful note.

An enjoyable and varied album.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 10 

imageJohn Blues Boyd – “What my eyes have seen…”

Gulf Coast Records

9 songs time – 51:34

Seventy-five year old Mississippian John Blues Boyd recalls his life and life history in song on this recording. Writing credits are by various combinations of John Blues Boyd, Kid Andersen and president of Gulf Coast Records Guy Hale. His deep, rich warm and exuberant voice and delivery put the songs across succinctly. Think Sam Myers’ voice without the nasality. There are brief sung interludes called “My Memory Takes Me There” between songs accompanied only by Kid Andersen on organ and guitar. Otherwise on all other songs it’s Kid on guitar, organ and percussion, June Core on drums, Quantae Johnson on bass with occasional substitutions and a horn section. Although all songs are geared to reflect John’s life, they maintain a solid blues foundation.

In “In My Blood” he professes his love for the blues from an early age. His lively vocals belie his age. Jim Pugh contributes rollicking piano. The first interlude “My Memory Takes Me There” talked-sang over organ and guitar. “What My Eyes Have Seen” has kind of a “snaky” quality as guitars, organ and horns crisscross over each other.

The Greaseland Youngsters take over the reins for “I Heard The Blues” along with Kid Andersen on Farfisa organ and they deliver a good showing. “Ran Me Out Of Town” is the true story of how he was run out of town for joining Martin Luther King’s Freedom March at eighteen. Nancy Wright sits in on sax. “A Beautiful Woman(for Dona Mae)” is a touching ode to his late wife.

He ruminates on the killing of Martin Luther King on “Why Did You Take That Shot?”. The full horn section backs him here along with the soulful organ playing of Jim Pugh. Kid Andersen’s guitar is as moving here as it is throughout the CD. John relates how he took Howlin’ Wolf’s advice in song and went to “California”. Kid introduces some swinging jump blues guitar to propel “The Singing Roofer”, an autobiographical song of John.

The slow and mournful “49 Years” transmits John’s sorrow over the passing of his beloved wife. Jim Pugh’s poignant piano styling’s and Kid’s guitar convey the solemn tone quite succinctly. “Got To Leave My Mark” reveals his determination to have made a lasting impression after he’s gone.

His initial recording may have taken a long time in coming, but what he has to say and how his booming voice recalls his life is truly moving. You have just witnessed a heartfelt collaboration between gifted story telling singer and his gifted support team. The brief snippets between most songs serve as intros to the song’s themes. The wisdom of a wise soul put to song.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 

imageDuffy Bishop – I’m Gonna Do What I Want!

Lil’ Spinner Records – 2020

9 tracks; 40 minutes

Duffy Bishop is an experienced singer whose first album was released in 1994. She splits her time between the Pacific Northwest (where she has been inducted into both the Cascade and Washington State Blues Society Halls Of Fame) and Florida, where her seventh album was recorded in St Augustine. Alongside Duffy are her husband Chris Carlson on guitar, Alex Richman on keys, Rusty Springfield on bass and Paul Unsworth on drums; guests include Greg Wiler on sax, Rob Ellis Peck on harp and Dave Fleschner on organ. Duffy wrote one song and collaborated with Chris on another, Chris contributed two songs of his own and Paul one. The other songs come from a variety of sources but avoid the ‘usual suspects’ of familiar songs and writers.

Duffy has a powerful vocal style with a deep and gritty delivery which is prominent on the title cut that opens the album. Chris’ stomper benefits from the support of Greg’s sax as Duffy details all the things she intends to do (and avoid). It all sounds quite petulant until the punchline in the final verse when the lyrics state that “I’m six years old, I’m gonna do what I want”! Chris shows a sure touch in his solo here and demonstrates a completely different style on Paul DeLay’s “Love Grown Cold”, a quieter, sad song about lost love. Duffy adopts a very different role on “69 Years Old”, a song that she and Chris wrote which takes “She’s Nineteen Years Old” and turns it on its head as Duffy’s new lover is 69 but has “ways like a high school boy”. Played over a similar tune to Muddy’s classic, Chris adds some nice slide accents and Alex’s piano underpins the whole tune. Adding to the fun Duffy promises to bring her slinky underwear if he brings the Viagra and then references Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit” which gives the opportunity to bring Cialis into the song – those of an over-sensitive disposition may feel uncomfortable at this point!

Two songs here eluded this reviewer’s attempts to find out about their authors: the gently funky “Must Be My Fault” was written by Tom Le Grand and the fact that the song is published by the same company as Chris and Duffy’s songs suggests that he is a friend of the band; “My Road Is Not Wide” is an emotional ballad by Lloyd Brown given a very dramatic reading by Duffy. John Medora and David White’s writing career goes back to 1957 with “At The Hop” for Danny & The Juniors. They wrote “You Don’t Own Me” for Lesley Gore and it also featured on the soundtrack of Hairspray. The song’s lyrics about female empowerment work well with Duffy’s personality and the chorus takes you back to the sort of hits so common in the 60’s. Chris’ “One Time” is a road rocker with a Texan feel, great piano and a powerful but well constrained vocal by Duffy, a strong cut. Duffy’s “Whistle Callin’” has slightly distorted vocals, the harp and slide guitar whipping up the pace of the song impressively as Duffy positively screams through the frantic closing section. Drummer Paul’s “The New Song” closes the album in acoustic style, Duffy giving us her impression of a growling trumpet before she delivers a simple little ditty which has a French chanson feel.

This is far from a straight blues album but offers variety and a couple of good songs to enjoy.

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 – 10 of 10 

imageGema Pearl – True Blue

Southstar Multimedia LLC

CD: 13 Songs, 51 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs

At the beginning of certain movies, a brief disclaimer appears: “Based on a true story,” or “Inspired by true events.” Translated, this means: “Based on a true story, but in the meantime we exercised significant creative liberties. This isn’t a documentary.” The new album by Grammy-nominated artist Gema Pearl, True Blue, might more accurately be called Inspired by the Blues. It contains thirteen original songs based on the blues, but not adhering too closely to the traditional sounds of the genre. Nevertheless, it’s a great rock CD, full of high energy, powerhouse vocals, and a concert-arena atmosphere. Sure, Gema does love songs (“Pretty Please”), but more often, she launches into anthems about the innate power of women (“Man Oh Man,” “Crazy Like a Fox,” “Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down”). She’s certainly got the pipes for it. Pearl knows how to project, letting her voice carry over the zesty instrumentation rather than letting it get drowned. In time, she could be the next Alannah Myles, if not Janis Joplin.

Oddly enough, this was not Gema’s first career choice. Slated to become a Dallas cheerleader, runway model and ballet dancer, the high school ingénue had a scintillating future in her grasp. However, a catastrophic car wreck crushed her former aspirations. The prognosis? Devastating.

With her boots firmly planted in Lone Star grit, she spent excruciating days in physical therapy. Her body-based dreams shattered, she learned to find solace in her voice, filled with soul and laced with a whisper of whisky. The fledgling filly spent endless, desolate hours in front of the bedroom mirror emulating her beloved divas. Along with steadfast support and inspiration, her near-death experience became the catalyst to plow forward into a future in music.

Accompanying Gema (all lead and background vocals, naturally) are Lee Brovitz on bass, guitar, percussion and background vocals, and John McLane on keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, saxophone, trombone, and backing vox. Special guest stars include Rick Derringer, Jonathan Edwards, John Mameli, Arthur Neilson, Shane Theriot, and Buddy Whittington.

“Rock This House” explodes like a firecracker, establishing a stadium vibe with the sounds of a cheering crowd. It’s meant to get people dancing right from the get-go, and it delivers. “Kiss My Texas” is a growling-guitar warning for anyone who dares to cross Gema, with the state’s name having heavy emphasis on the last syllable. Number three, a blistering blues-rock shuffle, informs us that Pearl has an “Ex To Grind.” “He loved me, loved me not…Revenge is best served hot. I’ll take my parting shot.” Two words: Uh-oh. “Pearl’s Blues,” the only traditional track on the album, is a stunner. The musicians pull out all the stops and never yield, their emotion and instrumentation relentless. “No Mo’ Mojo” puts a funky wah-wah pedal to good use, featuring Shane Theriot. Gema’s hard-bitten vocals are also put to their best effect. “Feels Like Rain,” a lovely ballad, relaxes us a bit before the final anthem brings our mood back up.

True Blue may not be true blues, but in the blues-rock subgenre, it’s a prime contender!

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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