Issue 14-24 June 11, 2020


Cover photo © 2020 Marilyn Stringer

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Too Slim and the Taildragger’s blues rocker guitarist and singer, Tim Langford. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including an autobiography of Nehemiah “Skip” James plus new music from Tomislav Goluban, Håkon Høye, Sass Jordan, Leroy Ellington’s Sacred Hearts and Blind Lemon Pledge.

 From The Editor’s Desk 


Hey Blues Fans,

All of the artist submissions for the 2020 Blues Blast Music Awards are in the hands of the nominators. We will announce the nominees during the first week of July and fan voting starts on July 15.

One of the best ways to support these artists in this time of need is to buy their music. Buy it from the artist’s own website where possible to give them the most benefit.

This years awards are especially important for artists struggling with no gigs in the current pandemic. It will hopefully get folks enthused about the artists and their music to generate some album sales in this time of need.

Please keep on supporting Blues music and Blues artists!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser


 Featured Interview – Tim Langford 

imageIt has been over three years since Blues Blast last talked with Tim Langford, the long-time leader of Too Slim & the Taildraggers, and thirty-four years since Langford put together the first edition of the band in his hometown of Spokane, Washington. Since then, he has traveled around the world, sharing his original songs delivered in a blues-rock power trio format that harks back to some of his influences, like ZZ Top and Robin Trower. His striking guitar work has been featured on more than twenty albums, including his 2018 release, High Desert Heat, and the band’s latest, The Remedy, coming out next month on the VizzTone Label Group.

The guitarist had moved from Spokane to Seattle, where he lived for twelve years, before moving to Nashville. After five years, he made another move, this time to the Boise, Idaho area. There was more involved than just music.

“ Most of my family is in the Spokane, Seattle, and Boise areas. My step-son had started a business here. He and my wife are business partners in the company. He needed some help running the business. And my wife didn’t really enjoy being in Nashville while I out on the road. She was alone a lot. It doesn’t matter to me where I live. The thought was it would be easier to tour living more in the center of the country”.

“We did start getting to play the southeast part of the country quite a bit. I had been getting my bookings through Blue Mountain Artists, but by the time I got to Nashville, they were going through some changes. My agent, Page Stallings, that booked my area split off from Blue Mountain to start his own company, the Ketch Agency. Hugh Southard, the owner of Blue Mountain, was dealing with cancer and getting ready to retire. That’s the way it was. But I was still getting a lot of work back up in the Northwest, so moving to Boise was ok.

“I had just recovered from my bout with cancer around that time. That was a scary thing to go through. And it laid me up for a bit. But I just got my five year clearance. At my last check-up, my doctor’s only comment was that he would see me next year. I just thank God that I came out the other side. I still remember the doctor calling after I went in for a biopsy. Hearing the cancer diagnosis, my mind just went blank. My wife called the doctor back and started asking all of the questions I should have asked. A lot of members of my family have dealt with cancer. I knew I was going to get it somewhere along the line”.

The members of the Taildraggers still live in Nashville. Bass player Zack Kasik was originally from Yankton, South Dakota, joining the group in 2016. The drummer, Jeff “Shakey” Fowlkes, settled in the city a couple years before Langford arrived. He has been in the band since 2012. Fowlkes owns the Wild Feather Recording, the studio he opened last year, where the band recorded their latest project.

“One great thing is that they both sing, so they can help with harmony and lead vocals. I don’t have a problem sharing the lead vocals. Zack is a great singer and songwriter. On the new album. I wrote half of the tunes, and he wrote the rest. Doing the record in his studio meant it was just the three of us, which was nice. Zack did a fine job on engineering it. Shakey is a fine harmony vocalist. Everyone had great ideas for what turned out to be a group project”.

image“Traditionally, in the past, I would come in with most, if not all, of the material to be recorded. On High Desert Heat, we used three of Zack’s songs because I loved them, they really fit my style. He has a big backlog of material that he has been itching to get out! That takes a lot of the pressure for songwriting off of me. I’ve put out a lot of records, with plenty of my songs. Sometimes you think that you have already covered all the bases as far as material. Zack is really talented, especially with lyrics”.

The original band line-up was together for fifteen years. The first change came when bass player Tom Brimm grew tired of life on the road, an occupational hazard. His replacement, Dave Nordstrom from Spokane, added some vocal firepower to the mix. Original drummer John Cage eventually became a police officer once the allure of the road had worn off.

Langford was able to relive those days recently.

“A friend of mine worked for a TV station in Spokane. He sent me a video from 1995 of me with Tom and John playing live. It was interesting to watch. We were a tight band. But the sound sure was a lot different. Most of the bands I liked growing up were trios – Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower, ZZ Top. The format is very challenging, and I really like the power of a trio. And, if you can pull it off, it makes a lot of sense from an economic standpoint, too! I had a band, the Studebakers, before the Taildraggers that was also a trio. The Taildraggers were a four piece in the very early days for several years. We had a guy who played saxophone and keyboards. But I decided to strip it back down”.

“We’ve always had low budgets for our recording projects. The early records were mostly bare-bones trio things. After that you start doing more overdubs. And adding guest artists, so one day you listen to a song and think, wow, I can’t really play that one live now because there is too much stuff on it! Then I have to figure out how to play the song with less instrumentation. By the time we had got to Blood Moon, I had completely reversed and gone back to bare-bones. The new one has more stuff on it. Zack is a really good banjo player, so that is on it. For guest artists, we have three harmonica players including Jason Ricci, Richard Rosenblatt from VizzTone, and Sheldon Ziro, a great player from the Pacific Northwest who now lives in Nashville”.

“On a couple of songs we kind of went out there with slide guitar, banjo, and acoustic guitar. And there are a lot of harmony vocal parts, too! It definitely is a different record than High Desert Heat. It has some of the same elements, but I think it is another evolutionary step for the band. We ventured into some new territory. That is important when you have been around as long as I have! You can’t keep making the same record every time”.

The band spent a couple of weeks recording at the end of February. As they finished up, the first signs of trouble were appearing. In short order, things started shutting down, then venues started canceling gigs. Langford had a full tour schedule for the year, centered around the album release at the end of May, but it all fell apart in short order, leading to the decision to push the release date back to mid-July. What looked like a great year suddenly disappeared.

image“The title of the new one, The Remedy, is certainly ironic considering our current situation. At the time, we had no idea that we would get caught up in a pandemic. For the last year, we have been playing live a song that Zack wrote called “She’s Got The Remedy”. After some discussion, we thought that was a good title. Then the shit hit the fan! It seemed like a short, catchy name, but now it has taken on a completely different meaning. And we could certainly use a remedy right now”.

When it comes to the music business, Langford has experienced a lot of changes over his career. The band has a rabid group of hard-core fans that have been with them since the beginning. Some fans have faded away as the group’s sound changed while others had a favorite line-up that fired-up their passion.

“I’m a big ZZ Top fan. I loved the first album and followed them all through their career. When they came out with Eliminator, it was a completely different sound, but I still liked them. I like bands that push the boundaries. Cream, Hendrix, and even Stevie Ray Vaughan did that. When I started playing guitar, I was also into people like Freddie King, Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy. I went through a phase where I would search for those really obscure blues albums. Oh, Byther Smith, there is somebody I have never heard of, got to buy this one! Once I started going to hear live music, it was artists like Robert Cray and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, plus Portland had a lot of great artists like Paul DeLay and Lloyd Jones, Issac Scott from Seattle”.

“I quickly decided that I wanted to do that, to play blues. But then you start writing your own stuff and all of your influences start coming out, plus you want your own sound. My influences ranged from the Beatles to Black Sabbath, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery to Lynyrd Skynyrd. I am always trying to incorporate the stuff I like into my music. One of the first concerts I went to was Three Dog Night with Aerosmith opening. Johnny Winter was another favorite that I got to see live quite a few times”.

With his band in Nashville, Langford hasn’t been able to do shows like the live streams that many other artists and bands have done to try to generate some income. The lack of live shows also means there isn’t a steady stream of opportunities to sell CDs, which the band has always been successful at doing. Langford did do a solo performance at the end of March for a local food bank. He has stayed busy trying to reschedule shows for the second half of the year.

“I hope people will be hungry for music and seek it out once things open up. Right now, our first gig back is scheduled for the 4th of July in Washington state. I don’t know if they will open things up by then, so that one may disappear. Then we are looking at the end of July and into August. But there just aren’t any answers right now. It makes it hard to plan anything. All I can do is book the shows and hope that they will happen. It’s a tough call to decide to go out to play live knowing that me, Zack, and Shakey will be putting ourselves at risk. At the same time, people are tired of being stuck at home. I feel bad for all of the clubs. I wonder if they will survive. And booking agents are affected as much as the bands by the cancellations. It is very frustrating to watch all of these gigs drop off one after the other, and not be able to do anything. There is probably a handful of dates left that we might still be able to play”.

As you might expect, Langford has a full arsenal of guitars that he has collected over the years, giving him plenty of versatility in getting the sound and tone that he is looking for no matter the song calls for. Several of his instruments are unique creations that are near and dear to his heart.

image“My current favorites include a custom Michael Delaney guitar that he built for me, with a Les Paul style body, several Humbucker pick-ups, and a Sratocaster-type neck. Proud that Michael sponsors me. It has one control each for volume and tone plus a Strat pick-up switch. It was based on another guitar that I used to play, made by Warmoth. I called it the “Lespaulocaster”! It also had the Les Paul body, Strat neck, and the Strat bridge system with the whammy bar. It was the perfect pollination of the Strat and Les Paul guitars. The Delaney is one of my main road guitars. Then a friend of mine gave me a gift, a Fender Vintera Telecaster Custom model, which I really like. They were the main guitars I used to record the new album, and would be out on the road with right now if things had worked out”.

“I usually only take three guitars on the road. The one I use to play slide is a Reverend guitar. I have a sponsorship with them. They have been around for about twenty years, based in Ohio now. I have three of their models, three Fender Stratocasters, and two Gibson Les Paul guitars. I also have a Les Paul Supreme modal that my wife bought me. I don’t take that on the road much because it is just too beautiful. It is the best sounding guitar that I’ve got. Then there’s a Les Paul Smartwood model, that is made from wood certified by the Rainforest Alliance. That was one of my main road guitars for many years”.

“I also have two guitars that I built. One I call the “Groovalator”. It is another piece that I always took on the road in the early days. I built the body from scratch. It looks like a older Gretsch guitar like Bo Diddley used to play. It came back, called the “Billy-Bo,” when Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top started playing one. Recently I built a Gibson SG from a kit, which was fun. Then there is a Walla Walla guitar, made by a company in Washington, that is done in a custom Strat style. They are another sponsor of mine. Then I have a Breedlove acoustic guitar and another older acoustic that was built in New Jersey. My wife also had a Marley model dobro guitar built for me. She has definitely been good to me over the years. And now I have a cigar box guitar that a guy just gave me. When me moved from Nashville, I sold several guitars, and have donated several Reverend guitars over the years for raffles to raise money for dog rescue services and other causes”.

“On stage, I have been using a Marshall Origin50 combo with a 12′ inch speaker for the last couple of years. It has a maximum of 50 watts but there are two other power settings. One is 5 watts and then 15 watts. For the most part, the 5 watt setting is plenty loud. It is fine for playing clubs because I can get a great Fender tone out of it at low volumes. Before that, I was using a Fender Bassbreaker 15, another good amplifier. I still have that one. These days, I am really into the low-wattage amps. I wouldn’t know what to do with a Fender Twin or something like it!’

With every passing day, Langford gains a deeper sense of appreciation for all of the people that have supported the band over the last thirty-four years.

“Hopefully people will like the new recording, which is on my label, Underworld Records, in partnership with the VizzTone label. They are run by Richard Rosenblatt, who used to run Tone-Cool Records, and blues veteran Bob Margolin, so that gives us access to a lot of knowledge, promotion, and distribution that I probably didn’t have before. It is great to work with fellow musicians who understand. And we get great promotion from Amy Brat of BratGirlmedia. But I just want to say thank you! If it wasn’t for all of the fans who come out to hear live music and buy our recordings, we wouldn’t be able to do it. We look forward to seeing everyone again, hopefully real soon”.

Tim Langford’s interview from October, 2016, with writer Henry Carrigan, can be viewed here:

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 6 

imageTomislav Goluban – Memphis Light

Spona Records

10 songs, 39 minutes

Memphis, Tennessee stands tall as one of the birthplaces of modern Blues, a hot spot for the transformation of Blues into Soul music as the home to Stax Records and has maintained in the modern day as a hub for Bluesmen/women and musicians of other genres to record, perform and live in the deep history of music in the air. For his 11th studio album Memphis Light, Tomislav Goluban and his band “Little Pigeon” went to the famous Ardent Studios in Memphis to absorb the deep Blues history and current Blues vibrance of this great City.

Tomislav Goluban is a Croatian ace harmonica player and prolific hard working songwriter. His music is unique due to his at times irreverent songwriting and nasally almost spoken word singing style. You either get it or you don’t. Regardless, Goluban’s Blues are undeniable and his European Blues perspective is heartfelt and real. Like many singers/harp blowers, Goluban has assembled a top flight band supporting him. Bill Ruffino on bass and David Green on drums are flexible and adaptive enough to keep pace with Goluban’s various songwriting modes. Jeff Jensen on guitar and Rick Steff on keys create a deep and interconnected melodic web for the music. There are a few guest musicians, most prominent is Memphis singer and fellow harmonica blower, Vince Johnson who takes lead vocals on two songs. Johnson has a powerful vocal delivery and tambor that reminds one of the great fellow Memphis musician B.B. King. Another essential Johnson on this record is Delta Moon’s Mark Johnson who contributes his unique slide guitar stylings to 5 tracks. Background vocals are peppered throughout from Joseph Franher, Reba Russell and Daunielle Hill.

Memphis Light hits multiple traditional and a few contemporary Blues tones. Vince Johnson feature “Fun Starts Here” is a slow 12 bar Blues with amber rich depth and a slow drawing drag. This track is a jewel of a performance. Album opener “Hayloft Blues” is an amped up North Mississippi vamp with rural themes and undertone.”Disappear for Good” has a spooky Southern Gothic haze while the title track is a medium tempo feel good hop. There are a number of more upbeat straight ahead rock and boogie styled pieces that help segue between the deeper more ambient pieces. The only cover of the over worn “House of the Rising Son” falls a little flat simply because there truly is not anything else to add to this poor overused composition.

Tomislav Goluban is a unique and idiosyncratic artist. He works hard and puts all of himself into his performances. His style of writing and singing might not be everyone but that’s the beauty and unifying character of the Blues. Everyone can come as they are and find a community to support them.

Reviewer 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.


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageBlues And The Soul Of Man – An Autobiography Of Nehemiah “Skip” James

Mel Bay Productions, Inc.

Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop

132 Pages

The haunting 1931 recordings for the Paramount Records label were enough to establish a place in the blues pantheon for Nehemiah “Skip” James. Classic songs like “Devil Got My Woman,” “I’m So Glad,” and “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” relate the dark corners of life, powered by James’ intricate guitar work and his raw, falsetto vocal. He was also quite adept as a piano player. Then, he quickly became dissatisfied with the music business, putting down his guitar, and disappearing into the mists of time.

Starting in the 1950 decade, a new generation of musicians and hard-core record collectors discovered 78 rpm records cut by artists like Robert Johnson, Son House, Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, and James. Soon a number of dedicated souls were venturing into the Mississippi Delta region, searching for some sign that these blues artists were still alive. One by one, they were located and giving a helping hand in reviving their careers.

In the opening essay by Eddie Dean that provides a timeline and context for the James legacy, Dean tells of the frantic search for the blues singer, one of the last to be found. A self-proclaimed “blues detective,” Gayle Dean Wardlow, was hot on the trail, already having uncovered definitive information on Charley Patton’s demise. Another group, lead by acclaimed guitarist John Fahey, drove through one small town after another in pursuit of clues that would unravel the mystery of James’ fate.

Once discovered, the news was important enough to merit an article in Newsweek magazine, that also announced the discovery of Son House the same week, stating,”These two were the only great country blues singers still lost”. James was soon playing shows for audiences of blues and folk music fans, his guitar skills somewhat dimmed by the passage of time, but his powerful voice could still able to conjure up cold chills from one of his dark tales.

The fourteen chapters at the heart of the autobiography are taken from interviews with James, done by Stephen Calt, author of the 1994 James biography, I’d Rather Be The Devil. Each one is formed around a general topic, with James expounding in his own words on his music, the meaning of the blues, racism, and some details of his life, which he often left shrouded in mystery. In the chapter titled “Blues For Sancts,” he offers this observation about his music and church people, “Sanctified. ‘Livin’ free from sin’. They pretend that they don’t like it. But they listen to it. And they’ll listen attentively, too”.

The final section offers thirty pages of guitar transcriptions of four of the James’ best-known songs, done by Tom Feldmann, who has numerous videos available for learning a variety of blues guitar styles. Interspersed throughout the book are B&W photos of James, primarily from later in life, as well as photographs from the Library of Congress collection that provide a visual for parts of his musings.

Despite the new attention he received late in life, James never quite rose to the level of acclaim that many of his peers were able to achieve. Dean sums it best, “Skip James seems to have struck deal after deal and never come out ahead. In a way, James’ story is the truest story of the blues. He led an open wound of a life, and all he got for it was minor-league, post-mortem stardom”. It is a compelling narrative will give you a whole new level of appreciation for the artistry of Skip James.

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 – 3 of 6 

imageHåkon Høye – Nights at the Surf Motel

Big H Records

10 songs, 40 minutes

African American people created the Blues in the deep rural South under oppressive conditions. The initial sounds of the music then were developed and amplified. Artists like Bessie Smith, Tampa Red, Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters created truly unique and groundbreaking art out of their cultural folk music. Then new generations built on it: Otis Rush, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Robert Lockwood, Lowell Fulson and Ruth Brown to name just a few. The Blues exploded across the globe and inspired new interpretations from people of all different racial identities. The music became more and more diffuse and variable spawning new forms of music. Today, and for the past couple decades sadly, many people say there is nothing new being done in music in general and very specifically in the Blues. This is pessimistic, short sighted and, as we all know, wrong. There are legions of musicians all over the planet discovering and interpreting the Blues in their own way and therefore making something fresh and vibrant. A prime example of the vast scope and possibility of Blues and Roots music is Norwegian guitarist Håkon Høye’s new record Nights at the Surf Motel. This perfectly paced blast of an album is a twangy, personal anthology of Roots based contemporary Blues.

Håkon Høye is certainly a guitarist first and foremost. His tremolo laden leads and layers of 6 string work are taut and meaningful. Singing with a slightly detached tenor cool, Høye delivers his original songs with strength and conviction. When not overdubbing his own bass, Høye is joined by Per Tobro and writing partner William R. Troiani on the 4 strings. Vetle Larson handles most of the drums and Kasper Skullerud Værnes honks various molten saxophones. There are a few other special guests most notably Norwegian countryman Kid Andersen whose ubiquitous production and multi-instrumental reach is perfectly attuned to Håkon Høye’s particular Roots stew.

Nights at the Surf Motel starts out with a stomping Roots Rocker a la late 90’s Alt-Country: “Junkyard of Dreams.” Setting the bar for restrained power, freewheeling snap and clever wordsmith-ing, “Junkyard” is a bright fresh Summer storm. Shifting gears immediately with “Stay Awhile,” Høye delivers a homage to The Band. This is medium tempo Upstate New York ,Big Pink, Levon Helm hop, resplendent with Band-esq turn around flourishes and one beat walks down into the hook. Things do get more rough and tumble. “One Floor Down” has big honking sax leads from Værnes. Curtis Mayfield’s “You Must Believe Me” has the appropriately funky early 60’s Motown vibe hitting hard and clean. “Wastin’ Time with You” is bouncy funky shuffle that shifts between rhythm feels keeping the listener on their toes.

Nights at the Surf Motel ends with the title track, the only number that can be truly defined as a traditional Blues. This final slow testament to being sad and lonely is a nice cathartic way to close this diverse and up beat album.

Håkon Høye is an artist to be reckoned with. He and his creative partners’ perspective on American Roots music and Blues are exactly why the Blues is such a unifier and is still so vibrant. Music played with such passion, joy and intent is always fresh and vital.

Reviewer 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 – 4 of 6 

imageSass Jordan – Rebel Moon Blues

Stony Plain Records

8 tracks/33 minutes

Canadian rocker Sass Jordan has returned to her roots with this eight song tribute to blues musicians that influences her and her music. Blasting out seven great cuts from the masters like Willie Dixon, Elmore James, and Sleepy John Estes and one new tune, Jordan is comfy with her selections and gives it her all. In addition to Jordan on lead and backing vocals are her band, the Champagne Hookers; all of them back her vocal lead. Chris Cadell is on guitar, slide, and dobro, Jimmy Reid is also on guitar, Derrick Brady is on bass and Cassius Periera is on drums. Also appearing are Steve Marriner on harp, Jesse O’Brien on keys and Hill Kourkoutis (AKA D# or D Sharp) on extra vocals and co-writer of the original track with Jordan. Her career is long and storied, both in music, stage and television; she is a hard working woman who likes to stay busy.

Sleepy John Estes tune “Leaving Trunk” opens the set. Some marvelously dirty harp is featured here along with Jordan’s gravelly and sultry tones. It’s a harp and vocal attack with some cool guitar added to boot! “My Babe” follows, the Dixon classic that sounds perhaps more like early harp players influencing the style of harp than Little Walter. Jordan sings the song from a feminine perspective but her emotions are strong and forceful. The entire band joins in vocally to take us home in a neat manner. Keb Mo’s “Am I Wrong” gets dusted off from 1994 and Sass sings with grit and the dobro lays out some slick licks. It’s just Jordan, dobro and hand claps for percussion and it coms across quite well. Elmore James’ “One Way Out” gets an Allman-esque sort of treatment with the driving guitar line and overlaid slide guitar weaving a great backdrop for the cut. Jordan gives us a breathy and emotive take on this classic. A little harp blends in for fun here, too, but the vocals and slide are the stars here.

“Palace of the King” is a Leon Russell song with a stinging guitar intro and lead. Jordan growls and gives us a taught performance. There’s some nice harmonizing vocals which add a lot to the cut, too. The original “The Key” follows, a rock ballad of sorts with a very bluesy feel. The keys, guitar and backing musicians make for a full sound here as Sass builds her vocals up throughout. “Too Much Alcohol” is up next, a slick JB Hutto cover with more well-done dobro and Sass being full of, well, sass. It starts out slow but the tempo picks up as Jordan and Caddell get your blood moving with their lyrics and picking. Gary Moore’s “Still Got The Blues” concludes the album with some thoughtfully stratospheric guitar licks and emotion vocal delivery. It’s thoughtful yet piercing and evocative.

Jordan and her Champagne Hookers lay out some really good tracks. Fans of blues rock will eat this up and there is enough straight up blues that even the most ardent of blues purists will find something to like. The only complaint is that it’s eight songs and only 33 minutes, so it left me looking for more, but what’s here is solid and very enjoyable stuff!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageLeroy Ellington’s Sacred Hearts – Live And Kickin’ It

Self Released

11 tracks/51 minutes

Leroy Ellington has been a showman for over 3 decades and knows how to please a crowd. His long career in blues and rock is centered in Cincinnati where he has received many an accolade. His focus centered on the blues beginning in 2012. His EP, Blue Eyed Blues was named “Best Self Produced CD by The Cincinnati Blues Society in 2016 and then in January 2017 was a semi-finalist in that category at the International Blues Challenge. Ellington’s 2018 release Sanctified was also well received. Here we get 8 originals and 3 well done covers, all stuff pretty much featured on his two studio albums.

The Sacred Hearts are Ellington on sax and lead vocals, Max Gise and Marcos Sastre on guitar, Mike Grosser on bass, Charlie Fletcher on keys and Josh Parker on drums. The Soul Flower Singers backing Leroy are Sonya Jackson and Karen Bolden, The Blowin’ Smoke Horns are Dwayne Irin on sax and John Zappa on trumpet. The music was recorded live at the Madison Theater in Covington, Kentucky.

“Heaven Don’t Want Me” is a gritty slower tempo-ed cut with a slick guitar groove. Ellington testified vocally with good effect here. The sax solo is gritty and fun and the following guitar solo is equally well done. There’s a lot of restraint here, and the band lets go a bit with “Three Easy Payments.” It’s a mid-tempo boogie with well done organ and guitar. Next up is “My Father’s Son,” a slow, lamentful blues with some distorted guitar solos and backing organ that make it interesting. “Doghouse” gets things moving a bit with more good vocals and big, driving guitar solo. Up next is “Why Me,” a slick, swinging cut with lots of horns and a rockabilly feel to the beat and music. A Delbert McClinton song and it’s hot stuff! Then we have “Until We Meet Again,” a jazzy and cool cut with a sublime feel and more slick guitar.

“Gravity” follows, a slow and somber ballad from John Mayer with some emotional vocals and pretty guitar solo/work. “Something Funky Going On” is another rather slow and cool cut, with Leroy testifying and more restrained and good guitar. The song builds to a nice finish. “I Wanna Tickle Your Fancy” is another big production with horns and backing vocals harmonizing and responding to Ellington’s call. The pace is quick and the song moves along sweetly as the horns blare and guitar blazes. “The Forecast Calls For Pain” is a mid tempo funky cut with a nice groove and Ellington laying out some nice vocals. This is a song made famous by Robert Cray. There is more strong guitar work here, and the horns in support are once again good. The final cut is “Baptized In a Bedpan,” a song about life in the blues and you can’t be more blue than that kind of baptism! A slower tempo with a great feel, Ellington and company conclude the set with a song with great feeling and musicianship. The horns and guitar interplay and get featured, Ellington sings with feeling and it’s a great ending to a fun set.

I enjoyed the CD. The band played a bunch of tracks featured on their albums and held the crowd in the palms of their hands- you could tell they were appreciated. This is a really good live album that captures Ellington and His Sacred Hearts in their element, taking what they did in the studio and giving their all to appreciative fans. I enjoyed the Cd and anyone who likes a funky, horn-filled sound with solid guitar and keys and spot on vocals will too!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.


 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageBlind Lemon Pledge – Goin’ Home

Ofeh Records

12 songs time – 43:04

Over the years the San Francisco based James Byfield has used the moniker of Blind Lemon Pledge in various configurations. My first inkling of him was in a band under that name. Subsequently he has adapted the name as his own persona as he pursued solo efforts. I previously reviewed one of his solo projects for Blues Blast. This time around it is him on acoustic guitar and vocals with Peter Grenell on upright bass and the occasional vocal assist. The program here consists of older blues covers, a few more recent songs, a few traditional songs and two originals. It’s all done up in fine fashion.

He commits himself well on the classic blues songs such as Muddy Water’s “I Feel Like Going Home”, Tommy Johnson’s “Big Road Blues” and Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain”. Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me A Dime” sounds fresh in its’ acoustic setting as it is usually a platform for an electric guitar workout. His acoustic guitar is assertive nonetheless.

A song most associated with Little Willie John and Peggy Lee, “Fever”, is given its’ due here. Peter Grenell joins in on the vocals on J.J. Cales’s iconic “Crazy Mama”. The traditional “I Know You Rider” from The Grateful Dead’s repertoire receives a sprightly treatment.

The self penned “Sugar Rush” is “Double Entendre’s Are Us” city. The other original “Sweet Celine” is a pleasant little ditty. The almost a cappella “Little Black Train” aside from tambourine and hand claps caps things off on a gospel note.

Mister Pledge surely knows his way around his guitar whether with or without a slide. His spot on energetic vocals bring new life to the familiar and non familiar tunes here. The upbeat vibe is contagious. Let us not forget Peter Grenell helping to anchor it all down. A variety of genres done in a manner that is sure to please. Pick up a winner.

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

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