Issue 14-28 July 9, 2020

Cover photo © 2020 Glenn Asakawa

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Whitney Shay. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Sister Lucille, Jose Ramirez, Libby Rae Watson & Burt Deivert, The Nighthawks, King Solomon Hicks and Paul Orta and Steve Coleridge.

 From The Editor’s Desk 


Hey Blues Fans,

Stay tuned! We will be announcing the 2020 Blues Blast Music Award nominees on Friday July 10th.

Fan voting will begin on July 20 and continue until September 5 on our website at

Let the Blues fun begin!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser


 Featured Interview – Whitney Shay 

imageSome people spend their entire lives rooted in the community that they grew up in, rarely venturing forth to see what else the world has to offer. Most of us manage to travel and visit more than a few of the fifty states in our country. For singer Whitney Shay, the world opened up at a very young age.

“When I was three years old, my mother and grandmother took me on a trip to Europe, during which we saw a performance of The Wizard Of Oz. Afterwards, they asked me what I thought of the show. I told them that I liked it, but I thought I was going to get to be on stage! I don’t remember that, but they both have told me the story repeatedly over the years. When we got back, my Mom found a children’s theater company that would take me at three and a half years old. The first play I was in was Annie. In addition to the children’s theater, I did dance and then the voice lessons started when I was in middle school, along with singing in choirs and doing more theater productions. Finally, I went to San Diego State College, where I studied acting with a major in Theater. So I have always done acting, dance, stage combat, and film.”

“In 2008, I made the transition to singing with bands. An ex-boyfriend and I moved to Denver, CO. Our whole dream was to go to Broadway to do the whole New York City musical theater thing. But we broke up after a few months, so I ended up back in San Diego trying to figure out what to do next. I started going on Craigslist, where I found a listing for a pianist, Irv Goldstein, who was looking for a singer to do some jazz standards, so we started working together. At that same time, I started doing swing dancing. Some of my first gigs were playing for the swing dances, which is really fun. That lead me to start meeting some of those musicians in the scene, including the local blues artists.”

The duo’s first gig came through another Craigslist ad, this time for a speakeasy bar looking to hire entertainment. After an audition, the club made an offer for four nights a week. Shay made a counter offer of three nights, which was quickly accepted. She cut her teeth singing Thursday – Saturday, four hours a night, developing a wide range of material to keep things interesting.

“From there, I started working at a four star hotel, because the hotel manager was walking home one night, heard me sing, and booked me. So word of mouth definitely helped me get going. In that, the guy who booked the hotel was an amazing musician named Archie Thompson. We have been working together all along, getting placements for our collaborations in film and on television. We have had songs on the NBC and Bravo channels. Another song was used in one of Tyler Perry’s Madea movies.”

image“The San Diego music scene, and the blues community in particular, is very tight knit. The people are very friendly and welcoming. I was lucky that I got to meet a lot of the right people early on. I didn’t grow up listening to jazz and blues. In high school, I was listening to pop music and ’90s country. That was what my Mom listened to on the radio. There was also plenty of musical theater as well. Once I started singing jazz standards and swing music ten years ago, I quickly got into jump blues, West coast blues, fifties R&B, whatever you call it. That stuff really hit me.”

“The first blues record I heard was the B.B King original greatest hits album, that had all of his 1950s material. I loved his singing and that style of guitar playing. That encouraged me to listen to earlier stuff, so I went back to the 1920s women of the blues like Ma Rainey, Victoria Spivey, Alberta Hunter, and Bessie Smith. I even did a few tribute concerts that featured the naughty songs from that era, which people really seemed to like.”

“One local musician, Robin Henkel, started giving me guitar lessons. We bonded over a mutual love of Elmore James’ guitar playing. I love slide guitar. That is probably one of the reasons I like Bonnie Raitt so much. There is something about that sound, where the Delta meets Chicago, is just so raw and visceral. I always want to have someone in my band who can play slide guitar. That is the kind of guitar I want to play. Robin is country blues artist and we still play together. I don’t practice, so I am a terrible guitar student! But I have been trying to use the pandemic down-time to do better.”

The singer hopes that she can up her game on guitar to help her with theory and songwriting. She is also practicing piano for the same reason. She utilizes a parlor-size Republic resonator guitar that produces a fine sound, especially when she uses a slide. It is hard for her to envision the day she plays guitar on stage, especially with all the guitar players she knows.

“Another guitarist, Nathan James, was integral early on in making sure I was listening to the right music, like early B.B. King fifties R&B, Big Mama Thornton, Big Maybelle, and early Etta James. She has always been my favorite singer. It is like I have musical ADD, because I jump around a lot as far as vocalists I like. There are jazz vocalists I love like Sarah Vaughan and Julie London, who are very different from those R&B singers. Then there are soul vocalists like Candi Staton and Ann Peebles, plus contemporary artists like Bonnie Raitt, who is one of my favorites because she can’t do anything wrong, and Eva Cassidy is another one.”

“I often say I like soulful music, music and singers who are genuine. That is the main reason I treasure Etta James so much. When you hear a recording of her, you always know it is Etta, and you believe what she says. That is something I strive to do – to be real, not be anybody but myself. Susan Tedeschi and Bonnie Raitt are amazing, but I ‘m not them, nor will I ever be them. I listen to them for education. But at the end of the day, I have to do what I do, and hopefully people will like it!”

image“I developed this hashtag – #busylittlesinger – because I have worked hard and hustled to stay busy. For the last ten years, I have done two to three hundred gigs each year in varying combinations. Robin and I do a duo covering 1920s material like Bessie Smith to Elmore James and on to Little Richard and early Etta . I also sing with a big band whenever we can get a gig, because obviously there aren’t many opportunities to get all of those people on stage together. But when we do, it is an awesome experience! Then I am in a jazz quartet that does a mixture of standards and blues. Most recently, I have developed the new project doing my original music grounded in R&B and blues. That is the one that I am moving forward with, especially for touring that I had scheduled for this year and on in to next year. I was supposed to be on the road as part of the Ruf Records Blues Caravan along with Ryan Perry and Jeremiah Johnson. We did tour for the month of February in Germany as my new album was released. Those plans have obviously changed.”

Up until 2015, most of the singer’s live dates were in the San Diego area. Playing a festival in Los Angeles, Shay met Igor Prado, a fiery blues guitarist from Brazil. Impressed with what he heard, Prado invited Shay to come to Brazil to do a tour with his band. Things went well, leading to five more visits to the country for tours. She also made her first appearances in Europe last year, appearing at a festival in Germany followed by a tour through five other countries.

“I did that tour on my own, doing shows in Sweden, Finland, Spain, France, and Belgium, playing with five different bands. At home, I have been hired to sing in so many different scenarios that I was prepped for that. I sent the musicians the songs to learn ahead of the tour. The people that I worked with came highly recommended by mutual friends. I was lucky to play with some of the top musicians in Europe. In Sweden and Finland, those gigs were organized by Lars Nasman, who is a member of the well-known R&B band, Trickbag. In Spain, I worked with Chino Swingslide, an amazing guitarist fluid in many blues styles. For the other gigs, I was super fortunate to be able to work with Nico Duportal, his band and Soulshot Productions. Nico is another outstanding guitarist. Stylistically, we just meshed right up. That’s the great thing about the blues community world-wide. There are so many amazing players that it allows me to go to country to play with a musician I have never met before, and we can make great music together.”

“It was quite the little tour, certainly a lot of fun! That was a big goal of mine for the last ten years of singing in these genres, to play in Europe, so that was a great way to get my feet wet. Getting to do it was an amazing thing. I was very excited about the prospect of doing all the touring with the Ruf Records Blues Caravan. At least I was able to do the February tour, and to play three great festivals in Europe last year. It seems like I have almost saturated the market in San Diego, so it is definitely time for me to spread my wings, to tour our country and the rest of the world.”

Shay has frequently worked with another local musician, noted guitarist Laura Chavez. They originally met some years ago a James Harman recording session, where Shay and Candye Kane did backing vocals. Chavez was Kane’s guitarist for many years, and now backs up singer Nikki Hill.

“She is always on tour, first with Candye, so I didn’t get to see her much locally. A couple of years ago we did some productions together that a local promoter put on. Of course, I loved her playing. I was so happy that she was able to be a part of my album release concert in 2018 for A Woman Rules The World. Then we were able to do a few jams at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis last year, a few local gigs, and last October we went to Austin, TX to record my new album. In January, we also did a week in Russia before the Blues Caravan started. She lives about ten minutes away, so we have been able to do a few things locally in recent days. I love to play with her whenever I get the chance. But everybody wants her!”

image“I am glad that she is getting the recognition she deserves. It was crazy and amazing to me that Laura was the first woman ever nominated in the Blues Guitarist category for the Blues Music Awards. It is obvious that it is well-deserved. Anyone who hears her knows what an amazing player she is. When my grandmother heard her at the album release show, she said Laura plays directly from her soul. That is so fitting.”

Shay’s first recording, Soul Tonic, released in 2012 with the veteran Thompson acting as the producer, showcased her deeper voice that falls in the alto – mezzo soprano range. The album received strong praise from local critics. Her next disc, A Woman Rules The World, was the end result of a chance meeting at one of her gigs.

“A couple years back I did some shows in the Bay area with my friend Netto Rockfeller, a Brazilian guitarist I met through Igor Prado. He recorded some stuff at Greaseland Studios with owner Kid Andersen and Jim Pugh on keyboards, with me singing vocals on several tunes. Both of those guys complimented me on my singing. Jim of course used to play with Etta, my idol.”

“After that, a very good friend of mine, who was a blues promoter in Orange County, the person who introduced me to Igor and told me about Kid, plus is a huge blues fan and supporter of mine, John Reilly, told me that I should do a record at Greaseland. He was the one who put the bug in my ear. So, in 2018, I cut my record there with Jim on keyboards and Kid on guitar. They both liked the finished product so much that Jim decided to put it out on his Little Village Foundation label. That was a big step for me. Because of their involvement, and the other musicians who played on it, that record got a lot of notice and favorable reviews. I feel so fortunate to be a part of that label. Jim has a knack for finding all of this super interesting music. I just love what he does.”

Recognition came her way once A Woman Rules The World was released, garnering Shay a 2019 nomination for the Blues Blast Sean Costello Rising Star Award and a 2019 Blues Music Award nomination in the Soul Blues Female Artist category. After a German promoter heard her at the album release party, he told Thomas Ruf about the dynamic singer, leading to her signing a deal with Ruf Records, who released her latest album, Stand Up!, earlier this year. While her previous disc was heavy on cover tunes, the new one switches the focus to ten original songs along with two covers. Despite the pandemic, it hit #1 on the Billboard Blues chart the first week of its release.

“I saw this as my chance to do an original album, so I spent a lot of time crafting it, with plenty of help from Adam J. Eros, my songwriting partner. We met back when I was working at the speakeasy. He was across the street at a dueling piano bar. He sings and plays piano. We wrote a few songs together for my previous record. Last year, we were working six months in advance of the recording sessions to get material together. Adam is an amazing musician and composer who doesn’t come from a blues background. He accompanied musicals growing up, had a full ride in college for classical piano, and a Masters degree from Berklee in film composition. That often allows us to craft great songs without worrying about genre. Loving the music as much as I do, it is important to me to have an original voice and sound. For some reason, in my mind, I wasn’t really an artist until I was making my own music. That is the best thing about the new record, having it be reviewed and doing so well – and I wrote it!”

“The problem that I have sometimes with the blues is that musicians expect the audience to be engaged automatically, to listen and be quiet. But our attention spans are so short due to social media and the Internet. So we have to do our job as musicians and performers to pull people in. Muddy Waters and B.B. King were performers. They were not just musicians. When I say entertain, I don’t mean in a vaudeville or campy sort of way. Some people just haven’t figured out how to command the space on stage. If it is just showboating without any soul behind it, that doesn’t make any sense. We have to entertain, to take people away from what is going on in the world right now. People need music more than ever. And if I could pick a performance idol that I aspire to be, it would for sure be Little Richard.”

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 

imageSister Lucille – Alive

Endless Blues Records

CD: 11 Songs, 50 Minutes

Styles: Soul-Influenced Blues, Funk, R&B, Debut Album

Alive, the initial public offering (ha) from Sister Lucille of southwest Missouri, is three words that start with S: smooth, subtle, sensual. This collection of funk, R&B, and soul-influenced blues is not only a cut above the rest. Sister Lucille (real name Kimberly Dill) and her posse know they don’t have to be in-your-face loud in order to make an impact. Their music goes on like a high-quality lotion, sinking deep into your pores without being too slick. For a debut album, this one’s a surefire winner. It’s what you’d expect from semifinalists at the 2015 International Blues Challenge. Ms. Wetnight has never seen them live, but in their videos as well as straight audio, they radiate an appealing presence. They’re like the neighborhood friends you can count on to be a bit wild. Bonfire blues roars here as well as beautiful ballads. Out of these eleven songs, nine are outstanding originals, and two are commendable covers (Don Bryant’s “99 Pounds” and Etta James’ “W-O-M-A-N”). Each track is excellent in its own way.

With much of their inspiration coming from their “musician family” in Memphis, this band is well-oriented in the quadrants of blues, soul, funk and R&B. After twenty years on stage together, Kimberly Dill’s heartfelt vocals and Jamie Holdren’s tasteful guitar riffs are sure to turn heads. Along with their IBC credentials, Sister Lucille was voted “Most Promising New Artist” at the 31st Music Pioneer Awards in Memphis for 2016. Kimberly started her music career singing country/western in the early ‘90s. She performed at both the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry, opening for legendary musicians Kitty Wells and Jack Green. Jamie Holdren got his first guitar at age six and started his music career in his early teens. He played with several successful local bands and always loved to write his own music. Rounding out the quartet are Eric Guinn on bass guitar and Kevin Lyons on drums. Eric is a skilled guitarist and vocalist who has played with many ensembles and toured all over the Midwest. Kevin is a versatile drummer with a BA in music performance from the University of Buffalo.

Special guests include Reba Russell on background vocals; Mark Muleman Massey on vocals for track ten; Peter Climie on tenor and baritone sax; Jared Dover on trumpet; Andrew Earle on trombone; Chris Stephenson on Hammond B organ and keyboard; Jim Scott on tambourine and guiro, and Eric Hughes on harmonica for track seven.

Remember En Vogue, the Funky Divas from the ‘90s who had the hit song “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”? “Won’t Give It” is the 2010’s blues version. It’s hotter than blue blazes, and the harmony is terrific. So are the complementary horn section and guitar. What the heck: Let’s just say everything about this song is great. It’s destined to be a hit single on Bluesville. Hence, the title track is slightly overshadowed, but not by much. With funky wah-wah pedal and searing torch-singer vocals, “Alive” is perfect for a spin on the dancefloor with one’s partner. “See My Baby” provides industrial-strength grit, inspiring audiences to stomp along to the beat. Too Slim and the Taildraggers would be proud. Later on, “Respect Your Woman” and “Fussin’ and Fightin’” provide traditional vibes that’ll put a jolt in everyone’s spine. “Lost,” the closer, is heavy-handed on the lyrics, but its message resounds all the same.

Sister Lucille sure knows how to keep the blues Alive!

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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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageJose Ramirez – Here I Come

Self-produced CD

11 songs – 56 minutes

After Christone “Kingfish” Ingram set the blues world on fire last year with his stellar debut CD, most fans might have believed he was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon and that they’d have to wait decades for another artist to make such an immediate impression.

If you were one of them, this album from Jose Ramirez – a 32-year-old native of Costa Rica – is definitely going to shock you. Even though he hails from a country where calypso, soca, reggaeton, cumbia and other music forms dominate, he’s already a world-class blues talent, and one listen to this sensational release will erase all doubts.

After settling on the west coast of Florida, Ramirez quickly established himself as a contemporary blues and R&B singer/guitarist, heavily influenced by Johnny “Guitar” Watson, T-Bone Walker, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and others. He subsequently spent two years in Washington, D.C., and made two successful tours of Europe.

He represented the D.C. Blues Society in the 2020 International Blues Challenge, finishing in second place to Canada’s HOROJO Blues Band, a trio with a world-class recording artist in its lineup: guitarist JW-Jones whose 20-year, ten-album career has included one disc backed by both Charlie Musselwhite and Hubert Sumlin and another supervised by Tom Hambridge, a perennial Blues Music Award and Grammy candidate as a producer.

Now based back in Tampa, Ramirez called out his own big guns for this CD. It was recorded and produced by Lone Star State legend Anson Funderburgh at his Wire Recording Studios in Austin, Texas, and features a lineup that includes longtime Robert Cray and Etta James bandmate Jim Pugh on keys along with The Texas Horns – Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff, John Mills and Al Gomez – and a rhythm section comprised of Wes Starr (John Nemeth, Mark Hummel) on drums and Nate Rowe (The Noueaux Honkies) on bass. A collection of nine originals and two covers, almost all of the tunes deal with romantic themes and build tension through their slow and steady delivery.

Jose doesn’t waste any time before he introduces himself in the autobiographical “Here I Come,” delivering the medium-paced shuffle with old-school, big-band vocal sensibilities. He pays homage to the artists who led him to the path while delivering unadorned, single-note guitar runs that sting like a knife and are complimented by some of the tastiest work you’ll hear this year from Pugh – a Grammy winner himself – on the 88s.

The horns join in to open an unhurried, searing cover of T-Bone’s familiar 1950s classic, “I Miss You Baby,” before Anson makes his first of two appearances on the fretboard and trades licks for the incendiary “Gasoline and Matches,” a percussive pleaser that describes the feelings Ramirez experiences every time he sets eyes on his lady.

“One Woman Man” delivers more great, single-note runs along with a warning for the woman not to get too close because falling in love isn’t in the singer’s plans. It flows effortlessly into “Goodbye Letter,” which describes waking in the morning to find her gone, borrowing ever so slightly from Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby,” but taking the essence of the hook in another direction.

The Way You Make Me Feel,” a Memphis-style soul-blues, finds Ramirez heaping praise on the lady. But the mood darkens in “Three Years” – aided by Anson – which describes waiting patiently for her to return but falling in love with someone else before she finally shows up.

Two more tunes — “As You Can See Now” and “Waiting for Your Call” – are both bittersweet views of romance. The former is an urban soul ballad in which Jose reflects on a past romance and yearns for a reunion. The latter finds him wishing the lady would leave because she only views him as a friend. The disc concludes with an interesting cover of Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues,” which is delivered with a reggae feel, “Stop Teasing Me,” the fastest paced number in the set.

Available from Amazon, Apple Music and Spotify, Here I Come is the complete package. Run, don’t walk to buy this one. It’s destined for greatness come awards season.

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 – 3 of 6 

imageLibby Rae Watson & Burt Deivert – She Shimmy

Hard Danger Records

12 songs – 46 minutes

Mississippi native Libby Rae Watson teams with ex-pat American Burt Deivert and gets a helping hand from Kulturrådet, The Swedish Arts Council, for this stellar collection of traditional acoustic blues, which mixes originals that fit hand-in-glove with covers from Sam Chatmon, Jimmy Rogers and others.

A native of Pascagoula, Libby Rae was captivated by the blues as a teenager in the ‘70s after stumbling across a songbook in a music store. Always impetuous, she went fearlessly into the jukes that were still flourishing in that era to catch the creators at work as they delivered their craft as only they could. The friendship she developed with several of the musicians led to an apprenticeship at the feet of Chatmon, the last survivor of the Mississippi Sheiks, one of the true founding fathers of the art form in the ‘20s and ‘30s.

This is Watson’s fifth CD in a 40-year career that includes festival appearances around the globe and an appearance as an International Blues Challenge finalist. Using words frequently used by Chatmon, she insists: “The blues is my daily occupation!”

A native of Boston who emigrated to Sweden in the mid-‘70s, Deivert has been touring for 47 years in a career that’s produced 13 albums and included work with Eric Bibb, T-Model Ford, rockabilly superstar Wanda Jackson and more. He’s heavily influenced by another Sheik, Charlie McCoy.

This stripped-down set finds the duo sharing acoustic guitar and vocals duties with Burt adding mandolin, fiddle and bass. They receive helping hands from Charlie Musselwhite, Christy O’Leary, Bill Steber and Christer Ring (harp), Bibb (guitar and harmony vocals) and Sammy Baker (upright bass) with Ulrika Bibb and Gary and Carol Vincent providing additional vocals.

Watson’s “She Shimmy” opens the action, describing a lady who shimmies and wobbles all night long during a Saturday night on the town in Clarksdale, Miss., describing the Hill Country spirits than live within the juke’s walls in a pleasant alto and calling up images of several early bluesmen in the process. The action slows as Deivert shares the vocals for the Bo Carter classic, “I Want You to Know,” trading leads and call-and-response. The fretwork on this rag is simply out of this world.

Sexual innuendo comes to the fore in Chatmon’s “Ashtray Taxi” as Libby Rae urges her man to “throw your butts in here” atop Burt’s tasty mandolin before a take on Mississippi tunesmith Mason Arnold’s “Blue Steel,” a modern description of a gambler and hoodoo man, which follows seamlessly.

“Darkness on the Delta,” a tune made famous by Cassandra Wilson, features Musselwhite and rolls smoothly as it describes life along the levee before the Hill Country original “I Won’t Cry” puts a positive spin after being told a love affair has come to an end. Burt and Libby Rae trade vocals for a countrified take on Rogers’ Chicago blues classic, “That’s All Right,” followed by the sweet Deivert original “Cuckoo Crowed,” which describes the goofy look of love on a lady’s face when they cross paths on a railroad platform.

Watson pays tribute to first-generation superstar Big Joe Williams as she recounts meeting him in 1978. It’s entitled “Big Joe,” and she offers up a warm, lengthy spoken introduction before launching into lyrics that describe him as he sang the tune “Baby Please Don’t Go” and played his nine-string guitar. Another Arnold original, “Bluesman in My Graveyard,” precedes the traditional “Whiskey Blues” before George “Little Hat” Jones’ “Bye Bye Baby Blues” brings the set to a close.

Available direct from Watson’s website as a disc or download (address above), this one’s a must-have for anyone with a love for acoustic blues. It’s an understated treasure.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

imageThe Nighthawks – Tryin’ to Get to You

EllerSoul Records

CD: 13 Songs, 45 Minutes

Styles: Soul-Influenced Blues, Blues Covers

Legendary. Not so long ago, this word was reserved for people and things that truly were legends: Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, the music of Mozart and Eric Clapton. Nowadays everything is: photos, memes, ice cream flavors, even an unusually-witty retort to a commenter on YouTube. Where have all the real legends gone? In the blues world, sticking this term in front of one’s name could be a good marketing strategy, though not always accurate. Consider the case of The Nighthawks, a veteran ensemble founded in 1972. They’ve opened countless doors and forged many a touring route for more well-known contemporaries, including the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray, and played with as many blues and rockabilly legends as they could. They opened show after show for Muddy Waters, James Cotton and Carl Perkins, also backing and recorded with John Hammond and Pinetop Perkins. Without the Nighthawks, would the household names we know have become such? One can only imagine.

To date, they’ve released thirty-one albums. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Tryin’ to Get to You is their laid-back latest, featuring four original songs and nine covers. Of the latter, notable ones include T-Bone Walker’s “I Know Your Wig is Gone,” James Brown’s “Tell Me What I Did Wrong,” the title track, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland’s “Chairman of the Board,” and Greg Gallaman’s “Luscious.” If you’ve never heard of some of these, that’s okay, because the ‘Hawks put their own unique spin on each. As for their original material, strong instrumentation helps their cause tremendously.

“Baby It’s Time,” a plea for a certain lady to leave her lover, has a thrumming bassline and beat reminiscent of Chuck Berry’s “Downbound Train.” If those aren’t ominous enough, the song starts, “Baby, it’s time to put your old man down – down on the ground. Honey, put your old man down.” Are these two plotting a simple breakup or a murder? This is the kind of unexpectedly-eerie song that proves the Nighthawks still have a talon’s edge.

The current lineup features Mark Wenner on harmonicas and vocals; Dan Hovey on guitars and vocals; Mark Stutso on drums and vocals, and Paul Pisciotta on basses and vocals.

The Nighthawks was an idea in Mark Wenner’s brain long before he was able to implement it. The musical product of pre-1958 radio in Washington, D.C., he didn’t know there were rules against mixing blues, R&B, honky-tonk country, doo-wop, gospel and rockabilly into one delicious stew. So many iconic artists have had a taste. As for the ‘Hawks? They fly on.

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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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageKing Solomon Hicks – Harlem

Provogue – 2020

11 tracks; 39 minutes

King Solomon Hicks is a young New York guitarist who started playing at The Cotton Club in Harlem aged 13. He has played at all the blues clubs in the New York area, including The Iridium and Terra Blues, as well as traveling to Europe and being a judge at the IBCs in Memphis. This is his first major label release, produced by Kirk Yano who has produced albums by Mariah Carey and Miles Davis in the past. Solomon plays guitar and sings, mainly in quartet mode: Neal Evans and Tommy Mandel play keys, Eric Krasno plays guitar on three tracks, Kirk Yano is on bass and drum duties are shared between Mike Rodband, Jeff Simon, Donald Kruger, Neal Evans, Alan Evans and former Foghat and Savoy Brown drummer Roger Earl who guests on one track; percussionists Javier Alonso and Altor Corral contribute to six tracks, saxophonist Ryan Zoidis and cellist Calum Ingram are on one cut each and backing vocals are by the two percussionists, Frank Amato and Lincoln Schofield. Solomon and Kirk wrote two instrumentals, two songs come from Frankie Vinci (Aerosmith, Tim McGraw, Alice Cooper) and there are seven covers.

The album opens with Leon Russell’s “I’d Rather Be Blind” which Freddie King recorded on Texas Cannonball in 1972 and has subsequently been covered by Curtis Salgado, Bernard Allison and John Mayall amongst others. Solomon does a soulful take with good, clear vocals and neat, restrained guitar, a good start to the album. “Every Day I Sing The Blues” is a slightly misnamed version of the old warhorse that has been recorded by lots of folk but is always associated with BB King. Solomon’s version is a bit heavier with pounding piano and the use of Cream’s “Crossroads” riff before he gives us some very expressive guitar on “What The Devil Loves”, a song by Nashville songwriter Fred Koller and Tom Bishop.

The first original is a rousing instrumental shuffle entitled “421 South Main” which has some excellent guitar exchanges between Solomon and Eric. “I Love You More Than You Ever Know” was written by Al Kooper for the very first Blood Sweat & Tears album Child Is Father To The Man. It has been covered many times but Solomon finds a slightly different approach with gentle latin percussion though the cello and keys combination makes the overall feel rather bland. In sharp contrast Frankie Vinci’s “Headed Back To Memphis” rocks along at pace and is one of the heavier tracks on the album.

Solomon shows us another side to his playing with some funky wah-wah on another instrumental, Gary Wright’s “My Love Is Alive” which also features some good sax work. Frankie Vinci’s gospel-infused “Have Mercy” rockets along at great speed before the second of Solomon and Kirk’s instrumentals, “Riverside Drive”, a trio performance in blues-rock style. “It’s Alright” has minimal, repetitive lyrics and some guitar effects out of the heavy rock guidebook although it appears to be the song written by UK/German songwriter Chris Andrews and recorded by English rock and roller Adam Faith back in 1964. The slowed down version of “Help Me” that closes the album has some strong blues guitar playing from Solomon and works well, making a very different impression to the usual covers of the Willie Dixon/Sonny Boy Williamson tune – not a harmonica in earshot!

The tracks here are mainly short and concise and there is no over-playing or shredding anywhere, so Solomon shows that he is very much in the blues tradition whilst demonstrating that he is open to a range of styles, making this an album that should appeal to a broad 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 – 6 of 6 

imagePaul Orta and Steve Coleridge – The Slim Harpo Project


CD: 15 Songs, 49 Minutes

Styles: Tribute Album, Blues Covers, Harmonica Blues

Tribute albums of any sort are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they pay homage to iconic artists that shaped genres and birthed new eras of music. Such homage is not only commendable, but it paves the way for new generations to hear the old masters. On the other hand, tribute albums will always stand in the shadow of the legendary releases of said masters. If performed with considerable skill and talent, this shadow need not be overlarge. What of Paul Orta and Steve Coleridge’s new album, The Slim Harpo Project? It celebrates the work of James Isaac Moore (1924-1970), a man who crowned the harmonica as the top non-guitar blues instrument. Indeed, he took his stage name from the “harp,” not from a Marx Brother. He’s the original “[I’m a] King Bee,” featured on this CD. He also coined “Moody Blues,” “Mailbox Blues,” “What’s Going On” and “Dynamite.” Orta and Coleridge go all out on instrumentation, as they should because they’re primarily instrumentalists. However, some may wish they would have collaborated with a more well-known singer. That would have made this serviceable salute to Slim Harpo into an outstanding one, propelling it into the stratosphere.

Paul Orta, born in Port Arthur, Texas, was first influenced by Louis Armstrong at the age of seven. After nine years of playing the coronet in the school band, he quit because the band never played blues or jazz. Within half a year, he picked up the harmonica and in three months, he was in his first professional band (The Bayou Boogie Band) at sixteen. They played in Golden Triangle (southeast Texas) and Louisiana for three years.

In 1979, Paul moved to Austin, Texas and won the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1980. Later he formed The Backdoor Men. Afterwards he entered the Antones: “the University of the Blues,” playing with such greats as Jimmy Rogers, Snooky Pryor, Eddie Taylor, Sunnyland Slim, Hubert Sumlin, Luther Tucker, Ted Harvey, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Pinetop Perkins, Wayne Bennett, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Henry Grey and Robert Lockwood Jr. Paul Orta has also toured and recorded with Texas Guitar Tornado U.P. Wilson.

Joining Paul (vocals and harmonica) are German Ramallo on guitars; Steve Coleridge on bass, lead and rhythm guitars, and drums; Joe Colomera also on drums; Jeanne Wilson on sax; Leroy Jefferson, Aurora Hernandez, Fiti and Pepe Moreno on percussion; Pepe Moreno on piano and rhythm guitar; and Leroy Jefferson on bass for tracks six and eight. The CD itself was recorded at PM Studios in Murcia, Spain.

Paul Orta passed from this world due to cancer in May of 2019 and never got to see this album released. When Orta was younger, he received sage advice from his idol Sonny Terry, according to an interview on from Greece. “Your sound is just like me,” Terry said, “but you need to sound like yourself.”

On The Slim Harpo Project, Orta, Coleridge and company couldn’t sound more like themselves. Unfortunately, they can’t top the OG, but their homage is heartfelt and stands on it’s own.

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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