Issue 14-3 January 16, 2020


Cover photo © 2020 Marilyn Stringer

 In This Issue 

Mike Stephenson has our feature interview with Blues guitarist and singer Tom Holland. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Jack De Keyzer, Giles Robson, Billy Price, Mike Osborn, Troy Gonyea and Paul Gillings.

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

 Featured Interview – Tom Holland 

imageI’m from Chicago, Illinois I was born December 9th 1977 so in blues terms I’m still a baby. I’ve been on the road since I was eighteen, pretty much went straight out of high school onto the road. My dad had a gigantic record collection and my parents’ bedroom was like two walls of LPs and then in the living room, one wall all LPs, everything from classical to jazz, blues, r&b, rock. He listened to some of everything but he predominantly liked blues and r&b and soul music and it was those that was always being played around the house. So when I started playing guitar when I was eleven, I had seen Eddie Van Halen on MTV and thought that’s what I want to do, and so like every kid who wants something bad I kept on and on and they finally got me a guitar and I got all excited for some months and then it went under the bed.

I think it was in freshman year of high school I had played baseball and wanted to make a go at it and I tried out for the baseball team and on the first day of try outs I broke my index finger, which turned out to be my fretting hand, so I had a cast on my hand for a couple of months and once that started healing I thought I would give the guitar a shot, as I wasn’t going to play baseball, so I started messing around with the guitar again and being left handed my parents bought me a right handed guitar, not knowing there were right and left handed guitars. Before I started taking lessons and was just messing around with it, the heavy strings were on the bottom so at first I would try and bend the bottom string not realizing that I should be bending the top strings, because the guitar was flipped upside down and backwards. When I first started taking lessons I was told about this and that the skinny strings should be on the bottom. But Albert King and Otis Rush, that’s how they played was upside down and backwards.

But I had the strings turned around and started taking lessons that way. The instructor asked me what type of music I wanted to play. The instructor was just a local guy at the neighborhood music store and it was funny because when I started messing around with the guitar I realized my fingers were never going to move as fast as Eddie Van Halen’s. Hearing blues and r&b all the time when I was a kid, it was like I thought there was something in that blues stuff, and I went for the first couple of lessons and the instructor asked me if I really wanted to play the blues as he loved the blues. He said that all the kids my age wanted to learn all the rock and roll stuff and he said he was going to have some fun stuff with me. I took lessons for maybe a year and a half and I was fourteen at the time and I took lessons until I had got the basics down. Every week he would get me to learn a song a week and as soon as I had got the basics down I could pick things up by ear and I would say that I wanted to learn a certain song and he would write out all the chord changes and next week I would go back, and then he said that I didn’t need him any more as I had picked up the solos myself.

My source of blues reference was through my dad and his blues collection and having it being played in the house all the time, I guess it had kinda been ingrained in my head already. I guess it came as second nature.

I then started sneaking into the clubs when I was sixteen, places like the Checkerboard and other hole in the wall clubs on the South side and me and my friends knew the clubs that didn’t check your ID, and that was mostly all of the clubs on the South side, because as long as you had money to get in the door they didn’t really care. Marty Sammon, Buddy Guy’s keyboard player, he and I grew up together and he and I would sneak into the clubs. We were always at the Checkerboard, which of course is not there anymore. I would hang out with Magic Slim, John Primer, Johnny Dollar, Vance Kelly and a bunch of other folks. I was watching back then and soaking up stuff. Magic Slim had Sundays and Mondays at the Checkerboard and when he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, John Primer took over the Sundays and Mondays which was right around the time when Primer left Slim’s band and went out on his own.

imageSo it started out with me hanging out with Magic Slim and Primer and then Slim moved and I kept going there with Marty, but he said he had seen what he wanted to see and he stopped hanging out there and I kept going, and it took maybe three or four months of just sitting there watching Primer for me to say I played a little guitar and that I could sit in if they wanted me to. And so once in a while he would let me sit in, and maybe after six months of me being there every Sunday and Monday, he told me he had this gig and that he needed a guitar player for it and he asked me if I wanted to do it.

Sure I did and we were going to meet at the Checkerboard and ride to the gig, it was in one of the suburbs. I was eighteen at that point and we did the first set and then John pulled me aside and told me he liked the way I play and he asked me how much I drink on a gig and what drugs I use and what is it going to take to keep me around. I told him I don’t drink on gigs, no drugs and the only thing I do is smoke cigarettes and when you need me, call me. So I ended up playing with John for almost three years around 1997 time. We went all over the US and Canada and we recorded one record on Wolf. When we recorded that record for Wolf, John was going to Europe and he had told me to get a passport and I went and got that, but after that John told me that they didn’t get me a ticket but that when he was gone with the band he asked me to take over the Sundays and Mondays at the Checkerboard in his place, which I did.

Now Sundays and Mondays was a little quiet and we would be playing and there would be two or three people at the bar and we were lucky to make gas money home. So John went to Europe for four weeks and I called on a bunch of my friends who had already been going to the Checkerboard, because at the time Vance Kelly was playing there every Thursday and they all loved Vance. I told them to come and see me on Sundays and Mondays and after a couple of weeks the owner L.C. Thurman told me that he wasn’t sure what I was doing and that he was thinking of telling John that he didn’t want him back at the club because we had been doing so good. I had to tell him I wasn’t trying to steal John’s gig and that I was just doing what he had asked me to do. John was ok with it all and said that he would love some of my friends to come along and see him play.

John’s band back then was a rotating door and on the weekend gigs we usually had Earl Howell on drums and Nick Holt on bass when Magic Slim wasn’t on the road. But for the Checkerboard gigs half the time either the bass player wouldn’t show up, as he knew he wasn’t going to make any money, or the drummer wouldn’t show for the same reason or it would be just me and John because he knew I would show up either way.

So I was working with John and he had got to the point where he was pretty much staying around Chicago and mid west and Milwaukee, like within a two hundred mile radius of Chicago and we weren’t working that much, and a friend of mine was playing bass for Eddy Clearwater and his guitar player from Canada at the time, his work visa was up, and so Eddy was looking for a guitar player and my friend told me to come to the club where they were playing and he would introduce me to Eddy. So I went down and met Eddy and a week later Eddy called me and said he would like to hire me for a few gigs, and if it works out maybe I’ll hire you full time; so he hired me and a B3 organ player.

I think Eddy was trying to figure out if he wanted to stay with the two guitar thing or if he wanted to have organ and after about three months the organ player disappeared and I ended up getting the gig with Eddy and I was with him for three and a half years. Eddy was the first guy I went to Europe with and I had never been on a plane or any of that so it was a first time in Europe and first time on a plane, so that was good for me. When I played with Eddy we went to Europe a bunch and both he and I are left handed guitar players which caused some amusement for some.

Then I got married and I thought that maybe I would stay off the road a bit and that was when I made the conscious effort to focus on my own thing. I had my own band from when I was playing with Primer but it was more a means of filling the holes when I wasn’t playing with John or touring with him, so as to keep busy. It’s called Tom Holland And The Shuffle Kings. I probably started doing little gigs with my band in 1998 and once I had started with John I had never sung in public and the first thing John said to me was do I sing, and I told him no. He said that guitar players are a dime a dozen in Chicago and that if I wanted to stand out I had better learn how to sing, and the other reason was he wanted me to open his show with two or thee songs, so I had better learn how to sing some songs.

imageSo I learnt how to sing enough songs to get me through a short set. So I got better at singing and gradually built it up. When I was with Eddy I was the band leader for him and my responsibility was that if we got someone new in the band I had to make sure they knew what they were doing. When Eddy had his own club he asked me to run the jam night on Sundays and that’s where the Shuffle Kings found their footing and I did that jam for maybe two years every Sunday when we were in town. That’s where the Shuffle Kings really came together, which made me think that I could really do something with it.

We got some gigs around the mid west and that’s when I thought I could make a go of being a band leader. I quit Eddy’s band in part because I needed a break from the road and being just married. I focused on getting my band known around Chicago and then, after about a year, my wife and I were on vacation visiting a friend of hers in New York. My cell phone went off and it was James Cotton’s management and they wanted a guitar player to go out on the road with James for a month. So I went for that.

So off I went to California in the van with the band and they played Cotton CDs the whole time getting me to listen to them and I told them I had been playing with harp players for ever. They asked me why I didn’t ask how much I would get or where the gig was and I told them that when Cotton calls you don’t say no. This was around 2003 and in the band was Slam Allen playing guitar and singing, Mark Mack and Charles Mack who were brothers and Charles played bass and Mark played drums. I was told I was filling in for that tour and that it may lead to something but it may not.

We played at Eli’s Mile High club in Oakland, the famous Bay area club, and we got done with the gig and we were waiting to get paid and the manager told me that I fitted in really well and I told him I knew James’ material and had been listening to it all my life and had been playing this stuff with my band. So that led me to play with James for twelve years, so my one month fill in gig turned into a twelve year fill in gig. That was a full time thing and when I first started playing with James, although he wasn’t that young, we were playing two hundred and fifty gigs a year. So I jumped back into playing all the time and used to be home about a week or a month if that.

I did some recordings with James, one was when he got resigned to Alligator Records, on that Giant album. He recorded that with his road band of the time. James was in between record labels at that point and he had been seeing everyone self releasing CDs and he wanted to try that, as he could keep all the money. So we went into the studio, cut that record and they shopped it, and Bruce Iglauer picked it up. James asked me to sing some stuff on that album although Slam Allen did most of the singing on the gigs.

I was with James from 2003 through to 2015. James told me that I had a job for life with him as I could do the Luther Tucker and Robert Lockwood lines. It pretty much turned out that is was a job to the end of his life. I left his band at the beginning of 2015 and his health was starting to decline by that time, to where we would have tours lined up and they would get cancelled a week or so before we were supposed to start out on the tour and it became a thing that I had family to support. I didn’t really want to leave but I couldn’t stay there when gigs were getting cancelled and I didn’t have enough time to get something else in its place.

A lot of the clubs I worked at in Chicago would be booked out a couple of months in advance and I didn’t want to start calling around asking bands if they needed a guitar player. So leaving James was strictly that I had to look after my family type of thing. When I had time off the road with James I would work with my band around Chicago and other artists who needed a guitarist such as Grana’ Louise, Matthew Skoller and John Primer, who told me I would always have a job in his band if I needed it.

J.W. Williams, Big Time Sarah, and I worked a lot at Blue Chicago so I ended up working with a lot of the female blues singers who play that club like Zora Young and Shirley Johnson. I did some gigs with Charlie Love and I have worked pretty much with everyone in Chicago at one point and a lot of that would be I would go out to hang out and someone wouldn’t show up so it just so happened that I had my guitar in the car.

ImageSo I’ve been an on call guitarist for many over the years. The band leaders in Chicago knew that I would be on time and that I wouldn’t be getting messed up on the gigs and, as long as they told me what they wanted and what they were going to do, I would learn whatever they wanted and as soon as the gig rolled around I would be ready to go.

After James I was back to trying to make a go of my own band. I put out a self produced record called No Fluff Just The Stuff in 2013. I got some good buzz with that and a lot of the clubs liked the fact I had been with James Cotton for years and because I had worked with James for that long I knew club owners and promoters all over the place and it was a matter of calling and see who would cash in the favor if I needed it. I was trying to get my foot in the door. I’ve pretty much been doing my own thing since then.

I still work with a number of different people in Chicago like in 2015 I ended up coming to Europe with Lil Ed because his regular guitar player Mike had some health problems two weeks before they were due to go to Europe, and that was a month’s tour, so Ed phoned me in a panic and asked me to go with him. So I had to move a few gigs of my own. Apart from that I have been focusing on my own thing.

In the last few years I was with Cotton and was off the road and wasn’t doing my own thing I was working a lot with Matthew Skoller. We still work together today and Mathew has this new band Chicago Wind that I am part of, along with Deitra Farr, Felton Crews and others. So I have been juggling those gigs with my own gigs and I remain an on call guitarist. When I left Cotton I was worried that things may backfire as I had done that for twelve years, but once the word got out in Chicago that I wasn’t with Cotton any more the phone started ringing. So I did the Lil Ed tour and I’ve worked with Shawn Holt for maybe a year, Magic Slim’s son, and also juggling my own stuff. After being with James for that length of time I was fully burnt out with going on the road so when I left James I played mainly Chicago for a good while. I was enjoying sleeping in my own bed every night. Staying home taking care for my wife also was important.

Over the years I’ve recorded with John Primer, Eddy Clearwater, some live tracks with him from the Boston Blues Festival, Sandra Hall out of Atlanta, James Cotton, Mud Morganfield on the first record he did, a self produced thing. He had been sitting in with, and hanging out with, John Primer before he went out on his own and John put him onto me, so I worked with Mud a little bit but that was when I was still working with Cotton. I couldn’t do all of Mud’s gigs though, because of being on the road with Cotton. I recorded with Grana’ Louise on her Delmark Getting Kinda Rough album. I’ve also recorded with Alabama Mike who is singing now with Andy T on his Taylor Made Blues album. I got on that recording through his drummer at that time, we had worked together in the past, and he had played Mike some of the songs I had written, so Mike wanted to record a couple of them and he wanted me to fly to California and play on those songs, so that’s what I did.

I played on half of Cotton’s Cotton Mouth Man. Tom Hambridge produced that and it had a bunch of guest artists on it as well. The tracks that Warren Hayes and Greg Allman played on are the tracks I played guitar on. We went in the studio knowing that those artists would be on those tracks, who did their thing later.

I’m working on putting out another album and I have enough material but it’s finding the time to get it together. Maybe Delmark may be interested. Me and Steve Wagner have kicked around the idea of me putting out something on Delmark. Before I started playing guitar, my dad and I would go down to the Jazz Record Mart every other Sunday, which was owned by Bob Koester who owned Delmark. I was nine or ten years old and my dad would sell Bob his old LPs and get $500 in store credit and he would get a $100 worth of CDs and that’s how I built up my library. Bob was always telling stories about this and that, so even at a young age I was soaking this up, so that’s why Delmark would be a good fit as well.

I’ve been doing some work with Omar Coleman and I have known Omar since I was doing the jam at Eddy Clearwater’s place. He was just starting to come around then and we have become good friends over the years and he has worked with me on some stuff and I have worked with him on some stuff. I’ve not recorded with him as yet though.

The Shuffle Kings has been a stable band and, coming from being a side man myself, I thought when I start my own band I will make sure my band gets taken care of. Music is a full time thing for me and has been pretty much all of my career. I’ve had the occasional odd job here and there to keep the lights on.

Interview of this Chicago based guitarist and singer took place in Lucerne, Switzerland. Many thanks go to Jim Feeney for all of his help.

Interviewer Mike Stephenson is a UK based blues journalist and photographer who has been a blues fan all his life. He has written articles on and interviewed blues artists and reviewed blues events in Europe and the US primarily for Blues & Rhythm but also for other blues publications.



 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageJack De Keyzer – Checkmate

Blue Star Records – 2018

13 tracks; 53 minutes

Canadian guitarist Jack De Keyzer has produced some fine discs over the years and this is his thirteenth CD release. Here he plays tribute to Chess Records with a collection of covers recorded in Ontario but with its soul in Chicago, mainly staying close to 2120 South Michigan Avenue with plenty of great songs recorded there by the likes of Otis Rush and Howling Wolf but also stretching across to other iconic bluesmen. There are three each from the songbooks of Otis Rush and Howling Wolf, two from Elmore James and three traditional tunes; of the thirteen tracks here five bear the writing credits of Willie Dixon who was so influential during the prime years at Chess and Cobra Records. Jack handles all vocals and guitar work with Joel Visentin on organ, piano and trombone, Richard Thornton on tenor sax, harmonica and conga, Alan Duffy on bass and Rick Donaldson on drums.

The album opens with a blazing version of “Howling For My Darling” and you can immediately hear how tight the band is. Jack’s vocals and guitar are great and Richard’s sax solo is a standout. The classic riff of Otis Rush’s “All Your Love” is present and correct and, to these ears, there seems to be an element of another Chess stalwart, Jody Williams, in Jack’s playing here. We then get a double shot of Elmore James: a fast-paced rhythm underpins “Stranger Blues” and makes it hard to keep still while Jack plays some great licks but does not use slide; the slide comes out for a barnstorming “Talk To Me Baby” and Jack plays it superbly with great tone and feel, keeping all the excitement of the EJ version with fine piano and sax accompaniment. Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble” completes a thrilling opening quintet of songs with some fiery guitar over a great band performance with Richard’s brooding sax work at its core.

The middle of the album veers away from the Chess stable for a trio of songs from other sources. “Broke Down Engine Blues” is marked as ‘traditional’ but is usually considered a Blind Willie McTell tune, perhaps less familiar than most of the material here (though it was covered by Dylan on his 1993 album World Gone Wrong); Jack’s version is quite heavy with plenty of tough guitar playing. The next song is perhaps the real oddity of the collection, a delicate cover of “Do Right Woman”, a Chips Moman/Dan Penn song best known from Aretha Franklin’s 1967 version. A dip into the BB King songbook with “Days Of Old” allows the band to play a swinging shuffle on which Jack plays superbly.

We then return to Chess with a run of three Willie Dixon songs, the first two of which will be very familiar both from Howling Wolf’s originals and many subsequent covers: “Evil (Is Going On)” finds Jack using some distortion on his vocals to deliver something akin to Wolf’s style as Joel plays some great stuff on piano; the heavy version of “I Ain’t Superstitious” has some pretty wild guitar that blends some of Freddie King’s tone (think “Going Down”) with Jeff Beck’s cover of the same song on Truth.

The final visit to the Otis Rush catalogue is “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and, after the previous cut, you might be expecting a Zeppelin style guitarfest but Jack springs a surprise by playing a restrained version with some jazzy touches on guitar and excellent sax.

The album concludes with two ‘traditional’ tunes though many will associate them with Robert Johnson. Jack gets his slide out again for “Walking Blues” and, as on “Talk To Me Baby”, it’s another exciting tour de force with lashings of exciting slide work while for “Come On In My Kitchen” Jack switches to resonator in a solo acoustic version (though the 78 ‘crackle’ throughout is a device that has surely outlived its novelty).

Of course there are plenty of covers of these songs around but if you want to hear them well covered this is an album to get! This reviewer certainly enjoyed the songs selected and the interpretations made by Jack and his bandmates.

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 – 2 of 6 

imageGiles Robson – Don’t Give Up On The Blues

American Showplace Music – 2019

12 tracks; 61 minutes

UK harmonica player Giles Robson turned a few heads when he became the first European artist to appear on an Alligator album and only the third Briton to win a Blues Music Award when Journey To The Heart Of The Blues won in the acoustic category. That album featured Giles with Joe Louis Walker and Bruce Katz and Giles has maintained the connection with Bruce whose band backs Giles on this album: Bruce on keyboards, Aaron Lieberman on guitar, Antar Goodwin on bass and Ray Hangen on drums, Giles fronting the band on harp and vocals on an all-original program.

Over recent years Giles has established himself as one of the leading European harmonica players and the hard rocking opening track “Land To Land” provides an opportunity to hear him in ‘tough’ style with periodic blasts of harp and some rapid-fire over-blowing as Bruce cooks on organ and Aaron’s solo provides a counterpoint to Giles’. Giles also sings well across the album and the title track has lyrics that all blues fans will appreciate about how the blues will always be there for those who keep the faith; Giles ranges far and wide on harp over Bruce’s piano which adds a honky-tonk feel to the shuffle. A Bo Diddley style beat on “Damn Fool Way” finds Giles being self-critical about how he mistreated his girl (and it is not often you hear ‘obliterate’ in a blues song). The slow blues “Your Dirty Look & Your Sneaky Grin” has plenty of space for Giles to weave his magic before another lively shuffle, “Show A Little Mercy” finds Bruce back on piano and Aaron adding some tasty slide.

At the half-way point in the album we get the first of three instrumentals, the title “Boogie At The Showplace” indicating that this one was probably concocted on the spot at the studio, a duo performance for harp and piano. “Fearless Leaders” lays into our politicians on a churning blues with lashings of tough harp and bitter lyrics like “it’s getting hard to tell if it’s them or us who are the biggest fools” before things lighten up with “Hey, Hey Now!” with its catchy guitar riff at the core of a song in which Giles is “going out to conquer this city”. The jerky instrumental “Giles’ Theme” opens with Giles at full throttle before he gives way to Bruce whose organ solo harks back to Jimmy Smith. Giles gets reflective again on a Chicago style shuffle “Life, With All Its Charms”, telling us that he has what he needs without lots of money, as “I have life, with all its charms, when I hold my baby in my arms”.

The album closes with two contrasting tracks, both sufficiently extended to allow solo space for all: we remain in Chicago for the frenetic “That Ol’ Heartbreak Sound” (a reference to classic blues) which includes a short feature for the rhythm section, lightning fast solos by Aaron and Bruce (on piano) and lots of Giles’ strongest blowing; in contrast “Way Past Midnight” is a gospel-tinged slow blues instrumental that opens with Bruce’s stately B3 and Giles’ high register harp, a track that would not sound out of place on a Ronnie Earl album. On an album with lots to admire this track is perhaps the pick and a fine way to close the album.

There is something for most blues fans here. It is good that Giles and Bruce carried on the collaboration they started on Journey To The Heart Of The Blues and well done to American Showplace for providing a platform for the release.

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 6 

imageBilly Price – Dog Eat Dog

Gulf Coast Records

12 songs time – 58:34

After releasing a total of 17 albums, CDs and DVDs, Fair Lawn, New Jersey native soul blues singer Billy Price now residing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania still has the mojo going on at the age of seventy. Be it one of the eight original compositions or the four covers the same degree of care, energy and musicianship is afforded to each song. Billy’s earnest vocal delivery propels each and every song, be it a smoking soul tune or a slow burning soul ballad. Having a cadre of first class musicians in the studio doesn’t hurt a bit. The rhythm section of Alex Peterson on drums and Jerry Jemmott provides a sturdy foundation for such players as Kid Andersen, Jim Pugh, Jon Otis(son of the late great Johnny Otis) and Rick Estrin among others keep the groove going strong.

The Billy Price-Jim Britton penned “Working On Your Chain Gang” speaks to working for his woman. The narrator tells his old love to get lost in “Lose My Number” that sports nifty organ accompaniment by Jim Pugh and a fine saxophone solo courtesy of Eric Spaulding. “We’re In Love” bops along jauntily with a hipster vibe. The title song “Dog Eat Dog” is a cover of a Rick Estrin song previously recorded by Rick. Estrin adds his masterful harmonica chops and Alabama Mike shares vocal duties with Billy.

The guys tackle a slow horn driven blues with “My Love Will Never Die” behind Billy’s extra emotive vocal. Zippy percussion intertwines with ARP strings, Moog, horns and Mike Zito’s cantankerous wah-wah guitar on the funked-up “All Night Long Café”. Sons Of Soul Revivers provide gospel styled backing vocals to the exuberant soul of “Walk Back In”. The horn groove on “Toxicity” is sublimely addictive.

“Remnants” is a classic slice of cheating woman blues that has Kid Andersen’s crazy wah-wah guitar skittering all over the place. More soothing soul on “Same Old Heartaches” by Melvin and Mervin Steals, best known for writing “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” by The Spinners. Soul ballads just don’t get better than “More Than I Needed” with it’s seductive synth and organ. The bluesy soul of “You Gotta Leave” with its’ bouncy horn section brings things to a satisfying conclusion. Kid Andersen delivers a stingy guitar solo to tie this one up.

Blues inflected soul music in the capable hands of Billy Price and company is a funky masterpiece to groove you and move you. Added and abetted by multi-instrumentalist and co-producer Kid Andersen and his choice players, you surely can’t miss with this gem. Man that cat Billy has got him some soulful pipes!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

imageMike Osborn – Unbroken

Je Gagne Records – 2019

11 tracks; 42 minutes

Based in California, this is Mike Osborn’s third album release. His previous two releases were primarily blues-rock but on this disc Mike has taken something of a country detour and there is not much blues to be heard here. Mike wrote nine of the tracks with two coming from the combination of Dennis Walker (who wrote some of Robert Cray’s early successes) and the late Alan Mirikitani who produced Mike’s last album, 2014’s In The Dog House. Mike plays guitar and vocals with experienced session musicians Johnny Griparic (Walter Trout) on bass and Tom Fillman (Spencer Davis Group) on drums.

There are several cuts here that are country and/or pop and will be of little interest to Blues Blast readers. The tracks that can best be classed as blues are the following:

The opening track “Why” is a reprise of one of Mike’s earliest songs and it’s a rocker that finds Mike wondering why everything seems to be against him.

Walker and Mirikitani’s “For The Last Time” is a soulful ballad with some lovely guitar phrasing set over lush keyboards (sadly not credited)

“Boys In The Band” is a boogie tune with a core riff over which Mike dubs some aggressive wah-wah guitar. The second Walker/Mirikitani song “Some Will Fall” is a rousing anthem with ringing guitars

There are some strong songs on the rest of the album, like the very personal “Family Crest” which might not have sounded out of place on an Eagles album – but they are definitely not blues. Readers who enjoy a musical diet beyond the blues may find this album to be of interest.

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 – 5 of 6 

imageTroy Gonyea – Click Click Spark


CD: 9 Songs, 44 Minutes

Styles: Guitar Monster Blues, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Blues Covers

“We’re making a record tonight,” whispers Troy Gonyea, an electric maverick, at the beginning of Click Click Spark. “It’s a secret.” Someone else interjects, “We don’t have to hold back. We’re going to overdub the crowd noise from a concert from Bangladesh.” The aforementioned crowd noise follows. Clapping and cheering. Troy revs up. Is this approach unique? Relatively speaking; yours truly has never heard of another band doing the sort of overdub Gonyea mentions right off the bat. Does this approach let listeners know what they’re in for? Most definitely: a raw, unpolished set of nine selections from a Massachusetts guitar monster. Several of them are covers, including Magic Sam’s “That’s Why I’m Crying,” Willie Dixon’s “Bring It On Home,” and Jimmy McCracklin’s “Georgia Slop.” As for Gonyea’s original material, it’s as unpredictable as he is. Without a doubt, he does it his way, as Frank Sinatra might put it. The album’s sonic quality may not be up to studio standards, but then again, who needs polish when one has passion? Troy and his crew pull out all the stops, intending to blow out all your speakers.

Gonyea boasts a dynamite resume: featured guitarist on two Grammy-nominated Kim Wilson recordings (2001 and 2003); holder of the legendary guitar chair in The Fabulous Thunderbirds; touring with Booker T. Jones, Marc Ford, the Muddy Waters’ Blues Band, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, David Maxwell, Kirk Fletcher, and Anthony Geraci and the Boston Blues All-Stars; nominee for Best Band at the Boston Music Awards (2010) and Blues Music Award nominee for Best Band of the Year (2019). With all this said, it’s a wonder his name hasn’t been more widely publicized. He’s been performing as a guitarist and sideman for over twenty-five years. He strapped on his first guitar at the age of thirteen, and the rest is history. Nevertheless, Troy prefers to bring his signature style to the songs of the old masters, not replicate them. Reveals Ronnie Earl: “I feel that the music Troy expresses is the true Blues. With Troy, the true Blues is in good hands for the future.”

Performing alongside Troy (lead vocals, guitar and harmonica) are Brooks Milgate on upright piano and Hammond organ, Marty Ballou on upright bass, and Marty Richards on drums.

After “A Few Words from our Charming Host” (Bangladesh crowd noise included) comes “Do the Curl Up and Die,” an original throw-down rocker that describes what we all want to do during a hangover. There’s pounding piano, growling guitar, thundering drums, and howling vocals that resemble George Thorogood mixed with Little Richard. “As I Am” tones it down quite a bit, a slow-burning ballad perfect for slow dancing. The third fresh composition is the final one, “I Am Feeling So Good (Owed T’Don),” running over seven minutes and containing the imperative to boogie, pronounced “boo-GEHHH!” Yes, sir, and that guitar…

Click Click Spark is a one-of-a-kind blues album showcasing raw talent from Troy Gonyea!

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 6 

imagePaul Gillings – You Don’t Even Know


CD: 12 Songs, 40 Minutes

Styles: Harmonica Blues, Acoustic Blues, Solo Album, Debut Album

Picture a diamond in your mind. More than likely, it looks like a specimen from ZALES or Kay Jewelers ads. Faceted, fiery, sparkling and shimmering, it dazzles your eyes if not your budget. Now imagine the same gem freshly dug from the ground. Doesn’t look like much, does it? Nevertheless, it is, in fact, a diamond. So is You Don’t Even Know, a brilliant acoustic and harmonica blues album from the UK’s Paul Gillings. The cover art is unobtrusive as can be, but once you hear the album inside, you’ll wonder why Pablo Picasso or da Vinci didn’t rise from the dead to do it. To top it all off, it’s a debut. How can anyone be this good and have released just one single studio album? Gillings has been performing for over thirty years, but only now has he graced us with his presence on a CD. Hopefully it will lead to critical acclaim in the US.

At the age of eleven, Paul heard the harmonica for the very first time while sitting round a campfire at a Boy Scout cook-out. His scoutmaster, Norman Ives, was playing harp at the time. Ives also ran a mail-order harmonica business. Several more Scouts became interested in the instrument, and soon they had enough members for a full ensemble. Around this time Norman met with David Michelsen (AKA Dr. Midnight). Between them, they began “Harp Start,” a free harmonica school for underprivileged children.

In 1993 Paul won the World Harmonica Championships in the Youth Blues/Rock and Youth Diatonic Jazz/Melodic sections, held in the Hohner stronghold of Trossingen, Germany. After victory, Paul received an endorsement from Lee Oskar himself and became a Lee Oskar Preferred Player. In 2003 Paul collaborated with Roger Trobridge, the then-chairman of the National Harmonica League to relaunch Harmonica World Magazine, working as a designer for five years. In 2018 Paul returned to songwriting, releasing tracks via Soundcloud with more than 80,000 plays to date. Solo tours for 2019 included Jurnet’s Bar in Norwich, The Fisher Theatre, Upton Blues Festival, Folk East and The Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival.

“Fatherhood” starts You Don’t Even Know off with a bang, or in this case, a buzz. It’s a paean to the earthly sort, but minus the part about death, it can also be seen as a hymn, with God as our Heavenly Father. “I want to share all my wisdom with you,” our narrator exults, along with “I want to give my possessions to you” and “I’m gonna set my high standards on you.” Who among us can’t relate, whether we’ve been fathers or not? Next comes the harrowing “As Crazy as Me,” the harp intro reminiscent of a wasp nest in a sawmill during full swing. It’ll drive you mad if you let it. “The Age of Condescension” is a bit confusing. Has the protagonist reached the age where he condescends to other people, or where other people condescend to him? Never fear, though: “Phishing Blues,” “Tweed Tube Amp and a Crystal Element” and the magnificent closer “All These Years” await. Once you finish this CD, you’ll understand why harmonica is “harp.” The kind with strings is played by angels, but several of them prefer the mouth variety instead.

To add to the magic, in the liner notes, Gillings mentions the various harmonicas he plays, from a Kongsheng Solist (in G) down to a Seydel 1847 (in F and low F). All are diamond-lustrous!

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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The Great Northern Blues Society – Wausau, WI

To celebrate 21 years of the Blues Café, The Great Northern Blues Society will be starting things off for the weekend by hosting a 21st Anniversary ‘Kick-Off Party’, Friday, March 13th at the Rothschild Pavilion (near Wausau, WI). Doors will open at 5:30 pm, with Soul Symmetry getting things started at 6:30 and the Ever-popular Aaron Williams & the Hoo-Doo taking the stage at 8:30. Friday admission can be bought the night of the event for $10 and/or is included with all Saturday Blues Café tickets, which will be available to purchase at Friday’s event.

Saturday’s Blues Café lineup includes Boom Boom Stevie V. Band with Bruce McCabe on keyboard, at 1 pm, the Bel Airs at 3 pm, Venessa Collier at 5 pm, the John Nemeth Band at 7 pm, and the Ana Popovic Band at 9 pm. Doors will open at noon. We hope you can join us for a weekend of great music, and to celebrate 21 years of good times at the Blues Café. For more information, visit

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign, IL

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society hosts two Blues Jams each month. Jams are held the 2nd Sunday of each month from 4 to 7 pm and the 4th Wednesday of each month from 7 to 10 pm. The host band plays the 1st set and then it’s opened up to all the jammers in the house. Jams are held at Pipa’s Pub, 604 S. Country Fair Dr. in Champaign. Bands hosting upcoming Jams in 2020 include: the Blues Deacons Jan. 22, Cobalt Blues Band Feb. 9, Mid-Town Blues Band Feb. 26, the Jack Whittle Band March 8 and Raw Sugar April 12. Bring your instrument and join in the fun. For more info visit:

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

Crossroads Blues Society has many shows coming up in the Rockford, IL area. The monthly shows at the Hope and Anchor in Loves Park continue $5 cover, 8 to 11:30 PM: Sat Feb 8th – Mike Wheeler, Sat Mar 14th – Kilborne Alley. Sat Feb 8th – Mike Wheeler, Sat Mar 14th – Kilborne Alley

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances and other shows held at the Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 7:00pm to 11:00pm. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.   Jan 20 – Tas Cru & His Band Of Tortured Souls, Jan 27 – The Groove Daddies.

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