Issue 14-31 July 30, 2020

Cover photo © 2020 Laura Carbone

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with guitarist and singer Ben Rice. We have 9 Blues reviews for you this week including a book about Bobby “Blue” Bland by Charles Farley plus new music from Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers, Ilya Portnov, Chris Canas, William Purvis and the Seventh Sons, Johnny Burgin, Shirley King and Zakiya Hooker.




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 Featured Interview – Ben Rice 

imageOne of the exceptionally talented members of a new generation of blues artists, guitarist Ben Rice has been steadily impressing people with his soulful voice, considerable guitar chops, and adroit songwriting. After developing his craft for years, Rice came of age at the 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, sponsored by the blues Foundation, when his trio made to the final round of the Band portion of the Challenge. The next year, he once again made to the finals, this time in the Solo/Duo category and received the St. Louis Blues Cigar Box Guitar award as the top player in that part of the competition. In 2016, his Live @ The Purple Fox Loft trio recording showcased his undeniable talent.

The pieces all came together for his 2018 follow-up effort, Wish The World Away. Critics loved the album, as did the nominators for various awards. Rice received two 2019 Blues Blast Music Award nominations, taking home the Sean Costello Rising Star Award at the Blues Blast Awards show in September. He also received three Blues Music Award nods, for Acoustic Blues Album, Acoustic Blues Artist, and Best Emerging Artist Album. Finally, he received six nominations for the Big Muddy Awards, sponsored by the Cascade Blues Association, receiving four awards for Contemporary and also Traditional Blues Act plus the statue for Electric Guitar and the “Curtis Salgado” Male Vocalist Award. It was indeed a very good year!

Like many musicians, Rice got his start through his parents love of the arts.

“My Mom liked old school R&B, groups like the Isley Brothers as well as Al Green, George Benson, and Lee Oskar, the harmonica player in War. Then my Dad listened to pretty much everything else – Bob Marley to Alice Cooper, the Beach Boys. He was a big fan of the Tubes. That gives an idea of the soundtrack that I grew up with. Dad had an old nylon string classical guitar that he didn’t play, he just knew a couple of spots where you can press down and strum to make it sound good. Knowing what I know now, they were almost, but not quite, real chords. Once in awhile, he would play the two or three things that he knew that sounded good. “

“My three brothers and I were so captivated by that sound. When my father put the guitar down, all four of us would be stumbling over each other to get to it. We would then try to create anything that sounded remotely as good as what he played. When I was seven, two of my brothers started a garage band when they were in middle school. I would watch them rehearse every day after school. I was captivated. It was super cool. But they would do what older brothers always do, chase me away! I idolized them and they would pick on me. That’s the way things go.”

“For my seventh birthday, Dad decided he would get me my own guitar and guitar lessons, as long as I kept after it. I wanted to play the rock stuff my brothers were doing, but my teacher, who was into progressive rock, told me that I seemed to be more interested in the blues, so he would tell me about B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I would hang out at thrift stores, where I found several Robert Cray cassette tapes. And my sister has a knack for giving me recordings that end up significantly changing my musical path. She got me a B.B. record, then later gave me a Solomon Burke album that is my Desert Island album of all time.”

Eventually Rice joined his brother’s band, then started his own group when he reached sixth grade. Following in the footsteps of his brothers, the band practiced every day after school at his house for four hours, where there was a drum set, a bass amp, and plenty of room. When Rice ran into other musicians at school, he would invite them to ride the bus over to his house to jam. Those after-school sessions continued through high school. At one point, Rice met someone from the Cascade Blues Association at a Blues In The Schools program that organization had sponsored. He gave the aspiring guitarist plenty of information about the local blues scene.

“My friend Jimmy Hale was hosting a monthly blues jam on the last Wednesday of every month. As soon as I found out about it, and learned that I could get in, I was there almost without fail for at least four years. I made my parents drive me. It took forty-five minutes to get to the place! I was such a pest. Thankfully, the musicians at the jam were very nice to me.”

In seventh grade, his band needed a singer. While he had yet to view himself as a vocalist, the band needed someone to fill that role. He was really shy in those days, and not real confident he could do it.

“I really didn’t think much about singing until I got to college. It was simply something that I did in between solos. The first show that I did singing was a picnic. This guy pulled me aside to tell me that he kind of heard me. He made it clear that if I was going to sing, even if I’m not very good, you need to sing loud so people can hear you. Just keep on doing it. People may say you are terrible, or the band needs a new singer. Don’t listen to them. Just keep on singing. At some point, people will start telling you that you sound good. I don’t know who that person was, but he gave me permission to be bad at something.”

“That is exactly what happened. It took until my second year of college for it to happen. People would say that we wish we could find someone who could sing as good as you play guitar. So, there was a weekly jam session at a club in downtown Eugene, and they needed a singer. Some of the truly great musicians that were part of it asked me if I wanted to do it. I told them I was more of a guitar player. Their response was that I could play guitar, but they needed a good singer. At that moment, I realized that dude from eight years ago had nailed it!”

“A couple years ago, I went to a master class that Curtis Salgado was doing on singing for local gigging musicians. I try not to show it too much, but I am a big Curtis fan. Any time I get a chance to hear him talk about anything related to music or the crazy life he has had, I’m there. So we are in the class with Curtis going wisdom, wisdom, wisdom for about two hours. He knows everybody in the room. Then he starts going around the room giving each person a brief idea of what they should work on, a thirty second personal synopsis.”

image“I had to leave before the end. Curtis chased me down the driveway. He said, Ben, you need to learn how to sing! At that point I was feeling pretty good about my singing. I had just put out a good record, and had won some awards. But Curtis Salgado is telling me I need to learn how to sing. If had been anyone one else, I would have blown it off. Earlier, he had given me the phone number of a vocal coach that he had recommended. Curtis asked if I had called the guy, which I had done. But the coach wasn’t getting back to me. I said maybe I would find someone else. Curtis gave me an emphatic “No,” telling me to hound the guy, Tom Blayok, knock down his door. It took two weeks of phone calls and e-mails, but he finally offered a slot at 9:30 am. That is real early for me to be doing anything!”

“Once I started lessons, I quickly realized that Curtis was right. It was a night and day difference as we worked on techniques, vocal tone, and developing pitch. He built up my understanding of how the voice really works. Since then, when I practice, I do scales on the guitar to warm up, then I work on technique and repertoire. Then it is the same thing for voice. I have exercises I do every day. Tom teaches all of the styles, including opera and Broadway. Lisa Mann, Paul DeLay, and Linda Hornbuckle have all studied with him.”

“Now I feel like I am on the path towards singing like my heroes, including Robert Cray, B.B. King, Sam Cooke, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and Sean Costello. Through Sean, I found people like Robert Ward, who is truly unique and funky. Who else plays guitar like that? Locally, here in Portland, there are plenty of talented artists who have been huge influences on me like Curtis, Lloyd Jones, and Paul DeLay, There is also Terry Robb, who is a master finger-style guitar player. It is a deep bench up here in Portland. And we just lost guitarist Johnny Burgin to New Orleans! He didn’t live here very long. His attention to the little stuff gives him this refined style that is like a fine scotch. He might pay a lick I have heard before, but not with that much nuance.”

Coming out of high school, the guitarist followed his then-girlfriend to college. He had considered studying history, but then he learned that there were programs at the University Of Oregon that would allow him to study guitar, the one thing that really interested him. He applied for the program, auditioned, and was accepted, in part due the private lessons he had taken over the years.

“They have two different programs, Studio and Jazz, but they study the same music. The Studio program had more classical music, classical theory and analysis. The Jazz program was oriented to jazz theory, jazz history, and jazz practice labs. Since there were a lot of tremendous musicians in the Jazz program, and we were studying the same music, I decided my sophomore year to switch to the Jazz program. Then I was playing my own instruments in my classes. And even though it was a Jazz program, my two Professors were huge blues fans. The first one, Don Latarski, turned me on to Little Charlie Baty and Mike Henderson & the Bluebloods. The other one, Mike Denny, made sure I knew about Lightnin’ Hopkins, helping me shift through all of his material to get to the need-to-know tracks. He hipped me to “Jake Head Boogie,” which knocked my socks off. I was lucky that they both indulged my love of blues music.”

Graduating college in 2011 after five years, Rice moved back home to Newberg, OR to play with his band and started teaching, including a mariachi program that stemmed from what he learned playing the music in a band while in college. Teaching was another avenue that really spoke to him.

“I love playing, performing, and traveling. I really like being able to move around. But I go back and forth. After being on tour, I’ll get home ready to quit teaching to focus on playing and traveling. Then I do my first lesson back and, whoa, no way am I giving this up! I enjoy being able to share this passion and my love for this music, the culture, getting to talk about the things that perked my ears up when I was starting out, like Jimi Hendrix. In my middle and high school years, I was laser-focused on music. School’s out, ok, it’s time to go jam and rock out. Teaching gives me the perspective that everyone does not need to dedicate their life to music or an instrument. In the last couple of years, there has been no room in my gigging and playing schedule to teach. It breaks my heart to not be there for people on a consistent basis. I’m not very good at saying no, but that decision to drop teaching was made for me.”

Rice started recording CDs at the age of fourteen. The first few highlight an young artist figuring out his craft, his place in the music. A few of the songs still get requests from long-time fans. His 2011 album, Pour Me Some Whiskey, was the first release that Rice felt counted as a real album.

inageFor his most recent recording, Rice paired up with singer/songwriter RB Stone for an album, Out Of The Box, that had the duo rocking out on an all-original program utilizing a variety of cigar box and washboard guitars. They had planned to include a number of other noted cigar box players like Matt Isbel from the Ghost Town Blues Band and J.P. Soars. The various schedules just didn’t work out, so the plan changed.

“RB ended up coming out here to Oregon so that we could record at the studio of the great blues drummer Jimi Bott, Roseleaf Recording. We tracked the whole thing in three days and then another day to mix it. I love working with Jimi. He is a no-nonsense guy but he is focused and always listening. He is a great engineer who makes things sound good because of how he records. RB and I co-wrote a number of songs, which is my first exposure to writing songs with another person. He helped finish some of my songs, and I’d like to think I helped with some of his tunes. He is a great writer, especially with lyrics, so he helped clean up some of my stuff.”

“He also inspired me. At one point, we had twelve songs lined up. Then RB sent me a recording on his phone of him singing, “Red hot mamaa, dadadada, red hot mama, dadada.” I was like, nice try RB, whatever. About fifteen minutes later, I was in the shower, singing that line because it was now stuck in my head. Suddenly I realized it wasn’t “Red Hot Mama,” it was Hot Rod Mama. I had the song written in my head before I finished the shower. It ended up being the lead track on the disc. The whole thing was a lot of fun. Cigar box guitars are funky instruments. They are never in tune, but you can’t get that kind of sound out of a normal guitar. Nothing sounds like them.”

Rice has several favorites when it comes to guitars and amplifiers, instruments that give voice to his musical vision. Two of the guitars are truly unique pieces with matching stories behind them.

“Playing live, I usually have my carved Telecaster with me. That is my #1 electric guitar. It was made by two guys out of Eugene, OR that wanted to start a guitar company, which they named Cirque. My guitar was a prototype. I was about to go on a six week tour, so I offered to take it along and showcase it for them, which they quickly agreed to let me do. They added that I could just hang on to it because they didn’t need it. So I had it for about four years! Then one of the partners passed away. I decided to give it back so that his family could have it. That started a long search for new guitar that played and sounded like it, but I couldn’t find anything. So I went back to the other partner to ask if I might be able to purchase the guitar. I was able to buy it back, which was fortunate because it is a priceless guitar to me.”

“Next I have a Republic all-metal resophonic guitar that I bought from Paris Slim – Franck Goldwasser. He is a real deal blues guy, so it has plenty of good ju-ju on it. He put a sticker on it to make it look like a National guitar. If I try to take it off, it would take all of the mojo out of it. I have had that one since 2010. There have been other resonators, but the Republic is my “ride or die” guitar. It is with me at every show. On my last trip to Florida, at the last show I played before the pandemic shut everything down, that guitar somehow got loaded into RB Stone’s van. We drove three days straight from Florida to Oregon. We were in Nebraska and stopped at a Costco in the middle of nowhere to buy toilet paper, because there was no toilet paper in Oregon, or Idaho or Wyoming for that matter. I suddenly realized I was missing a guitar. RB sent it FedEx about four weeks later. I didn’t realize how much I had missed it until I had it tuned up and started playing it again. It was that sound that I was missing. It is an early version of the guitar, before RB SRepublic really figured out what they were doing. The neck is funky and it doesn’t play the best, but it is one where my voice is.”

“Finally, I have a four string washboard guitar that was made by my Dad and given to me as a 25th birthday present. It sounds amazing despite taking some bumps and bruises over the years. It has been bondo’d and rubber cemented back together every time. It is held together at certain points with duct tape. But nothing sounds like it! Even against the Teli and the resonator, it usually sounds the best of any of my guitars.”

imageSwitching to amplifiers, his favorite at this time is a 1965 Fender Deluxe amp without reverb, getting it in trade for another vintage amp. He also has a Super Reverb model, but feels the Deluxe gives him quality sound at a reasonable volume. Rice’s approach to music is not about ear-shredding volume. He frequently gets requests to turn the volume up, but his interest is to get a nice, warm sound.

“The amp I love to play through the most is not reliable enough to take on the road. It is a 1948 Fender Tweed Pro amplifier. It has two knobs, for volume and tone. That is all I need at my fingertips. What you pull out of your guitar is what is going to come through your amp. When I recorded with singer Karen Lovely for her Fish Out Of Water album, she also had Rick Holmstrom on guitar. He was playing through a modified Fender Tweed Vibroluxe model. He got this monster tone! I was wondering how they were going to fit all that sound, that magic, on a recording.”

Since he performs in several different musical configurations, Rice utilizes a rotating roster of musicians depending on the gig and availability.

“I used to have a weekly B-3 trio group that started in 2014 with a goal of playing soul-jazz. But all three of us were blues dudes, so that is what we did. Then I might use a bass player, or have somebody on sax, or combine organ and sax. So now there are two drummers, two keyboard players, and two bass player I will call on. They are all a bit different, which is exciting for me as a songwriter to hear their varying interpretations of my musical ideas and concepts. The keyboard players are Dave Fleschner, who used to play with Curtis and now is the Musical Director of United By Music, and Ben Partain. On drums, I try to use Dave Melyan (the rumors about them dating are not true) and Mark Banner. Holding down the bottom end on bass most of the time are Calen Uhlig or Melanie Owen.”

When he is not on the road, Rice is a committed volunteer for the non-profit United By Music. When schedules finally made it impossible for him to teach locally, the mentoring he does for the organization provides a similar opportunity to share his knowledge, passion, and interest. Founded in 2006 in the Netherlands, the United By Music program has professional musicians working with people who have musical talent as well as developmental challenges and delays, such as autism.

“I really appreciate being able to witness other people’s gifts in music. Every time I work with them, I am reminded that music is a divine gift from whatever higher power there may be. Watching the United By Music artists perform is certainly inspiring. That is a very special experience for me.”

Visit Ben’s website and buy his music at

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 9 

imageMindi Abair and the Boneshakers – No Good Deed

Pretty Good for a Girl Records

CD: 10 Songs, 46 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Horn Blues, All Original Songs

Mindi Abair is the Carrie Underwood of contemporary electric blues rock. Not only could they almost be twins in terms of looks, but both are American Idol alumnae. A third similarity is in their vivacious musical style. One could sit down for a post-show cocktail with either one of these winsome women and never feel intimidated. They’re the girls-next-door-turned-superstars you read about and see on TV, but never dream you’ll meet face-to-face. Thankfully, on her new album No Good Deed, Mindi brings her presence right to you – no backstage pass required. This scintillating series of ten original tracks will keep you fresh and energized for several hours, like caffeinated soap. Enjoy the rush while it lasts, then reapply!

Mindi has been electrifying audiences with her live performances and sax prowess since her debut album in 1999. In 2014, Mindi received her first Grammy nomination in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category, followed by a 2015 nomination for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for her solo LP Wild Heart. Not only that, but Abair has climbed the Billboard several times, earning two #1 spots on the Contemporary Jazz Album Chart and two #3 spots on the Blues Album Chart. In 2018, Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers won 8 Independent Blues Awards including Artist of the Year and Best Blues Song fan award for the Independent Music Awards for “Pretty Good For A Girl” featuring Joe Bonamassa. In 2019, she was nominated by the Blues Music Awards as Best Instrumentalist: Horn and won the LA Critics Award for Best Holiday Album for All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues.

Performing alongside Abair (lead vox, soprano, alto and tenor saxophones) are the boisterous Boneshakers: Randy Jacobs on guitars; Rodney Lee on B3 organ, piano, and synthesizers; Third Richardson on drums, percussion, and wine glass, and Ben White on electric and ukulele bass. All of these gentlemen also provide background vocals. Additional musicians include Lee Thornberg on trumpet and trombone; Paulie Cerra on tenor sax, and Nick Lane on trombone.

Beginning things with an irresistible bounce is “Seven Day Fool,” proving that even the worst household drudgery is worth the payoff come the weekend. Let me tell you: you’ve never heard a catchier recitation of the days of the week. Only Mindi could pull it off, and her sax solo is absolutely scrumptious. The title track, a shuffle worthy of dance floors worldwide, proves the old adage in a new way: “I’m working hard every Saturday night, and I know that my music makes the world all right. You know I bring it all home to you. Every bit of my heart is for a love so true. I’ve got blisters on my fingers, but I’ll sleep when I’m dead. So what’s this other woman doing in my bed?!” “Sweetest Lies” slows things down and heats things up all at once, featuring fabulous guitar from Randy Jacobs. “Good Day for the Blues” brings a Bo Diddley beat to the forefront, so peppy that your blues will fly right out the window. “Bad News” adds the sting of a razor blade to the proceedings, its grinding bassline cutting deep. Last but not least comes “Baby, Get It On,” perfect for one’s latest indoor jaunt or outdoor drag race. Lee Thornberg and Paulie Cerra let it rip on sax, their chemistry as powerful as the vocalists’.

No Good Deed: ten swings and no misses!

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 – 2 of 9 

imageIlya Portnov – Three

Self-produced CD

9 songs – 37 minutes

The only artist ever to graduate from the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music while specializing in diatonic harmonica, Ilya Portnov is one of the classiest, most polished and inventive instrumentalists in the blues world today, something that’s instantaneously apparent when you give this stellar all-instrumental album a spin.

Now in his early 30s, Portnov grew up in Russia and started playing piano at age four, studying classical and folk music. He acquired his love for the blues through his father’s love for British rock and through his first harmonica instructor who turned him on to Howard Levy, Jason Ricci and Canadian Carlos Del Junco – all of whom are masters of the overblow technique, which turns a simple, 10-hole harp into the equivalent of a chromatic.

Since graduating from college in Boston, Ilya’s been based out of Los Angeles for the better part of the decade. He mixes straight-ahead blues with diverse influences, including jazz, classical, funk and Balkan folk, delivering highly technical arrangements effortlessly in a style that’s been compared favorably with sax wizard Johnny Hodges. Like the title suggests, this is his third CD, following Choro Bastardo, a band project that mixed Brazilian and world music, and Strong Brew, which earned him a 2018 Blues Blast Music Awards nomination for best new artist debut album.

Like Strong Brew, this disc was recorded by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios in San Jose, Calif., and features a lineup that includes Chris Burns on keys, June Core on drums and Endre Tarczy on bass. Andersen sits in on guitar and bass for two cuts, and Ben Andrews appears on guitar and violin for one.

Ilya opens the action on the low end of a chromatic harp for “Sly Dog,” a sweeping blues with jazzy overtones and a sweet, minor-key instrumental on keys from Burns that slides from mirroring six-string to Hammond B3 organ. Portnov’s attach is light, quick and delicate as he glides across the reeds, alternating single-note runs with chords before returning to the repetitive bass root.

The only cover in the set — Francisca Gonzaga’s “Corta Jaca” – translated “cut the jackfruit” – follows. It’s a sprightly samba with blues overtones than features Andrews and Andersen as Ilya delivers some of the fattest, sugary notes you’ll hear this year. The sound moves to New Orleans for “Crawfish Stomp,” a jazzy number with a ‘30s feel, before it explodes with “Tilt-a-Whirl,” an uptempo, rapid-fire, stop-time pleaser with a strong Chicago feel.

“Slippers and Boots,” an unhurried, minor-key waltz, delivers a strong textural change before the blues shuffle, “Big Breaths,” kicks things into overdrive once more. Ilya takes his foot off the pedal for the slow blues ballad, “81˚ F,” before launching into a little ‘60s European pop with “Up in the Sky” and the interesting “Sphere Dance,” a folksy, minor-key pleaser with regimented drumbeat that starts slowly before blazing to a close.

Available through most major online retailers and strongly recommended. If you like instrumental blues and are looking for something completely different, this disc is definitely for you!

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 9 

imageChris Canas – Would You Mind?

Self-Release – 2020

15 tracks; 79 minutes

Born in 1984, Michigan’s Chris Canas started young, producing his first album at 15 years of age and Would You Mind? is his seventh effort. Entirely original and filling the available space on a CD, Chris wrote every song here, apart from one where his mother Angela Cottingham wrote the lyrics. Angela adds vocals and percussion to the band in which Chris sings lead and plays guitar (plus occasional bass), Chris Nordham is on keys, Derek ‘DC’ Washington bass and Michael Scott drums; everyone except Derek adds backing vocals when required.

The title track opens proceedings, a chugging rocker that makes a great start as Chris name-checks Detroit and Chicago as places where he plays the blues. The following track “Hey Y’All” is also autobiographical but would probably work better in a live context, especially when Chris uses the old “join in and sing along with us” strategy which really does not work on a studio recording. After two uptempo numbers “Cloud 9” is a slower tune which gives Chris an opportunity to demonstrate his considerable vocal range and “Thick And Thin” moves into relaxed, late-night, jazz lounge style, even a little scat singing; both numbers have fine keyboard work and Chris plays some nice acoustic stuff on the latter number.

A funky guitar riff underpins “Feel So Good”, in which Chris explains how he feels with a guitar in his hands. The lilting “Paradise” is a fine, overtly romantic song with acoustic rhythms and piano -“please forgive the man who loves you, all the hurtful things I say. You’re my heart, you’re my soul, you’re my life, now, baby, let’s grow old so we can live out our lives in a paradise”. The busy “Get Outta My Life” is a soulful piece that rattles along with some ‘shoop, shoop’ backing vocals and another excellent keyboard solo, this time on electric piano, before Chris comes in with a fleet-fingered solo.

“Have A Nice Day” is a sarcastic remark as Chris is obviously having a tough time with this particular person: “the evil things that you did to me, like when you marinated my heart in the mud.” “Walk A Mile” talks of the struggle to keep afloat in the ghetto, the serious theme belied by a catchy, funky rhythm that includes a short bass feature before Chris takes over with a fuzz-laden solo

“Lover Set Me Free” is the longest track here, the opening piano section seeming to quote from “Funny How Time Slips Away” before the song develops into a lush ballad with fine singing by Angela of her own lyrics. Keyboard man Chris N shines on the Hammond and Chris C gets in on the act with a nicely retrained solo too. A familiar title, “Cheaper To Keep Her”, is not the Johnnie Taylor song but a bright, uptempo soul tune while “Mardi Gras Mama” brings some Louisiana rhythms to the party as the rhythm section has some fun with the jagged rhythms of the tune.

“Dirty Blues Man” does what the title suggests and “Havin’ A Good Time” returns us to the soulful side of the street, the album closing with “Brighter Days” which blends some gospel influences into the band’s music, especially in Chris’ vocal here.

On this generously filled album Chris Canas shows a sure touch in a number of styles. Although there is a lot of music here Chris’s playing is generally restrained and thankfully free of shredding while his band, notably the keyboard player, have plenty to say also.

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



 Featured Blues Review – 4 & 5 of 9 

imageWilliam Purvis and the Seventh Sons – That Woman’s Something (The Soul Album)

imageBlue Memories…I Recall

Self-produced CDs

24 songs – 93 minutes

With his feet planted securely in both the blues and soul community of Chicago, veteran vocalist and multi-instrumentalist William Purvis serves up a heaping helping of both on his latest project: Two parallel CD releases that individually target fans of both worlds.

A native of Charlottesville, Va., who grew up listening to Muddy Waters and Otis Redding, he’s been a fixture in the Windy City since 1990. He cut his teeth on the South and West Sides of the city, polishing his chops at the feet of guitar master Buddy Scott, frequently sitting in with his Rib Tips, and harp player Grady Freeman, a vocalist who worked with both Little Walter as well as The Aces (the legendary Louis and Dave Myers and Fred Below).

Doubling on six-string and harp himself, Purvis founded the Seventh Sons in 1992, delivering a mix of blues and R&B and releasing four albums before disbanding in 2005. After an eight-year break, William reformed the unit in 2013. The current lineup includes guitarist Mark Wydra — who’s worked with Z.Z. Hill, Liz Mandeville and was a longtime member of the Eddy Clearwater Band, upright and electric bassist Tony Wisniewski and percussionist Joel Baer.

Purvis penned eight of the 12 tunes on That Woman’s Something, a set of ‘60s-style soul that also includes two tunes penned by Mick Scott and one each from Garret Lane and Val Leventhal, while Blue Memories, like the title suggests, delivers a collection of azure-tinted covers from multiple mediums, including rock, folk and country.

Three artists make guest appearances on both discs — Brian OHern and Todd Phipps (keyboards) and Alpha Stewart (percussion) – with Joe Shive (guitar) and Thom Fishe (drums) sitting in on the blues set and Melvin “Meleo” Robinson (guitar), Peterson Ross (sax) and Mike Bowman (trumpet) on hand for the other.

A medium-tempo, percussive shuffle opens the soul set as Purvis delivers the original title cut, “That Woman’s Something,” in a pleasant, slightly weathered voice with limited range. Despite its R&B theme, Wydra rips and runs with some terrific blues runs before the tune bleeds into the horn-fueled ballad, “In Time.”

Love themes run strong and deep in “Nothing Like a Woman” and Scott’s “I Thought You’d Understand” before William continues the refrains in a run of four more of his own making: the bittersweet “If You Love Him More Than Me,” the pleasing “You Ain’t Much (But You’re Still Mine),” the haunting “Be Aware” and the powerful “Reasons to Ramble,” a classic soul-blues in which the horns shine while Purvis tries to justify his need to leave a woman he still loves.

The bright sounds that open Scott’s “Really Got the Blues Tonight” belie the message of the lyrics. But the Leventhal ballad, “Hittin’ the Wall” brings the feelings home. Two more originals – the tender “Imagine That Feeling” and medium-fast “Steal My Thunder” – bring the soul segment – which hangs together well — to a close.

The blues disc, meanwhile, is far more inconsistent, opening with a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Factory Girl,” which is delivered with slightly strained vocal and slide guitar accompaniment. William’s on harp for Lowell Fulson’s familiar “Room with a View,” which drags as a ballad, before a pleasant, uptempo take on Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Better Cut That Out.” Up next, Willie Clayton’s “Three People (Sleeping in My Bed)” fails in an arrangement that strips it of its soulful delivery in favor of a speedy treatment that robs of most of its feel.

Purvis successfully reworks folkie Fred Neil’s “Blues on the Ceiling” and country star Mel McDaniel’s “Roll Your Own” before a solid, true-blue take on Chuck Berry’s “I Need You Baby.” An acoustic reinvention of Isaac Hayes’ “I Take What I Want” – a huge hit for Sam and Dave in 1965 – lacks the substance of the original before an interesting version complete with Spanish-style guitar of “Lord You Made the Night Too Long,” a song recorded by both Bing Crosby and Dean Martin.

The action concludes with equally inconsistent takes of St. Louis Jimmy Oden’s “The Dog House Blues,” Tampa Red’s “The Witching Hour Blues” and the John Lennon-Paul McCartney rocker, “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

Available from Amazon and Apple Music, That Woman’s Something is a pleaser recommended for fans of traditional Chicago soul-blues. Blue Memories, meanwhile, is easy to forget.

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 – 6 of 9 

imageCharles Farley – Soul Of The Man: Bobby “Blue” Bland

University Press Of Mississippi

320 Pages Paperback edition

For many informed listeners, Bobby “Blue” Bland may be the greatest blues singer ever. His place in history is secured by dynamic records like “Farther Up The Road,” “I Pity The Fool, “Stormy Monday Blues,” “Two Steps From The Blues, and “I’ll Take Care of You,” among many of the hits he recorded. His long-time friend and frequent musical partner B.B. King certainly felt that Bland was untouchable, commenting about their early days, “Rarely though were we on the same stage on the same night. When we were, Bobby’d always blow me and everybody else away. We knew it. We wouldn’t even bother.”

Born in a small town near Memphis, TN, Bland’s family moved to the city in 1945 when he was fifteen. The teenager had been singing gospel music in church, switching to singing along with the latest R&B hits from the jukebox in the restaurant his mother operated. The late 1940s was the golden era of the famed Beale Street, as Bland was schooled by King and other Memphis notables including singers Rufus Thomas and Roscoe Gordon.

Bland worked and saved his money, finally purchasing a car in 1949, making him instantly popular with various musicians who included him to gain transportation to shows. Author Charles Farley relates one story about a night when Bland drove Gordon to a show in Arkansas. On the way, Bland expressed concern about his inability to get the timing right on his vocals. Gordon gave him some quick advice. Later on, Gordon put Bland on stage with his band so that he could indulge in a craps game. He later realized that his protege sounded so good that the audience never missed Gordon’s presence. Bland learned a lot about singing from listening to some of his favorites including Tony Bennett, Perry Como, and Andy Williams. He also got schooled on many aspects of the business touring for several years as part of the Blues Consolidated Revue with hit-maker Little Junior Parker.

From there, Farley traces Bland’s career through its various phases, starting with his memorable run with the Duke-Peacock Record label. Run by the no-nonsense owner Don Robey and his business partner, Evelyn Johnson, the label cranked out hit after to hit with Bland. Johnson made sure that Bland was constantly on the road, setting up schedules that kept Bland traveling for three hundred-plus nights a year for several decades. Because of his limited education, Bland relied on the duo to take care of the business part of his career. His focus was on singing, alcohol, and women. His warm voice and powerful style captivated listeners, especially when he used a technique referred to as a “squall” that he learned from Reverend C.L. Franklin, Aretha’s father.

Without a manager to protect his interests, the singer had to maintain the mind-numbing schedule in order to make ends meet. One trademark of Bland’s tenure with the Duke label is the stellar accompaniment that he got both in the studio and on the road. Farley delves into the personal histories of many of the noted musicians that helped create Bland’s legacy, including legendary guitarists like Wayne Bennett, Mel Brown, Clarence Hollimon, Pat Hare, and Roy Gaines, plus horn players like Pluma Davis, Bill Harvey, and Bobby Forte. But a large band meant extra expenses that kept Bland hustling to keep his finances above water.

The other “secret” to Bland’s success was band leader and trumpeter Joe Scott, who handled the arrangements for the singer’s recordings. He honed the band to a razor-sharp sound that gave the singer plenty to work with, especially on stage, and Bland made the most of it, easily matching and exceeding the band’s intensity. Drummer John “Jabo” Starks, who later played with James Brown and B.B. King, relates what he learned from his time with the band. “They taught me – “I don’t care what you play, I don’t care how you play, I don’t care if you don’t ever play fancy……all I want you to do is remember this – play time. Play the time. Hold the time You are the heartbeat…..Whatever anybody else does, don’t you go there. Make them come back to you.”

Farley’s in-depth research, which is highlighted in eleven pages listing various sources, allows him to trace the arc of Bland’s career through the Duke years, on to the period where he moved to the ABC-Dunhill/MCA label after Robey sold the Duke label after losing a lengthy legal case to Chess Records. Another big turning point occurred in 1985, when MCA released Bland from his contract. Disco was wreaking havoc in the marketplace. But Bland quickly found a new home with Malaco Records, where he joined contemporaries like Latimore, Little Milton Campbell, Denise LaSalle, and Johnnie Taylor in a roster of that appealed to older listeners with a more refined, uptown sound.

One of Malaco’s first big hits came from the late Z.Z Hill, with the song “Down Home Blues” anchoring an album that almost single-handedly revived the market for blues music. The author shares this quote showing Hill’s respect for Bland, “…he’s doing the same show he did twenty years ago. He just stand there. He don’t move. Just kinda wave his hands. Rear back, ‘Whop!’……..I said ‘now here’s a cat just stand there, man, and they love him to death. Here I am bustin’ my butt off, and I’m just tryin’ to put on a good show.’”

Charles Farley delivers a detailed, engaging work that illustrates the trial and tribulations that Bland endured and overcame in order to do what he loved. Recipient of numerous awards, Hall of Fame spots, and with a recording legacy that stands the test of time, Bobby “Blue” Bland is truly one of the giants of the blues genre. If you want to gain a deeper understanding of his artistry, this highly recommended book is the place to start.

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 – 7 of 9 

imageJohnny Burgin – No Border Blues

Delmark Records DE-863

11 songs

There’s a good reason why Johnny Burgin now calls himself The Worldwide West Side Guitar Man instead of Rockin’ Johnny, a nickname he’s gone by for decades. He truly is a man of the world. If you have any doubt, check out this stellar CD, which was recorded in Japan and pairs him with about a dozen top bluesmen and women from the Land of the Midnight Sun.

A longtime resident of the Windy City, Burgin was a fixture in the city after graduating from the University of Chicago and establishing himself on the West Side as a member of Tail Dragger’s band in the early ‘90s. He spent the better part of three decades polishing his skills alongside of a who’s who of talent in the city before pulling up stakes – first for the San Francisco Bay then Portland, Ore., before recently planting new roots in New Orleans.

Playing in a style that draws influences from Otis Rush, Jimmy Dawkins, Eddie Taylor and others, he’s a veteran road dog and former Blues Music Awards nominee who’s built a strong, grassroots following in both Europe and Asia – during which he became enthralled with the local talent he met along the way.

This CD – which was recorded at Fukuda Studio in Osaka and at Delmark’s Riverside Studio – is the culmination of an idea Johnny started developing in 1996, when he first traveled to Japan in the company of Dr. Ken Kawashima, a former UC classmate who’s a PhD in East Asian studies and an acoustic bluesman who records under the stage name Sugar Brown.

No Border Blues features contributions from several new friends Burgin made during that trip and three more tours that followed. He’s joined here by his regular rhythm section – Stephen Dougherty (drums) and Chris Matheos (bass) – who appear on the sole cut captured in the U.S. in a lineup that includes Nacomi Tanaka (guitar and vocals), Minoru Maruyama and Yoshi Mizuno (guitar), Lee Kanehira (piano and vocals), Kotez, Kaz Nogio and Iper Onishi (harp and vocals), Yoshimi Hirata and Hironori “Zee” Yanaga (bass), Fumiko Maejima, Ataka Suzuki and Takagiman (drums).

The 11-song set features a mix of originals and familiar covers that are delivered in both English and Japanese. Fear not, however. The sound they produce is so strong and so Windy City traditional, that you haven’t looked at the liner notes, you’d swear it was coming from the heart of the West Side and being delivered by some of best musicians America has to offer.

Carey Bell’s loping “One Day You’re Gonna Get Lucky” opens and features Onishi on harp and vocals atop a familiar lump-de-lump rhythm pattern, before Johnny takes over for an unhurried cover of Elmore James’ “Sunnyland” aided by powerful work on the reeds by Nogio, who doubles vocals with Kanehira – who divides her time between Chicago and her homeland – for a slow-and-steady treatment of Tampa Red’s “So Crazy About You.”

The pace quickens for Burgin’s original, stop-time rocker, “Hurry Up Baby,” delivered by Tanaka. Fans of classic Chicago piano will love Miss Lee’s rapid-fire original “Pumpkin’s Boogie.” Both ladies handle the lyrics in flawless English before Kotez is in command for Little Walter’s “I Just Keep Loving Her.” Subtitled “Mada Sukinanda,” it’s the first tune delivered in Japanese. His whirlwind attack on the harp would make the master smile.

Burgin handles the vocals for the next three tunes: a traditional take on John Brim’s “Rattlesnake” — which first saw light of day on Checker in 1953, his own composition, “Old School Prayer” — which comes complete with the same old-school feel, and “Two Telephones” – an obscure B-side cover from Chicagoan Bobby King – before the original instrumental “Samurai Harp Attack” – featuring three harmonica players – and “Sweet Home Osaka” — a reworked version of the Robert Johnson classic – bring the action to a close.

Available through most major retailers, and perfect for anyone with a taste for Chicago blues the way it used to be.

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 – 8 of 9 

imagesShirley King – Blues for a King

Cleopatra Records, Inc.

CD: 11 Songs, 36 Minutes

Styles: Classic Blues, Torch Singer Blues, Blues Covers

Being the daughter of blues royalty certainly has its advantages. For one, your father is one of the literal Kings of such music – B.B., in this case. You follow in his footsteps from an early age: learning, growing, and honing your art. By the time you’re more than grown, you’re ready to ascend his throne, a monarch in your own right. That’s exactly what Shirley King does in her terrific classic blues album, Blues for a King. From start to finish, she and her famous co-performing courtiers (listed below) open the bounty chest of the genre and display such gems as “Feelin’ Alright?” (Dave Mason), “That’s All Right Mama” (Arthur Crudup), “Can’t Find My Way Home” (Steve Winwood), and “Hoodoo Man Blues” (Amos Blakemore). Several original tracks by producer Jürgen Engler and Brian Perera also glimmer, the best of these being “I Did You Wrong” and “Give It All Up.” The biggest gold coin, however, is yet to be mentioned…

Accompanying Shirley are world-famous blues icons. In order, they are: Joe Louis Walker, Duke Robillard, Elvin Bishop, Pat Travers, Martin Barre, Arthur Adams, Robben Ford, Kirk Fletcher, Harvey Mandel, Junior Wells, and Steve Cropper. Jürgen Engler plays guitar, bass, and piano.

“I’m so thrilled that these great artists lent their amazing talents to my new album. I can’t thank them enough for believing in me. I’m so proud of this album and can’t wait for the world to hear it. I feel it’s my best work yet,” enthuses Memphis native Shirley. Joe Louis Walker, revered member of the Blues Hall of Fame, comments, “I’ve had the honor of performing on two B.B. King albums. Now I have the distinct honor and pleasure of playing on his daughter’s album, Shirley King, who is also my dear friend. Keep the thrill goin’ on, Shirley.”

Original number “All Of My Lovin’” lights up a room, and one’s heart, with timeless torch singing. One can definitely tell Etta James was one of Shirley’s prime musical influences, along with Mahalia Jackson. Joe Louis Walker adds smooth guitar that would make anyone swoon. “Feelin’ Alright?” features a boisterous bongo beat and Latin-style rhythm perfect for dancing. Elvin Bishop crowns the metaphorical stage on “I Did You Wrong,” proving that once again, you can’t go wrong with his trademark sound. Later on come the edgy “Johnny Porter” and “Feeling Good,” a sly jazz number in a minor key. Nina Simone may have been the diva who originally belted it out for the world to hear, but Shirley rejuvenates and revitalizes it.

Two songs after that shot of blues adrenaline, “Gallows Pole” sends shivers down one’s spine. It’s a haunting ballad about trying to grease the wheels of justice. No matter if you do so with silver, gold, and a different kind of treasure (the price “Sister” pays), sometimes all the hangman does is “laugh and pull so hard.” Harvey Mandel’s wah-wah guitar chokes, sputters, and grinds to a halt as our narrator gasps his last breath. It’s a jarring denouement to this tale of woe.

Blues for a King has it all: strength, versatility, and the staying power of a true Daughter of the Blues. Shirley may have come late to the scene (she first tried it on in 1990), but she’s more than made up for lost time. B.B. is surely smiling in heaven, proud of his queen.

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 – 9 of 9 

imageZakiya Hooker – Legacy

self release

10 songs time – 38:53

Zakiya Hooker, John Lee Hooker’s daughter, latest release is filled with R&B-soul music. Her vocals are well suited to the material. No names familiar to me in her musicians. The accompaniment is pretty much the slick variety of studio players.

“Front Door To Hell” is mellow R&B with gospel overtones. Ringing guitars, keyboards and background vocalists. Zakiya voice fares well amongst classic female R&B-soul singers. A leaving-goodbye song with a pleasant groove is “Big Girl Panties”. A Carlos Santana toned guitar solo is a highlight of “Love The Pain Away”. The song also features some churchy organ.

“Love To The Rescue” is a funky wah-wah-clavinet driven slice of R&B-soul. An accompanying male vocalist, probably Anthony Smith, makes for a slow dance ballad on “One More Dance”. The inclusion of what sounds like a pedal steel guitar and most likely keyboard “horns” adds to the vibe.

The closest thing to blues is “Hang On For A While” with mediocre harmonica included mostly for blues cred. The bluesy guitar isn’t half bad. “What Am I Gonna Do” is an upbeat funky R&B “toe tapper”. The recurring theme of broken relationships is visited once again on the mellow funk of “I Don’t Know How It Happened”. A reprise of “Front Door To Hell” closes out the show.

This is a good representation of mostly R&B-soul music committed to a recording by a sure fire bunch of musicians. Can’t say exactly who does what as there are interchangeable players who are given credit for a specific song except for good ole Nate Ginsberg on organ. A tad of blues appears at times, but this is mainly Rhythm & Blues territory. The production by Zakiya, Bassist Ollan Christopher and guitarist Anthony Cook is clean and crisp. Rhythm & Blues fans will have much to enjoy here.

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


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