Issue 14-33 August 13, 2020

Cover photo © 2020 Laura Carbone


 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Chicago Bluesman Dave Weld. We have 7 Blues reviews for you this week including a new book by Phil Wiggins and Frank Matheis about Blues in our nation’s capital plus new music from Johnny & The Mongrels, Joe Louis Walker, Tony O, Quinn DeVeaux & The Blue Beat Revue, Dan Penn and Joanna Connor.


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 Featured Interview – Dave Weld 

IMAGEIt has been more than six years since guitarist Dave Weld last talked with Blues Blast. In the earlier interview, writer Terry Mullins covered the early stages of Weld’s career from the time he arrived in Chicago in the mid-1970s and started fearlessly venturing into blues clubs all over the city to soak up the music and the culture. The interview continues up to the gap in time in-between the release of Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames first Delmark Records album, Burnin’ Love, and the band’s second effort for the label, Slip Into A Dream.

“That was our best release, which is what I strive for on each album. Every CD is better than the last one. We did a lot more work on it, especially the partnership with Monica on writing new songs for the project. And our special guests – Bobby Rush, Sax Gordon, and Greg Guy, Buddy’s son – added a lot too. Still, there are things I look back at and think they could have been done a little better. There’s always that. We were very proud to be nominated for the 2016 Blues Blast Music Award in the Rock Blues Album category. It was huge honor to be nominated with artists like Tommy Castro and Walter Trout.”

Being on the roster of Delmark Records for two recordings is a point of pride for Weld, especially since the musician who had the biggest impact on his education, J.B. Hutto, also recorded for the label. The band has been hard at work on a new album, taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves in the studio. Another change for the project was the decision to work with a well-known, award-winning producer.

“It is a different step than we have ever done, to actually hire a producer like Tom Hambridge. He is top-flight, with two Grammy Awards along with multiple nominations, for his work with Buddy Guy, Susan Tedeschi, James Cotton, and Kenny Neal. He is also Buddy Guy’s drummer. I got his phone number and gave him a call. We thought about having him do the mixing for Slip Into A Dream. But Steve Wagner at Delmark poured his heart into that recording and mix. He worked his ass off. We were really happy with the way it turned out.”

“So when we were starting to work on the new one, I called Tom again. We met at Legends, Buddy Guy’s club, in January during Buddy’s annual residency. Afterwards, we went to the hotel to talk. Once we sat down and started talking, I knew that he was the guy. Everything he said was exactly what you would want to hear from a producer, about the music, the playing, and the mixing. Still, we weren’t quite prepared to make a commitment. But Tom said, this is your chance, I’m here, let’s do it. I”m really glad that we went ahead. He was in the studio with us for three days of recording and played drums on one track. It’s a Latin number called “Red Hot Tabasco.”

“Tom really took charge, which I greatly appreciated. On one song that Monica was singing, for some reason we had it opening on the chorus. Tom heard it, recognized what was happening, and told us you need to open with a verse. I immediately wondered why I didn’t catch that. On the Latin tune, he put a break on it every go-around, which made a big difference. At the end of another song, he had each player take four on their instrument as an ending, with Jeff Taylor on drums, then Kenny Pickens on bass, and Harry Yaseen on piano, then everyone hitting the ending chord. Tom is always so positive. The last thing he said as he was leaving to go to his gig with Buddy was that he could see that Monica and I have a good thing going on together. Once we are done with editing, we are going to ship it down to Nashville, where Tom’s studio is, so he can do the mixing.”

image“Another new song is called ”Mary Who?,” that is a one chord shuffle like Howlin’ Wolf used to do. It is about a girl who is met at the bus station by a pimp, who ends up putting her on the street. She winds up getting stabbed to death. It needs a little work but it will be on the new album. With the right crowd, a younger audience that has been drinking, and at the end of the night, it makes a great closing number. It is a real crowd-pleaser with lots of guitar and our vocal harmonies. I tried to write a happy ending for it, but nobody would let me! I was going to have her get rescued and sent home to Mom and Dad in Iowa. But even Monica, as sweet as she is, told me, no – kill her! Everybody wanted this poor girl dead, so I had to kill her at the end of the tune.”

“After the sessions, we went to Memphis to be part of the International Blues Challenge, representing the Windy City Blues Society. Then we did a short tour in March to Nebraska. When we got home, all the reports were coming in about the virus. That is when everything shut down, including Joyride Studio, where we had been working. Further down the road, they started letting select people into the studio, so Monica and I worked with Brian Leach, the recording engineer, on fixing parts and doing some editing. We doused the place with disinfectant, even sprayed down Brian, and wore masks to protect everybody.”

“This one will be more of a blues record that Slip Into A Dream. Of course, J.B. Hutto was my teacher, so I always try to include one or two of his songs on each of my albums, stuff from his 1954 sessions for Chance Records, originally released on 78 rpm records. Those were real primitive, raw recordings, so it gives me a lot of room to decide how I want to treat them. The songs that I picked this time are “Now She’s Gone” and “Lovin’ You,” both in the key of D.”

“There will also be a special treat. I wrote a tribute song to J.B. called “Don’t Ever Change Your Ways.” It’s about how he schooled me, and prepared me, for the good parts of this industry as well as the bitterness. His advice was don’t let anybody tell you you can’t make it, not your job, your girlfriend, your mother or father, your friends, nobody! That has stuck with me. The song is about him leaving Georgia and coming to Chicago to be a bluesman, and meeting him when I was a young man. That is when he told me to never change my ways.”

“Kenny Pickens is a wonderful bass player. When you pair him with our drummer, Jeff Taylor, they are a dream combination as far as rhythm goes. We taught Kenny the bass line to the song. But the day we were in the studio to record the song, he changed the line to something better. That has been my method over the years, to always let the band members add their own interpretation of things. If I had shown Kenny some examples of what I wanted, he would have never come up with his bass line. It’s got some church in it, but the song rocks.”

Vocalist Monica Myhre has been a part of Weld’s life since they met at a benefit he was playing in Rockford, IL for the Crossroads Blues Society almost twenty years ago. The friendship grew into a romance, but it took some time before Myhre revealed her talent as a singer.

“I had no idea that she sang, and she kept it that way for quite awhile. There are a lot of trials and tribulations in this business. She had been in a car accident with her fiancee. They were in a band together. He was killed, and she ended up taking a few years off for recovery. Eventually she decided to put herself into the music. Then we found out how truly gifted she is. There have been times when I thought things were done with my music career. That’s when I would see her tough side. One time I told her this may be it, we’ve had a good run. She looked at me and said, “Dave, if I don’t sing with your band, I’m going to sing with some other person’s band. You make your choice”. I just laughed when I heard that, realizing we would get through it and keep the band going.”

imageIn addition to Taylor and Pickens, other band members include Rogers Randle on saxophone and Harry Yaseen on keyboards. The economical realities these days means that the band might need to scale back to a four piece line-up to make the money work out. Due to a back injury, Pickens is limited when it comes to touring, so Weld will often call on Felton Crews to fill in on bass. Cruz has had many high-profile gigs, from Charlie Musselwhite to Miles Davis. The legendary saxophonist Abb Locke, who passed away last year, had been a member of the Imperial Flames for a lengthy spell until health issues forced him to the sidelines.

Like many other musicians, Weld never paid much attention to the International Blues Challenge. Long a fixture on the Chicago blues scene, he kept working hard year after year, booking one club date after another to keep the band working, and touring internationally as the opportunities became available. As time went on, he decided that maybe there was a better way to get ahead.

“It just felt like we had stalled, and I wanted to get things moving. Also, I realized that while some years ago it seemed like the Challenge had a lot of more amateurish bands that didn’t sound so great, the last five to ten years have seen a lot of top artists going to the Challenge, and sounding great. When we got to Memphis, I was talking with Bruce Iglauer, owner of Alligator Records. He told me that we had picked a tough year,, as the competition had a lot of fine bands involved. The folks from Delmark were there, giving us plenty of support.”

“We had refined our set to focus on our strengths including our vocal harmonies, which not many blues bands have, and featured our three lead singers with me, Monica, and Jeff, with the best spots going to Monica. She is a real draw. There was also plenty of slide guitar, Harry on piano, Rogers on sax, and Kenny was in top form. The trip was hard on him, and he had to sit down to play, but he did a great job. I really felt that we kicked ass in the semi-final round. We were very excited to hear that we made it to the finals. The whole process was hard work. I was exhausted. But it was great fun.”

“We were able to line up a lot of club gigs and festivals. Of course, now they are all canceled. The Covid virus has taken me into the past. The situation now is like it was when I started in music. The gigs are few and far between. So it is up to me as a player to determine how much I need to practice to keep my myself fresh and vibrant. I have to ask myself, how bad do I want it, just like back in the day when I was going to clubs on the West and South sides of Chicago. Just me and my guitar in clubs where I was the only white person, looking to sit in with whatever band was playing.”

“People like Hound Dog Taylor and Sylvia Embry used to let me sit in. I had my old Guild CE-100 guitar. One night I played with her, and I didn’t sound so good. In fact, the audience started hitting me with stuff. Sylvia was so nice. After I got done, she gave the audience a little speech, saying that I had come a long from the North side to get there. She didn’t just mean the distance, but also the big cultural gap.”

Weld was committed to trying to carve out a musical path by playing around town. He also took a writing assignment from Living Blues Magazine, to do a feature article on slide guitar master J.B. Hutto, which ran in Issue #30 in 1976 as the cover story.

“When that issue came out, I was very proud of it. I had a copy in my hand one night when I walked into the old Kingston Mines on Lincoln Avenue. J.B. was sitting there with Homesick James Williamson. I gave it to him, and he was delighted being on the cover. He started touring a little more after that. When he got home, he would teach me. We had a standing appointment at his house in Harvey, IL every Tuesday night. He told me to write songs as a full-grown man, not to change my ways, and other key pieces of advice.

image“Then the Chicago Reader, a free weekly publication, wanted me to do a piece on a rehearsal J.B. was doing the Hound Dog’s band, the HouseRockers, which was Brewer Phillips on guitar and Ted Harvey on drums. Taylor had passed away by then. So I covered it for them, and that is how I got to know the guys. They went to Boston with J.B., had big fights, and the band broke up. I think it was probably because J.B. and Hound Dog were close rivals. So I teamed up with them for my first band. This Covid experience has me thinking about those old days all the time now.”

“The older I get, the more it gets to be about quality of life. And for me, that bar is set pretty low. All I need is a dry bed, a nice meal, and a good TV show. It wasn’t like that with my mother. She had this blind determination to live. She was like a trapped wolf fighting to be free. I don’t know if it was right or wrong, but it was her way. She passed away prior to the release of our first Delmark CD, Burnin’ Love. I was spending five hours a day taking care of her, so it was a pretty traumatic experience. I went to Abb about her, because he was another of my mentors. Abb told me to just let her live as long as she can live. Things were getting pretty tough, but he gave the right advice.”

Weld has an older brother who lives in Florida. He is a race car driver and a skilled mechanic. He has helped his younger brother when he needs a new vehicle, saving him thousands of dollars on purchases. In the past, Weld would drive down to visit his brother and pick-up his new ride. But they had just made arrangements to buy a new van when the pandemic hit, and fearful of making the trip, Weld had the van shipped up to him in Illinois, the $1,500 cost of delivery negating much of the savings on the deal. The vehicle recently got a workout when the band played the Fargo Blues Festival.

Now Weld spends his days with Monica, keeping his chops up, and waiting for the all-clear signal to get back to a normal life with plenty of gigs. Not that he hasn’t used the free time to ponder the ups and downs of his career.

“In my history, Chicago is a place where you can go to be an artist. I don’t know if it is unique, but the characteristics of Chicago are that you can practice your art there, develop it and refine it. Whether you are a musician, a writer, a painter, the good part is that there are so many venues that allow you to do that work. The bad part about Chicago is trying to get out there, to take your art to a higher level and reach more people than you can in the cafes and bars. That has always been tough for Chicago artists, like Nelson Algren, who was a great writer. He finally got national acclaim. Buddy Guy and Junior Wells are two blues artists that broke out. It seems like you end up getting more recognition in Chicago by leaving the city for gigs in places like France, England, Japan, and Belgium.”

“It has been great for me because I needed a lot of development. And over the years, I have always depended on the African-American community for emotional and artistic support. They have given me plenty of encouragement, and let me know when I wasn’t cutting it. I was able to get a lot of strength from the guys in the neighborhood. Musicians are usually pretty good people, and they want to work. I realized early on that if I have gigs, I had a blues band. I work hard to keep consistent gigs on the table.”

“The reason I use guys from the neighborhoods is that we don’t have any scruples about taking gigs. If we get an offer for a gig that pays $75 a person, and we don’t have anything else lined up, then that’s what we play for that night. There are plenty of great players in the suburbs, but they like to pick and choose the gigs they want. Our band goes to each gig to work, no matter what. That’s the type of guys I want to be with. The guys have been through hard times too. They were there for me when I was taking care of my mom. I got a lot of strength from them that helped me make it.”

Readers can read the 2014 Blues Blast interview Terry Mullins did with Dave Weld here: http://www.bluesblastmagazine.com/featured-interview-dave-weld/

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!


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 7 

imageJohnny & The Mongrels – Creole Skies

Self Released

www.johnnyandthemongrels.com

10 tracks

Johnny and the Mongrels are a great swampy and creole spiced band with a superb sound and hot new songs. Lead vocalists Johnny Ryan and Jeff Bostic front a great group on musicians and deliver a sound that is unique, fun and so very good.

The Mongrels are Johnny and Jeff on vocals (Bostic also plays bass), Scott Sharrard on guitar, Bill McKay on keyboards, Eddie Christmas on drums, and Erica Brown, Erin Callahan, Penny Lane and Scott Sharrard on backing vocals. Guest musicians are Craig Dyer on sax (opening track), Bill Goss on percussion (track 9), Roddie Romero on squeeze box (also track 9), Charlie Wooton on bass (track 3), Lee Allen Zeno on bass (track 4) and Marty Rifkin on pedal steel for three cuts. This group of performers really deliver the good!

The band opens with “Louisiana Girl,” a funky cut with a great groove and nice horn work. The vocals are gritty and emotive and the overall sound is well done. The tenor sax solo by Craig Dreyer is a stand out, too. “Drinking With Angels” is next, a slow, swampy ballad of sorts with cool pedal steel guitar by Marty Rifkin and some good organ, too. The vocals are also oozing with emotion in this moving cut. Following that we get “Shallow Grave,” where the lead vocals are shared and we have more solemn pedal steel guitar and vocals and just a special down home feel to the song. McKay’s piano solo hearkens to days past. The funkiness is fully unleashed for “Mama Said.” Forthright vocals and another great groove gets you going and ready to dance. There is a nice guitar solo to savor and the organ adds a lot to the cut. “True Life” is a sweet, slow blues with more good vocals and another stinging guitar solo.

“Creole Skies” is next; it’s another slower blues ballad with feeling. Things move along sweetly with vocals, guitar and organ interplaying well. “Saturday Night In Oak Grove” opens and I immediately flashed back to Janis Joplin and “Move Over.” The groove is similar and then things break out with distorted vocals, and a big piano solo and a later guitar solo. It’s a wild ride and Oak Grove has to be a swinging place if this song is any indication. Up next is “Hard Way.” The pedal steel returns and howls its’ moaning sound to set a mood behind impassioned vocals. The band testifies sweetly and grab at the listener’s heart. “Music Man” has a NOLA/creole feel to it and Roddie Romero’s squeeze box certifies that for us. Another strident guitar solo and more great vocal work delivering the lyrics make another winner, and another well done piano solo just adds to the overall great sound. All good things must come to an end and here we have “Just Keep Walking” to close out the fantastic set. Funky, and a little dark, with even more emotion filled vocals that make this one interesting. The guitar and organ work again are solid and a big part of the sound . The song builds and they take us home to a fine conclusion.

Johnny & The Mongrels hearken back to bands like The Band, Professor Longhair and more, yet they are special and original in their approach. One senses their appreciation for the music that came before them and it’s enjoyable to see where they take their music. I had not heard them before, and this CD leaves me wanting even more and more. I can’t wait to hear them live some day! Most highly recommended!

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


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 7 

imagePhil Wiggins and Frank Matheis – Sweet Bitter Blues: Washington, DC’s Homemade Blues

University Press of Mississippi

www.sweetbitterblues.com

270 pages Paperback edition

Electric blues in its many forms dominates the radio and sales charts, the bookings for festivals, and space in various blues publications. Acoustic blues artists struggle for recognition within the genre, despite the roots of the music springing from artists singing while playing unamplified guitars and harmonicas. At times it seems like the acoustic tradition is slowly fading away as that approach becomes an acquired taste for fans clamoring for screaming guitars and pounding boogie beats.

In this new volume, the award-winning harmonica ace Phil Wiggins offers an in-depth look at the history of the under-appreciated Washington D.C. acoustic blues scene. Starting in his high school years, Wiggins was mentored by local artists who played on street corners as well as performing at the Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Once he teamed up with guitarist John Cephas, the duo quickly received acclaim as Cephas & Wiggins, recording for labels like Flying Fish and Alligator Records while touring internationally. As Wiggins relates, that success was nurtured by the opportunities to play and learn in the midst of a thriving cadre of like-minded artists. He gets help telling his story from Frank Matheis, a contributing writer for Living Blue Magazine and a number of other blues publications as well as being the publisher of the website: www.thecountryblues.com

The book is divide into two main sections. The first deals with Wiggins life story. Matheis sets the stage with an introductory section that establishes the influences of re-discovered legends like Mississippi John Hurt, Elizabeth Cotten, and Skip James, all of whom for a time resided in the D.C. Area during the 60’s decade, inspiring many musicians. Cotten benefited from a connection to the Seeger family, which lead to royalty payments for several of her original songs once they were recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary at the height of their popularity.

The following chapter deals with the first stages of Wiggins’ life, including the passing of his father, and the troubles with his step-father, who was an officer in the military. After a four year stint on assignment in Germany, the family moved to Northern Virginia. Now in high school, Wiggins couldn’t afford to buy a saxophone – the school did not supply instruments – and his parents did not offer to help him out. Using money he saved from his paper route, Wiggins purchased a more affordable harmonica, which was easy to transport as well. As his skills improved, he was able to sit in with people like Flora Molton, a blind street busker how performed sacred songs on a daily basis. Wiggins also learn a great deal from Ed Morris, who often backed Molten on guitar.

Eventually, Wiggins is invited to join the band of Big Chief Ellis and the Barrelhouse Rockers. The guitar player was John Cephas, the start of a relationship that would span close to thirty years. That artistic partnership is detailed in the next chapter, the true heart of the book. Wiggins proves to be an adept storyteller, sharing the duo’s many triumphs along with the often complicated reality of dealing with a man twenty-four years older and set in his ways. But their partnership created beautiful music that quickly elevated them to the top rank of acoustic blues artists of their era. The author also introduces other key contributors to the local scene, like Archie Edwards and John Jackson.

The next chapter of the first section, “Carrying On The Legacy On My Own,” details the struggles that Wiggins had to deal with after Cephas passed away in 2009. It was tough going trying to find opportunities to play, let alone earn a living. The shadow of the Cephas & Wiggins legacy proved at times to be more of a hindrance than a help. Persistence and the support of the local scene help him to finally regain his footing in new creative outlets. He finishes the section off with a short chapter of advice for fellow harmonica players that empathizes tone and taste over other facets of the instrument.

Matheis takes over in the second section, entitled “The DC Acoustic Blues Scene,” offering short chapters on the key players including Molton, Ellis, guitarist Jackson, Esther Mae “Mother” Scott, and Eleanor Ellis, another fine guitar player. There several pages covering the lasting impact of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Readers learn more about John Cephas from an interview by Dr. Barry Lee Pearson that originally ran in Living Blues Magazine. There are two chapters on Archie Edwards, the patron saint of the DC scene. The first covers his musical accomplishments while the second highlights the key role his barbershop had in nurturing the local players. Edwards would close the shop every Saturday afternoon at 1 pm, turning the hair parlor into a room for musicians to jam, with everyone welcome.

The book features twenty-plus pages of B&W photographs of Cephas & Wiggins and the other local players plus a two page Discography listing recordings by all of the relevant artists.

Wiggins and Matheis are to be commended for this fine volume on an important musical community that continues to extend and honor the blues traditions of the Piedmont region. His unflinching candor mixed with a palpable sense of joy at where life has taken him makes Wiggins’ recollections a joy to read.

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!


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 7 

imageJoe Louis Walker – Blues Comin’ On

Cleopatra Records CL 01714

12 songs – 62 minutes

www.joelouiswalker.com

An enduring force who’s been expanding the boundaries of the blues since the mid-‘80s, Joe Louis Walker calls out the big guns on this explosive album, delivering a heaping helping of what fans have come to love: red-hot guitar and one of the most distinctive voices in the business.

A survivor of psychedelic rock and the earth-shattering music scene of his native San Francisco, where he earned degrees in music and English at San Francisco State University and roomed with former Paul Butterfield Blues Band axe master Mike Bloomfield, Walker drifted from the blues to gospel in the mid-‘70s as a member of the Spiritual Corinthians. But this is the 26th album under his own name since returning to the root on the Hightone label with his band, the Bosstalkers, in 1986.

A collection of five originals and seven interesting and surprising covers, Blues Comin’ On features guest appearances from several of the biggest names in the music industry, including Eric Gales, Keb’ Mo’, Albert Lee, Jorma Kaukonen, John Sebastian, Dion DiMucci, Lee Oskar of War/The Lowriders, punk-rock vocalist Charlie Harper and legendary sessions guitarist Waddy Wachtel – and that’s not all!

Recorded at NRS Studio in Catskills, N.Y., the lineup rotates from cut to cut and also features Jellybean Johnson, David Bromberg, Arlen Roth and Jesse Johnson on guitar, Vanessa Collier on horns, Rick Estrin on harmonica and Bruce Katz, Philip Young and Eric Finland on keyboards. They’re anchored by John Bradford and Scott Petito on bass, Dorian Randolph, Tom Hambridge, Byron Cage and Juma Sultan on percussion with Carla Cooke handling lead vocals on two cuts and Amalia Rubin and several of the instrumentalists lending their voices in backing roles, too.

Co-written with Mick Jagger’s son, Gabe, the action opens with “Feed the Poor,” a powerful, dark, slow-blues burner with Kaukonen on lead guitar on Katz on organ. It’s built atop the image of a man dying in the gutter as it urges charity and states that the person easily could have been you or me. Dion takes the lead, delivering the opening vocal before yielding to Joe and adding acoustic guitar, for his self-penned “Blues Comin’ On.” It’s a medium-paced shuffle that builds intensity throughout aided by Wachtel, Gales and Walker on guitars and a trio of percussionists.

The feel changes dramatically for the light-and-airy “Someday, Someway,” on which Cooke and Walker trade vocals with harp accents from Oskar. Not to be confused with either the ‘60s hit by The Marvelettes or another with the same title by Marshall Crenshaw, it’s a sweet-and-soulful blues that celebrates a building love affair that will endure the ages.

Johnson, the guitarist who rose to fame with The Time in the ‘70s, is at his funky best as he delivers the lead to Joe Louis’ “The Thang.” It’s pure old-school with Walker’s spoken vocal verging on rap as it introduces new dance moves. Joe’s on 12-string with Keb’ on slide and Sebastian on harp for the propulsive, country-blues flavored “Old Time Used to Be,” an attempt to convince a former love to forget about her new love and return to his arms.

Bradford’s funky bass line kicks off his original, “Come Back Home,” a silky smooth urban blues that features Ryder at the mic and understated licks for Joe Louis with Collier on horns and strong runs on the keys from Young. Next up, Walker takes on Bobby Rush’s familiar “Bowlegged Woman, Knock-Kneed Man,” updating it with a harder edge and a helping hand from Estrin, Wachtel and Katz. The mood quiets again for “Awake Me, Shake Me,” another soulful ballad with dual vocals, before Joe turns Charlie Rich’s country classic, “Lonely Weekends,” into a stop-time, gospel-tinged acoustic blues complete with choral accompaniment.

The uptempo original, “Seven More Steps,” sings praise of life with a lady who consistently helps take away the struggles of the day before two more covers — “Uptown to Harlem,” penned by funk pioneer Betty Mabry and a 1967 hit for the Chambers Brothers, and “7 & 7 Is,” first recorded by Eyes of Blue in 1968 – bring the disc to a pleasant close.

Joe Louis Walker has released some phenomenal albums in his lengthy career, but this one ranks high with his all-time best – which is truly saying something. Run, don’t walk to buy this one. You’ll be glad you did!

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 7 

imageTony O – Blues O’ Blues

www.tonyoblues.com

Top Of The Blues Records

10 songs time – 42:59

Fear not, there are still guys out there like Tony O that actually play the blues when they say they are going to. It isn’t a fake claim here. With his abundant guitar skills and just raspy enough voice he delivers a solid set of covers and originals. Ok, he’s not that high profile enough to attract attention, but here’s your chance to support an authentic practitioner of the blues. Tony is another fine example of the blues coming out of New York. Here is backed by a choice set of musicians including The Uptown Horns. Bob Stander’s production pulls it all together.

“You Upset Me Baby” a song by B.B. King appropriately shows B.B.’s influence on Tony’s guitar style. The powerful Uptown Horns take the song back to the era of B.B. and others. Tony’s original song “Blues O’ Blues” was nominated for a Grammy for it’s appearance on Pinetop Perkins’ ‘Born In The Delta’ release on Telarc Records. It could well be a cover of an old traditional blues by the authentic way it is delivered and punctuated by Tony’s guitar jabs.

Back to one of his favorite cover subjects B.B. King’s “So Excited”, funky and horn driven. Muddy Waters’ tough “My Love Strikes Like Lightning” is given a run for it’s money and is pushed along by the powerful horns, something usually not used by the Mud man. Next up a song by Muddy’s cohort Jimmy Rogers “You’re So Sweet”. It’s rendered in Rogers’ easy rollin’ style with Tony adding his considerable harmonica playing to enhance the Chicago vibe.

He covers two Brook Benton songs infusing blues into the soul tunes. Tony hands the guitar chores over to Chumslick Nick on “It’s Just A Matter Of Time” where he peppers the song with tasty blues riffs. It’s Tony back to lead guitar on the other Benton song “Lie To Me” that is given a slight country-ish vibe to the bluesy take.

The original “Keep On Movin'” pretty much does just that enhanced by Tony’s harmonica set against his guitar for a classic blues traveling song about keeping ahead of the blues. Chumslick Nick takes a guitar solo on the otherwise harmonica instrumental “Just Drive”, a song that stands up against the finest blues instrumentals.

Another fine blues outing from a lesser known artist. To keep these type of efforts going strong us kindred blues fans need to support them. Once blues of this caliber is no longer with us, we will be left with the “dime a dozen” Faux blues guitar slingers. Hey guys don’t let this stuff fade away.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 7 

imageQuinn DeVeaux & The Blue Beat Revue – Book Of Soul

Self-Release – 2020

12 tracks; 43 minutes

www.quinndeveaux.com

Quinn DeVeaux was born in Gary, Indiana, and dubs his music ‘Blue Beat Soul’, an amalgam of soul, blues and country. Raised in both Baptist and Jehovah’s Witness churches, gospel influences can be heard on this album which appears to be Quinn’s fourth release. It was recorded “on three sunny days in Nashville and two cloudy days in Oakland” and features Quinn on vocals and guitar, backed by Jon Estes on lead guitar, Micah Hulscher and Peter Keys on keyboards, Jeff Ratner on bass and Jimmy Lester on drums; backing vocals come from Ahsati-Nu, Laura Mayo and Alexis Saski and horns appear on several cuts courtesy of Tyler Summers (sax), Vinnie Ciesielski (trumpet) and Oscar Utterstrom (trombone). Quinn wrote all the material.

Opener “Been Too Long” has Quinn feeling the distance between him and his loved one. A slight Robert Cray feel opening is offset by synth strings but the backing vocals are good. Quinn has a light voice which could perhaps have been mixed slightly higher as there are instances where the percussion dominates the music, as on “All I Need”. Two tracks with similar titles follow: “Come On Home” finds Quinn singing soulfully over piano and organ, giving a quiet gospel feel to the song which also has some nice acoustic guitar work in the middle section; “Take Me Home” has a looser rhythm with the piano underpinning the horns’ first appearance, giving an interesting mix of New Orleans, ska and country. For a brief moment you think “Honky Tonk Woman” is coming on as cow bell percussion opens “Think About You” which also has a hint of island rhythms but rather repetitive lyrics.

A strong bass line is a feature of “Gimme Your Love”, soulful with subtle horn work and intricate guitar patterns, though again quite repetitive lyrically. “Walk And Talk” has elements of Sam Cooke, both in Quinn’s vocal and the light guitar work, the backing vocalists again impressing and the horns joining in on the second half of the song. “Take Me To Glory” is a religious piece, a quiet gospel ballad with just Quinn, backing vocals and guitar. In complete contract “Good Times Roll” is very different to the rest of the album as the piano leads the way, the horns joining in with gusto to add a real Dixieland jazz feel to the second half of the song. “Trouble” is perhaps what Quinn means by his ‘Blue Beat’ tag as his soulful vocals and the horns meet a rhythm that hints at reggae. Electric piano features at the heart of “Home At Last”, a celebration of getting back to loved ones, the horns providing quiet support, apart from a suitably celebratory sax solo. The album closes with “Stay The Night”, Quinn’s vocals slightly distorted (why?), the piano giving the song a honky-tonk feel.

The range of material that Quinn has at his disposition is a plus and the judicious use of backing vocalists and horns works well in support of his vocals.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 7 

imageDan Penn – Living On Mercy

Last Music Co – 2020

13 tracks; 51 minutes

www.danpenn.com

Dan Penn’s place in the songwriting Hall of Fame is assured with classics like “I’m Your Puppet” and “Dark End Of The Street” among the many songs he has written over a long career which started in the 1960’s. Dan was born close to Muscle Shoals in Alabama and joined Rick Hall’s FAME studio work at a young age, concentrating on song writing once “I’m Your Puppet” became a huge success for James and Bobby Purify. Perhaps preferring writing and producing, Dan has been less prolific as a solo recording artist and this is his first release in over a decade, the songs written in collaboration with familiar collaborators such as Carson Whitsett, Gary Nicholson, Wayne Carson, Spooner Oldham, Buzz Cason, Bucky Lindsey and The Cate Brothers, as well as two with Will McFarlane who plays guitar on all tracks. The sessions took place in Muscle Shoals and Nashville with Clayton Ivey on keys, Michael Rhodes on bass, Milton Sledge on drums and Will on guitar; Clayton also added strings to some songs and a three man horn section of Charles Rose (trombone), Doug Moffett (saxes) and Drew White (trumpet) appears on several tracks. Backing vocals are by Dan, Buzz, Cindy Walker and Marie Lewey.

Now nearing 80 years of age, Dan’s voice has a wistful, lived-in tone which suits these songs well as he weaves tales of love, regret and thankfulness round tunes that have plenty of soul in them. The album is book-ended by two great songs about faith: the title track has a beautiful melody as Dan sings of getting old; “More dead than alive but somehow I still survive. I must be living on mercy. Your love nearly killed me a thousand times, have mercy on me and don’t ever set me free. It’s good and it’s bad but it’s the best love I’ve ever had”. Is that love a partner or God? The meaning of the title track may be arguable but “One Of These Days” is crystal clear as Dan contemplates his end: “I know there’ll come a time when the Lord will draw the line, time’s running out one of these days”. With angelic backing vocals and Clayton’s lovely piano and organ work the song has clear gospel influences and makes a superb closer to the album. Both those tracks come from the Muscle Shoals sessions which also includes five more songs, the pick of which has to be “Clean Slate”, a collaboration with Gary Nicholson and Carson Whitsett. If you were looking at a Dan Penn song that might become another classic, look no further than this uplifting tune, listen to Dan’s lyrics about starting over and just imagine the song delivered by a full-bore soul singer. “I’ll See You In My Dreams” is another winner with heart-breaking lyrics about spending your day just waiting to see your departed lover again in your dreams. “I Didn’t Hear That Coming” ups the tempo a little with the piano setting the pace on a gently funky number which finds Dan reminiscing about a relationship that he never imagined would happen.

Six tracks come from the Nashville sessions. “Down On Music Row” takes a wry look at music fashions as Dan is told that his style is out of date and that “the world has moved on” with horn accents and stately organ giving the tune a gospel feel. “Edge Of Love” has more good horn work and a strong core guitar riff and two songs written with The Cate Brothers are both excellent in contrasting ways: “Soul Connection” has a bright feel from a bouncy rhythm section and upfront guitar fills over soulful organ while the slower “Blue Motel” again has some fine guitar work as Dan’s sorrowful vocal describes a place where desperate lovers meet: “It’s a long and winding dusty road on the outskirts of Hell where only losers find their way to this old rundown motel.”

Lou Reed apparently once told Dan that if he had written a song as good as “I’m Your Puppet” he would have given up songwriting right then. Thank goodness that Dan Penn is determined to keep pushing forward and provide music like this for us to enjoy. Not a blues album by any stretch of the imagination but a fine release of thoughtful, soulful music.

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.


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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 7 

imageJoanna Connor – Rise

M.C. Records

www.joannaconnor.com

12 tracks

Joanna Connor is the queen of slide guitar. She and Sonny Landreth are my two slide guitar heroes. When I got this album, I got something unexpected– Connor doing something different, and it works.

Connor plays guitar and sings and even plays bass for a track. Joewaun Jay Red Scott is otherwise on bass, Cameron Lewis and Tyrone “Ty Drums” Mitchell share the drums, Delby Littlejohn is on keys, Ryan Shea plays sax, Keithen Banks adds vocals (tracks 1 and 2), Alphonso Buggz Dinnero raps and does spoken word and backing vocals on 4 tracks, Mike Zito sings and plays guitar on one track, Mark Carpentieri adds tambourine to track 9 and Ricky Liontones raps us home of the last track. Connor had at least a hand in writing the 10 original tracks and there are two well done covers here.

“Flip” gets things going with a funky groove and a a fully funked up sound. Connor sings with a cool cadence and the groove is accompanied by organ and sax. Banks backs Connor apply on vocals and Dinero raps with her to add to the mix; Connor’s guitar offers a raw and slick solo. Up next is “Bad Hand” which shifts gears totally into the realm of classical and rock acoustic guitar. The intro is surprisingly Segovia- or Bream-like but then things shift more to the rock side of things as Connor and Zito sing and the acoustic guitar moves into that realm. Littlejohn’s piano here is stellar and Zito offers a dreamy and cool solo on electric guitar to spice things up. ”Joanna in A” is a joyful and swinging instrumental romp with Connor’s guitar leading the charge. Blending jazz and blues, the songs is a wild and fun ride. The sax play a nice part as do the keyboards. “Earthshaker” is next and Connor starts us off with some strident and forceful guitar. Connor sings with passion and gives us some more sweet guitar on her huge solos. Her man may be an earthshaker, but so is her guitar. The title track is next and things slow way down as things start off. A moderate funky groove begins as this delightful instrumental moves along. Guitar and organ intertwine in a jazzy manner. “Since I Fell For You” follows, a ballad that Connor croons for us delightfully. The backing is just her understated electric guitar and it works well.

Connor hearkens to her roots with “My Irish Father,” another acoustic piece with Connor offering us solo guitar with a bit of a brogue. She strums and plays with passion. Connor shifts gears again and we get slide guitar to savor in “Mutha”. Dinero offers up spoken words in tribute to Connor being “a bad mutha on the guitar” and then she aptly demonstrates that for us with some stratospheric slide work. She also plays the bass on this track. The funk returns with Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me To Stay” turned into a Connor instrumental. The guitar replacing the vocals gives us a cool take on this cut and Connor is always ready to impress us. The organ is slick too, and we get some classically fine bass lead to savor here, too. Next we have “Cherish and Worship You” and it appears the gloves are off and all restraints released; Connor unleashes her rocking side on guitar. She sings with emotion and the organ adds to that, but the huge guitar is what makes one sit up and take notice. “Blue Tonight” is a hell bent and driving cut that runs 100 mph as Connor sings and plays fiercely. It’s another wild ride! Lots of good piano work here, too, and the organ backs her well again, too. The final track is a somber and haunting one entitled “Dear America.” Liontones wraps as Connor plays. The lyrics tell us our divisive woes as a country in this rap-blues-rock cut that highlights our ills and calls for equality and justice. Connor wails and screams vocally and on guitar and then solos on her axe in a big way. It’s quite the impressive finish.

So if you are looking for a straight up blues album filled with Connor on her fantastic slide guitar, well, this ain’t it. It’ got very little blues to speak of and not a lot of slide, either. What we have here is good music that blends and sometimes mashes genres together, highlighting a diverse set of styles and approaches to music. Connor showcases her guitar all over the place and we love and expect that, but we also so her branch out to more than blues with a rock side to include rap, jazz and even some classical influences. This is a fine album and offers something for fans of many styles of music to enjoy. Blues purists might complain, but it’s a really cool set of tunes delivered as few can do! I enjoyed this one and applaud Connor for branching out.

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


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